The Three Dukes of the Gumball 3000

Every year, the maddest drivers with the fastest cars race across foreign contintents at highly illegal speeds. It's the Gumball 3000 Rally. This time, three blokes on Ducati 998s joined them for the 3,500 mile trip

The time is Summer 2001. We're out on the piss in London. The conversation turns to the Gumball 3000 Rally, which has been running for three years now. The first one was to Russia, the following two in Europe. The 2002 event is to be run coast-to-coast across the USA. "Let's do next year's Gumball on bikes." Now that is definitely not a sound idea. "What? 3,500 miles across the United States, surrounded by upwards of 150-180mph supercars driven by lunatics from the wealthier pockets of the western world and pursued by probably the entire FBI?" "That's the one. I'll get the Ducatis sorted." Oh well, always wanted to ride across America on a bike. "Make sure you get something comfortable, then. Get the ST4 touring bikes if we're doing it on Ducatis." Obviously, Mark arranges three 998 Bipostos. Wonderful bikes for fast track work, but for crossing one of the largest continents in the world? Hmm...

Wednesday April 24th, 2002, New Jersey
Deep in The Sopranos territory, Ducati hand over three spanking new fire-engine red 998s. These bikes are so beautiful there's one hanging from the wall in the Guggenheim Gallery in New York. "Don't hurt them, please!" pleads Ducati USA's Myrianne Gaeta. First ride confirms that yes, they go like the clappers, but the suspension is very firm and the ride position pure racer.

On the Ducatis are Mark, a television director who runs a bike team and has been in the saddle since he was four, speed freak and pathological biker Karta, (check out www.agotob.com for what he does), and Stevan also in TV and owner of a two-year-old motorcycle licence. In our matching jackets and helmets we look like the Three Amigos on Ducatis. As Mark puts it, "We'll be three red blobs on the far horizon. The cars won't touch us. No way."

Back in Manhattan we pay our respects to the victims of September 11th in Battery Park, and narrowly escape becoming red blobs on the sides of yellow cabs. The fear begins to kick in - why are we doing this? There are over 3,500 more miles of this. That night we have drinks with a couple of friends who've flown in from LA. "You have no idea what the cops in this country think of you," we are warned. "They like nothing better than putting away dumbass foreigners like you guys for screwing with their laws." Whoops. The idea of a night or two in a Lousiana jail being 'befriended' by Bubba Gump fills us with horror, and since the very fastest speed limit in the States is 70mph (we aim to be cruising at twice that) things might get interesting.

Our mate Chris, driving a tuned BMW M3, joins us and explains he has spent upwards of $1,700 on radar detectors, laser scanners and CB kit. "This guy is ready," my LA friend advises. "And you guys are fucked." We sleep badly.