I recently took a short vacation to Bologna, Italy and while I was there I spent some time at the Ducati factory and museum.
Ducati is a very old motorcycle brand, founded in 1926 and headquartered in Bologna for its entire history.
In recent years, the company has gained renown for its so-called “naked” bikes, mainly the Ducati Monster, which was rolled out in 1993 and has achieved widespread popularity (it has an open trellis frame that exposes its unique desmodromic v-twin engine).
Ducati is also well-known for its aggressive superbikes, such as the Panigale — often called the “Ferrari” of motorcycles.
But it’s biggest hit of late is a reboot of a motorcycle that it first built back in the early 1960s and discontinued in the early 1970s. It was called the “Scrambler,” and Ducati resumed making it, with a completely different level of technology and much more horsepower, in 2015.
I was a big fan of the Monster, but the Scrambler is really just about my favorite bike on the road right now. For Ducati, it gives the brand a bike to put against some of the revived “cafe racers” that have been produced by the likes of Triumph and even Harley-Davidson, which is famous for its hulking cruisers.
Triumph’s bikes are pure hipster, but the Scrambler nods at a subset of hipsterdom: riders who want to tackle the road and the trail. In this sense, they probably would have appealed to somebody like Steve McQueen, a motorsport nut who actually sampled a whole bunch of dirt bikes for Popular Mechanics in 1966.
The original Ducati Scrambler wasn’t on his docket, but it should have been.
Ducati made the original Scrambler for the US market, and if a photo I snapped while I was at the museum is any indication, it was a bike beloved by counterculturalists:
I’m not sure if the new Ducati is similarly pitched; the target market seems to be especially chic hipsters. In fact, the Scrambler has been so successful that rather than allow it to exist as a single model in the overall Ducati lineup, the company has turned it into a standalone brand selling a variety of different bikes.
From a business standpoint, this shows a pretty bold pivot for Ducati. The bike maker is now appealing to several different markets, uniting them with its high-end, design-and-engineering-driven DNA.
As I learned when I stopped by the New York Motorcycle Show last year, American bikers are now absolutely spoiled for choice. There are far more great, modern motorcycles now than there were when I was growing up. Back then, it was essentially cruisers and sport bikes; if you wanted something different, you had to scour the vintage realms.
Nowadays, kickstarting is a thing of past and all these retro-bikes are outfitted with state of the art tech. But as in the case of the Scrambler, they haven’t lost their spirit. The bikes of the 1960s and ’70s may have appealed to hippies, but there aren’t that many of those folks around these days. So a hipster dirt bike with an Italian pedigree is perfect.