Ten years ago, there were no orange motorcycles from Austria to challenge the middleweight might of the British Empire, and so it was left to the Romans and their red ones to defend the realm against the Britons. Heck, ten years before that there weren’t any decent British middleweights either, and come to think of it ten years before that, there weren’t even any Ducati Monsters. It just goes to show you, the more things change, the more they change. That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun, except for all the stuff that’s new. Amen, brothers and sisters.
Naked middleweight duel!
In the naked sportbike realm, Kawasaki’s mostly unfaired 2010 Z1000 possesses an advantage on the order of at least 25 rear-wheel horsepower over the Triumph, but the Street Triple makes a case for itself by scaling in 65 lbs lighter than the Z’s 481 lbs in a comparison of wet weights.
Triumph’s Street Triple R was our favorite of all bikes last year. Does the STR still have what it takes to remain one of our most loved motorcycles in 2010?
Regardless of missing out on a winner-take-all title for 2010, the TSTR is still a top dog in the nekkid bike segment.
New naked middleweight contender? Time for a street brawl!
Closer to the Triumph’s class of displacement is a new contender for this year.
Ducati’s all-new Monster 796 expands the Monster lineup to three models. With a useful boost in power compared to the Monster 696’s engine, and a chassis very similar to the Monster 1100, the newest member of the Monster family is in many ways the best combination of its siblings.
A new kid on the block, eh? Best we round this pair up and see what shakes down.
Our first few rides had us thinking the Monster’s slightly lower tech two-valve-per-cylinder, air-cooled 803cc L-Twin didn’t haul the mail quite as well as the Triumph’s liquid-cooled, DOHC, 12-valve 675cc inline Triple.
Ducati’s all-new Monster 796. The midsize Monster is possibly the best combo of what the Monster 696 and 1100 offer, but is the 796 Monster enough to take on the formidable Street Triple R?
Dyno time proved us right when all runs were completed, as the Trumpet’s nearly 97 hp at 12,000 rpm easily surpassed the Monster’s 76.1 peak rwhp at 8400 rpm.
Our Triumph test unit came equipped with an aftermarket Arrow exhaust (available as a Triumph accessory), and is the likely culprit in what is roughly a 6-hp gain compared to the 91 hp the standard Street Triple made for us a couple years back. But despite the utterly delicious-sounding music this Arrow can makes, Boss Man Kevin Duke couldn’t help but wonder if it contributed to softer low-end response.
Despite the Triumph’s horsepower blow out at the top, the Duc carries a surprising power advantage every place else.
From as early as 3500 rpm the Ducati pulls 4 to 5 hp on the Triumph, and carries that advantage until 6K rpm at which point it made as much as 10 hp more than the Street Triple.
The Triumph’s inline Triple was the dominant force in terms of peak horsepower. Nevertheless, the Duc’s air-cooled Twin proved the more potent engine until it reached its peak power, at which point the Triumph keeps spinning up higher.
Only another thousand rpm later and the Duc whipped the Trumpet’s 54.5 ponies by nearly 14 hp. The 796 continues this 10+ hp spanking until its 8400 rpm peak, at which time the middleweight Triple catches up and continues to build toward its dominating final peak power.
The Triumph’s smooth-running and rev-happy engine doles out wonderfully linear power. Aside from a dip at approximately 7500 rpm in the Triumph’s horsepower graph, the inline Triple’s dyno results are comparatively straight and consistent. It’s so smooth, in fact, the blip at 7500 was imperceptible out on the street.
We anticipated the Triumph to exhibit an unfair horsepower advantage, but knowing the grunty nature of a Twin, we weren’t surprised by dyno results that showed the bigger-cube Ducati as the torque champ.
Here again, and in more dramatic fashion, we can see how the grunty strength of Ducati’s V-Twin (or L-Twin if you like) outmuscles the smaller displacement of the Street Triple R.
The Monster 796’s peak torque of 52.7 ft lbs at 6400 rpm bests the Triumph’s 45.4 at 8900 rpm. But here again the character of Triumph’s engine belied its shortcoming to the Monster. Rough low-rpm fueling is reflected in the Duc’s choppy looking torque line, especially when compared to the much more linear line the Street Triple produced.
