Whirled Ducati Week in Italy

60,000 loud clutches save lives

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jack Lewis, Milagro

And I will grant wonders in the sky above,
And signs on the earth below,
Blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke.
-Acts 2:19

There was a Ducati parked out front. It had my name on it, but I needed coffee.

Nobody does breakfast like the Italians. Bologna is the City of Meat, Chicago with better seasoning. Breakfast entrees consist of meat, meat with cheese, and fruit ... wrapped in meat. Other choices included fey Nordic yoghurt and granola, but here in the world capitol of salted meat, why would you bother?

People get up late here, linger over coffee, socialize into the small hours. It's a college student's feckless dream of joy, only it doesn't suit my body's stubborn diurnal insistence to get up, get out, and get moving.

Despite having owned and loved to an unseemly degree a lightly kitted 900SS-CR, I do not bleed Ducati red. I don't even own a pair of red socks, much less red pants and purse-leather sneakers. The new Monster isn't my cup of Americano, good-perhaps great-though it is. I have trouble conceiving of the funky old Multistrada or the brilliant new one as even being Ducatis. With their Honda-san elevation of competence over flair, they don't so much sing "ADV" as belch "maxi-scooter."

In my addled and querulous view, Ducks require sacrifice-of comfort, of ridiculous money, of build quality, performance value, time and patience. Ducatis should be aspirational, but not like realtors aspiring to 3-series BMWs; more like poets aspiring to Ferraris.

One earns a Duke by giving something up, something important ... possibly a kidney. If others fail to understand (or rightly consider you a blowhard poseur.), you sniff aesthetically and turn away toward crema-swirled espresso, tight Lewis leathers and the acolytic rite of valve adjustment.

What use sensible motorcycles? Relentless competence in devices mechanical pulls the humanity out of things-and there is no more human pursuit than riding, with its physical immersion, mental focus and emotional overwash (cultural deviance available at no additional charge).

A real bike makes demands on me, forces accommodations that remind me of my competence, ability, limitations. It's more caterwauling fiddle than MP3 player; more feisty lover than tame domestic.

More like the brutal, cussing Streetfighter or waspy, high-maintenance bitch of an 1198 Corse, then, and less like this agreeably tractable Monster 796. You can ride the piss out of the midi-Monster, but it feels inappropriate. Where the dominatrix Streetfighter slaps back hard enough to rattle your fillings, the submissive Monster just takes it, dark eyes filling with silent tears.

Off to the racetrack then, with our pack of journalists, factory types and desmo demi-celebrities gamboling through traffic like a band of otters. Packed with 60,000 Ducatisti and approximately the world population of Vyrus tronbikes, the Circuito Internazionale Santamonica smelled like a county fair and sounded like a thumping rave featuring sleek brunettes in exploding clothes, competing techno soundtracks and a rhythm band of silver-bodied alien robots on stilts, the only other beings in the place not dressed in red.

For my part, I waddled around under the sun, sweating out last night's Amaro Montenegro into my black armored riding pants, nibbling on ibuprofen and suckling bottle after bottle of aqua frizzante cadged from the storied Xerox hospitality tent. The Red Planet theme continued into various tents along the Wopanese biker midway: Monster Art Planet, Garage Art Planet, Axis of evo Planet-even a "Satellite" where French riders unconditionally surrendered. Viva Vichy!

Riders pelted through the elbow-locked crowds at the top of first gear, revving through rattling Ducati dry clutches, honking if they were on Triumphs; only carabinieri on BMWs paddled cautiously. World Ducati Week(end) would be Euro-Sturgis if not for a few, minor differences...

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