July 31, 2014 at 1:00 am

New Ducati Monster bike boosts beast factor

Ducati Monster 1200 S. (Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A)

Ask any Hollywood producer. There’s only one way to go when it comes to monsters in blockbuster sequels. They need to be bigger, badder and more capable of beating enemies into the ground, which is exactly what Ducati has done with the latest incarnation of its iconic naked bike.

For 2014, the Monster is back and bigger than ever — with a more powerful 1,200cc engine.

“More” seems to have been the design mantra for the Monster 1200 S, which doesn’t only offer a neck-snapping 145 horsepower from its ready-to-roll weight of 461 pounds and the usual upgrades that define most updates, like improved torque. The Monster is rigged with unprecedented adjustability to everything from the power delivery and anti-lock brakes to its traction-control settings, suspension, seat height and clutch and brake levers.

The Monster has long been Ducati’s entry-level machine, due in large part to an easy-to-control upright seating position and reasonable power plant.

Powered with the second-generation, superbike-derived 1198 Testastretta L-twin, the newest addition to the Monster family is not beginner material, though it pretends. At least its performance can be toned down to accommodate riders early-ish in their learning curves. Pre-tuned for mid, rather than high, rpm, it can also be ramped up to a level that exceeds the capabilities of the most seasoned sport bikers, making the Monster the rare machine that can adapt to riders’ improving (or declining) skills.

Like its too-powerful-for-the-street Panigale, the Monster engine features revised fuel injection that sprays gas into a hotter part of the intake valve to improve combustion and power, as well as two spark plugs per cylinder to make sure the fuel goes bang. The engine is, like the Panigale, a stressed member of the frame to improve rigidity and handling.

The Monster does not like a slow ride. It wants to cut to the chase and approach the 10,000 rpm redline, where it sings.

If you’re the sort of person who can ride a Ducati slowly, good for you. It means you have consummate clutch control and impeccable self-restraint that’s likely to keep your driver’s license where it belongs — in your pocket instead of the hands of a police officer. It also means you probably shouldn’t waste your money to buy one. The Monster 1200 starts at $13,495; $15,995 for the S model I was testing.

What makes the S worthy of the additional letter is, of course, a slight boost in horses and torque. What makes it worth the extra $2,500 are three-spoke alloy wheels, a fully adjustable Ohlins rear suspension, a carbon fiber mudguard, larger disc brakes out front and hazard lights built in to the LED turn signals in case something goes wildly awry.

The Monster can be ridden in sport, touring and urban modes, each of which automatically change the level of ABS and traction control to match the level of power. The ABS and traction control settings can also be hand set.

I found myself riding in touring mode most often, just so I could experience the majority of its power with a safety net. Unfortunately, I also experienced its heat. The stacked exhaust is low slung, but it isn’t low enough. At slow speeds and idle, I feared my leg might spontaneously combust.

The Thin Film Transistor Ducati now uses for its information display was also problematic. I loved the intelligence behind the system that changes the data provided to the rider based on riding mode. Urban offers speed, time and fuel info — bare-bones data that won’t distract. Touring delivers the most information, including tripometer readings, while sport restricts the display to track essentials.

It’s a terrific idea that is, unfortunately, almost impossible to read in the sunlight.

The Monster 1200 compensates for its increased power plant with ergonomic improvements that make it easier to control, especially when cycling as two. The wheelbase is slightly longer for improved stability when riding with a passenger. The handlebars are still wide and flat, but they’re slightly higher and also closer to the rider. The 31.8-inch seat is likewise adjustable, enabling it to be lowered to 30.9 inches without tools. An even lower, 29.3-inch saddle is available as an accessory.

Being a naked bike, there’s no wind protection, which is, in itself, a sort of safety mechanism on a bike with a top speed approaching 150. The only way to max it out is to ride like Rollie Free. The Monster 1200 is such a blast to ride, riders just might feel inspired.