In terms of engines, what we have here is an apples-to-oranges comparison. The Ducati’s two 401.5cc air-cooled cylinders and 128cc displacement surplus gives it a clear torque advantage. In contrast are the three 225cc liquid-cooled pots in the TSTR that use 4-valve cylinder heads to exploit its stronger top-end power. So it’s a choice between big grunt and big ponies, although it’s worth noting that the Triple’s powerband is significantly torquier than any 600cc inline-Four powerplant.
Kevin said shifting action from the Triumph’s gearbox is “transparent;” and while its cable-actuated clutch engaged near the end of lever travel, Jeff still found it easy to operate. Effort at the 796’s hydraulically actuated, four-position adjustable clutch lever is almost feathery. But no amount of reduced effort at the Ducati’s clutch could make up for what was a clunky gearbox during low-rpm shifts.
As we noted in the 796’s single-bike review, our particular test unit was virtually new out of the box, so we suspect that with more miles the Ducati’s shifting action might improve. Oh, and lest we forget, the Duc is geared pretty darn tall, too.
Reaching 80-ish mph on the interstate doesn’t require much effort from the Ducati engine, but a minor downside to this tall tranny is how quickly you forget there are two shifts remaining to reach the last cog. Clicking into 6th occasionally results in a lugging-the-engine sensation if road speed is less than 65 mph.
A good chassis and an even better chassis
The Ducati hangs its classic Ducati Twin from a chubby tubular steel trellis frame mated to an aluminum rear sub-frame; a cast aluminum single-sided swingarm on loan from the Monster 1100 rounds out the 796’s frame package. A twin-spar aluminum-beam frame holds the English Triple and is paired to a more traditional cast-aluminum swingarm.
Both frame sets provide plenty of rigidity, lending to good stability and predictable handling – especially mid-corner.
Despite the 796’s nearly three-inch longer wheelbase (57.1 inches vs 54.5) it doesn’t require excessive effort at the handlebar during initial turn in or when changing directions. The Monster’s edgy 24.0-degree rake helps offset the longish span between its wheels. The Triumph has a similarly racy 23.9-degree rake.
The Street’s 41mm Kayaba upside-down fork is fully adjustable and offers better damping and bump compliance than did Ducati’s un-adjustable 43mm inverted Showa sticks. Ride quality up front on the Duc isn’t particularly poor, but a harsher initial impact over bumps or crummy pavement is noticeable.
A fully adjustable (preload, compression and rebound damping) Kayaba shock with remote reservoir keeps the Triumph’s back end in check and paired perfectly with the level of performance from the fork.
The Ducati sports a Sachs shock that provides for spring preload and rebound-damping adjustment. The Ducati’s shock had better damping quality than its fork, offering a forgiving ride without sacrificing rear-end stability.
Pirelli tires spin on each bike. The Triumph wears the Dragon Supercorsa Pro and the Duc uses the Diablo Rosso.
The Supercorsa is ostensibly a higher performance tire, and indeed stuck like glue during our rides, but the Diablo Rosso offered excellent grip as well, never giving us reason to wish for a better set of buns.
Editor Jeff Cobb demonstrates the Monster chassis’ combination of agility and stability.
The Monster 796 employs one of the most desirable names in braking with radial-mount four-piston Brembo calipers grabbing hold of 320mm rotors (our test unit came with optional ABS). Although the Triumph’s radial-mount four-piston Nissin calipers squeeze smaller 308mm rotors, this brake package gives up nothing to the Brembos.
Both binder sets have ample stopping force and good feel (thanks in part to braided stainless-steel lines), but the Street Triple R offers higher levels of feel, thereby making them that much easier to modulate.
It goes something like this: Ducati brakes are really good; Triumph brakes are excellent.
Little o’ this, little o’ that
We appreciate the hi-tech nature of the compact, all-digital split LCD instrument panel the Ducati uses (similar to that on a number of high-end Ducs), but with the exception of the bar-graph tach and array of warning lights, data on the panel was sometimes hard to read during daylight hours.
The Triumph employs our favorite type of gauge package: a prominent analog tachometer joined by an LCD panel that clearly displays road speed (as well as other useful info).
Ergos on each bike should accommodate a variety of rider heights, inseams, riding style preferences, etc. Both mostly unfaired motorcycles use a one-piece motocross-style handlebar, with the Triumph’s bar/riser combo positioning the rider in a more upright stance. The Ducati’s bar is more forward and lower feeling, yet it never struck us as uncomfortable, just sportier.
