Day 6 – Verona to Misano via Venice

Thursday 17th July

Today was the last day of our World Presidents Meeting tour and the main part of the day would be a trip to Venice. We were not far from Venice so it took us just over an hour along the motorway to arrive at a car-park just outside the city where we would catch the boat to the centre. We had all packed a “day bag” with suitable clothes as it was now too hot to walk around in riding gear, so once we had all changed and stowed the riding gear in the support van we headed to the boat.

A short boat ride later and we were in the middle of Venice and free to roam about. We took a few pictures as a group and then went our separate ways to explore Venice and walk around the city before heading back to the meeting point for a boat tour and lunch.

WPM in Venice

The boat tour took us around the main lagoon of Venice, giving us the history of the area as well as Venice. It’s interesting to see how many of the homes use boats just like cars, even having their own “driveway” mooring in their gardens!

Before long we were saying goodbye to Venice and were back at the bikes getting ready for the last ride down to Misano and our hotel for the next few days while we attend WDW2014. We were supposed to be going via Bologna and possibly a factory tour, but unfortunately time was against us and the coast road we were taking to Misano was notoriously bad for traffic, so our guides opted to push on instead.

The road to Misano was pretty dull but we had to laugh as we were approaching traffic as there was a large grey Audi that kept moving right over to the left, to the centre of the road, and it was causing some of the bikes to hang back to make sure the road was clear.

Spotting my chance, I cracked open the Diavel and it powered past the line of cars without problem and glance into the Audi as I went past to see a nice young lady in the seat … but no steering wheel! I tucked back into traffic in front of the Audi and checked my mirrors and noticed that the Audi was actually on a UK ’63 plate! That explained why he kept moving over as the driver was on the wrong side and couldn’t see the oncoming traffic! A brief chat on the bike-to-bike intercom with our last-man, who happened to be on a UK plate as well, and we gave the Audi a cheery wave and gunned it past the next line of lorries.

To our surprise, looking back the Audi had followed us and was doing pretty well at keep pace with us through the traffic! After a few more overtakes we realised he was sticking with us so from that point on our last man was helping the Audi to follow us on overtakes.

Eventually we had to turn off for a petrol stop and we waved the Audi past as he sped on with a lovely deep rumble that meant it must have been a top-of-the-line S8 or similar.

The last few miles to our hotel, just outside Misano at Gabicce Monte, were uneventful and we all arrived rather hot from the ride back. Fortunately the hotel had a pool so we opted for a quick dip before the Clubs welcome dinner for the evening.

Hotel pool!

The evening event was a huge dinner organised by the local Romagna clubs to celebrate another WDW, and included a fantastic bbq-style buffet with drinks and a massive DOC cake! It was another great chance to chat with other clubs, speak to clubs you already knew and share time with old friends. It really did make you feel welcome and that you are part of the larger DOC family.

DOC Cake!

Tomorrow we begin three days of WDW2014, which will include some Club/Presidential duties, but hopefully will be a great time at the track and the evening events. Finally we return back to the Factory at Bologna on Monday after WDW and head back home.

Distance today: 350 km

Day 5 – Bolzano to Verona

Wednesday 16th July
After all the great roads we were on yesterday, and the late night at the kart track (plus a few beers!) the mood was a bit more subdued this morning for the ride down to Verona. Fortunately the roads were not as challenging as we were heading along fast sweeping bends through the valley to Lake Garda.

Once again the scenery was stunning riding through the mountain valleys, and the weather was getting warmer as we got closer to Lake Garda. The Diavel was having no problems with the lazy touring and as I was getting more used to the riding position I was finding it quite comfortable too.

We soon arrived at Lake Garda and the views were nothing short of breath-taking!

A view over Lake Garda

The lake itself was beautiful and the view from above looked amazing. After stopping for a quick picture, we rode down to the lake and followed the road round for a few miles. It was now quite hot at about 25 degrees and the lake shore was full of people enjoying the weather and the water.

