DUCATI’S OFF-ROAD ACT GETS AUSSIE INPUT
Nick Selleck is the only Australian – and one of very few people in the world – to have thrown a leg over Ducati’s much-anticipated new adventure model, the DesertX. But how in the hell did a bloke best known for his adventure tour and rider training business, Maschine, land himself that exotic opportunity?
Shortly after Selleck returned from an eye-opening two-week trip to Ducati’s Bologna factory, we sat down with him to get more of an insight into his new role with the Italian brand, and how that stands to translate into Ducati adventure models that’ll better suit Australian riders’ unique off-road tastes…
TM: Before we talk about your new role with Ducati, give a snapshot of your background in the adventure tour and rider training game.
NS: Our business, Maschine, started out in the event management game in 2011. The opportunity to get more involved with the motorcycle industry came about through a graphic design business my wife and I had. When we were working on a website design for BMW’s motorcycle division in 2011, they approached us about managing their ‘BMW Safari’ adventure rides. We ended up working with BMW for five years on those Safari events. From 2015, we started running our own Maschine-branded events, which were open to all manufacturers. Around that time, we were approached by KTM – via Ray Barnes, who I used to work with at Honda – to work with them on the adventure rally events they were looking to get into. That culminated in KTM getting their first ‘Adventure Rallye’ off the ground in early 2016, and we’ve had a fantastic relationship with KTM for the past six years; supporting them in delivering really engaging riding experiences for their adventure bike customers.
Your success with those brands appears to have attracted attention from other manufacturers too, it seems…
We always wanted to position Maschine to run our own events and still work to support other brands in running theirs, as there are massive marketing benefits for the manufacturers to be able to run these sorts of customer experience events well. Our first involvement with Ducati was a three-day adventure tour in 2019 around Port Macquarie, where our business is now based. And then early in 2021, Ducati’s marketing manager, Alana Baratto – who previously worked at KTM – approached us about helping Ducati with the launch of their all-new Multistrada V4 model here in Australia. That involved a launch event in the Hunter Valley to introduce the new Multistrada to Australian dealers.
How did your involvement with Ducati grow from there?
I’d got to meet Ducati Australia’s MD, Sergi Canovas, at that dealer launch and he was impressed with our approach and how we helped them manage the event. Sergi had put me in touch with one of the product managers in Italy so I could give them some feedback about the V4’s suitability for Australian conditions and riders. The whole relationship snowballed from there and stems from the fact that Ducati is really keen to have a good, strong push at making their adventure models even more capable off-road. They recognise that Australia is a unique market as far as adventure riding goes.
“The real icing on the cake was the few days we had over in Sardinia, where we tested some of Ducati’s new product, including the DesertX.”
Explain what you mean by Australia being a unique market.
Since 2015, I’ve been lucky enough to run quite a few adventure tours over in Europe, and that experience made it really hit home that a greater majority of adventure bikes over there are ridden around the Alps on tarmac roads. In Australia, on the other hand, we treat adventure bikes more like large enduro bikes and tend to really thrash them in off-road terrain a lot of the time.
“Australia punches above its weight when it comes to bike sales in the adventure bike segment, and Ducati clearly recognises that we use the bikes off-road a lot more than most other markets.”
Tell us about the new role with Ducati. My understanding is that it goes beyond customer experience events, and also entails helping the factory with product development and dealer training.
That’s about right. Basically, I’ve been contracted to assist in model development and in building a foundation for Ducati adventure models in the Australian market. The official title is actually ‘Product Genius’ for Ducati’s adventure segment [laughs] – a specialist role that companies such as Apple and BMW cars use. The Ducati team in Australia developed the role with the support from the team in Bologna. I’ll continue running Maschine, but my contract with Ducati means I’ll be dedicating two days a week on average to work on a number of objectives for them. One of them is to increase Ducati’s presence in the off-road space – which means I’ll be directly involved with the new V4 Multistrada as well as new products coming through, such as the DesertX model. That will involve training up the dealers to help them have a better understanding of the off-road segment, along with supporting Ducati to run events – such as rider training, customer experience events, test rides, media launches and potentially even some overseas tours. It’s a range of responsibilities that taps into my off-road experience, and a role I’m really looking forward to. As these motorcycles are getting so technical now with the range of electronics they come with, it’s really important that customers and motorcycle media fully understand just how much they are able to change the character of the motorcycle – simply by changing riding modes and then fine-tuning the other settings – to suit the terrain and/or their set-up preferences. There are all sorts of hidden easter eggs on these bikes, which aren’t always immediately obvious. It’s all about fully understanding the bikes so people can get the most out of them.
How excited are you about the DesertX impending arrival?
Very excited! The DesertX is an all-new product and market segment for Ducati.
“I got to ride a pre-production DesertX and that my experience with the machine was overwhelmingly positive.”
You’ve recently had some experience aboard the DesertX during a two-week trip to the factory in Italy. Are you at liberty to say much about that yet?
