A few days ago, two of our own ventured across the Atlantic to attend one of the biggest industry events of the year. More specifically, Craig Knoll and Grant Newcomb traveled to Valencia, Spain to represent Motoworks Chicago at a huge Ducati orientation event. With three new models hitting showrooms this year, Ducati put together this worldwide event to let dealer teams come experience these new bikes before anyone else. Those bikes include the Scrambler Ducati, the updated 1299 Panigale and the new Multistrada 1200. Craig and Grant would get to know these new bikes on the track at Valencia as well as out in the gorgeous Spanish countryside. At least that was the plan. Turns out the weather had plans of its own, but more on that later.

The event started with the arrivals. Dealer teams from around the world had gathered in Valencia to experience these new machine.s Craig, in his own words:

Upon arrival we met with folks from other dealers and checked into our hotel. A hotel which, I should add, had a great, rain-soaked view of the Mediterranean Sea over the rear court yard. Yet there was little time to appreciate the view, as we immediately had fun appointments to keep.

An amazing welcome dinner was held at a local establishment right down the beach from our hotel. We sampled small seafood tapas such as Calamari, mussels, and plenty of bread in true Spanish form, and they kept it coming. The truest treat was the paella – which was cooked in a large, iron skillet.

Yet as great as the food was, there was actually some work to be done. One part informational training, one part hands-on riding, this Ducati dealer event was about maximizing our guys’ understanding of these new Ducati models. Craig again:

Although we’d hoped the weather would clear, our first day of training proved to be no different than the day we arrived. Rain, rain, and more rain. Despite the weather, our day at Circuit de Valencia continued as planned. After a rider briefing with some of Ducati’s factory race riders, which included past Moto GP champions and even a Daytona 200 winner, we headed out on the new 1299 Panigale for a short, wet session on the track. Even with all the rain, the 1299 Panigale proved an incredible machine by sheer virtue of how easy it was to ride.

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The new quick shifter (which now includes both up and down shifting) was smooth as butter while I shifted and pre-braked through the hairpin turns of the Valencia course. The wet pavement also showcased Ducati’s new lean angle ABS feature, which works in unison with the updated Skyhook suspension system. This bike literally corrects itself before you can get it too far out of sorts, which was kind of freaky at first but comforting when I found myself approaching a hairy situation.

While I was somewhat disappointed at the shorter sessions and slower speeds the rainy track required us to keep to, the new 1299 Panigale was truly a pleasure to ride. While longer sessions and more speed would have been fun on a dry track, the rainy conditions brought these new safety features into the spotlight. It’s one thing for a bike to be brilliant on dry pavement. It’s quite another to be sure-footed in lousy weather and soaking wet roads.

Grant also took his wet laps on the new Ducati 1299 Panigale. He was already a Panigale fan, but this new bike didn’t disappoint:

The new 1299 succeeds at improving upon what was already, inarguably, the greatest motorcycle ever conceived by man. With new semi-active suspension controlled by a tiny Bosch computer, the bike rode confidently through the rained-out Valencia Circuit. The bi-curious quick shifter works seamlessly both up and down the gears. All you have to do is push up or down on the shifting lever to change gears without a blip and without a clutch.

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You could be forgiven for mistaking the new Panigale for its predecessor, the 1199. There have been very few cosmetic changes to the 1299 Panigale. However, what could you really do to improve upon perfection? The most notable change is a new seat cowl designed to prevent a rider’s boot from scratching the bike.

Truth be told, I love the new 1299 Panigale. It’s like medicating that crazy girlfriend you had when you were young. It’s all the fun without the drama. It’s incredibly capable without requiring you to be a Moto GP-level expert. It’s never been so easy to go so fast. Because of this, I think it sits at the core of Ducati’s brand image.

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In as much as the 1299 Panigale represents the apex of what a traditional Ducati is meant to be, many people are perhaps more fascinated by a brand new direction for Ducati. That new direction is embodied in one bike: the Scrambler Ducati. With four variants and an entire new sub-brand of clothing, accessories and even future motorcycles, the Srambler is Ducati’s estimate for their own future. Craig and Grant would also get to spend time with this newest Ducati as the rain fell in Valencia. Here’s Craig again in his own words:

Later in the day after lunch we sat in a cold damp pit room to view the new Scrambler Ducati line. This product lineup adds an entirely new brand under the umbrella of Ducati. All of the apparel and riding gear has been made in partnership with brands such as Dainese, Bell, and other classic outdoor brands to give all the items a classic feel. These items are meant to be mixed and matched to create your own personal style for your ride.

