2011 BMW F800R vs. Ducati Monster 796 vs. Triumph Street Triple R – Comparison Review

2011 Ducati Monster 796, Triumph Street Triple R, BMW F 800 R action
Left to right: Ducati Monster 796, Triumph Street Triple R, BMW F800R in action. (Photography by Kevin Wing)

Gathered around the shiny, all-knowing orb in Rider’s soundproof think tank, our hands lightly clasped, minds melded into an awesome intellectual force capable of solving all the world’s problems (if only it paid as well as motojournalism), the staff and I shared a stale tuna sandwich and pondered—with what shall we compare the new BMW F 800 R we tested in the last issue? Not quite adventure tourer, not quite sportbike nor sport tourer, this odd twin-cylinder beast is in a class of one. We weren’t quite ready to give it back, though, so we put the names of every other 2011 motorcycle model into the orb and gave it a whack.

The orb quickly checked everyone’s Myface social calendar and determined the number of riders free on the same day as the photographer, then spit out the names of two perfect bikes. Yes! This is why we only use ammonia-free Windex on the orb’s strangely helmetlike shell. The 675cc Triumph Street Triple R, of course, an obvious choice, for it, too, is—uh—liquid-cooled. And the Ducati Monster 796, again perfect, for like the other bikes it hails from Europe, where everyone knows one another. What a genius, that orb! Coincidentally, all three bikes share similar base prices, too.

Based on the previous two paragraphs, Yours Truly would need a lot of help with this comparison. The two staff riders I chose made us just as diverse a trio as the bikes. There’s Donya, a.k.a. lady spider monkey, whose tall, slender profile and yard-long arms and legs are the complete opposite of my average height and stout build, like a fireplug with stunted limbs. Post-holiday Greg sort of combines the two, like a spider monkey who ate a fireplug. Three diverse bikes, three diverse riders—in other words, stop reading right now if you’re expecting anything meaningful from this.

2011 Ducati Monster 796, Triumph Street Triple R, BMW F 800 R left side action
Despite our racy tucks, all three of these middleweights have nicely upright seating positions with varying amounts of legroom. Left to right are the Ducati, Triumph and BMW.

We sure had fun, though, because we also picked a perfect Southern California day to take all three on a more-than-300-mile loop that included lots of twisting canyons, miles of gently winding two-lane highway, a stop for bananas and then a long, final slog on the freeway. We had highs in the 80s and lows in the 50s, light and darkness, dirty, potholed bumpy roads and even water crossings. And we rollercoasted the One Road That Rules Them All. Wikipedia continues to insist that the translation of its Spanish name is Northwest Mountain, and has resisted my numerous attempts to correct it to Wa-Hoo Hill.

Anyway, what follows is my stab at writing down our thoughts and impressions of these three bikes when ridden back-to-back. Ridden on their own, we might come away with an entirely different impression of each, because then we would be paying attention. If you want to know more about their technical features and benefits, consult the spec chart, our individual tests, their manufacturers’ websites or that guy in the bathroom—he’s locked in there with the press kits. Take hand sanitizer. For this story my only references were our rapier-sharp wits, combined 65-odd years of experience and our monkeybutts. The truth must be in there somewhere, but I may need a flashlight.

2011 BMW F800R left side action
Akrapovic slip-on muffler is an option and adds a nice, throaty bark to the F800R without engine mods or excessive noise.

This comparo began with the BMW F 800 R, as I recall, BMW’s latest bike to use its 798cc, liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin originally from the F 800 S. Today the twin is also found in the F 800 ST sport tourer, F 800 GS adventure tourer, and (embarrassingly) in the F 650 GS, where it’s still 798cc. Don’t ask, just appreciate they sell beer in the lunchroom at BMW. Sporting dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder, this unique engine uses a third conrod to (not very successfully) dampen the mill’s vibes. The twin-beam aluminum frame solidly supports the engine as a stressed member, as well as the twin-sided aluminum swingarm. Together with the bike’s flat tubular handlebar, upright seating, reasonable seat height and lack of plastic, the F 800 R is the quintessential naked standard—yet its high footpegs and nimble handling push it into naked sportbike territory. Starting at $9,950, options galore on our test bike like ABS, a trip computer, tire pressure monitor, flyscreen and heated grips also push the price up to almost $12,000.

2011 Triumph Street Triple R right side action
Street Triple R is the sporting rider’s do-it-all machine. Smooth, fast and comfortable, it carries a tank- and seatbag easily (saddlebags not so much) and only needs a more comfortable seat for long rides.