Unfortunately we didn’t get to stop as we had to push on back up the mountain for lunch. The road wound up the side at quite an angle and we were soon viewing the lake again from a spectacular view point. Given the heat, most of us chose to stay inside with the air conditioning to cool down over lunch!

After lunch we made our way to Verona. Our hotel was situated just outside the city but as we arrived quite early in the afternoon, we had time to make use of the swimming pool for a welcome cooling dip after the heat of the day, before heading into Verona for some sight-seeing.

In Verona we took in the sights with a tour guide, visiting many of the city’s famous landmarks and site of historical importance, including the balcony of Juliet from the famous Shakespeare tale of Romeo and Juliet.

Juliet's balcony in Verona

We had dinner in the centre of Verona, overlooking the Arena, the ancient amphitheatre built by the Romans. The food was good, the wine flowed and the weather was warm well into the evening so we all made the most of it until we had to get the coach back to the hotel.

The Arena of Verona

Distance today: 255 km

Day 4 – Kaprun to Bolzano

Tuesday 15th July
Today was going to be the “big” day of the trip as we crossed from Austria into Italy over the Dolomite Mountains and riding the Grossglockner pass over Austria’s Highest mountain. From the buzz of excitement in the group when we set off I knew that it would be a good day riding but I really wasn’t sure what to expect.
We arrived at the bottom of the mountain at some toll booths, all grouped together. We waited for all three groups to arrive before heading through the tolls, and we were told that as there was only one road we would all meet at the summit and it was every man for himself!
The bottom of the Grossglockner pass
For my first impressions of the mountain road, it was very wide at three lanes (two lanes up, one down) and seemed to be quite a fast flowing set of gentle curves. As we wound our way up the mountain you could feel the changes in pressure as your ears popped and the mountain side got steeper and steeper.
After a few miles the road became more of a set of short straights with a hair-pin bend at the end on a quite steep angle! This took some getting used to on the porky Diavel, but it was more down to my ability than that of the bike itself. I had soon learned to take the corner wide and pitch it all the way over to turn the corner and could then gas it out making use of the traction control to propel me forwards to the next bend.
These switch backs went on for mile after glorious mile as we wound our way up to the top of the mountain, riding through the clouds and out into sunshine at the top! Although there was still snow on the ground (in July!) it was a nice pleasant 15 degrees and the air had that wonderful mountain purity at the top.
The top of the Grossglockner pass
We were all buzzing with the amazing road that we had just ridden, and it was smiles all round as we all talked excitedly about our own experiences.

Robbie from the Scottish Ducati Club took some on-board video so you can see for yourself, but you really, really, really should ride this road at least once in your life!

Our next stop was the glacier on the mountain, the Pasterze. From there we took the other side down and stopped beside a beautiful lake near Cortina d’Ampezzo for lunch, where it now felt like it was at least 25 degrees in the sunshine by the lake!

After lunch we continued on our way to Bolzano by taking the Giau pass. This time the roads were not as wide or well surfaced, but just as twisty and steep going up the mountain. I would liken this more to riding through back roads over the moors in somewhere like Derbyshire or Cornwall, just with more mountain!

The top of the Giau pass

Crossing over the pass we took the road down which was unfortunately wet and slippery, so not much fun but again the traction control and ABS on the Diavel really helped to keep everything under control, and I’d switched down into Urban mode (100 PS) to save myself from any surprises!

Finally arriving in Bolzano we had to quickly head out for the evening entertainment with a Kart race, live band and BBQ, but the talk of the evening was more about the amazing roads we had ridden that day.

