Back in 2014 the planning started for Leod’s third “Track & Tour” destination. We had the basic requirements. We had to focus on the authentic experiences on challenging backroads. We had to get some track time on a famous course, preferably a MotoGP track and there had to be a Ducati element to it. Italy however was not like other destinations. Suffice to say we knew what ingredients we wanted to make it a Leod “Track & Tour” but we didn’t know how to cook it, let alone what the final product would taste like. Well it’s a standard part of our menu now and it is very popular.
Only an Italian can do it
Italian culture is a national treasure. It’s the source of Italy’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. It’s why Italian design is sought after around the world but it’s also why things can take a frustrating long amount of time to get done. The Germans have a procedure. The Spanish seem exist on “it’s good enough”. The Aussies don’t always know what they are doing but they are proud to get it done anyway. The Italians need to feel good about something or they aren’t as interested. Food, sex, art, friendship, love and passion of all kinds drive these people. It is often said that Americans live to work while Italians work to live. That means that one way to get things done is to bring a little “life” into an Italians work. This a country of relationships. In a world where favors and jokes drive people more than money or pride, you need an Italian to get the job done.
Enter Enrico our man in Rome. Besides knowing the best backroads in Italy, Enrico used to produce TV commercials. He knows all about schedules and logistics and planning. More importantly he also knows how to create and maintain relationships with his fellow Italians. How to get a special favor from the hotel. How to joke with the waiter and find out the best dish on the menu. How to work even the toughest gate keepers in Ducati with charm to get our clients something no one else gets. For this you need an Italian who knows how to make people feel good. Enrico isn’t just an entertaining part of our Italy tours, without Enrico we would not get the authentic Italian experience. In a world where some tour companies will let a Russian give you a tour of Spain, we know better. When it comes to Italy, only an Italian can show it to you right.
Hot priests of Rome
For 14 thousand years people have been living in Rome. The cycles of history repeat and it’s sometimes a wonder that remnants of the past remain as each successive generation puts it’s on mark on the city. It is however those remnants that tourists come to see. Leod Escapes as a brand has an aversion to tourist traps but the spectacle of Rome is worth wading through the tacky to witness the amazing. For over a 1000 years Rome and mostly the Catholic church has been honing it’s skills at creating tourist/pilgrim traps. You have to hand it to them they are really good at it. The Baroque and Renaissance cathedrals still work their magic on visitors today. By selling “indulgences” and using “relics” to attract pilgrims for centuries, Rome in particular has financed one of the most impressive collections of art and architecture in the world. As a track riding adrenaline junky, churches and ancient monuments may not be your thing but it is really worth it to arrive an extra day or two early and take in this incredible city. This is also a great city to pick a shady spot and watch the cycles of life unfold. You’ll quickly notice the business of the church means hundreds of visiting priests and nuns from all over the world are a whole separate market that the city has learned to cater to. Our favorite evidence of this is the “Priests of Rome Calendar” available at many of the generations old souvenir stands. It is very tasteful, very professional, and gayer than pink suede. It’s also so ubiquitous that it’s pretty clear the church’s stance on homosexuality is certainly evolving with the times. You are bound to build up an appetite doing a lot of walking around the “Eternal City.” Don’t worry, Enrico wouldn’t dare let you eat where tourists eat. His family has lived in Rome for 7 generations. In the evening you will dine like a Roman.
Riding through little stories
Getting off the beaten path is what we do on every tour but the results are not the same. In Australia we feel like we are on a journey through a barely tamed wilderness. In the Alps we’re dropped into the set of a fantasy movie. On our Italy tour it’s a romance novel. This tour is not about grand vistas of vast wilderness but the tales of peoples lives who have lived in these little towns for centuries. You’re riding past old walled cities, vineyards, farms linked together over rolling hills. It’s not just the old and the quaint but the flare and character of the Italians. Everywhere you see signs of a passionate life, lived through tragedy and joy. The curves of the centuries get repaved, the same stories get retold with modern props but it’s still Italy.
Vale! Vale! Vale!
A habit for enjoying the moment is no more evident than watching MotoGP at some small little cafe in Italy. We do this every year and it always a memorable moment. A patched wifi connection to a laptop, a video cable plugged into a big screen TV and we’ve created a local event in a small village. Sure you’ve watched MotoGP on your computer or maybe with some friends at an accommodating sports bar. Now try watching it with a bunch of passionate Italians in some little bar in a mountain village somewhere between Sienna and Bologna. Yes it’s fun, now imagine what happens when Valentino Rossi wins. Visting motorcyclists supply the entertainment with a laptop and a MotoGP account. The little cafe serves up the priceless atmosphere. Something that is only possible when you have a charismatic local Italian guide.
Watching passion being built
If you are reading this, chances are you’ve ridden more than a few bikes. You know some have character, a personality that an experienced rider can feel. Late at night when Italian engineers and designers are arguing over wine, I feel certain that someone puts down their glass and asks the question, “Yes but will it be fun?” Then a crucial design is made. Only the Italians would ask this and that’s why I think an Italian bike is often more than just a machine, it’s something riders love. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times when you hate it but there’s no doubt this is a machine you feel. No place exemplifies that more than a little factory in a small industrial district outside Bologna. Even with Audi’s cold hand on the purse strings Ducati is still very Italian. The factory tour is a nice mix of facts and deft public relations spin. The lines are technically interesting to watch but nothing really hits you until one by one each bike is rolled into the dyno. When it’s fired up for the first time you think of the future that lies ahead for this bike. You realize you’re watching someone’s baby being born right there. The miles of exhilaration that this one machine will bring. The joy someone will experience just looking at it in their garage. This is a special moment for a motorcyclist. The Italian passion of this relatively small motorcycle producer makes the Ducati brand is extremely powerful. The race department doesn’t exist just to drive innovation either, it also exists because to an Italian, winning races is really really fun.
