Bikes You Should Know appears weekly as part of Two Wheel Tuesdays. Since Hooniverse primarily caters to automotive enthusiasts, this column focuses on historically or culturally significant motorcycles that are likely to interest a non-riding audience.
Ducati motorcycles were always known as uncompromising roadracing motorcycles that just happened to be street legal. They were widely considered be expensive, fussy thoroughbreds that were wonderfully adept at going fast around corners but had few other positive attributes. That reputation was both a strength and a weakness. When Ducati did try to break out of that mold, the attempts mostly failed. (The Ducati Indiana is definitely a Bike You Should NOT Know. Eye bleach is only so strong.) Well, this was the case up until 1993, when an iconoclastic new Ducati showed up that remixed mostly familiar Ducati components in a new way. Il Mostro (The Monster) managed to give up very little of Ducati’s legendary handling prowess while being more accessible, comfortable, versatile. Its unique style attracted a new demographic to Ducati and in the process brought Ducati the mass-market sales success that had eluded them previously. Oh, and it totally changed the motorcycle scene as well.
Sometime in 1992, designer Miguel Galluzzi met with Ducati’s head engineer, Massimo Bordi. Who called the meeting is debated, but the two men were in agreement that Ducati needed to find new ways to expand their market share, and quickly. Their superbike models such as the 900SS and 851 were widely respected, but respect doesn’t keep the lights on. Galluzzi had already been considering a more upright, compact, “naked” Ducati; he showed Bordi a hand-drawn sketch of his idea. He was having a tough time getting management to bite on his idea, but with the director’s endorsement, Galluzzi’s proposal was able to move forward. Ducati was not flush with cash, so Galluzzi and Bordi used existing parts wherever possible. The Monster combined the frame from the fancy 888 racebike with the simpler air-cooled, 2-valve engine from the 900SS. The front end was from the lighter, cheaper, less sophisticated 750SS. The chassis was fitted with minimalist, bright red bodywork and slightly higher bars. The result was in a compact, lithe bike that was less intimidating to ride while having a totally unique “bad boy” swagger. Galluzzi famously described it as being what Marlon Brando’s Johnny Strabler would ride if The Wild One were filmed in 1992. At the time, naked “streetfighters” were just emerging as a small subculture among customizers. Most riders had never seen a bike that was equal parts canyon racer, urban warrior, and drive-in cruiser.
Riders around the world went nuts for Il Mostro. Despite decidedly iffy build quality, the original M900 sold like proverbial hotcakes, and unlike so many vehicles that are wildly popular upon introduction, its popularity hardly waned over time. The Monster became a bona fide franchise, spawning more sequels than Star Trek. Versions were created with displacements from 400cc to 1100cc. Liquid-cooling, fuel injection, four-valve heads, and single-sided swingarms all showed up on various Monster models, and the original flashy-but-temperamental dry clutch was replaced by a smoother, less persnickety wet clutch. Various suspension configurations ranged from economy to race-spec. The Monster could be a scary, chainsaw-wielding psychopath, or a friendly and endearing Mike Wazowski — take your pick.
WHY IT’S SIGNIFICANT
Most pundits agree that the Monster saved Ducati’s bacon. People who had never heard of Ducati and perhaps had never ridden a motorcycle suddenly wanted a Ducati instead of a Harley or a Ninja. The Monster is important in the larger motorcycle scene, too. The definition of what made a motorcycle cool changed overnight. No longer was a ton of chrome geegaws or a full fairing and clip-on handlebars necessary for street cred. Some of today’s best and most popular motorcycles are the Monster’s children. Certainly, all new Ducatis owe their existence to Il Mostro’s initial success, but nearly all new “nakeds” (a term that didn’t exist before the Monster created the category) such as the Yamaha FZ-07 and KTM Super Duke do, too. These are bikes that handle well and are great fun for experienced riders without losing their accessibility, practicality and versatility. Just like the original M900. IMAGE CREDITS: Ducati press photos.