On beginning motorcycle riding, and why the Ducati Monster is not a beginner bike (aka a tale of two cylinders; a manifesto)

First, I think it’s hilarious that my long, rambling post about modding my Monster for a camping road trip is BY FAR the most read post on this blog. That post easily gets 10x the page views of any other entry. If you google “Ducati Monster touring,” my blog post is the first or second result (at this time anyway). Apparently I’ve contributed something useful to the internet. (Don’t worry, I won’t let all this internet fame go to my head:) )

People even ask questions about motorcycle touring and the monster in the comments of that post. (This is a personal blog that gets maybe 30 views a day on average, so getting any comments at all is pretty awesome). One question that I’ve yet to address is: “You said [the Monster] is not a good bike for a beginner. Can you elaborate on that? Why not?”

Yes, yes I can elaborate on that (of course, and boy did I, watch out, this thing is long).  In fact, this is a good question that brings up the broad topic and a host of issues about learning to ride, and I think it needs its own post.  Ask a dozen people what a good beginner bike is, and you’ll get two dozen answers.

IMG_0631s vs IMG_0620s vs SAMSUNG

I remember what it was like for me to first learn to ride, and since then I’ve owned or had the chance to ride quite a few different motorcycles. Plus, I’ve seen friends and acquaintances learn, and read a fair bit about others’ experiences online (the internet, naturally, is full of information for new riders). My opinions about getting into motorcycling are intended for getting the most enjoyment out of what can be a dangerous hobby. Over the years, my experience and the opinion of others agree:  the better your riding skills, the more fun you have (the more you know, the better it gets; cheesy but true).

First, I should define beginner.  When I say the Monster is not a good choice for a beginner, I mean someone with very little or no riding experience at all. If you’ve been riding dirtbikes as a child or teenager with any regularity, moving up to one of the smaller displacement air-cooled Monsters as a first streetbike is probably fine. Actually, knowing what I know now, starting in the dirt is probably the most ideal way to learn to ride a motorcycle. People who learn on small, lightweight dirtbikes on varied terrain and traction conditions make much better street riders. The consequences for beginner mistakes and finding the limits are much, much smaller off-road (obviously excluding racing and other more extreme styles of riding off-road, I’m referring to beginner trail riding). Small bikes are more affected by rider input, so it’s easier to feel and learn how every movement affects the bike’s behavior.

However, if learning to ride off-road isn’t really an option, here’s the advice I always give:

1.Take the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF)  basic rider course. Go to their website, read about the basic rider course, find one near you, sign up, and take the class. You’ll learn some excellent material from certified instructors, you’ll get range time to practice riding (on their bikes), if you pass the course, you don’t have to take the DMV test to get a motorcycle endorsement on your license, and you’ll save money on your insurance.

2. DO NOT buy the bike you want right away. Buy something small and cheap and light for your very first motorcycle. Ride it for six months, do your learning, make your mistakes, make sure riding is really for you. After about six months of regular riding and putting on lots of miles, sell that cheap bike for roughly what you bought it for.

3. Then, buy whatever motorcycle it was that inspired you to get into riding. By this time, you’ve learned enough on something easy to ride that the bigger bike won’t be so much work, and you’ll actually enjoy riding. You’ll be a whole lot less likely to crash your $12-15k Monster 1100 or CBR1000RR, causing expensive damage to the bike, or more importantly, severely injuring yourself.

Sound preachy? I don’t care. There are far too many idiots out there on bikes they have no business being on. A motorcycle is not a car. It takes far more skill to operate a motorcycle with any level of proficiency. No one can just hop on a modern streetbike, and expect to ride it safely if they’ve never ridden before.

Ok, so if you are still reading, how about I answer the actual question:

Why the Monster is not a good beginner bike

Beginner bikes should be easy to ride, and somewhat forgiving of new rider error. While the Monster 696 is far from being a race bike, it does require more skill to operate than many other street bikes, often of similar displacements. The Ducati Monster is not a great choice for a very first bike.

Power, and power delivery
A beginner bike should have less horsepower.  This should be obvious. More horsepower in inexperienced hands is more dangerous. The Monster 696 may be the smallest, least powerful of the Monsters, but it still makes 80hp, and weighs not much more than 400lbs ready to ride. 80hp in a 400lb bike is equivalent to having 800hp in the average 4000lb American car. Would you put a brand new driver in an 800hp car? I think not. My Kawasaki 650R made about 62 hp, and weighed closer to 450lbs. Still plenty of power, but much tamer. Even better?  My CRF230L, which I think is an excellent beginner bike.

A beginner bike should deliver its horsepower in a gradual, linear, and predictable manner (a sudden power band is more difficult to control). (I’m going to go ahead and combine several aspects of power delivery into one section for my own convenience.)  Part of what we experience as fun while riding a motorcycle is not just how much power the engine makes, but how it delivers that power (and torque, which is what we actually feel, but I’m combining horsepower and torque here because separating them doesn’t make any difference to my point).  It’s not just how much power the engine makes, but how fast it delivers that power, and how suddenly you hit the powerband.  The Monster is fairly torque-ey at low RPM, which could get new riders in trouble. Twist that throttle a bit too fast, and even the baby Monster could get away from you, or upset the bike enough so that a new rider has trouble recovering from the mistake.

The Monster also has comparatively light flywheel. This means the engine is “quick revving”, which makes it more fun for more experienced riders. (I put quick revving in quotes because the Monster is clearly not quick revving like a race bike, it’s just much more so than many more beginner friendly street bikes). Light flywheels make the bike harder to launch and ride slowly, and make it easier to apply power very suddenly. It takes more precision with the throttle to deliver power consistently and smoothly to the rear wheel. The monster motor is fun in part because it revs up and delivers the power pretty quickly, and it should be obvious how this is less ideal for a beginner.

The Monster also doesn’t run very well down low (low RPM, small throttle openings), which is where a lot of new riders need to spend time while riding around in parking lots learning how to ride. Probably due to emissions reasons, the fueling is not very good. The combination of poor fueling and light flywheel make it difficult to apply power smoothly at low speeds. Ease of launch and riding at low speed is very important for new riders, who are still learning to coordinate throttle and clutch, and will spend a lot of time stopping and starting.

A beginner bike should have easy to use controls. The clutch pull should be fairly light, and offer good feel of the friction point. On this point, the Monster is ok, but not great. The clutches on both my former Kawasaki 650R and my current CRF are very easy and forgiving.

The throttle on the Monster is also not especially beginner friendly either. The stock cam on the throttle (located on the handlebar, the cam controls the relationship between how much you twist the throttle, and how far the cable (or computer control) actually opens), on the Monster is somewhat aggressive. Meaning, small changes to the throttle on the handlebar result in large changes in power delivery. Aggressive throttle cams are more fun for people who like to ride fast, and have precise throttle control, but also require a bit more skill to use.  (Again, the throttle on the Monster is not difficult in any way if you’ve ridden before, but is more difficult for a beginner than other bikes). The combination of fast throttle cam, poor fueling, and light flywheel makes the throttle feel “snatchy”, and more difficult to control.

The Monster also has a relatively tall first gear, which means that in stock form, it’s more difficult to launch, and more difficult to ride slowly. Combine that with poor fueling  down low, light flywheel, and “touchy” throttle that make it more difficult to apply power smoothly, and you have a combination that is not beginner friendly. (Again, the Monster 696 is probably one of the easiest bikes to ride in Ducati’s entire line up, but that still doesn’t make it a good beginner bike).

