This is a detailed guide to buying a Ducati Monster, from the first Ducati Monster 900 in 1993 to right now in 2021, including known issues, what to check and the best models of Monster to get (Spoiler: there are many “bests”).

Ducati Monster S4R Tricolore with Termignoni exhausts and single-sided swing-arm
The Ducati Monster S4RS “Tricolore” Anniversary Edition. That design, that engine…

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 at time has led the naked bike sector. Gear Patrol named the Ducati Monster 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!

My first Ducati Monster M900. Side view this time. Not a speed hole on the side; it’s a huge dent. I got this a nice guy on Craigslist and learned a lot about buying Monsters, the hard way!

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 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.

1994 Ducati Monster M900 with gold trellis frame
The original 1994 Ducati Monster, with its gold frame (a little obscured in this photo)

Are you obsessed with motorcycles?

Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)

Background on the Ducati Monster

Ducati produced its original Ducati Monster 900 in 1993.

It’s known as having been a “parts bin special”, though that’s a little unfair as many standard/naked motorcycles have borrowed parts from their superbike stablemates.

Since the first Ducati Monster 900 was released in 1993, many variants of the Monster have been produced. Ducati gradually added different capacities to the range (from the downsized 400 through to the extreme 1200), updated the engine design (4 valves per cylinder, liquid cooling, and a wet clutch), and improved the ride technology (fuel injection, traction control, and an IMU).

So little has remained constant in the Ducati monster other than the core concept of a naked sportbike with handlebars rather than clip-ons and a minimal fairing — if any.

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 Signor Galluzzi 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 Galluzzi 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 exposed “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.

The Suzuki SV650 is also a fantastic motorcycle, but that’s a different story (here’s my buyer’s guide to the Suzuki SV650).

Many aspects of the Ducati Monster have changed since the original launch, but it has kept the V-twin engine in a naked sportbike concept — so far. (There’s no Ducati Monster V4 yet.)

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 904 cc V-twin. The original Ducati Monster 900 breathed through carburettors, was air/oil- cooled, and had two valves per cylinder.

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 400 cc 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)

Ducati Monster 900 fuel-injected with exposed trellis frame and stock exhaust
The fuel-injected Ducati Monster 900 i.e.. It looks the same as earlier ones because it otherwise is the same. Cool little fairing over the headlight. In 2019 they’d call this “cafe racer-style” because everything is.

Ducati added fuel injection to the Ducati Monster for the first time in the year 2000. There were a few models with it in the name, like 900 i.e., 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) (2001-2008)

See my more detailed guide to the Ducati S4 range (including the S4R and S4Rs).

2008 model Ducati monster S4 Tricolore - one of the most popular Monster models
Here’s a Ducati Monster S4Rs “Tricolore” anniversary edition from 2008. Yow! Probably my pick of the bunch.

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 (fully adjustable inverted forks). It’s a great machine! It has more hoses though, taking away slightly from the aesthetically minimalist appeal of the air-cooled earlier Monster design, and prior to the improved visual design of the S4R.

The Ducati Monster S4R, released in 2003, was the same general idea 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 scream. 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 (for me and my riding environment), but you wouldn’t be upset if you had it, depending on where you live and how you like to ride.

To help you tame the beast, the Ducati Monster S4Rs got much better ride gear — radial mounted calipers, Öhlins suspension front and rear, and lightweight Y-spoked wheels.

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

Ducati Monster M1000, the 1000cc air-cooled monster
A Ducati Monster M1000, this one with a Staintune exhaust

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 1000 DS. 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.

People tend to have an affinity for capacity or another (or carburettor vs fuel injection), but there are just arguments in every direction, or sometimes just jealousy coming out as “the older one was better!” which evolves into “well, the older one was cheaper!” and with bikes this long in the tooth you just want one that has been treated well and still rides nicely.

Better-looking air-cooled S2R800 and S2R1000 (2005-2006)

Ducati Monster S2R800 - red body and frame, with white wheels
The S2R1000. Compare it to the S4R1000 above and you can see how they have similar looks, minus hosing and a radiator.

