Accessible Performance With Advanced Electronics

Written by  Sameer Kumar
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With close to 300,000 units of the Monster having been sold since its launch in 1993, there have been many iterations of the bike over the last two decades. Currently, the Monster family comprises two models – the Monster 821 and its bigger sibling, the Monster 1200. Here, we take a look at the suite of technologies underlying the Monster 821, which also make it an excellent sportsbike.
 
Launched way back in 1993, the very first Ducati Monster was the machine that kick-started the ‘streetfighter’ segment in Europe, which has now become very popular. Designed by Argentinian industrial designer Miguel Galluzzi – currently the head of Piaggio’s Advanced Design Center in California – the first Monster was powered by a 900 cc V-twin borrowed from the Ducati 900 Supersport, and had a steel-tube trellis frame that was based on the Ducati 851 superbike chassis.
 
POWERTRAIN 
 
When we speak of the Ducati Monster, it’s inevitable that we start with its legendary V-twin engine. In the case of the Monster 821, it’s powered by a Testastretta 90-degree V-twin, which produces 112 hp at 9,250 rpm and 89 Nm of torque at 7,750 rpm – certainly enough to provide superlative performance since the bike itself weighs a moderate 180 kg. It’s an advanced, refined engine that boasts 15,000 km service intervals and requires valve clearance adjustments once only every 30,000 km. For a high-performance V-twin, that’s quite remarkable and is something that Ducati has been able to accomplish after years of research and development.
 
The Monster 821’s liquid-cooled four-valves-per-cylinder Desmodromic V-twin, which is Euro III-compliant, uses an electronic fuel injection (EFI) system from Continental, 53 mm throttle bodies from Mikuni and full ride-by-wire (r-b-w) throttle management. The engine is also used as a fully stressed member of the chassis, with the cylinder heads being attached to the frame directly. The crankshaft rotates on shell main bearings that are lubricated with a new, more efficient oil pump, while the fuel injector has been positioned in a way that targets spray directly onto the intake valves, thereby helping with engine cooling as well as improving combustion efficiency.
 
To ensure proper cooling, Ducati has fitted the Monster 821 with a large, curved radiator with two electric fans, which together make sure that the bike’s performance-oriented fuel mapping works without a hitch. Valve overlap has been reduced from the typical 38-41 degrees that’s used by many sportsbike engines to just 11 degrees, which helps low- and mid-range performance, making it smoother and more refined, while reducing emissions at the same time.
 
The Monster 821’s engine is mated to a six-speed gearbox, with a cable-operated slipper clutch. While the transmission itself is slick in operation, the clutch provides a light feel at the lever – a blessing in heavy traffic – and prevents the rear wheel from ‘hopping’ during hard braking and downshifting for corners. 
 
The way all of this works can be explained in two parts. The first part involves the clutch’s progressive self-servo mechanism, which presses the clutch plates together when getting drive from the engine, thereby reducing the clutch spring rates and lending a light feel at the lever. The other part is when the drive force is reversed (on the over-run), when the same self-servo mechanism reduces the pressure on the clutch plates, enabling them to provide the ‘slipper’ action, eliminating wheel hop under aggressive down-shifting at relatively higher speeds, which sportsbike riders often do while cornering. 
 
While the engine and transmission work their magic, the Monster 821’s exhaust system also quietly does its thing, ensuring uniform, consistent power delivery along with controlled emissions. The bike’s engine management system works with a lambda probe to each exhaust header, which provides smooth fuelling, while the catalytic converter hidden away inside the twin silencers provides Euro III conformity. An electronically controlled mid-section valve in the exhaust system also optimises exhaust pressures throughout the rev-range, making sure the bike runs smoothly throughout the engine’s rev-range.
 
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ELECTRONICS SUITE
 
In addition to all the mechanical engineering that helps the Monster 821 push the performance envelope, there is a full suite of electronics controlling the hard-charging Italian engine and the magic words here are ‘riding modes,’ which control throttle response and the intervention levels of the bike’s safety electronics. The Monster 821 allows its rider to choose between urban, touring and sport modes, with urban mode reducing power output to 75 hp and providing relatively scaled-back power delivery and throttle response. Touring mode provides the full 112 hp but combines it with medium-level throttle response, while sport mode provides all-out performance that’s best suited to the aggressive, experienced sportsbike rider.
 
