My Ducati M900 blog

Overview

The purpose of this page is to pass on information I've learned in the course of owning a Y2K Ducati Monster 900 i.e. to prospective or current owners. When I was researching the bike on the net I had some unanswered questions, so I figure it is worthwhile to others to answer them publicly here.

Buying the bike

My last bike was a 1976 BMW R90/6, and, not too surprisingly, a lot has changed since the mid-70's. This is a wonderful bike. I bought it used, with 5700 Miles, so of course it needed its 6000 mile service (ouch) soon after I got it. I bought it both for fun, and for getting to work in downtown San Francisco. Obviously it is more bike that I strictly need to commute with, but in the interests of full disclosure I thought I'd let you know how it is being used. Given the number of bikes parked downtown, I'd venture a guess that most people really do a lot of mundane riding, not knee-dragging at Sears Point. It bugs me that most bike reviews concentrate on racing and don't tell you stuff like how often does it need service, how well does it perform in traffic, etc.

I had considered other bikes, specifically the Suzuki SV-650 and the Honda VFR. But the sound of that Ducati exhaust just got me. So it wasn't a rational decision, and I've gotten a lot of guff from friends for buying an expensive piece of Italian machinery. I don't really care - it is not always a rational world, is it? I tried the M750, but it seemed a little underpowered for me.

As for accessories, I bought a Kryptonite lock, a cover, and an Arai Quantum/f helmet. Happy with all three purchases. Still looking for a good jacket and boots that don't make me look like I'm trying out for a Stormtrooper part in the next Lucas epic. Is that so hard?

Initial impressions

the bike has some wonderful bits, and some that are really cheesy. An example of the latter is how the clutch and brake system reservoirs are attached to the handlebars. They use something that looks like it was from an old Erector set. But the bodywork and brakes are beautiful. So it is inconsistent.    Brakes - are awesome. My old Beemer you just prayed hard if you wanted to stop fast. The Duc really hauls down.   Mirrors - give a splendid view of your forearms - pretty much useless, so I've been doing a lot of head-swiveling.   Gearing - Some inexplicable choices here - first gear is so tall that it often lugs at stoplights and at tight uphill corners, and at 80 MPH the engine is maybe going 4000 RPMs in top gear. I think I know why people fool with the sprockets - for an unfaired bike it seems to be geared too high (at least for the US), especially as it is marketed as a city bike. Motor - is flat awesome. The torque is almost scary, and I've been taking it slow until I get used to it. And of course there's the sound, which for me puts a grin on my face that's still there an hour after being at work. A couple of other points to know about the motor: it needs an adequate warm-up before you start riding. If you are looking at a used bike and it is cold, be aware of that. Also, sometimes you see a milky condensation in the oil window, which caused me to pass on one bike. I've since learned that this is not that uncommon, and isn't really a bad sign. Also, until the bike is warm and tipped upright, it looks like there is no oil in the motor. This is weird, but normal. The Cool Factor - People just love the bike - it looks great and is Italian. People react to things in idiosyncratic ways, for example I have some expensive and wonderful old fountain pens, but the one they ooh and aah about is a new Rotring that cost 20 bucks. It just looks cool, so there you are. Ducati motorcycles do not evoke rational responses in people (owners or bystanders). Other - The manual: well I guess I can say it is better than the transliterated-from-Italian directions to my Rancilio Silvia espresso machine, but that's not saying much. They could also have saved a couple of pounds by producing an English-only version. The information on what happens at each service level is really confusing.

Cost of Ownership

Some things that I couldn't find before I bought the bike: It needs an oil change every 3000 miles, and there is a 6000 mile service interval for the rest of the stuff. It gets an initial service at 600 miles (you'd be amazed at the owners I talked to that didn't know the service intervals for the bikes they were selling). I haven't had the oil change yet, but the 6K service took 5 hours at the local shop, and the shop rate is $65/hour. Did I mention that owning a Ducati is not a rational decision? You can see what I've spend so far in the Maintenance Costs page.