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. Some people even try to convert it to dry clutch!

On the other hand, the 800 has a powerband 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”.

The S2R1000 has much better suspension though, with fully adjustable forks up front. This, and the dry clutch, are what sell me on the S2R1000.

If you find either of these in good condition (they can fetch a high price because they look good — think US$3-4,000, depending on miles), you won’t regret it.

Just make sure you like the clutch action of the 800, as it’s not for everyone. And the 1000 will always be easier to sell if you realise you picked the wrong one.

Australian Ducati Monster S2R800 in Red and black trim
A Ducati S2R800 with red trim and black wheels – beautiful. This one was listed for A$4,999.

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.

The Ducati Monster 620 is 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, small but a great second-hand model
The Ducati 696. Not a small upgrade.

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 180 kg or so, the Ducati Monster 696 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, one of 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. And their suspension isn’t high-spec, so you might need to get it re-sprung and re-valved if you plan on flogging it at the track.

Modern compacts: Ducati Monster 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, an 803cc air/oil-cooled motor, produces a capable 64 kW (88 hp). And yowza, it has great looks!

The Monster 796’s engine was so good that it was used in many other motorcycles, including the wildly popular Ducati Scrambler.

Modern elements of the Ducati Monster 796 are that it’s fuel injected, has a nice display, a wet clutch, a more modern design, a single-sided swing-arm and under-seat exhausts.

Those elements of a single-sided swingarm and under-seat exhausts were lost on the 821 that came later.

Ducati Monster 821
Monster 821. Water-cooling adds a lot of piping.

The Ducati Monster 821 came around in 2015 and is liquid-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.

The 821 also got 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

Ducati Monster 1100 - single-sided swing-arm, but still air-cooled
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 Öhlins suspension.

These were air-cooled, dry-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 still two-valved, making them a tad easier to service. I personally think they’re one of the last truly beautiful Ducati Monsters made — I’d happily own a Monster 1100 S if I found a nice one and I had no bikes at the time (a rarity).

In 2011, Ducati added ABS, traction control and a wet clutch (I don’t know why this last element was added) 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

Red Ducati Monster 1200R
Ducati Monster 1200R. Photo from Ducati

In 2014, Ducati introduced the Ducati Monster 1200 with a very modern engine — four-valved and liquid-cooled. Coupled with its giant 1198 cc capacity, these Monsters push out 101 kW (135 hp) of power.

To tame this power they got a full electronics package, including a TFT dash, ride-by-wire with multiple ride modes, traction control, and configurable ABS.

The S version shared the same motor as the base model Monster 1200, but got more advanced suspension and braking.

Here’s the breakdown in specs between them:

FeatureDucati Monster 1200Ducati Monster 1200 S
Front suspension43mm fully-adjustable KYB inverted fork48mm fully adjustable Öhlins inverted fork
Rear suspensionPreload and rebound adjusted Sachs monoshockÖhlins fully adjustable monoshock
Front brakes2 x 320mm discs, Brembo M4.32 callipers2 x 330 mm discs, Brembo M50 callipers
Wheels10-spoke alloy wheelsY-shaped 3-spoke wheels
Weight (dry/wet)187/213 kg
(412/470 lb)
185/211 kg
(408/465 lb)
Other features* No DRLs
* Standard turn signals
* Plastic front mudguard
* DRLs
* LED turn signals
* Carbon fiber mudguard
Ducati Monster 1200 vs Monster 1200 S features

It got even more real in 2016 when Ducati launched the most powerful Monster to date, the Ducati Monster 1200 R. This motor pushed out 112 kW (150 hp); now at twice the power of the original Monster 900.

The 2017+ Ducati Monster 1200 and Monster 1200 S: More power across the board, and an IMU

In 2017 Ducati revised the Ducati Monsters again.

Visually they’re much the same, though they got a ~10% power bump, their 1198cc engines now making 112 kW (150 hp) @ 9250 rpm and 126 Nm (93 ft-lb) of torque at 7750 rpm.

