There is something fascinating – no, mesmerizing – about an Italian motorcycle. I’ve always thought of a Ducati as a Ferrari on two wheels, as something seductive and devilish, but I also imagined that the green-white-and-red flag on the back seat cover was the promise of something refined and exotic. And then I got to experience a Ducati for myself.
I was given the opportunity to get on a Ducati Monster 1200R for a weekend. When my pick-up was confirmed, I was giggly and jittery and had to tell everyone. I got this close to getting a name tag that would read ‘Hello, my name is Sabrina and I have ridden a Ducati’.
The excitement didn’t last long.
I was puzzled. After riding a hundred kilometres on the Monster, I had to admit that it wasn’t anything I’d imagined. Instead of a smooth ride, my trip back from collecting it had been rough, even brutal, at times. I did not like it. There had to be something wrong with me – everybody loves Ducatis! When people asked me about it, the same people I’d been bragging to just a few days before, I replied with the words “interesting” and “oh my god it’s SO sporty,” until a conversation with another rider opened up the doors to the Ducati Unenthusiasts Club. I was not alone!
The 160 hp, 97 lbs.-ft. beast was temperamental and unhappy at low rpms. It begged to be pushed and pulled and tossed around. Out of the six gears available, I only used four, not because I was pushing the limits of the Desmodromic Testastretta engine, but because on the contrary, those limits seemed unattainable within a safe and reasonable range of speed on the road. And my own range of safe and reasonable speed can be quite flexible.
The day after straddling the Monster for the first time, I’d promised to meet a good friend at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. For the occasion, with a 260-kilometre return ride to tackle, I thought I would make a stylish entrance by showing up on the Italian bike. I was parading like a peacock, especially after all the thumbs-up and looks I was getting for being the chick on the Monster 1200R. I don’t consider myself a particularly vain person, but I cannot deny the boost of ego that came with it. It made me cocky.
After an hour, though, my body asked for mercy. Riding the Monster meant I needed to lift my left hand every few minutes and shake some numbness out of it, while the right hand was sacrificed to the throttle. There was a lot of vibration in the grips and the far-forward riding position put a lot of pressure on my arms, which made for an uncomfortable position, especially on longer rides. Sure, this describes many sportbikes on the market, but the Monster is supposed to be a more accessible Ducati, not so extreme, and I expected it to be more forgiving. It’s like the perfect pair of stilettos : they look fantastic, you look good with them, but they always end up hurting at the end of the night.
I was disappointed. Some riders enjoy that raw, animalistic experience on a motorcycle and the Monster is undeniably the right model to provide them with it. I’ll probably be called a complete noob – and you wouldn’t be wrong – but my expectation of the motorcycle compared to its reality turned out to be completely opposites. It left me in limbo. Why are people so excited about the Monster and the brand?
Everyone I spoke to, when I mentioned having ridden the Monster, made that guttural oooohh sound – the same sound you hear from people who run out of words to express how awesome they think whatever you just said is. There has to be a reason that justifies such a legacy.
I asked Ducati’s public relations people for some answers and I was referred me to the brand’s performance parts project manager, Lorenzo Uliani. He told me he’s owned at least 15 Ducatis, and has ridden every available model of the last 20 years. I only corresponded with him by email, but his written answers had an Italian accent.
So – what’s it all about?
“I think it’s not for one thing only, but many,” he wrote. “For example, in Italy, the passion for the racing, our heritage, and last but not least, for the person who works here at the end, is what makes the brand. Motorbikes and cars are part of our families. We grow seeing races as the place to go on Sunday with the family. And it’s natural that living in a company that produces motorbikes, we have racing held in mind.”
He also explained that there are many things that contribute to making the brand unique, including the motorcycles’ lightweight and nimble handling, the L-twin engine, and above all, the sound it produces. Clearly, you don’t drive a Ducati for the comfort, or lack-thereof, or even for its quality as a daily rider. It is meant to be experienced.
Just as Lamborghini started as a farm equipment manufacturer, Ducati got its start as an electronics manufacturer. After 91 years of evolution, Ducati’s radios don’t play the same tune anymore. The legacy and prestige of the brand is most likely what keeps Ducatisti coming back for more. Why some people love them so much will likely remain a mystery to me, but I also don’t get why people enjoy eating Vegemite. Some tastes simply cannot be explained.