(Above) The bike wash was a popular way to cool off at World Ducati Week. I wonder why? (Below) Tens of thousands of Ducati riders made it out to this year's World Ducati Week.
Imagine being invited to one of the world’s wildest parties. Four days and nights of non-stop action with an endless supply of ice cold beer, beats thumping through speakers with such intensity that your body gyrates out of sheer instinct, scantily clad babes are everywhere. The only thing more distracting than the throngs of dancing girls and pulsing music is the sound of thousands of Ducatis ridden by enthusiasts visiting from all over the globe filling the air, a combination of rattling dry clutches laced with the roar of Desmodromic L-Twin engines bouncing off the rev limiter. It all goes down in-and-around Italy’s famous Misano World Circuit—only minutes away from the prime beachfront of Rivera with your Ducati
racing idols from MotoGP and World Superbike on hand. It’s called World Ducati Week (WDW) and it’s one of the craziest motorcycle celebrations we’ve ever experienced.
WDW is a motorcycle rally unlike anything else on earth. It's a celebration focused on Italy’s Bologna-built high-performance street and sportbikes. These are machines designed, assembled and operated by 100% gasoline-sniffing motor heads like you and I. What began as a one-off party 12 years ago has morphed into bi- or triennial episodes that are an absolute must-do for all motorcycle enthusiasts, regardless of brand allegiance. This summer marked the sixth edition of the saga and our first visit to this amazing event.
A Leap Across The Pond
After an easy flight from Los Angeles to Bologna via Rome on Italy’s national carrier, Alitalia, I was on the ground happy to be in the Miami-style heat and humidity which is common to central Italy in the summer. One of the best things about visiting Bologna is its close proximity to the factory, hotels, restaurants and airport. After checking in to the Amadeus Hotel, I shoot over to a fabulous outdoor restaurant right next to the airport for a delicious Bolognese dinner (it’s impossible to get a bad meal in Italy). After that it was off to sleep thinking of the crazy days and nights ahead.
WDW Here We Come
(Above) Ducati's Monster 796 proved to be a fun bike to scoot around on at WDW.
(Below) A view of the pool at the Rivera Golf Resort near Misano in Italy.
In the morning I hopped on a 2011 Ducati Monster 796 – an affordable mid-sized standard bike that is agile enough for racing around narrow city streets but still worthy for short touring escapades on the Autostrada (see sidebar). Via the A14, the ride to the Adriatic Coast is about an hour and a half long depending how crazy you get with your right wrist. However, considering it is a popular summer weekend destination, traffic can be thick at times and at one point, well maybe two, the road literally came to a standstill and I felt like I was back on Southern California’s 405 freeway. In between dodging shoebox-sized Fiats and Alfa Romeos, we rode alongside fellow enthusiasts —all aboard Ducs—waving and gesturing in anticipation of a weekend of fun as we motored toward Misano.
After veering off the Autostrada and getting lost while doing hot laps around roundabouts, we eventually stumbled upon our hotel for the weekend, the utterly fabulous Rivera Golf Resort. Located just a few minutes from the track in the town of San Giovanni in Marignano, the resort is an example of Mediterranean vacationing at its best. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise sipping drinks by the outlandishly large Olympic-sized pool. Considering how posh and relaxing our digs were it would have been easy to lounge poolside for the rest of the day, but with the key to a brand-new shiny Monster
796 there was no other choice but to go exploring and check out the track.
WDW Friday – An Ocean of Red and Night Out on the Town
Within minutes of pulling away from the hotel I was on the main road that leads toward Misano. It was mid-day and the streets were already packed with Ducatis. If you can think of a model, then it was probably on the road, from original Monsters and 916s to the new liquid-cooled Multistrada and Desmosedici D16RR
MotoGP replica. Perhaps even more crazy is the eclectic mix of riders piloting these machines. Young girls and guys, moms and fathers, even some white-haired grandma-types could be seen zipping down the road on their Ducs.
