Whirled Ducati Week in Italy

60,000 loud clutches save lives

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jack Lewis, Milagro

Outside, the fine madness continued. Equally incomprehensible announcements boomed over the grounds in English and Italian. A corps of yellow-spankied Seguimi babes with "Follow Me" lettered across their backs faced off against Marlboro's Red Speed cigarette-girl troupe in some kind of cross-town cheer-off.

Once again, I took refuge at the track. There came a wicked, skittering crunch from just past pit lane, and everybody stood and hooted at the next few riders to dodge. It must suck to crash when you're riding the session's only screaming green Kawasaki, but as the old saying goes, "That's posing."

Eventually, punters were waved off in favor of the Laps of Honor, first by current factory teamsters with much stand-up wheelie action on pit lane, then by a surging band of sputtering crocks. Once started, every classic completed its laps without a breakdown. The race teams lost three. Just goes to show: God rides a towershaft twin.

The evening wound on toward a Streetfight between factory riders. Haga took the drags by a photo-nose before the whole proceeding degenerated into gleeful wheelies, stoppies and tire-popping circular burnouts. Worshiping from the same liturgy, legions of paddock cultisti sent white smoke billowing toward heaven. Yea, verily was it savory unto Pirelli.

Rock shows banged and light shows beamed; guys revved to girls' wriggles and the evening loosened in widening gyres until a watershed of riders finally decamped to club it along the Adriatic, well past midnight.

Mumbling back to our resort alongside newly engaged Sport Riders, I felt guilty about my lukewarm reaction to the middlin' Monstro as we enjoyed a lovely evening bimble, getting lost until our gas lights flamed injected mild frisson into the womblike warmth of the Cattolican night.

My almost-little bike warbled along so contentedly that I had to remind myself it wasn't slow or unexciting, just well-sorted. The moderate Monster may authentically be quicker and faster than my faithfully misremembered SS was on its best day, but it refuses to assert that "ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe" feel that every snarling antique on the classic laps of honor radiated like a death angel's halo. There are good bikes and there are bikes of terrifying majesty, and I wonder which path Ducati will choose for its future.

Though the carnival blared on, I skipped the next day's festivities to go riding. Innocent of phone, map, language, watch or sense of direction, I headed for the hills. San Marino was up there somewhere.

If you rev it, they will come. Ducatis scampered over the roads like an occupying army from the crimson-washed bikeground to the Italian Riviera, hegemonizing the countryside as foretold in Exodus 23:31: "I will establish your borders from the Red (Planet) to the Mediterranean..."

My plan was to go uphill until the roads curved, watching the roundabout signs through towns like Gemmano and Montescudo until something pointed me toward San Marino. With roads bent by hundreds of snakeback turns that respect the winding topography, I couldn't fail to find a satisfying route to nowhere in particular.

As have all civilized cultures, Latins set aside a day for worship. Sunday belongs to God, and like all good Catholics, He favors good food, cool grappa, hot coffee and loud motorcycles.

Heaved and miserable road surfaces made me happy that I wasn't rocking clip-ons, but uphill roads on a Ducati under a Mediterranean sun is my dream of heaven. If I died doing that, I would beg no further salvation.

Swiss, Italians, French, Yanks and Germans formed a multi-national road-keeping force. We boomed through stone-built agrarian villages where old women in black dresses jumped up from trattoria tables to clap for the conga lines of Ducati roadsters revving and popping up the cobbled ways. This is what "café racer" means, and why it translates so poorly.

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