Mileage - it gets about 140+ miles on a tankful in the city, and about 170-180 on the highway. Fill 'er up with premium; hell, it's only 4 gallons. (Remember to smile at the guy in the SUV pumping in 35 gallons.)

I have put together a full spreadsheet of my (necessary) maintenance costs.

Status Report

I got a message from a reader asking what my experiences have been since I last posted. He asked how the Ducati compares to his 1977 BMW RS. So here is what I said.

"The '77 RS is a wonderful bike, no doubt, but I have to say the newer bikes (take your pick) have a lot of advantages over old Beemers. The great thing about the BMW was it did everything pretty well. Now bikes are so specialized it's hard to find one that will happily take you to work every morning, be fun to ride along a winding road, and be comfy enough to ride from SF to LA. I've pretty much given up on reading motorcycle magazines as they cater to the racer wannabes to the exclusion of the rest of the riding public who just want something that's not going to be a pain to live with. OK, off the soapbox now.

Well, I tried a few different bikes and while there wasn't anything I couldn't live with (as I said, they're all much better than my old R90/6) it was the Ducati Monster that gave me the biggest smile that lasted the longest. Now as you can guess from my rant above, I'm not the racer type, so YMMV, but the Duc is much faster and (I believe more importantly) has much better brakes than what I was used to. And it doesn't leak oil all over my left foot. The other bikes I looked at were the SV650 the Duc M750, a BMW K75, and Honda VFR 750 and CBR600F3. The Suzuki I couldn't get a ride on, so had to go by statistics, but it seemed like a nice bike. Not as nice to look at, but cheaper and presumably quite reliable. I've heard the Suzuki TL1000s is good too, but I worried about the ergonomics. The Duc 750 seemed a little underpowered to me after the R/90, but then I'm about 200lbs, so for a lighter rider it might work better. The K75 was just too bland, and the seat height seemed way too up there to be pleasant in the city. The VFR was an excellent bike, and if I could buy a second bike for touring, I'd definitely get one. Unfortunately the used price is fairly high, and the excitement factor low. (No non-bike person ever says, "Gee, you got a VFR? Cool!") The CBR 600F just plain scared me. I got off as fast as I could. The fact that the teenager selling it had no idea where the oil went and the dipstick was dry pretty well killed the deal.

So that left the M900. I tried to bargain with the guy, but committed the classic error of falling in love with the bike, so I paid $8700 for a 2000 model. Have I regretted it? Not a bit. Do I wish the Ducati could be better at some things? Sure. Mainly long distance comfort suffers due to a pretty grim seat. However for 100 mile rides it is great. The insurance isn't too terrible as they don't classify it a sport bike (go figure), and the mileage is about 37-42/gal. It gets an oil change every 3000 miles, and major service at 6000 mile intervals, which involves adjusting the desmodromic valves. Shop rates are about on the BMW level, although availability of service and parts is more scanty than for BMWs. Part prices are about at BMW levels too. Figure about $400 for the major service and $100 for minor service, although that is in the high cost bay area. For anyone who has owned a BMW, the cost of ownership won't come as a surprise. If your last bike was a Honda Rebel 250 then I'd say give it a think before you buy a Ducati. So far I've put about 4000 miles on the bike since I bought it in July, and it has been quite reliable. As much as my old BMW? I honestly can't say. I figure less so, but that is entirely subjective, and in the end, not something I'm going to worry about. I don't think it will be so unreliable as to be a pain in the butt.

As for the unquantifiable, I have to say owning one is a blast from the standpoint of attention. I actually had a 20-something girl come up and ask if she could sit on the bike. Now I'm an old married guy with a spare tire, so I thought this was pretty unusual. It also elicits nods of approval among my son's teenage friends, which is even more remarkable since parents are generally acknowledged to be the antithesis of cool. Lastly, I still smile when I'm downshifting and that big twin makes that wonderful booming noise coupled with the high pitched gear whine. So what is all that worth. I honestly have no idea, but I'm not asking for my money back. I'm keeping the Ducati."

