Ducati Monster S4RS Streetfighter

Ducati’s Monster is the Italian grandpappy of the entire streetfighter scene. Born in the mind of motorcycle designer Miguel Galluzi, the popular Monster has been going strong for 15 years now and is one of the few constants in any streetfighter comparo.

Powered by the race-proven Testastretta engine, the Ducati S4R brings the right attitude and credentials to make it the life of any party. The Monster sports one of the rawest motors of the bunch, with its 998cc (100mm bore x 63.5mm stroke) L-Twin delivering a torquey blast with every twist of the throttle. Churning out 110 horsepower at its 10,400 rpm peak the Monster’s max torque output was 62.4 lb-ft at 7,700 rpm. While those figures didn’t make it top dog in our streetfighter pack, there are heaps of character rumbling out of that Italian Twin, and we always love a little bit of character. It’s not all show either. Grab a handful of S4R and you'd best be ready to hang on because this bike is capable of running the quarter in 10.58 at 130 miles per hour. Impressive, to say the least.

Although it was duking it out with the Yamaha at the bottom of the scoresheet overall and in the engine ratings, the big-bore Ducati has one of the most playful engines in this test. Where others were refined and smooth, the Monster was snortin’ and jabbering, responding with a rich jolt of acceleration at the exit of any corner on the street or track. The dyno charts display the S4R’s lively nature, with a steep jump in power between 7 and 8 grand, where the Monster really sings. The Italian beast also begged to be ridden like a unicycle, a request which many of our test riders honored.

“I said it last year, I’ll say it again, the Testastretta engine is the highlight of the S4R,” commented BC. “The power pulls from down low all the way up to redline and the torquey bottom end makes it a wheelie monster.”

In spite of its potent power delivery, the Monster’s throttle is smooth and entertaining to dial-up anywhere, anytime and the sound it emits will stir even the most shallow soul. The dry clutch adds to the audible experience, rattling like crazy when not engaged and making sure everyone in earshot knows there’s a Monster nearby. The chattering clutch compliments the spunky engine well, and does an admirable job when the time comes to shuffle through the six-speed transmission. Despite being ranked third – tied with the Tuono behind the smooth-shifting Kawasaki and Yamaha, the Duc’s gearbox is quite good. No one noted missing any shifts or that it was quirky in any way. It just goes about its business without much fuss and while that is a good thing, it also ensures it doesn’t stand out in this group.

On the road and track the Ducati shined with its quick, stable handling, where it’s 7.5 scorecard rating placed it all alone in second – although well behind the 9.0 of the Tuono. Compared side by side with its Italian rival, the Ducati’s 56.7-inch wheelbase is 1.2 inches longer, while its 24-degree rake is 1-degree steeper. On the road this translated into a somewhat slower-turning experience, but it’s still a more nimble monster than the other three beasts.

A fully-adjustable 43mm Showa fork and Sachs shock combine to rank second-overall in the suspension category. Once leaned over the Duc provides confidence and stability, something not every one of these bikes can claim. When it comes time to transition the S4R, its 430-lb tank-empty weight is a definite advantage. Not only is the Ducati the slimmest feeling of the five but it’s also very easy to toss around thanks to a well-balanced chassis, light weight and low/wide bars that provide just enough leverage to get it turned in. It isn’t as easy as the Tuono to crank over in a turn, but the Factory is essentially an un-faired sportbike so it really is an uphill battle for the rest of the competition.

The riding position on the Duc is the most aggressive of the lot, which helped its second place Handling score but hindered its Ergo rating, where it finished at the bottom. While the 31.5-inch high seat is comfy, shorter riders complained about the far reach to the bars with taller riders also growing fatigued at the forward-sloping position. On the track the Ducati was right up there with the Tuono and the sporty riding position is a big reason why it is conducive to strafing apexs, but for long-haul rides the stance gets tiring.

Braking scores were pretty even in our test but ringer Jimmy Filice ranked the Ducati equal to the Aprilia, although a few of our less experienced riders didn’t support his point of view, citing the powerful binders didn’t offer the same level of feel as the Tuono. The dual 320mm rotors with Brembo four-piston four-pad radial calipers up front and single 245 mm disc with two-piston caliper in the rear are almost identical to those on the class-leading Tuono, but the end result just feels different. Occasional complaints about a bit of fade popped up on some notepads, but other than that the system performed well from start to finish.

