What’s the big deal with a Ducati?

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.

160 hp and a nice comfy seat, except it isn’t that comfy – at least, not for Sabrina.

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 Monster looks good coming at you, and some of that effect rubs off on the rider, too.

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.

The more usual view of a Monster, powering away from you. Sabrina’s not going to be getting back on one anytime soon.

25 thoughts on “What’s the big deal with a Ducati?”

  1. Here’s an explanation from someone who has multiple Ducatis over an almost five decade unbroken experience. A well known female rocker many years ago claimed she had sex with Mick Jagger and blurted out that it was okay but not like having sex with Mick Jagger. For the record I have many other Italian marques in my collection….Ducati is just one of them.

  2. Did try a 1200R last year, I enjoyed it but it’s true that you seldom need/can get above fourth gear!

    As others have said this is a good indication that smaller (and cheaper) models are plenty enough for the real world and probably more fun. Not just a Ducati thing BTW.

  3. Perhaps you should have fiddled with the suspension to soften it a bit? I have ridden the Monster and could spend a week in the saddle with no problems. Here in the states, I have seen Monsters with soft luggage attached and people doing 1200 mile weekends. Great bike, I think you need to ride it one more time with a properly dialed in suspension, mapping setup for you and on some mountain roads. You will see what all the rave is about. On second though, if your approach or expectations were that of a Honda rebel 250, then your right. Stay away.

    1. “On second thought, if your approach or expectations were that of a Honda Rebel 250, then you’re right. Stay away.”
      Fixed that for ya.

      Perhaps Sabrina’s issues were indeed caused by insufficient seat time, incorrect suspension setup and EFI mapping, but wouldn’t it behoove the distributor to do everything in its power to show the bike in its best light ?
      “Just stay away” is not the right answer.

      1. Your absolutely correct, poor selection of words on my part and apologize as needed. Your right on the setup. I have ridden ill faded setups that make a bike nearly impossible to ride then spend an hour going through setups to find the same bike a delight. When the moto-journalists are handed bikes, there is no indication of history of setup, even if they were properly setup is questionable unless the rides take place at a closed circuit with factory support in the pit. If anything, the rider should go through the settings and do a rough set. Who knows, maybe the previous rider was a 240lb full back that was doing track days with the bike. A totally different setup. I hate to see any manufacture take a hit unless it is duely deserved where in the case of this Monster and spending time with one, they are excellent all around steeds if properly sorted.

  4. In Europe the roads are for the most part narrow. The towns are close together. Your 300 km ride would have been done on a narrow road with plenty of turns. Your speed would be high considering the road and traffic. You would be constantly passing cars. When your busy shifting gears, passing cars, it’s like being in race mode.
    You don’t get tired or sore like you do here on our boring Hwys. Your constantly moving around on the bike.
    I went through the sport bike craze. They are no fun if you have to follow the rules of the road. We are ultra conservative drivers on this side of the pond. Worry warts, soccer moms a plenty. Multiple lane straight boring roads for the most part.
    I bet if you were running that bike with some friends on a road like the Dragon, and many others n that area you would not of gotten sore so fast. You would have fallen in love with that bike as your adrenaline would have been high all day.

    1. I started aching riding one from a motel to a restaurant in Front Royal; but I’m sure it would have been fun riding it on all the roads we’d been riding all day getting there. I found the power delivery very harsh but that would not matter so much at speed. I personally prefer a smoother engine all around though.

  5. Well written Sabrina. Ducatistas often suffer from the “if it’s not Scottish it’s crap” type thinking – but in Italian. Just like some “Harleyistas”, these people are more in love with the idea of owning whatever the brand conjures up for them than the product itself. And like EssTee’s comments they’ll resort to the “if I have to explain it to you /you just don’t get it” defense when reason fails.
    My biggest issue with this bike, other than its price, is why buy a naked when it’s hardly any more comfortable or practical than a real sportbike?
    It is lovely to look at though, unlike anything with the word Multi in it.

  6. You don’t mention the three different ride modes. Was there any difference in the power delivery? I had a MV Agusta Brutale once which was beautiful but hard to live with. Now that I no longer feel the need to try impress other people I doubt I would own another Italian bike.

  7. I would love a Ducati but as they age the maintenance costs are always going to be $1000 dollars are more. You have to pay for the cachet. I’ll stick with a Japanese bike. Still damn fun.