Since these have been ride-by-wire since 2014, you can opt for various power modes, if you feel like taming the responsiveness of the throttle.

A big update for both models was the Bosch IMU from the 1299 Panigale. This meant both 2017+ Monsters benefited from cornering ABS and lean angle-aware traction control.

Both models also got an updated TFT.

As with the earlier 2014-2016 Monster 1200 models, the main differentiators between the Monster 1200 and the 1200 S are suspension and brakes.

Frankly, these Monsters are now so powerful and high-spec they’re well and truly beyond the “back to basics” concept that Galluzzi imagined. They’re great, and the rider aids make it easier to tame all those horses, but they are now supernakeds, not minimalist bikes.

Still, I’d like one. As much power as many superbikes and cornering ABS? Yes, please.

Back to basics — the Ducati Monster 797

Ducati Monster 797 - the most modern Ducati with old-school technology
Ducati Monster 797 – basic components, modern tech and design

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 gets the 803 cc air/oil-cooled L-twin from the Ducati Monster 796 of a nearly a decade prior, tuned to put out a slightly milder 53 kW (73 hp). 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.

The design is quite modern though. The front headlight isn’t a round headlamp like you will find on throwback models; it’s just the engine that’s more traditional.

You can’t get the Ducati Monster 797 everywhere though. It’s available in Australia and in Europe, and I’m not sure where else. In the UK/Europe, it was sometimes available with a restrictor to make it A2-legal.

The Monster 797 is basically the original Monster 900, but with slightly wider 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 the Ducati Monster 797 used, and in the future, you may have a classic. As of 2021 it is no longer available new.

The Ducati Monster and Monster Plus — 2021 models

In 2021, the Ducati Monster 821 and Monster 797 were both replaced by the Ducati Monster. Just “Monster”. That’s it! There’s also a Monster+, which is pronounced “Monster Plus”.

In reality, many publications already refer to the new 2021+ Ducati Monster as the “Ducati Monster 937”, after the displacement of the engine.

The 2021 Ducati Monster 937 RHS view on a wheelstand

Ducati decided to get rid of everything that’s Monster and just make a different motorcycle. So why call it a Monster?

Well, it’s still kind of the same thing… a naked sportbike that’s not a superbike, nor a streetfighter. A utilitarian hustler and mountain speedster, competing directly with machines like the Yamaha MT-09 SP (which is looking sweeter by the moment).

So the Ducati Monster doesn’t have a single-sided swing-arm. Big whoop, the mid-size version lost that with the 821 (replacing the 796). So it doesn’t have a round headlight… ok… and no trellis frame. What? The good news is that it still has a V-twin engine, even if it’s a liquid-cooled one with a wet clutch.

But what an engine! It’s the same 937cc Testastretta 11° engine you can find in the Hypermotard 950, Multistrada 950, and SuperSport 950. The new engine makes 91 kW (111 hp) at 9,250 rpm and 95 Nm at 6500 rpm, a great amount of power and torque for a middleweight.

And speaking of which, the new Monster is 18 kg / 40 pounds lighter than the 821, weighing in at 187 kg or 414 lb — fully fuelled, ready to rock. That is LIGHT. It will be really fun to ride. I haven’t yet, because Ducati hasn’t responded to my frantic late-night text messages.

Is the 2021 Ducati Monster still a Monster? Well, that’s its name. Ducati says it is. It looks cool. Different, but cool. But on the other hand, suddenly it seems to be competing on the same tier as a few other well-loved streetbikes, like the Triumph Street Triple RS — Triumph’s beloved 765cc triple that makes 121 hp, or Yamaha’s new 889cc CP3-powered MT-09 SP.

Of course, the Monster is still a V-twin, and still has a unique engine design.

Oh, and the “plus” version gets you a fly screen and a couple of aesthetic things. Don’t go crazy, Ducati.

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 900 cc, 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 a tad more intrigue… buy a Monster 1100 Evo, which I think is the greatest of the air-cooled Monsters. Just don’t buy one unless you’re outside a 1000 mile radius of where I am, because I want it! (I kid, it’s all yours, all’s fair.)

