They may be on top of the world these days, but Ducati were in a bad place in the early Nineties. Despite having great success in the Superbike World Championship with the iconic 888/916 superbikes, they were desperate for a mainstream sales success, though not too many people would’ve expected it to come in the shape of a parts bin special. The M900 was the first of the Monster family, coming in 1993, but it was the M600 that arrived a year later and went on to be the big seller. The muscular design hadn’t happened by accident, legend is that an old Marlon Brandon movie poster for the Wild One helped to inspire the Monster’s looks. The M600 was more like the mild one within the Monster family but it was a massive hit, always keenly priced and a bike that offered an inexpensive way into Ducati ownership. The bike boasted some premium brands within its make up, these included Brembo brakes and Marzocchi upside down forks. The steel trellis frame is a major part of the bikes visual appearance and a trademark Ducati feature. The big tank is pretty much the only bodywork, other than minimalistic side panels. The Monster offered the owner not just classic Ducati looks, but also the classic Ducati soundtrack that only their L shaped Desmo motor offers.
The engine is just shy of being a true 600, the 583cc motor was good for around 50bhp in standard form. Not too many Monsters remain standard though, as they are very much a blank canvas to customise to their own taste, and finding an example that’s totally standard is a struggle. With around 40mpg from the carb fed air cooled engine, it’s an adequate option for many who want to perk up their urban riding.
Ducati created plenty of factory special editions. Truth is they were usually the same bike, albeit furnished with a few catalogue extras. The best known special edition is the budget ‘Dark’ version. These were keenly priced and instead of being finished in the traditional blood red paint, they were topped off in a flat black finish. Even the frame got painted gloss black. As well as black and red, many Monsters left the factory in bright yellow, which was the Italian company’s hero colour for its middleweights at the time. Otherwise, the look of the M600 was very similar to the 900 (and also the even rarer 750). The main visual identifier is the single disc (as opposed to twin) front brake set-up on the smaller bike, as well as the discrete designation stickers on the flanks. Early 600s also had lower spec instruments, with only a single dial for the speedo and the complete omission of a tacho. Real anoraks can tell that engine cases are slightly different on the 900s, while the bigger bike also has slightly higher specification suspension at the front and rear.
In 2001 Ducati had to give the M600 a makeover. The capacity went up to 620cc and fuel injection replaced the carbs. Beyond that, you’d be hard pushed to find too many obvious changes. The Monster went on to sell well, with its 770mm seat height it’s easy to see how it’s perfect for those fresh from their test. The Monster holds a place as a ‘first big bike’ for many riders and remains a very popular machine with female riders too.
What’s it like to ride?
The Monster 600 might look like a tough cookie with its menacing bulldog stance, but it’s actually a bit of a pussy cat. The low saddle gives you an excellent riding position, the pegs are ever so slightly tucked back, and the standard bars are low and fairly narrow. The hydraulic clutch is featherlight though selecting gears can be less gentle. Once away, that 583cc engine gives you plenty of punch. It’s at home in the lower and mid range of the power, but there’s little in the way of a top end rush. This defines where the Monster 600 excels, point and squirt riding, and inner city commuting, although urban manoeuvrability is handicapped by the limited turning circle. There’s also another side to this Ducati, it loves twisty roads, but isn’t so comfy on a motorway run. The package struggles over 80mph, the engine is much happier within legal limits. The five gears are well spaced and allow you to make the most of that twin cylinder engine. Don’t be fooled by the upside down forks, they aren’t cutting edge technology, instead more of a fashion statement. The Brembo four pot up front is excellent. The tank is good for a range of around 170 miles if ridden sensibly. That said, the seat isn’t really designed for long stints in the saddle…
The Monster 600 will flatter new riders and also engage seasoned motorcyclists. It’s easy to see why they sold by the boat load.
What to check for when buying one?
We spoke to Vinny Styles, the Sales Manager at Wheels Motorcycles in Peterborough, who said:“It’s easy to see where Suzuki got the SV650 idea from isn’t it? The Monster 600 used to be a very popular bike, although we don’t see them much now. Red bikes will always sell before another colour. Corrosion is the Monster’s biggest enemy. There’s lots of exposed metal on the bike, engine casings go tatty and are a pain to return to their former glory. Crash damage is something that’s easy to spot, wheels are often buckled and any stickers on the tank will be masking misery. Engines are pretty solid but they need to have the cam belts changed at Ducati service intervals. This is something that will add cost to ownership. Always insist on seeing a receipt for this job. Non standard bikes detract from their worth, though standard bikes are scarce and still in demand.”
What goes wrong with them?
We spoke to Chris Tombleson from Grumpy 1260. They deal in used parts and service bikes too.
“The obvious issue on these and other older Italian bikes are the electrics. Some bikes won’t ever play up, yet others will be a money pit. It’s almost like you either get a good or a bad one.
Many owners go for aftermarket exhausts, either silencers or full systems, be sure to get the carbs set up to match. The rear engine bolt runs through the back of the engine, these can seize in place.
We have broken a few of these, parts sell pretty well, with many people using their Monsters on track or in race classes, like DesmoDue, there isn’t many parts that remain unsold. Tanks are getting hard to find in good condition and those in original paint are even harder to find.”
Get your Ducati Bike Insurance through Carole Nash.