  8. Fortunately for those who don’t need an explanation, if your Ducati dealer is out of stock, you can still get a like brand new pre owned Ducati with less than 5K miles economically on Kijii, and if it’s a Monster you’re after, it will be hard to find a used one that has *more* than 2K miles, unlike those BMWs or Harleys Deckers that always seem to be miled out.

  9. Just another simple case of, “if you don’t get, I can’t explain.”

    No biggie. Just go jump on a 600 cc inline four…or some similar, popular model that eventually dominates the scrap yards. It maybe more to your liking.

    Ride bikes like that for 15 years or more. When one day comes, if it ever comes for you, when you feel totally dismayed, uninspired, “flat”, and wanting that illusive “something more” from your motorcycles…when you get off your bike and don’t take a look back at it when you walk away…when id doesn’t “call” to you from the garage…take another look at Ducati.

    I have always said a rider has to be “ready” for a Ducati, long before he/she makes the ownership commitment. “Trying” a Ducati, mostly to compare with the bikes you’re not yet “over”, usually doesn’t, as you’ve shown, work. You have to want one at a deeper level than simply to investigate. You have to deeply embrace, not superficially flirt with the idea of Ducati.

    Just because you “don’t get it” doesn’t mean there’s nothing to get. Given Ducati’s remarkable success, one must admit they do offer some great products. But what they do offer, is just not in the frequency range of your, “what’s really important in a motorcycle” tuner right now. And it may never be. And that’s okay.

    No biggie.

    1. Ess Tee –
      “No biggie. Just go jump on a 600 cc inline four…or some similar, popular model that eventually dominates the scrap yards.” – Seriously ?
      There are lots of other Ducatis that Sabrina (or I) might like more than this one – the Scrambler, or has been suggested, the new 797 Monster for instance. Just because she didn’t enjoy this particular model doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be allowed an opinion.
      “I have always said a rider has to be “ready” for a Ducati, long before he/she makes the ownership commitment. “Trying” a Ducati, mostly to compare with the bikes you’re not yet “over”, usually doesn’t, as you’ve shown, work. You have to want one at a deeper level than simply to investigate. You have to deeply embrace, not superficially flirt with the idea of Ducati.” – Just because I wouldn’t want to wrap myself into a pretzel in order to ride a Pinagle means I wouldn’t be allowed into your exclusive club ?
      You gotta pick the right tool for the job, and this time around it wasn’t.
      Next….

    2. “No biggie. Just go jump on a 600 cc inline four…or some similar, popular model that eventually dominates the scrap yards. It maybe more to your liking.”

      Those bikes wind up in the scrap yards not because they’re unreliable – they are the very opposite of unreliable, but because they are ridden to hell in back. If you look after any Japanese bike they’ll still be on the road in 30 years but people buy Japanese sport-bikes to go hard and fast. Burnouts, wheelies etc.. Whereas when you buy an Italian bike you are more likely to nurse it along, I suspect.

      1. ” Whereas when you buy an Italian bike you are more likely to nurse it along, I suspect.”
        They are still wayyy more maintenance intensive than most Japanese bikes, which is partly why you’ll find them up for resale with relatively low mileage. But then, I just don’t understand it seems.

        1. That what I said. A Japanese bike can be used and with a Italian bike I’d always be concerned with even more maintenance after a trashing. A read that a Ducati has to be serviced every 12.000 kilometers. A Japanese bike it’s an oil change for the first 5 years, some tires and thorough looking over.

  10. I don’t *hate* on the brand, I can still appreciate the looks and legacy of it, and if given the opportunity, I will definitely get on whatever other models they have. I like to be proven wrong!

    Admittedly, this is most likely a situation of expectations versus reality.

    Sabin works too!

  11. Hi Sabrina, I have logged many years and many hundred thousand km on many different bikes. I took my brother in laws 2015 848 Streetfighter for a spin a few years back. I was looking directly at the pavement and the bike wanted to pop a wheelie at every chance. Scared the hell out of me. And my BIL does not really want to do road trips because it is a city bike, and damn he looks cool on it. To each their own, and that is the beauty of our country. And I for one am damn grateful to live in Canada.

  12. I was going to suggest the same, even the 1200 Multi if it’s not too tall. Or the 821 Monster? Actually I would love to try the new 797 Monster…air cooled with the Scrambler engine…get the old school, purist experience.

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