5:00 AM – This Morning
It’s way to early to be awake and I’m a bit out of sorts right now. During the past several hours I simply have been unable to sleep very much. So many random thoughts have been running through my mind it’s hard to imagine that it’s already morning. Just about a week and a half ago the Italian Diva sprang it’s second major oil leak in less than a month. In the ten days or so since then it seems that at least in terms of motorcycles I’ve been on a whirlwind ride encompassing just about every emotional facet.
While watching the bike continue to drip oil as it got towed away I couldn’t help but ask myself what else could possible happen?
It was less than a year ago that I started down the Ducatista road. Just 348 days to be exact. (Yeah, I’m odd enough to go back and look that sort of stuff up… don’t ask). During that time a whole heck of a lot has happened, or so it seems to me… While I’ve been busy falling in love with the bikes, the marque and the experience, I’ve had my heart and soul ripped out when the ’03 749 was stolen, had two major oil leaks on the ’04 999, have had the chance to experience a thrilling trackday on the 999 with the CLASS folks, have seen my level and skill skyrocket, and have had the chance to ride both roads I thought I knew and roads I had never seen before. I’ve been filled with equal parts passion, lust, emotional excess, loss, devastation, tragedy, and amazing blood pumping excitement. What other brand could offer such extremes? Longtime Duc owners would probably tell you that this is nothing new. After reading message boards across the ‘net and talking to current and former Ducati owners, there certainly seems to be a distinct love-hate relationship that most folks have with their Ducs.
Yet throughout my journey with the marque – perhaps even love affair – every incident seems to have made the bond between me and the bike stronger. How odd is that?
Whether it’s been a good or bad experience, every moment with the bike has made me feel something. Some sense of emotion or passion. Years of riding BMWs never illicited any sensation on any comparable level. They were absolutely perfect mechanical beasts, but at least for me not nearly as heartfelt. Of course after you spend a few weekends sitting around because your bike is having mechanical issues you logically start to wonder why you should bother with all of this turmoil when you can own a GSXR for less money and in all likely hood have less pitfalls… I suppose it’s only common sense to ask the question. Yet everytime I start to mentally head down that road, I keep coming back to the joy of the Ducati experience. The pure excitement in the way it rides, the way it behaves. It may not be a one-of-a-kind, but it’s certainly not one of several thousand that all look alike. Every time it kicks over something special happens inside me. I don’t know why. It just does. It’s something that feels unique. Perhaps it’s not. Perhaps it is. Yet when I think about it, it works for me. I enjoy it and it means something on a personal level.
I suppose that leads me back to today and this morning in particular. After only ten days, Mike Norman and the folks at Ducati North America along with Jake & the ProItalia boys have pulled off a major miracle as far as I’m concerned. They have managed to get me back on a Ducati… And quickly. Much to my surprise I feel like I’m a six year old waking up on Christmas Day. (Talk about feelings from your youth that you never thought you’d have again…but perhaps that’s for another blog post ) In just a few short hours I’ll be heading off to ProItalia to pick up a brand new ’05 Ducati 999 to replace the ’04.
After all the craziness of the past year I honestly can’t believe that this has happened so fast and so friendly. Everyone involved in the process seemed to want to ‘make it right’. The fact that a major brand has the guts to stand behind their product and replace a bike that had a problem with a brand new bike just blows me away. Maybe I’m a bit jaded, but that sort of respect for the customer seems to have been forgotten in big business these days. Case in point during the past two years I’ve had to deal with a couple of computer purchases where the machines wouldn’t boot out of the box. They were fried before I ever plugged them in. Each one of those experiences was far more annoying even though major computer manufacturers build and sell millions more units then Ducati does. I would think that logic would dictate that it should be much easier to replace a cpu than a motorcycle simply based on the differences in scale. Yet from the first phone call to the last, everyone involved in this process has seemed to get where I was coming from, what had happened and how I felt. If only customer service everywhere was as exceptional as my experience with Ducati of North America & ProItalia, the world would be a much better place IMHO. So while it’s a bit insane that I’ll be breaking in my third Duc in less than a year, I’ve never felt so good about my decision to purchase a Ducati or felt like I was in better hands. From this point forward I will always have a Duc in the stable.
MotorMilt & I arrive at ProItalia just after rush hour dies down. I feel a bit ampped up. On one hand I’m a bit tired of picking up new bikes. On the other hand, does this feeling ever grow old? When we walk into the shop Jake is ready and waiting with all the paperwork. In a way I’ve dreaded this process. After the Insurance fiasco I can’t imagine it’s easy. Turns out I’m wrong. The paperwork gets wrapped up in less than five minutes. No hidden costs or jerking around. I honestly can’t believe that it’s done.
