Duke's Den – Inside Info

Kevin Duke
by Kevin Duke

Talking Ducatis with fellow gearheads

Lead Photo by: Phil Aynsley Photography

In the eyes of motorcycle enthusiasts, the lives of motojournalists may appear to be wholly enviable. Perhaps one day in a future Duke’s Den I’ll submit a cranky soliloquy about the ways the job is taxing, but that’s not how I’m currently feeling. After all, how down on your luck could you feel after riding a scintillating Italian naked sportbike in the south of France?

As noted in my review of Ducati’s nicely updated Monster 1200S, the mountains above Monaco are stitched with twisting roads that are an asphalt playground for a high-end streetfighter like the big Monster. So, on the roads and the bike alone, that’s one hell of a trip that any moto-enthusiast would tip their Shoei toward.

Trips like these are often wonderful escapes to exotic lands and usually on enticing motorbikes, which is more than enough to make them valuable. Indeed, these are the perks of the job that keep motojournos pounding keyboard buttons rather than furrowing more lucrative pastures.

My good days at work are really, really good.

More than that, though, are the people with which you get to mingle. As much as we enjoy blagging on our competition at other publications, the editors on the wrong teams are mostly bright, funny and engaging, and we naturally share many common interests. I’d like to call out a few of my favorite cohorts, but, like most artists, they have fragile egos that annoyingly can be overinflated with a kind word. So, screw those guys!

Also playing a part of the motorcycle product launches are representatives from the manufacturer hosting the event. Sometimes they don’t speak English well or they may not be very social, but many times they are totally devoted gearheads just like we are and who love talking about machines and why people love them so deeply. And getting access to the brains behind the bikes can provide great insight into the philosophies behind the product being presented.

One of those good guys is Stefano Tarabusi, Product Manager for Ducati’s Monster line. I was lucky enough to sit across from him during dinner in Monte Carlo. I don’t recall meeting him before, but our paths actually crossed 15 years earlier when I attended my first international press introduction at Cicuito de Almeria in southern Spain. I was there to ride the 2003 Ducati 749S, and Tarabusi was there because he was a main part of Ducati’s R&D team that developed the Testastretta engine family.

The 749S competently unraveled the 2.5 miles of the Almeria circuit late in in 2002. Tarabusi, who holds a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, is especially proud of the 749R, which boasted titanium valves and connecting rods and a more oversquare engine configuration in an effort to keep pace with high-revving four-cylinder competitors in the World Supersport category.

Tarabusi left Ducati after nearly 10 years to earn his master’s degree in design management and work for a few other companies, including Ferrari. He returned to Bologna in 2015 to helm two important model lines: Monster and Diavel. The Diavel and its recently introduced stablemate, the XDiavel, are odd Ducs for a brand with a rich racing pedigree, but they are important additions to the brand from Borgo Panigale.

2011 Ducati Diavel Review

The original Diavel defied Ducati convention by skewing toward the cruiser market, and its showroom performance also ran counter to typical expectations. Rather than sales dropping off after the first year or two, as is typical for new bikes, Tarabusi says the Diavel has been enjoying consistent sales since its 2011 introduction.

2012 Ducati Diavel Cromo vs Star VMAX

Meanwhile, the Diavel may have broken ground for the more cruiser-oriented XDiavel introduced earlier this year. The feet-forward, belt-driven, big-motored XDiavel is currently outselling the original version by a two-to-one margin. Interestingly, at least 85% of XDiavel sales are the spendier S versions rather than the base model. The upmarket S models in the Multistrada family are also judged by consumers to be worth the extra money, earning a 75% share of that line.

Stefano Tarabusi almost perfectly embodies what you might expect from a lifelong gearhead who grew up in Bologna and works for the town’s most famous company. Classy and cool, he’s a terrific dinner companion with a vast breadth of moto and mechanical knowledge.

Tarabusi reports that many riders have been asking for mid-mount pegs for the X. Based on this little nugget, I might speculate that we may one day see a variant of the XDiavel in a slightly sportier focus, although that’s solely my conjecture and not info gleaned from Ducati.

In terms of sales volume, Tarabusi’s Monster and Diavel lines lie third and fourth in Ducati’s quintet of families. At the top of the V-Twin heap is the retro-styled and hipster-intended Scrambler, which outsells the Multistrada line. Incredibly, the average age of a Scrambler owner was a surprisingly elderly 47 years near the beginning of the bike’s production run, which runs completely counter to Ducati’s intention of appealing to youthful riders. However, as more people are learning about the bike, the average age of Scrambler buyers is now skewing much younger.

Scrambler Slam: Ducati vs Triumph

Ducati’s Monster line is is getting a nice shot in the arm for 2017, first with the Monster 1200 and then by the upcoming Monster 797, which brings a welcome return of an air-cooled motor to the Monster family. The Monsters currently outsell the Diavels by about 25%.

Ah, there’s just something intrinsically right about a Monster with an air-cooled engine. The new Monster 797 launches early next year.

With the power of deduction, you may have been able to divine that the supersport family sells in smallest numbers for Ducati. To be fair, Tarabusi eventually questioned his statement that the Diavel line barely outsells the supersports, but they at least are closely matched. This was a bit of a mind-blower for me, as it’s the Panigales that tend to make the biggest splash for attention from Ducati.

After Tarabusi learned I own a 1992 Ducati 900SS, he related the story of how its rectangular headlight was the same part as used on a Fiat 128. Then, after a conversation with Ducati’s museum curator, Livio Lodi, it turns out it’s actually not the exact same part even though it’s quite similar. That same headlight was also used in the first series of 916/748 in the Australian market due to homologation issues with the 916’s unusual squinty-eyed headlights we learned to love.

Here’s a trio of other tidbits learned from Tarabusi:

  • The new Euro 4 regulations include more things than just lower sound levels and the addition of an evaporative fuel canister. They also require a new strength test for footpegs, presumably to ensure proper build quality from non-traditional parts suppliers. Tarabusi says Ducati didn’t require redesigns to its footrests.
  • The Monster 900 was a big hit for the financially struggling Ducati when it debuted in 1993, which helped bring the Italian brand back to its feet. That said, it was the robust sales of the Monster 600 that really helped make Ducati successful in the 1990s, according to Tarabusi.
  • All electronics used in Ducatis are from Bosch.

MO Tested: Cornering ABS

Yeah, there isn’t a better part of being a motojournalist than being given the opportunity to ride intriguing new bikes before nearly anyone else in the world. But getting the chance to hang with molto-cool guys like Tarabusi who invent and design machines that thousands of riders love and adore is an extraordinary perquisite. I hope you enjoyed joining us for dinner, virtually.

Kevin Duke
Kevin Duke

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3 of 11 comments
  • Starmag Starmag on Dec 01, 2016

    Kevin, would you please pass the pasta e fagioli? Oh, and thanks for the dinner conversation.

    Those numbers were what I expected. Despite the drooling worship of impractical supersports by most of the press, the numbers don't match the hype, even for a marque famous for them.

    "I’d like to call out a few of my favorite cohorts, but, like most
    artists, they have fragile egos that annoyingly can be overinflated with
    a kind word. So, screw those guys!"
    I know my fair share of artists of multiple stripes so that made me literally LOL.

    • Old MOron Old MOron on Dec 01, 2016

      I don't know any artists, or artsy-fartsy journos, but I still think that quote is golden.

  • John Woods John Woods on Dec 02, 2016

    The rectangular headlight looks just right on the 900SS, but it's horrendous on the 916. Thank goodness it didn't come that way!