As I neared the track, the procession of motorcycles increased so that we were taking up the entire lane of the road as far as the eye can see. The rumble of hundreds of twin-cylinder engines was so intense that it felt like your heart beat through the handlebar. And the swarm of bikes only got thicker and thicker as we pulled into the track and queued up to get inside. By this time, many had pulled of their helmets and started chatting, yelling, and at times heckling one another amongst the clatter of clutches and rumbling engines. The heat from all the bikes was so intense that it felt like you were in a broiler oven. Thankfully, track workers did their best to get riders through the gates and inside as quickly as possible.
Once inside, it was a sea of red motorcycles parked ever so neatly inline as far as the eye could see. The mechanical melody of the bikes was so loud that you had to speak with a raised voice just to converse with the person standing next to you.
Inside the paddock there was an assortment of action, from organized group rides through the surrounding countryside to music and dancing. Various canopies and displays were set-up which allowed visitors to experience the Ducati brand in unique ways. One area that caught our eye was dedicated to the Monster series of bikes. Inside owners could customize their rides with different paint jobs, body panels and color schemes. Two artists were onsite painting helmets and other bodywork throughout the day.
If you wanted to experience what it’s like to ride a world-famous racetrack like Misano you could sign-up for laps around it for a reasonable fee or even register to compete in Sunday’s Ducati-only racing series aptly named the Desmo Challenge. But for us the real fun was just soaking in the scenery and checking out the smorgasbord of bikes and the people milling about. After hanging in intense mid-day heat for a few hours I headed back to the hotel to take a quick nap in anticipation of a late night.
After dinner I suited up and set out toward Riccione, the Italian version of Daytona Beach. Almost every bike you see is a Ducati. Occasionally you’ll run across another manufacturer’s bike, but for some reason they’re all painted red as if to try and camouflage the fact that it isn’t a Duc.
As opposed to the crowd at Daytona, there were not too many trailer queens at WDW. The consensus was die-hard about riding. There were large clumps of bikes congregating but generally speaking most of the people are actually out riding instead of posing in the parking lot.
Another noticeable difference was how friendly and outgoing society is here. Everyone from teenagers and grandparents to boys and girls were all hanging out with one another enjoying a night on the town. Even the police are cool, turning a blind eye to typical illegal street bike maneuvers such as parking on a sidewalk or doing a wheelie or burn-out.
For as many American-style laws I saw broken I didn't see so much as one tip over, accident, or any other kind of mishap that you see every day at home. And the crazy thing is, the roads in and around Misano are way more dangerous compared to Southern California, with zero run-off room, few stop lights and cars, busses, scooters, bicycles, and motorcycles going in every direction.
I ended up meeting up with my pal, Kevin Allen, a fellow American who works for Italy-based manufacturing conglomerate, Pirelli. He relocated to its headquarters in Milan and made the trek down on his 998 Superbike, which still wears a Georgia license plate.
It was funny how we met up. I was cruising down the main drag and I somehow hear my name over the sound of the bike and the commotion on either side of the road. I look over and there he is eating a scoop of gelato. I pull over and we start chatting at a machine gun-style pace sharing our tales from the last 24 hours. Suddenly this round and well-fed biker gang from Sicily rides by, about 12 of them, all with their motors screaming.
On the side opposite side of the road from us there was a platoon of pretty girls dressed to kill were getting ready to go out for the night. Immediately the Sicilian gang spots them and surrounds them on the sidewalk with their bikes like a scene from The Wild One
. The girls started blushing and tossing their long hair the way girls do when they’re embarrassed. It was entertaining to watch and something you don’t see every day at home.
