Guide to Buying a Ducati Monster
This is a detailed guide to buying a Ducati Monster, from the first Ducati Monster 900 in 1993 to right now in 2020, including known issues, what to check and the best models of Monster to get.
I have a confession: I have a love affair with the Ducati Monster. My first, a Ducati Monster M900, had a dent on the right hand of the tank, but I didn't care.
I'm not alone in loving the Ducati Monster. It is the largest selling Ducati model of all time, and leads the naked bike sector today. Gear Patrol named it one of the most iconic motorcycles of all time. It was credited with reviving the Ducati brand in the mid nineties.
The Ducati Monster was my third motorcycle (after a learner and then my first 'real' motorcycle, a Honda CB900F). But the Monster was the first motorcycle I regretted selling. I regretted it from the moment I heard it be ridden away. Ever since, I've compared every motorcycle to it, and bought (or at times built) more. Maybe, eventually, all of them!
So the research began. Which was the best model to get? How would I avoid the mistakes I made buying the first one? What price should I pay?
It's safe to say I've looked at at least one of every kind of Ducati Monster available on the market. In fact I've probably looked at every similar Ducati out there (e.g. SuperSports of their time, and modern Scramblers).
So here it is: my guide to buying a used Ducati Monster.
If you like this, you might also like my guide to buying and loving the Triumph Scrambler — embodying so much of what the Ducati Monster originally was designed to be.
Note: This review has some subjective elements, like discussion of the spirit of what makes the Monster a Monster, or the best models to get. To the extent possible I'll keep my thoughts objective (e.g. by making sure they align with thoughts in reviews by authoritative magazines), but I'll note a subjective element when there is one.
In this guide...
Background on the Ducati Monster
Since the first Ducati Monster 900 was released in 1993 many variants have been produced. Different capacities, ranging from sedate (the 620) through to the extreme (the 1200R), with all manner of rider aids and engine types have been created.
What makes a Ducati Monster?
Monsters were originally intended to embody simplicity and minimalism, including nothing more than the core of what you need for a motorcycle to go.
The original Ducati Monster was designed by a designer named Miguel Galluzzi, who sketched it together while working at Honda and making fully-faired CBRs (another motorcycle worth loving). As he tells the story, he saw a photo of a Ducati 851 stripped to its engine and chassis and drew over it, adding only the bare minimum to make it a motorcycle. "In the mind of a motorcyclist," he said, "you need a gas tank, a seat and a motor."
He later joined Cagiva (which then owned Ducati) and convinced executives to build some prototypes. He built the original model from the company's parts bins, pulling a frame from a Ducati 888, an air-cooled L-twin motor from the Ducati 900SS and front suspension from a 750SS, and so on. When he showed those prototypes to Ducati heads at the time, he recalls the managers asked, "Are you bringing the rest of the motorcycle later on?"
What made the Monster's design stand apart from other motorcycles of the time was the combination of:
- The "trellis" frame - that attractive blocky frame, taken from the 900 SuperSport engine.
- The naked design: Somewhat halfway between a sports bike and a classic upright "standard" motorcycle, the crouched over handlebar position was fairly unique (though not entirely new) on the market.
- The v-twin engine - most engines at the time in standard motorcycles were inline four engines. The L-twin gives it a unique rumble.
- The dry clutch on the larger (or non-"small") Ducatis giving the distinctive Ducati rattle and clatter that makes many riders swoon, and many car drivers thinking your engine is about to break into a thousand pieces.
The combination made for something unique on the market and it exploded. It created imitators too, most notably the Suzuki SV650 (the "poor man's Ducati"), also equipped with a naked design, trellis frame and burbling 650cc V-twin. Also a fantastic motorcycle, but that's one for another day.
Are Ducati Monsters reliable?
It's a common refrain to claim that Ducati motorcycles are unreliable and expensive to service. It is what usually steers the less die-hard away from a Ducati and over to something like a Suzuki SV650.
Or you could go full electric with the Zero DS/R, which has more than a passing resemblance to a Ducati Monster!
Let's analyse the question of Ducati unreliability bit by bit. There's some truth to it, but it's more hyperbolic than it needs to be.
