For a true sportbike enthusiast there is no better way to explore Tuscany than on a Ducati 848 Superbike.
Since the dawn of modern civilization, the Tuscan region of central Italy has inspired countless masterpieces. From the melancholic writings of Dante to the artistic genius of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci, this vibrant, undulating region of earth is the birthplace of some of man’s most valued treasures. It is also a region that will captivate your senses from the saddle of Italy’s working class Ducati 848 Superbike.
Those Renaissance men would have appreciated this Ducati. With its liquid-cooled 849cc L-Twin engine, quieter, more refined wet-style hydraulic clutch and shorter, street-oriented transmission gear ratios, the 848 is the working man’s Superbike. This makes it the perfect sporting companion to explore Tuscany’s fabled countryside. So with the key and my compass set it was time to ride…
The air is cool and the road damp as I head southwest from Bologna. In spite of the morning’s intense traffic, the 848’s slim dimensions allow me to slice through—California-style—as I jockey for position against swarms of scooters and shoe-box sized cars. It isn’t long before concrete buildings give way to lush, unspoiled pasture. The sun is strong, burning off pillows of haze and illuminating the valleys exposing a patchwork of color—signifying summer’s end and autumn’s beginning.
(Above) Lack of storage is one of the biggest challenges when it comes to touring on a sportbike. A small Axio tail bag made things easier. (Center) Classic Italian architecture at its finest in Tuscany. (Below) During the week traffic is light allowing you to explore the full potential of the 848’s L-Twin engine.
The road gently rises and falls as it wraps around the hillside. Most of the turns can be taken in second gear but every few kilometers there will be one tight bend which necessitates the bike’s bottom cog. Light traffic provides the opportunity to crank up speed and discover the potential of its motor. In the lower gears the front end gets light, making wheelies obligatory with a light tug on the handlebar. For a second it actually feels like you’re Troy Bayliss—crossing the finish line on the back tire after one of his many World Superbike wins.
It’s around noon when the low fuel light illuminates, signaling bingo fuel status. It gets tense inside my helmet as I realize I could be well beyond the range of a petrol station. This serves as a reminder of unique challenges when touring aboard a sportbike—the limited 3.8-gallon fuel and miniscule storage capacity being paramount.
Knowing that I have a water bottle turned fuel jug wedged in my tail bag for use in an emergency, my focus returns to the ride. Thirty minutes later that emergency happens…
I coast into to a small single-pump gas station that reeks of spilt fuel. I keep distance between the bike and pump in effort to avoid the concrete’s oily residue that’s accumulated over years of careless refueling. Its 1 p.m. and there’s not a person in sight. Must be lunch time? An hour or so later a greasy-looking attendant strolls toward the pump, lit cigarette dangling from his mouth. I chuckle in appreciation of how nonchalant he remains considering the potential explosion I’m about to witness. Thankfully it doesn’t happen. He gases the tank to the brim, I slip him 20 Euros and back off we go.
Hoping to avoid my earlier fuel predicament I prematurely gas-up near Fivizzano before zigzagging east across the Apennine Mountains toward the paved paradise of Mugello—home to Ferrari’s private test track and the Italian MotoGP Grand Prix—a place I have been anxious to visit since my idol Valentino Rossi scored his first MotoGP win at the circuit in ’02. This is Mecca.
With hope of arriving before sundown I up my pace—the 848 fully obliges without hesitation. At speed the engine settles into its sweet-spot; thrumming hypnotically to the beat of the road and pulse of my right hand. At this velocity the chassis feels good: taut and composed, while still absorbing the occasional G-out without as much as a wobble. There aren’t any cops on this stretch of highway so the only speed monitor is what lies on the other side of the metal guard rail. My tempo decreases accordingly as I pass through towns, respectful of the locals and the concealed speed cameras lurking for motorized prey.
