What was once Ducati’s entry level answer to the Harley-Davidson Sportster is now the Italian firm’s most powerful naked to-date. But have the boys in Bologna added enough power?

(Full Disclosure: Ducati wanted me to ride the new Monster 1200 R so bad that they put me on no fewer than five different airplanes for a total of 40 hours of travel over four days so I could get four 15-minute sessions at the Ascari Race Resort in Ronda Spain. I was offered a strict diet of nothing but shrimp, which I’m told was excellent by people who actually eat shellfish.)

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Out of everything Ducati has announced so far this year, the Monster 1200 R is probably the most obvious addition to their lineup. While spec sheet racing has tapered off with super sports in the past half decade or so, it’s alive and well in the super naked segment and the Ducati has fallen pretty far behind the KTM Super Duke 1290, Aprilia Tuono 1100, and even the BMW S 1000 R.

Whether it’s the bike’s history or its overall styling and characteristics, the Monster has never really been the track or sport tool that the others have. With the 1200 R, Ducati is looking to change that.

The Specs That Matter

The R treatment takes the Monster from 145 horsepower and 91.8 foot-pounds of torque to 160 and 96.9 respectively. It achieves this through increasing compression from 12.5:1 to 13:1, increasing the exhaust pipes from 50 mm to 58 mm, and increasing the throttle bodies from 53 mm to 56 mm.

The Monster 1200 R is Euro 4 (a new European emissions standard that all bikes will soon need to meet) compliant, thanks in part to a new exhaust can (which is also much nicer looking).

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Chassis-wise, the R gets new fully adjustable Ohlins suspension front and rear, which give the bike 15 mm more ground clearance and two degrees more lean angle. It also gets a lovely little Ohlins steering damper and Marchesini forged wheels, which are a major source of the five pound weight reduction (396 pounds dry down from 401).

Other cute bits include grippier foot pegs (a traditional problem for Ducati), a full color TFT display, and special badging on the radiator and seat.

The Monster 1200 R will retail for $18,695 in red and $18,895 in black and be available early next year.

We Rode The Damn Thing

Somehow I got my info mixed up, but I went to Spain under the impression we’d be riding the Monster 1200 R on the street for a day and on the track for a day. I was sadly mistaken, and want to be up front with the fact that my experiences with the Monster R are solely from four, 15 minute sessions on a race track—no street time. Ideally, this isn’t how we’d test a bike that is a street tool that’s gained some track ability, but such is life. And press events.

From my limited time on track, I can tell you the Monster is splendid. The extra power was spread evenly throughout the rev range if not a tad biased to the low end. It pulls without any real drop off up to its 10,500 rpm redline, but the power is spread so well that many of us on the launch later discovered that we were in different gears on several turns. This monster feels like the most refined to-date, with smoother fueling, better gear shifts, and fewer false neutrals than any I’ve ridden.

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While the extra power is neat, the real stars of the show are the longer suspension and the steering damper.

I rode the Monster 1200 S at Thunderhill for the release of the Arai Corsair X and was dragging hard bits left and right. The Monster R, with its 15 mm taller ride height and extra two degrees of lean angle kept all those lovely new foot pegs intact and had knees dragging left and right.

The Monster 821 is one of my favorite nakeds on the planet but, on the track, it and the Monster 1200 S were miserable above 85 mph or so. The front end felt far too light under heavy acceleration or at speed and the front wanted to wobble. The steering damper, which can be bolted to your Monster 1200, calms this big naked’s bitch fits better than bringing my girlfriend frozen yogurt.

Now, for the icing on the cake. Non-Monster owners will point and laugh at the silly journalist man and his silly plights, but they finally fixed the pillion pegs and they no longer push your heels outward and I absolutely love it! Judge me if you must, but I love the latest Monsters and this single factor caused endless amounts of frustration on the previous models.

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You’re out, having a grand day, coming into a corner hot while preparing to get your Rossi on and on BOOM! your feet are off the pegs. Riding the 821 or 1200 S was like dating a model with one leg three inches longer than the other. All that has been remedied on the 1200 R, though no news has been released regarding the 821 or regular 1200 will be getting the same fix.

What We’d Change

If I bought a Monster 1200 R, the only real change I would make would be to add a quickshifter. If I were Ducati, I would add 20 HP and 10 foot-pounds of torque or cut the price $3,000.

I’m not saying the Monster needs more power to be a good motorcycle, but 1200 R was built to try and compete with the BMW S 1000 R, KTM Super Duke 1290 R, and Aprilia Tuono 1100 Factory. The BMW is $16k and makes similar power. The KTM is $17k and makes 180 HP and 106 foot-pounds of torque. The Ape is actually a lot of my journo buddies’ favorite. For $17k, it gives you an incredibly smooth 175 HP V4 and the best chassis of the bunch — making it the most like riding a super sport with upright ergos.

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To make matters worse, the competitors listed have some of the most sophisticated electronics packages available on any motorcycle ever. The Ducati’s traction control and ABS systems work well, but they don’t really hold a candle to the advanced systems on the BMW, Aprilia, or KTM.

Why You Should Care

You should care because the Monster 1200 R is both a great bike and the best/most powerful naked Ducati has ever made. If you want the best, and care about it saying Ducati on the side (and you have the scratch), you should buy this bike because you will love it. I love it.

However, if the difference between how many thousands of dollars you spend on a bike matters more than the name, or you want to actually ride the best bike in the segment, look elsewhere. This is enough to get the Monster included in super naked shootouts, but definitely not enough to win (or even make it on the podium).

Photos: Ducati

Sean’s Gear:

Helmet: ICON Airframe Pro Ghost Carbon

Suit: Dainese Trickster Evo

Gloves: Racer High Speed

Boots: Dainese Axial Pro In

Sean MacDonald is the new Editor of Lanesplitter. He likes long walks on the beach, searching for the best new burger spots to ride to, and his girlfriend says his snoring sounds like “braaaaap.” Follow him and his adventures on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can email him fashion tips at sean.macdonald@jalopnik.com

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