Fine Italian Moto-Style | Megaphone


The other day I began to question my love for my small family of motorcycles. Not that I have always been faithful. They are Italian, after all-they understand. But these three lovely sisters-the '81 Ducati Darmah, '85 Cagiva Alazzurra and '87 Cagiva Elefant-represent to me the finest in moto-style and engineering.

In terms of performance, there are few better motorcycles for a geezer on a limited budget with no pretense as a collector. But last year I rode a BMW F800ST from New Jersey to California ("American Idyll," MC, January 2010), and it seemed the time had come to own a modern bike. Here was a machine that could, with a few fairly minor compromises, do virtually everything all my old Ducatis could. And take up considerably less garage space in the process, not to mention reducing downtime for maintenance, parts heartaches, outbursts of profanity, etc.

Dimensionally, the Alazzurra is closest to the BMW in function if not form. Its 650cc Ducati V-twin makes nowhere near the horsepower of the BMW's 800cc Rotax-built parallel-twin (50 vs. 85 bhp), but the two machines are similar in weight, riding position and agility.

I took the Ally down the road to remind myself of her qualities. God Almighty, what a sweet motorcycle! More comfortable than the BMW, with intuitive steering, nice wind protection from a minimalist windscreen, good brakes and an appropriate walking-bass soundtrack. This is a machine equally capable of a 150-mile sprint or a 500-mile day with no strain. How could I sell it? The market value is maybe $3000 at the outside. I'd have to sell it three times to buy the Beemer.

Powered by the same basic engine as the Alazzurra, the Elefant picked up a Paris-Dakar Rally win on its way to growing into the Gran Canyon, which begat the Multistrada, which cloned the Hypermotard. In any case, on all but tight/rocky single-track trails the Elefant is a delightful device. At 425 lbs. it will certainly not play cut-and-thrust with, say, an Aprilia 550. But on sweeping fire roads the suspension and mellifluous midrange motor make the 'Fant the most agile pachyderm on the planet. Plus, it will hum along all day on the freeway and leave the rider ready for pasta Bolognese and a bottle of wine that evening. On a good day, it might bring $2500 on eBay.

Then comes the Darmah. This next-to-penultimate of the bevel-drive Ducatis is the entrée deluxe here at Ristorante Ducati-the fettuccine Alfredo with mascarpone cream cheese, insalata caprese on the side and_ gelato cioccolato_ for dessert. In terms of going down the road feelin' fine, it doesn't get any better than this.

I roll the Darmah out for a leisurely cruise on my regular southern loop, 30 miles through the coastal California vineyards. Idling through town, I fall in behind a new Ferrari F430 Spider, which turns into a parking garage. I follow it in, let the 860cc V-twin idle for a few seconds to savor the sound, and shut her off.

I watch as the driver activates the top mechanism and the foredeck lid over the mid-engine, 483-horse V8 lifts to clear the soft top, which clicks neatly into place. A 190-mph, $200,000 gobot.

The driver unfolds, checks me out, and walks over. It's Chuck Liddell, a.k.a. "The Iceman," Ultimate Extreme Combat champ.

"That's a slick top," I offer.


"It looks much better with the top down."

"Yeah, it does."

I'm still looking at the car, from which Chuck's young blonde lady friend is emerging, backwards. "Nice car," I say, but I'm thinking, "Does he think I'm looking at his girl's butt?" I can see the headlines: "The Iceman Kills Aged Motojournalist." Subhead: "Geezer Bleeds to Death Beside Motorcycle."

But the couple is on their way, and I can tell Chuck respects a fellow admirer of Italian motor vehicles. I don't need any more convincing. My heart belongs with my three graces, safe from the clutches of those German engineers