Ducati Lust

Ducati Lust

Ducati Lust



Over the past forty-two years I’ve owned about two dozen motorcycles. Many of these have been the most interesting bikes I could afford at the time, or were expedient for some other reason.

In all the years I’ve been riding, I’ve never once thrown a leg over the saddle of a Ducati L-twin. The exotic and beautiful machines from Bologna have always seemed out of my reach. Ownership costs, from high purchase price to reputedly daunting maintenance regimens, always made it easy to dismiss the big Italian twins as off my radar screen.

I’ve felt a bit sorry for my Ducatisti friends and acquaintances, the way one might pity an otherwise upright captive of a powerful and pricey addiction. Whenever I’ve conveyed to a Ducati owner my disdain for the apparent commitment required by these demanding motorcycles, my objections have been summarily dismissed as unenlightened nonsense. I didn’t get it.

Never wanting to get it, I’m content with my Norton Commando, Moto Guzzi LeMans, BMW R1100S and sundry junior varsity bikes lurking in the shadowy corners of the shed. So I should not have ridden Kingsbury Brown’s 900SS that day last month when we innocently switched bikes for the run between Gateway and Naturita, Colorado.

As soon as I mounted the 900SS and pushed the button, I was entranced. The starter motor labored to push one oversized piston, then the other, over compression and the engine came to life with a deep-throated growl that raised the hair on the back of my neck. In with the clutch, a short throw into first gear, and we were off.

The first ride on a strange bike is like the first dance with a new partner: tentative moves to see how the partner follows your lead. But the Ducati’s prodigious torque immediately launched us forward and we owned the road. The machine itself was in control, the operator along for the ride.

As I ran it up through the gears, the engine sang a staccato bass line that affected me almost viscerally – it grabbed me by the collar, pulled me close and demanded: LISTEN TO ME!!! as it thrust the bike forward with utter authority. An exhilarating surge of power kicked in above 6000 RPM, the landscape flew by and curves approached with an immediacy that demanded my full attention.

Ducati’s legendary roller coaster handling pulled me through the sweepers, the engine and transmission took care of moderating velocity, and I forgot all about the brakes. This machine was designed, engineered and built for one purpose, and like a thoroughbred stallion needed only a firm hand at the reins to do its job brilliantly. Within a few fast miles I was hearing a new mantra echoing in my head: MUST…HAVE…DUCATI…

After a while we switched bikes again, and I rode the rest of the day on my BMW R1100S. A fine sport tourer, no mistake. And able to stay with the Ducati all day long. Smooth, powerful, handsome, with effortless, spot-on handling, great brakes and a torquey, refined engine. But as Lloyd Bentsen might say, Senator, you’re no Ducati! The BMW’s civility and refinement, its teutonic efficiency and competence, suddenly seemed lackluster and pedestrian after the gob-smacking exuberance and machismo of the Ducati.

Within a week of riding King’s bike I was home, back to my regular routines but unable to shake off the desire and restlessness the 900SS had fomented in me. “One of these days I might want to replace my BMW with a Ducati,” I tentatively suggested to Debby Johnson, a thoroughly addicted Ducatisti friend. She gleefully counter-offered that perhaps the time was now, and proceeded to send me listing ads for several Ducatis currently available in the Denver area.

Debby educated me in the gross and fine distinctions between the various Ducati models, suggesting that given my stated preferences an ST2 would be the right Ducati for me. Built in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, the ST2 was a sport touring model with a less aggressive riding position than is demanded on the pure sportbikes, a two-valve engine tuned for midrange torque and available hard luggage. And by the way, there’s a smokin’ deal on one right now in Albuquerque.

My friend Eric Bergman, always enthusiastic company on a motorcycle-buying junket, came down from Golden and together we drove the 250 miles to Albuquerque, towing a trailer behind the Estate Wagon. Clearly, something had to be very wrong with this particular ST2, or it was coming home with us. Long story short: not only was nothing wrong with the bike, it was very right. In correct Ducati red livery and fitted with all the right farkles, its curb appeal was immediate and powerful. A brief test ride confirmed that all was well mechanically, and we sealed the deal, loaded up the bike and trailered it home.

One day soon after I got the bike home I took it for a spin. Since there's no plate on it yet and since it was late in the day, I only went as far as Saguache, 25 miles across the valley. A curvier road would have been nice, but I have to go much further to find that. Still, it’s nice to put some relaxed, easy miles on the new bike while we get to know each other.

What a fine motorcycle! Designed for spirited riding and touring use, its sporting heritage has not been subverted in the name of political correctness. At all times, the congenital nature of the machine insinuates itself into my consciousness, reminding me why I ride motorcycles. The simple exercise of running casually through the gears puts me in a sporting frame of mind. The thrust! The sounds! The vibes! The ever-present mechanical busyness! The sure-footed, unflappable handling!

The soundtrack is much like that of my Guzzi - which growls and howls like a small-block chevy with open pipes and a cam - but with a somewhat tighter, sharper edge to it and a syncopated backbeat that seems to be a Ducati trademark.

I wasn't able to work the chassis much, except for the half-dozen 90-degree sweepers over the course of 25 miles each way. From all I could tell, the chassis is stable and rigid, and tracks precisely with a bit of firm input. The way you would expect it to handle, I think. I wasn't pushing it, especially after I felt the aging rear tire walk out under throttle in a turn exit.

Until a couple of weeks back, I'd managed to avoid riding  Ducatis, as I didn't want to make myself vulnerable to their siren song. Once I did, though, it was inevitable. I get it. The BMW is now for sale, and I’m sitting here looking out the window at a foot of fresh snow, ruing the cruel reality that riding season is gone and won’t return for six months.


Norton, Guzzi, Ducati, BMW
Ducati Lust

(photos courtesy RC Herman)

RC Herman
Crestone, CO
October 30, 2009