We had a blast on the Ducati, but much to our surprise its rating in Grin Factor bettered only the Yamaha when we tallied the score sheets. While its engine is playful, it’s not as novel or unique as the Triumph’s Triple. Its handling is marvelous, but comes up short compared to the Aprilia. Without a doubt the Monster S4R exudes character from every pore, but what can we say, it didn’t thrill this year’s batch of testers like it has in the past.

The S4R took a real hit in the styling department too, which isn’t a surprise, as we had the same complaints about the Duc last year. Entering its 15th year, most of our riders are lobbying for a Monster redesign. While the single-sided swingarm and Y-spoked Marchesini wheels are both lookers, time has caught up with the Monster’s facade.

It will be a tough pill to swallow for the Monster elitists to hear detractors blasting its looks when it is the only bike here that can boast, “yeah, streetfighters? I started that look!” With its steel trellis frame and L-Twin powerplant exposed to the world, it was the most nekkid of our nakeds, and still enjoys some support from our group.

“The problem is that it looks dated now,” explains Hutch on the Monster’s lines. “That’s about the only major complaint that can be easily fixed back at Ducati HQ. Let’s doll it up with some Hypermotard styling cues and rekindle the passion for this bike that we once enjoyed.”

Fit and Finish are decent, but didn’t blow us away, with the Ducati tying the Triumph for third on the score sheet. The instrument display is simple and basic, with analog left-side speedo and right-side tach. While some prefer the old-school speedo look, the digital MPH figures on other bikes are easier to read. Idiot lights for low oil pressure, low fuel and turn signals compliment an LCD clock. The fuel light is nice, but once it turns on you don’t have far to go. In fact, a rider would be well advised to pay attention to their mileage, as the 3.6-gallon tank and average MGP figure of 35.5 gives it a meager 120-130 mile range. Either that Testastretta sucks the gas or it's just so much dang fun to ride full throttle that it drinks the vital fluid fast. Either way it doesn’t go far on a full tank. The mirrors offer a decent view, but they have a tendency to move around. Another flaw is the lower exhaust bend on the right side, which crowds the heel of some of our big-footed riders, forcing them to ride pigeon-toed with their right foot. What a bunch of whine bags, huh?

Not to pile it on, but the Duc didn’t fare well in our value equation either. In one year the unchanged S4RS managed to gain 500 smackers in its MSRP, but you can’t blame that all on Ducati as the American sawbuck is now having trouble keeping up with the Canadian Loonie much less the vaunted Euro. Still, if you consider the Ducati would be the most expensive bike out of the group if we’d have gotten the regular Tuono, the value question becomes more and more valid. It all depends on whether having that Ducati badge is worth the extra $4,800 you’ll shell out for the Monster instead of the more budget-minded Kawasaki. Yet, spending a bit more money is not always an issue with prospective Ducati owners. The glamour of the Italian marque alone has value that is difficult to put a finger on.

In the overall rankings, the Monster took a tumble. What can explain the drop from second in ’06 to tied for third in ’07? Well, the competition got tougher and the Duc just didn’t strike the same cord in this year’s crop of test riders, of which only two returned from ’06. Still the Ducati is a fantastic machine and, no doubt, will not have its sales figures hurt by our gripes. The most poignant words of wisdom regarding the Duc’s intrinsic allure is summed up by our philosophical hooligan, Brian Steeves.

“Do you drink cappuccinos,” muses Steeves? “Do you ride an hour away to that special cafe on the coast just to be seen and heard when you pull up? Is the phrase ‘I own a Ducati’ a pick-up line you wish to have in your arsenal? If these pictures and report are getting your heart going and you feel a little anxiety coming on, well then, the Monster is right for you.”

For the cappuccino’d elite who want a canyon-carving playbike, the $13,495 MSRP and our third-place rating won’t stop the venerable Monster S4R.

Ducati Scorecard:

  • Engine: User Friendliness 7.3
  • Engine: Open-Road Performance 7.5
  • Transmission/Clutch 6.7
  • Handling/Chassis/Suspension 7.5
  • Brakes 7.2
  • Ergonomics/Riding Position 6.2
  • Fit & Finish/ Instruments/Cockpit 6.8
  • Appearance 6.3
  • Grin Factor 6.8
  • Value 6.0