PALM SPRINGS, Calif. — The citrus-scented gardens at the Ace Hotel shook with the sound of Ducati last week as the Italian motorcycle maker came here to introduce its highly anticipated new Scrambler.
Ducati flew an entire staff and more than 40 motorcycles from its Italian base in Bologna and flew or bused in almost that many journalists from all over the two-wheel world to unveil the new motorcycle. The journalists were the first of three such waves being flown to the desert to ride, test and admire the new machine.
The massive rollout means Ducati is introducing much more than a single bike.
For Ducati, the Scrambler is a brand — a lifestyle choice that comes with a vast array of gear, accessories and apparel, all emblazoned with the Scrambler logo and all designed to drive sales beyond the core Ducati customer.
On display throughout the three-day desert affair were racks of Scrambler jackets, hoodies and T-shirts, shelves of branded gloves, goggles, boots and helmets and displays of optional saddle bags, handlebars and even an official Scrambler knapsack.
All of these, Ducati executives explained, were designed to make each of the four Scrambler models a canvas for personalization — and to drive accessories sales.
"The core value of the Scrambler is self-expression," said brand designer Mario Alvisi. "That is why we created the brand."
The Italian company acknowledged that it had painted itself into a difficult, if lucrative, corner. For years, Ducati North America Chief Executive Dominique Cheraki said, the company was intent upon building a better, faster, lighter and more powerful motorcycle.
Ducati has built a global reputation for excellence with its line of sleek, powerful Monsters, Multistradas, Diavels and Panigale superbikes. The high-performance motorcycles win races for professionals and kudos for amateur canyon-carvers — and they cost $19,695 for a Multistrada to $33,995 for a premium Panigale R.
The Scrambler's starting price is just under $8,500.
"What we discovered, as we raise the bar higher and higher, is we were separating ourselves from a certain portion of riders," Cheraki said.
That price point and certain design elements — particularly the low seat height and manageable 800cc engine — are aimed at putting "the new customer into the Ducati family," said Claudio de Angeli, a Scrambler product manager.
That new customer, company officers said during the riding event, could be a rider new to motorcycling, a woman or someone of smaller physical stature, all of whom should be attracted by the Scrambler's vintage look and comforted by the Scrambler's relative ease of use.
"We need a bike for where the market is going, like the Triumphs and Moto Guzzis that are under $10,000," said Bill Nation, owner and general manager of a Ducati dealership.
"We're going to get a lot more traffic in our showroom, I think, from people who don't have $15,000 to spend but really want to own a Ducati," he said.
The new line starts with the entry-level Icon and moves up to the Classic, which has an orange tank and spoked wheels. The Full Throttle has lowered bars and a custom, slip-on exhaust pipe, and the Urban Enduro has spoke wheels, camo paint and a raised front fender for off-road riding.
For a Ducati, particularly, the Scrambler is a gentle, accessible machine. The bike sits 31 inches high and weighs 450 pounds fueled, with 75 horsepower and 50 pound-feet of torque.
That compares unfavorably, from a performance standpoint, with a Ducati Monster 821 (135 horsepower) or new Multistrada (160 horsepower).
But, as Cristiano Silei, vice president of Ducati global sales, explained, "The Scrambler is not about performance. It is about the simple joy of riding."
Translation: Don't be scared. Anyone can ride this bike.
On twisty mountain roads, the Scrambler was agile and smooth — not powerful enough to be challenging, but certainly powerful enough to be fun. The wide, predictable power band, thanks in part to fuel injection, begins low and runs high and produces good, even acceleration.
You could get the front end up, but not by accident.
The wide bars and wide seat make a comfortable platform for around-town and canyon riding. And the well-designed six-speed gearbox enables easy riding at 70 mph on the freeway, though the absence of any wind screen, fly screen or fairing makes that a difficult speed to maintain comfortably for any length of time.
At the event, Ducati made sure its guests got plenty of time in the saddle, offering them a 150-mile highway loop and extended exposure to the Scrambler lifestyle.
Portions of the trendy Ace Hotel were transformed into what the company called its "Land of Joy," a beachy space with swimming pool, ping-pong, open bar and musical acts.
The company rented a mountain camp for its midday break, reproducing the "Land of Joy" experience there with a tri-tip barbecue lunch, archery and games. The midday event featured hand-rolled cigars. The evening event featured a barbershop with free haircuts, a graffiti artist spray-painting a canvas, cocktails aplenty and a live band.
Ducati's Scrambler team hopes the rollout is a return to glory for the iconic marque.
The original Scrambler made its debut in North America in 1962, eight years before being sold in Europe, and was a successful alternative for awhile to the more dominant scrambler-type motorcycles being sold by Triumph.
It won't be clear until next spring, when the Scramblers start showing up in showrooms, whether the company's substantial bet on a new line pays off.
Nation said his dealership is taking deposits, some of them from current Ducati owners wanting a smaller, sportier bike, and a third of them from women wanting a lighter-weight, more manageable Ducati.
"This is a price-point bike," Nation said. "We're not going to make as much on margin, but this is very welcome."
©2014 Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com