2023 Ducati Monster SP First Ride Review
A lot has happened in the 30 years since Ducati launched its iconic Monster naked bike. In a time when we weren’t super-glued to our cellphones, struggling Italian manufacturer Ducati came up with the idea of producing a simple air-cooled L-twin featuring a trellis frame and beautifully designed fuel tank—and not much else.
Editor’s note: Get up to speed on the major technical improvements of the Monster in the 2021 Ducati Monster First Look Preview article. Also read and watch the 2021 Ducati Monster MC Commute Review and 2021 Ducati Monster Review for in-depth reviews of this streetbike.
This agile and minimalist Ducati was in many ways a parts-bin special, produced from Ducati stock cluttering up the storeroom shelves—but it worked. Thankfully for Ducati its sales success helped sustain the company through some difficult financial times. When Carl Fogarty won the World Superbike Championship on the exciting new 916, it was Monster sales that funded his campaign. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Over the decades, Monsters were churned out in many shapes and sizes, packing out the Ducati range and gaining a global following. Currently, though, the Bologna factory produces just one Monster, an entry-level naked that was launched in 2021 and uses the 111 hp, 937cc Testastretta L-twin. Correction: Make that two Monsters now, because Ducati has just released the much-anticipated Monster SP.
The base-model Monster seems made for the SP treatment, and you won’t be surprised to learn that that comprises of Öhlins suspension at both ends, higher-spec Brembo Stylema brakes, a weight reduction (due mainly to a lighter lithium-ion battery and road-legal Termignoni silencer), plus a few sporty tweaks such as new steering damper and a move from Pirelli Diablo Rosso III rubber to Rosso IV. There’s also exclusive styling, including a small fly screen and an attractive SP-only livery. Unlike many Ducati SPs, the Monster doesn’t get lighter wheels.
Power and torque figures are unchanged from the standard Monster, meaning the SP’s 111 hp peak is nearly 20 hp down on its Triumph Street Triple RS rival and unlikely to overly impress any friends who ride 200 hp superbikes. But they would be wrong to dismiss this punchy middleweight because it’s an absolute ball to ride in the twisties. There’s usable drive from low in the rev range that builds into a rich stream of V-twin torque through the midrange. You don’t have to chase the revs or dance on the shifter; neither do you have to worry quite so much about the consequences of opening the throttle too much too soon because the delivery is sharp but easy; keen but never intimidating—and seems to encourage a smooth, flowing style of riding.
The Euro 5–approved Termignoni silencer may not add any numbers on the dyno readout but looks sensational and adds a welcome bark too, which amplifies the feeling of piloting a sportier and faster bike.
A 4.4-pound weight loss isn’t a particularly substantial change, but on the road it feels like one. Turn off the wheelie control and the chassis comes alive in the way only a middleweight can. The SP is so flickable and effortless to throw around that it feels smaller and lighter than it is, turning noticeably quicker than the notably quick-steering standard bike. The SP sits a little higher too, with the seat height upped by 0.8 inch to 33.1 inches, and gives the Monster a sportier edge while also increasing ground clearance.
The ride from the Öhlins is exceptional: plush and comfortable but always controlled. Light, quick-steering bikes can often feel a little nervous at speed and on dodgy surfaces, but the SP, complete with a new steering damper and Rosso IV rubber, feels reassuringly planted at all times. Fueling is sweetly soft and the carefully packaged riding modes—Sport, Touring, and Rain—plus a plethora of Ducati rider aids help keep you safe. With the SP’s mechanical grip and feedback to the rider so good, however, you could argue that, silky smooth quickshifter aside, they are not needed.
The standard Brembo M4.32 Monster stoppers are quality items, but Ducati has gone one step further with the SP adding Stylema calipers. Race spec brakes on a lightweight naked bike results in immensely potent stopping power—supported by Ducati’s excellent cornering ABS. It’s one-finger braking on the SP, even hauling down from three-figure speeds, and at slow speeds they are not too aggressive either.
The Monster isn’t the first bike you might choose for a week of touring but the SP’s sportier stance is still relaxed, especially compared to some of its forefathers, though taller riders might want to opt for the higher seat option. The new Öhlins suspension offers more refinement and a non-fatiguing ride, and is easy to adjust should you add a pillion or encounter especially rough terrain. Wind protection is virtually zero, even with the SP’s fly screen, so there are limits, while the 3.7-gallon fuel tank and fuel consumption of around 41 mpg will empty that tank in around 150 miles, and you’ll be looking for fuel every 110 to 120 miles.
Make no mistake this neatly blinged-up Monster is a worthy addition to Ducati’s range of SPs. On the road it’s uncut fun and comes without a trace of ego or intimidation. It’s not overcomplicated and delivers meaty V-twin power as well as a little more bark from its Termignoni pipe. As ever with such desirable Italian machinery the downside is price. At $15,595, the “entry-level” Monster is more expensive than the competition, with similar specification and greater power. Ultimately, though, whether that’s too much or not will probably come down to how much you want to own a Ducati SP.
2023 Ducati Monster SP Technical Specifications and Price
|ENGINE||937cc, liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-twin; 4 valves/cyl.|
|BORE x STROKE||94.0 x 67.5mm|
|FUEL DELIVERY||Fuel injection w/ 53mm throttle bodies; ride-by-wire|
|CLUTCH||Wet, multiplate slipper and self-servo; hydraulic actuation|
|FRAME||Aluminum alloy front frame|
|FRONT SUSPENSION||43mm Öhlins NIX 30 inverted, fully adjustable; 5.5 in. travel|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Single Öhlins shock, fully adjustable; 5.9 in. travel|
|FRONT BRAKES||Radially mounted Brembo Stylema 4-piston calipers, twin 320mm discs w/ Cornering ABS|
|REAR BRAKE||Brembo 2-piston floating caliper, 245mm disc w/ Cornering ABS|
|WHEELS, FRONT/REAR||Light cast alloy; 17 x 3.5 in./17 x 5.5 in.|
|TIRES, FRONT/REAR||Pirelli Diablo Rosso IV; 120/70-17 / 180/55-17|
|SEAT HEIGHT||33.1 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||3.7 gal.|
|CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT||410 lb. (366 lb. dry)|
|WARRANTY||24 months, unlimited mileage|