After reading about the new Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak Special Edition several months ago, I may have accidentally let slip on the phone with Ducati PR guy John Paolo Canton how much I used to enjoy racing supermoto against the brothers Gary Trachy and Greg Tracy (some family members spell it differently) in Road Test Editor Don Canet’s SuperTT series. Yes, that Gary, the outright Pikes Peak fast-time record holder, and that Greg, six-time 1205cc Pro division champion and the defending winner of the International Hill Climb in that class. Beat them? Why, yes, a fair share of the time in SuperTT. Why do you ask, JP?
Say, I went on, gently stroking the telephone, wouldn’t it be a great way to celebrate CW’s Best Open-Class Streetbike and the 89th Pikes Peak International Hill Climb if somebody here—oh, I dunno who it could be—maybe rode a Ducati Pikes Peak Special Edition Multistrada in the famed “Race to the Clouds?” Who, me? What? Well, maybe I could do it…
And so, another Team CW Race Project was hatched. It’s good to be the Associate Ed.
Canton said that the “Special Edition” wasn’t going to be available in time, but that was a mere molehill: We’d just make our own by riding our stock Multistrada S Touring to Colorado and adding a few of our own accoutrements. It would be just like back in the day when you could ride your streetbike to the racetrack, strip a few parts and take a swipe at the prize money and the ultimate test for the Multistrada. As soon as word broke about our project, the Spider Grips people dropped by CW HQ to show us last year’s official race-winning Multistrada, just to give us an idea of what needed to be done to get ours ready: Not all that much. Engine and suspension remained stock. Basically, we made the essential mods to pass tech inspection and to protect the bike in the case of a tipover. We also dropped the lights off once we got to the event (saving about five pounds) and swapped the big windscreen for a smaller one. That was it. (For the full list of mods and parts, check out Ducati Multistrada Road to Race: Pikes Peak)
One element of race prep we did put a great deal of thought into was tire choice. Pirelli’s Director of Testing and Technical Relations, Salvo Pennisi, sent us a selection of Diablo Supercorsas in different compounds to test. Brent Davidson, a service technician from Ducati Newport Beach (on location to tune for Greg Tracy at a fastrackriders.com day on the infield course of California’s Auto Club Speedway) disabled our ABS and DTC systems (not conducive to fast times in the dirt) and got our Multistrada’s setup closer to what we’d need on the mountain. On the way back from the track, I unloaded the Multistrada at Boyko Racing Inc., where Ted Boyko fine-tuned controls and remounted road-going Pirelli Scorpions as well as fabricated numberplate mounts to be shipped off to Ben Fox’s Performance Engines in Peyton, Colorado. Fox’s shop was the place where our Multi would receive final prep for the Race to the Clouds.
After consulting our Butler Maps for the sweetest routes, CW cameraman Chris Cantle and I zipped up our gear and shipped ourselves out on a three-day, 1900-mile-plus sprint through a picturesque blur of national parks and monuments. It was an epic road trip full of fabulous winding asphalt, amazing open spaces and several tasty dirt sections, plus a ferry crossing, all of which underlined the flexibility and touring capabilites of Ducati’s all-rounder.
But we were on a mission, and upon arrival in Colorado immediately met up with our crew chief, Ducati Northwestern Service Area Manager Quentin Wilson, at our prep garage, which we dubbed the “Fox hole.” Pikes Peak Harley-Davidson shop foreman Larry Anderson granted us complimentary use of a tire-changing machine. Generator, stands, tire warmers, lighting, etc., all had arrived as planned in the Ducati support Sprinter van.
It was scary-dark and cold the first morning on the hill at 4 a.m. and 9390 feet high, waiting for sunrise and first practice. (The early start is so the road can be opened again to the public at noon.) The course was split into three stages for practice, the first day’s section being fast paved corners and approximately 2.5 miles of dirt that provided a good assessment of how the Multistrada would fare on this combo-course. At the end of the day, heat races would decide qualifying position. After a bad start, I got stuck behind a KTM RC8, and by the time I got safely past the orange machine, Carlin Dunne (owner of Santa Barbara Ducati, riding another Multistrada) had amassed an out-of-sight gap. Confidence was restoked, however, when my Multi reeled back to within 9 seconds of Dunne by the finish line. Meanwhile, Tracy, the man to beat, had crashed.
Back at the Mecca Motel, our Pikes Peak Pirellis and custom-made Alpinestars suit had arrived from Italy almost in the nick of time; I signed off and went straight to bed. Logistics!
