Head-to-head

The Mon­ster & Speed Triple have been bang­ing heads for over 20 years... now new mod­els go at it again

Motorcycle News (UK) - - This Week - By Phil West MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

Speed Triple v Mon­ster 1200

Shock­ing as it may sound, it’s nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury since the mould-break­ing Du­cati M900 Mon­ster and Tri­umph Speed Triple 900 were launched at the end of 1993 to go on sale the fol­low­ing year.

Their im­me­di­ate suc­cess, plus that later of the host of im­i­ta­tors they in­spired, ef­fec­tively led to the cre­ation of a whole new hooli­gan class – nakeds – which to­day re­mains one of mo­torcy- cling’s most pop­u­lar and com­pet­i­tive.

Yet through­out it all, the big Mon­ster and Speedie, through in­nu­mer­able re­gen­er­a­tions and re-in­ven­tions, have man­aged to re­main the defini­tive ex­am­ples of the breed – and, it’s im­por­tant to note, quite dif­fer­ent from su­per-nakeds such as BMW’S S1000R or Aprilia’s Tuono which are ef­fec­tively un­faired su­per­bikes. Fur­ther­more, their en­dur­ing pop­u­lar­ity means they’ve also be­come hugely im­por­tant to their par­ent com­pa­nies.

The orig­i­nal Mon­ster and its spinoffs, af­ter all, fa­mously saved Du­cati from col­lapse in the mid-’90s. The Speed Triple, mean­while, has not only al­ways been one of Tri­umph’s best sell­ers, but it also set the Hinck­ley mar­que on a whole new charis­matic path.

All of which makes these lat­est, wholly up­dated ver­sions of each hugely sig­nif­i­cant, and raises some ob­vi­ous ques­tions. Does Du­cati’s vir­tu­ally all­new 1200 Mon­ster have what it takes to both live up to its fore­bears AND con­tinue its reign as the defini­tive Ital­ian naked? And how does it com­pare to that en­dur­ing, naked yard­stick, the up­dated-last-year Tri­umph Speed Triple? We took the top spec ver­sions of each, the new Mon­ster 1200S and the Speed Triple R, on a side-by-side test through sunny(ish) Si­cily to find out…

What’s in a name?

But first, let’s get any con­fu­sion over the two bikes’ model des­ig­na­tions out of the way. To be com­pletely ac­cu­rate, two new Mon­ster 1200s have been launched for 2017: the stan­dard Mon­ster 1200, with fairly run-of-themill wheels, brakes and (Kayaba/sachs) forks and rear shock, and the higher spec Mon­ster 1200S, fea­tured here, as

dis­tin­guished mainly by its light­weight wheels, higher spec Brembo brakes and track qual­ity Öh­lins sus­pen­sion front and rear.

The po­ten­tially con­fus­ing bit comes now. Tra­di­tion­ally, Du­cati’s top-spec vari­ants have been given the ‘R’ suf­fix al­though that’s not the case here (not yet, any­way). There re­mains, how­ever, a Mon­ster 1200R in Du­cati’s line-up. That bike be­ing the old top-of-the-range ver­sion, as in­tro­duced last year, of the old Mon­ster 1200, which is a very dif­fer­ent ma­chine. Got that? Good.

Sim­i­larly, Tri­umph is also of­fer­ing two ver­sions of its new Speed Triple but this time, and even more con­fus­ingly, the base ver­sion is dubbed the ‘S’ with the higher spec Öh­lins-and-brembo ver­sion, called the ‘R’. Which is why we’re here pit­ting the Mon­ster S against the Speed Triple R.

The devil’s in the de­tail

But if the model des­ig­na­tions seem mis­matched, the bikes them­selves have plenty in com­mon. Both, rather than be­ing de-frocked sports­bikes, are pur­pose-built road­sters. Both have 1000cc-plus en­gines tuned for meaty de­liv­ery rather than peak power. Both have sin­gle-sided swing-arms and lash­ings of style. And both, be­ing the top­spec ver­sions, have Öh­lins, Brem­bos and car­bon-fi­bre in abun­dance.