If you want something balls-to-the-wall but still an iconic design, get one of the S4 models, particularly the S4R or S4Rs. These hauled! They had superbike motors in them and most of them easily cleared 90 kW / 120 hp with an exhaust and tune.

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, which is fun.

If you want a newer 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 (12000 km) though.

Should you get a liquid-cooled Ducati Monster? Look, horses for courses. I wouldn’t over-simplify and say “classic Ducatis must be air-cooled!”, because while the original Ducati Monster was air-cooled, the S4 versions were liquid-cooled.

And let’s not forget that those had motors from other liquid-cooled classic Ducati motorcycles, the superbikes that started with the 916.

Finally, there’s a lot to be said for the lack of service that a modern liquid-cooled Ducati engine has — service intervals are noticeably wider.

So yes, there are so many liquid-cooled Ducati Monsters, and they have significant enough benefits, that I’m in favour. But then you’ll have to worry what coolant to get…

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 the smaller Monsters, 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. Avoid these. They’re just too heavy for their limited horsepower. If you’re restricted by your license, I’d probably suggest getting another bike like a Ninja 400 that you can easily resell, then get the right Monster later.

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.

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.

The Suzuki SV650, 2017+ model, often described as the "poor man's Ducati monster"
The Suzuki SV650, often considered the reliable (and cheaper) alternative to the Ducati Monster. A wonderful motorcycle in its own right with no need to compare it to something else, in my opinion.

Or you could go full electric with the Zero SR/F, 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 system. 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 herehere) — I had this problem on my Ducati Supersport, which shares a foundation with the Monster
  • Oil pressure sensors leaking (easy to replace, can wait until it happens) — this happened on my Multistrada 1000DS (shared a motor with a later Monster)
  • Broken or leaking head studs – replace them before they snap!
  • The 1000 DS motor has soft valve guides (sometimes, some years)

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 service 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. They just have to know how to check and adjust desmodromic valves.

“Oh no, 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 unscrupulous Ducati mechanics charge more if they want to. It doesn’t need to, and they shouldn’t.

If you’re interested, here’s a full explanation of what “desmodromic” means. It goes to the very heart of being a Ducati.

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.

The desmodromic actuation design was to prevent the (past) 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 10,000 km).

A newer Ducati 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.

How a Ducati desmo engine works, with gears opening and closing the valves
“Scusi signore, dov’è la camma di apertura? Grazie!” Phrase books never seemed to teach me what I actually wanted to know.

So here’s the rub: there’s nothing overwhelmingly 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.

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 of 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.

Ducati Monster 900 with under-the-seat termignoni exhaust and open dry clutch
This Monster 900 has under-seat Termignonis… definitely not that easy to find.

How much to pay for a used Ducati Monster

Craigslist ad for a Ducati Monster in California
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 the US, I found a tool called MotoHunt that makes it easy to search all the local dealerships AND Craigslist ads 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 rarer, but you can find them. Here’s one on Gumtree that was reasonable.

Ducati monster for sale in Australia
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.)

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
  • Ducati Monster 1100: US$7,000
  • Ducati Monster 1200: $8,000+
  • Ducati Monster (2021): Whatever they’re asking!

Note — I put up these prices as stable market prices. They’re likely to change as things normalise from the fluctuations we’ve experienced recently.

If you have any doubts, get in touch with me and I will help you evaluate any Monster you find out there. I always enjoy a bit of bike banter.

Sum up

There are few more rewarding things than riding a machine you love, even if there are “better” bikes out there. I hope the above has been useful in helping you decide what you might love.

If you think it has, drop me a line and ask any questions you want.

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  1. Great article! After riding for twenty years on sport bikes, classic airheads, flattrack and dual sport I still find the Monster to be the most enjoyable bike I’ve owned. It was also the most problematic, but when it was good it was goooood! I had an S2R1000 with upgraded rear shock for carving down Highway 1 in northern California. Eventually the electronics led to our moto-divorce, but I still pine for her.
    Also have gotten to ride a few 01-03’s of various tune and loved them as well. I prefer the ground clearance of the S2R, but the visceral feel of the early bikes are hard to replicate.