"It's unreliable." They have their issues, but no more than most motorcycles of that age. The most unreliable part of old Ducati Monsters is the electrical components. The wiring loom can fail at some points (usually connectors, from corrosion), and diagnosing them can be troublesome. On my own Ducatis, I had to replace the regulator/rectifier on two, and a stator coil on one.
Electricals, however, are unreliable on many old motorcycles—Ducati certainly isn't alone. Regulator/rectifier units will always fail after a while — they turn excess voltage into heat, after all. What's special is that Ducatis are generally kept longer than many motorcycles that are thrashed, so the perception that the electricals go bad is more common.
You can pre-emptively get ahead of the reg/rec problem by buying a higher performance one. If you really want, replace your whole wiring loom, but that's a bigger project.
Other common problems identified by Googling for them:
- Leaking clutch slave cylinder (apparently almost guaranteed) (discussion here, here)
- Oil pressure sensors leaking (easy to replace, can wait until it happens)
- Broken or leaking head studs - replace them before they snap!
- The 1000DS motor has soft valve guides
None of these are show-stopping problems, and definitely not a reason to avoid the Ducati.
Probably the most contentious claim is that you shouldn't ride a Ducati Monster in the rain because of the risk to the electricals. This occurs most commonly when a gauge's sealing has failed and water enters through them. Water enters, the LCDs go nuts, etc. The fix is to take the gauges apart, add sealant and then close it.
"It's expensive to service." Not really, but it might be more frequent. Firstly, regular services (oil and filter changes) are no more expensive than any other motorcycle if you don't take it to a Ducati dealer. There's no black magic in a Ducati motorcycle's oil or filter. Take it to a local trustworthy motorcycle mechanic and these services will only cost you in the $150-200 range, just like they would with any other motorcycle.
"Oh shit, they have desmodromic valves? No thank you."
This is what scares a lot of other people off. The truth is: valve servicing on Ducatis is no more expensive, but it can be more frequently needed.
The word 'desmodromic' scares many people away from doing their own valve service. It also lets Ducati mechanics charge more if they want to. It doesn't need to, and they shouldn't.
There's nothing actually very hard about servicing a desmodromic engine. To understand this, you have to know what desmodromic means: While conventional engines open and close valves using cams and return springs, desmodromic engines use two cams and two actuators, avoiding using a return spring. This prevents the problem of spring failure and lets an engine open and closes valves more efficiently, letting them rev higher (in the past; present-day spring-actuated motorcycles rev plenty high).
Here's Revzilla explaining the difference between desmo and regular valved engines:
In almost every poppet valve system, valves are opened via mechanical actuation. For side-valve and many OHC engines, that means the cam’s lobe is pushing open the valve. (Yes, sometimes it acts on a rocker arm or a shim bucket, but the protrusion that is the lobe is handling the opening duties.)
This is exactly the same in a desmo system. Where the desmodromic valve differs, however, is in the closin’. A conventional poppet valve relies on a valve spring, sandwiched between the head and a collar with keepers, to snap the valve shut. Desmodromic systems remove the valve spring and generally supply another rocker. Those who deal with standard poppet valves in an OHV or OHC setup tend to think of rockers as valve-opening devices, but there’s no reason they can’t be used to close the valve, too. (Source: Revzilla)
But you might have to service Ducati valves more often than non-Ducati motorcycles. An old Monster with a two-valve engine needs to be serviced every 6,000 miles (or 10,000km I guess). A newer one only needs service every 18,600 miles (30,000km), but it's a more involved job because there are more valves, and if you're special and have a V4, more cylinders.
So here's the rub: there's nothing hard about servicing a desmo engine. Any mechanic can do it.
And better, since there's nothing hard about it, you can do it yourself. Here's my favourite guide. This makes it way cheaper! I'd do this under the guidance of an experienced mechanic at a trade shop, like MotoGuild in San Francisco.
A timeline of Ducati Monsters
Here's how the Monster models broke down over the years. Ducati Monsters were first shown in 1992, then manufactured in 1993 and made available to the public as 1994 models.
The original Monster 900 (1994-2000)
The first was the Ducati Monster M900, a 900cc v-twin. Equipped with carburettors, air- (oil-) cooled and 2-valved.
