In a quiet corner of suburban Bologna, there stands a red palace of speed – a home for a symphony of engineering. Recently, I had the rare chance to tour its halls.
During a recent press event in Italy, international motorcycle maker Ducati invited reporters into the dedicated museum housed within the company’s factory and corporate grounds. Covering Ducati’s history, consumer products and racing legacy, the “Museo” is hallowed ground to lovers of the Italian sport bike lover.
The museum reminds the motorcycle lover in attendance that Ducati’s now legendary brand started out without actually making bikes. The firm got its start pre-World War 2 making smaller machines such as radios, razors, cameras and projectors. Of course, during WW2, Ducati’s home country backed the wrong side. As a result, it’s factory was bombed flat by the Allies.When the smoke cleared, Ducati reestablished itself making engines for pedal bikes. The popular Cucciolo M55 four cycle engine led to Ducati’s Cucciolo 48, the company’s first home grown motorized street bike. Following the success of the 48, Ducati would begin building racing motorcycles in 1954.
The museum includes the major stops along the way from the 1950s up to Ducati’s elite sport motorcycles of today. The most famous and beloved models on display include the 250 Twin of the 1960s, the 900 Supersport of the 1970s and the 916 of the 1990s.
Those bikes were international success stories, but the Ducati Museum embraces the occasional failure, too. For example, the Apollo engine was built for bigger cruisers in the hope that Ducati might compete with Harley-Davidson to make motorcycles for American police forces. Unfortunately, the engine and its resulting bike were so heavy that speed was all but destroyed. Just as Harley-Davidson could never really embrace making racing sport bikes, it seems Ducati needed to stay away from the big cruisers and touring models.
While the museum kicks off its exhibits with Ducati’s consumer history, it wraps up with racing greatness. A sort of hall of fame built in the shape of a motorcycle helmet documents the accomplishments of Mike Hailwood, Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss and Casey Stoner.
Sadly, there’s no sign of Valentino Rossi as he never won much while with Ducati MotoGP. That blip in the company’s racing history is brushed aside once you behold the expansive trophy case waiting for exiting visitors.While Bologna’s famous food or its medieval downtown piazza might rank amongst the city’s top tourist attractions, gearheads and motorcycle lovers must make a pilgrimage to Ducati’s home for a stroll through its two wheeled history. There are few places on Earth that celebrate bikes, bikers and riding much too fast than the Ducati grounds.
For a closer look at motorcycle history, check out the Ducati Museum Gallery: