Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ducati Monster 696 Test Ride

So after reading copious amounts of web reviews on the Ducati GT1000 i decide to see if I could get some riding time on it. So on a sunny Sunday I give the Ducati dealer at Nerima a call and ask him if I could test ride the GT1000 in my bad japanese. He probably didn't understand 'テストライド’ so he just answered to the affirmative. 40min later I arrive only to find out that the GT1000 they have there was not available for test riding, only for gazing. What I could test ride was the 1098, the monster or the hypermotard. After expressing my dismay at the fact that they expect people to buy a bike without even being able to ride it, I settled on taking the 696 for a spin, just so that I wouldn't feel like I left empty handed. At first glance, the new monster doesn't do it for me. The looks are compact, and remind me of a bike with too much tank and not enough dash. The short stunted rear end made any promise of a comfy ride for a pillion impossible. The plasticky feel of the fuel tank made the who affair feel cheap. As I am a camera guy, the best analogy I could give is the bike was like a nikon D40 compared to the sturdy heavier and more solid D3, which would be the GT1000. Static impressions aside, once underway, the first funny thing was that when I kicked it into gear and was trying to pull out into the road, the engine just rev'ed without moving as I let the clutch out. I thought that I had mistakenly left the bike in neutral or something. I kick the shifter again to make sure that I was actually in gear and try again... nothing, just engine revs. What the hell? Turns out that engagement point of the clutch is insanely far out, close to the top end of the clutch handle extension. What's worse, the dealer said that the handle was not adjustable on the 696. Lame. I suppose it is something you can get used to, but coming from a KTM690 where the clutch is a DREAM with progressive engagement through almost the entire play of the clutch handle (supermotos need this apparently to have fine clutch control rear wheel sliding turns). Bad clutch aside, the bike was surprisingly fun to ride, when compared to others in this range and seat ergos, for instance, the CBR600, which had more of a gaspy feel in the low end rpms. The monster pulled smooth with that ducati thumpy feel with lots of torque in the low gears, and the posture was actually a lot more comfortable once underway when compared to sitting still. Being more low to the ground and forward pitched, it encourages bad behaviour and a little bit of speeding, and probably wouldn't be too great to hop around town when compared to a more sit up bike. That being said, the engine was quite addictive and its a bike where revving the engine while stopped at the lights is just hypnotic. Strangly enough, more so than the harley davidsons that I've tried (thanks to japanese regulations). I only got a chance to open up a little (80kph) on a longer stretch of the road, (sadly middle of tokyo streets is not a good place for testriding bikes) but when you do ask for power the 696 lump does deliver it with urgency, not the crazy urgency of my KTM, but more controlled and full. I think it has a lot to do with the forward posture that makes you feel a lot more in control in high acceleration, plus the fact that the KTM given its dirtbike ancestry has a very light flywheel and primary drivetrain, so much so that it has problems at low rpms keeping itself from stalling without proper clutch control. Conclusions: Great bike for speeding around town and weekend blasts. I'm not a fan of the build quality, nor the clutch though, but the engine is a fun lump, so if you are considering a 600ish cc bike that is light with excellent handling but a strong pull and acceleration when you want it. The Monster 696 is a good choice.

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