Touring on a 996

By SCIENCE

Things Not To Do On A Ducati Superbike
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People don’t usually think of a Ducati as a motorcycle you can take on a long trip, but there are some that are designed to do just that (as long as the trip has fast & twisty roads for at least part of the ride). The Multistrada and the late lamented ST2, ST3, and ST4 are just this kind of machine.

The 996 Biposto is not. Oh no, not by a long shot.

So when thw word went out that SpeedWeek at Deep Creek was on for 2008, which bike did I choose to ride out of my massive “stable” of two motorcycles? Was it the large, comfy Yamaha FZ1 with the hard saddlebags, touring seat, highway pegs (actually frame sliders but they do the trick) and tall windwhield? Or would it by my new-to-me Ducati 996 with it’s brutally cramped fetal riding position, handelbars ass and ankles all in the same horizontal plane?

Of course I opted for the 996. Why? Well… SpeedWeek is all about high performance cars, and always sports a fair number of exotics and near-exotics. The 996 fits in there as the “Ferrari of Motorcycles.” As the token bike rider I felt I should represent the two-wheeled world in the best way that I could muster. Also, I had rode the FZ1 on long trips many times and I guess I felt a sort of Been There Done That attitude. I wanted to prove that I could do this kind of thing on the 996, maybe just this once. Plus it’s “only” 350 miles or so. That’s about 6 hours in the saddle. Even if the ergonomics are torture, I can bite the bullet for 6 measly hours, right?

Digression #1: So you motorcycle maggots are right now saying “what? Bing is hosting SpeedWeek for the car guys but not Bingcade for the bike guys? What are we, second class citizens? And what the hell did Pagan do to get invited to this thing?” To answer the former: Yes. To answer the latter: Debased things… dirty things… things a maximum security inmate would regret.

So I made preparations to ride. Along with all the other reasons not to ride the 996 there is the problem of luggage. The 996 has none. Furthermore, it has it’s mufflers placed under the seat. This was a styling revolution back in 1999 that all the other manufacturers eventually copied. However, it makes it difficult to place any luggage on the back of the bike, strapped right next to the searing-hot exhaust. I am a problem solver, so I came up with a plan. SpeedWeek is all about fast cars. Even hi-po sports cars have about 10,000% more luggage space than a 996, and one of the SpeedWeek attendees works in Morristown, about 10 minutes from my house. I would pack a duffle and stick it in his trunk on Tuesday, allowing me to ride down on Wednesday afternoon with just a measly tank bag.

You know what they say about the best laid plans? After dropping off the duffel on Tuesday AM, my pack mule sends out email on Tuesday afternoon telling us that his son has popped a 104.5 degree fever and is experiencing strabismus (look it up). NFW he’s going to make it down on Wednesday. Maybe Thursday, maybe Friday… maybe never.

D’oh! Time for Plan B. I test the heat of the exhaust pipes and decide that I can risk a strap-on tailpack. Tankbag, tailpack, and a small backpack will fit a minimal amount of gear that I will need for the trip. And by minimal I mean socks, underwear, one pair of pants and two shirts for a near 5-day trip. The killer is that I need to bring sneakers and a warm jacket liner which eat up one entire container. I cannot wear motorcycle boots for 5 whole days. My feet will be one huge blister. Add in motorcycle rain gear to take up most of the tank bag and tht puts the pants & shirt in the backpack.

On Wednesday afternoon I ask my daughter to help me load the bike. Partly because she seems like she needs something to do to take her mind off the fact that I’m leaving without her, partly because I’m in Full Biker Regalia. Not the assless-chaps and leather vest of the Harley cruiser crowd. The armored leather jacket and pants with back protector, knee sliders, and color combination designed to embarrass a power ranger type regalia. It’s heavy and restrictive to protect you in a crash, and it’s cut with the limbs in a riding crouch because that’s what it’s used for, not walking around. There’s no place on the bike to store it for the trip, and I want it for the hard riding in WV so I must wear it. This makes it a tad difficult to slip into the backpack, so my plan is for my daughter to put the pack on my back after I’m sitting on the bike with the motor running.

…that plan failed.

Zoom forward one hour and I’m getting off Route 287 onto the NJ Turnpike. The 996 has no EZPass tag, since it would be stupid to use this bike for long touring rides (D’oh!). As I approach the toll booth I fumble with my gloves and tankbag to stow the ticket and I think “Gee, I’m feeling remarkably unencumbered. I seem to recall that I should be feeling kinda constricted now, but by what? What kind of belts and straps was I expecting to… OMG I forgot the backpack!” This is a stupid move on my part, and my penance will be a stop at Kohls on the Delawhere/Maryland border to buy emergency pants.

