Guide to Buying a Ducati Monster

I have a love affair with the Ducati Monster. Above is a picture of my first. It has a dent on the right hand of the tank, but I didn't care (until I had to sell it).

I'm not alone in loving them. 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 planned on getting one again.

There's mine again. Side view this time. Not a speed hole on the side; it's a huge dent.

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.

Note: This review has some subjective elements, like discussion of the spirit of what made the Monster a Monster, or the best models to get. To the extent possible I'll keep them objective (e.g. by identifying those that frequently appear in ads), but I'll note a subjective element when there is one.

The original 1994 Ducati Monster, with its gold frame (a little obscured in this photo)

Background on the Monster

Since the first Ducati Monster 900 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. 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, 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 they reliable?

It's a common refrain to claim that Ducatis 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.

Let's analyse it 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. 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 the gauges' sealing has failed and wter 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'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 servicing Ducati valves may be more frequently required than non-desmo 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 condensed 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. Carbureted, 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, 620cc and a 750cc 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)

The fuel-injected 900 i.e.. It looks the same because it otherwise is the same. Cool little fairing thing I guess.

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 S4 models (2001-2007)

Here's a Ducati Monster S4RS, a 2007 model in this case. Crikey! Probably my pick of the bunch

The 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 916 into the same chassis. The 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.

The 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 swingarm. It looked the business. It still does. The S4RS Testastretta was introduced in 2005, this time equipped with the 998/999 superbike engine, throwing out a massive 129hp. These things screamed.

Bigger air-cooled: Monster M800, Monster M1000 (2003-2005)

A Ducati Monster M1000, this one with a Staintune exhaust

This was a capacity upgrade 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. I've seen the Multistrada of the same years referred to as a 1000DS. If it's the same motor, it's reliable but unexciting, and at times can sound a bit like a lawnmower.

The M800 was pretty unexciting, 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)

The S2R1000. Compare it to the S4R1000 above and you can see how it looks nearly identical, minus hosing and a radiator.

These were much the same as the Monster earlier 800 and 1000, but upgraded aesthetically, earning single-sided swingarms and mufflers running by the side, but retaining the the air-cooled 2-valved engines.

They all looked good though and still had dry clutches. The 800 was much less popular, but a number of S2R1000s come up on Craigslist or Gumtree pretty often.

Newer and smaller, but feisty: The 695 and 696

The 695 was the capacity boost of the older 620, reflecting the general size increase of the smaller part of the monster stable. It felt like a small version of the 900 Monster, just as the 750 and 620 did.

The 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 696. Not a small upgrade.

The Ducati Monster 696 had at the time the highest horsepower to displacement ratio of any Ducati, pushing out 55kw out of the tiny motor. It remained air cooled, but 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. It was made for a long time 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 machine, so abundant in high volumes, but 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 Termignoniss!), 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

Ducati Monster 796

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.

Modern elements are that it's fuel injected, has a nice display, a wet clutch, a more modern design, a single-sided swingarm and under-seat exhausts.

Old-school elements are that it's still air-cooled and has a two valve per cylinder engine.

Monster 821. Way too much going on there.

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, 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.

But you know what? Because it's a modern entry-level motorcycle, it has the least character appeal of any Monster I've seen. I'm sure they're amazing to ride, have great sounding exhausts and would be the pride of many stables, but they lack so much next to newer or older Monsters that I think they're eminently forgettable. It has nothing particular on the Kawasaki Z900 or Yamaha MT-09 for example.

The last air-cooled beauties: The 1100 models

The Ducati Monster 1100, with some modifications

In 2008, the flagship Monster became the Monster 1100, and a higher-spec 'S' version which came with Ohlins 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. 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.

The massive 1200s

In 2014, Ducati introduced the latest generation 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, 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.

What 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 anecdotal AF.

If you want something balls-to-the-wall but still an iconic design, get one of the S4 models. 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. If you want to get something extremely modern that's still a Ducati, at this stage in the model's evolution I'd be looking at Scramblers, Panigales or even the very new Supersport.

Should you get a smaller one? Like a 620, 696 or S2R800? 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.

With the exception of the 400. They're just too heavy for their limited horsepower.

What to check on a used Ducati Monster and how much to pay

Here's a decent deal in LA. 32K miles for $3,700.

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 Australia they're a bit more rare, but you can find them. Here's one on Gumtree that's reasonable:

This one was up for A$4,500 (~US$3,500)

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.)

Apart from the usual things to check for, 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. It 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.

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 a Ducati. Also, these problems are super common. Failed rectifiers are probably the most common, and luckily, the easiest to fix.

Is the tank intact? 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.

Does it have a Termignoni exhaust? The stock Ducati mufflers underserve 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-bame 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.

This Monster 900 has under-seat Termignonis... definitely not that easy to find.

Sum up

There are few more rewarding things than riding a machine you love. Hope the above has been useful (and factually correct), but let me know if I got anything wrong