Distance today: 298 km

Day 3 – Linz to Kaprun

Monday 14th July
Today’s agenda was a tour of the lakes of Upper Austria: Traunsee, Attersee, Mondsee and Wolfgangsee. Our final destination was in Kaprun which is well known for being part of the ski region of Zell am See, but also has plenty of walking and cycling activities during the summer.
We were soon out of Linz via the motorway and the scenery just got better as we got closer to the mountains. Even though it was summer there was still plenty of snow to be seen on the highest peaks, but we would not be heading up that high today, just taking in a tour around the valleys and lakes.
Mountains!
The roads were pretty fast and sweeping and the Diavel took everything in its stride. I was actually beginning to enjoy riding the bike – maybe even surprised at how much I was enjoying riding it! – and it really didn’t feel as big as it looked. It was super-stable in the corners and motorway so maybe that was the only time you noticed the size?
We stopped for another good lunch and soon got going again, but although it looked rather grey and dull it was still quite warm (for an Englishman!) at around 15 degrees and riding in a textile jacket with just a t-shirt was not a problem at all.
We arrived at our hotel in Kaprun for the night and it could not have been more “Austrian” if it had tried! It was a lovely wooden chalet style with pointed roof and windows with shutters nestling in the hill-side next to a running stream and cows on the hill. The view from the balcony was stunning and you could even see a bob-sleigh run on the hillside opposite!
Rest stop in Austria
Distance today: 264 km

Day 2 – Vienna to Linz

Sunday 13th July
Today was the first day to get acquainted with my bike for the week, a 2014 Ducati Diavel Carbon. I’d never ridden the Diavel before and to be honest it wasn’t something that I would personally chose although I must admit that the design has grown on me over the last couple of years. The bike itself looked pretty smart with a white trellis frame and the black wheels with chrome accents made it look mean!
Diavel Carbon
We started off the day on a steady pace along the motorway, divided into 3 groups of roughly 20 bikes in each, and this gave me a chance to get used to the ride on some easy roads. My first impressions were that the large beast you saw in front of you soon disappears when you’re sat on it. There’s no expanse of tank in front and it doesn’t feel that wide either. The bars are in a comfy position but for me at just a smidge under 6 feet tall, I found that the seat was way too low to be comfortable and took some getting used to.
The bike was in “Urban” mode by default, which was the low-power (100 PS) with the traction control wound up, but this felt a bit sluggish so I soon figured out how to change this using the switches on the bars and put it into “Touring” mode that gave me the high-power (162 PS) setting but with a “friendly” power/torque curve and still with some of the traction control wound on. It instantly felt better and more responsive, and cracking the throttle made the bike shoot forward at a fairly rapid pace.
We soon left the motorway and started taking some better roads, more fast sweepers than tight twisty roads and these suited the Diavel fine. The scenery in Austria was stunning as we’re not used to mountains in Essex, so to be honest the bike sat underneath me doing its thing while I took in the view and I didn’t really give it any thought, except for the odd leg stretch or shuffle to ease the cramped riding position on my hips.
After stopping for a decent lunch we then continued on the sweeping mountain roads to Linz with some real chocolate-box scenery along the way, including seeing the ski runs in the mountains, stationary as it was all green grass rather than covered with snow.
We stopped off at a hotel in Linz and had a fantastic dinner and evening of entertainment organised by Ducati Club Linz to welcome us to Austria!
Dinner in Linz
Distance today: 320km

Day 1 – Vienna

Sat 12th July
It was an early start as the taxi collected me at 5.30am for Gatwick and the flight to Vienna. I hadn’t flown for a while and was worried that I had forgotten something or would miss the plane, but as it turned out there was little traffic on the road and plenty of time to get through security and to the gate.
I’d never been to Vienna before and the flight was uneventful. Once off the other side the instructions were to meet in the café just outside the exit, and it seemed that I was the first one there, but less than a minute later and the Ducati clothed people started to arrive with both old and new faces! After some introductions and some reuniting hugs, we took a short ride in a minivan to the hotel.
Today was a rest day with just a dinner for the evening to ease us into the World President’s Meeting (WPM) slowly, so I went and unpacked, got changed and went down to the bar for the first beer, and boy did it taste good!
More and more presidents began to arrive and we drank and chatted until the coach arrived to take us to the fair in Vienna for a meal and a wander around. The meal consisted of a massive amount of pork – and I mean massive! – and a huge bowl of chips which was all washed down with plenty of beer.
We sat and chatted and then wandered around the funfair late into the evening as it was still very warm, before finally heading back to the coach for the hotel and a good night’s sleep.
Tomorrow we start riding and I didn’t fancy doing that with a hang-over!