Modifications

Mirrors | Clock | Horn | Sidestand Bypass Switch | Tank Bag | Sargent Seat | Termignoni pipes and Delta-V fender eliminator | Tank swap and fender | Sprocket and chain | C/F side panels | Saddle bags | Replacement slave cylinder | Open sprocket cover and STM clutch plate | Suspension | Dampener | Brakes | Billet clutch basket and aluminum plates | Gearing consult | Clipons and rearsets | My Skills

Mirrors

As I mentioned earlier, the stock mirrors are pretty bad, at least if you want to see what's behind you. So I lurked and listened on the Ducati Monster Forum and got a tip on mirrors by Constructors Racing Group. They are called Hindsight, and are quite good, although there are some things you may want to know. What's good - They are well made, solid mirrors that are easy to mount and look great on. They give an excellent view rearward, and can be mounted very flexibly. I bought the mirrors via their Web site and it went smoothly and I got the mirrors just a few days later. What's not so good - The instructions are weak, but if you have some mechanical ability you'll figure it out. Also, the mirrors don't fold back, so if you're parking in tight spaces/alleys/etc. you may have a problem. (Newsflash: the company now sells hinges that allow you to fold the mirrors back to simplify lane-splitting and parking in tight spaces.) What you should know - You will need the internal adapter to mount the mirrors, but they don't look bad. They cost $17.50 each. You'll still need to watch that the brake and clutch levers don't hit the mirror. In terms of how the mirrors perform vs. stock, they are great in traffic, but are smaller and more convex than stock, so you'll have a hard time telling the difference between a Crown Victoria and a Mercedes if it's more than 50 feet back from you. (I'll let you figure out on your own why that might be important.) Here is a picture showing the mounting of the mirror. (Yes, I know the mirror is dirty.)

Clock

OK, so it isn't a big deal, but since I commute to work every day, and since the Golden Gate Bridge makes me pay three bucks after 9AM, it's nice to know whether I'm going to have to stop and fork over. $15 at Bridgestone, and I think it looks pretty nice. No idea how it will do in the wet though. Here's a picture. Update: the clock doesn't seem to mind the wet - takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'.

Horn

A small rant here: why on a bike as expensive as this do they put such a feeble horn? Honestly, I nearly had about 8 SUV drivers come over at me at various times, and all could do is bleat away on this pathetic little beeper. They'd look around and wonder, "what's that flatulent duck I hear?" all the while heading straight for me. Enough already! So I go to Kragen and for under 20 bucks get a 138dB horn (I think it was called Magnum Blaster or something like that) and in about 15 minutes get it installed. No big deal, but now people actually stop moving over into my lane when they hear it. Obviously from the picture, there is more noise coming from the right than the left, but it still seems good. Update: the single horn was loud, but lacking the dissonance to really wake people up. I tried another set of disk horns which are OK, but not really as attention grabbing as I'd like. My conclusion is there is no really first rate solution to the horn problem, especially given the limited space and exposure to the elements. What has worked is installing the Termignoni pipes. Now people know you're there. No need to tell them! Here's a picture of the second set of horns.

Sidestand Bypass Switch

Not exactly lifesaving or performance enhancing, but honestly I don't know why it isn't standard equipment. Easy to install (although the directions are a little hazy on the wire routing) and works great. From Evoluzione, 36 bucks + shipping. And yes, I have tried to put it in gear with the stand down and it cut out just like they said. Good for the occasionally absent-minded like me. Here's a picture.

Tank Bag

Technically not a change to the bike, but it works well and looks reasonable. From Marsee, it is the contoured 15L bag. I forget what I paid, but it was around $100. I might get the 20L if it was available.

Sargent Seat

I decided to change the stock seat for a Sargent seat after hearing good things on the Ducati Monster Forum, and having a couple of sore-butt 100+ mile days. (Small aside here: if you have a Monster or are thinking about buying one, do yourself a favor and subscribe to the List. Good, helpful people without the adolescent Attitude that's sadly so common in motorcycling.)

Pictures of the seat comparing it to stock are available.

