DUCATI'S DIRTY DOZEN CHALLENGE
BY: SPENCER HILL
After four days of gnarly riding in Colorado, risking life and limb for what Ducati North America called the Dirty Dozen challenge, I thought about what drives us to embark on adventures and undertake challenges. This was a self-guided, self-supported scavenger hunt to ride twelve of the most rugged passes in Colorado aboard Ducati’s most ambitious foray into the adventure market to date, the Desert X. If I managed to bag all twelve peaks and document the process via social media, I could expect to receive a custom decal. So, what compelled me to travel to Colorado on a whim to see if I had what it would take? Do we ride to the tops of mountains simply because they are there? Sure, any excuse to ride, right? And the riding promised to be spectacular, but what is the point when the only reward is bragging rights and a sticker?
It all started with an innocuous phone call to my friend Cory Hansen of Camel ADV. I asked if he had seen Ducati’s recent social media post regarding something called The Dirty Dozen. He had not, and after I explained that it was a challenge specifically laid out for Ducati Desert X owners to ride twelve mountain passes over twelve thousand feet in Colorado, his immediate response was: “When are we going?” Similarly, when I watched the first MotoGeo YouTube episode chronicling the challenge with my wife, she presented me with an equally phrased question, albeit, with slight sarcastic undertones.
To understand the Dirty Dozen, you must understand a little about Jason Chinnock, Colorado native and CEO of Ducati North America. This concept was his brainchild and something that started to take shape in his mind some twenty years ago while organizing group rides out of a dealership in Ft. Collins, CO. He is a firm believer that motorcycles should bring you joy, not status and an avid rider himself, he rode a Desert X directly from the press launch last summer to map out this challenge and document the experience with Jamie Robinson of MotoGeo. Once they completed the inaugural run with video footage in hand, they knew it would be a perfect gauntlet for Desert X owners who wanted to put themselves and their machines to the test.
I knew I had to do it almost immediately after the Dirty Dozen was brought to my attention. It instantly assumed residence in my mind rent-free. Within a few days, we discussed dates, and four weeks later, our tires hit Colorado soil. Was it as easy as that? See a challenge and conquer it? I suppose it would depend on your level of interest, but I am fairly sure this is not how everyone is wired. Given the opportunity, most adventure riders would go on a trip like this if all the stars aligned, but what percentage of people would drop everything and move mountains to make it materialize?
From the jump, I knew that my friend Cory was the perfect companion for this challenge because he is one of the most competitive individuals I have ever met and a world-class rider. His two-wheel resume includes RTW travel, appearances in the GS Trophy & KTM’s Ultimate Race, and podium finishes on large displacement machines in storied races such as The Desert 100 and Virginia City Grand Prix. He had the chops, but more importantly, I knew he was a glutton for punishment, not unlike myself, and he just so happened to have a Desert X of his own for product development.
Thankfully, I had access to a Desert X that I lovingly dubbed the Trail Tech Explorer. I took possession of it new and outfitted it as one of the Trail Tech brand bikes as Marketing Manager. I’d spent the last ten months getting acquainted with the new platform, but was still unsure of its capabilities.
Little thought had gone into planning, short of loading various tracks and maps for each pass into our Voyager Pro GPS units and prepping our bikes for battle. When we geared up in Colorado, we hadn’t discussed what order to attempt the passes, where we would stay, or any contingency plans. That was the beauty of undertaking this with just one other rider who shared the same goal. We were agile, and plans seemed to fall in place as the trip progressed.
On Day One, we made a quick jaunt to the top of Mosquito Pass from Leadville and then worked our way south via Cottonwood en route to Tincup, Hancock, and Cumberland. Our climb up Mosquito was marked by all-encompassing fog that did not let us reap the rewards of our efforts with a view. It was an excellent warm-up for what would come later in the day, challenging enough to get the blood flowing and shake off cobwebs but not demanding enough to sap our energy completely. However, the thin air above 10,000 ft immediately impacted our bodies and bikes. This was marked by extra huffing and puffing over our helmet comms and a noticeable difference when twisting the throttle. As the misty morning transitioned to an on-again/off-again driving rain, we approached the town of Tincup. The pass itself was a spicy appetizer for what turned out to be a five-star spicy entree in Hancock, complete with side dishes of dirt bikers telling us to turn back. Once we reached the top of Hancock, we cruised over to Cumberland, which was a mellow, if not anti-climactic, way to close out our first day.