Delawhere/Maryland border? That’s not on the way to Deep Creek Lake and West Virginia you say? No, it’s not. I’m going the LONG way, via Bing’s house in Grasonville. WV via Annapolis! I mean, I’m on the wrong bike for the ride, so why not add 150 miles to the total outbound trip. If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.

Digression #2: Ergonomics. The ride to the Eastern Shore of Maryland is about 3.5 hours. Way longer than any sane person goes on a 996 on the highway. This ride gives me the chance to fully appreciate what I’ve gotten myself into. The saddle of the 996 puts you into what the US Military would euphemistically refer to as a “stress position.” It’s designed for *racing*, not *riding*. You can approximate this position by crouching down on the balls of your feet until your backside touches your heels. Hoist your behind up an inch or two and have a friend place a cinderblock of the appropriate height for you to sit on. Place a broomstick on a cinderblock set the same height as your knees about a foot in front of your knees and grab it. Stay that way. For 90 minutes at a time. Each 90 minutes, take a 15 minute break, then get back on the cinderblocks. Do this 4 times and you’ve made it to Grasonville. You would think that this would suck, and it does… sort of. There are several mitigating factors:

1) Mindset: I went into this expecting the worst. I was actually expecting it to be much worse than it really was, so when it turned out to be not as bad it really helped my overall attitude about the ride. I kept expecting it to turn ugly, and it never did.

2) Stretching: In real life you can stretch your arms and legs. Take your feet off the footpegs and rest your shins on the pegs, toes skimming the asphalt. Ride with fingertips just barely holding the throttle for a bit. Ride one-handed. Stick your feet out to the sides. It looks goofy, but if you go through a regimen of this periodically you can feel much better.

3) Rest Stops: The 996 only goes 150 miles before the reserve light comes on. I went maybe 120. At 80 mph, that’s 90 minutes. I took rest stops that were twice as long as I would have on the FZ1. You can’t be in a hurry when touring on a Ducati Superbike.

4) Aleve, Advil, & Tylenol: Take 2 Aleve on departure (12 hours strong, 12 hours long). After 2 hours take 2 Advil. After the next 2 hours take 2 Tylenol. Alternate Advil & Tylenol (a trick taught to me by my daughter’s pediatrician to keep the anti-inflammatory effect strong without overloading the liver on one drug).

5) iPod: Music & podcasts take the mind off of bodily aches.

It was dark by the time I stopped in the Kohls on Route 301 in Delaware, just before the Maryland border. I rush in wearing my stoopid boy racer outfit and buy a pair of Levis and two mock turtlenecks (for versatility). These are bungied onto the tail of the bike, and I hope they do not flap off in the final 45 minutes of riding. Luckily this one plan works out and I arrive at Club Bing East with at least some clothes to wear. Lucky break #2: I had packed my contact lens kit in my sneakers, in the tailpack. Unlucky break: no toothbrush, razor, toothpaste, or any other kind of toiletry. That’s what Rite Aids and ATM cards are for!

First 250 mile stint done, and it wasn’t that bad!

For the next day I do another 250 miles from the Eastern Shore to Garrett County and Deep Crek Lake. This time I’ve got a Car Guy escort, with Bing’s supercharged Viper (exotic!) and Fred’s strap-on modified new generation GTO (they didn’t sell, so we can consider it a rarity). Again, 250 miles are uncomfortable but not spirit-breaking.

I’ll spare you the description of the riding I did during SpeedWeek. West Virginia is awesome for motorheads. It’s like the American Alps, minus police, minus traffic. I will say that I was offered (and accepted) moonshine by the hillbillies in Rowlingsburg wV. They are nice folk, if you can overlook the extra fingers & toes.

The trip back would be the final trial. It’s an extra 100 miles, for a total of about 350. Normally this would be an extra 90 minutes or so. The bigger downside is that you don’t have the psychological buoy of looking forward to the trip. I miss my family when I’m away, but it’s still and end-of-vacation letdown. Regardless of that I followed the same plan as the ride out and arrived home in 7 hours feeling only a little abused. The extra hundred miles are noticeable, and I really don’t think I’d want to go more than 400 highway miles in a day on the 996. Still, I proved that I could do it without herculean effort. Would I do it again? Not without some compelling reason. I won’t ever ride 850+ miles on the highway on the 996 again unless there is some real reason to have the 996 at the destination of the trip. And I mean a REAL reason. I can’t even think of one right now. “Because there are good roads at the destination” is not good enough. “To take it to a track day” is also not good enough, since the ride takes enough out of you to hurt your performance at the track.

But, when someone says “996? Nice bike but it’s impractical because it hurts too much to get it to the good roads” I can say that I’ve rode 7 hours on the highway on the thing, just to get to and from the good roads, and I survived – nay, thrived! 🙂