2009 Ducati 696

Story by Roger Parsons// Photos by Glenn Roberts
September 1 2008

What would you expect of the entry level offering from a company that produces the $85,000, 200hp street going MotoGP replica Desmosedici RR? How about a highly competent, well spec’d road goer that proudly carries the name Ducati on its tank.

As marketing departments do their best to make the buying public see the genealogical connection between flagship products and lesser base models, jaded consumers could hardly be blamed for suspecting that the 696 Monster is a bike built to a price point that relies on its name more than substance of its offering. Not so this littlest Duc. In fact, with this major redesign, it sports improved brakes, lighter weight and a price reduction over the 695 Monster that it replaces.

If going on specs alone, one would have to be impressed with many of the components that adorn the 696, but it’s the way that the whole package works together to create a fun and competent bike that can be enjoyed by beginner and veteran alike.

Hopping on, one is immediately struck with how compact and balanced this 145 cm (57.1 inch) wheel based bike is, just right for the ‘cut and thrust’ of in town riding. With its light 161kg (355 lb) claimed dry weight, wide, almost flat handlebar and low 77 cm (30.3 inch) seat height, the 696 is easy to manoeuvre in a parking lot or on the move. Riders of earlier versions of the smallest Duc will be pleased to find that, while further improvement is still possible, the steering lock has been greatly improved, so turning in tight confines is no longer a multi-point event.

Under way, there is no confusing this bike’s sporting intentions. The riding position inclines the rider forward to the bars and tucks the feet up under the seat but not so drastically as on a race replica. In fact, this position, while putting the rider in excellent control, actually provides a high level of comfort with little weight being placed on the tailbone, but instead taken up by the thighs. The low handle bar that might look uncomfortable at a stand still comes into its own when on the move, placing the rider in a perfect lean into the wind at speed which helps take weight off of the wrists. I found the ergonomics of this bike to be so right, that three hours in the saddle left me ready for more. Of course, the stylish vestigial fairing provided little more protection than a playing card, but at the same time, didn’t mess up the flow of air at helmet level, so cruising speeds of up to 125 km/h were easily held in relative comfort. Speeds above this were OK for a time, but fatigue from fighting the wind flow would set in at a quicker rate.

Suspension duties are handled by the non-adjustable Showa 43 mm inverted front fork and single rear Sachs shock which is adjustable for pre-load and rebound. These legs proved to be quite firm, and provided excellent handling characteristics when curvy country roads were tackled. At the same time, some of the roads on my commute are in desperate shape with patches, heaves and pot-holes waiting to deliver a pounding to the rider. On these roads, the Duc’s suspension did a commendable job with 12 cm (4.7 in) front and 14.8 cm (5.8 in) of rear travel. It was compliant enough to take the edge off of the beating, but a much softer suspension would be required to really isolate the rider, and that would take too much away from it’s sporty focus. Steering is excellent with the wide flat bars providing plenty of leverage for in town warfare or while strafing twisty country roads. In either situation, the rider is presented with plenty of feedback through the bars along with a planted, stable feeling thanks to its new combination of steel tube trellis frame, cast aluminum sub-frame and beefy aluminum single shock swing arm.

The 696’s 90-degree, air cooled 2 valve V-twin provides motivation with a claimed 80 hp at 9000 rpm and 51.6 ft/lb torque at 7750 rpm. It will pull from lower rpm in an easy to manage flow of power, but it really lights up to provide an exciting push in the upper third of its rev range. There is no redline on the large segmented LCD tach but with the abundant power in the mid range, I didn’t feel the need to wring its neck very often. When I did, red LEDs just above the tach let me know that the upper limit is near at 9000 rpm. Shifting is accomplished with light prods of the 6-speed’s lever. This buttery smooth transmission didn’t fail to impress with its easy shifts. Clutch pull, while very light, would be improved especially for new riders or for those with smaller hands, by having a wider engagement point that starts closer to the bar.

Saving a buck by using lesser brake components didn’t seem to cross Ducati’s mind when building the 696. In fact, they are a strong upgrade on the previous 695. The front dual 320 mm discs with 4-piston radial mounted calipers, and 245 mm 2-piston rears might seem like overkill for an entry level bike, but if too much is just right, these are bang on. The power and feel provided by these binders in combination with the Bridgestone Battlax BT56’s were confidence inspiring even in the wet. The bike would shed speed in a controllable fashion as quickly as desired with slight rear lock up coming only with ham fisted (footed?) use.

The instrument pod is complete with the already mentioned tach and redline warning LEDs, as well as large, easy to read LCD speedo, odometer, trip odometer, clock, oil temp, lap timer and distance counter for reserve fuel. There are also warning lights for low oil pressure, fuel level, neutral and turn signals.

Relaxed cruising is also well within the 696’s ability. With the comfort provided by the excellent ergonomics, touring of some distance is not something to be feared. I did find however that in 6th gear, there was a bit of a fuel injection stumble in the 3500 – 4000 rpm range (85-100 km/h) that presented itself when on a long steady incline. When I discussed this issue with a Ducati representative, I was informed that this problem was found on early production units (of which our test unit was one), but the situation has been rectified with improved fuel mapping.

With fuel prices emptying my wallet at record rates, I was happy to use the ‘lil Monster frequently on my 220 km commute and was rewarded with an average 4.22 L/100 km (67 mpg). The fuel light generally came on at about 260-270 km which means that a theoretical range of 350 km is quite possible from its 15-litre fuel tank, of which 3.5 litres are reserve. When the low fuel warning light comes on, the odometer automatically counts up to let you know how many kilometres the light has been on—quite handy as with a potential extra 80 km available, you can maximize your time in the seat. I suspect range might have increased if it weren’t for the beautiful noises delivered every time the throttle was assertively twisted. I couldn’t help myself and would often encourage the 696 to bark the sweet sound of the combined induction roar with the exhaust note out of its twin muffler system.

Ducati has found a way to improve on its previous entry level Monster, the very well received 695, by loading up the 696 with top-drawer brake components, a 9% increase in HP, an 11% increase in torque and weight reduction of 7 kg (15 lb) for $500 less, all with a 2-year unlimited warranty.

Yes the ‘entry level’ Ducati 696 Monster costs a bit more than its competition, but for that extra money, you are getting a bike that doesn’t just rely on the name on the tank, it delivers on it. MMM


Finally it was my turn to take the 696 out!

During the weeks that we had the Ducati 696 available for our riding pleasure, I managed to scoop it from Roger here and there. What I liked most about it is the fact that I could touch the ground, there are very few bikes that offer that comfort to those of us who will never reach 5’4”. The 696 is also not huge and intimidating for a female rider, in fact it was a nice change from my regular cruiser.

It was a breeze to turn around on the side of the road when misguided and has a comfortable seating position. By simply adding a backpack I found it filled all my requests by allowing me to carry the essentials with me.

If you get a chance to test ride this bike I think you will be impressed with it, I know I was.

I really can’t add much more to Rogers comments—my main thrill was when I realized I could touch the ground. What more can I say.



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