New key in hand, I head over to the parts counter. Spend the next hour and half trying on new helmets. After realizing that I’ve been riding a Ducati for a year now it occurs to me that my current blue & white Arai is around five years old. That seems a touch on the lengthy side from everything I’ve read. So while I don’t really feel like dropping the coin on a new lid, it seems like the prudent thing to do. After a number of attempts with different brands, I decided that even though Arai seems to have altered the RX7 model line it’s probably best to go back into a helmet that I know fits my head shape. Turns out PI only seems to have my size in bright silver. Usually I’m not exactly the most color conscious guy, but the bright silver doesn’t really do much for me. The parts guy (who’s name is either John or Perry but I’m currently blanking on it right now) offers to order whatever color I want.
Testing out the fit of the new lid
Turns out my first two choices are no longer being made. After way too much debate on my part I settle on solid black. Seems safe and easy. I’m also ready to just be done with picking out a helmet. I need a large. PI only has a medium in stock. The part guys (again I aplogize for the lack of the correct name) tells me that the shell size is the same, it’s just the pads inside that are different. I’m a bit uncertain about this, but he offers to swap out the guts of the helmet and custom one up. Ten minutes later I’ve got a new helmet that fits better than my old, feels safer and isn’t giving me a headache. Awesome.
Helmet in hand, I head outside of the shop and check out the new bike. My heart is beating three times as fast as normal. I can’t believe I’m back on a Duc. It’s awesome and I feel incredibly lucky. In an odd twist of fate the new bike is parked next to the old one. Part of me feels a bit bummed… I feel like I’m cheating on my girlfriend. Perhaps I am because I’m done with yellow.
While I’m not normally the most superstitious person in the world, it just seemed like my luck with yellow wasn’t so hot lately. Two yellow bikes going away for two different reasons just seemed like enough of a hint. I really don’t want that third strike if I can help it. Perhaps that’s insane. Obviously this isn’t the most logical reaction and I’ll be the first to admit that this could be entirely a rationalization inside my head, but Ducati & PI were kind enough to indulge me and let me switch over to red anyway. I suspect it’s not the type of request their customer service folks normally get, but it was very cool of them to understand.
Me and the Duc outside of PI
Sitting on the new bike it’s obvious that things have changed from the ’04 model to the ’05. Even though everything is in the same place, the fairing feels substantially larger. I had read that the windscreen was taller, but sitting on the bike for the first time it’s more noticeable than I would have thought. The mirrors feel about an inch or two further out. Visibility seems to be seriously improved over the ’04 model. Turning the bike over for the first time, the engine roars to life and my heart just kicks into another gear. I knew I missed being on the bike, but I had no idea how much. With the exception of our trackday and two weekends ago, MotorMilt and I haven’t been regularly riding for about two months due to weather and repairs. It’s awesome to finally feel like that’s all in the past.
Heading out, it’s clear that more has changed on the ’05 model than just the fairing. The engine feels very different. I can only open it up to 6,000 rpms (here we go with the break-in stuff again ) but the thing just snaps. Seems much more powerful in perhaps a more meaningful real-world way. The first two thousand rpms are pretty bumpy, but from two to six it’s twice as linear as the ’04. The bike just pops from two to six almost instantly. Riding home it occurs to me that this must by why people bought the ‘S’ model. I’m not entirely sure how they have managed to make what already felt like a rocketship even faster, but they have. Damn I love Italian engineering.
Around 1:30 PM
We get back to the westside and I’m jonesing for a ‘real’ ride. It’s just way to beautiful of a day in LA to ignore. Way to many stars seem to have aligned today. The weather is perfect. Picking up the bike went super smoothly. Life seems very, very good… And besides who wouldn’t want to rush out to ride their Italian Diva? Doesn’t take much to convince MotorMilt to go along with my half-assed plan. Ten minutes later we’re heading up the coast towards the Santa Monica Mountains. Amazingly I feel instantly comfortable with the bike. It just sings and I feel like I’m one with it. Even though the tires are new and need to be scuffed in, the bike already feels very planted. After reading the Ducati website last night, I know it’s gotten lighter but I’m genuinely shocked at how much nimbler it feels. And that’s just on Highway-1.
