Monday morning began easily enough. We packed our bags, had breakfast and met about eighteen others across the street from the hotel at the Ducati plant for the factory tour. After a short wait in the company cafe, a wiry, English-speaking young man from Ducatiís racing division introduced himself as our docent and off we went.
This was nothing like your typical USA factory tour, conducted from some elevated walkway or behind glass partitions. We were being escorted right on to the factory floor, dodging the fork-lift drivers, smiling at the workers, smelling the aroma of industry, hearing the noise of the assembly line and watching beautiful motorcycles come to life. Perhaps I should not admit it, but I found it absolutely riveting. The processes at Ducati were modernized during the past few years while they were owned by the Texas Pacific Group, yet there is still so much human interaction to the assembly that it seems an ideal balance of computerized quality and hand built craftsmanship. Hardly the type of description one would have applied to the Ducati of old.
At the conclusion of the factory tour we were taken to the museum, which is heavily biased towards depiction of Ducatiís racing heritage, rather than documenting the evolution of its many interesting production models. I found this slightly disappointing, but the caliber of this small museum was impressive. There are some extremely significant bikes on display here. Depending upon oneís age and aesthetic, there can be different Holy Grails to worship in Ducati Ďs racing history. For me the bike is the 1972 Imola 200 winning 750 cc bevel twin ridden by Paul Smart. That victory took the motorcycle world by complete surprise and catapulted Ducati to large displacement credibility and ultimate prominence. That bike is here and suitably staged for genuflection.
It was now time to climb into our new friendís rental car and head to the coast for Rimini. As soon as we saw their car, we realized it was not quite the roomy vehicle that was mentioned at dinner. In fact it was a diminutive Spanish made two-door hatchback with very little storage space and what it had was mostly occupied with our friendís luggage. Lorraine and I had two airplane carry-on size suitcases and one humungous bag that housed all our motorcycle gear to somehow accommodate. Iím confident that our new friends, Mike and Lisa, were stunned by the size of our enormous gear bag, yet they were wonderful not to laugh at us too hard and send us packing. We soon found ourselves squeezing into the back seat with most of our luggage on top of us. It was absolutely madcap hilarious, just the sort of screwball stuff that makes for a good adventure.
Grossly overtaxing this tiny vehicleís capacity, we were on our way. Our destination was only about sixty miles and much of it on the Autostrada, so it is not as bad as it sounds. We stopped along the way at the Imola racetrack. There was no racing event to witness, but we wanted to climb into the grandstands nevertheless and ponder the glory that has transpired there. I imagined the rabid crowds screaming as their heroes ride at death defying speeds around the circuit. The track ghosts did not disappoint us.
Once in Rimini and trying to find our hotel, we began to see some of the classic Italian bikes on the street. We knew we were getting close and each motorcycle sighting cranked up my anticipation until I could hardly be contained. We checked into our sea-front hotel and then walked back to the Motogiro staging area to register and pick up our rental bike. There were now classic motorcycles everywhere you looked. I was so wound up at this point, Iím sure I was frothing at the mouth. Had my head not been attached at the neck, it would have launched skyward like a burst from a roman candle.
We finally had all the paperwork attended to and our Ducati parked at the hotel. We could not get too settled in because we needed to attend an English language rules briefing, prior to dinner. Translations can be rather humorous sometimes and this was one of them. The Italian event director would spend a full minute, several thousand syllables and a myriad of gestures to make a specific point. All of which would end up as just one or two brief sentences in the English translation. The audience would roar with laughter to the slight confusion of the translator, who would grin sheepishly as he began to understand the humor in the situation.
After the briefing, an award was presented by some of the American and British regulars who wanted to honor one of the heroes of the original Motogiro. Theyíd commission a commemorative plaque, which was adorned with a Ducati desmodromic head, to present to him. Fifty years ago, the then twenty-year-old, Giuliano Maoggi won the Motogiro outright on a Ducati 125 cc Gran Sport. It was also Ducatiís first ever victory in the Motogiro and the fact that Maoggi had beaten all of the entrants, including the larger 175 cc machines, speaks volumes about the riderís skill and the Ducatiís performance. Giuliano has attended every Motogiro since its revival in 2001. He was given a standing ovation and it was a very touching moment.