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2009 Ducati 696 test ride for Canadians

When you think of things that are classically Italian chances are; pasta, wine, haute couture and fast cars are a few things that probably come to mind. Sounds pretty good right? - A country known for food, wine, fashion, and fast cars. While I’m not so keen on fashion but those other things sure make it sound like it’d be a good place to spend some time.

Turns out that the stereotype of Italians and their love of fast cars is true to some degree. In fact, one of Italy’s largest exports is motor vehicles. Ferrari is one unmistakably Italian brand but not all vehicles hailing from Italy are Ferrari’s though, or even cars for that matter. With some 20+ companies making motorcycles or scooters within its borders it’s clear that Italians love motorcycles too. Take a look at a few of the bikes that are produced in that region and it’s easy to see that they have a passion for making high quality machines, often hand crafted, and full of character.

I recently had a chance to test drive the newest model in the wildly successful ‘Monster’ series. Originally introduced in 1992 at the Cologne Motorshow and designed by Miguel Galuzzi the Monster has been hugely popular. Ducati claims the Monster brand was the original ‘naked’ bike.

How does one improve on a bike that’s already so popular? A few good ways would be to give it more power and make it lighter all while keeping the style that people love. This basic philosophy wasn’t lost on the folks at Ducati because that’s exactly what they did. The new 696 is a lot like the old 695 – just lighter and more powerful, while retaining the same emotional response from potential owners and its sexy looks.

The new 2009 model 696 is the “next generation naked and the final word in urban excitement” according to Ducati. I’m not sure about it being “the final word” - whatever that means… But there is no doubt it is a very stylish and sporty looking bike that’s sure to draw some looks.

The beauty is more than skin deep - it’s got a powerful air-cooled Desmo L-twin engine that pumps out 80 hp and 50.6 ft-lbs of torque at 7750 rpm. This new engine has the best horsepower per liter ratio of all Ducati’s air-cooled units. It ensures a smooth and powerful delivery for a relaxed or thrilling ride in all conditions. The increase in power was achieved by incorporating new cylinder heads. The pistons and combustion chamber of the new engine have also been revised to optimize the fluid dynamics of the new ports.

The Desmo engine not only sounds great but it actuates the valve closure mechanically, ensuring precise valve timing at all speeds. Typically four-stroke engines rely on simple springs to close the valve. As the engine speed increases the time taken to close the valve becomes more critical and if the valve doesn’t follow the exact profile of the camshaft you have a resulting loss of performance. A mechanical closure eliminates the spring from the system guaranteeing precise valve closure.

Time To Ride:

My ride was scheduled for 2 pm and the weather was a bit mixed. Earlier in the day it was overcast and in the early afternoon there were a few sprinkles of rain. On my way to the test ride a few drops fell and the sky looked like it might want to release a few more drops. Luckily, the rain held off though. There was still that matter of the wind! A consistent 50 km/hr wind with gusts of 70 plus km/hr kept things a little interesing. Dealing with the headwind or tailwind wasn't really an issue but in the wide open and unsheltered area surrounding Winnipeg the swirling cross-winds made for some serious side to side leaning of the bike to keep it on the road and upright.

The first thing I noticed when sitting on the bike was how low the seat was – the lowest seat height of any Ducati apparently at 30.3”. I’m 5’10” with a 32” inseam so I generally don’t have too much trouble with higher seats – low seats are fine as long as the seating position doesn’t have my legs cramped up awkwardly. An over 6 footer might find it a little tight. I personally found the position of my legs to be comfortable.

The seat itself sloped into the tank and I did have to adjust my seating position a few times on the ride, taking the opportunity at lights to stand up and get the blood flowing a little better to my lower body. For short rides the seat would be okay for me, but if I was going out for a few hours I’d definitely be looking for an aftermarket seat to try and keep from sliding up and towards the tank.

The low stance of the bike and the slightly tucked rider position helped keep the bike balanced in the strong crosswinds, a little more so than on the Hypermotard I was on earlier in the day. I had to lean the Hypermotard at steeper angles into the wind due to its height and the very upright seating position; the wind was stronger during my 696 ride too. This demonstrates the difference the low seat and center of gravity has between the two bikes. The 696 felt a little less susceptible to the cross winds.

