One reason people don’t ride motorcycles is the fear of killing themselves.
I used to scoff at that idea. Not any more, though.
In my previous job as a professional courier, I rode my share of motorcycles, but all were workhorses — mostly 500cc street-legal machines that made it easy to ride up and down stairs without scraping parts.
When I quit being a courier, I bought my first personal motorcycle, a utilitarian BMW allroad model. No top speed to brag about, but she carried me for ten years and more than 120,000 kilometers.
As I park my Bavarian Brute next to the sleek Ducati, I can’t help to admire the elegance of Italian design.
I wasn’t looking to replace my BMW, but when I got an invitation from my local Ducati dealership to test ride the newest Multistrada, I couldn’t resist. Ducati built their reputation on racing bikes, but they were breaking into the allroad market and I was curious about what they had to offer.
As I park my Bavarian Brute next to the sleek Ducati, I can’t help but admire the elegance of Italian design. The blood and ivory paint scheme, the broad tank tapering down towards the engine, the padded leather seat, and the golden suspension winking in the sunlight…
I see my reflection in the gleaming shop window. My fly-speckled helmet and sun-faded jacket, my muddy ballistic pants and scuffed boots. Gear that fits with the dirty and dented BMW, but not the gleaming Multistrada.
I enter the immaculate showroom filled with red and yellow racing bikes buffed to a lustre that makes me feel even more like a hobo. The dealer looks me up and down, but before I can say anything he tells me how glad he is to see someone show up for a test ride wearing more than shorts and flip-flops. We go outside and he explains the bike’s features.
When he finishes his explanation, I press the starter button and shiver with delight. Unlike my BMW’s boxer twin engine — which sounds and shakes like a lawnmower — the desmodromic valves of the Multistrada’s engine tinkle rhythmically like coins in a blender. While the engine warms up, I do my pre-ride check, give the dealer a thumbs up, and ride off.
After taking the Multistrada through the agility tests — figure-eights, tight circles, emergency stops, slalom — I’m feeling confident.
I connect my custom-molded ACS musician’s In-Ear Monitors to my tiny blue 2GB iPod Shuffle that I use for fitness as well as motorcycling. I realize I forgot to change the playlist from “Sports” to “Riding,” as Steve Hackett’s Ace of Wands comes on — an uptempo symphonic rock piece that urges me to crank the throttle.
Riding the industrial sprawl, I resist the temptation to speed. The Ducati corners like it’s on rails, but despite my growing confidence in the machine’s capabilities, I keep my pace under the speed limit.
I merge with the weekend traffic and weave my way to the fast lane
As the whacka-whacka guitar intro of Van Halen’s “Atomic Punk” fills my head, I pick up the pace and David Lee Roth’s shriek segues into Led Zeppelin’s strutting “Black Dog.”
Bobbing my head with the chorus, I merge with the weekend traffic and weave my way to the fast lane, where the Ducati takes mere seconds to get up to speeds that could make me lose my license.
Led Zeppelin tapers off and Deep Purple’s “Fireball” comes on.
Cranking the throttle while Jon Lord furiously pounds his Hammond organ, I race through traffic lights turning green, hook a left and pass under the highway, finding more winding roads through harvest-heavy farmland.
With the Multistrada purring contently between my legs, I cross a wooden bridge onto a forest road so narrow that cars have to ride the shoulder to pass each other. Sunlight pierces the foliage overhead and dapples the fragrant vegetation as Deep Purple gives way to Black Sabbath and “Paranoid” fills my head, Ozzy wailing over the stomping guitar riff. I leave the trees behind and find myself on a stretch of spanking new asphalt road that winds through a meadow.
There’s not a soul in sight, so I stand on the pegs and pull the Multistrada into a controlled low-speed wheelie. The fat rear tire grabs the virgin asphalt and I lift the front wheel with agile ease. After a few more wheelies I drop down and speed along the smooth pitch black asphalt road, accelerating through the curves as distorted guitars announce “The Phoenix” by The Cult. I open the throttle wide and lean the Ducati deeper into every new curve in the road.
As the shrieking guitars reach a crescendo, I race through another silky-smooth curve and see that the road is swallowed up by a sandy ditch a few meters ahead.
It’s too short to brake. Only one thing left to do.
Don’t crash, don’t crash.
Don’t crash, don’t crash, a voice screams in my head as I stand up on the pegs and pop a wheelie so my rear tire will hit the ditch first as I leave the road.
I scream along with the guitars as the spinning rear wheel hits the ground and throws up a peacock’s tail of sand. The front wheel slams down and I lean back to prevent the front from burrowing in the sand and throwing me. Full on the rear brake I skid over the packed sand and almost pitch over, but I manage to stop without dropping the Multistrada as the engine shuts off.
I yank the plug of my In-Ears from the iPod, cutting off Ian Astbury mid-shriek. Blessed silence fills my head. My legs shake and my back is coated with sweat.
I nod but tell him I’ll never buy one to feed my Inner Hooligan.
When my heart rate slows back down to normal and the shakes dissipate, I restart the Ducati and ride the Multistrada gingerly back to the road.
I continue without music, just to make sure I won’t get in over my head again. At the dealership I don’t get any comments on the sand covering the once-gleaming motorcycle. The dealer asks me if I enjoyed riding the Multistrada. I nod but tell him I’ll never buy one to feed my Inner Hooligan.
Too easy to lose my license. Or my life.
My own motorcycle is sluggish compared to the feisty Multistrada, but it feels like home as it carries me back into the city sedately, even while listening to Rammstein’s “Keine Lust.” I enter my apartment, peel myself out of my sweat-soaked ballistic gear, and sink into a hammock chair with a cold bottle of Lurisia Chinotto, while listening to Ennio Morricone’s Once Upon A Time In The West soundtrack over my Stax electrostatic headphones. There are less risky ways to enjoy Italian taste than racing around on a Ducati.