A Newbie Motojournalist’s Take On His First International Bike Launch

Living the dream in Rimini

Seth Richards
The author and a 2018 Ducati Monster 821.Jess McKinley, Milagro

If you could have any job, what would it be? For many a motorcyclist, the common answer is "motojournalist." As I discovered on a recent trip to Rimini on the Italian Riviera to test the 2018 Ducati Monster 821, getting paid to ride motorcycles in exotic locales is as idyllic as it sounds.

Riding the winding roads of the Apennine mountains, I couldn’t help reflect that exactly one year ago, on a cold, rainy fall day in Upstate New York, I was picking rotten apples off the ground and explaining principles of organic orcharding to a group of Ivy League slackers. For the last seven years, I managed an organic farm on the western slopes of Cayuga Lake, proving that English majors can indeed do anything. However, “anything” often entails the sort of work it seems like strict Mennonite parents would use to punish a disobedient child: hosing off endless bins of rutabagas, typically in sub-zero temperatures; sanitizing thousands of potting trays by dunking them into a bleach solution that’s quickly freezing due to the sub-zero temperatures; or mindlessly hand-weeding beds of young carrots for eight hours straight, in—you guessed it—sub-zero temperatures. Indeed, freezing weather is no deterrent to the desperate farmer. Or to a Mennonite disciplinarian.

The road to San Leo
The road to San Leo.Jess McKinley, Milagro

After hanging up my suspenders and spade, I was fortunate to pick up some writing for Motorcyclist and Cycle World, a dream come true, considering I've been reading the magazines since I was a kid. Around my house, we refer to Peter Egan as "Uncle Pete." When Ari asked me if I wanted to go to Italy to represent Bonnier Motorcycle Group at the International press launch for the updated Monster 821, I had to thoroughly copyedit my response because a preponderance of "OMGs" and emojis is unbecoming of a 32 year-old man. I immediately began to prepare for the trip by drinking a lot of Sangiovese and listening to 1960s Italian pop music.

At happy hour with my riding buddies, I struggled to find ways not to flaunt my good fortune while they were preparing to winterize their machines in darkened garages, the shortening day an abhorrent promissory of months out of the saddle. “Yes, I hear the Riviera is nice this time of year, but, you know, I think it’s been a rainy fall… And it was a rough year for the grape harvest,” I said, as they shook their heads and looked at me askance.

I landed in Bologna after 24 hours of traveling and went straight to the Ducati factory, where I was given a personal tour of the factory by Isabella, who was as proficient at explaining the inner workings of the factory as she was at rebuffing the attentions of her male co-workers. This is Italy after all. I then had the pleasure of having a private audience with Museo Ducati curator Livio Lodi, who while considerably less charming than Isabella, was nonetheless extremely generous with his time.

i-Suite hotel
The aptly named i-Suite hotel was decked out in Ducati badges.Jess McKinley, Milagro

Ducati was a gracious host, aiming to please and impress the gathered press. We stayed at a hotel in Rimini on the Adriatic coast, the decor of which, we joked, appeared to be heavily influenced by early 2000s Apple design—all slippery white surfaces and oddly shaped fixtures; a chair shaped to accommodate the human form was nowhere to be found. Ducati hosted several meals, but we were also accompanied by Ducati North America’s marketing rep, who footed the bill for other meals and impromptu wine breaks. It’s hard to hit the limit on cured meats and carbs, but two days in Italy is about all it takes.

lunch break
Not a bad place for a lunch break.Jess McKinley, Milagro

I’m not going to say there weren’t any frustrations on this trip. I was on the ground for about the same time as I was in the air; I was in constant fear that the seafood risotto I had for dinner would wreak havoc on my stomach (not ideal when you’re expected to ride a motorcycle on bumpy roads the next day); and jet lag was destroying my sleep, bringing out my most introverted tendencies. I’m not going to lie, it’s also a little intimidating riding with a bunch of motojournalists who have seriously impressive racing credentials. It was easy to feel a bit inadequate, though at the end of the day, all of us were a bit perplexed with how to properly use the bidets in our hotel rooms, so as it turns out, weird European methods of hygiene became the great equalizer.

Memories of exhaustion and stress will fade next to the overwhelmingly positive memories. After all, I’ll only ever have one first press launch.

To get me through the long New York winter, I’ll be replaying the ride through the mountains of Montefeltro, where third-gear sweepers and 180-degree hairpins traversed a landscape of vineyards, stone villas, and distant views approaching the hilltop Romanesque comune of San Leo, where we stopped for a lunch of local cured meats and handmade pasta. Riding a motorcycle so suitable to its surroundings is always a pleasure. But when the surroundings captivate the imagination and inspire such vivid recollections, and each new apex reveals new mysteries, it’s like being written into your favorite story or standing at the edge of a movie set as the director yells, “Action!”

launch hotel
The hotel courtyard was also Ducati-ized.Jess McKinley, Milagro

Now, all I have to do is figure out how to downplay the experience to all my motorcycling buddies, otherwise I’ll stop getting invites to happy hour during the dark of winter.