Waking up and trying to get the taste of European Marlboros and Jameson off my breath in a small Venice hotel room as a prelude to battling Italian drivers on the Autostrada was not what I expected from this vacation. I don’t normally smoke and don’t drink too much but the lack of people speaking English drove me to a bar in Venice (Italy) where the bartender could communicate in my native tongue. Sitting outside the pub, diverting my attention between conversation with the establishment’s proprietor and being hypnotized by the sound of late-arriving tourists dragging wheelie suitcases dutifully rolling across cobblestone sidewalks gave me the opportunity to map the morning’s route.
Venice is a city without streets, meaning there are two modes of transportation limited to walking and gondola. I’m not much of a romantic thus taking a solo gondola ride is out. I’d be hoofing it with my gear dodging vendors of masquerade masks (and anything else that has absolutely nothing to do with Italy) on the way back to my bike.The route would be across the bridge back to the mainland and down to Bologna to the Ducati factory and museum. I was in a little bit of a hurry because I had to make the museum on time for my tour. Continental Italians seemed late for everything but the Ducatistas (you have no idea how much I hate that word) sent three emails warning that latecomers would forfeit their tour. I didn’t want to take that chance so I found a good piece of slab and dodged a-holes in BMWs for an hour and a half.
“You are early! Take this bike, park across the highway and come back at 3:30” decried the over zealous security guard housed in the sentry booth outside Bologna’s Ducati factory. I would be instructed to park at the Ducati factory store and cross a highway when my tour was scheduled to take place. Only Ducatis could park in the factory lot and my Triumph didn’t fit the requirement. Also, there would be no waiting at the factory. Bad start for customer service but I’d be off to the factory store.After my first pass at the factory, I scouted the town and enjoyed a coffee at a local gas station. From the moment one arrives at the Ducati factory in the manufacturing town of Bologna Italy the tone is set: Ducati versus everything else. The town seems to center around the Ducati operations and Bologna’s inhabitants take pride in the founding and current location of this global brand.
I parked the rental triumph at the Ducati factory store. There was still time to burn so a browse through the store could threaten drainage of my wallet. The store seemed expensive, a fact magnified by the euro to dollar exchange rate. $325 for a pair of riding gloves and $700 for a thinnest bike jacket. Apparently shopping at the factory store is considered exclusive and not efficient as one would imagine.
Across the highway and rotary I darted to join the tour group for my 3:30 appointment. I had to dodge two lanes of traffic and seek temporary refuge on a rotary before finishing my sprint to the factory… this had better be worth it. Outside the gate I was corralled with other tourists and then led into the reception area where they would collect our 10 euros per person tour fee.
A new personality appeared. A 5′ 4″ Italian brunette in her early 20s named Donatella would be our guide. She was very excited about the brand and had no shortage of facts to share on the factory and museum tours.
Before we were to enter, we were cordially asked not to take photos in the factory and were given stickers to place over our camera lenses (cell phones as well).
Facts I learned on the tour:
- The Ducati factory is really an assembly factory – very few parts are actually made there (or in Italy).
- The most exciting Ducati is called the Panigale Superlegere (super light). This bike is about a billion horsepower and only 350 pounds. Most interesting is the fact that the bike comes in only one color, orange. Apparently many race bikes are orange so they appear red on television.
- Ducati started as a factory producing a number of non-motorcycle products such as radios. The factory was seven times larger prior to World War II but as Donatella shared, “You (The Americans) bombed it and the factory is much smaller now”. For the record, I believe that supporting a fascist dictator squarely puts Italy on the wrong side of history… Not to mention I personally had nothing to do with that skirmish in the forties.
- Donatella doesn’t ride a Ducati… or a motorcycle at all. But in her words, she is a “Ducatista”. What the hell does that mean? Moreover, why am I having this debate? The whole topic seems so ludicrous but it has bugged me for months.
- The museum was very racing focused displaying the proud history of Ducati racing wins. As impressive as this may be, I was most excited to see the bike on which the 2006 Ducati Sport Classic Paul Smart edition was modeled (see below). The backstory is that Paul Smart won the Imola 200 in 1972 on a Ducati 750. In 2006 Ducati created the Sport Classic and created a commemorative bike to honor Smart’s win. This is still my favorite bike and at some point in my life I will own one.There was one other bike that caught my attention on the way out. It was a Multistrada 1200S that clocked 100K Kilometers in one year across 5 continents, 43 countries and 217 cities… laudable for any bagger aficionado.Wrapping up at the museum I would map a back-road trip to Florence. I opted for the scenic route as risking life and limb to save a few minutes has never been a great option. The riding in Europe was phenomenal but the lack of communication had become a bit challenging after two weeks. My goal would be to get to Florence early enough to have some touristy Italian food and have a conversation in English with somebody. Maybe I could debate the silliness of the term “Ducatista” with another bewildered American.