The following years until 1999 saw the release of a few more smaller-capacity models in different capacities, with otherwise minor tweaks. There was a 600cc (1993-2001) and a 750cc (1996-2001) model, both created as lower-capacity, less intimidating (and less costly) variants for those who wanted to dip their toes. There was even a 400cc model released in a few markets, a product of regulations where the tax or license system was harsher on larger capacities. They were well-loved (some still are), but given the smaller capacity, don't retain the iconic status of the M900 and are thus in lower demand.
The fuel-injected Monster 900 (2000-2002)
Fuel injection was added in the year 2000. There were a few models with it in the name, like 900ie, but they're still Monsters and looked identical. Basically, every model after the year 2000 was fuel injected. If you buy one in that year, check that it made the cut.
Super-hot Ducati Monster S4 models (including the S4R and S4RS) (2001-2007)
The Ducati Monster S4, introduced in 2001, was the first of the liquid-cooled Ducati Monsters with a four-valve engine. Eventually the entire line became liquid-cooled (causing many to cry sacrilege), but these ones did it under the guise of sticking the superbike motor from the Ducati 916 into the same chassis.
The Ducati Monster S4 also had better brakes and front suspension. It's a great machine! It had a lot more hoses though, taking away slightly from the aesthetically minimalist appeal of the air-cooled earlier Monster design, and didn't benefit from the aesthetics of the S4R.
The Ducati Monster S4R, released in 2003, was the same as the S4 except with the 996 superbike engine, sexy twin high-rise mufflers on the right hand side and a single-sided swing-arm. It looked the business. It still does. This is one of my favourite motorcycles of the whole series.
The Ducati Monster S4RS Testastretta was introduced in 2005, this time equipped with the 998/999 superbike engine, throwing out a massive 129hp. These things screamed. And also were some of the best-looking Monsters released ever. Personally, I think this is a little too much power for a naked motorcycle, but you wouldn't be upset if you had it.
Bigger air-cooled: Monster M800, Monster M1000 (2003-2005)
The S4 range was the top of the line, but there was an intermediate range of Ducati Monsters released contemporaneously.
The M800 and M1000 models were capacity upgrades for the air-cooled Monster, but retaining most of the characteristics of what made the original great (of course keeping the fuel injection added in the year 2000). The M1000 got a dual-spark engine to ensure better combustion. The Multistrada of the same year is referred to as a 1000DS. It's the same motor, and can best be described as reliable but unexciting, and at times sounding a bit like a lawnmower. (Well, mine did, no matter what I did to it.)
The M800 was pretty unexciting too, being basically an upgrade of the M750.
Some forum members described the 1000CC model as being too much of a handful to ride, and preferred the earlier 900cc models.
Better-looking air-cooled S2R800 and S2R1000 (2005-2006)
These were much the same as the Monster earlier 800 and 1000, but upgraded aesthetically, earning single-sided swing-arms and mufflers running by the side, but retaining the the air-cooled 2-valved engines. The S2R800 has a wet clutch, but the S2R1000 has a dry one.
They all looked good though.
Having looked at a fair number of each, I personally think that the 1000 is the better of the two. While the S2R800 is more balanced in its power, people don't like the wet clutch of the 800 after a while. Many people on forums even try to convert it to dry.
On the other hand, the 800 has a power band that seems more suitable to the slightly sporty naked chassis and is just much easier to wring out. It's also a tad bit lighter, about 5 kgs/11 lbs. Not a huge amount, but you can print out a spec sheet and take it to meets. And mind you, some will still say that the S2R800's power band is "anaemic".
If you find either of these in good condition (they can fetch a high price because they look good - think US$3-4,000), you won't regret it. Just make sure you like the clutch action of the 800, as it's not for everyone.
Newer and smaller, but feisty: The 620, 695 and 696
The Ducati Monster 620, sold between 2002 and 2006, was a fuel-injected Monster notable for being the first with a wet clutch. It produced 42kW (57hp) and while attractive, nice-sounding and powerful enough to get you into trouble, was definitely considered the entry-level version of the bigger monster models. It's still a good first motorcycle, especially if you plan on dropping it, which people often express as "I don't plan on dropping it".