Every day, the wake-up call came a half hour earlier to give us time to get to the next highest of the three practice sections. Day Two—the middle of the mountain, from 11,440-foot Glen Cove to 12,780-foot Devil’s Playground—was completely paved, with a few fast straights and switchbacks at either end. Riding directly into a blinding sunrise didn’t make things any easier as I tried to sort out the fast, increasing-radius corners from the hard-braking, steep hairpins—all the while trying to remember that there’s no point in worrying about going over the edge because they say you’ll starve to death before you hit the ground anyway (note to self: Pack a lunch).
In fact, I was getting really comfortable riding the Multi-Duc with the same abandon as my 450 supermoto bike, thanks to my hand-cut Pirelli Diablo Supercorsa 1 rear and rain front; I only wished I’d had the opportunity to try them on dirty Day One. We continued to push, using up the whole road with Supermoto-style hacked-out corner entries for maximum efficiency, increasing entry speeds until the last corner of the last session…when, crossed-up and crossing the double yellow, I lost the front. Spinning positive, I was looking for braking entry-speed limits and found them. No harm, no foul.
Practice was done before noon, so I took a recon ride to see the top section from Devil’s Playground (12,780 feet) to the finish line at 14,110 feet. Hmmm, really fast and freshly paved. Wonder how my rain fronts will hold up to 125-mph corners in the dry, bearing in mind, of course, that the Pirelli thermometer measured a pavement temp of 27 degrees Fahrenheit? Yep, it’s cold up here. Can’t tell you how many of my competitors were jealous about my Multi’s heated grips!
Day Three practice on that top section: Fast and sweeping met a phenomenal sunrise with three hard braking zones. A misfire meant my first practice run didn’t go as planned. Wilson stepped in and fixed the problem, replacing the faulty coil with a donor from Cantle’s ride. Meanwhile, I missed one practice but made setup and tire strides in the time remaining before Sunday. The final practice run was a lot better than the start: After getting passed by Joe Kopp at the very end of the previous run up the hill, this time I tucked in and followed the former GNC champ. Instead of leaving at the prescribed intervals, Dunne, Kopp and I left close together and mixed it up all the way to the summit. Good to know we were all ready to go.
Race “day” started at 2 a.m. and lasted the duration because long delays were caused by a variety of “incidents.” Ducati hospitality and a team to take care of everything beats a van and a cold riceball, but it left me with nothing to do but wait.
Finally, in the late afternoon, we rolled to the start of our Race to the Clouds, my Red Bull-to-water ratio just right, synapses cackling and not tired or nervous or thirsty, just hungry! We’d done everything; I had all the right stuff to race up the complete 4720 feet of elevation gain, 156 turns, 10 miles of pavement and 2.5 miles of dirt.
I got away from the line in second, in hot pursuit of Dunne’s Ducati, whereupon—no more than a few hundred yards into it—I felt something really wrong: The suspension had never felt so unsettled. I charged ahead anyway, but after two close calls, I slowed just a bit to reestablish control. When I picked up the pace again, I realized the problem was a rear tire that felt like it had about 10 psi in it. Nooooo!!
But wait, one of my most trustworthy inner voices said, A low rear tire should give us good grip in the dirt section just ahead! And just as that thought was completed, a small but abrupt cachung stepped us up onto the dirt. But when I leaned into the next fast left and felt the rim touch dirt, Multistrada and I slid—clutch in—to a stop. Tell me this is not really happening. When I let out the clutch to get going again…bwahwahbahwa…we couldn’t even move; the rim had bent from the impact and pinched the rear brake hose against the swingarm. Wheel locked, no tire pressure, race over.
While I sat on the dirt embankment contemplating life’s mysteries, a bunch of Cycle World subscribers descended from who-knows-where, cherubim and seraphim, to pull me back from the brink of despair. Meanwhile, Dunne went on to set the all-time motorcycle record of 11:11.32. Waiting for the crash truck that never came, I was fortunate Dunne picked me up for my shameful descent to the pits (literal and figurative).
Spectators poured down the mountain for hours, making it impossible to retrieve my damaged Duc to examine whether it was roadworthy for the ride home. But that’s the risk of riding your racebike to the race! Instead, I found myself sulking in the airport, my only comfort the knowledge that things could’ve been worse: Greg Tracy crashed out in the main, while brother Gary crashed and broke a wrist (but got up and finished). On the other hand, things could’ve been a lot better, too, and why aren’t they ever? Oh, well. Though I may have been temporarily deflated, looking back, I can’t help but be elevated by another wild ride, a truly Peak experience.
Here is the route, selected by Butler Maps for Mark:
View #AllRoads Lead to Pikes Peak in a larger map
More Pikes Peak
Ducati Multistrada Road to Race: Pikes Peak
Packing, prepping and preening for the race to the clouds!
Versatility is one big reason why the Ducati Multistrada 1200 collected Cycle World’s Best Open Class Streetbike for the second year running. An upright riding position, 135 horsepower from its [Read more...]