The trip to Italy late last year was definitely a pinch-yourself moment [laughs]. Claudio Domenicali asked me to come across to Italy to be part of a test session they’d planned for the DesertX so I could get involved with the project as soon as possible. With the Covid situation escalating at that time, there were a few concerns, but nothing was going to stop me from going on that trip! It’s the stuff of childhood dreams for me. I had 12 days in and around Bologna and a fantastic immersion into the Ducati factory. I met everyone from product development to marketing people and had a personal tour through the production line area of the factory. We did lunch, Italian-style, and I even went e-mountainbike riding with the CEO Claudio! That was all brilliant, but the real icing on the cake was the few days we had over in Sardinia, where we tested some of Ducati’s new product, including the DesertX.
“There’s no doubt that the DesertX represents a conscious move down a new path for Ducati by catering to that harder off-road end of the adventure riding spectrum.”
Well, come on … spill the beans!
To be honest, I can’t actually say too much about that experience at this stage. What I can say is that I got to the ride a pre-production DesertX and that my experience with the machine was overwhelmingly positive. Aside from being flattered that Ducati put that sort of faith in me by getting me involved at this early stage, I think it also gives you an insight into the importance that Ducati is placing on the Australian market. Australia punches above its weight when it comes to bike sales in the adventure bike segment, and Ducati clearly recognises that we use the bikes off-road a lot more than most other markets around the world. I’ve worked in the motorcycle industry since 1992, but that entire experience in Italy gave me a much better understanding about what it takes for these manufacturers to produce a motorcycle and the complexities and challenges they face along the way.
“The standout feature of the DesertX is its 21-inch front wheel. And a 21-inch front makes an enormous difference in the way riders are able to manage a bike off-road.”
As the 1260 Enduro model has now been discontinued, help us understand Ducati’s model line-up philosophy and the positioning of the all-new DesertX within it.
I think that, to understand the philosophy of Ducati’s model line-up, you need to look at it as a family. If someone is going to get into Ducati’s adventure riding ‘family’, what model will they choose? At the moment, there’s the Multistrada V4 and V4S, and the smaller-capacity Multistrada V2 that will be released shortly. Ducati’s 1260 Enduro model was skewed more toward the off-road side of things but, like the 170-horsepower new V4, it’s a big motorcycle to take off-road and needs a pretty high level of riding competence to do that. This is where the lighter and more off-road capable DesertX fits into the model mix. There’s a greater portion of riders who’ll be able to take advantage of the DesertX’s capabilities, particularly if they like spending a lot of their time in off-road terrain.
The DesertX is the most off-road capable bike Ducati has ever produced. So what you’re saying is that, with the new V4 getting much better off-road capabilities, the 1260 Enduro effectively became obsolete in Ducati’s model range, right?
I think that’s the way Ducati are seeing the big picture, and I’d have to agree with that view, especially now that I’ve got to spend a lot of time off-road on the V4 and have come to understand how the model has improved its all-round capabilities. The standout feature of the DesertX is its 21-inch front wheel. And in my experience with rider training on adventure bikes, a 21-inch front makes an enormous difference in the way riders are able to manage a bike off-road compared to bikes with a 19-inch front. The 21 makes it easier to find traction and it rides over the bumps much smoother. Plus, as was confirmed in early December when the DesertX was officially revealed, it comes really well specced with everything from the Kayaba suspension to Brembo brakes to sophisticated electronics. So, even though the model is intentionally designed with a retro vibe, it comes with a lot of cutting-edge, modern equipment. There’s no doubt that the DesertX represents a conscious move down a new path for Ducati by catering to that harder off-road end of the adventure riding spectrum.
The DesertX’s Kayaba suspension has been a major talking point as people look to suspension components as a barometer for how serious an adventure model’s off-road capabilities are. Because, let’s face it, the suspension packages on many adventure bikes aren’t up to the task of handling all that power and weight in off-road terrain.
It’s been interesting to see all the social media feedback, all of which seems very positive about the fact the DesertX is fitted with Kayaba suspension, which has built up a reputation for excellent performance on enduro models for many years. We call adventure bikes “travel enduro” bikes here in Australia because we treat them like oversized enduro bikes that are capable of hitting things hard and we demand suspension packages that will allow that. But it’s not just the suspension; I think Ducati has done a great job with how they’ve specced the entire bike, plus I know there are a heap of quality accessory options that’ll be available for it – whether that’s for harder off-road riding, two-up riding or whatever.
The electronics package on Ducati’s new V4 has been widely praised for both its sophistication and ease of use. Will the DesertX use much the same in the way of electronic aids?
Yes. The thing I like most about Ducati’s approach with electronics is the fact it not only has a selection of riding modes – off-road, rain, street and sport modes on the new V4, for instance – but you can also go into each of those modes and customise your settings. It remembers your settings and it’s super-easy to switch between those pre-set customised settings on-the-fly without stopping the bike. The DesertX will come with an additional riding mode, called ‘Rally’, which gives you even more options again.
Can’t wait to throw a leg over this DesertX, Nick. And we’re counting on you to put a cracker of an Aussie media launch ride together for us later this year, mate.
Don’t worry. We’ll make sure there’s a memorable ride in store for you.