Beginner bikes should have less powerful brakes. Hear me out on this one: Modern sportbikes often have brakes powerful enough to flip a person over the front wheel, if there is enough grip. If there isn’t (which is the most likely), a person who accidentally grabs too much front brake will lock up the front, which will likely cause a crash (this is why ABS is good for panic stops, even among experienced riders. Finding the limits of traction in panic situations with one chance to get it right is not a skill most of us actually have). The brakes on my CRF and on my previous Kawasaki 650R are perfectly adequate, but much harder to lock up than on my Monster. You can be much less precise with the brakes without upsetting the bike or breaking traction. I love the feel and power of the brakes on the Monster, and I can stop in an amazingly short distance (well, especially with ABS, but I mean in regular riding conditions). However, powerful brakes require more skill and finesse with the brake levers. The Brembos on the Monster are much less forgiving if you screw it up.

The monster’s ergonomics and steering geometry aren’t very beginner friendly either. The stock riding position is fairly racy and leaned forward over the front wheel, which is great for that purpose, but not the easiest for learning to maneuver a bike. The steering lock is on the small side, and the turning radius rather large, which add the the difficulty of u-turns and other low speed, parking lot maneuvers. (Hitting full lock happens very easily on the Monster).

Look, here’s another way of thinking about it: I bet if you took a stock Monster back in time 40 years, it would dominate the race circuit and win the GP  (with modern tires too, of course). Motorcycles and technology have improved by leaps and bounds, but human skill has not. A beginner is the same now as they’ve always been.

Compare the Monster to my Honda CRF230L. That little thumper just might be the perfect beginner street bike. It doesn’t develop a lot of horsepower , but is fairly lightweight, so it’s still fun as a little playbike. The power is very linear and controllable. Even if you mess up with the throttle, it’s not likely to surprise you.  First gear is nice and low, and the fueling is excellent all the way down to nothing, which means you can practice low speed maneuvering more easily. The clutch is easy to use, and the throttle cam is pretty tame. Plus, the engine has a comparatively larger flywheel. This makes the engine slower revving, but makes it easier to launch and ride slowly. The CRF will just tractor right down to a stop in first gear, and is very hard to stall. Perfect for a beginning rider (or like me, a beginning off-road rider, who is still pretty timid over most obstacles). Plus, it’s very lightweight (for a streetbike).  It’s easy to just put a foot down if the bike starts to tip, and lightweight bikes are easier to maneuver.

Please don’t get me wrong: Despite my reservations about the Monster as a beginner bike, the Monster is still a fantastic motorcycle. I love my Monster. If you have a few miles under your belt, do not let this article deter you, the Monster is a complete joy, and brings a smile to my face every ride. My criticisms of the bike above are purely because I think these aspects of the Monster make it more difficult to learn how to ride. However, once you’ve been riding awhile, most of these aspects make the bike more fun, they just require a bit more skill (and look, I’m no racer, I’m just talking about that first step from no riding experience, to having a couple of thousand miles under your belt).

Yet another perspective: A friend of mine rides dirtbikes, and commented to me about the different riding experiences between his 4-stroke and his 2-stroke bikes. After riding 2-strokes, he appreciated how easy to ride the 4-stroke seemed. Power delivery was much more even, and he spends much less time shifting, as the torque available with the 4-stroke makes gear selection less important.  But then he noted how much more fun the 2-stroke feels after not riding it for awhile, because it requires so much more skill and he actually has to ride the damn thing. This is a great analogy for the Monster. While I’m sure the Monster is a lot easier to ride than  a modern 2-stroke dirtbike, the concept is the same: on the Monster, you actually have to ride the damn thing more than many other bikes. While its a matter of degree, to some extent you can be much less precise, or even lazier, with something like my Kawasaki 650, or a BMWG650, or KLR, etc. It matters a lot less whether you have really good and precise steering inputs, or inputs to the controls, or whether you are in exactly the right gear for the situation, or whether you time your gear changes exactly right. On the Monster, there are more consequences for lack of skill, or simply messing up. Until things like gear changes and steering inputs and brake control become more natural, choose a bike that won’t fight so hard when you get it wrong.

Can you learn to ride a motorcycle on a Ducati Monster?  Of course. People successfully learn on bikes more difficult than that. But why? The bigger, heavier, and more powerful the bike, the more severe the consequences for hitting the steep side of the learning curve. Why would you do that to yourself or someone you care about? Why would you make it harder on yourself, and so greatly increase your risk of injury and damage to a bigger, more expensive bike? So many new riders start off on the bike of their dreams, only to scare themselves so badly they don’t want to ride anymore (this applies to all the motorcycling genres: sportbike riders, cruiser/Harley riders, dualsport, whatever). Maybe this is a good thing, as I don’t want those riders out there with me.

So what do I recommend as a first street bike? You can’t go wrong with a small dualsport like the Honda CRF250L. There’s also the ever popular Kawasaki Ninja 250, or the Honda CBR250 (I kinda want one of these anyway, because small bikes are really fun, and that Honda thumper looks awesome). If you insist on going larger, something like the Kawasaki Ninja 650 is a lot more beginner friendly than even the Monster 696 (Not the repli racer Ninja 600 or 636, those are much racier, and not as street oriented as the 650, which has a fun but more mildly tuned parallel twin.) (Also, there are a lot of standard and cruiser style bikes that would be fine as first streetbikes, but if the goal is a Monster, they likely won’t appeal as much).

Maybe you don’t think my opinion has merit, and I’m overly cautious. What do I know?  I’m just an average person that learned to ride a motorcycle, and has been riding happily for many years. However, if you’ve read this far, you’ve probably read other articles by actual authorities on this subject, and realize that my advice is not unique, and represents the opinion of many experienced riders. If you want to ride, do it right. Do yourself a favor. Be patient. Learn on something small for at least six months, and consciously develop your riding skills. You stand a much greater chance of living to be able to buy and actually enjoy that Ducati Monster.

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82 Responses to On beginning motorcycle riding, and why the Ducati Monster is not a beginner bike (aka a tale of two cylinders; a manifesto)

  1. I started on a Seca 2 then moved to a Honday 750 Shadow then to a Harley Super Glide and now ride a Yamaha FJR. It was the best thing I ever did was start off on a smaller less powerful bike.

    • amytracker says:

      Nice! Exactly. I started on a 250, but if I could do it over, I would start even smaller off-road. I know this is a bit of a pontificating rant, but I get so tired of hearing how the Monster is a beginner bike (or any modern 600cc+ sportbike). That kind of ignorance is unnecessarily dangerous. I think I might be turning into some sort of small bike evangelist :)

    • Jeff Lawson says:

      You think anyone is OK to ride one litre bikes after just six months? Talk about “I want it and I want it now” syndrome! The old system restricting ‘L’ plates to 250 cc was far better, despite some dangerous two-stroke 250’s of old. There clearly should be a limit on weight, torque and power. I think many experienced riders have lost the joy of punting a relatively low-powered bike through the twisties…you only have to see the way many dismiss small/middle-sized bikes, even in bike mags. To me it’s the difference between a jet-ski and a tanker.

