The M659 is back for Aussie & NZ Ducati Learner Riders only. Here's our test on the new model... Review: Simon Harris Images: Kris Hodgson

The new Ducati 659 Monster is an Australia/New Zealand only offering for new riders that is designed to not only satisfy the requirements of faceless bureaucracy, but to entice new brother and sister riders into the Ducati fold.

The Ducati 659 has returned for 2018 and is based on the 797 with a shorter stroke and throttle stop

The Ducati 659 has returned for 2018 and is based on the 797 with a shorter stroke and throttle stop

Why down this corner of the world only? Well, our “necessary safety” requirements deviate from most other jurisdictions in terms of not just limiting power output, but limiting capacity also. Anyway, through the kindness of the factory and its fondness for the faithful legion of Aussie Ducatista, we have been blessed with this very attractive little special.

 

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The 659 is fundamentally a 797 Monster with a short-stroke crankshaft. There are evidently a lot more things going on under the paintwork that makes everything work to reduce peak output by one third, to 50hp; such as compression ratio down 0.8 atmospheres and a throttle that rotates a tiny amount from shut to apparently fully open.

The 659 is noticeably restricted for those used to a high performance superbike, but will provide plentiful thrills for new riders and has the torque that speaks louder than pure hp on a road bike

The 659 is noticeably restricted for those used to a high performance superbike, but will provide plentiful thrills for new riders and has the torque that speaks louder than pure hp on a road bike

The result in the engine department is basically a well meaning engine configuration being noticeably stifled. When I say this, it is not “bad”, but you know that when the little motor stops making effective power before 7000RPM (despite the specifications suggesting peak power at 9250RPM) that its lungs are well starved.

The motor is happiest, and so will you be, when it is being operated around peak torque, between 5000 and 6700RPM – an uncommonly narrow window for this kind of engine architecture and perhaps accentuated by engine newness. Having said that, it does shift along quite well when you learn how best to exploit what is on offer.

Acceleration will have you at highway speeds in seconds with strong torque

Acceleration will have you at highway speeds in seconds with strong torque

Accelerating with intent will see you reach motorway speed in a few seconds and a tap or two on the gear lever. Outright performance is certainly not the mandate for a LAMS bike, of course, but the balance here offers both a relaxed feel and a reasonable turn of speed in that typically deceptive and loping manner of the air-cooled two-valve Desmodromic twins. As a prospective machine for a learner rider that is gentle and easily controlled but still quite capable, the M659 is very much on the money.

 

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The dynamics of the 175kg dry machine is healthily reassuring. The chassis and suspension feel well balanced and dependable, with typical Ducati chassis stiffness and a nice feeling of certainty when cornering. Still, it is easy to turn and to alter direction on, perhaps assisted by its rider ergonomics.

 The chassis and suspension feel well balanced and dependable

The chassis and suspension feel well balanced and dependable

Like all road bikes, the chassis as a whole performs best on smoother surfaces, with the little Monster becoming a little harsh from the non-adjustable KYB front fork when traversing corrugations or surfaces where the suspension does not have time to settle before the next actuation. But doesn’t every motorcycle suffer when pitted against our disgraceful roads?

2018 Ducati Monster 659 LAMS

Even our disgraceful road surfaces are taken in the Monster’s stride

The rear suspension is a Sachs multi-adjustable spring-damper unit that mounts straight off the left-side of the swingarm. This off-set design allows the components between the wheels to be compacted, and allows the wheelbase to be more dictated by design rather than the length of what is located between the axles. The shock also acts as a foil to the stubby exhaust that sits on the opposite side of the bike.

A low seat height is aimed directly at easy reach to the ground for new riders

A low seat height is aimed directly at easy reach to the ground for new riders

Comfort has been subtly tweaked for the target audience, with a comfortable and suitably low seating platform that makes reaching terra firma and manoeuvring in tight spaces easy for most statures. The seat, handlebars and footpegs have good spacing that suited my sub-average height very well without having to consider altering anything. The narrow chassis and footpeg position also provides ample ground clearance that enables you to really enjoy building corner speed confidence without getting panicked by insufficient clearance.

The styling is traditional Monster, being simultaneously alluring and machismo aggressive. The rear tyre is a mean 180 section, and coupled with the pleasing bass heavy engine tones, provide the machine with ample street cred and a generally eye-catching road presence that belies any learner-legal classification.