Dinner!

Last minute preparations

There’s less than a week to go before I head off to Vienna to join the World Presidents Meeting (WPM) and ultimately end up at WDW2014, and I’ve been making a list of all the things I need to do before I go. The last thing was to book a taxi to the airport for saturday morning, which I’ve just ticked off my list… but at £82 it’s more expensive to get to the airport than it is to fly to Vienna!

Although I will be given a loan bike, that didn’t stop me doing some bike prep over the weekend, as my friend Andy is also coming along to WDW but will be riding down. He’s picked up a lovely last-model ST4S with full luggage and a few more upgrades that will be ideal for the trip over to Italy. As he only picked the bike up on saturday, we spent sunday night in the garage prepping it for the long trip. This included wiring in a power cable for the sat-nav and fabricating a quick and cheap sat-nav mounting bracket from parts laying around. With this done we were looking at ways of improving wind-blast from the standard screen, but Andy has bought a touring screen to see if this helps before resorting to cutting up Ikea chopping boards or plastic buckets to fabricate something!

So over the next couple of nights I will be packing my suitcase, being careful of the luicrously low weight limits on budget airlines, and then repacking, repacking, panicing and repacking :)

WDW2014 – The Countdown Begins!

Now that it is July, WDW2014 is fast approaching so I thought that I would blog about the run up from the chairman’s point of view.

As some of you already know, each year Ducati put on a “World President’s Meeting” (WPM) which is a chance for all of the presidents of the official clubs around the world (over 250 clubs) to get together and share their experiences of participating in and running a Ducati club, and to help generate new ideas, all with the help of Ducati themselves.

The WPM usually lasts for 5 days and culminates in a big meeting with Ducati staff and presentations about how Ducati has done over the past year and also what is coming in the future. Those 5 days are spent riding on a tour with bikes provided by Ducati, taking in the scenery and culture and generally living the Ducati dream!

The first (and only!) WPM that I attended was in 2012 as this coincided with WDW2012 and it was too good an opportunity to miss as it would allow me to network with the other club presidents and get more of an insight into what other clubs did as well as to guage how good we, the DSC, are as a club, and then attend WDW at the end which I had wanted to do for many years but had never been able to. Suffice to say that I made some great friends on our little tour through Italy and the experience of WDW2012 was one that I promised myself I would definitely repeat as soon as I was able to.

Unfortunately the cost of WPM is prohibitive to allow me to attend every year (2013 was €900 excluding flights!) but I didn’t want to miss out on WDW2014 so I booked my place on WPM for this year even though it meant counting the pennies more than usual as it all comes out of my own pocket.

For this WPM we are starting in Vienna on Sat 12th July and will be travelling through Austria before heading over the alps and down into Italy to finally arrive at WDW the day before it starts, so for me this WDW adventure begins the weekend before.

The good thing about doing WPM is that I can fly over and presidents are allocated a bike to use for WPM, which also allows us use of them during WDW. On returning to the factory in Bologna on the Monday after WDW we then say our goodbyes and fly home from there. This saves me the extra days slog of riding halfway across Europe, but I also miss out on what could be a great adventure.

So keep watching the blogs as I will be updating it whenever possible to share the experience of both WPM and WDW!