Misano versus Mugello
Both of these are Italian MotoGP tracks, which means the pavement is superb, the safety standards are top notch and the pit facilities are excellent. Misano has the honor of being named after Marco Simoncelli while Mugello is just flat out renowned period. Misano has the bonus of being right on the Adriatic coast so you get to stay in a beach resort while you are there. The final plus of Misano is Valentino’s home town of Tavullia is just down the road and we can include it on the tour. Mugello as a track is more beautiful and due to it’s elevation changes is a bit more fun to ride. The point is neither is a disappointing option, so at Leod we choose which ever one is the more convenient time for the tour.
Dario Marchetti’s Red Pageant
It’s amazing how much has been written about the Ducati Ride Experience both by Ducati and by reviewing press yet people still ask a lot of questions about how it works. This is probably because for the most part Ducati looks at the DRE as an engaging branding experience and journalist are looking to please the Ducati PR department. First off yes it is awesome and yes it is expensive but we feel that to come to Italy and ride a Ducati Sportbike on an Italian track with a bunch of Italians is about as authentic as it gets. We’ve run with both the “Track Warm-Up” and the “Track EVO” events. The “Track EVO” event is supposed to be for more advanced riders but because people are generally picking an event that suits their calendar rather than ability the events end up being pretty much the same experience for our group. The “Track Warm-Up” event means you spend the afternoon before the event doing training drills and getting used to the bike. While the value of the drills for improving your skills could be debated the drills also serve another purpose. The instructors running the drills are taking note of your performance and putting you into the appropriate group. How these guys can gauge a riders’ ability to handle a Panigale at speed just by watching them fuddle about on rough parking lot pavement around cones is beyond me but they manage to do it.
The next morning the real fun begins. There’s the big intro as to who the guest instructors will be. Lots of minor champions and usually one or two big champions will be on hand. Get passed by Carlos Checa or be lectured about your braking technique by Andrew Pitt or realize the guy behind you in turn 5 is Michele Pirro. These are fan moments only Ducati serves up and they are damned cool. After some very basic classroom instructions that feels like it’s been edited heavily by lawyers you are assigned with four or five other riders to your instructor. Finally it’s time to get a feel for what the Panigale was really made for. The bike is torturous at parking lot speeds but once on the track it is absolutely brilliant. Your instructor takes the first session to show you the proper lines. On each lap a different student swaps in directly behind the instructor to see exactly where to put the bike in each turn. Then it’s time one by one for a student to take the lead and try to replicate the lines. Session after session goes this way all day with your top level coach giving personal input on each student on how to improve. If this sounds like you are trapped in a slow group think again. The groups are very well matched together and abilities are pretty close. Besides if you are going a tad slower than your top pace then there’s no excuse for you missing an apex is there? Being required to slow a bit makes you practice the nuances until it’s your turn to impress your teacher… or completely blow the turn. Given the expense of repairing a Ducati and the low 500€ deductible it is remarkable how fast you’ll find yourself going in a rather short amount of time. It’s also surprising how few bikes do go down during the whole day.
This is a very Ducati day. It’s like an upscale track school with attractive hostesses and espresso. I’m sure the DRE is pitched to the accountants as a marketing event to drive bike sales and to be honest it does. Leod Escapes clients have come away from the DRE with nothing but praise for the bike and more than one has gone straight home and purchased one. It is however much more than that. The DRE imparts passion into the participants which can not be measured with marketing surveys or spreadsheets. It’s one of those infectious experiences that people won’t stop talking about for months. The optional photo and video package however will keep riders social media well supplied for at least two years. We’ve also seen the photos be very effective on dating sites.
The four hour ritual
Even with the increased pace of modern life the importance of savoring the moment still reigns supreme in Italy This of course applies to food. What passes for pasta in most of the world seems like overcooked plastic mush once you’ve eaten in Italy. We do take a few opportunities to sample Italy’s upscale restaurants but the quality found in an unpretentious cafe is often the real surprise. The nature of the ingredients and Italian culinary skill makes absurdly simple dishes here a revelation of taste. Italy is a place where you are always tempted to linger longer in a place than you should. The culture demands that you slow down and enjoy what is before you. This means it is not just the food itself but the time taken to savor it that matters. Italian eateries don’t operate on high client turn around rushing people in and out. A meal particularly in the evening is a time to relax, converse, drink wine, enjoy some food, drink more wine, laugh, enjoy another course and then repeat. This means any dinner in even the most modest Italian restaurant is not just a meal it’s a social event. It’s a four hour ritual that you get used to very quickly.
Life as it should be ridden
We rip up back roads following Enrico, who in classic Italian character sometimes smokes while he rides. We occasionally go ahead of Enrico and push the performance of our Ducati or BMW street bikes to even higher speeds. We’ll dodge notoriously fast Italian drivers while navigating cobblestone streets. We’ll rail around a MotoGP track following champions and push our abilities. These sound like heart pounding moments with people seething with excitement and they are. The irony is of all our tours, this one is the most relaxing, because it’s Italian.