With their Italian styling and racetrack pedigree, Ducati motorcycles have long been the choice architects and advertising executives who have cash to burn and want to look risqué.
However, the brand has been spreading out into new areas, such as cruisers and
Every now and then Ducati unveils a new high-performance bike which is street legal but not street sensible. This year it is the world's most powerful production motorcycle, the Panigale V4 R.
Ducati recently chose to start its "Ready For Red" cross-country tour in Portland. Ducati North America CEO Jason Chinnock told the Business Tribune they chose Portland, and its lone Ducati dealership MotoCorsa in northwest Portland, because it has been the number one in sales in the U.S. six times, including just recently in 2018. MotoCorsa has even outdone dealers in swaggering markets such the Seattle area (with three dealerships) and Los Angeles and Orange County (seven).
"The dealership has done a great job crating community," he says. "Motorcycling is largely about community. Unlike automotive, it's not just selling product but building events. We're in a space of entertainment," says Chinnock, a former touring rock musician.
The brand oversaw the Ducati All Star Shows, a series of concerts held at dealerships.
"We have fans that like our brand even though they aren't bike owners. We're one of the pioneers in that." He wears the logo everywhere and finds people respond well to the brand.
"Every time, someone has a story to tell. They know a guy with a Ducati...It evokes a reason for people to be connected."
Chinnock worked his way up the ladder from parts manager at a dealership. Audi acquired Ducati in 2012, which is when he joined the Lamborghini brand in marketing and communications. In 2016 he was promoted to CEO of Ducati America.
"The motorcycle market has changed. If we stayed in the small world of the upper end of sport motorcycling, we wouldn't have grown."
The firm has always known people are attracted to the "style, sophistication and performance of Ducati," he says. "They've always been fans but we didn't make a bike for them."
Surprisingly, safety is now a legitimate issue, even in the world of crotch rockets. Ducatis have sensors that measure inertia so that when the bike is leaning into a curve the brakes automatically adjust so the rider doesn't overdo it. And that technology has trickled down to the lower end Ducati bikes. The bike can also measure if there is a difference in traction between the wheels and adjust accordingly. "You can dial up the level of intervention," says Chinnock.
They are also looking into radar assist, which tells riders of danger from the car ahead or behind them.
At the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Ducati debuted its use of a Qualcomm C-V2X chipset in partnership with Audi and Ford. It helps vehicles communicate with each other at high speed in real time. For instance it can be used between vehicles to negotiate the right of way in entering a four-way, non-signalized intersection in intention sharing and non-line-of-sight conditions.
Modern motorcycles have riding modes, like settings on a point and shoot camera. "You need to know you can put it down to the ground safely and harness that power. Power without control is pointless. That's where the electronics come in."
"As a motorcycle company there is still a certain amount of risk. You can't eliminate it all, but you can improve the experience for the rider without anesthetizing it."
Chinnock says 60 percent of bike accidents can be avoided with new technology. But there's still no cure for the biggest threat of all: a negligent driver pulling out in front of a motorbike.
What makes a good dealership?
Jamie Rucklous, manager of MotoCorsa, says "Not only do we take our customer experience to the highest that we can, but we also have unique things like the red room, where we do customer delivery pictures. Once you buy a bike from us you're automatically part of the MotoCorsa family."
This means when you buy a Ducati you instantly get a social media friendly professional photo to alert your friends.
"We make sure all our customers talk to everyone, whether it's for apparel or getting them into a bike. We're not just throwing them on something, we listen to them, 'How are you going to use the bike?'"
Rucklous says people are attracted to Ducati for the looks, the performance and the sophisticated electronics.
"Aesthetically it's very pleasing, they have a lot of character. Because they're twins [twin cylinders] the sound, the feel, the smell, they just ooze character. It's hard to describe. You know a Ducati when you hear it, and when you see it. You can take the branding off and you know it's a Ducati."
"A lot of people think of small-town Portland, but we've got a good customer base, we sell from 200 to 250 a year."
For the roadshow, DJs played and food and drink was served to invited guests and customers. The dealership was stocked with sample bikes parked on vinyl backdrops. Looking at the Desert Slide, Rucklous explains the Scrambler is a sub brand of Ducati, like Lexus and Toyota, or the Scion.
"They created it for a different lifestyle, but also as a gateway into the brand of Ducati, lower cost entry. You can be part of the Ducati brand for a very affordable price." The Scrambler has been Ducati's top-selling bike since 2014. The most basic Scrambler sells for $8,500.
Portland riders get finance, "from the front to the back. If you're a new rider we make sure you get introduced to motorcycling the right way. The right bike and the right gear, and to take a motorcycle safety course, reimbursed up to $250 when you buy a motorcycle," says Rucklous.
"We have credit unions everywhere but we also have Ducati financial services. You could get on a Scrambler for $150 or less a month, depending on credit." Most customer loans last from 48 to 60 months.
The Scrambler does over 100 mph but does not have much electronics compared to the sporty bikes. It has ABS and some traction control, throttle by wire (using electronics, not a cable) and riding modes.
The star of the show, the Panigale V4 R has 234 horsepower, making it the highest horsepower production bike on the market. It has carbon fiber winglets on the front fender to prevent unintended wheelies.
Customers are mostly amateurs who race at Portland International Raceway for fun.
For less than $15,000 there is the Ducati Supersport. It's a sport tourer, which takes paniers and the rider rides upright for comfort and visibility.
There's an app
The Ducati Link app shows the health of the motorcycle as well as stats about the journey. It lets you switch riding modes remotely. It connects by Bluetooth to in-helmet headsets and shows text messages on the dash. They're working on adaptive cruise which like a car, tells you when you are going out of your lane. (Like the Strava app for cyclists, bikers can share ride data for bragging and educational purposes.)
Chinnock says the electronics are as much about safety as convenience or entertainment.
MotoCorsa's manager Rucklous also claims the the dealership treats everyone with respect, including women, who are often overlooked, and people who just want to buy branded gear like hats and hoodies. "We don't care what you ride, if you ride a Harley, an Indian, a Honda, you're welcome." The service department services other bike brands too. The store once even produced a calendar poking fun at the usual 'sexy models draped overmotorcycles' theme. Male staff members posed instead, some in lingerie.
"And we're about fun. We live it every day, we want people to like coming here. Retail by a lot of businesses is dying, but we pride ourselves in bucking that trend."
CEO Chinnock's favorite short ride is Skyline Boulevard from San Francisco to Santa Cruz. He is friends with guitarists Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols and Billy Duffy of The Cult. He has been riding with both, most recently on a road trip from his home in the Bay Area with Duffy up the coast and then to Ashland, Oregon.
"When I ride, I ride well outside town. I am not a fan of riding in traffic." In the real world, he drives an Audi Q7. "But I would prefer to have an RF6 Avant, a fast station wagon."
Where: 2170 N.W. Wilson St., Portland
Reporter, The Business Tribune
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