Ducati Test Rides and Revelations
This whole thing – test riding other Ducatis – started because my friend Michael practically wrestled me to the ground and forced me to ride his Panigale.
He’d ridden behind me a few times and determined that I am a stronger rider than I believed myself to be. Make no mistake, I do feel confident in my riding, but not so much that I have a false sense of bravado. It was truly a high honor and strong validator of my skills when he insisted on making me ride his incredible machine. Not gonna lie, I was scared at first. It was so much more machine than I was used to. But when I was done, it put a huge smile on my face and it got me to thinking: it’s time I expanded my range of skills and possible motorcycle options. The next weekend I headed off to my local Ducati dealer in search of enlightenment. After spending about 30 minutes each on two brand new 2017 Ducatis last Saturday, I’ve come away with a greater understanding about motorcycles in general and learned something valuable about myself in the process:
- Motorcycle models are designed differently for a reason, and
- I am a hell of a rider.
I’ve reached the 2nd anniversary of bringing my Scrambler Ducati Icon model home (lovingly dubbed the Falcon) and in the past 2 years I’ve put over 20,000 miles on it in a wide variety of conditions, both on road and off. It’s been an incredible bike for me. I’m as in love with it today as I was the day I drove it off the lot, perhaps more so since we are now so intimately acquainted. But after my first test ride of the day on the new Scrambler Ducati Café Racer a light bulb went off in my head alerting me to the possibility that I have underestimated and undersold my own riding ability. Shortly after heading out on the Supersport S a little later I was practically banging my head and laughing because I finally fully grasped for the first time that I’m a much more accomplished rider than I had previously given myself credit for. AND I understood that I’ve literally been forcing my bike to perform maneuvers it was never designed to make with any kind of grace. It’s obviously capable of corner carving at the speeds with which I tackle them but certainly not without a great deal of effort and manipulation on my part. But, like the bumblebee who has no idea that it’s not supposed to be able to fly considering its design, I had no clue my bike is not supposed to flit around the twisties at high speeds alongside my more experienced fellow riders on R1s, GSX-Rs, Panigales and the like. I’ve just figured out how to make it work.
My sweet husband Neel, who is my main riding partner, has been signing my praises for a long time and I have poo-pooed him and downplayed his compliments because, while I feel like I’m a strong and intuitive rider, I wasn’t ready to claim any sort of proficiency in the presence of our more experienced riding associates. I mean come on, how can a 50-year old woman who’s only been riding motorcycles for 3 years, with her only formal training being 2 MSF courses and no track time, consider herself to have legit riding prowess? In the spirit of full disclosure, however; I am compelled to reveal that I’m an experienced and excellent rider – of horses! I grew up riding and breaking horses on a cattle farm. I rode barrels and other competitive gaming events and in general my ass has seen more time on the back of a horse than most people’s asses will see in a lazy boy in a lifetime. And my ass has seen a lot of time on the ground from being unseated by a mistake in my reaction to, or misjudgment of, the next twisting buck of a young colt or by not paying attention to a perceived threat which might cause a horse to suddenly shy away. We had lots of horses to ride and by switching mounts often I felt that I became a better overall rider. A person can appear to be a top rider on one horse, but if that’s their only horse, they’ll get lazy and complacent. That rider will learn that particular horse’s habits and quirks and adapt to their way of going. But throw that rider on a different horse with different conformation and mannerisms, and you’ll quickly find out if that rider has real skill or is in fact a one-trick pony themselves. To be a better horseman, a person must be able to sense subtle changes in their mount, observe upcoming obstacles, and make lightning fast and equally subtle changes to their body positioning to avoid a disaster or to simply elevate the quality of the ride in any particular situation. Not unlike riding a motorcycle.
I’d like to think that a lifetime of riding different horses has prepared me for the world of riding motorcycles. I seek to continually better my riding skills – with horses in my past and now, in motorcycling. Every ride is an opportunity to test and stretch my abilities or those of my mount; finding little maneuvers that work and revealing ones that don’t. Even short trips to the store gives me opportunities to build on my foundation and practice things; more time in the saddle hopefully translates to faster skill acquisition.
But I’ve spent 2 solid years on the same mount. I’ve only occasionally ridden a couple of other bikes, but not often enough for my liking. I’ve been worried I’ve gotten lazy and complacent even though I work hard at challenging myself on my Scrambler. When my local dealer got in a couple of demo models of interesting brand new bikes, I eagerly took advantage of the opportunity to ride them. I’ve sort of been thinking for a while that I need a second bike to handle the sport bike riding I like to pretend that mine does. Having another bike would save wear and tear on my Scrambler, which is set up perfectly for my long-distance riding on variable terrain, and I am at a point to which I feel I could give quality riding time to more than one bike. I know there is no one bike which is fully capable of peak performance in multiple riding disciplines, although, I must say that my Scrambler is as well suited to being a one-size-fits-all bike as just about anything out there is. If I could only have one bike, this is the one for me. It does a variety of things quite well but can’t really complete with style-specific bikes when pushed to their limits. So my search for a sport(ier) second bike commenced with a trip to Garcia Moto last weekend.
