Touring Museo Ducati With Curator Livio Lodi

Ducati and the Meaning of Place

“All good human work remembers its history.” ­

- —Wendell Berry

Museo Ducati
Museo DucatiSeth Richards

It's clear from visiting Borgo Panigale that regional history plays a large part in the identity of its most famous motorcycle marque. When I met Livio Lodi, the curator of Museo Ducati, the iconic museum on the second floor of the factory, I endeavored to convey that I was not just "another Ducatisti," and that I had been deeply entrenched in Ducati history since my childhood. To establish some credibility, I pulled out my phone to show him a photo of me as a scrawny kid posing in front of Larry Pegram's Fast by Ferracci 916 at Mid-Ohio. Lodi was unimpressed and said something to the effect of, "You know, I really hate when people call themselves Ducatisti."

Lodi has worked for Ducati for more than 30 years, beginning on the factory line before becoming the museum curator, where for decades he’s been the steward of Ducati’s greatest machines and protector of its history, watching over its legacy like those guys in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade who protect the Holy Grail with swinging scimitars and eye makeup.

Livio Lodi
Livio Lodi, museum curator, historian, collector of World War I and II memorabilia. Lodi was very generous with his time, spending several hours with me to discuss motorcycles and Italian history. Several generations of his family have lived within a stone’s throw of the factory.Seth Richards

Ironically, Lodi does not ride motorcycles, but appreciates Ducati for what it represents culturally and how it figures into the larger history of Emilia-Romagna, the region known around the world as “Motor Valley.” He’s quick to point out that Ducati’s reputation as a builder of “fast red bikes” falls well short of what makes the bikes special. “That’s BS,” he says.

I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the collection. Up until recently, it contained only significant racebikes from the company’s history, such as Paul Smart’s Imola 200 bike, Mike Hailwood’s ’78 Isle of Man TT winner, Foggy’s 916, Bayliss’s 996, and many early racing models. The museum now features important production models as well. It was a surreal experience encountering bikes I have read about for years, bikes that live in motorcycling lore, and bikes that, on a personal level, populate some of my fondest childhood memories.

In the ‘90s, I was probably the only kid in my rural Upstate New York town who had ever heard of a Ducati. My obsession was acknowledged and encouraged by my family but was a private part of my identity simply because there was no one else with whom to share it. I became possessive of Ducati. Practically every other day I wore adult-sized Ducati T-shirts that looked like dresses on me. I wrote essays about the 916 in elementary school. While other families were watching football on Sunday afternoons, my dad, brother, and I were yelling at the TV as Troy Bayliss and Colin Edwards duked it out in a battle royale of V-twin bragging rights as the Honda SP-1 endeavored to beat a throng of bleating Desmos in a game of their own making.

ducati museum
These bikes represent one of my personal favorite eras in Ducati history. It was Lodi’s idea to paint Troy Bayliss’ 996 silver for the 2001 Imola race in honor of Paul Smart’s Imola victory as well as to honor the memory of Bruno Ducati, one of the three founding brothers, who died that year at 96 years old. Ducati racebikes were painted silver long before red became the dominant color.Seth Richards

When Lodi says he detests the term “Ducatisti,” it’s because he thinks people use it in a casual and superficial way. While Ducatis have significant meaning for me because of what they represent on a personal level, for Lodi, Ducatis are significant because of what they represent of his culture, of his home, and of his people. It’s easy to understand why he was initially dismissive of my admission of allegiance. After all, what could some American kid possibly know about Emilia-Romagna and its deep history?

Wendell Berry, the celebrated agrarian writer and philosopher, suggests that place is integral to identity to such a degree that “the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other's lives.”

The identity of the people of Emilia-Romagna defines the region, as Emilia-Romagna defines the people. Emilia-Romagna is shaped by times of war and of peace, the fecundity of its soil, the richness of its cuisine, the notoriety of its greatest sons and daughters. Therefore, Ducatis are an expression and a manifestation of their specific place. The Panigale is so named for a reason.

Via Panigale, Borgo Panigale, Italy
Via Panigale, Borgo Panigale, ItalySeth Richards

Peter Egan writes, “Another key quality in Ducatis is presence. When you’re riding along on a 250 Mach 1, an old 900SS, or a new 1098, you never forget for one moment what you’re riding. You keep looking down at the tank and instruments and thinking consciously about where you are—both literally and in the flow of history.”

Lodi and I share in common the notion that Ducatis are markers in the flow of history. Lodi values Ducati for the way in which it is a part of the cultural identity and story of his people; I value Ducati for what it represents in my personal identity and the story of my life. For both of us, Ducati is more than just a motorcycle brand. Ducati is a place. More than “fast red bikes” indeed.