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Reviewed: Ducati Monster SP

Ducati Monster SP 2

It’s hard to believe that the Ducati Monster turns 30 in 2023. What was originally introduced as a bit of a parts bin special has been a real phenomenon. As the years went on, the range expanded and evolved – selling more than 350,000 units and playing a major part in the resurgence of the company.

The Monster underwent a transformation last year, when the range was trimmed to a solitary model. The all-new model dumped Ducati’s famous steel trellis frame, in favour of a monocoque design in the style of the Panigale superbike, and took its power from the latest iteration of the famous 90-degree ‘L’ twin – the 111bhp, 937cc, unit shared with numerous other models in the range, including the Hypermotard, SuperSport and the new Desert X.

We rode the standard Monster last year and were impressed. At £11,295 (at the time of writing) the base model is bang on the money in a premium middleweight sector which includes some superb motorcycles like the KTM 890 Duke R, Triumph Street Triple RS and Yamaha’s MT-09SP, bikes which (like the Ducati) are full of character and playful aggression.

 

Ducati Monster SP

 

At £13,995 the SP verges into MT-10 and S 1000 R territory when it comes to damaging the wallet, but you get a lot of spec for the money. The powerplant on the SP remains as per the base model, but it adds top-notch chassis componentry such as Öhlins suspension front and rear, Brembo Stylema front callipers, Termignoni silencer, Pirelli Diablo Rosso IV tyres (compared to the Rosso IIIs on the base model), a steering damper and lightweight lithium battery. Electronics remain largely the same, but with the addition of a new wet weather riding mode, and there are other premium touches like the flyscreen, seat cowl and funky graphics. At over £2.5k more than standard version it might seem a lot, but Ducatisti are well known for customising their bikes. A number of the modifications carried out for the SP version are available from the Ducati accessories brochure and, if you were to add the Termi exhaust, flyscreen and seat cowl to the base model, you’d already be looking at the best part of £2k before thinking about the fancy suspension and brakes. Put that way, it doesn’t seem bad value at all.

One of the Monster’s USPs has always been its accessibility to a wide range of riders, and the latest SP continues that trend. The Öhlins suspension gives the SP a more aggressive stance than the standard model. At 840mm, the seat sits 40mm taller than the standard version, with a more aggressive riding position that makes the ‘bars feel quite low for a naked.

 

Ducati Monster SP Seat

 

Despite sitting quite high, the narrowness of the saddle still makes it pretty easy for short riders like me to get a firm footing at standstill. Ducati do offer an alternative saddle for the SP, which reduces the drop to 810mm. We didn’t get a chance to try this out, but would assume it sacrifices some comfort, while there’s also a taller seat option with a 10mm increase. Unlike the standard version, which offers a 25mm lower modification kit, there’s no official way to lower the suspension on the SP.

I was quite surprised by the sportiness of the riding position, and also how light the SP feels. Ducati claim a dry weight of 166kg and I’ve no reason do dispute that figure. When I first pushed the Monster out of the garage, I assumed I needed to fill up with petrol, such was the apparent lightness, but no, Ducati had generously brimmed the Monster SP before handing it over. It beggars belief that a near 1000cc motorcycle can feel as light as this, but this is certainly one area where the Monster doesn’t live up to its name. Dropping the traditional trellis may have raised some eyebrows, but the new aluminium frame saving 4.5kg over its predecessor, it certainly makes a lot of sense.And, to be honest, where the Monster 900 of 1993 was as unsophisticated as motorcycling got, the 2023 version is a sharp-suited little cherub of a thing. Fire it up and the engine has the familiar Ducati bark through the standard Termignonis. The original Monster didn’t even have a tacho, but the 2023 iteration has a wonderfully clear 4.3” TFT dash. It looks like the sort of thing you’d find on a £24,000 Panigale.

 

Ducati Monster SP Screen

 

Pulling away, the clutch has a mechanical sound reminiscent of the old air-cooled twins of yesteryear, but while my old 1993 750SS was a pig at low speed, with a stiff clutch and oil tanker-like turning circle, this couldn’t be more different. The hydraulic clutch is superlight, the turning circle surprisingly decent and the gearbox buttery smooth. If I have one slight criticism, the low-speed pickup can be a bit lumpy if you’re lazy with the clutch and throttle, but it’s really not an issue when you ride it properly.

And let’s be honest, this isn’t a bike you buy for its low-speed characteristics anyway. On the open road, it’s great fun. The V-twin punches unlike anything else in the class, and it’s quick without being scary.

That fancy suspension does feel a little on the firm side on bumpy British backroads, but the steering damper keeps things nicely composed. Those Brembo brakes are super sharp and almost took me by surprise until I recalibrated my brain. Electronics is one area where Ducati has been leading the way in recent years and the best compliment I can pay is that they are so good you just don’t notice them.

 

Ducati Monster SP Engine

 

I’ve always been a big fan of these middleweights, and the Ducati Monster SP simply heightens the experience. As an experienced motorcyclist who had a licence when the original Monster was released, I want something a bit more than the capable but slightly dull parallel 700-800cc twins which are very popular just now, but I’m also just not interested in an arm wrenching supernaked, like an Aprilia Tuono or Ducati’s own Streetfighter.

But these sporty sub-litre bikes are right up my street. It’s a while since I’ve ridden the competition, so I’ll avoid direct comparisons, but with over 100bhp they’ve all got enough power to keep things interesting, with more spec than superbikes from a few years ago.

And the Ducati feels premium. This isn’t a slight at other manufacturers, whose motorcycles are also well made and dynamically engaging, but there are just some really nice touches which only really sink in the more you look at the Monster and engage with it.

 

Ducati Monster SP Stationary

 

Sure, it’s dripping with Gucci spec components, but I’m almost more impressed by the clever design and engineering than the headline parts. For example, I love those front indicators. Tooling to make even the most innocuous parts can cost a fair fortune, so manufacturers often share these basic components across multiple models to save on development costs and stockholdings. It would have been easy to have carried over the stalk indicators from the old model, or use the same design front and back, but Ducati didn’t. The front turn signals are unique to the Monster and blend in seamlessly into the side pod. Respect. A lovely touch brought to life by a design engineer and not an accountant.

A nd sometimes it’s about what you don’t see rather than what you do. The design cleverly hides the mechanical guts of the Monster, with clever cable routing and finishes to keep exposed wiring and ugly pipework to a minimum. It’s a long way from the days when nakeds were simply sports bikes with the fairings ripped off, and it’s here where Ducati sprinkle their magic dust and show they’re not merely another motorcycle manufacturer.

 

Ducati Monster SP Rider

 

Conclusion

For a ‘mere’ middleweight the Ducati Monster SP is a very special motorcycle. It’s beautifully finished, soulful and an almost perfect Sunday morning sportsbike.

It is, however, expensive. It fits in an unusual place in the marketplace, a good chunk more expensive than other premium middleweights and verging into 1000cc supernaked territory money wise.

Is it worth it? Well, that’s something only you can decide. The standard model is arguably a better road bike thanks to its less aggressive ergonomics and less focussed suspension but if, like me, you don’t fancy an arm wrenching supernaked but still want something a bit special it deserves serious consideration. Just turning that key (an old school blade style key, by the way) and seeing that dash come to life is a tremendous way to start any ride…

The 2023 Monster SP has come a long way from the cantankerous and expensive to maintain M900 from three decades ago. It’s so slick it’s almost unrecognisable from the bike that started it all off in 1993, yet it still represents exactly what Ducati is about here and now. It gives a (more) accessible entry into the world of the Ducatisti, just as it did back then.

 

 

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