  2. What do you think about a 2015 Ducati monster 1200. It has Termi exhaust and the seller wants $9k. It has 8600 miles on it.

    1. That price sounds just about as good as it gets right now, in today’s market (lower supply/higher prices). Basically, if it’s the bike you want, my personal opinion is you won’t be unhappy with that price now. You could save a grand in a year or so, but that’s a year without a great bike.

      1. Hey Dana!
        I found a 2015 monster 1200s here in San Fran that I’d love your opinion on.
        I believe my email will be attached with this message so hopefully we can speak in more detail.

        Here’s a little more info:

        2015 Ducati Monster 1200s white w/ Ohlins
        9700 miles, recently completed annual service done by Marin Speed Shop (has not been ridden since the service), tires have maybe a few hundred miles, new chain.

        Has been tipped over once while parked, please see pics for damage. Never crashed or laid down otherwise. Never hit rev limiter.


  3. Hey man! Great article! What do you think of a 2014 Ducati M696 with 10,000 miles that has a clutch letting out early and the maintenance light on? The owner doesn’t know if the valves have been serviced, but the idle sounds good so far from the videos and there’s no audible metal clanging. Would you pay $2,000?

      1. I remember a mechanic I knew (who had been riding and racing for decades) said that people think the 696 is a beginner’s bike, but it’s fast enough and he wouldn’t consider it one. Sounds like you’ll do what I’d do — list it and let someone buy it, but I dare say you’ll enjoy it in the meantime.

    1. I think $2K is a great price for an M696 in that condition. I don’t know the cause of the maintenance light, but I’d enjoy finding out…

      Clutch isn’t too hard on that one, basically like any wet clutch, and there are aftermarket clutch packs available. Might be $1000 staring at you — aside from the maintenance light.

  4. Hi,

    A dealership has got an S4 listed at $4000. The bike has no service history but looks otherwise clean and runs good. No modifications (so no termi exhaust). Is $3000 a good price for this if I can get them down that far? What do you think?


    1. If it has reasonable mileage (say under 20,000), and you factor in a full service (probably $1,000 including valves), US$3,000 is about the max I’d pay for an S4 in a normal market in the US. Right now (in COVID supply/demand) it’s a seller’s market. But as I always say to people asking about price — it’s unlikely you’ll regret it if it’s really the bike you want.

  5. RE: “…Some forum members described the 1000CC model as being too much of a handful to ride, and preferred the earlier 900cc models….”

    Bullshit. But thanks for the laugh.

  6. Hi Dana,

    Great article, I found a 2007 Ducati Monster 695 listed for $4,000. I haven’t discussed price with the owner yet, so there might be run for negotiation.
    It currently has 3,300 miles and the only modifications are frame sliders and a Sargent Customer seat. The fuel pump was replaced and the timing belt was just done.

    I would love to hear your thoughts regarding the price and anything I should look out for.

    Thank you,


    1. That’s very low mileage! At that age with low miles, just check for all the stuff that degrades — anything made of rubber (tires, brake hoses, fuel hoses), assume you have to change the fluids (brake/clutch fluid, oil and filter), plus the inside of the tank which can gum up/be rusty. The fuel pump may have been replaced because of gunk in the tank. Have a look inside. If it’s funky looking, assume you’ll need it cleaned out, or to do it yourself, plus you may need a new fuel filter.

      1. Thanks for the response, how maintenance intensive is that particular model?
        Overall if the bike checks out, what number do you think is reasonable?



  7. Hey Dana, I really appreciated this article as well as your buyers checklist! Will be using it going forward for sure. If you are still willing to take a look at Monsters that readers find, I would love some input on an older monster I’ve been eyeing on Craigslist. It’s a 97 900 with ~20k miles on it at a steep $6k but loaded with extras and “appears” very well taken care of. Shoot me an email if ya can. Thanks again!!

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