    • iI’ve started on Speed Triple with 1050 cc displacement two years ago. I am still alive, yes. But atop of these years I can surely say, that was a bad idea to buy that bike first, even a bit smaller bro Street Triple could kill you in a blink without even trying, oh in that I am sure.
      Most folks of mine do not consider a small engine bikes as a bike, more like a scooter. In their minds 600 – is a minimum, liter is a must. Some kinda of “I’MA MEN” syndrome, might be.
      We bought a 50 cc Honda Zoomer for my gf last year, so she could practice, since she drops my Triple every time on parking lots practices. Lucky am I – having crash pads ;D, but still… And I took Zoomer for a day commute, man that was fun!!! After a year and a half of monstrosity of my Triple, riding a 5hp Zoomer was a real joy. I felt myself very convenient, even despite underpowered powerplant of Zoomer.
      As an author said – don’t get me wrong, Speed Triple is a hell of a bike! Percice machine in the experienced hands. And lethal weapon in the hands of new rider. The fact that I am still alive is more like a pure luck factor than the merit of my skill, big no no. Often people refers to that fact, that I’ve started with 1 litre bike and I am okay, so they could do the same. And it’s hard to persuade them to think twice or even triple times more, before doing the same mistake I did. Most or even all of them can’t accept that they can be less lucky, less educated in motorcycling, less skilled or equipped than I. Because they think they are special? Maybe.
      It’s a pain in the arse to learn on Speedy, even two years of almost every not snowing days riding I can’t overcome the machine, and I will not do that in the near future I think. I feel that developing my skills takes more efforts from me comparing to those who rides less powerfull, more light and more beginner friendly bikes, not to mention less expensive to own which is a big + in my opinion.
      Now we are about to buy a Honda VTR 250 for my gf. Seems like she is ready to ride something more motorcycle, than a scooter. I bielive that we will share her bike 50/50 on parking lots gymkhanas, or even more like 80/20 (80% of time I will ride with a big grin on my face ;D).
      If you want to learn how to ride confidently, stable and developing your skills, and most important – safely, then Speed Triple and other 600+ sporty bikes is not a smart choice, leave them for a poser bikers, who scares a sh***t of their bikes, just like me ;D

      • Cristiano says:

        Amen to that! The idea that somebody might start on a liter bike is simply baffling.

        I started on 50cc as a kid, spent 2 years on 125cc two strokes, and when I graduated to 450cc 4 strokes at 17 I was wondering: “Will I be able to manage all that bike?”. That was of course in the late 80s. When did it become normal to have a liter bike? I suppose some genetic modification has intervened and the new generations are born with innate riding ability. Back in my day to manage anything over 600 you needed to have 7-10 years experience. Indeed a couple of years before I turned 18, 350 cc was the legal limit for a 18 year old in Italy.

        • Well… I suppose its all about your own ego. Most of guys in Russian Federation thinks they can overgrow their low displacement bike. Like 400 is okay for the first year, and you can get bored with it the next years. But I simply do not believe in that. Its either way you don’t know how to ride a smaller bike or even any bike, or you just think you can ride better than you actually can.
          I believe that we should start with 50 cc scoot and slowly year by year growing in cc. Ending up in 500-900 for city most is okay, I would say even smaller. Having a liter bike in Samara, where I live in RF, its like having a Ferrari with no racing track around. I ended up with like 5-8 full throttle opening during two years of riding, since I reach speed limits so fast so either I end up in the next car’s trunk or get broke by speed tickets.
          All those displacement wars goings in the heads of engineers who crates bikes, and those newbies who don’t know how to ride them IMO

  2. Rexhart says:

    I’m looking for a beginner bike to start off with at 23. Your advice makes so much sense and will put so much off my family at ease! Thank you! :) (My dream bike is A Ducati 696 but I think I’ll wait a couple of years until I have much more experience)

    • amytracker says:

      Excellent! That’s great news. I really believe you’ll get much better much faster on a small bike, and have a lot more fun, which is the entire point. Enjoy!

  3. Jason says:

    I often hear the argument from other men that they can’t fit on a “little girl’s bike” like a Ninja 250. I just point out that beginner bikes don’t have to be small and point them to the Kawasaki KLR 650 or Suzuki DR650SE. Both are ~40 hp single cylinder dual sports with seat heights to accommodate 6 foot and taller men. Both are readily available used for a great price and can be sold after a year of riding for almost what you paid.

    • amytracker says:

      +1. Great point. Both of those bikes are a bit too tall and heavy for someone my size to muscle around, and therefore would not make good starter bikes. But yeah, from what I have read, they are probably an excellent choice for tall beginners who don’t have that problem. There are probably some smaller displacement super-moto style bikes that would be good for taller beginners as well. (Still noob friendly, but bigger guys won’t look like a circus bear:) The ego and “girl bike” thing is funny and a bit aggravating to me. Its one thing if you are physically too big to fit, but claiming you are too good for a 250 is nonsense. Until you can take one club racing and ride it to the limits, you are full of it. Most non-racers can benefit from fundamentals practice on a little bike.

      • Jason says:

        Men, motorcycles, and ego’s seem to go hand in hand… I don’t mean to offend with the “girl’s bike” comment but it is something I often hear from other men. While some men that make that comment truly would not fit on a Ninja 250, most are simply afraid other men will laugh at them if they ride a smaller bike instead of the latest supersport. The Kawasaki Ninja 500 and Suzuki GS500E are another pair of great beginner bikes for larger beginners and the new Honda 500’s look good as well.

        There are other dual sport / super-moto style bikes that would work well for large beginners. Bikes such as the Yamaha WR250X / R or the Suzuki DR-Z400S / SM. Having ridden them all, I would still recommend the DR650SE over others due to the difference in powerband. The DR650SE has a lot of low-end torque while the 400 and especially the 250 need to be revved pretty high to access their power.

        • amytracker says:

          Heh, no worries, I’m not that easily offended, and I understand what you mean. I hear the “girl bike” thing all the time too, and the posturing, peacock strutting behavior never gets less dumb. (I get that people want fast, powerful bikes. They are fun. I traded bikes in part to get more power that I don’t really need. I just think its dumb to start there.)

          I forgot about those new Honda 500s, they look really good. The older Kawi and Suzuki 500s would be pretty good choices too. DH has a DRZ, and I can’t even touch the ground. I thought I wanted one until he got one. It would be too much for me off road, plus it has a really tall first gear. I think on the street it would be ok for a tall beginner, but that tall first gear is tough off-road when you need to go slowly (its too heavy for me off-road). Despite being a 400, the DRZ is pretty fast. I’m not sure I would recommend it for a beginner, but you wouldn’t outgrow it very fast. I agree, a KLR or DR650 is probably more noob friendly.

        • sullybiker says:

          Interestingly, if you try a ZX6R or CBR600, they’re an even tighter fit than the baby Ninja.

  4. Justin says:

    Your comment about monsters being hard to ride at slow speed are right on point. I ride a s2r800 which is the older equivalent to the 696. I thought it was just me as I’m a bit of a novice but I previously owned a cbr600 and didn’t seem to have as much difficulty. Decided to take the MSF course 2 because clearly I must have become rusty on slow speed maneuvers and am forgetting some basics. The instructor noticed my frustration and mentioned, just as in your blog, that the first gear must be “tall”. Feathering the clutch and easing the throttle on the monster takes a little more finesse than other bikes I’ve ridden. Regardless, it’s a hell of a lot of fun and I fall in love with my monster every time I see it!