The Monster 695 was the capacity boost of the 620, reflecting the general size increase of the smaller part of the monster stable. It, too, felt like a small version of the 900 Monster, just as the 750 and 620 did, and so is also often a "first" motorcycle (not even a first "big" motorcycle), though it's plenty capable.
The Ducati Monster 696 was different. It got a huge styling upgrade, with more polished build, a refined motor, a small power boost, a different, more aggressive riding position and an altogether unique personality.
The Ducati Monster 696 had at the time the highest horsepower to displacement ratio (an interesting metric) of any Ducati, pushing out 55kw out of the tiny motor. It remained air cooled, but again, had a wet clutch (gasp!). With a wet weight of only 180kg or so, it really hauls. People tend to buy this motorcycle as a first motorcycle, but a lot of experienced riders would be very happy on it. My old mechanic/ salesperson wouldn't let first-time riders buy it. He said "That thing is NOT a beginner machine."
The Monster 696 had a long production run and so makes for an opportunity to buy a modern air-cooled Ducati Monster, the last of its kind.
Something about the 696 appeals to me. It's an entry-level Ducati Monster, so abundant in high volumes, but overall not an entry-level motorcycle. Because so many people buy it as their first motorcycle, they often do things to them like modify the exhaust (or buy them with Termignoni exhausts fitted, worth thousands!), add styling elements like custom mirrors and generally invest into them—all things you can pick up effectively for free.
The small downside is that they might not have done the valve jobs on them, so budget that in, either the time or the cost.
Modern compacts: 796, 821
The Monster 796 came around in 2010, and lasted until 2013. It's like a modern incarnation of the S2R800, and so nothing special or sought after, but it would appeal to those people who don't want a balls-to-the-wall 1100 or 1200 Monster. The engine produces a modest 88hp. And yowza, it has great looks!
Modern elements are that it's fuel injected, has a nice display, a wet clutch (still air-cooled though), a more modern design, a single-sided swing-arm and under-seat exhausts. Those last elements were lost on the 821 that came later.
Old-school elements are that it's still air-cooled and has a two valve per cylinder engine.
The Ducati Monster 821 came around in 2015 and is water cooled, producing more horsepower (109-112, depending who you ask), and with more stylistic changes. The 821 is positioned as a more entry-level motorcycle next to the 1200, and so loses the awesome styling element of the single-sided swing-arm. This really bothers me personally, because it makes the single-sided swing-arm seem desirable by exclusivity.
It got even more high-tech components like a TFT dash and optional ABS.
The motor of the Ducati Monster 821 is sweet. It's balanced, working from down low to up high in the rev range, and never feels like it's lugging, unlike earlier monsters. Being a testastretta design, it also has much wider service intervals of valves every 18k miles or 30,000 kms. That's massive!
But you know what? Because it's a modern entry-level motorcycle with many kinks ironed out, it has the least character appeal of any Monster I've seen. The 821 Monster is fun to ride (that's a ton of power after all) and would be the pride of many stables, but the gentle purr of the motor really doesn't stand out next to the raspy bark of, for example, the 1100 Evo. It has nothing particular on the Yamaha XSR900 for example. Harsh, I know!
The last air-cooled beauties: The 1100 models
In 2008, the flagship Monster became the Monster 1100, and a higher-spec 'S' version which came with Öhlins suspension.
These were air-cooled, wet-clutch machines with a single-sided swing-arm and side exhausts. They maintain a modern design, but because they're air-cooled, they have just less stuff lying around in the design. They're also two-valved, making them a tad easier to service. I personally think they're one of the last truly beautiful Ducati Monsters made.
In 2011, Ducati added ABS, traction control and a wet clutch to the Monster 1100, calling it the Monster 1100 Evo ABS. The engine remained the same, with the 1078 cc, air-cooled, desmo L-twin belting out 100 bhp at 7500 rpm, and 103 Nm of peak torque at 6000 rpm.
Personally, I think the Ducati Monster 1100 Evo ABS is the last truly great Monster. It has all the analogue components of earlier machines, plus equipment to help me stay alive. I really like being alive.
