Last weekend we attended our first “Cafe Desmo” at ProItalia. As long time Ducatisti we here at GearheadExchange have nothing but love for Pro Italia. They’ve been around 25 years (and this year’s Cafe Desmo show was a celebration of that anniversary) which is long enough for us to consider them one of the original members of Ducati’s “modern era” shops. ProItalia, along with Munroe Motors in San Francisco represent the “old guard” dealerships that have been selling, supporting, and servicing the brand since the days the company was owned by Cagiva. As new 900SS owners in the early 90s, Pro Italia’s instructional DVD taught us how to adjust the valves ourselves (it’s really not that hard, at least not on the 2v motors) and we appreciated their desire to educate owners about their motorcycles.
Flash forward to 2012 and the Glendale based dealership is still selling, servicing, and supporting the Bologna brand, along with Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, MV Augusta, and recently added Triumph. It had been a while since we’d visited their shop and so when we heard about the 17th edition of “Cafe Desmo” (how did we miss the first 16 !?) we quickly signed up, checking “Vintage Ducati” on a list that included “Superbike”, “Cafe Racer”, “British”, “Naked European”, and several other categories on the show form. A week later we loaded up our 66 Mach One and headed south for Glendale, with no idea what to expect. Knowing that Los Angeles is home to a large contingent of motorcyclists, especially Ducati owners we figured the brand would be well represented. We imagined that the bulk of the entrants would be modern Superbikes, 1198s, 1098s, 999s and the like, with perhaps a few vintage bevels and singles making the show.
Pulling up to the ProItalia’s location it was immediately clear that the 2012 edition of Cafe Desmo was much more than a small gathering of Ducati enthusiasts. The event spanned 4 blocks, each barricaded from through traffic. ProItalia staffers in official event shirts guided us to a nearby alley where they helped us unload our little bevel drive single and then directed us to the event parking lot nearby. At the registration desk we were photographed with our little Duc and handed a Dainese bag with a nice shirt, a Ducati magazine, a handful of stickers, a MotoGuzzi bandana, and a Rizoma parts catalog, which we’ll comment upon later.
We found a spot for our little Ducati at the end of a long line of gorgeous vintage motorcycles, including a Moto Rumi 125 SS which was our absolute favorite of the show, a beautifully restored Ducati 125 Sport, a Moto Morini 3 1/2, a Ceccato, and a Gilera with a dustbin fairing that was second only to the Rumi in charm.
Feeling a bit like a child on Christmas morning, wondering which present to open first, we began to make our way through the various sections. There was no shortage of impressively built customs, restored classics, and survivors. The modern Superbikes were well represented with an original 888 Ducati, an MV F3, and a 1098 painted in Gulf racing colors, which actually looked pretty good despite our general opinion that a Ducati in any color other than red is somehow “less Ducati.”
A stage at the far end of the street next to the ProItalia location was ground zero for Nick Ienatsch.
The former AMA GP250, WERA and WSMC racer, and longtime moto journalist is not only a real motorcycle guy with excellent knowledge of all things 2 wheeled, he’s also comfortable behind a mic, and a super nice guy. He spent the next three hours walking up and down each row of motorcycles, stopping at many of them to interview their owners, concluding with letting each machine speak for itself as their engines were started for the microphone.
If you got thirsty and hungry, which was inevitable due to the 100+ degree heat there were several food trucks, two local restaurants, and a food vendor among the show where you could get everything from pizza, to hot dogs, to bottles of cold water and refreshing drinks. ProItalia had canopies for nearly all the motorcycles, so it was possible to get in the shade and cool off, if a seat on the shady grass on the street corner didn’t appeal. Numerous vendors were in attendance, including Reg Pridmore’s CLASS (our first ever track day back in the early 90s), FastTrack Riders, Shuberth helmets, and Deus Ex Machina, whom we love.
Back to the motorcycles, it was hard to know where to start, and where to stop. Perhaps our favorite thing about Cafe Desmo is that it is “non-denominational.” Despite the heavy Ducati focus, machines of all types, eras and country of origin were represented. There was even a 1902 Pierce in unrestored condition which made a brief appearance. On one corner sat a Honda RC 30 in beautiful condition.
While just across from it sat a row of custom Cafe Racers. Just down the street was a Ducati 907 i.e, but in this case the “e” stood for “electric”, its owner having removed the original 2v Ducati power plant in exchange for an electric motor.
The show was truly global in scope, with some gorgeous Asian made machines, including a Suzuki RG500 which was perhaps our favorite of that category.
Simply put, if you are a motorcyclist there was something there for you, from the unique, like Deus Ex Machina’s HD powered American Cafe Racer…
to the significant, such as the heavily modified Ducati Sport 1100 known as “New Blue.”. This NCR built machine is, an homage to Cook Neilson’s original 750SS (known as “Old Blue”) and uses just about every trick in the legendary Italian tuners’ book of tricks.
As is often the case, the machines parked outside the show were also impressive, with a variety of custom Superbikes, Cafe Racers, and vintage makes represented. Still, the star of the show as far as we were concerned was the 1955 Moto Rumi 125 SS. This 125cc machine is unknown to many, including some vintage motorcycle enthusiasts. Their diminutive size and simplicity by modern standards, but back in their time they were highly tuned and very successful race bikes. These little parallel twins with their twin carbs remind many of us of the RD400s and RZ350s we rode in the 70s and 80s, and their beautiful Italian style is, to us, simply gorgeous.
Just look at the details of this jewel like machine.
One of the many great things about motorcycles is that while we all love them for the way they transport our bodies and souls, is the fact that past the basic elements of an engine and two wheels, they are as individual as their riders. We can love and appreciate a machine’s beauty even if it’s far from our idea of the perfect motorcycle. What we love most about shows like these are that we learn not only about the machine, but also the men and women behind them, and there is a story, usually a great one, attached to both. So whether your interests lean toward exquisitely restored vintage motorcycles like that 55 Rumi, or a custom Cafe Racer dripping with bespoke accessories, you learn something about the person or persons whose vision, hard work, and commitment resulted in it being there for you to see. Ultimately those are the qualities which give life to what would otherwise be merely be pieces of metal, rubber, and plastic bolted together.
On the topic of accessories, earlier we mentioned the Rizoma “book” in our contestant’s bag.
Rizoma is an Italian company which makes aftermarket accessories for premium motorcycles. It turns out that the book is actually the company catalog and it is impressive. We’re not sure how much it cost to print, but we’re guessing it wasn’t cheap. In an age where printed material has taken a back seat to web based publishing, it’s a testament to Rizoma’s commitment to quality that they produce such a beautiful catalog of their products.
In closing, the 2012 edition of Cafe Desmo was a fantastic event, filled with gorgeous machines and knowledgeable and passionate motorcyclists. We wish Pro Italia continued success and look forward to attending next year’s show.
Stay on the throttle!