On Day Two, we started in Crested Butte and spontaneously decided to ride Schofield Pass based on its proximity and the feeling that we needed some extra relish to make up for the closure of Black Bear*. Scofield’s billing as the deadliest pass in Colorado did not disappoint. We did not die, but it was plain to see how this stretch of “road” has claimed so many lives. At the crux, just above the ominously named Devil’s Punchbowl, large rock spines demanded our full attention both on the way down and up. We rode the pass out and back to negate claims that we did it the “easy way.” However, I would argue that either direction on Schofield would be problematic for most mortals on full-size adventure bikes. We were both shocked by how well The Desert X managed the terrain; it started changing how we rode and our opinions.
After fueling up on tacos back in Crested Butte, we headed for the Alpine Loop and the remaining balance of the passes. We made a quick detour as far up Black Bear Pass as possible before catching the sunset at 12,321 ft and making our way down to Silverton to call it a night.
*Regretfully, we could not complete Black Bear or even ride to the pass itself due to a closed gate.
Day Three kicked off in Silverton, where strong coffee and greasy breakfast food propelled us to scratch Stony, Cinnamon, California, Hurricane, and Corkscrew Passes off the list before noon. Then, after a spirited rip up and over Ophir Pass, we had a late lunch in Telluride and started climbing Imogene just as the day’s heat began to wane. The further we climbed, the more we agreed that this would be the crown jewel of the lot. Our expectations were not high after the blur of passes we knocked out that morning. Imogene was exceptional, and we commemorated it with a pinch flat and grizzly bear encounter on our way into Ouray for sustenance and much-needed rest.
Day Four was when it all caught up with us: the bumpy miles, aggressive riding, slow speed tumbles, and subsequent bike dead-lifts. Thankfully, we had the foresight to stay at an establishment with hot spring pools, and a long pre-breakfast soak can be credited with giving us the will to tackle another day. Similarly to Imogene, we did not have lofty expectations for Engineer Pass, and again, we were bowled over. Having ridden to the top of Engineer together a few years back from the Animas Forks side, we expected a similar milk run to the top. Instead, we were treated to some of the most challenging riding of the trip on our approach from Poughkeepsie Gulch. It was a delightful way to round out the trip and even more rewarding. When we pounded fists at the top of Engineer Pass, an overwhelming sense of accomplishment washed over me, and I immediately knew that endorphin hit was why I made the journey.
It had been a marathon, not a sprint; a little foolish riding or unnecessary bravado could have cost us the trip. I was pessimistic; I did not think we had great odds to complete the ride, and there were too many variables. Weather, injuries, trail conditions, and mechanical issues were all reasonable to expect on an adventure ride of this scale. On day two, I fully submerged my Desert X in a river crossing at the top of Schofield Pass. That should have brought our endeavor to a gurgling halt, but miraculously the engine did not suck water, and the worst outcome was soggy boots. So much had to go right, and only one thing could potentially go wrong and dash our hopes. That is why the celebration atop Engineer felt so gratifying.
Ultimately, we completed Imogene, Cinnamon, Engineer, Corkscrew, Hurricane, California, Stony, Tincup, Cumberland, Hancock, Mosquito, and Schofield; with Ophir, Cottonwood, and (most of) Black Bear as bonuses.
Before we took on the Dirty Dozen, we both logged some miles on our Desert Xs, and they performed admirably, but I do not know if they would have been either of our first choices for this mission. Cory and I both lamented the lack of bottom-end “grunt” and the softness of the stock suspension, but by the end of the trip, we agreed it was the only tool for the job. Part of this can be attributed to custom suspension work, but the bike deserves plenty of roses. We approached obstacles with extra momentum and rode technical sections more fluidly. The bike indiscriminately ate up miles, dirt, and pavement. All the transiting between passes was downright enjoyable, and neither of us was ready to jump off our bikes when the trip ended, as is sometimes the case.
Ducati knew best, or at least assumed, that if customers used their machines to get to these unique places, they would have to see the virtue in their engineering. And if they didn’t? What an excuse to see some of the coolest towns in Colorado! Leadville, Tincup, St. Elmo, Silverton, Telluride, Ouray, Crested Butte. Not to mention the untold number of historic landmarks, ghost towns, and unworldly vistas. No matter the outcome, it would be hard to begrudge them after seeing this cross-section of Colorado.
So, what was the point of this silly competition for a small subset of Ducati owners within a tiny segment of motorcycles? I knew in my bones that this competition was a prompt for one of my life’s most memorable moto trips. The prize or outcome did not matter; the experience was the point and all the reward needed.