Dead Finger Tech: Ducati Monster

Summary:Our editor recently asked ZDNet bloggers to write about the one computing device, peripheral, gadget, or software that we love or are so addicted to that it couldn't be taken away from us unless pried from our dead fingers (Dead-Finger Tech, or DFT).

Our editor recently asked ZDNet bloggers to write about the one computing device, peripheral, gadget, or software that we love or are so addicted to that it couldn't be taken away from us unless pried from our dead fingers (Dead-Finger Tech, or DFT).

Pit stop during a Doc Wong Riding Clinic with two red Monsters in the background

Following Jason Perlow's low tech lead, for this DFT series I passed on all the devices and apps around me, and instead picked my motorcycle, a red Ducati Monster 750 which I've had for the last five happy years. For the uninitiated, a Monster is a "naked" street bike, meaning that it has a minimalist design with an exposed engine and trellis frame.

When it was launched in 1993, it was unlike any other type of motorcycle, be it sporting, touring or cruising.  It instantly became a hit and is now the Italian manufacturer's most successful lineup. It has reached iconic status and can be seen and heard all over the streets of San Francisco.

2009 Monsters sport a new design and greater customization

2009 Monsters sport an updated design with 10 color options

The current lineup includes a 696 model for about $9K, a 1100 model for $12K, and a 1100s for $14K. Click here for a brochure download with specs.

There are countless Monster clubs all over the world and online communities like the "Monsteristi" Facebook page. To draw a comparison to consumer tech, the fanaticism and passion among Ducati owners is like that of Mac geeks.

On sunny days, when I ride the twisting scenic roads of the San Francisco Bay Area, alone or with a crew, the sense of freedom and unparalleled man-machine connection locks me into a visceral bliss that only Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi can explain.

Roots in electronics

The Ducati Sogno was a half-frame 35 mm camera produced by Ducati Meccanica in the 1950s.

The Ducati Sogno was a half-frame 35 mm camera produced by Ducati Meccanica in the 1950s.

For those who could care less about motorcycles, here's some interesting trivia for you. Founded by three brothers who were brilliant technicians, Ducati initially produced radios, cameras, lenses, and even cash registers during the 30's and 40's. The company switched to motorcycle manufacturing after their Bologna factory was bombed during World War II. Then, under government control, it produced a 4-stroke clip-on engine for bicycles called the Cucciolo. Ducati made the jump to complete motorcycles in the early 50's. The rest is history.

Desmodromic technology

I've ridden numerous motorcycles, but nothing quite feels like a Ducati. The manufacturer makes all kinds of performance motorcycles, and most have large capacity four-stroke, L-twin engines with a desmodromic valve design.  According to Wikipedia, "Modern Ducatis remain among the dominant performance motorcycles available today partly because of the desmodromic valve design."

Desmodromic poppet valve in Ducati engine.

Desmodromic poppet valve in Ducati engine.

The desmodromic valves are closed with a separate, dedicated cam lobe and lifter instead of the conventional valve springs used in most internal combustion engines. It was developed to overcome the problems of valve float which causes a loss of power in conventional valve springs that have a "passive" closing mechanism. Desmodromic valves allow the cams to have a more radical profile, thus opening and closing the valves more quickly without the risk of valve-float.

At the time, apart from Ducati, only Mercedes-Benz managed to make desmodromics work reliably and successfully for sports racing cars. When twisting the throttle, you can feel the positive valve-control ripple through the bike as it plunges forward.

Prying my dead-fingers off the clutch lever

Someone is bound to call out the irony here and yes, motorcycles can be dangerous, so if you're sold on getting one, make sure you gear up from head to toe and take a safety class like those offered by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Regardless of what they're riding, all motorcycle enthusiasts share a passion for the open road and would agree that this is the one piece of technology that they'd never part with, and I'm with them.

Now, off to the twisties.

Topics: Hardware

About

Christopher Jablonski is a freelance technology writer. Previously, he held research analyst positions in the IT industry and was the manager of marketing editorial at CBS Interactive. He's been contributing to ZDNet since 2003. Christopher received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Illinois at U... Full Bio

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