When we hit Las Floras Canyon the bike feels twice as quick. Flickability has a new meaning. I jump around between 1st, 2nd and 3rd for most of the way up, constantly trying to keep it around five and half in the rpms. Everything feels very smooth. Out of all three Ducati’s I’ve now broken in during the past year, this one feels the most solid right off the showroom floor. The transmission feels much more certain. Hundreds of times better IMHO. Even though I’m not revving as high as I normally do, I still seem to be going at a pretty good clip. To his credit MotorMilt does a pretty good job of riding his ride, but still keeping up. Course I think the two new stop signs from the winter rain damage help out .
At the top of the hill, MotorMilt says I look very comfortable. I certainly feel that way. He says it looks like the ’05 has more low end grunt given the way I’m riding. I’m pretty sure I agree with him, but I’m not 100% certain. We hang a right and eventually work our way over to Schueren. While the tires are getting nicely scuffed in, the brakes still don’t feel all the way there. On the last two Ducs they seemed to hit their max power once I had around 150 miles on the bikes. I’m at roughly fifty miles, so as much as I’d like to head down Piuma Canyon that seems a touch tighter than I think I want to deal with until the brakes have a bit more grab in them.
Schueren turns out to be a fantastic idea. It’s a short little jaunt between Las Floras and the intersection of Stunt Road and Saddle Peak. Six or seven corners that aren’t twisties and not quite sweepers. Somewhere in between. The Duc feels incredibly planted as I make my way from one end to the other. At the top of the hill, we take a ten minute breather at the usual pull-off spot. At this point I’m completely floored. Life just does not get better nor does the bike. This is awesome.
While we’re off the bikes, I snap a couple of picts and take a look at the new fairing. Side by side it’s extremely obvious how much has changed. I had assumed that the new fairing simply didn’t have the upper air vents. The new one is much larger and a bit lower in it’s stance. The ’04 seems more architectural with the extra vents and more angle appearance.
After the break we head down Stunt. It seems like I haven’t ridden this route in a very long time. The road is ridable, but not exactly clear. There’s a lot of damage from the rainy season and CalTrans has done a pretty poor job of fixing it. In several places I hit bumps that didn’t exists before. The asphalt patch jobs have raised the road surface over the cracks about an inch and a half higher than the rest of the road. I’m doing about fifty or sixty at this point. Pretty sure if it was any faster I’d be airborne after hitting one of these bumps. Get the feeling that while heading up to the top of the mountains is as fast as ever, the way down this summer is going to be a bit slower.
Once we’re down the hill, we make our way through the first half of Mullhulland and hit the Deli for a late lunch. At this point it’s clear that this is just one of those days that has come together in a big way. The weather is fantastic. Warm, but not hot. Little to no wind. Almost empty canyons. Views after every corner. I just feel so fuck’n lucky to be out riding again.
After lunch I ask MotorMilt to switch bikes with me. At first he seems a bit hesitant. Like somehow this will spoil my fun. But I need a reality check. I can’t fathom that the ’05 feels so different. It must be in my head. After awhile he gives in and agrees. Of course I’m pretty sure that he’s wanted to give it a whirl all day, so this isn’t a tremendous shock. He’s just being a great parent, being happy for his kid.
On the ’04 I instantly recognize the difference in the engine. It’s nowhere near as linear as the ’05. I hate to admit this to myself because I already feel guilty enough after having picked up the ’05 – but from 1 to 6 thousand rpms the ’04 lugs in comparison. The new power plant is simply a massive improvement on an already awesome motorcycle. Since MotorMilt’s bike is broken in, when we hit Mullhulland I’m able to let it out. Man it’s nice to be able to do that. Hearing the engine kick it up a notch around seven and half on the tach simply makes my soul sing. MotorMilt disappears behind me and the canyons feel as friendly as ever. His new tread has about two hundred and some odd miles on it. I never thought I’d be able to tell the difference between relatively fresh tires, but his have far more grip. Mine are nowhere near scuffed up enough yet. After we cross over Las Virgines, we take another breather at the overlook.
First thing that MotorMilit says to me is that he loves the new engine. Apparently I’m not insane. The bike really does feel different. He seems extremely impressed with how solid it feels. I have to smile. It’s just glorious to be out here today. I tell him that his bike feels really good and he chuckles. “I knew the reason you wanted to ride it was to get above six”.
By the time we get home I’m flat out amazed at how much different and dare I say, better the ’05 feels. It’s got more power. It feels lighter. It seems faster turning into corners. The red frame and blacked out wheels and exhaust look awesome. The new fairing seems to cut down on the wind resistance while riding… And the mirrors actually seem to work. I feel so fortunate to have had things workout in such a magnificent way. It certainly wasn’t a heck of a lot of fun having to go through the whole oil leak ordeal, but thankfully it has all worked out above and beyond any of my expectations. The Ducati folks simply rock.