Ducati have also extended this mix-and-match style to the Scrambler motorcycle itself. A large variety of items are interchangeable between each model, such as the tank inserts (logo plates), exhaust, fenders, and trim pieces. The whole idea of the new Scrambler sub-brand is to give the rider the ability to customize their entire motorcycle experience. Ducati are even sponsoring various give-always for customers that submit pictures of how they customize their bikes.

Our actual ride on the Scrambler was again cut short by the weather conditions, but I was able to get a feel for it around the track parking lots. The ABS works extremely well and even in the wet, the bike is great at low-to-mid speeds. It basically felt like a flat track track race bike in many ways. I’d have no hesitation throwing one into a corner on dirt as soon as I get the chance. Grant got a better ride the following day.

Grant’s thoughts on the Scrambler:

If you asked a four year-old to draw a motorcycle, it would probably look like a Ducati Scrambler. It’s lighter, zippier, and shorter than most other bikes in this range. For the vertically impaired, it’s a godsend. The Scrambler’s real super power, though, is customization. Various exhaust systems, luggage, and other knick knacks can be bolted on to satisfy any owner’s whim without having to break out any tools and make anything themselves.

We rode the Scrambler through a challenging set of Spanish mountain roads, some narrower and more challenging than others. Even in pouring rain, the Pirelli tires kept the Scrambler right-side-up as I flicked the tiny bike back and fourth down a road narrower than my world view.

It’s a great first, second, or even last bike. Simply fun.

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The third bike featured in this Ducati training event was the all-new Multistrada 1200. At Motoworks, we’re all big fans of the Multistrada, even going back two generations to the air-cooled 1100 versions. This new Multi features a completely re-engineered L-twin engine with variable valve timing — a first for Ducati’s iconic Desmodromic valving system. While it’s still positioned as a touring machine, this new Multistrada continues to be a sleeper supersport bike. Beneath all the wind shelter and the luggage, the Multi is much more similar to the Panigale than one might assume.

Grant’s riding impressions:

I forgot that I was on a touring bike as I kept trying to keep up with these seemingly immortal Italians. Unbeknownst to me, the ride leaders were actually instructed to ride faster if we managed to keep up and to slow down if we couldn’t. Looking back, I can’t remember what anything other than the road looked like. I’m told the view was gorgeous.

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The Multi is capable of so much more than I could ever ask of it, but I enjoyed every second of that ride through the rain-drenched mountains of Valencia. The semi-active suspension stopped me from nose diving before tight corners and smoothed it out while I’d zip through the turns. All in all, the bike let me enjoy my ride comfortably at extremely high speeds.

Craig had a lot of praise for this new Multistrada as well:

I have to say, the S model is night-and-day different from the standard Multistrada and worth the money. Getting to ride both, the S had far superior handling and overall ride. New model best features include: cornering ABS, semi-active suspension, lower seat height, bluetooth capabilities, and a greatly improved LCD dash. Cruise control was a great addition as well.

My rides on the Multistrada were during a heavy downpour on tight mountain roads. All the extra features on the S model made me feel 100% more confident in those conditions. The semi-active suspension and cornering ABS were definitely put to use during that ride. Believe it or not, the bike will actually correct itself from high-siding or low-siding during heavy braking in corners. That’s useful on the track, but it’s also plenty useful out in the real world.

With four programmed riding modes, this new Multistrada is like having four bikes in one — with distinct capabilities and focus for each of the four modes. In my opinion, this is a huge advantage over say, the BMW GS family. The bike is so capable and so flexible, it might be the only bike you actually need.

New Multi is also able to be hooked up to the Dainese D-Air airbag suit, which we saw some of the details for in Spain. Everything about the new Multistrada seemed focused on adding capability for the rider and extending their confidence into whatever kind of riding they happen to be doing at the time.

So all in all, it was a very successful, if damp, recon trip for Craig and Grant. Ducati continues to evolve and refine its model lineup, and that means great options for riders right here in Chicago. These three updated models, along with all the other model year 2015 bikes, will arrive in our showroom in late April, if everything in Italy keeps to schedule.