Minutes later, another biker gang rides by, some of them girls. Kevin and I strap on our helmets and scramble to catch up. So there we are, cruising down the main road adjacent to the beach enjoying a nice midnight cruise in a big pack. Suddenly we come to a stop blocked by posse of drunken guys standing in the middle of the road with beer bottles in hand. They’re all yelling and screaming while we muffle their voices with the sound of our engines. A couple of them motion for me to do a burn out. Not one to let a fellow biker down I do a couple smoky rolling burnouts (I love how easy the Monster 796 is to control at low speeds). The group exploded with cheers and now all of a sudden I was part of this playful mob instigating other riders to stunt. Awesome!
One of the craziest things about riding a motorcycle around Misano is just how slippery the roads are—especially roundabouts and intersections. Maybe it’s the combination of salty ocean air and fluids left behind by the bevy of motorcycles and two-stroke scooters? Even with the modest power output of the Monster 796 it was ridiculously easy to kick out the rear end and leave long darkies when accelerating aggressively in first and sometimes second gear. I've never experienced this sort of thing on any other pavement surface... what a blast! It made me think that maybe this is why a lot of top-level road racers come from this area considering that Valentino Rossi, Marco Simoncelli, Marco Melandri, and Alex de Angelis all grew up around here.
WDW Saturday – Record Turnout and Heat
Just when I’d thought Misano couldn’t possibly fit any more bikes or people inside it, somehow Saturday it did… over 15,000 more. Where it only took a few minutes to pass through the gates yesterday, bikes were packed up against one another in the entry road and overflowing onto the main street. It was by far the most motorcycles, regardless of brand, I’ve seen stuffed into one small area in my entire life. Even crazier was the assortment of machinery, from 1960s and ‘70s-era Ducs with manual kick start levers to about 100 or so Desmosedicis.
Where the day before you could barely talk due to the noise, on Saturday you could barely think and my ears started to hum with the sound of thousands of clutch plates jangling. Saturday was also the hottest day of the week with the thermometer registering in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit with an equally high level of humidity.
To compensate folks were guzzling down giant cups of Nastro Azzurro beer as fast as the bartender could pour them while others doused themselves with water from strategically placed fire hoses. The center of the paddock was roped off and turned into a "sexy bike wash" as announced over the PA by the tan, spiky haired DJ. As you may have guessed, fine Italian chicks soaped down not only the bikes but the rider's as well as the DJ spun beats to the jeers and cheers of the crowd.
Meanwhile, MotoGP riders Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden were joined by World Superbike riders Noriyuki Haga and Michel Fabrizio, plus Ducati’s favorite son, Troy Bayliss for an on track exhibition laps aboard their ultra-exotic racebikes. After dicing around on circuit they hung out in the pits and signed posters, helmets, t-shirts, girl’s chests and anything else that was put in from of them. I was in absolute awe of how excited fans were to meet these guys. It’s incredible the amount of passion Ducati riders have for not only the bikes they pilot but for the racers as well. It’s what makes Ducati owners such a tight knit family.
With the heat from the pavement radiating to an almost unbearable degree I decided to go on a quick ride with some new friends I had met from the U.K. We cruised on down to the beach anxious to jump into the water and cool off for a moment. Just like at the track the beach was completely packed with folks playing volleyball, sun bathing, and relaxing under cabanas enjoying the warm summer weather.
After going for a quick dip it was time to motor back to the track for the Streetfighter Drag Race. As the name implies, World Superbike and MotoGP riders drag raced down Misano’s front straight at the helm of premium S-model Ducati Streetfighters. Each rider was allowed a couple practice runs before facing off head-to-head in an elimination-type format.
It was hilarious to watch these guys try to launch a stock street bike. Considering all the electronic gizmos and launch control systems they are accustomed to, none of them have to manually launch a bike anymore at the start of a race. And you could definitely tell as each and every one of them got horrible starts during their first few practice runs. A few of them almost wheelied over backwards, some just spun the rear tire and went nowhere and a couple almost stalled the bike. It didn’t help that the Streetfighters had the traction control setting cranked up to the max as you could hear the engine struggle to gain revs as it accelerated away. The racers did catch on quick and after a few practice runs they were nailing nearly perfect starts. Guess that’s why they earn the big bucks.