The new Mon­ster is, of course, the big news. Du­cati it­self claims the new model has taken some­thing of a backto-ba­sics ap­proach af­ter the slightly lardy style of the most re­cent 1200 of 2014. As such it ‘rein­ter­prets and mod­ernises the orig­i­nal 900’ so is slim­mer, more sporty and more com­pact while at the same time be­ing up­rated. So, there’s a power-boosted (by 5bhp) and now Euro4-com­pli­ant ver­sion of Du­cati’s fa­mil­iar ‘Tes­tas­tretta 11º’, 1198cc V-twin plus up­rated elec­tron­ics in the form of the ‘Du­cati Safety Pack’ (the Ital­ian firm’s name for its ad­justable trac­tion con­trol and cor­ner­ing ABS combo), Du­cati Wheelie Con­trol plus three switch­able rid­ing modes (Sport, Tour­ing and Ur­ban) each with tai­lored en­gine maps and set­tings for ABS and so on all mon­i­tored by a fancy new full colour TFT screen.

From the sad­dle, the Mon­ster’s changes are more con­spic­u­ous still. Its whole pos­ture and at­ti­tude, with its jacked up rear, short­ened swingarm and wheel­base, slimmed down tank and lighter weight, is far more sporty and ag­gres­sive than in re­cent years and,

‘They’re pur­pose­built road­sters, not de-frocked sports­bikes’

yes, thanks to neat ref­er­ences like the retro tank clip, gen­uinely re­minds of the orig­i­nal.

But that’s pretty much where the ‘retro’ ends, as well. The fancy screen and new switchgear are bang up-to­date and fit to grace any su­per­bike, as are this S ver­sion’s glo­ri­ous Öh­lins sus­pen­sion, light­weight wheels and meaty Brembo monoblock brakes.

By com­par­i­son, the Tri­umph, though im­pres­sive, hasn’t quite the same rac­ing ku­dos. Though boosted to 138bhp it still trails the Du­cati’s 150; its rider aids, though de­cent, aren’t quite as so­phis­ti­cated as the Duke’s (the plain LCD con­sole in par­tic­u­lar is com­par­a­tively ba­sic) and while, yes, the Speedie is also be­decked with Öh­lins and Brembo good­ies, none of them, on closer in­spec­tion, are quite as high­spec as the Ital­ian’s.

Switch­back show­down

None of this is nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing, as the rid­ing of them proves. Our test route takes in the glo­ri­ously sinewy S-bends that wind up the foothills of Mount Etna. And, though un­sea­son­ally fringed by snow, the roads are, on the whole, dry and a scratcher’s par­adise.

And along them, it is the Tri­umph that’s the eas­i­est and most re­ward­ing to get on with – at least at first. Where the Mon­ster is coiled ag­gres­sion: stumpy, track-firm, with clocks that are slightly baf­fling (ini­tially any­way) and a de­liv­ery that’s snarlingly ex­plo­sive, the Speedie is sim­ply a fa­mil­iar friend with a few posh bells and whis­tles bolted on.

Where the Du­cati comes over as some­thing of a raw, race­track refugee – al­beit a hugely classy one – the Tri­umph, with un­changed er­gonomics over the old (ex­cept a slightly nar­rower tank rear) and ex­tra re­fine­ment is sim­ply a dod­dle to im­me­di­ately get on with. The Speedie’s three-cylin­der sound­track is as dis­tinc­tive and ad­dic­tive as ever, its flex­i­ble, fluid drive some­how just right and, if the Tri­umph’s R ex­tras don’t add as much as they used to (pre­vi­ous Triple Rs also had light­weight forged wheels, for ex- am­ple) the over­all price, at £11,500, or more than £2500 less than the Du­cati, is a tempt­ing one.

But that’s also miss­ing the point of the new Mon­ster S. As Du­cati’s new flag­ship road­ster it’s been built as some kind of ul­ti­mate. This it achieves. Yes, it’s too pre­cious and hard­core to be an ev­ery­day or dis­tance ma­chine. But it is a glo­ri­ous thing, true Ital­ian ex­ot­ica. It suc­cess­fully rekindles the spirit of the orig­i­nal, and isn’t that what a flag­ship Mon­ster should do?

‘Ini­tially, the Tri­umph is eas­ier and more re­ward­ing to ride’

Triple’s ride de­lights, as does its sound­track Du­cati of­fers more ag­gres­sive rid­ing po­si­tion Speed Triple in­spires most ini­tial con­fi­dence. Up the in­side, any­one?

For short, flat-out rides, opt for the Mon­ster 1200S

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