My first substantial exposure to Ducati came about four years back, when I worked on the sales floor of a motorcycle dealership. We had around ten brands under our roof, Ducati being one of them. Before that, my interaction with the two-wheeled scarlet Italian was limited to the few I saw in traffic and on group rides. All I really knew about Ducatis were that they were drop-dead gorgeous but hilariously impractical and expensive — exactly why the brand is both coveted and disdained.

Go back through any motorcycle company’s history — hell, even any car company’s history — and you’ll be hard pressed to find another manufacturer that has produced a better ratio of stunners to eyesores. You can’t. Especially where sport bikes — Ducati’s bread and butter — are concerned. Most Japanese bikes, and even BMW’s S1000RR, are cartoonishly complicated, with more fairing vents and edges than you can shake a camshaft at. And you can’t even blame those “aerodynamic” transgressions on computer-aided wind-tunnel testing or searching for that last 0.001 second on the track, because Ducati designs the Panigale using wind tunnels too. Except the Panigale looks as though someone (with an advanced knowledge of aerodynamics) sculpted the bike’s graceful fairings by hand. Ducatis demonstrate a seductive simplicity, whereas others can only manage cold industriousness.

But as a sales guy, selling the considerably-less-expensive but equally fast Kawasaki and Honda counterparts right next to the Ducatis, I still couldn’t wrap my head around how the Italian marque garnered the more passionate devotees. Ducati’s cult following of riders, the Ducatisti, certainly don’t have a Kawasaki or Honda equivalent that can compare in terms of undying allegiance. But when you look at initial price, annual service or regular maintenance, how could going Italiano it be worth it?

For the largest Italian motorcycle company, Ducati’s operation in Bologna is still an incredibly intimate affair, and there’s no emphasis too great that would describe the tension in the air as I poked around with my camera. One shop foreman’s face turned a few shades too close to rosso corsa before my guide explained that my presence was a generous exception. From the designers who live and breathe Ducati’s rich history, to each engine’s single, dedicated builder, to the hair-trigger-tempered factory union boss, the passion milled into each bike that leaves Bologna is palpable. Clearly, you’re buying more than just a motorcycle.