Saturday, January 27, 2007

The ducati 1098, weight: america's love affair with it, and the price of gas.

about 15 years ago, i had just finished the first year of a 3 year degree in economics, and my university had offered 7 students a chance to take the second year in brescia, in italy. i jumped at the chance. i took in a couple of itailian foreign language students at my house in cambridge beforehand to give me a chance learn some of the lingo.

instead of flying on the cheap, i thought it would be a great adventure to drive across northern europe instead, and arrive in italy courtesy of a 6 month-old vw golf.

had i tried to pick a longer route, i’d have probably have failed (1,500 miles...) i first went to visit my brother who was working in holland (totally featureless landscape, save for canals, fields of flowers, and windmills) and living in noordvijk, a beach town.

next stop, switzerland. first of all, there’s mountains everywhere, and you’re greeted by guards at the border carrying machine guns, who force you to buy a motorway pass good for a year. next: that was nothing prepared to the shock of looking at the petrol pump as I tried to try and work out in swiss francs what the cost was of filling the tank. this was 15 years ago, and i reckoned it was the equivalent of 7 quid a gallon…that’s $14.. (then).

then on to italy. crazy, mad, impossible, expensive, in otherways inexpensive (decent wine being one of them).. yet always wonderful. took me 6 months to adjust to living there, and 6 months actually enjoying being there. anyone going to live in italy better had not go with any expectations of what they want from italy. this is italy. you will learn…

what does this have to do with the ducati 1098? well, in america, carroll shelby showed those italians a thing or two, that by stuffing a big engine into a small AC (british) car, you could make it go faster. a lot faster. he beat ferrari at it’s own game. that’s something the tifosi don’t particularly worry about too much, as they will only be too happy to tell you that the only manufacturer to have competed in every single season of formula one isn’t the ford motor company. and besides, i doubt many 6-year old boys and 80-year olds alike in america, can describe accurately the sound of a ford engine…in italy, it’s a very different story with the scream of the flat 12 boxer of the hallowed name of the italian marque.

very high (relative to the united states) prices of petrol have resulted in some small, very interesting cars (that perform) and high taxation of larger engined vehicles across europe. in the united states, vehicles have grown dimensionally larger and heavier, gas prices have been (still are) absurdly cheap ($3 isn’t expensive…) and a government that has basically repeatedly driven it’s knee into the balls of public transportation can’t pretend otherwise when there’s been no real capital investment in anything other than continued road-building projects to speak of in the past 20 years or so.

so now we have a situation where detroit is hemorrhaging like leech’s are back in business, at fords and general motors, and all the while these industry bosses are very busy indeed laying off tens of thousands of long-time employees, and shutting down entire factories. yet amazingly these giants of industry continue to market their same, tired line of gas-guzzling pick-up trucks during every commercial break on nfl sunday. bill ford’s ‘bold innovations’, my arse! i’m not seeing any of them on my flat screen…is anybody else? does anyone in the united states know that ford actually produce a car called the ford focus? it's a small, fuel-efficient passenger vehicle...

instead, here’s what everyone saw every single commercial break during the 2006 fox nfl football sunday, sponsored by ford.

Ford F-150 Pick up Truck: Built-Ford-Tough:

this vehicle's specs: 202hp, and it weighs 3,159 kg. that's nearly 35 lbs of weight 'per horsepower'

‘bold innovations’? compared to what! a rock? oh, sorry, that’s a chevy silverado…

so carroll shelby kind of rewrote the book on car performance. but not for long, and only really in america. while nascar (snzzzzzzzz) goes round and round and round, in ovals, touring car championships and rallys, show the auto industry a very different solution, as does indy car racing. it is no surprise (except maybe to americans) that nearly all indy cars are manufactured and engineered in northamptonshire, england. a culture that forces adaptation is the one best placed to extract the most out of limitation (kind of like evolution…)

in america, it’s just the opposite, cheap and plentiful gasoline supply hasn’t created the conditions or market or competition necessary at these very highest levels of racing. good old economics…..(kind of like evolution…)

ask anyone in europe who has been on a racetrack and they will almost universally answer the question “how do you make a vehice go faster?” with “make it lighter”, then “make it more powerful”. this obsession with weight is so well respected, yet so little understood across the pond, it seems, until only of late.