WDW2014

Day 0 – Home to Bologna via Stansted

Today started very early, although to be more correct it was the lack of sleep for me which was the worst bit!
Having not packed until the night before, I didn’t get to bed until gone midnight, only to be woken at 2am by some very loud thunder. I managed to get back to sleep but was up again at just after 3am with our 7 month old son for some more of his bottle and a cuddle before getting back to bed.
The alarm went off at 4.45am so I was up rather bleary eyed to get dressed. Downstairs I found Rob from the UKMOC already waiting even though I hadn’t heard him arrive, so we stowed his bike (a Monster no less!) in my garage and waited for our lift to Stansted to arrive.
My friend Andy had volunteered to drive us to Stansted as it is only a 20 minute drive to the airport, and he arrived bang on time at 5.15am so we piled into his car and did the short trip. Both myself and Rob felt that we had forgotten something but couldn’t think what it would be so chalked it up to nervous anticipation!
We arrived at the airport in no time and after a quick shuffle of clothing from suitcase to hand luggage to meet the paltry 15kg limit, we were through check-in and heading for security. I was carrying my helmet as hand luggage and it went through security without any problems.
Once through security we had to wait for our gate to be announced so we grabbed a coffee and pastry and sat down. At 6.30 the flight was called to the gate but the gate was a good trek away and the gate closed at 6.45! We hurried to the gate and showed our boarding passes then on to the plane.
Nobody batted an eyelid about both mine and Rob’s helmet bags being taken onboard as hand luggage even though they were oversized, but seeing some of the bags people were taking onboard we were fairly conservative!
The flight was uneventful except for bumping in to Bob from the LA Ducati Club on the flight, and as it turned out we were staying in the same hotel!
Once through passport control at Bologna, we recharged with a real Italian coffee before getting the 54 bus from right outside the airport to right outside the Botel, which is across the street from the Ducati factory, all for just €1.50 – it beats walking any day!
While checking in at the hotel we met Vibeche from one of the Ducati clubs in Norway, so our party was now four. As our rooms were not yet ready we strolled to a bar up the road for lunch and a drink. On the way back we walked past the factory to visit the Ducati shop.
Heading past the factory, we spotted a figure leaning out of the window on the phone, then having a crafty cigarette. We realised it was none other than Gabriele Del Torchio himself! We waved and he waved back, then did a comedy “you spotted me having a crafty cigarette so I’ll hide it behind my back and wave” routine. Legend!
We had a mooch round the Ducati shop then headed back to the hotel where our rooms were ready. We agreed to go onto Central Borgo for dinner and headed off to our rooms to unpack and freshen up.
At 5pm we met back in the lobby and got a taxi into the main square in Bologna. We had a wander around before finally choosing a café on the square.
The weather had been hot all day, so sitting in the last of the evening sun in the square with a beer and fresh pizza made the early start all seem worthwhile.
We got the bus back, again very cheap at just €1.50 and it was tempting to join some of the other presidents at the restaurant next to the hotel, but I promised myself an early night but I’ve just sat down in my room to type this and noticed that the Sweden vs England match is on…

WDW2012 – The Chairman’s Adventure

So in the interest of kicking things off on this nifty new piece of blogging software that I’ve just installed, I thought it would be good if I added some words about the upcoming WDW2012 and what it means for me, your Chairman.

My WDW will actually start a lot earlier, Saturday 16th June in fact, as I will be taking part in my first ever World Presidents Meeting, or WPM for short! This is the annual meeting of Club Presidents from around the world who are invited by Ducati to go and get brainwashed educated on what’s going on at Ducati.

But wait! I thought you said you were the Chairman? I hear you cry! Well, yes, I am strictly speaking the Chairman but as the MT doesn’t actually have a President other than our Honorary President of Carl Fogarty (you might of heard of him!) then I’m the next best thing so I get to go instead.

So what will we be doing this year? There is a whole week of stuff going on, and you can see the itinerary at the WPM website. Yes, I’m doing the full week and yes, it comes out of my pocket as it’s a jolly rather than a Club necessity. It is bloody good value though!

I will be heading out on a cheapy flight from Stansted airport, about 20 minutes up the road from me, next Friday and staying overnight up the road from the Factory in Bologna as we meet at the Factory at 9am on Saturday and the flight wouldn’t get there early enough. Luckily I’m no stranger to Bologna, the airport or the Factory, having organised the Club’s Factory Trips for the last 6 or 7 years now – I’ve lost count!

So I will be blogging pretty irregularly over the next couple of weeks so you can keep tabs on where I am and what I’m up to!