There are a few things which every fan of motorcycle racing feels they must do when they visit Italy. Visit Mugello, ride the Futa pass from Borgo San Lorenzo to Bologna, and head to Borgo Panigale to take the Ducati factory tour, ending with a wander around the Museo Ducati. That is what turns a trip to Italy into a motorcycling pilgrimage.
For those who cannot make it to Italy, they can still take a virtual tour on Ducati's website. While that gives you a general idea of the bikes in the museum, it serves mainly to whet your appetite for more. To help satiate that appetite, a book was published this year featuring 25 of the motorcycles contained in the Ducati museum. Titled 'Museo Ducati, Six decades of classic motorcycles of the official Ducati Museum', the book was put together in close collaboration with the curator of the Ducati museum, Livio Lodi.
Lodi has been instrumental in the creation and evolution of the museum, researching the history of the factory, seeking out and collecting rare parts and machinery, and putting it on display for the general public. Lodi has a wealth of knowledge and a passion for both Ducati and history, and it shows through in the museum.
That passion also shines through in the book. Chris Jonnum, former editor of Road Racer X and Ducati press officer, spent time interviewing the museum's curator Lodi while photographer Peter Harholdt carefully photographed 25 of the bikes in the Ducati museum. After a foreword from Lodi himself, and an introduction by Jonnum, each of the 25 bikes in the book are given several pages, containing photos, background information and their place in Ducati's history.
As the purpose of the Ducati museum is to showcase Ducati's racing pedigree, all but one of the bikes in the book is a racing motorcycle. Starting with the 'Cucciolo', Ducati's first powered two wheeler (an engine kit sold to dealers to fix to bicycle frames), the book records the history of the Italian factory's development through each of the bikes featured. From the introduction of the bevel drive, the first use of the desmodromic valve system on the 250 Mark 3D Desmo, the first L twin engine in the 500GP, the 600 Pantah which introduced the trellis frame, through to the championship winning bikes of Raymond Roche, Doug Polen, Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss and Neil Hodgson. The Desmosedici GP bikes are also well represented, including the first GP3 of Loris Capirossi, Casey Stoner's championship-winning GP7, and Nicky Hayden's 2010 Desmosedici, which used the carbon fiber frameless design now in use in Ducati's Panigale 1199.
Each bike is shown in side profile, as well as a number of detail shots. The photos are selected to show the most important technical details, but also to showcase the elegance and beauty of the bikes. There is a brief summary of the technical details of each bike, as well as a few paragraphs explaining the history and the impact of the bike. Central to each text is why each bike mattered, and how they impacted Ducati's history and future development.
Designed as a coffee table book, it is ideal to dip into for a brief taste of Ducati history. The photography is richly sumptuous, the text informative and clear, while still conveying the passion behind each bike. The captions to the photographs are expansive, explaining what made the bike so unique. All text is printed in two languages, English and Italian, serving two audiences with a single publication. At 28.2cm by 23.6cm, the book is large enough to do the photography justice, without becoming too large to read comfortable.
While the book is a pleasure to read, or just browse around in, its biggest weakness is that is that it leaves you hungry for more. The information provided on each bike gives a good sense of how the bike came about, and what makes the bike significant and/or unique. But like all well-presented information, it can raise more question that it answers. The book presents you with the basic details of the machines, but I found myself wanting a more thorough historical and technical primer on the bikes. That, as Chris Jonnum explained to me, was not the point of the book, however. To do such a project justice would have made the book five or six times the size it is.
The other shortcoming of the book is also the shortcoming of the museum. The Museo Ducati is focused almost entirely on racing, with only a handful of Ducati's production bikes represented. Although racing is at the very heart of Ducati's existence, it is the road bikes which the Ducatisti ride and love, and it is those bikes which keep their passion for the Italian brand alive. Both the museum and the book would benefit from featuring more of the bike Ducati fans love to ride.
So who is this book for? It is an essential item on any self-respecting Ducatisti's bookshelf, or rather, their coffee table. It is beautifully produced, and a pleasure to dip into for ten minutes, before putting it down again. It gives an overview of Ducati's racing history, but is light on detail, necessarily so given the objective of the book. The selection of bikes and the way the material is presented also gives a nice overview of the history of racing, and the way in which motorcycle racing has developed post-war, from reliability trials to Grand Prix racing to World Superbikes and MotoGP. It is not a reference work, but would serve very well as an introduction for someone wanting to know more. If you need a gift for a fan of either Ducati or motorcycle racing, you won't go far wrong with this.
Museo Ducati: Six decades of classic motorcycles of the official Ducati Museum
Chris Jonnum / Photography by Peter Harholdt
Publisher: David Bull Publishing
Price: $39.95 from the publisher's website, available at a discount from Amazon and other online sellers