Bologna's exotic and desirable Ducatis are turning heads in Hong Kong Business has been booming at Hong Kong's only licensed Ducati dealership, which opened in July last year. 'They have been selling at a rate of about 65 a year. We are looking for a bigger shop - about 2,000 square feet. We need a service department with a larger showroom so we can show the full line of models and more accessories,' Ducati Hong Kong shop manager Danny Lo says. In addition to bikes, the shop carries helmets, clothes and accessories. The company also has a 3,000 sqft warehouse in Kowloon with 15 bikes in stock. Based in Bologna, Italy, Ducati has been building motorcycles since 1926. It won 11 of past 12 World Superbike Championships, taking more titles and more individual victories than all other makes. The only other make to win over the past 15 years is Honda, which won in 1997, 1990, 1989 and 1988. Ducati's bikes are sold in more than 40 countries, and are especially popular in western Europe and North America. 'In the beginning they didn't sell as well in Hong Kong as Japanese bikes because they were quite expensive. Now all kinds of people buy them,' Mr Lo says. He says a Ducati costs about 30 per cent more than a comparable Japanese bike, but is worth the higher price. 'The engine has sound, character, styling and strong torque.' Simon Vallance, owner of Simon's Motorcyclist Workshop in Sai Kung and membership secretary of the Hong Kong Classic Bike Club, has owned seven to eight Ducati bikes, including a 1998 SS that went up in a ball of flames after hitting a taxi that pulled out in front of him. He was left with multiple fractures, but his enthusiasm was not dampened. Mr Vallance's love affair with the Ducati started 15 years ago when he took a ride on a friend's 1966 Mach 1 model. 'In Britain they were quite unusual. A friend owned one and I rode it and was hooked. You either love them or you hate them. They have a lot of character. They handle extremely well, the brakes are very good, and they're very comfortable.' Mark Matthews, director of Asia sales at Comptel Communications in Kuala Lumpur, has owned three Ducatis. Before, he rode BMWs. His first Ducati was a 900 Monster, which he bought on his arrival in Malaysia six years ago. It was 'totally the wrong bike for me as I was really looking for more of a touring bike, and my then girlfriend, now wife, found it very uncomfortable to ride more than 100km without stopping. The main reason for buying the Monster was the look and the sound. It's a real poser's bike,' Mr Matthews said. He gradually converted the Monster to use on the track, making it even less comfortable. 'But I got hooked on track days, so kept on converting,' he says. After a year or so of track days, he switched to a real track bike, trading the Monster for a 916. 'That was when the serious conversion started. The bike has now been upgraded to 955cc, with the conversion being done by V-two in Australia ... I bought the engine and many track parts second hand.' Mr Matthews is now in his second season racing in the Malaysian Super Series (MSS) at Sepang. Deciding that the bike was holding him back, he recently bought a burnt-out 998R, the top-of-the range 998 racing model. 'The bike will take a lot to get it running again after the fire, but should be more competitive than the 955. The Ducatis ... are far from the most powerful bikes on the track and are certainly not cheap. I could buy a new Japanese flier for less than I will end up paying to get the 998 running properly.' So, with all the drawbacks, why continue with Ducati? 'Because I really couldn't bring myself to buy or ride Japanese, so the only thing left is Italian ... and to my mind, the 998 is the ultimate Ducati, even though it was superseded by the 999 last year,' he says. For every Ducati aficionado there is at least one detractor. According to Ian Foster, chairman of the Hong Kong Classic Bike Club, the Ducati 'breaks down way too often, is too small, too expensive, too slow, too common, and too much trouble. It rates way down there at the bottom of my bike wish list, just above Harley-Davidson.'