Back in 2005, Niall and Jon explored inside Aprilia and Ducati's factories before taking the RSV-R and 999 on a trip along the legendary Futa Pass.
Italian bikes are like Italian people - they are driven by passion. Whether it be a passion for racing, a passion for design or just the passion for the pure enjoyment of riding on two wheels, it doesn't really matter as there's always a passion underpinning what they do. But why is this? Is it the Latin temperament and upbringing of the people involved in making the bikes? What is it that sets Italian bikes aside from their Japanese counterparts? And why the hell do you want passion in a bike anyway? Is passion really all it's cracked up to be?
In an effort to find answers, not to mention spending a few nights in Italy, Niall and I arranged a visit to two of the best known Italian manufacturers: Aprilia and Ducati. And once there we couldn't resist sampling some of the goods, so we booked a ride on two of the firms' most recognisable models, the RSV Mille and 999, and took them along the Futa Pass, one of the most famous roads in Italy and Ducati's unofficial road test track.
While there are plenty of other brands - Moto Morini, Bimota, MV Agusta, Piaggio and Benelli to name a few - we chose Aprilia and Ducati because of what the factories have to offer over and above the manufacturing of bikes. And also because you can visit them too, and share in that passion. And it's very easy to do. We'll even show you how.
Ducati is a world famous brand, partly due to the success of its racing department but also due to it being seen as a universally 'cool' brand. Pop stars, movie stars and various B-list celebs attempt to boost their appeal by posing on the bikes while Ducati's range of clothing crosses the borders between fashion and function.
The Ducati legend was born from racing success, but now the media spotlight, as well as racetrack success, helps keep it strong. But Ducati also has another ace up its sleeve. Such is the pride in the Ducati factory that it has an on-site museum full of bikes, artefacts and information on why and how the legendary brand developed. It is, quite simply, a must for any Ducati fan, or 'Ducatisti' as they like to be called.
Aprilia, on the other hand, is relatively new in most bikers' minds. Despite actually starting bike production back in 1968, it wasn't really until the RS250 was launched in 1995, followed by the RSV-R in 1998, that Aprilia started to win British fans. And it has won loads. The RSV-R has firmly established itself in British biking culture and is now a fairly common sight on our roads.
So that was the plan: fly out to Italy, poke our noses around the Aprilia factory, pick up a new RSV-R to ride to Ducati's Bologna HQ, explore the Ducati museum then round it all off by riding the famous Futa Pass.Okay, the timing was a bit optimistic to say the least - riding an Italian mountain pass in winter was probably asking for trouble - but we were pretty sure that, with a bit of effort and ingenuity, we could fit snow chains to a 180-section rear...
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