  5. magee says:

    I have finally learned to ride for the first time this year. My first bike is a 2011 Monster 696 and I couldn’t be happier. It has been a joy to ride and I’m hooked. In fairness, I took the MSF class before I had 200 miles on my Monster and I’ve spent more than a few hours studying Keith Code’s Twist of the Wrist II book and movie and practicing what he teaches on the back roads here in Sonoma/Marin county. I also took my time to develop my skills. I suppose ignorance is bliss because I have not noticed the challenges you mention operating the bike at lower speed. But when it’s your only riding experience, you don’t know how much better or worse it can be.

    I respect your arguments and you may be completely right but take it from this 51 year old first time rider… with care, training and respect for the bike, a Monster 696 can be just the ticket.

  6. Dave C says:

    I agree with your comments, however not all large bikes are not necessarily to be avoided. I went straight from a 125 twin, to a 1100cc Yamaha Bulldog. Now on the face of it this is an intimidating bike however with some significant weight and only 60bhp power output it’s really a bit of a puppy. I was convinced that I would buy a 600cc sports bike however after test riding a few I had a go on the Bulldog (as the bike I intended to test was sold). It was a revelation, large amounts of torque mean you don’t have to constantly change gear, the low seat height meant easy to handle. They are quite hated by the sports bike crowd but I loved it so much and it was so easy to ride I was sold on it. To be honest for a beginner some of the cruiser style bikes with low seat height and more torque are great for ease of use and confidence. I believe that a low seat height and a sensible attitude are all you need to build a good rider confidence. Sadly much as I love sports bikes they do breed the “go faster than you can handle” mentality.

  7. Mark says:

    Dunno what they’re called in the US (I assume you can get them), but my learning bike in Australia has been a Honda VTR250 and I reckon it is fantastic. It looks a lot like the Monster (pretty shamelessly plagiarised actually) but is a great beginner bike for all the reasons the author mentions. It has a comfortable seating position, is very nimble, has easy controls and a power profile that is pretty forgiving without being lame.

    I’m just about to trade up but I have no regrets over the VTR250 as my first bike.

    • Roman says:

      Hey mate, glad to find somebody else on the vtr :) It was also my starter bike, I found used of two years in pearl white and oh my god, fell in love with it. I have had it since 2011, bit mote than 6 months eh? :) Still love it, every time I go to ride it, I look at it and find it more and more brautiful. Only when I have urges to go faster and the bike simply does not have the power I feel the need for a different bike. So Im going to buy a 2011 monster 796 probably tomorrow, with just 15k km on it, also white of course, with red trellis frame. I cant wait, over the course of years I fell in love with the monsters. 1200s is my high goal, but tha is financially not the best idea right now and also I feel like that would be a too much of a power jump from 24kw vtr 250 :) Looking forward to taming the monster.

  8. CRE says:

    Great post Amy and agree with all your points. I started riding a few years ago on a 2001 Buell Blast. Road that for just over a year before upgrading to a new Triumph Thurxton. Smartest thing I did after taking the BRC was buy an old bike and learn on that.

  9. My first big (over 125cc) bike was a GPZ500. It made perfect sense. A 500cc parallel twin engine, fast but too fast, great MPG, and easy to work on. Can’t imagine going for a Monster as a first bike. Pretty awkward.

  10. philiphowell@me.com says:

    I’ve put around 5000 miles on my first bike, a Kawi 650r. I’m looking to upgrade to a monster, will this be a noticeable upgrade? I definitely don’t want to loose the agility and fun that came with the ninja, I want something more fun. Should I consider looking into other streetbikes?

    • Dan says:

      Monster 696 has a 0-60 3.9 sec time. I remember riding a Monster 900 that felt way slower than the 696 was. This gives you an idea that this little 700 CC Italian machine is in no way a slow bike.

  11. korio says:

    Hi, the bike I really want is the ktm duke 125 to be my first bike. Now, would you recommend this for the first bike ever? I haven’t owned a bike before. So really the question is if I should get another bike for 6 months or just getting the duke 125 to learn how to ride..

    • amytracker says:

      Hi korio. I haven’t ridden a Duke 125 either, although they look fun. Being a 125, its probably an excellent starter bike, although I’m not sure if its maybe on the expensive side. How upset will you be when you drop it? The key to starter bikes is small and cheap, so you can afford to make mistakes as you learn.

  12. Korio says:

    That is great advice, probably it’s not that powerfull for beginners so that’s ok, but considering the expensive it is should probably make my first mistakes with something cheaper to begin with. Thanks a lot

  13. Dan Pohl says:

    I’m not a fan of giving beginning riders high powered bikes. I think the European / UK practice of limiting CC to beginning riders is the smart thing. And let’s be honest, 250 cc is enough bike to still get you in trouble. Beginners must kitted up in Good gear like Dainese that can be the difference between a rashed jacket or a skin graft so IMHO, it’s important.

  14. Chris says:

    Very informative write-up; and an easy, enjoyable read. I’m stubborn so I’ll still buy the Monster 696 as my “starter bike,” but your insights are useful for me to keep in the back of my head.

    I know the power and complexity of the bike far outweigh my skills… even the 250cc bike from the MSF beginner course (highly recommend this course!) is out of my skill-level. I’ll practice the first couple thousand miles on country-side roads with little-to-no car traffic and empty parking lots until I get a better handle for the throttle, clutch, etc.

    • chriskilla says:

      Good to hear that you took the article to heart.

      Just don’t crash, n00b. Ah what the hell, you’ll probably crash. Just make sure you’re not a burden of the state after you do.

      • Chris says:

        I like your name. Fully insured. Rode it yesterday – lots of fun and an easy ride. Beginner input – careful on the throttle/clutch when taking off – just like Amy said it’s sensitive at takeoff (hard to find the happy medium)… I had a little scare once (too much throttle when releasing clutch) .

        It handles really nicely for a n00b that’s not nervous. I got this one because it’s the lowest powered, good looking Ducati (I’m a superficial brand-whore). It’ll be good for a season or two; but I’ll get a new bike after that mostly because of my height. I’m 5’11” (180cm) and the bike looks a little small apportioned to me.

  15. Elijah says:

    I’m with Chris on this one. I’m looking to get an older Monster 696 or maybe 620 for my first bike. Haven’t had much experience on a bike, but fully respect their power and potential in every way imaginable. It is good to hear Amy’s opinion in this article, and I hope that I’m not getting ahead of myself. Basically everyone I’ve talked to says don’t waste your time on a smaller bike, you’ll want to rid yourself of it in a matter of months. Of course this doesn’t mean a race tuned 600, but something in the “Ducati Monster range.” I know that with enough self control and patience learning on a Monster won’t be the end of the my world.

    • Chris says:

      So… I’ve had the bike (Monster 696) for about a month now. At first, it was great. And it’s still great around small downs and windy roads. However, I think I’ll want a “bigger” bike next season. I probably would have close to killed myself on a bigger bike now so I don’t regret my purchase, but I believe the Ducati Monster 696 is a beginner bike for people that can exercise control and have at least extensive experience on road bicycles. It is a bit small in size (dimension, not cc) for my height, 5’11 / 180cm. And I do notice I have to push back to avoid my crotch area being too tight on the tank around town.