The Triumph Street Triple R has the same flat bar style and more legroom, yet there’s no mistaking this howler for anything but a naked sportbike. Although the liquid-cooled, 675cc, transverse in-line triple shares the same state of tune as the standard Street Triple, with nearly 100 quick-revving horsepower on tap and a redline of 12,500 rpm, that’s the only tune it needs. Based on the twin-spar, all-aluminum chassis and braced swingarm from the Daytona 675, the R’s Kayaba suspension is upgraded from standard Street Triple spec, adding full adjustability front and rear and a piggyback reservoir on the rear shock. The R also gets radial-mounted calipers and a radial master cylinder for the front dual-disc brakes, and several bits of sporty plastic like a flyscreen, belly pan and rear seat cowl.

2011 Ducati Monster 796 left side action
Riding the Ducati is a little like trying to break a wild horse. In typical Ducati style, suspension is overly stiff in front and can’t be adjusted (a change in fork oil weight might be in order). It turns quickly and flicks like a Lil’ Devil, though.

The Ducati Monster 796 we nicknamed Lil’ Devil for its initial test last year comes standard with ABS for 2011, yet still carries its 2010 price of $9,995. In classic Ducati style, the Monster’s 803cc, air-cooled, L-twin engine with two desmo-actuated valves per cylinder hangs from a tubular-steel trellis frame. Starting with the 696 a few years ago Ducati was able to increase chassis stiffness and reduce weight by incorporating a cast-aluminum center subframe to which the main and seat sections are bolted. A single-sided, cast-aluminum swingarm helps make it the lightest bike here. The 90-degree L-twin is still a stressed member in the frame which, like the BMW, carries a nonadjustable front fork and single rear shock with spring preload and rebound damping adjustments.

Other than base price, these three Euro bikes only share a few similarities. All have electronic fuel injection, six-speed transmissions, chain final drive and the same wheel and tire sizes, and all require premium fuel. Beyond that they part ways.

2011 Ducati Monster 796 engine
The Ducati’s air-cooled, 803cc, 90-degree L-twin has a wet clutch unlike the company’s superbikes. It engages late but works OK.

As soon as you start the Ducati, you appreciate that among these three stallions it’s the wild and unbroken mount. Even without the rattle of a dry clutch (the 796 gets Ducati’s wet APTC unit), the engine has a raucous, loping, cammy idle, like a small funny car waiting for the green light. Though it has roughly the same power output and torquey twin-cylinder midrange of the BMW, perhaps due to too-tall gearing the 796 just doesn’t like to be ridden below about 4,000 rpm, where it bucks and lurches as though you’re lugging it. Above 4,000 the engine has smooth, rapid power delivery and makes a great sound from the 2-1-2 exhaust, but staying in that range without hitting redline at 9,000 rpm requires both a lot of shifting and plenty of throttle (the phrase “ride it like you stole it” comes to mind). It’s definitely fast and fun to ride within those limitations, and you’ll rarely need fifth and sixth gears, which are like overdrives.

2011 BMW F800R engine
Liquid-cooled, 798cc parallel twin in the BMW F800R uses a third conrod as a counterbalancer.

Compared to the Ducati, the BMW’s engine is a pussycat. Its torque curve isn’t much different, but the bike’s saner gearing and broader clutch engagement make its powerband seem far wider and easier to use. As the heaviest bike here, you have to stir the gearbox to get good drive out of corners and keep it on the boil when riding aggressively, but unlike the light, impatient Ducati it’s also quite pleasant to ride at low speeds around town or on tour. The BMW engine’s chief problem is vibration, a coarse, high-frequency, low-amplitude grinding that makes the grips unfriendly at all but one or two places in the powerband. We noticed it more in our first test bike for the March issue, but our red, white and blue bike tested here was only a little better.

2011 Triumph Street Triple R engine
Liquid-cooled, 675cc in-line triple in the Street Triple R is unchanged from standard model, but makes plenty of horsepower.

That means the best-engine award goes to the Triumph, which is smooth from idle to redline and revs powerfully and cleanly with an awesome snarl and near-perfect delivery (there’s no hesitation or abruptness to the EFI on any of these bikes, in fact). The triple is just fine being short-shifted and ridden from stoplight-to-stoplight around town or cruising down the highway, with a torque curve so flat it’s more like a table. Yet when racer road beckons, the bike’s 97 horsepower at the rear wheel more than satisfy—they flat scream. There’s a barely detectable amount of high-frequency vibration in the grips at certain speeds, but it didn’t bother any of us. The Triumph also has the slickest shifting, followed closely by the Ducati and then the BMW, which missed a few upshifts in the canyons.