Quality of construction: My first impression is that it seems to be better built structurally than the stock seat. The under-seat finishing is better, especially the area near the tank. The stock seat holds the cover in place with staples; on the Sargent the area has a special soft fabric, kind of like polarfleece where the seat contacts the tank. The edging and corners are cleaner on the stock seat; the Sargent looks a bit home-made on the tight edges. The quality of the stitching is good and the tool holder under the seat holds a fair amount of stuff. It won't hold the manual however, which is probably OK. As for the pathetic Ducati tool kit (I used to own a BMW, so call me spoiled) do yourself a favor and put some real tools in the new space. There are also hooks that fold out to hold a bungee net.

Installation: Oh, if only all accessories installed this easily. Just unlock your old seat and pop on the new. On older bikes I think you have to transfer the locking mechanism, but that should be easy. The fit is excellent, and snug. The area by the tank is a little thicker than stock, so the lines aren't as clean, but it is not too bad.

Appearance: I ordered the plainest seat I could; no contrasting colors or Italian flags. I like the look of the stock seat: it looks harmonious with the rest of the bike design, it was just the comfort that was an issue. The Sargent looks a little chunkier, less refined. Rather than slope up it is more of a flat seat with an abrupt vertical rise. Whether the visuals are enough to offset the rest of the seat's virtues is up to you.

Comfort: I've done one 100+ mile day on the seat and it definitely is more comfortable in the long haul. It is much flatter than stock, which means the pressure is distributed over a wider area, and being flat you can shift about more. The stock seat tends to keep you close to the tank and feels more "sporty"; the Sargent is wider than stock and because you can move around, if you plant your butt at the back of the seat you'll have more of a reach to the bars. This isn't an issue for me (I'm 5' 10") but if you are a smaller rider the combination of increased seat width and longer reach to the bars might make this a less comfortable seat than stock. (The increased width makes streetlight straddling a little harder.) Of course you can request a custom seat foam treatment that might alleviate this. Update: I've owned this for about 10 months now and I still like it for the comfort, and still think it doesn't look as good as stock. I find I don't use all of the front to back room, but the width is really great on longer trips. My ideal would be to get a custom seat from Sargent - maybe someday.

Termignoni pipes and Delta-V fender eliminator

Lots has been written about aftermarket pipes, so I'll just add what seemed unexpected to me. The fender eliminator is just cosmetic, but I figured, what the heck, I was back there anyway.

Pipe Sound: Wow, these are loud pipes! When you first fire it up, it is really like rumbling thunder. Reminds me of when I was in college and we'd crank the bass up on some tasty tune and try and get that "thump in the chest" vibration. You definintely feel that if you're near these pipes at idle. Once underway they continue to sound great, but different. The sound reminds me of a very powerful offshore race boat (like a Cigarette boat) about a quarter mile away. Terrific sound! There is no way to be inconspicuous with these pipes. When you go through a small town, people stop what they're doing and turn to see what's making the noise. Little kids in cars wave. I think that maybe even guys in mini-vans pull over to the turn-outs more often on the twisty parts of the road. However guys yakking on cell phones in their SUVs are never going to move, so forget about that now. Update: I still love the pipes and consider them one of the best upgrades I've made. Pointless downshifting is a fact of life now. As are earplugs for long trips. I do recommend paying the $40 or so and getting the squeeze-silicone-in-your-ear jobs. They work great and are comfortable.

Performance: I have to rant here that most stuff written about motorcycles and performance is useless to me. How something makes 4 HP more at 10,000 rpm just is meaningless because I'm not a racer. I look for how easy it is to get away from a light, or pass a bunch of cars. By those standards, the pipes are quite good, even though I have not modified the ECU or changed the air intake. When the stock pipes were on, getting away from a light involved a lot of clutch-slipping to be smooth, now the bike seems to have a little extra grunt down low, so the slipping is less necessary, and the takeoff much smoother. I still have a larger rear sprocket on order to fix this once and for all.

Appearance: The pipes look great, what more can I say. And the fender eliminator was a snap to put on and also looks great. Pictures of the pipes and fender eliminator here.