      I kind of wish I got a cheap used $3000 Ninja, because I want a new bigger bike already. Keeping the Monster 696 for the season only because I blew bigger money on it.

  16. rajeshng says:

    Don’t you think a diavel in it’s urban riding mode (abt 98bhp, I think), abs, traction control, wheelie control, lower seating arrangement is much forgiving to beginner?

  17. Dario says:

    I’m first time rider and purchased a m796 and love it. All bikes require respect ad getting used to. The gearing is a challenge and the breaks are no joke, but I’m 300 miles in and couldn’t be happier with my purchase. My msf course instructor said it’s your skills and approach to the bike no the bike itself. Of course you got to get something within your physical abilities.

  18. Hex says:

    I think it depends. In Germany if your over 25 years old you are supposed to learn and have to conduct the driving license exam on a motorbike with more then 500/600 ccm and no less then 60 hp (properly goes up to 75hp next year due to the number of high powered bikes on the market). My driving school uses the 696 as the standard motorcycle to teach, one reason is that if you learn with the impulsive V2 and in particular with the problems driving with low RPM and keeping the bike down to walking speed, you learn it right and in a way that you can satisfy the examiner while doing the driving license exam. They are one of the most successful driving schools in town; you have to take mandatory lessons with a driving school before you may enter the exam and only the driving school teacher decides whether or not you may enter the exam.

  19. Lee says:

    Enjoyed the article – thanks! I concur with all your points of notice. Not having the luxury of buying a bike for this or a bike for that I ended up with a 1997 Ducati 900 monster (some mods) and your article nailed the riding problems I also encountered with the 900 – that being the brakes – tall first gear and fueling at lower speeds. I have pretty much gotten used to these quirky things of the Monster. Am enjoying the little beast as I go. Am still a bit nervous with the corning aspect on rough roads – need much more practice – got 1000 miles under my belt and had ridden since age 18 until age 35 but have been off a bike for 30 years so riding again at my age required starting over again (to a degree) I truly enjoy how very quick the Monster is from start to when you let off – quite a euphoric sensation to say the least as it keeps coming gear after gear. I have a huge respect for the power she puts out and at my age I am able to use some restraint (barely). You are right the Monster is not a good bike for beginners but learning it is fun.

  20. MonsterIAm says:

    SO true, definitely not a beginner’s bike. I upgraded from a 250 after a year of spirited canyon riding and oh boy…I had to tame the wild beast…SO much torque and the breaks are crazy powerful and touchy, also, as a short female, the bike felt huge under me. I am getting used to it but I wouldn’t put in the hands of an inexperienced rider. I do love it though!! :)

  21. Pingback: how much is a ducatimotorcycle | motorcycle

  22. Wildchild says:

    Hi there,

    I got a 696 ABS as a first bike – and 15,000km later, I would only argue that for me it was a great fit, and don’t regret it at all.
    Great chassis, fantastic breaks, great flickability, and controllable power (it only starts going mad over 5500rpm)..and the list goes on.

    Lets put it this way, if you are going for a 600cc + bike as a first bike (you get your licence on that in France for example), then I would actually recommend the Monster over the Japanese alternatives.

    I think the question is more of a: 250/300cc bike or 600cc + for a beginner.. ;-)

    Great article & website by the way !

  23. Chris says:

    You just changed my mind for the better. I am definitely going to try out a “beginner bike” before buying my dream Monster.

    I really enjoy your blog btw, keep up the good work!

    • amytracker says:

      If you are serious, that’s awesome! My rant into the void convinced someone! :) I really do believe its worth the wait. You’ll be a better rider and have so much more fun on your future Monster. Good luck and have fun learning to ride!

    • djoaktree says:

      That’s the ticket man, I lusted after a monster 696 for a long time. Ended up buying a CBR250R in 2011 because I couldn’t afford the monster. Having ridden quads (ATVs) with clutches when I was a kid, I didn’t have much trouble picking up the clutch work, but I did have a few oh sh*t moments on the 250 just learning about the dynamics of leaning, braking, weight transfer, etc on a motorcycle. After a year and a half of riding and about 10,000 miles I was at the point where I had put sticky pirelli tires on it and had confidence to scrape the pegs in my favorite turns. Lot of fun to ride a little bike like that to 100%, you feel like Rossi, except at speeds that won’t get you put in jail. That’s why those little bikes are so fun: they’re very forgiving and instill real confidence.

      Sold the Honda in 2013 to move and finish up college. Was a sad day.

      Finally finished college last December (2014), got a good job and just bought the monster 696 last week. Gotta say I’m glad I learned on the 250 because I have none of the issues mentioned in this post. Throttle doesn’t seem snatchy, brakes are awesome, not too touchy, clutch is butter. That said, I do know how to be smooth and progressive with the controls, a skill I learned from the 250. The basics are very important, but the 250 teaches confidence, which is second to fundamentals, but still just as important for riding safely. If you’re confident you’ll have the presence of mind to correct your mistakes instead of getting scared. The first time I rode the 250, i was nervous as hell and 30mph felt really super fast (funny how all that wind feels different when you’re not protected by a windshield like in a car). The first time I rode the monster, I was not nervous at all. It felt like an old friend, just much louder and more powerful. Still in the break in period, can’t wait until I get to crack the throttle all the way :-).

      Anyway, learn the basics, get confident and smooth, and then get that monster man. If I could go back in time, I’d still buy the 250 first.

      Ride safe, all.

  24. Cristiano says:

    Very well written and wise. This year I celebrate 30 years of riding which I started as an adolescent boy in Italy. I ride a Monster 796, every day for 9-10 months/year. I managed to destroy a 696 sliding on a bunch of gravel hidden beyond a curve on the Jamez mountains of northern New Mexico–no consequences at all for me. My father also rode and took me with him as a toddler, so did my grandfather whom I never met, as he died on a Guzzi before I was born. For the life of me I cannot understand how people would so often recommend the 696 as a beginner bike. To me it is very obviously not even an intermediate, especially if used in traffic. But maybe I am just old style.

    27 years ago I was 17 and graduating from a two stroke 125 Gilera Enduro (and a few Vespas) to a much desired 450 cc Honda. I remember wondering, not without worries, whether I could manage that much bike! Indeed, only a few years years before, in Italy (I am Italian) 18 years old riders were limited to 350cc or less. 500, 600cc were called “grossa cilindrata” at the time: big bikes. And please do consider that those bikes had nowhere the same torque/power of todays machines of equal displacement. 50hp were A LOT back then! Nowadays, according to certain bragging individuals, unless you buy a liter bike with 160 hp that does 180 mph and needs to be completely computerized as to be ridable by somebody who is not a pro, well, you must be some sort of a sissy. I wonder. Have we somehow evolved into a novel superhuman race of riders in the last twenty years, capable of managing with ease bikes three times as powerful (or more) than those which were considered very challenging only thirty years ago?

    In ’94, when I rode through Greece a beautiful (and fifteen years old) Yamaha XT 500, I did not perceive it as insufficient. Given that my current Monster exceeds most speed limits in the first of its six gears, one has to wonder in which universe that would that be good for beginners.

