Wednesday, January 7, 2015


Italy just kept impressing us. The people, the culture, the feel… it's overwhelming at times. Yes the traffic is insane and yes Italians do everything at full throttle. Speedlimits seem mere suggestions here on when to select a higher gear and even the police doesn't seem to be to bothered about anyone doing twice the speed they should. It's no wonder then that quite a few fast bikes are made here. Whatever the Italians do, they do it with passion and non more so than the people at Ducati. I've never had a Ducati, neither has Mike, but still the well known Italian brand is high on our list of desirable bikes. Of course Mike's list is more modern than mine. He loves the newer 1199 Panigale while I'm more into the older 900 SSD Desmo twins. In the end though a new Ducati had a surprise for me in store… a surprise that might cost me a small fortune in the future…!

We wanted to visit Ducati and thus rode from beautiful Lake Como to Bologna. As usual we didn't take the highway and were 'rewarded' with 10 hrs of badly congested roads, smoke belching diesel trucks and more roundabouts than in England. We expected the road to clear and the scenery to improve somewhere, but it didn't. In short if you want to avoid lungs looking like diesel particle filters then by all means take the highway!

The Bologna area seems the manufacturing heart of Italy for petrol heads. Ducati, Ferrari, Pagani, Maserati, and Lamborghini are all based here. Just up the road is Aprillia while Moto Morini and Moto Guzzi are only slightly further west. Ducati's history is a long one and although we all know Ducati for the Taglioni designed desmodromic L-twins, it was a small 98cc tiny little motorbike that started it all. The Cucciolo was a tiny little 4-stroke motorcycle that appeared on the market in 1946. It's tiny overhead valve engine used just one litre of fuel for 100 km… and yet was also quite popular in motor sport. It won races like the 18,000 km Paris to Tokyo in 1949 and set world speed records at Monza. It also won the six-days international off road race in 1951. 

More racing successes followed with the Taglioni designed 100 and 125cc Ducati Gran Sport called the Marianna. The Siluro 100, powered by an overhead valve 98 cc engine broke no less than 46 world records when it entered the banked Monza circuit in 1956. It not only broke them in the 100cc class but also in the 125, 175 and even 250 cc. The little engine revved to 10,000 rpm, developed a modest 12 hp and yet propelled to speeds in excess of 170 km/hr.

In the spring of 1968 the first wide case models were produced in 250 and 350 cc form. One year later a 450 version was added. All singles had overhead camshafts driven by bevel gears. The Mark 3D followed soon after and was the first ever production bike with desmodromic valve gear. In the early 1970s Fabio Taglioni developed the first bevel drive 90° V-twin, known as the L-twin because of it's shape. A big step up as until then the biggest Ducati was a 450 single. The race version made it's debut in 1972 at the Imola 200 and dominated the race with riders Paul Smart and Bruno Spaggiari; finishing 1st and 2nd. Mike Hailwood defeated the Honda team on the Isle of Man in 1978 with a Ducati Desmo twin, which resulted in a Mike Hailwood Replica, known as the MHR becoming available for sale in the shops.

A hole new range was developed with the Pantah twins, followed by the 851 and 888 which dominated the Superbike series. In 1994 the 916 appeared which was described as the world's sexiest motorcycle… The Desmosedici GP07 is the one that is still vivid in my memory. I can still see Australian Casey Stoner wrestle the Ducati over the track to become world champion in the 2007 MotoGP series.

We had no idea what to expect from a visit to Ducati. We knew there was a motor museum but knew nothing much else. Of course we arrived late for the museum tour… even though we rode like Italians to get there in time :-) No problem though as the security guard made a few phone calls which resulted in a young lady from Ducati coming to collect us so that we could still join the tour! Wow, what a VIP treatment! We joined the English tour which was conducted by a very friendly lady who talked us through the illustrious Ducati history with a certain flair that comes natural with Italians. Did you know that Ducati changed it's red on racing bikes to more a orange colour so that it would show up as proper Ducati red on TV? Ducati is all about design and style, a philosophy which is also apparent in the museum and complements the bikes on display very well. Once the tour is finished, you don't have to leave either. Instead you are invited to go back into the museum and make photographs or study the bikes on display in more detail. What a great idea, first the tour explaining the history of each bike and then all the time you want to look at it again at your own leisure.

The sheer number of machines on display is staggering. From the very first Cucciolo to a whole range of Superbike and MotoGP machines, a Cagiva Elephant and a Multistrada that has been around the world. There are quite a few cut-away engines on display too. What not a lot of people might be aware of is that Ducati used to make electronics goods, like radios, as well. These are on display in the reception area.

We were pleasantly surprised by it all. I had expected to find a certain arrogance, a bit like we had experienced at Norton, but found nothing but passion at Ducati. Friendly people with a passion for motorcycles. That can't be wrong, can it? Opposite the factory, which also houses the museum, is the official Ducati factory store… which had a surprise in store for me. The factory store is mostly about clothing, Ducati clothing. They have a few models on display too though and one of them caught my eye… the D|Air version of the Multistrada. I quite like the Multistrada but find the Ducati red a little to bright for it… this one was in grey which suited the bike really well.

I tried it for size too! To be quite honest I was certain it would disappoint. After all, Italians are all about style, which quite often leads to form over function situations. Well, guess what? Having tried one for size, I like it even better :-) A lot of it made sense too, like a respectable suspension travel and yet still both feet firmly on the ground. It's seat is comfortably firm, windscreen easily adjustable on the fly and it has a decent fuel tank too. It feels light, and is, at just over 200 kg ready to go.

Italy is great. The food, the bikes, the towns, the atmosphere, the madness… it's all here. Lots of interest about our trip too. We can hardly park the bikes anywhere or someone comes up to us with questions. Italians have a lust for life and enthusiasm that is great! We turned up there on two Triumphs and a Yamaha, two factories which have showed no interest in our trip whatsoever, the contrary in fact. Yet at Ducati they were genuinely interested in what we were doing. Like I said, at Ducati it's all about passion!