Tank swap & fender

A dirty little secret of the Ducati Monster is that if you drop it in a parking lot at 0-5mph, you'll get a big 'ol "golf ball ding" in the side of the tank. In addition to causing thoughts of suicide, this is a very expensive mistake, and not all that uncommon. Ducati probably makes a tidy chunk of change on replacement tanks, as they go for upwards of $1000 a copy new. So the answer as far as I was concerned was to get the dinged one repaired. But I didn't want to be without the bike, so a bought a dinged tank off a guy locally, had it repaired and painted, and had the local dealer install it. (There is a lot of plumbing inside the fuel injected tanks, and it was in for the 12K service anyway.) At about the same time I bought a ducati performance carbon fiber fender to replace the yellow stock fender. These are hideously expensive, and completely unjustifiable, other than the fact that I didn't want the bike to look patched together (I went from yellow to red with the tank painting, since I always wanted a red bike, but the yellow one was what was available.)

Sprocket & Chain

I had heard that increasing the size of the rear sprocket from 39 to 41 teeth improved the low speed performance, although it decreases the top end. Since more of my total riding time is spent under 30 mph than over 100mph, this seemed like a reasonable tradeoff. After living with it for a while I'd say it improved the <3000 RPM balkiness of the Monster, but not by a huge amount. But the sprocket was worn anyway and I probably needed a new chain, so all in all pretty painless.

C/F side panels

t turns out that hanging a Kryptonite lock from the grab handle caused my right side panel to crack and eventually rip off at speed. So I got a new set of carbon fiber ones from Joe Witherspoon at Motostrano. They look wonderful, and really that's about all you could ask from them. Picture

Saddle bags

I bought a really nice set from RKA luggage in Healdsburg. They are really nice people and their stuff is top notch. I do miss the old Krauser bags on my beemer, but I couln't really see attaching hard bags to the Monster for the few trips a year I'll be making. I got the 26 to 52 liter eXpandable saddlebags - they seemed like the best size for the bike, and they are rock steady while at speed. Pictures and mounting details here.

Replacement slave cylinder

I found out my old cylinder was "weeping" at my 15K service, and I was noticing that the effort on a long day of riding was considerable, resulting in a sore left hand. So I ordered up an Evolozione cylinder from Joe Witherspoon at Motostrano and he had it installed 4 days from when I ordered it. It was a real pain for him to remove the banjo bolt since the bike was hot as a pistol when I delivered it. Once the ordeal was over (I like letting pros do the big jobs) it ran like a dream. The lurching and bucking away from stoplights is gone. This is a no-brainer upgrade as far as I'm concerned. Picture

Open Sprocket Cover and STM clutch plate

There's no real excuse for this, other than the fact that a Ducati should sound like, well.. a Ducati. If you open the clutch cover on a dry clutch Duc, the sound is either horrifying or glorious, depending on who you talk to. For me it is heavenly. I was at the World Superbike races at Laguna Seca and there were waves of guys on 996s and 998s rolling by, their clutches clattering away, and I knew instantly I'd have to have that sound.

Suspension

The Monster generally doesn't have adjustable forks (unless you were lucky and got an "S" model), and the rear shock is just adequate. On one of the charity suspension clinics that happen regularly around here my rear shock was pronounced dead by the tech. It just wasn't rebounding the way it should. So I figured do it right, and get an Ohlins shock. Wow. Wow wow wow. This is the most dramatic change yet to the bike. The back end feels (in the words of Mike Myers) "like buttah". Only problem is the front end feels like it is filled with rocks. So off to my local mechanic to get the internals upgraded to RaceTech valves, springs, etc. and have the whole thing set up for my porky weight instead of some emaciated average Italian guy. The combination of the two working together is sublime. Really - if you find yourself feeling like the bike is chattering around corners, or bumpy roads make you nervous, this one change alone will give you a huge boost in confidence. You might even find yourself seeking out the local goat trail.