As the guys returned to the starting lane via pit lane some of them were pulling wheelies, rolling burnouts and even endos. After each pass they were getting more and more daring and as soon as Haga had triumphed in the final drag race an impromptu stunt show ensued. It’s impressive how much bike control and raw stunting ability each rider possessed, which proves how talented top-level racers are.
It was almost dinner time as the sun started to set. In what seemed an instant, the paddock was filled with the aroma of grilled food. But before everyone ate, all eyes went toward the main stage where some of the Ducati family, including the racers and head Ducati execs, took to the stage for a few words. Bayliss gave one of the more memorable speeches. He started off speaking Italian, but was so overwhelmed with emotion that he began fumbling his words before reverting back to English not wanting to say anything wrong in translation. He profusely thanked his fans for their support over the years and spoke about how happy he is to be part of the Ducati family. Of all the riders, Bayliss without a doubt received the most applause proving that he remains the people’s champ even though he's retired.
Afterward the real party began when various bands and musical acts took to the stage and started jamming. The craziest part was that even after the sun went down it seemed like there was roughly the same number of people hanging out inside the track as during the day.
Adjacent to the main stage, one pop-tent hosted a mini-rave complete with a DJ, pounding stereo system and assorted flashing lights. It literally felt like you were inside a dance club. Inside there were kids not even 10 years old dancing around with their parents and having a great time. It never ceases to amaze me how “go with the flow” Italian culture is with people not sweating insignificant things and just enjoying life. The track was jam packed until almost midnight before folks finally started to clear out, no doubt to ride or party elsewhere around town. Although I wanted to go out my legs were aching from standing all day and my skin was so sunburned I rode home and passed out as if I was in a coma as soon as my head hit the pillow.
WDW Sunday - A Day of Rest and a Visit to The Doctor’s Office
I assumed that Sunday at WDW would attract even more people, but oddly enough action at the track was far quieter compared to Friday or Saturday. Apparently in Italian culture, Sunday is reserved for spending time at home with the family and even love for Ducati doesn’t reach above one’s own flesh and blood. In a way this made it that much easier to roam around the paddock without having to feel like you were going to get run over by someone's mom riding a Desmosedici. Later that afternoon Kevin and I hit the road back to Bologna. But before we left we decided to pay a visit to the town of Tavuilla where my No. 1 motorcycling hero of all-time, Valentino Rossi, grew up.
(Above ) Gotta love an Italian babe on an 848. (Below) On our way back form WDW we stopped by Valentino Rossi’s hometown of Tavuilla.
The city itself is actually small and looks similar to a farming town you might stumble across while riding through Wisconsin in the summer. Once you’re there however you’ll instantly know you’re in the right place given the Rossi posters in each and every window as well as No. 46 flags flying in the air. We pulled over for a moment to snap some photos of the memorabilia and within minutes another few bikers had pulled in alongside us to do the same. Moments later another fellow from England rolled up in his Ferrari F430 too.
On the way back Kevin gave me the opportunity to pilot his old school red 998 Superbike and wow! Having never ridden this generation bike I was amazed at how far Ducati sportbikes have progressed in the last decade. Where his Ducati felt heavy, turned like a Mack truck and wasn’t by any means easy to ride, the current generations are light years better. It’s really astounding how far high-performance sportbike technology has progressed in such a short amount of time and makes me wonder what Ducati has up its sleeve in the future...
If you’re wishing to experience the ultimate motorcycle rally regardless of the brand or style of bike you ride then you simply must plan a trip to WDW. No other motorcycle event on this planet even comes close. It is 96 hours of relentless partying and organized chaos. From the babes and camaraderie to the fantastic roads to the delectable food and drink, it’s simply the place to be if you’re truly into motorcycles.