Follow in the tyre tracks of legends
Ducati country has more to offer than just a museum
‘To understand Ducatis you need to ride the roads that inspired them’
‘We rode on tall and dignified amid the chaos’
You don’t have to own a Ducati to appreciate how they put their bikes together, and a tour around the factory in Bologna in northern Italy is very special; an experience dripping with racing and engineering history. But even better is a ride on the surrounding roads where these wonderful machines have for decades been put through their paces by the factory’s test pilots.
This is why a factory visit combined with a tour of the area is a bucket list must. To understand Ducati you need to stick your head in the museum and all that but also to taste the roads that inspired the 900SS, the 916 and the Multistrada. Ideally you also need to build in the time to visit nearby Mugello, the racetrack that shapes all the fast Ducatis, both road and race, and enjoy the food and wine that fuels the people who create them. This, you see, is Italy’s biking heartland, and although life for me is always rushing around I realised that to absorb the essence of the area it was essential to slow down a bit and build plenty of time (three days minimum) into my visit.
On day one, my wife and I flew in to Bologna and took a guided tour around the Ducati factory, then lost ourselves in the exquisite Ducati Museum. Once done I collected a rental Multistrada 1260 S before heading to explore the mediaeval city of Bologna.
With all the Bologna must-do’s ticked off, day two was clear for the main priority on my list: to ride through Tuscany to Mugello on those legendary Ducati test roads. We headed out of the hustle and bustle of Bologna, and after a few miles turned onto the SP65 into the lush green and perfumed hills of the Emilia-Romagna province. The 65’s smooth and rhythmic sweepers were a perfect way for us to acquaint ourselves with the Multistrada. When we reached Pianoro Vecchio the roads began to wind through evermore stunning countryside, taking us across the Emilia/Tuscany border, before rushing through woodland and then coiling ever tighter. Suddenly there were bikes everywhere, like we’d ridden into a secret, hilldwelling community of two-wheel nutters where the tighter the bends, the faster they go.
The locals are ridiculously quick. It felt as if I was taking my wife for a sightseeing lap of the Isle of Man TT circuit before discovering I’d wandered out on track half way through the Senior TT, with the likes of McGuinness, Dunlop and Hickman piling past, knees on the ground, black lines being drawn on the tarmac by their rear tyres, and leaving me with the feeling I was going backwards.
We rode on, tall and dignified on the Strada amid the chaos, to the Terrazza Panoramica in Loiano, where many of those crazy
riders had pulled in to share their experiences, mainly by means of gesticulation, a very popular language in Italy.
From there the road snakes through the countryside with such intensity it became increasingly obvious why Ducatis have always handled. I almost begged for a boring straight in order to take a breath. With every passing corner the Strada felt more like an extension of my body, doing everything I asked of it while maintaining the smooth fluidity of a bike very much at home; impressive when you think we were two-up and fully laden with paniers and topbox.
Passo della Raticosa is a very popular stop for bikers, who fill every inch of the car park to the Chalet Raticosa restaurant, and was the perfect place to sample the culinary delights of the region while ogling some of the most exotic bikes I have ever seen in one place (while their owners parade around dressed as if they have just left a racetrack).
The next ten miles to the Strada Statale del Passo del Giogo were the most intense I have ridden in years. Ten miles may not sound far but with so many corners it still took close to an hour to ride along the SP58, SP117 and SP503, before, concentration flagging, we stopped for another coffee.
The final five-mile part of the ride dropped us down out of the Mugello hills. After a quick selfie at the track gate, we could hear bikes thrashing round, I felt a wave of sadness that such an incredible ride was almost over. Then I remembered we had to do it all again on day three, on the way back to Bologna. And we went off happy in search of another amazing restaurant.