    • amytracker says:

      Thank you, Cristiano, for sharing your stories (how I would love to ride in Italy!), and for stating my position on beginner bikes much better than I did. I didn’t need to rant for an entire post, your comment makes the point much better and in fewer words. Your perspective also helps point out something I’m understanding more and more, which is that American motorcycling culture is so very different than anywhere else in the world. In many places, motorcycles are not toys, but needed as the only means of transportation. It seems that almost anywhere besides the US and parts of Europe (and the UK), a 600cc bike is still considered a big bike. Here, a 600cc bike is called a “girl” bike or “starter” bike, which I think is ridiculous. Are American riders that much better than riders elsewhere? I don’t think so. I saw a statistic in a moto magazine recently that said over 50% of American riders have never taken a formal riding class. As a rider, I just don’t understand this attitude. Your post is so quotable: “Given that my current Monster exceeds most speed limits in the first of its six gears, one has to wonder in which universe that would that be good for beginners.” is exactly right.

  25. Nigel says:

    I guess I have come full circle. I learned on small bikes, Bultacos, AJS, small Hondas. I have ridden just about everything and the bigger the better because I’m 6′. I just got my first Ducati. I call it my small girlie bike, as I haven’t had anything this small in a long time, it’s a nice low 900. For a learner I think the steering lock is the biggest thing that makes it hard to ride slow, clutch modulation has to be learned anyway. I am an experienced rider, and that big turning circle caught me off guard for a street/hooligan bike. It’s low power makes it hard to ride the back wheel out of a tight corner, makes you plan your turns, cause if you don’t you will you end up wide every time. Anyway, this was a nice read, I’m procrastinating right now because my Duc has an electrical demon and I’ve been surfing the web for insight.

  26. Richard Lowrey says:

    Good advice, I think I will go with a bmw 650 gs. I had a r 1100 rt, but, to ride a monster would be the equivalent of getting on a thoroughbred racing horse after riding a forgiving draft horse… (Something I have done) i was think of getting the 600 cc because I figured the HP was manageable, however, as you so aptly explained, it is more than just the horse…

  27. Fabian says:

    Thank you for the information… one more thing I am tall guy I am about 6ft 5in what would be an ideal beginner bike for me ??

    • amytracker says:

      Tall people definitely have as much of a hard time as us shorties in finding a bike that fits. I would suggest one of the larger Japanese dual sports, like a Honda XR650L. Its a 650, so plenty of power, but it will be much tamer than a sportbike or one of the larger displacement dirtbikes. Dual sports have tall seat heights, so there is some chance you won’t be so cramped, and the height won’t be a problem for you to muscle around, as you can probably still flat-foot something that tall. I would avoid the more expensive and more performance oriented Euro brands for a first bike. If you can stand a cruiser style moto with feet-forward style controls, that will also provide more models that give more room for your legs. (Again, by one of the Japanese makers). You on a monster 696 would be hilarious, you definitely would not fit.

  28. Karim says:

    An excellent read. I’ve just made the jump from a Honda CBF250 to the lovely 695. I figured 30,000kms (18640 miles) would give me enough practice. That said it is a bit of an unwieldy beast. Will take a little getting used to. As will the turning circle. Like a lazy whale.

    Thanks for clearing up the “tall 1st” gear. Will be using the brakes quite a bit more in the slow down to corner/stop.

  29. David Hoefler says:

    Great article. Totally agree. Started riding in 1960 but then had a 20 year break. Wanted to get back so first step, before even buying my 650 Ninja ABS, was to take the safety class. Even though I thought I was experienced I learned some new stuff and am VERY glad I took the class. In the past I rode both dirt (Husky 450) and street (Triumph Bonneville) plus a few others. As a second bike I am thinking a 696 would be enough different from the Kawa to give a change in pace. Plus, I just love Ducati bikes. Who needs a second bike? What has need got to do with it? LOL

  30. chattermoto says:

    I actually just started riding a couple month ago on a 250. I’m pretty confident on the streets and go riding regularly. How do I know if I’m ready to move up?

    • amytracker says:

      You’ll be ready to move up when you can out-ride these guys:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjpuAZK-N8E

      just kidding:) Serious answer? Its kind of up to you – if you’ve been riding regularly, and are comfortable in a variety of situations (in heavy traffic in the city, on the highway, on hills, twisty roads, parking lot maneuvers, etc.), and have a few thousand miles on the road, you can probably handle a larger bike and grow into it. If you started riding a couple of months ago and only have a few hundred miles, and only ride on the weekends, I would give it more time. Have you taken a beginner rider course? Definitely do that. If that seems too easy, take an advanced rider course – I sound like a broken record, but its a guaranteed way to accelerate improvement of your riding skills.

  31. rachelyokum says:

    Hi Amy! Your blog is so helpful as we are the same height, and finding a selection of great bike options for us 5’4″-5’5″ ladies has been a struggle for me. I’ve been riding trail bikes (an old Yamaha 250 and an old Bultaco trials bike) sporadically since I was 10, and 16 years later FINALLY got it together and did the CHP course and got my license. The 696 Monster has been my dream bike for years, but the practical girl in me worries 1. About my level of ability for a bike as picky as the 696 Monster 2. Whether it makes sense as a ‘beginner’ bike–well, a beginner street bike. 3. At what point my love for the bike outweighs issues 1 & 2.:)

    Furthermore, my dad graciously offered to let me start out on his Honda xr650l and I just started riding that to get more comfortable with street riding. My fear with this bike though is that it’s INCREDIBLY tall for me, as in I only have 2 toes down from each foot when I’m seated on the bike. Once riding though, I do feel pretty comfortable on the bike and it’s lower gearing has made riding at slow speeds in more tights patterns surprisingly easy. However, with slanted stops and areas where I need to back the bike up or have my feet down I’m worried that though this bike is far more economical than spending thousands on a used bike, the height might be too risky for me due to my newness at street riding. Any thoughts there? Thanks again for the detailed posts, it’s been awesome to read as a fellow female Ducati lover!


    • amytracker says:

      Hi rachelyokeum. I am right there with you on the struggle to find bikes for the inseam challenged. I keep hoping with the expansion of the riding market, and especially more and more women riders, that manufacturers will start offering more “nice” options in smaller bikes, but I’m not holding my breath. The trend is still towards bigger and bigger machines, and even bikes purchased for women are still often bought by men.

      Here’s the free advice you asked for, worth every penny: Obviously a Ducati Monster and a Honda xr650L are completely different machines. The riding experience and purpose of those two bikes is about as different as it gets. The choice depends on your trade-offs between desired riding style, budget, comfort level, etc. What do you want a bike for? What kind of riding do you want to do? The free bike (xr650L) sounds like a great way to start, but not if it’s too tall. (That IS a really tall bike). I have not looked at how feasible it is to lower it, but if you can’t get it lower with lowering links, dropping the forks, or are willing to pay for suspension mods to make it lower, I would not do it. Free or not, too tall is too tall. However, I do not think you need to flat foot (I wouldn’t ride anything I liked that way). My personal standard is whether I can back it up (duck walk backwards, while sitting in the seat). If I can get enough foot down to back it from a parking spot on level ground while actually on the bike, I’m good (without doing too much leaning over). YMMV. Also, given your stated riding history, that xr650l is going to feel much more natural than the Monster. If you haven’t ridden any sort of street oriented sport bike, the Monster is going to feel really weird to you at first.

