Whirled Ducati Week in Italy

60,000 loud clutches save lives

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jack Lewis, Milagro

No Puritan traffic ethic shades out the flower of Italian motorcycling. These guys ride hard on the roads and harder on the track and expect lorries to get the flock out of the way.

If God hadn't intended Italians to ride motorcycles swiftly, He wouldn't have raised the hills around San Marino. And if He hadn't intended them to ride bicycles swiftly, He wouldn't have made half those roads cascade downhill in a riverine flow. Torquing uphill in a line of rattling, bright-red Ducatis while a peloton of sweating, yellow-jerseyed bicyclists sizzle downhill at a comparable rate of travel makes a perfect riding moment.

Allow me to recommend quieter moments, too. Spooning up gelato in a shaded public square would be one. Breakfasting on fresh cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto would be another, while resting up between hill runs with a steaming café coretto is perhaps left to professional degenerates, practiced expatriates or actual Italians. Team Oregon instructors need not apply unless their full-face helmets are rated for exploding head containment.

Getting lost for a day is road bliss. Remaining lost on the return leg is ... inconvenient. When the gas light flared somewhere between Riccione and Rimini and some other R-town, I learned that feeding a 50-euro bill into the gas pump does not result in change. That tank of benzina ran me $29.27 per gallon.

Tank brimming with liquidated euros, I stopped into a roadside gelateria for a cool scoop of bearings. Proprietor Flaudio showed me pictures of his TV personality sons, waxed operatic about his blonde South African wife and insisted I taste every frozen tub. By the time I ordered my medium cup of almond flavor I was completely stuffed, but it was a creamy wonder, sweetened only with hand-pressed apple juice, 40-weight honey and unpasteurized faerie urine.

While I scraped a hole in the cardboard cup, Flaudio exalted the virtues of natural eating and demonstrated a few brisk katas.

"I am 74," he said, "still practice karate."

Wrapping a hairy hand behind my neck, Flaudio drew me close, looked me in the eye and bellowed, "Still f*ck like bull!"

Back at the track, an exit parade formed up behind motorcycle cops, Multistrada-mounted staffers and Playboy bunnies adorning the deck of an AMG Mercedes "NAKED" edition. Every rider revved his pistons out and leaned on his horn in case 42,000 Termignonis barking in ragged chorus might be construed as insufficiently celebratory.

Autostrada beach traffic was Rush Hour of the Damned unless you joined the loosely affiliated Gang of Ducks gashing lanes at 150 kph. When cars stacked into a solid bloc, I followed local riders onto the breakdown lane, where we fizzed merrily on at 115 kph.

Then we swarmed up on a broken-down car. Happily, no one ate the trunk and the issue was resolved by traditional waving and cursing in languages internazionale.

Back at Borgo Panigale, warm spring rain plastered down my sweaty hair as I reluctantly turned in the Monster key and shuffled back to my hotel, already nostalgic.

If you haven't ridden the hills of San Marino, crush your excuses and go. It's inconvenient and expensive and you're probably out of shape for sport riding. Will that change in 10 years?

Somewhere up in the hills that wrap Misano like dusky lover's legs, there's a road tuned to your pitch and maybe, just maybe, there's a Ducati with your name on it.

A word to the wise, once lettered onto an Italian champion's bike: "GO!!!!!!!"

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