A bit of a background story: My first 'big bike' experience is the not-so-big Kawasaki ER-6F, but it is heavy enough (wet weight approx. 204kg). It's a faired bike, which means the handle turns within the enclosure of the fairing, and also means the headlights stays where it is when you twist the handle. Faired bikes comes with front windshield. Most of my views here will be comparing riding experience between these two bikes.
My very first impression about the Ducati Monster 696 (henceforth 'Monster') is that is is very light. Steering feels nimble albeit the riding position needs a little getting used to. The handle is significantly lower, wider and thus the seating position is somewhat sporty. It feels like riding a very powerful moped. It could also be psychological, as the non-existence of a front fairing makes the bike feels nimble.
The bike feels very easy to handle, it goes wherever you want it to go to. The handle position, coupled with the lighter weight of the overall bike (the Monster is only 164kg) makes it a joy to ride in urban places, weaving around obstacles (and uhm.. cars) is quick and easy. Cornering is fun too, with the bike eager to lean around corners (the tires deserve some credits on this) and is very responsive to any quick turns.
The twin-brembo calipers on the front wheel works wonderfully. The rider needs little effort to stop the bike - thanks to very good caliper and very light lever pressure. Although this might spell disaster for panic-laden new riders, especially if they try to stop the bike by grabbing a whole load of front brakes. I got myself addicted to the braking power of the Monster. With better braking, it improves my confidence in the bike, thus making me ride a little bit more aggressively than usual.
Classic palace, modern bike. Something doesn't quite add up.
On overall scale, I have some issues on the comfort level of riding the Monster for a long distance ride. The slightly lower handle position strained either one of these parts of my body on the long travel: my arms, my back or my thighs. Here's why: If I put my body weight on the handle (read: this is a big-no for riding bikes!) it will start to straight my palms and arms. To mitigate this (and to avoid putting your weight on the handle), I will have to put the weight on my thighs, by tightening my grip on the fuel tank. But doing so will also exhaust my thighs over time, on which then I will put my weight on my bum, which will strain my back over time. Maybe after more getting used to the Monster, I might be able to find my ideal seating position. Too bad I didn't have enough time with it!
Being used to riding a faired bike, with tall windshield, going at my usual highway speed on the Monster did leave a mark on my face (thanks to the wind pressure, pressing the helmet to my face). After two days of highway-speed riding (by 'highway-speed' I mean anywhere between 160-200km/h) I started to feel some muscle pain on my shoulders. Possibly because I was resisting the wind pushing me back (now why didn't I put my head on the tank this time?)
Damn, I look so big on this bike.
Lighter weight, bigger displacement, coupled with Ducati's signature L-twin engine, the Monster have loads of torque for you to dispense. The only thing that I am still not used to is the ratios between the 5th and the 6th gear, which is quite a gap. Nevertheless it makes a good fuel-efficient ratio to cruise at that speed. I manage to bring the speedometer to its peak 200km/h this time around (after which it doesn't increase anymore, even though the bike is still accelerating).
One thing I like about the speedometer reading is that it is quite accurate (compared to my Kawasaki which have somewhere around 8-10% error), so if you're seeing 160, chances are that you are quite close to be running at 160km/h.
The absence of fuel indicator still baffles me on some bike manufacturers. They can fit it lap timing and all the shenanigans, but they only give you an 'almost empty' warning light. One thing nice about the meter panel on the Monster is that, the moment the fuel low warning lights up, there will be a trip meter counter that pops up, showing you how far have you traveled since the warning starts, so you can gauge whether you can make it to the next fuel station or you need to start pulling over and ring some help.
The Monster comes with slipper-clutch (or some prefer 'Back-torque limiting clutch'). This caught me a little off-guard as I am creeping down to a stop, the clutch suddenly disengages (due to very low engine RPM) and the Monster slides forward freely.
If you so happen to be caught in an impossible-to-weave situation more than 10 minutes or so, I advice you to turn off the engine on this particular Monster, as it relies on air-cooling. The temperature can shoot up, causing the engine to be turned off to prevent itself from disintegrating.
Yeah kind of like this.
On overall, I love this bike for its lightness, nimbleness and the nice growling sound that it made. But it might not be suitable for long-distance light-speed travel, as the effect on the rider can cause fatigue. It's a perfect daily urban bike, and occasional knee-downs in track however!