      As far as a Monster? Buy the bike the makes you smile. If you can reasonably afford it, buy the bike you want. As far as being ready for a Monster? Obviously that’s hard to tell over the internet, but it sounds like you have enough experience on various bikes that you won’t have much trouble. I think technically riding the bike won’t take very much adjustment for you, but the trouble could come from being a new street rider on a new bike. (two news skills to learn, not just one. On street riding is different than off-road). Just don’t get complacent about your riding (work on actively improving your skills, both bike operation and riding in traffic), and take it slow. Give yourself a place to start riding that has low traffic. Work up to longer rides, and more challenging situations. I say if you are confident hopping on those off-road bikes and riding, and you felt pretty confident on the course to get your license, you’ll be alright on the Monster, and it will provide plenty of room to grow. Also, I always recommend advanced rider courses – sign up for the MSF advanced rider course, or something like Total Control, it’s well worth it! Have fun! Comment back after you’ve ridden your choice for a while and let me know how its going!

    • Cristiano says:


      Since I was 14 I rode bikes that are way to high for me (I am a 5 7 man). It was never a problem, as once you are going you are going. With the Monster 796 (32 inches) I reach down with both feet. But I also have a much taller Ducati Street fighter on which I only reach down with one foot at a time, and on the tip. Again, it’s a bit annoying in traffic stop-and-go but was never a problem for me. Anyway, if you like the idea of a sexy Italian bike and want to reach down with both feet have you considered trying the scrambler? I have not tried it yet but by eye it looks pretty low in inseam. Good luck.

  32. Cedrick says:

    Wow.. you have a lot to say and you a lot of good points.
    I actually chose to do the long steps. Permit, MSF class, License,
    Gear(helmet/boots/jacket/gloves), Chain and Lock, save up for a bike (paid in full), insurance to drive off lot.
    Someone once told me, it’s not how big the bike is it’s all in the throttle.
    Being a rider means bigger responsibilities for you and everyone around you. I gotta say that MSF class was pricy, easy and very knowledgeable. Well worth it.. while I practice and getting to know my limits and what I need to work on, to always remind myself WHY. Very true that riding isn’t for everyone and there are more dangers around you than being in a protective cage (automobile). I believe riding these days is more scary than ever. #1 a lot more drivers and riders DISTRACTED while operating. Right now, I drive for a living. I see so much BS on the road, most people just don’t care anymore. I live in Southern California and there are so many driving tends based on what county your in at that moment. I ride a M796 with loud pipes. I ride for pleasure and nothing more. I can only speak for myself and take responsibility when I’m at fault.

  33. James says:

    Great article! Very nice points. Been riding for roughly a year and highly recommend starting on a ninja 500. Meets all criteria explained above for starter bikes. And they are pretty darn cheap too!

  34. Mav says:

    I agree. I started off with a ninja 250 rode that for a couple seasons and now got a Ducati monster 796. And its powerful. I feel safe the only difference is the gear shifting. With the Ducati it feel like im in a higher gear a lot of the times because I hear a popping sounds sometimes. And i feel like on main streets i barely even get to six gear. Oh well. Hopefully I’m riding properly. Lol

  35. Jeremy says:

    Excellent article!
    I might be a bit of an odd situation here though : I started riding at 21. My first bike, you ask me? a brand new 2014 Ninja ZX6-R, my father was not proud of my choice haha! I rode this bike for about a year but quickly realized I could only use about 30% of what the bike could offer. I never fell (knock on wood) and have always been able to control my wrist so that I wouldn’t find myself in a perilous situation. I then changed for a 2015 BMW F800R, much smoother bike and more ‘beginner friendly’ with a softer ride, smoother clutch and A LOT less power.

    Then, about a month ago (I am now 23), I was offered a Ducati 796 that I couldn’t refuse. What an amazing bike. It sits right in between the Ninja and the BMW : not too agressive, not too ‘touring’.

    My point here is that sometimes it’s not the bike that’s more risky, but the driver itself. If you’re a beginner, yes a sport bike is a bit of a gamble, but you’re the one controlling the machine so with a bit of love and tenderness, you can start with (almost) any bike. The only difference is that the beginner will use about 20-30% of it, and a 20+ years rider will actually use the bike to it’s full potential.

  36. Warren Rodrigues says:

    Great article Amy!! You’ve hit a lotta nails on a lotta heads.

    I myself am going in for a Monster 696 (in a couple of weeks) (can hardly wait :P) and have been reading articles left and right, trying to ready myself for the Beast. This here is easily one of the best articles, rock-bottom, in-your-face kinda read.

    To be fair, this article got me thinking if I should go ahead with my purchase of the 696 or opt for another bike. I have been riding for about 15 odd years, my first bike being the Bajaj Pulsar 150 Classic (12 HP) (yes its an Indian bike, so I don’t blame you if you haven’t heard about it :P) and I have rode other bikes of my friends, the Yamaha RX135 5-Speed (14 HP), the Royal Enfield Classic 500 (27 HP) but the 80 HP of the 696 is kinda scaring me, more so post reading this article. I don’t know if I will be able to handle it. Do you feel I should re-think my purchase of the Monster 696?

    • amytracker says:

      At 15 years, you are hardly a beginner. It sounds like your experience on the smaller bikes makes you the perfect candidate to enjoy a larger bike. I wish more people started as you have. Fear not! Get the Monster.You’ll love it! Don’t lose respect for the throttle, and you’ll be just fine.

      • Warren Rodrigues says:

        Hey Amy, thanks for the advice and confidence booster :)
        Will definitely not lose respect for the throttle.
        Now all I need is for time to move a little faster. :D

  37. LucMonster says:

    hello everyone,
    I would like to share my story and see your opinions…
    So i grew up with my uncle riding a Ducati Monster 900. Everytime I saw him I thought that one day I will ride that beauty. Just to make clear, I see myself as an easy-going rider. I don`t need to race on the streets. Anyway, I started visiting the driving school here in Germany 4 months ago and the bike they let me ride was a Yamaha MT-07 with 48hp due to the hp-limit-laws here in Germany/Europe. I`m 20 yrs old so I am allowed to ride bikes with up to 48hp for at least 2 years before taking another driving exam and finally be able to use as many hp as I want. The point is now, that I had my first driving exam last week and I passed it. My uncle however made me a present and he wants me now to ride his Ducati Monster 900. A real dream came true. At the moment the bike is in the workshop to put the hp from 67 hp to 33 hp (48hp is not possible because there is no official 48 hp kit for the Monster 900). So next week I will have my first single ride with that Monster and I am the happiest guy on earth. I read now through your article and also the comments. I am aware of all the difficulties and problems that may occur but I think 4 months at driving school with a Yamaha MT-07 should be enough to slowly start on a Monster 900 isn`t it ?

    Cheers !

    • amytracker says:

      Sounds like the graduated licensing is working to me. If we had that here in the US, I wouldn’t have felt compelled to write this long, ranting blog post. I normally don’t advocate for more restrictions, but driving licenses here in the US are a bit of a joke. I wish we would consider (at least put up for discussion) a graduated system for motorcycles. If you are fairly comfortable and confident on that MT-07, you will be completely fine on the Monster. A neutered 33hp Monster 900 makes me sad:), count the days until you can put that thing back to stock!