After nearly an hour of constant twists and turns the road snakes down into the town of Gallicano before suddenly straightening. It’s a nice reprieve, as the vantage from the valley is breathtaking—especially with the hues of leaves laced amongst the old town’s salmon-colored rooftops. I pull up to an outdoor cafe, anxious to escape the 848’s thin seat for a moment. After consuming consecutive shots of espresso – high-octane Italian bio fuel – I’m again focused and ready to roll.
(Above) The race to Mugello is on! (Below) Stability from corner entry to exit is one of the 848’s biggest performance asset.
Seemingly out of nowhere, thick drops begin accumulating on my face shield, followed in short succession by an all-out torrential rain blast! I pull over beneath the shelter of a clump of massive trees and whip on my rain suit.
With daylight dwindling it’s futile to wait out this monsoon, so I press on. Accordingly, my velocity drops. Due to time restraints, I detour south towards Pistoia for the safety and speed of the Autostrada. The rain gradually relents by the time I snatch the toll ticket. Cold, wet, starving, and borderline delirious, the race to Mugello is on.
The scent of burning wood permeates the crisp night air signaling my proximity to this evening’s accommodations. Despite using a GPS, it’s still difficult to navigate these sparsely populated country roads. After a couple of wrong turns and a succession of cuss words, I find the hotel and run inside, yearning for the comfort of anything—as long as it’s warm.
In the morning, I awake to an ocean of blue sky. Although the temp is cool, you can tell right away that it’s going to be one of those fabulously mild Indian-summer days. After knocking back a couple cappuccinos and enjoying a customary Italian breakfast consisting of freshly prepared meats, cheeses, and freshly baked breads, it was time to visit Rossi’s playground.
It’s a short ride to the Mugello Circuit. A string of huge, well-manicured trees line the road with a picturesque golden tint, reflecting the change in season. It’s said that these were the same roads racers competed on prior to the construction of the track in 1974 –talk about dangerous!
I rumble up to the entrance marked by a gigantic red helmet. With the guard shack vacant I roll inside and pull up alongside the row of garages. On this particular morning the track is totally empty—not a soul in sight, which is surprising considering how wonderful the weather is. It almost seems like it should be against the law not to have anyone lapping around its 3.3-mile, elevation-laden surface on this nice of a day.
(Above) Owned by Ferrari, Mugello is one of Italy’s premiere racing circuits. (Center) Police presence on Italy’s country back roads is few and far between meaning the only real speed limiter is what is on the other side of the guard rail. (Below) Waheed poses in front of the straightaway at Valentino Rossi’s home racetrack.
As I shut off the bike, the sound of roaring engines still resonates within my head. I can’t decide if it’s the lingering effects of 12 hours of saddle time or the sound of racing engines embedded in the circuit’s fabled concrete walls. If only these walls could talk – or are they?
Strolling across pit lane, I’m in awe of how exquisite the landscape is. Everywhere you lay your eyes, Mother Nature’s beauty is in full effect. Most impressive is the way the surrounding hills morph into tall peaky mountains which epitomize the Tuscan topography.
Upon returning to my Ducati I’m greeted by a chubby track worker. From a distance I assumed he was admiring my Italian steed, but after getting a bit closer it was obvious he wasn’t checking out my bike as much as he was wondering what the hell I’m doing here. He starts yelling. Spit flies from his mouth, landing on the lenses of my sunglasses. I stand there blankly, unable to comprehend what he’s saying and at this point unwilling to try. The more I stand there, the more agitated he gets… guess it’s my cue to leave. I hop on the bike and peel out as quickly as I can. As I leave I glance in the mirror and see his rotund body continuing to shout, hands waving in the air as I leave.
And with this I was out, my time in Motorcycling Mecca had come to an end. Some may call it a bit of a letdown. And I admit, I was disenchanted– all that work for five minutes of viewing pleasuring. Little did I know that I would be back at the Tuscan circuit in less than that two weeks time, this time logging some laps myself, no portly guard to kick me out, realizing just what I had suspected: This truly is God’s country. There’s no more fitting place to bring the utterly-gorgeous Ducati 848, a bike which will go down in history as one of the all-time greatly styled and top-notch performing motorcycles. Michelangelo would be proud.