Dampener

I had the misfortune of watching a friend and good rider, Scott Nelson, have a violet tankslapper as he crossed a cattle guard doing ~45 mph. He was going straight, dry road, no traffic. All of a sudden his bike is careening about and he's face down on the asphalt, heading for a ditch. From this I decided a decent steering dampener was a bargain I got an Extreme Tech model from Motowheels. Basically I set it and forget it.

Brakes

I upgraded the brakes because my old rotors had become warped from a number of track days. The stock Monster rotors were replaced with "snowflake" superbike rotors and EBC brake pads. Man, when you pull on the levers with these things it is like the Hand of God is stopping you. Amazing.

Billet Clutch Basket and Aluminum Plates

About the time I was replacing the plates in my clutch a second time, I though, "gee there has to be something better". And indeed, there is. I replaced the steel clutch basket (all notched and nasty) and rusty clutch plates with a Motowheels billet basket and Barnett clutch stack (in aluminum). The new combo is much lighter than stock, and you definitely notice the difference on shifting and throttle responsiveness in the corners. Sadly though the wonderful clutch clatter (see above) is a thing of the past. It is eerily quiet after you've gotten used to having your clutch set off car alarms.

Gearing Consult

One of the guys on the Ducati Monster Forum, Jim Gnitecki started up a business doing individualized gearing analyses. For the ridiculously low price of 29 bucks he inputs your weight, the weight and power of your bike, and any performance modifications you might have made into his computer model. You then tell him the type of riding you like to do (my riding is mostly twisty back country roads, not freeways) and he gives you some options for changing your gearing. In my case I went down a tooth in the front and up two in the back (and this was from my already lowered ratio!). The change is really quite pronounced. Much less clutch slippage and groaning in traffic, and more power pulling away from a stop. I give up a few MPH at the top, but then I don't spend much time up at 120 anyway. Gas mileage is down somewhat, but this makes sense as I'm in the meat of the powerband much more of the time.

Clipons and rearsets

I agonized about this for a long time. One of the things I like best about the Monster is its "general purposeness". It is a great bike for fast backroads, decent enough at touring, a good commuter, and if pushed, a credible track bike (but not so competitive for real racing). By changing to rearsets and clipons, I've made it less of a commuter/tourer, but given that more than 3/4 of my riding is done on back roads, it seemed a reasonable trade-off. What I've gained is much better body position, and in the process better handling and more confidence in the corners. The clipons and rearsets are from CycleCat, and are great. The discomfort of the bars can be pretty much eliminated through some amazing adjustability.

My Skills

Ducati has made a lovely and capable bike in the Monster. In fact, I began to realize the limiting factor in my riding was never going to the bike. It would always be me. Even though I've ridden for more years that I'll say here, my skills had pretty much plateaued on the street. So for 2004 I decided the thing to do was to deal with the weak link: me. I've signed up for track classes and track days at the Streets of Willow (Pacific Track Time), Sears Point (Pridmore CLASS) twice, Thunderhill (ZoomZoom) and Laguna Seca (dpSafety). In the course of this, I've spent a ridiculous amount of money on tires, stands, ramps, tiedowns, and oh yes, a truck. Plus the track days of course. But if I had it to do over again I'd do even more days. It makes that much difference to your riding. Pretty much all of the stuff I've bolted onto the Monster will be lost if and when I sell it, but my improved riding ability I get to keep forever. Even if you just do one track day or class, the difference in your riding should be huge. Our mis-perceptions of our limits and our fear are the most dangerous things about the motorcycle. If I think back to any accident I've had or witnessed, at its root was either a panic reaction gone wrong, or not enough skills for the situation (mostly braking, some cornering). This all came home to me when I was riding after a big windstorm and came around a blind corner. I wasn't going really fast, as I respect the difference between track and street, but there in the middle of my lane was a tree branch. Having done my track days I knew I had plenty of traction and ability to corner, and I was able to change my line easily and avoid the branch. In days past I would have either hit it or gone into the ditch. Enough of the soapbox. If you even think you might be interested, by all means do a track day as soon as you can. You won't regret it.