Kevin and I found the Triumph’s overall rider triangle perfectly suited to our 5’8” frames, but Kev suspected the short-ish seat-to-peg distance “wouldn’t be ideal for long tours.” Sure enough, long-legged six-footer Jeff confirmed Duke’s assessment, saying his room to scoot rearward was less than ideal, and he might try to remedy it with a re-contoured saddle from the aftermarket. As we’ve mentioned in previous Street Triple reviews, the Street’s saddle is thinly padded near the front.
Seating on the Street Triple is a comfortable, upright position. Arrow 3-into-1 exhaust is available as an accessory from Triumph dealers for $1199.99 and replaces the Street’s twin can undertail exhaust. Accessory color-matched Fly Screen Kit retails for $249.99; tinted Fly Screen Visor Kit (mounted atop color-matched fly screen) retails for $119.99; color-matched Belly Pan Kit bodywork retails for $249.99; seat cowl cover sells for $229.99.
Contrarily, the Ducati’s wide saddle with supportive foam density made for a cozy mount. Stints of 50 miles droning down the freeway never lead to any squirming or repositioning in the saddle.
Seat heights are about the same, with 31.7 inches for the Triumph and 31.5 for the Monster.
Observed fuel economy for the Ducati registered 40 mpg from its 3.6-gallon tank (3.8 gal on non-ABS model). The Triumph’s rev-happy Triple didn’t fare as well, with an observed 32.5 mpg from its much larger 4.6-gallon petrol holder.
Although Kevin lauded the Triumph’s overall performance, he was nevertheless enraptured by the Ducati’s appearance.
“As playfully wicked as the Street Trip is, it looks like an argyle sweater next to the chic Italian style of the Monster,” opined Kevin. “From the bold trellis frame to the single-sided swingarm to the sassy undertail mufflers, the Ducati comes off as the classier machine, and with it the perception it is more expensive and special.”
Yeah, the Duc is pretty hot, but we believe the Triumph’s stripped-down, no-nonsense appearance is also very appealing. Its look is highlighted by twin spottie headlamps – Triumph’s nod to the streetfighter style, a bike-building style created years ago largely by resourceful English riders.
The champ (of our hearts, anyway)
“This is a highly likeable motorcycle, and riding it again affirms our decision to name the Street as our 2009 Motorcycle of the Year,” says Kevin.
Although Jeff didn’t participate in last year’s Best Of awards he echoed our voting sentiments after his first full ride on the Street Triple R, saying it was a bike he’d buy with his own money.
As much as we enjoyed the plentiful powerband of the Duc’s air-cooled Twin, we nevertheless prefer the inline-Triple’s slippery smooth power delivery. What it lacks in torque compared to the Monster is more than made up for on the top end. The little 675 has way more low-end and midrange steam than any 600cc Four, and yet its upper-end hit nearly matches a middleweight supersport’s.
The new Monster 796 is pure Ducati and perhaps the best mix of the current Monster 696 and 1100, retailing for $2K less than its big brother.
A deceptively powerful engine is paired to a stable chassis, decent suspension and powerful Brembo brakes. Best of all, it’s a Duc. And it’s a Duc that for the right person could make an excellent first bike. Same goes for riders returning after years-long hiatus from the sport.
The new Monster 796, while tame enough for new or newer riders, is nevertheless capable of entertaining salty veteran riders.
We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this latest Monster to someone dreaming of Ducati ownership. As far as Ducati motorcycles go, the Monster 796’s $9995 ($10,995 w/ ABS) price tag makes this Italian stallion a relative bargain.
The newest Monster is a great addition to the Monster lineup, yet the Triumph brings out our inner hooligan. We love how the Triple’s abundance of top-end poke affords it effortless wheelies well past when the Ducati’s too-tall gearing and narrower powerband prevent wheelies in anything other than first gear.
Furthermore, at $9599 ($11,648 as tested with accessories), and with equally good handling, slightly better brakes and higher-quality suspension, the Street Triple makes more sense to our tastes.
The Ducati Monster 796 made more trouble than we expected for the Triumph Street Triple R, but the various qualities of the Trumpet that led us to pick it as Bike of the Year in 2009 influenced us once again during this naked middleweight duel.
“I never felt like I was riding anything ordinary when aboard the Street Triple R,” says Kevin. “It’s a cool bike, and other sportbike enthusiasts respect it. I would’ve loved this for a first bike. Or a third bike. Or a seventh bike. Wait a minute, I don’t have a seventh bike – yet.”
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