The massive Ducati Monster 1200
In 2014, Ducati introduced the latest generation Ducati Monster, which was four-valved and liquid-cooled. Coupled with its giant 1200cc capacity, these brutes push out 135hp. To tame this, they get a full electronics package, including a TFT dashboard, ride-by-wire with multiple ride modes, traction control, and configurable ABS.
It got even more real in 2016 when Ducati launched the most powerful Monster to date, the Monster 1200R. This motor pushed out 152hp; now at twice the power of the original Monster 900. With a full TFT instrument panel, riding modes, Bosch ABS system, and Ducati Traction Control, the Monster 1200R pushes the envelope of the Ducati Monster to become one of the most sophisticated and powerful modern street naked motorcycles.
Frankly, these Monsters are now so extreme they're well and truly beyond the "back to basics" concept that Galluzzi imagined. I'm sure they're great, and the rider aids will make it easier to tame all those horses, but they lack that iconic charm.
Still, I'd ride one. 152 horses and cornering ABS? Yes, please.
Back to basics - the Monster 797
In 2017, Ducati decided to go back to the drawing board to introduce new and comparatively inexperienced riders into the Monster family with the new Ducati Monster 797. The Monster 797's 803 cc, L-twin motor puts out 72 bhp and 67 Nm. It just gets the basic ABS, no traction control, and no riding modes, but you get a fairly decent, inimitable Monster which is easily accessible, even to riders with little experience. You can't get it everywhere though. It's available in Australia and in Europe, and I'm not sure where else.
This is basically the original Monster 900, but with three times the service intervals, high-quality electronics, a gentler wet clutch, a less insanely shallow turning circle... but still with the simple engine of the original. It contains the spirit of the original. You could buy this, and in the future, you may have a classic.
Which Ducati Monster to buy
The aim of buying any Monster is to have something you'll love riding, won't go bankrupt servicing and that you'll be able to sell easily (one day).
You'll love riding any Monster. That part is pretty easy.
Buying one you'll be able to sell means buying one in good condition that has been serviced regularly and that is in reasonable demand. The last part is critical. It's why you want to focus on iconic classics that are not overpriced.
If you want an old Monster, focus on the 900. The sweet spot is 2001-2003, when they were 900ccs, had fuel injection (just better reliability and easier maintenance!), but were still air-cooled and with a dry clutch. Get a red one. I heard someone claim once that yellow ones were better preserved, but that sounds as anecdotal as the rest of this article.
If you want something balls-to-the-wall but still an iconic design, get one of the S4 models, particularly the S4R. These hauled! They had superbike motors in them and most of them easily cleared 120hp. However, they were definitely more expensive/complicated to maintain (because of more pipes, harder to access the valves and just more valves). They still had dry clutches.
If you want a brand-new monster and are OK with it being a reincarnation, get a Monster 797. You get many of the benefits of the original (air-cooled V-twin with modest horsepower), but all the benefits of modern technology - a TFT display, optional ABS, a gentle wet clutch. You'll still have to service those valves every 7,500 miles though.
Should you get a water-cooled Ducati Monster? Look, horses for courses, but I personally wouldn't. I love those motors, but for a true classic, get the actual Ducati 916 (or one of its successors), the places where the water-cooled motors were originally placed.
Should you get a smaller Monster? Like a 620, 696 or 750? Because they were positioned as 'entry level', there won't be as rabid-hot demand for these models. There's nothing wrong with them, and you'll likely love riding them. If liquidity is low in your area and one comes up in good condition (well-maintained, with the valves serviced and no dents in the tank) then it might just be a great buy. They all have wet clutches.
With the exception of the 400. They're just too heavy for their limited horsepower.
What would I get? I'm on the market for a good Monster 1100 Evo ABS. Tell me if you have one on the east coast of Australia and I'll come by.