As does the chunky forks and big brakes up front, which are suitably accented by the chopped front guard and headlight/instruments being packed up tight into the upper section of the forks. The hunched tank remains a hallmark styling feature and the engine is fully displayed and rather neat in air-cooled form, clawed from above by the large diameter frame tubing and from below by the serpentine exhaust plumbing. Towards the back, the seat is shaped to compliment the design themes, and nicely disguises the existence of a sub-frame as it hangs over that substantial asymmetric swing-arm. Simple, but very effective.

 

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Bosch ABS is standard, which is an excellent draw card for safety, and it works well with the supplied hardware. The twin 320mm Brembo rotors and four-piston monoblock calipers are super impressive and offer a truly abundant amount of stopping power for the performance envelope that the 659 lives in. Eye-popping. However, more span adjustment at the lever for smaller hands would be appreciated.

Dual Brembo calipers offer exceptional braking performance

Dual Brembo calipers offer exceptional braking performance

Controls are generally light to the touch, standard in operation and effective, although the gearbox felt a bit reluctant at times and retaliated with several false neutrals, or no easily findable neutral when stopped. This improved over the course of the week I had the bike and would likely be because the whole plot was pretty much brand new and still tight.

The dash is LCD, but despite that does not overload the available screen space or glancing rider with “information”. Using the handlebar switches, you can switch between displaying trip meters or odometer, average speed, etc. There may well be functions in there that I simply could not figure out how to access, but probably didn’t need anyway. Dash visibility is OK in day and night, but never as naturally readable as gauges.

An LCD dash is simple and offers all the information you need at a glance

An LCD dash is simple and offers all the information you need at a glance

The price you will pay for the M659 may be more than some other LAMS machines out there, but as always, there are reasons for this. In reality, this machine is a high-specification base model that has been watered down in the performance department for compliance reasons only.

It still offers sophistication and high quality finishes, first-class brakes with ABS, excellent rubber, confident handling, popular and enduring styling, high-grade materials and manufacturing, a venerable and proven engine design, and that special Italian design flair and execution that may help pip the competition.

Aimed at the more discerning buyer, the 659 offers larger bike ride quality in the LAMS segment

Aimed at the more discerning buyer, the 659 offers larger bike ride quality in the LAMS segment

As a temptation for riders who may want to dabble in Ducati’s from the off, it may be too hard to resist. The Monster 659 will undoubtedly assist in making the transition into the exciting world of motorcycling a pleasant and rewarding experience. This cannot be over-stressed in terms of helping people commit in the long term to riding, but will also assist in capturing brand loyalty.

The Monster 659 is a real looker and stands out for exceptional build quality

The Monster 659 is a real looker and stands out for exceptional build quality

2018 Ducati Monster 659 LAMS Specifications

ducati.com.au

Price: $12,490 + ORC
Warranty: Two-year, unlimited kilometre
Colours: Red, White

Claimed power: 37kW[50hp]@9250RPM
Claimed torque: 44Nm[32ft-lbs]@5500RPM
Dry weight: 175kg
Fuel capacity: 16.5L

Engine: Air-cooled, 90° twin-cylinder, four-stroke, two-valves per cylinder with desmodromic actuation, 659cc, 10.2:1 compression ratio, 88 x 54.2mm bore and stroke, electronic fuel injection with 50mm throttle bodies, stainless steel exhaust system with single silencer and 2 Lambda sensors
Gearbox: Six speed, constant mesh, chain final drive
Clutch: Wet, multi-plate clutch, cable actuation

Chassis: Tubular steel tube trellis frame, aluminium alloy swingarm,
Rake: 24°, Trail: 90mm
Suspension: KYB 43mm non-adjustable USD forks, 130mm travel, Sachs rear shock absorber, rebound and preload adjustable, 150mm travel

Brakes: Dual 320mm semii-floating front discs, Brembo “radial” four-piston calipers, 245mm rear disc, Brembo single-piston caliper. Bosch ABS

Wheels & Tyres: Aluminium alloy, 3.50 x 17in (ff), 5.50 x 17in (rr), 120/70 – 17, 180/55 – 17

Dimensions:
Wheelbase: 1435mm
Seat height: 785mm
Overall length: N/A
Overall width: N/A

Instruments: LCD multifunction display

2018 Ducati Monster 659 LAMS Gallery

 

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