First up on my agenda was a ride on the Scrambler Ducati Café Racer. This one seemed like the logical choice to ride first as I feel I’m more than qualified to sort out the subtle nuances that Ducati incorporated in the new model. To quote the words of my salesman and good friend Steve Rakes, it felt “intimately familiar yet seductively new”. I had already done a bunch of homework on its specs and done a side-by-side comparison between it and my 2015 Icon so I had some head knowledge of the differences. At first glance it looks like the same bike with some cosmetic changes but if you dig into the finer details you’ll see they’ve made seemingly small changes which effectively equates to significant changes in how the bike handles and performs. I discovered within a few blocks of driving off that the smaller front wheel, shorter rake, shorter trail, lower clip-ons, and higher seat, all combine to give this bike great advantages over the Icon for carving corners. This bike practically BEGS for an opportunity to dodge and weave. I hardly moved my butt out of the seat in the turns when taking some of my favorite twisty roads at the same speeds I normally ride. In comparison, I have to glide from side to side on my Icon, never really sitting down, and hanging off like a GP rider to sling it around tight turns at speed. Combine the more aggressive riding position, greater agility, and more user-friendly levers with the new fuel mapping and smooth-as-silk throttle response, and we have a wonderfully refreshing new animal in the Café Racer. It’s so different that I could EASILY own this bike as my second ride regardless of the fact that it looks so much like my main ride. However, because of the more aggressive riding position, I wouldn’t keep this bike as my #1 all around rider. I still enjoy having my Icon for that.
Second up was the Ducati SuperSport S. While I had been marginally interested in it prior to riding the Café Racer, I was now only riding it as a matter of due diligence. I was THAT enamored with the Café! I don’t have much sport bike experience so it was a little intimidating at first. But when I threw a leg over it and felt the (slightly) more upright position than say a Panigale or R1, I felt more at ease. In fact, just sitting on the SuperSport S without even moving felt very comfy and cozy. While the cockpit was gently spooning me, I fired it up and its purring motor whispered to me to drop into gear and go. I took it out around the same roads as the other ride (roads I’m intimately familiar with) and again, within blocks I could feel the differences between this bike, the Café, and my bike. I instantly fell in love with the way the tank and seat formed a cockpit to hold me securely in place. And again, that smooth-as-silk throttle response which is so different from my clunky, on-off throttle, was a pure delight to roll on. BTW, I was in touring mode and kept it there – I can only wonder what race mode feels like. The S model comes equipped with a quick shifter which could spoil a person in no time. I acclimated to it so fast that had to keep reminding myself to pull in the clutch at stops! The Öhlins suspension is a highly coveted upgrade to the Scrambler suspension and boy did I feel it! Not a single bump threatened to unseat me. Speaking of which, in the turns I never once moved out of my seat to sling into a corner. It is THAT smooth and confidence inspiring. So much so, that several times I checked my speed thinking that I must have backed way off and must be only going 35 but in fact the speedo read 65. (I NOW get why my friends can go soooo much faster in the chicanes without looking like they’re expending any effort at all. While they’re seemingly putting through the turns I’m performing gymnastics just to keep up!!) Many people have reviewed that they hate the digital bar tach, but I found it to be in the perfect position, just in my periphery so I never had to take my eyes off the road to check RPM- which I was doing often. I then took the SuperSport S on the highway to see how it performed there and it was nothing less than stellar in my opinion. I left the adjustable windscreen in its lowest position and was quite comfortable with the amount of wind blast but I should have raised it to the higher position to see how it felt. My bad. When I wheeled back into the dealership, I honestly was ready to plop down a deposit on it if it weren’t for one major drawback: the inferno-like heat coming off the engine scorched my inner thighs. The heat was so blisteringly painful I was almost teary the whole ride! That was kind of a deal breaker and I’m not sure how to overcome the flame-thrower effect. The rest of the ride was so incredibly enjoyable though, so if anyone can offer a viable solution I might consider going into serious debt to buy the SuperSport S!
So, there you have it. Getting out of my comfort zone yielded valuable revelations about myself, my personal motorcycle, and the prospective ones I rode. That little exercise gave me a greater appreciation for, and inventory of, my current riding skills. Now I also understand more about how different motorcycles are supposed to perform according to their designed purpose. I’m making a vow to test ride many different brands and styles of motorcycles this year, as I feel much more confident in my ability to make an educated and informed decision!