"All you need is a saddle, a tank, an engine, two wheels and a set of handlebars," said designer Miguel Galluzzi of the Ducati Monster he penned in 1992. He couldn't have foreseen it at the time, but his elemental creation inspired a whole new category of motorcycle: the naked bike. In the decade and more that followed, would-be designers the world over have elevated the concept to the next level, using Monsters as blank canvases for their own stylized creations.
Realizing the visual impact of these customer-customized machines, Ducati North America created the Monster Challenge, and held the inaugural competitions in conjunction with the Advanstar International Motorcycle Shows in late 2004 and early 2005.
The first-year entries were a tad lackluster, and the venue for the inaugural finale-Daytona-wasn't exactly receptive. Seems there were a few too many "other" air-cooled V-twin customs sharing the spotlight. So for the 2005/2006 iteration, regional competitions were held at select IMS shows and the finale was moved to an infinitely more suitable locale: Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.
Timed to coincide with the April 21-23 AMA Superbike Championship round, the 2006 Monster Challenge Finale saw a dozen of the sexiest naked V-twin motorcycles in North America converge on this Mecca of motorsports. Hand-chosen from regional competitions in Houston, Seattle, Long Beach, San Jose, Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago and Montreal, the entries were judged equally on quality of workmanship, creativity of design and visual impact. All bikes were required to be street-legal and powered by a Ducati V-twin housed in the "essential" trellis frame; frame alterations, however, were permitted.
The competition began on Friday with the finalists' bikes prominently displayed inside the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum. George Barber's collection of nearly 1000 vintage and modern motorcycles served as the ideal backdrop against which to exhibit and evaluate the custom Monsters. Throughout the day, "sound wars" ensued between the Ducatis and a select few Harley-Davidsons on the lower level of the museum. The reverberation inside the concrete-and-glass walls sent chills up visitors' spines. Later that evening, the competitors rolled their bikes outside and lined them up in front of the museum to determine which one sounded best. The mechanical music of rattling dry clutches and thundering V-twin exhausts rumbling over the adjacent hills and echoing through the Alabama countryside sounded so good, this author still isn't sure how the judges picked a winner.
On Saturday, the Monsters reconvened by the Ducati hospitality tent adjacent to Turns 12 and 13, arguably the ideal spot to view the races. The contestants rode a parade lap prior to the start of racing and after lunch the judges-including Motorcyclist's own Alan Cathcart, Speed TV host Greg White and Barber Museum restorer Brian Slark-awarded first-, second- and third-place trophies, plus a People's Choice award.
Probably the most fascinating aspect of the event was that not a single contestant bought his way into the competition without also putting in a tremendous amount of blood, sweat and tears. This is not to say some of the entrants weren't expensive; the total amount invested ranged from a high of more than $40,000 to a low of just four grand. But none of these bikes was a bolt-on special. Regardless of their monetary investment, these builders' pride of ownership and dedication to customization was awesome to behold.