If it seems that all the trendy parts of town are overrun with Ducatis these days, it's probably because of the Monster. The Italian motorcycle maker was barely visible on the U.S. motorcycle scene back in 1992 when the Monster was introduced. Today, Ducati sells more than 10,000 bikes a year here. Sure, a good many are the superbikes and the retro-cool Sport Classics, but the Monster still comprises the bulk of Ducati sales.
For 2009, the Monster has been treated to its first real redesign, which makes it more rider-friendly with a more upright riding position, closer handlebars, and a narrower waist. The new chassis preserves the signature exposed-framework ("naked") design, but the bike's look is updated with a reshaped tank, an oblong headlamp, and LED taillights. Ducati also offers various accessories that allow owners to customize the design.
The 696, which replaces last year's 695, is the base model (MSRP $8775), and is the first of the redesigned Monsters to arrive. Its 696-cc, L-twin engine sports new cylinder heads, which yield more power: 80 hp at 9000 rpm and 51 lb-ft of torque at 7750 rpm, all sent through a six-speed gearbox. New brakes, by Brembo, help reign in overexuberance.
Having driven the new Monster 696 for my first-ever motorcycle lesson, I can tell you that I thought it was cool, though I obviously have no point of reference for comparison with other bikes. I also can tell you that I barely tapped its performance capabilities (less than 3 seconds from 0 to 60 mph, and a top speed estimated at 135 mph). It was kind of like taking Drivers' Ed in a Ferrari.
Base price: $8775
Engine: 696-cc, 4-valve, L-2
Horsepower: 80 hp @ 9000 rpm
Torque: 51 lb-ft @ 7750 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Curb Weight: 355 lbs
Fuel economy (estimated): 45 mpg