Learner Ducati great ride
It’s hard to believe, but this Italian beast fits perfectly into the new Leaner Approved Motorcycle Scheme. Paul Owen goes for a ride.
It might be a motorcycle targeted at learner riders, but the new Ducati Monster 659 LAMS is the bike that I feared most to ride this year. Knowing that the Bologna bike maker had taken the excellent Monster 696 and tweaked it to comply with the outer limits of the new Learner Approved Motorcycle Scheme, I was concerned that it might have become so neutered that it wouldn’t qualify as a ‘‘real Ducati’’ anymore. Well, it appears that such fears were groundless.
This is a bike as redblooded as any that emerge from the Borgo Panigale factory, and its appearance on our market will be a boon to those who aspire to the joys of biking, but found the previous selection of officiallysanctioned learner rides too off-putting in terms of their lack of desirability, quality, and performance.
The 189 kilogram fully-fuelled Monster 659 LAMS is so good that I suspect many owners will think twice about trading it in once they’ve graduated to a full motorcycle licence. At $17,490, it is the most expensive LAMScompliant new bike presently on the market, but its increased appeal is likely to result in a longer term of ownership than cheaper LAMS bikes. It’s the basis of the new Monster model that makes the bike such a success. The Monster 696 is a booming little air-cooled L-twin, pumping out just over 80bhp, and equipped with a nimble-handling trellis-framed chassis, complete with a gorgeously-engineered gravity-cast doublesided rear alloy swingarm. New-for 2011 Monster 696 upgrades such as increased steering lock, standard-fit ABS brakes, and a more compliant suspension setup carry over to the detuned learner model, adding a dose of extra rider-friendliness to both identically-priced Monsters. The 696 is a great platform for a LAMS model as it is both Ducati’s cheapest and lowest-powered bike, and a total doddle to ride straight out of the box. The biggest challenge was how to prune 29bhp from the 696’s power delivery to comply with the LAMS power-to-weight requirement of no more than 150kW-per-tonne, and meet the 660cc maximum on engine capacity. That the Bologna engineers managed a 30 per cent cut in power while retaining the essential Ducati elements is worthy of loud applause.
If I was a Monster 659 LAMS owner I’d celebrate my graduation to a full bike licence by immediately heading to the nearest Ducati dealer and ordering the few inexpensive parts required to allow the engine to dine on a wide-open throttle. This is a fine-handling bike for a learner, with its light easy steering, large reserves of cornering clearance, and absorbent suspension. With ABS already on board it would be nice if Ducati gave the brakes a bit more bite. However the APTC slipper-clutch, which both prevents rear wheel lock-ups if an inexperienced rider downshifts too many gears and results in a lighter lever action, is just what a learner bike needs, and the Ducati is the only LAMS model so far to provide one.
This isn’t the perfect learner bike – the digital speedo is located out of the rider’s line of sight and is hard to read at a glance, and the single indicator warning light on the instrument panel fails to inform which side is blinking. However it is the closest that any bike maker has come to building one so far.
DUCATI: New monster on the block.