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