The wide tank tapers to a comfortably narrow seat. You’re hunkered down into the bike more than sitting on it. It sounds cliche but the bike really does feel like it’s wrapped around you when you’re riding it; like it's an extension of your body. The reach to the bars has been shortened and the pegs moved slightly forward. I’ve got longish arms but the reach felt natural. You’re a more upright than on a sportbike; like say a CBR 600 RR. I felt a little more pressure on my wrists than on the Hypermotard; that’s to be expected with this type of bike. I'd say it's a happy medium between upright and sportbike.

Monster’s have often been touted as being a great bike for new riders. I don’t know that it would be on my list of best bikes for total beginners simply because of the performance potential of this bike. But, if you thought it was a good beginner bike before then I’d say it is even more so now with its reduced weight and lower seat height.

The power delivery is smooth and the clutch is about the lightest I’ve ever felt on a bike. It’s really almost effortless. One thing I did notice on the 696 I rode was that the friction point of the clutch was really a long way out. I had the clutch out almost a full 2/3 before the friction point. I didn’t stall mine but a few folks on the test ride seemed to have a little trouble pulling away from stop lights – likely due to the unusually high engagement point of the clutch and unfamiliarity with the bike.

Once underway, the desmo engine is deceiving – you can’t really tell how quickly you’re moving and accelerating. It’s less sensitive to throttle roll off than some other bikes I’ve ridden lately (BMW F650GS, and Ducati Hypermotard 1100), which should make it a little easier for beginners to feel comfortable with. If you crank your right wrist though you’re going to quickly get up to speeds where you can get yourself into some trouble; either the law enforcement kind or the ditch kind if you’re not riding within your abilities. I easily hit 165 km/hr during my run and the engine was still pulling.

I’d say if a beginner could ride this bike within their limits and responsibly then it may be a good beginner bike because of its smooth power delivery. You can have a relaxing rambling ride if you want or you can twist the throttle a little further to reveal more of the true potential of the Monster. This is a bike that you can really grow into - You won’t soon tire of its performance. I consider myself a pretty responsible rider but I don’t know that I would have had the willpower to resist seeing what the bike would do when I first started riding - maybe that’s just me though!

The 6-speed gearbox didn’t feel quite as smooth as it’s more expensive relative (the Hypermotard 1100S) that I rode the same weekend. Shifting requires a somewhat more purposeful amount of force than the HM1100S. I was a little too gentle with it at one point and got a false neutral. Shifts announce themselves with a little more of a clunk, particularly at slow speed. Nothing to be alarmed about; the bike I rode didn’t have a lot of kilometers on it and it would likely smooth out a little in time. It’s still a lot smoother shifting than my old Suzuki GS500 and I never had any mechanical troubles with that bike.

The clutch on the 696 is an Adler Power Torque Clutch (APTC) wet multiplate design. It’s a hydraulic control clutch, or 'slipper' clutch. It helps keep the clutch lever action light and easy, improves comfort while simultaneously reducing destabilizing rear wheel “lock-up” when you downshift a little too abruptly. It can be especially helpful in wet weather or other slippery conditions.

The instrument cluster is a small digital unit variety. This digital unit allows the display of a wealth of information such as speed, rev counter, clock, scheduled maintenance warning, oil temperature, trip fuel, air temperature, lap time, warning light for low oil pressure, fuel level, fuel reserve, neutral, turn signals, overrev, and immobilizer. The overrev light is a clearly visible reminder to upshift. It’s about the easiest light to notice on cluster when you're riding. Another nice feature is that it is Ducati Data Analyzer-ready if you really want to keep track of the bike and rider performance.

You may also be glad to hear that the scheduled maintenance warning light won’t come on quite so frequently as the past with Ducati’s new, less frequent, maintenance schedule. Ducati claims there is 50% less maintenance costs on new Ducati’s than on older machines.

