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.

South Waikato News - - SPORT -

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.

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