2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R Review, Lighter - Sharper !

When the Ducati Monster 1200 arrived last year it was praised as much for what it wasn’t as what it was. Instead of an overwhelming, track-focused, stripped-down superbike, the Monster 1200 was a real-life roadster. Comfortable, surprisingly sensible and far from overpowered, it showed welcome restraint.

But now there’s an R version, Ducati Monster 1200 R. From the 996R to the current Panigale R, over 15 years that one letter has turned Ducati’s mass-produced road bikes into limited-edition race replicas. It’s evicted pillions, altered engine capacities, swapped plastic for carbon fibre, turned steel into titanium and decimated service schedules. So, is the Ducati 1200 R the Monster we feared all along?

2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R Review

Differences are clear just by sitting on it. The floor is further away than on the base and S-model Ducati Monster 1200, caused by two changes. Firstly the Monster 1200 R has been jacked up by 15mm with longer suspension. Secondly, a new rear subframe sits at a sharper, steeper angle, with a new seat. The result is a fixed 830mm seat height, instead of the 785/810mm options on the current Monster 1200s.

Ducati raised the centre of gravity in search of agility, something further enhanced by fitting lighter, forged Marchesini wheels. The resulting change to how the Monster steers takes just two and a half corners of the Ascari Race Resort circuit to notice. Flicking from a full-lean left-hander to a full-lean right-hander in third gear is fast, fluid and easy, taking a fraction of the effort the other Ducati Monster 1200s would. It’s even more impressive given the increased lean angle – with the extra height, Ducati claim the new R tips over to 50 degrees.

2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R Review

2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R Review

New footpegs help with ground clearance too, and also offer a second benefit. On the regular Ducati Monster 1200 the rider and pillion pegs are part of the same casting, so not only do heels hit the hangers but there’s no way to solve it by removing them. But the Monster 1200 R’s pillion pegs mount straight to the subframe, meaning both more space and the option to unbolt them. But while there is certainly more room, riding with toes on pegs means heels still find points of contact. On the right side it’s the exhaust heatshield; on the left, the swingarm itself. And while the extra height means the beautiful machined pegs are lifted out of harm’s way, other parts still touch down: the sidestand and gear lever on the left, and the exhaust’s butterfly valve cover on the right.

Still, you could choose to see these battle scars as proof of the grip. Where the other Monsters wear Pirelli’s sporty Diablo Rosso II, the R has the same track-ready Supercorsa SP rubber as the 1299 Panigale, complete with wider 200-section rear. Incredibly sticky, they are more than a match for the Monster 1200 R’s boosted output.

2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R Review

Maximum power is 158 HP, up from the Ducati Monster 1200’s 133 HP and the Monster 1200S’s 143 HP, and more than any other Monster or Streetfighter before. The extra comes from larger, oval-section throttle bodies (the other 1200s have round bodies), a thinner head gasket increasing compression ratio, and larger-diameter exhaust headers (up from 50mm to 58mm). More room to get air in, less room to squish it, and more room to get it out.

These fairly modest changes mean the fundamental character of the Monster 1200’s engine hasn’t changed – it’s still a meaty, midrange-heavy motor, but there’s now a bit of added enthusiasm towards the top of the revs. The Ducati Monster 1200R’s maximum power and torque both come 500rpm higher than the S model, but we’re talking a subtle shift, not a heavy, revvy retune. While the engine has gained potency, it’s lost a little of its aural appeal. This isn’t Ducati’s fault, but a necessary evil of the latest Euro 4 legislation. Meeting the tightened standard requires additional noise-deadening, including a new oil pump cover (muting mechanical noise) and a two-litre-larger exhaust can. There’s no sign of traditional Ducati rattle, just a clean V-twin rumble.

Otherwise, much else feels the same as the Monster 1200 S. The Monster 1200 R has the same choice of Sport, Touring and Urban modes, with the same adjustable traction control and ABS. The one-piece Brembo M50 brake calipers are unchanged, still offering masses of stopping force. And though the Öhlins suspension is new – given away by black forks, rather than gold – the spring rates are identical to the S’s.

Despite featuring extra damping, the Monster 1200 R’s standard suspension settings still need stiffening – particularly at the front – for track riding. Thankfully, being quality kit, half a dozen clicks make a real difference. Taking a little preload out of the front, and adding more at the rear, also tips the bike more on its nose, which helps. The R’s chassis changes already make it slightly front-heavy – unlike the other Monster 1200s, which have a rear weight bias – but you still want to ride with your weight over the front, as on track there can be a slight understeery feeling.

2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R Review

All this shouldn’t detract from the R’s huge potential. It really can rattle round a racetrack at a sensational rate of knots – it has a higher power-to-weight ratio than an 899 Panigale, and makes as much power as a 1098. But despite the track launch, the race-style Öhlins steering damper sitting proudly above its top yoke and the legendary letter in the name, the Ducati Monster 1200 R feels like an incredibly capable road bike first and foremost. Which it should, given it’s where 95% of those sold will surely spend 95% of their time. That midrange-rich delivery will feel incredibly fast on the road, the quality suspension has the ability to soak up bumps beautifully, and the occasional scrapes on track won’t even be a consideration.

Like other, Ducati Monster 1200 R models it’s expensive: over £15k, a whopping £4300 premium over the standard Ducati Monster 1200. But unlike other R models this Monster isn’t a single-minded beast. There’s still a pillion seat under the cowl and there are handholds moulded into the underside of the tail. Valve clearance checks remain every 18,000 miles. The dash even boasts a gear position indicator absent from the other Ducati Monster 1200s. This time, "R" stands for "Road".

2016 Ducati Monster 1200 R Specs

Engine : Four stroke, Testastretta L-Twin, Desmodromic 8-Valve, Liquid-Cooled
Capacity : 1.198 cc
Bore x Stroke : 106 x 67,9 mm
Compression Ratio : 13,0 : 1
Induction : Synerject-Continental EFI System, Elyptical 56mm Throttle Bodies
Max Power : 158 HP @ 9.250 RPM
Max Torque : 131,4 N.m @ 7.750 RPM
Transmission / Drive : 6-Speed / Chain

Frame : Steel-Trellis Frame
Front Suspension : 48mm Ohlins Upside Down Forks, Fully Adjustable
Rear Suspension : Ohlins Monoshock, Fully Adjustable, Alumunium Single-Sided Swingarm
Front Brakes : 2 x 330 mm Disc, Brembo Monoblock M50 evo 4-Pot Calipers, ABS
Rear Brakes : Single 245 mm Disc, 2-Pot Caliper, ABS
Front Tyre : 120/70 - ZR17
Rear Tyre : 200/55 - ZR17

Wheelbase : 1.509 mm
Seat Height : 830 mm
Dry Weight : 180 Kg
Fuel Capacity : 17,5 Litres

Price : £15,386 (Black £15,586)