Sport riders will find the Triumph’s suspension very firm but highly capable and compliant, and it can be adjusted to suit a variety of riders and riding styles. Both it and the Ducati can be harsh on bumpy roads, preferring smooth asphalt and quick corners to u­neven superslab and bumpy backroads. While the Triumph remains under control in the bumps, however, the Ducati’s front end pitches the bars around a bit, and there aren’t any adjustments to back off its excessive compression damping. Suspension-wise the BMW is the sport-touring bike of the bunch, with plenty of comfort, compliance and control for most street riding, though it would need firming up for aggressive sport or track days. Steering feel, effort and overall handling on all three are simply great, with the Triumph quickest, the BMW most stable and the Ducati offering the most feedback.

We were unanimous in liking the BMW’s brakes best for their strong, linear feel front and rear, and nonintrusive but smooth (and optional) ABS. You’d think the Triumph’s fancy radial stoppers would be the easy pick, but while strong as heck they’re actually a bit grabby and hard to modulate, and ABS is not available. The Ducati’s front brake had decent strength but lots of initial travel and tended to pump up with a second or third squeeze, and the rear pedal—as is often the case on Ducatis—traveled a long way and offered meager force. The now-standard ABS is a big plus and works well, though.

Comfort-wise the Triumph is king for taller riders, as it offers a mostly upright handlebar position and lots of legroom, and its way too-hard seat can be easily changed (Triumph offers an optional gel one). Two of us gave the comfort nod to the Beemer, though, as we weren’t bothered by its high footpegs, and the seat and grip position are more comfortable for sport touring. The Ducati might work well for shorter riders, but none of us liked being locked against the tank by the sloping seat, and its handlebar is lowest and puts some weight on your wrists. Even with my 29-inch inseam I could flat-foot all three bikes at a stop. None offer any real wind protection despite the presence of some stylish flyscreens.

At the end of the day the Ducati was our least favorite for the slog home due to its seating position, and it’s also the least suited to a passenger. By comparison, the BMW’s well-shaped and padded seat and heated grips were worth fighting over; it also has plenty of room for a copilot and a touring accessory list a mile long. That list includes the trip computer and tire pressure monitoring system on our test bike, side cases and free higher or lower seats. Except for the seat the Triumph is also pleasant on long rides, and unlike the Ducati’s and BMW’s plastic fuel tanks its steel one will hold a magnetic tankbag.

Asked after our spirited day ride which bike they would choose if a) money were no object, b) they could only own one motorcycle, and c) it had to be one of these three, one cohort would most definitely pick the Triumph, and the other less assuredly the BMW. She liked the Triumph a lot, but found the BMW easier to ride fast and smoothly out of the gate, and preferred its strong, linear brakes to the Triumph’s grabby ones. Both placed the Ducati third, as would I—as a track-day bike or canyon-carver it’s a blast but is too narrowly focused and uncomfortable compared to the other two bikes to do well against them on a long ride. It did win the looks contest 2-1 over the Triumph; get the 796’s front fork working well, put a decent seat on it and you can’t come close to its musical sound, sculpted style and point-and-shoot character.

If the BMW were smoother I’d have a tough time choosing between it and the Triumph, but as-is the F 800 R’s buzziness relegates it to a close second. That makes the Triumph Street Triple R the winner of this mishmash, especially since it’s the least expensive of the three. Makes us wonder, too, how the standard Street Triple would have fared, which is even less. Let’s ask the orb….

2011 BMW F800R gauges

2011 BMW F 800 R Specifications
Base Price: $9,950
Price as Tested: $11,895 (ABS, heated grips, computer, flyscreen, TPMS)
Warranty: 3 yrs., 36,000 miles
Website: bmwmotorcycles.com

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin
Displacement: 798cc
Bore x Stroke: 82.0 x 75.6mm
Compression Ratio: 12.0:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: Varies, computer monitored
Fuel Delivery: BMW BMS-K managed electronic fuel injection
Lubrication System: Semi-dry sump, 3.1-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Ignition: BMW BMS-K Engine Management
Charging Output: 400 watts max.
Battery: 12V 14AH