  38. Leanne says:

    I agree! I have had my 696 for nearly a year and I still find the bike challenges me every ride to ride smoother but I love it and never get bored. I didn’t realize how much easier other bikes were to ride until I rode a Yamaha MT07 659cc – so much easier to ride – defiantly not as much fun :-)

  39. Willp says:

    I should have read this article BEFORE I purchased a 796 as my first bike today………… damn

  40. Yue says:

    I brought my 2016 Ducati monster 821 stripe right before I turned 18. I had no experience before having this bike. The only thing is, I took the MSF course. That’s it…. But honestly, this bike made me a better rider. I learned my limit on this bike, and 1 year after I got the monster, I switched to a BMW S1000RR

  41. Thanks for this article. Am a total newbie but my experienced rider friends are convincing me to get at least a 600cc bike as my learner bike. I have my hesitations regarding their advice and reading this article has convinced me to get a much less powerful bike to begin with. Am a vertically challenged male at only 5’4″ with an inseam of 28″. So getting a big, powerful bike on the onset could be a challenge to me and may even discourage me from riding at all. Fortunately here in Southeast Asia (am from the Philippines), Honda is soon releasing a CBR150 sportbike model (150cc with awesome bike design/styling) which I believe would be just right for me. Will pick it up from there and upgrade gradually. In the meantime, I will find time to attend some riding courses at a local Honda riding school.

  42. Dan says:

    Good written article, as my first bike was a 250cc Ninja, then I move into a Monster 696 that I absolutely loved so much that I did every suspension and exhaust/ECU mod available. It was this 696 that lead me into a 899 which I believe is the best bike in the world:). I think the Monster 696 is a extremely well balance bike, that if you have little experience riding you can do fine. In the U.S a 700cc bike with 80HP does not seem like a big bike, but in Europe is a decent size bike, no way a beginner bike.

  43. Karl says:

    Thanks for that interesting read. I started riding 6 months ago on a 2013 Yamaha MT-03 (660cc and 47hp) and your description of the ideal beginner’s bike is something I definitely relate to. Having passed my motorcycle driver’s test on a Honda 125cc, simply test riding my future MT-03 was a pretty intimidating experience given the MT-03’s torque.However, the type of rider riding said-beginner bike also contributes to the equation: someone who feels they’ve got something to prove straight off the bat is more likely to crash and harm his or herself, compared to someone who starts off with a milder riding style.
    Over-powered at first, I took it slowly and am now very comfortable with the torque on a daily basis – the MT-03 is my main method of transport.

    Back to your article though, it was nice to get that kind of depth in a Ducati Monster description. The Ducati Monster is basically my dream bike so I’m looking into it quite a bit – thinking of switching to the 821 in 1 year and a half to 2 years’ time.

    Lastly I was wondering if you could answer one quick question: have you had any particular problem with your Monster? (problems you wouldn’t get on other Japanese or European bikes)
    I know this might sound like a silly question but I’ve heard the expression of “a bike Ducatying” when relating to bikes breaking down or having issues.

    Thank you again for the great article :)


    • amytracker says:

      Hi Karl – get the Ducati! We own three, and would not hesitate to buy another. Ducati has really improved in later years, and have addressed the problems from many years ago that earned them a reputation for poor reliability and difficult and expensive maintenance. Our modern Ducati’s (2010+) have first rate build quality, and we have had no issues. We don’t baby our bikes either, they get ridden. My Monster has been easier to own and required much less attention than my BMW based Husqvarna TR650 (this bike has terrible build quality). People complain about maintenance on Ducati’s, but ours have been very easy to own, and are much easier to maintain than that TR650. All bikes have their own particular personality and quirks, and if the Ducati’s appeal to you, go for it.

  44. Uzo Nwokedi says:

    Very good article

  45. sullybiker says:

    I know this is a five year old entry but it’s still a very relevant read. In the time you wrote it 300CC became the beginner standard, and that’s about to move up to 400cc with the Ninja 300 giving way to the 400. I’m not sure this is great for new riders, and I totally agree with you about Dual Sports.

    I’ve got a 300 with nearly 20k miles, and a (fantastic!) Chinese Honda dual-sport clone I use on the bad days which clocks in at a mighty 229cc (I’ve written about both, I love them).

    I could drone on forever about it but I commute nearly daily, weather permitting, and do as much spirited weekend riding as I can. I’m a totally different rider to the one I was when I started. I am different again to how I was at 10,000 miles, and now I’ve developed further, and I’ve still got the same bikes. Some of this was a happy accident – we added another son to the family shortly after me starting riding and it’s meant a pause on any big purchases while we take the strain, so I couldn’t have moved up if I wanted to.

    I’ve ridden a load of bikes in the last 18mths, and it’s been hard to resist new and shiny, but I’ll be a low-displacement rider for at least another year. I have no idea what I’ll move up to, but I’ll likely keep the Ninja as I have developed a real connection to it.

    As for the Monster 696, I haven’t ridden it, but I have ridden the 797 (the ‘new’ 696),821, and 1200. They’re all fabulous (I think the 821 is one of the greatest bikes I’ve ever ridden). The 797 is a four-valve twin air-cooled bike (engine is derived from the Scrambler) and it’s the mildest of the bunch, but still a very, very quick thing.

    • amytracker says:

      Thanks for the comment. Honestly, I’m still surprised how much traffic this entry gets. Advocating for learning to ride on a smaller displacement motorcycle is apparently a controversial topic. As you said, since I first posted, manufacturers have made some really great smaller displacement street bikes available. This trend makes me happy, although many people still don’t take advantage. Every time I see a new rider buy a Harley (even a “small” Harley) or a 600+cc machine for their first bike, I just shake my head. Again, the folks who learned and spent time on dirt bikes, which is common in my area, aren’t the people I’m talking about. I still see so many people go from absolutely no riding experience, to buying a full size street bike, and not even bother to take the MSF course. Its bananas. For all the great things about American motorcycling culture, I still see this aspect/attitude as a dangerous problem. Also, Ducati Monsters are endlessly fun motorcycles:)

  46. sullybiker says:

    This is a common sentiment I find absolutely bizarre. Just crazy:

  47. sullybiker says:

    WordPress ate my picture, but it’s here:

  48. Dim says:

    Well first and foremost starting on any Duc is stupid, any damage to it is expensive. So knowing all that I started on a 696 monster which almost killed me on the second day. After learning to treat it with respect, I mean it isn’t called a monster for no reason, which took me a couple weeks and 2k kilometres I’ve started to wholeheartedly enjoy the machine. Sadly it ended up being my girlfriends first bike too, and she totalled it. Now speaking of expensive repairs, god forbid you damage the instrument cluster, which she did, you are looking at 2.5k repairs minimum. But still I don’t regret starting on it.

  49. ClutchFiction says:

    Totally agree. We did a detailed review of the Ducati Monster and included a section on why it’s not good for a first bike. Check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxyqo341RxI

  50. Liam says:

    It’s funny I’ve only just come across this article after owning my 2012 796ABS for a few months now and wholeheartedly agree. It’s my first bike but I absolutely love it. I’d ridden dirtbikes at a much younger age and am now finally able to get a motorcycle of my own. When looking at bikes I was looking at things much smaller than my monster to start with but it was too good of a deal to pass up. Clean, all service done and recorded, less than 2k on it and he was selling it for half it was worth so i got it. You hit the nail on the head with everything in your article about its difficulties when learning though. Its been a challenge since day one but even after riding my buddies’ triumph 675 triple, a Honda interceptor, and a couple others I wouldn’t trade my 796 for any of them. The challenge and learning curve have made it an even greater joy to start riding (again).
    Great article though, and well put together.

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