Beyond modulating power delivery and throttle response, riding modes also provide another very useful function – an easy way of adjusting the level of electronic intervention that’s offered by Ducati’s anti-lock brakes (ABS) and traction control system (DTC). The Monster has a 3-level ABS set-up and 8-level traction control, and choosing a setting that works best could possibly be, for some riders, a bit complicated. With riding modes, this becomes very easy. 
 
Sport mode is least restrictive, with high throttle response, level-1 ABS, reduced DTC action and no rear lift-up prevention under hard braking. Touring offers slightly scaled-back throttle response, level-2 ABS and higher levels of DTC intervention, while urban mode is best suited to newer, less experienced riders and/or when the bike is being ridden on wet, slippery tarmac, with level-3 ABS, reduced power and maximum intervention from the traction control system. With this customisable safety net, the Monster 821 lets the rider choose his own preferred level of electronic intervention according to his riding expertise and experience levels, as well as the road and weather conditions, thereby making the bike’s performance more easily accessible without compromising on safety.
 
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CHASSIS & SUSPENSION
 
Coming back to the bike’s mechanicals, the Monster 821’s steel-tube trellis-type chassis, which uses the engine as a fully stressed member, is a work of art. Using large-diameter triangulated steel tube sections, with an aluminium swing arm, the chassis is light and stiff, providing great high-speed stability and cornering prowess. With a wheelbase of 1,480 mm and 17-inch alloy wheels, the Monster 821 feels light and manoeuvrable at low speeds, which really helps when the bike is being ridden in heavy traffic. And yet, when the speeds go up and when the rider starts pushing the machine in corners, the Monster 821 remains exceptionally stable and sure-footed. In fact, it can be ridden like a full-on, hardcore sportsbike, allowing the rider to brake late and deep into corners, downshifting aggressively (the slipper clutch works beautifully here) and slamming the bike into the bends at high speeds without the bike ever asking you to back off. The Monster needs a firm, confident hand at its controls and appreciates a bit of aggression, responding beautifully to the rider’s inputs at higher speeds. Yes, it’s a ‘proper’ Italian sportsbike and prefers being ridden as such!
 
An important factor in the Monster 821’s handling is its high-tech adjustable suspension. The bike is fitted with non-adjustable 43 mm Kayaba USD forks up front, and a Sachs monoshock with progressive linkage at the rear, which is adjustable for preload and rebound damping. Sure, this package is not the last word in motorcycle suspension technology, but it still works quite. The front fork, which provides 130 mm of travel, feels moderately firm and doesn’t dive under hard braking. Yet, it’s also supple enough to handle the less-than-perfect tarmac that we have in India. At the same time, the rear monoshock lets the bike slice through high-speed corners, always keeping things tight and tidy.
 
While we speak of the bike’s handling, we must make mention of the ZR-rated Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tyres (180/60 at the rear, 120/70 at the front), which the Monster 821 comes fitted. These tyres use bi-compound construction in order to combine longevity with excellent full-lean grip. Here, the Pirelli tyres make a big contribution towards the beautiful handling, never running out of grip at extreme lean angles and boosting the rider’s confidence in a big way. Yes, you know that the bike’s traction control system will possibly save things even if the bike begins to slide – and that electronic safety net often encourages some riders to push even harder – the sheer brilliance of the Pirelli tyres still can’t be denied.
 
What goes hard must stop harder, which is where the Monster’s Brembo brakes come in. Equipped with the latest Bosch 9MP anti-lock system, the braking set-up includes twin 320 mm brake discs up front, with monobloc four-piston radial-mount callipers, and a single 245 mm disc at the back. Intervention level from the 3-level ABS depends on the riding mode chosen, with touring and urban modes also providing rear wheel lift mitigation, which can sometimes be useful during emergency braking. Riders also have the option of switching ABS off completely, though that is not advisable for the vast majority of riders on the street.
 
CONCLUSION
 
To conclude, we can only say that the Ducati Monster 821 is a refined and high-tech sportsbike that boasts a well-sorted mechanical package (engine, transmission, chassis and suspension), along with a brilliant suite of safety and performance enhancing electronics that actually work towards making more of the bike’s performance accessible to a wider cross-section of riders. Of course, you still need to be a skilled, experienced rider in order to be able to ride the Monster the way it’s designed to be ridden, but the electronics just make it easier and safer for the rider to do so. As an overall package, this Italian machine is very accomplished and second to none in its segment.
 
Text: Sameer Kumar
 
Photo: Bharat Bhushan Upadhyay

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