What to check on a used Ducati Monster
Apart from the usual things to check for (tyres, chain/sprockets, crash damage, no leaks in suspension, working electricals, frame alignment etc... see my comprehensive checklist here!), look for the following:
Were the valves serviced recently? Were the belts replaced? Belts and valves need inspection every 6,000-7,500 miles for air-cooled machines, and belts have to be replaced every two times you do the valves. Some people just don't do this, or sell it when it's due, in which case you have to plan on doing it yourself
Servicing valves needs a couple of special tools, plus buckets to put over the shims, and about 4-6 hours of your time. I did mine under the supervision of an experienced Ducati mechanic, Lucy, at MotoGuild in San Francisco. It took me a few hours (and I added on some more time to replace the belts plus change the oil and do a few other things.
If there is no evidence the belts have been replaced — plan on getting this done, and get a quote for it first. Expect it to be between US$600-1,000, depending on the mechanic and what part o the world you're in.
Do the electricals all work? Make sure the displays work and that the charging system works. Take a voltmeter along to your inspection. If there's a bad connector, loose wire or other fault in the wiring loom, diagnosing and repairing is kind of a nightmare on almost any motorcycle. Also, these problems are super common on old Ducati motorcycles. Failed rectifiers are probably the most common, and luckily, the easiest to fix.
Is the tank on your Ducati Monster intact?
- If you have a steel tank (early models): Dents in the steel tank are not only expensive to replace ($750, as it's very hard to get a second hand tank that's intact!), they're extremely common from the way the handlebars are placed. Basically if one has been dropped, even at a standstill, then the tank is dented. It's annoying to look at and hurts your resale. I'd caution against buying one, unless you know a guy who can fix it.
- If you have a plastic tank and are in North America: Check for swelling in the tank, like bumps and blisters, or the tank bulging asymmetrically. If the latch is hard to open, or if the tank is too close to the ignition shroud, it's a sign of swelling. Swelling in the plastic tanks was caused by ethanol mixed into North American gasoline. It was a known problem, and for a while Ducati were offering replacements. If your tank has no swelling, it may have been replaced (which is good). Of course, if the owner has evidence of this, all the better.
Does it have a Termignoni exhaust? The stock Ducati mufflers under-serve the Ducati motorcycles. Termignonis cost over $1,000 new, and people slapped them on (and can get almost nothing for them now, used), so buy one already equipped. It's worth waiting for. Other exhaust systems are fine too, but just stay away from no-name eBay units, which are more often a sign that a bike was dropped on its muffler than a sign that the owner wanted to invest anything.
How much to pay for a used Ducati Monster
You can get Monsters in the US for $2,500-4,000 for one in good condition and that has been maintained. Similar prices are available in the UK.
In the US, I found a tool called MotoHunt that makes it easy to search all the local dealerships AND Craigslist adds nation-wide (in the US). Give it a try to find your Monster — it's so easy to find good deals, you may just end up planning a fly-and-ride! (And read my interview with the creator.)
In Australia they're a bit more rare, but you can find them. Here's one on Gumtree that's reasonable. You can browse some local classifieds using MotoFomo (a tool to browse motorcycle forum classifieds) to see what's for sale on Netrider, for example.
If it has high miles, that's actually OK, as long as it has had few owners and the valves have been serviced regularly. Just use it to your advantage and get a discount. It's very hard to sell a motorcycle that has more than 50,000 miles on it. (But remember: what goes around comes around when it's your turn to sell it.)
Here are general prices I have seen, all in US dollars. You can get similar prices in the UK (after currency conversion). For Australia, add 50% to these — partly the AUD conversion, and partly just that everything's more expensive in Australia.
For these prices, I'd expect non-horrendous miles (under 30,000 miles, or under 50,000 kilometres), a recent full service, and fully roadworthy wheels, tyres, chains, sprockets, suspension and electricals. The fairings and tank will have at worst damage from being driven, never going sideways.
- Ducati Monster M900: US$3,000
- Ducati Monster S2R800/1000: US$4,000
- Ducati Monster S4R: US$5,000
- Ducati Monster S4RS: US$6,000
- Ducati Monster 796: US$6,000 (more tame, but more modern... still hot looking)
- Ducati Monster 1100: US$7,000
- Ducati Monster 1200: $8,000+
If you have any doubts, get in touch with me and I will help you evaluate any Monster you find out there.
There are few more rewarding things than riding a machine you love. Hope the above has been useful. If you think it has, drop me a line and ask any questions you want.