The distinctly Ducati tank includes ingenious removable outer skins on the sides which makes it easy to change the personality of the Monster 696 with a new color. The skins also have couple mesh covered air intakes too that give it an athletic appearance. The air scoops allow more air to enter the airbox and even slightly increase the steering angle because of their positioning. The steering lock is up from the 695 to 64 degrees.

The tank is a 15l unit (3.5l of which is reserve). You can match the tank with a quickly removable rear seat cowl if you choose to. When removed, the rear seat cover reveals a place for you to bring along a friend.

At this price point you'd think that Ducati must have had to put some budget pieces on somewhere. Ducati didn’t burden this bike with good looks and budget parts though; it’s got some substance to go along with its style. The headlamp unit features a new triple arc main beam, while the rear light uses modern LED technology. The front brakes are the new benchmark for the category with two 320 mm discs and four-piston radial calipers while the rear gets a 245 mm disc, 2-piston caliper riding on Marchesini 17" wheels. All this performance and they still managed to trim a significant 7kg of mass from the 695. The weight savings means that the 696 weighs in at 355lbs (161kg) dry.

The frame is classic Ducati but new; it's a Hybrid Trellis frame with larger diameter tubes directly inspired by the 2007 World MotoGP title-winning Desmosedici GP7 machine. To this is attached a rear aluminium sub-frame.

For suspension you get a showa 43 mm upside-down fork in front with 120 mm / 4.7 in of travel. In the rear you’ll see a progressive linkage with preload and rebound Sachs adjustable monoshock. That’s good for 148 mm / 5.8 in of travel.

The new 696 also has a new exhaust system with re-routed down pipes that cleans up the look of the underside of the Monster. The pipes end with twin high mounted aluminum mufflers.

Affordable naked style bikes usually attract the aftermarket who come out with lots of great ways to customize and personalize the machines. The 696 follows along with this tradition of earlier Monsters with the availability of tons of accessories from Ducati.

You can buy all your accessories separately or you can get yourself a 696+ factory-personalised model and start from there. The 696+ model includes the aerodynamic single seat cover and micro bikini fairing. Here’s just a few of the available accessories:

- An assortment of Termignoni exhausts which not only look great but they give the Monster a bit more of a throaty growl. Optional seat cowl is also visible in this picture.

- Headlight fairing. It's small but the 696 I rode was equipped with one and I must say that it looks sharp.

- Rear seat cowl (partly visible below).

- Touring seat (Designed to improve ergonomic features to make riding position for rider and passenger even more comfortable, this seat is made in high-density foam and is covered with anti-slip valuable fabrics that resist climate conditions). The sides of the seat are textured and you get some visible stitching - red, in this picture.

- Front mudguard

Available Colors

It comes in red, pearl white, matte black while the frame can be red or black. The wheels are black.

The MSRP is $9,495 CDN and it comes with a 2-year, unlimited mileage warranty.

Final Thoughts:

This bike is a well thought out progression of the Monster 695. With a more powerful engine, lighter weight, and lower seat this new 696 deserves a spot in the top of mind awareness of anybody looking for a midsized naked. It can be driven tamely or, if you listen to that little devil on your shoulder, it can be driven hard and it’ll gladly deliver a high level of exciting performance.

I had a lot of fun riding this bike and would ride one again in a heartbeat if given the chance. If you’re looking for a bike to get around town, a fun weekend rider, or something to up your ‘coolness’ a few notches this bike should be on your short list, particularly if you like the naked style. The desmo L-twin engine is fantastic - it sounds and feels like you’d think a motorcycle engine should.

A few issues I see with the bike.

- I’d want to have a different seat than the stock one - then I could really enjoy this bike on more than just a short jaunt.

- The exhaust placement makes for a potentially hot ride for passengers.

- Unadjustable levers might be a challenge for riders with small hands.

- There's a manual fast idle switch. Seemingly a little out of place on a bike costing near $10,000.

This last point while not much of an issue with me I thought I’d mention it – I felt a little more of the vibration from the L-twin engine making it’s way through the foot pegs on the 696 than I did on the HM1100S. Of course, the HM1100S also costs about $8,000 more before taxes than the 696. It might not even be something you notice if you didn’t drive the two different Ducati’s near back-to-back.