Frame: Aluminum bridge w/ engine as stressed member, dual-sided cast-aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 59.8 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/3.6 in.
Seat Height: 31.5 in. (optional no-cost low seat, 30.5 in.; high seat, 32.5 in.)
Suspension, Front: 43mm stanchions, no adj., 4.9-in. travel
Rear: Single shock w/ remote adj. for spring preload, adj. rebound damping, 4.9-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual floating discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers & ABS (as tested)
Rear: Single disc w/ opposed 2-piston pin-slide caliper & ABS (as tested)
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.5 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.5 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 454 lbs. (as tested)
Load Capacity: 438 lbs. (as tested)
GVWR: 892 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (high/avg/low) 51.3/47.4/45.9
Estimated Range: 199 miles
Indicated rpm at 60 mph: 3,800

2011 Ducati Monster 796 gauges

2011 Ducati Monster 796 Specifications
Base Price: $9,995
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Website: ducati.com

Type: Air-cooled, transverse, 90-degree L-twin
Displacement: 803cc
Bore x Stroke: 88.0 x 66.0mm
Compression Ratio: 11.0:1
Valve Train: Desmodromic, 2 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 7,500 miles
Fuel Delivery: Electronic fuel injection, 45mm throttle bodies x 2
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.1-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Ignition: Electronic
Charging Output: 480 watts max.
Battery: 12V 10AH

Frame: Tubular-steel trellis w/ cast seat subframe & single-sided swingarm
Wheelbase: 57.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 24 degrees/3.4 in.
Seat Height: 31.5 in.
Suspension, Front: 43mm male-slider fork, no adj., 4.7-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, adj. for spring preload & rebound damping w/ 5.8-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual floating discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers & ABS
Rear: Single disc w/ opposed 2-piston caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.5 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.5 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 412 lbs.
Load Capacity: 448 lbs.
GVWR: 860 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 3.8 gals., last 0.8 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (high/avg/low) 45.7/43.3/40.5
Estimated Range: 165 miles
Indicated rpm at 60 mph: 3,400

2011 Triumph Speed Triple R gauges

2011 Triumph Street Triple R Specifications
Base Price: $9,599
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Website: triumphmotorcycles.com

Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse, in-line triple
Displacement: 675cc
Bore x Stroke: 74.0 x 52.3mm
Compression Ratio: 12.7:1
Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 12,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: Multipoint sequential EFI w/ SAI
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 3.7-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain

Ignition: Digital inductive
Charging Output: 420 watts max.
Battery: 12V 8AH

Frame: Aluminum beam twin-spar w/ braced, twin-sided, aluminum-alloy swingarm
Wheelbase: 55.5 in.
Rake/Trail: 23.9 degrees/3.6 in.
Seat Height: 31.7 in.
Suspension, Front: 41mm male-slider, fully adj., 5.1-in. travel
Rear: Single piggyback reservoir shock, fully adj., 5.1-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual floating discs w/ radial-mount opposed 4-piston calipers
Rear: Single disc w/ 1-piston pin-slide caliper
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.5 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.5 x 17 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-ZR17
Rear: 180/55-ZR17
Wet Weight: 421 lbs.
Load Capacity: 419 lbs.
GVWR: 840 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 4.6 gals., last 0.9 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (high/avg/low) 45.9/39.4/32.0
Estimated Range: 181 miles
Indicated rpm at 60 mph: 4,900



  1. Interesting bikes to compare to one another. BMW is the comfort package, the Street Triple the fun but high running costs one and the Monster the weekend bike. No mention on their mpg, the triumph generally quite poor, the monster can be frugal but the BMW the most consistant to return a good average mpg. Plus it has things like abs and heated grips as standard(I think), and a higher capacity battery to run the extras without overloading the electrical charging circuit.
    As a ‘just own the one bike’ choice I’d pitch for the BMW, its a good package. I own a Ducati monster 600 and although it puts a smile on my face when i ride it, on anything other than an open road and no traffic to slow you down it is hard work and frustrating as low speeds invoke chain snatch, and lumpy engine at low revs. My other bike is a Yamaha Fazer, this too I can relate to the Street Triple in that its final drive ratio gives it close ratio gears and high revving top gear which unless your in the mood for some twisties is tiresome everywhere else. So that’s why I’d choose the BMW. It’s comfortable, handles well, decent brakes, decent headlight, returns good mpg and is well built with a relaxed top gear. Perfect for a single ‘do everything’ motorbike.

  2. I own the BMW f800r and I think this is a very well written / researched article. My previous bike was a 900 Monster and compared to the F800r, I found the handling nearly as good, but without a damper it could only corner at certain speeds, a severe handicap for the Ducati. It was not as economical as the BMW.
    Living in Scotland, the heated grips are a huge bonus.
    BMW for me.


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