skiing offers a perfect analogy: anyone can go fast downhill in a straight line, but try and make a few quick turns, and all of a sudden, mass works viciously against you. a quick search of all the world cup men’s downhill slalom championship winner’s weights will show that there hasn’t been a single one of nfl offensive tackle proportions…it’s the same for a vehicle on the road or on a track. weight is the enemy of performance, handling, braking, and fuel econmy. period. but you'd never know that living in america...

and so to ducati’s 1098. by the numbers, it puts out 160 bhp and it weighs 173kg…
that's 2.4 lbs of weight 'per horsepower'....!!!!!!!!

this remarkable saturation of pure motorcycling purpose and intent, is an expression of passion as much as it is of design and technical ability. if i were ever able to cock my leg over it, i’m quite sure my hands would be clammy as i grip the ‘bars, my mouth would be dry, my mind racing, my nerves a wreck, and my stomach muscles would be in knots. and this is before i've even started the engine!

when you can speak thus of a member of your stable, bill ford; that is what i would call 'bold innovation'!

until then, it's a pick-up truck...


5th Circle said...

Very well put!

Speaking as a life long American in the heartland (Omaha, Nebraska...and NO I am not a farmer!). The worst part of all the BIGGER IS BETTER crap, is that everyone is now driving SUV's and thinks they are more safe. The issue isn't gas prices, power to weight ratio's or even innovations. The new trucks actually are good. I know because I grew up riding in them(old one's) on my Grandfathers farm. I also am guilty of driving a larger vehicle and so is my wife. But I keep trying to talk her into getting a car for a next vehicle. We just don't need one yet. And I don't drive my pickup much at all, I drive my work truck (that is even worse) all the time, but that isn't my choice.

By the way, I looked at the new 1098 today. WOW!! Ducati is back!

Cheers Bloke,
Kurt (the Yank LOL!)

nutty said...

hello kurt,

thanks mate.

i guess the point i was trying to make was in the very different approach that time, space, money, etc. they are all abused if left unmanaged.

when the first oil crisis hit, why wasn't that a wake-up call? nobody took it seriously enough. the second one did have an effect. for the first time in america, we actually saw small cars coming out of detroit.

what happened after that? nothing! cheap gas prices returned. people just don't want to change.

the issue isn't 'are the trucks any good'. but one day, people will switch to cars, it's only a matter of time. as you say yourself "we just don't need one yet..." well, one day you're going to need one, and detroit is only just waking up to the fact that they aren't the ones that might be the companies selling the vehicles you will be "needing" by then.

why is detroit so backward?. because it's never had to compete. weight requires energy to move it. a lot of weight requires a lot of energy. that's my point.

detroit has never had to compete on these terms with the japanese or with european carmakers, who have for years, been building small, fuel-efficient interesting cars.

the future's a funny thing, except some of it isn't so funny for a lot of people (inc. car workers). detroit is bleeding like a stuck pig, and it really only has itself to blame.

how come toyota are doing so well over here...? i'll tell you: in 1995, they showed the prius at a motor show, and detroit laughed, and concentrated on building highly profitable bigger gas-guzzling trucks and suv's. look who is laughing now. it's not like ford and gm and the others didn't know what might happen...

the ducati 1098 is something else, altogether. beautiful, very light, and very fast! - all from a country that has high gas prices, small cars (few cars sold there are over 2 liters in engine size), and they have no size xxl in their clothes...

vehicle design is also a by-product of culture as much as it is of available technology...

Anonymous said...

the 1098 is beautiful. simply the best looking street bike @. elegant and simple enough for the everyday gangsta to embrace this gem of a rocket into monumental sales