This is what we’re thinking - let us know what you’ve been up to, especially if it involved messing around with old Italians and you’ve got the pictures to prove it...
9th Jun 2012 - Whatever happened to Steve Wynne?
I've been chatting to Steve Wynne, trying to get the definitive low-down on the Hailwood-Sports Motorcycle years. As the years pass the story becomes murkier, and I'd love to get the definitive version. Sadly the years don't just pass - as well as the loss of Mike Hailwood, Roger Nicholls and Giorgio Nepoti have also passed away, and Giuliano Pedretti seems to have vanished. Anyway, the list of folk who helped Steve is long and distinguished (it even includes Cook Neilson) but of course it was orchestrated by Steve under the banner of his Sports Motorcycles dealership. Unsurprisingly that is still a powerful brand, so little wonder that Steve has relaunched it from his adopted homeland, New Zealand, with a friend who used to do his engineering and machining when Steve ran race teams that included Foggy and Ron Haslam. Glyn Robinson, formerly of Gleave Engineering, does the machining of everything from footrests to TT2 frames plus there's stuff like the iconic tee shirts the team wore (below - hang on, why am I advertising other people's tee shirts? Oh, well... you can see a pic of Steve wearing one at the 1978TT in issue 5 of
5th Jun 2012 - Pump it up
I've fond memories of petrol stations - I used to moonlight at them during fifth and sixth form which partly explains my exam grades and how a schoolkid had a motorcycle. Back then a pump jockey (as we liked to think of ourselves) would not only fill your tank for you while you sat in your nice, warm and dry car, we'd be expected to check oil and battery fluids. There was commission to be earned by selling anything over-and-above the petrol, and the friend who got me the job quickly taught me the ropes. Like offer to check the oil as soon as you could - the sooner you got that dipstick out, the lower the oil level would appear, with a lot of it still up in the head and galleries. I cringe now, knowing what can happen to an overfilled engine, but back then all cars used a fair bit. Or so I tell myself.
Next up was trying to convince folk to buy a new battery - I see that in today's terms a battery cost around £200 when Queenie came to the throne in 1953 - no wonder people were paranoid about checking them or leaving car lights on. The job we dreaded was cleaning windscreens - no money to earn, and a real risk of waiting customers moving on to the next garage before we got to them.
Because here's a thing - there were around 500 cars for every petrol station back then, compared to nearly 4,000 today. In and around my home town I can recall 12 service stations as they were called - today there are just three. And you have to serve yourself, then queue to pay behind someone doing the weekly shop. Same thing's being tried in supermarkets with self service tills and of course online shopping - we do all the work, and the chap who used to serve you has long gone. Along with the shop, the cleaners and everything else that made a small town tick. I'm sure there was at least as much delivery work back then, because most shops would deliver, and of course stock had to get to them first.
This is why, batteries, oil and fuel aside, everything's cheaper now in real terms than it was 60 years ago. But that means far fewer semi-skilled jobs are available too. Some you win, some you lose. Or rather, some win, some lose. Anyway as a bit of nostalgia here's my old Darmah as seen past issues of Benzina plus a great bit of reimagining forwarded to me by Jan Leek
1st Jun 2012 - Bank Holiday Grey vs Teas and Cakes
Funny how many people greeted Dr Girlie Nice-Smile with, "You're the cake lady" at Stafford: but this weekend that's definitely the talent she'll be using most. Inevitably we've a street party for Jubilee Tuesday and of course this Saturday, despite the grey and damp skies, we're open for Teas and Cakes from 2pm - just email via the Benzina website for directions and an invite. Actually the local weather forecast has Saturday down as the best of the four day holiday, so it may be your only chance for a ride.
Talking of which I'm looking for a modern daily rider that's a bit more laid back than the Paso. I was smitten by the V7 Guzzi I rode on my personal mini-Giro in Italy last year (more on riding the old Circuito del Lario in issue 9 of Benzina - out mid June) but do wonder if the lack of power might be an issue long term. Any dealers want to offer a three month test ride to help convince me to buy ( a second-hand) one, please give me a call. Well, if you don't ask...
15th May 2012 - Can't buy me love
Ex-Ducati racer Carlo Saltarelli's motorcycle collection threw up a few surprises now that the prices are on view via RM auctions Monaco results. Smaller bikes made less than you might think (585 Euros for a 500 Desmo Sport, and the same for a four stroke 125 Cadet, though like all prices there's a further 17% buyer's premium which is subject to VAT ) probably reflecting the cost and hassle of getting the bikes from Monaco to wherever you call home. But 2340 Euros for a 600 Monster looked plenty, as did 6-9000 Euros for 450 Scramblers. But against 13,000 Euros for a 350 Desmo maybe they're cheap.
Surprises were the 750 bevels; a nice GT (estimate 12-15E) made a whopping 38,000E, and a square case 750SS (estimate 15-20E) went for 32,000E. Someone clearly has mislaid the Ian Falloon/Mick Walker section of their library. Some of the race bikes, despite great provenance, failed to match those figures proving that collectors still value original mass produced bikes above bikes with genuine history. Sorry, but they're idiots. Even more bizarre was the 30,000E paid for the 450 racer (above) that appears in all the Ducati books. That's more than a genuine SCR factory racer. Luckily I don't have the money to worry about such things, but I will point out (again!) that two years ago I was telling anyone with the cash to buy 750F1s, then readily available for £5-7,000. And now North Leicester Motorcycles want £18k for the one below, having already achieved £15k for a lesser bike.
14th May 2012 - Laverda moped for sale
On eBay today is this Laverda moped. Fun for 5 minutes... You might get great mpg, and the crew who ride Laverda 98's down to Italy for charity are heroes, but not for me, thanks. Folk say 'peds'll do 40+mph (Classic Bike claim this month a Cucciolo will do 45!)but I've never seen tiddlers do much more than 30 on a speedo I'd trust. Friends had Garelli Rekords back in the'70s when they still weighed 8 stone dripping wet, but a following car speedo never troubled the 45 mark. Meanwhile the Garelli clocks were touching 60; now that's how to keep your customers satisfied
12th May 2012 - Never mind the bhp...where did mpg go?
Couple of folk approaching their full motorcycle licensing entitlement have asked me what bike they should get, and surprisingly all are looking at classic middleweights that cost more than a nearly-new modern equivalent. So what's going on?
First up is that a Morini 350 or Honda 400/4 looks like a manageable motorcycle, rather than the alien hover-scooter look modern Japanese "nakeds" seem to go for. The cool young things admire the Davida/Belstaff/Lewis Leathers look, and with a few exceptions (Hinckley Bonneville, Guzzi V7) there are no new bikes that complement that sort of image.
Second though is the monster prices we're paying for fuel. I filled up at £1.39 a litre last night - well over £6 a gallon. Gone are the days of riding with a fiver inside your boot for fuel. Yet the V7 I rode in Italy last summer struggled to get near 50mpg even ridden gently around Lake Como, despite having no more performance than a 500 Imola of 30 years ago that would easily top 55mpg. "Emission regulations" was the excuse offered by the Guzzi dealer who rented it to me. Really? My far more heavily regulated Fiat 500 is at least as economical with petrol as the V7, and will still top 100mph.
The motor industry must love this - in the name of saving the planet we must build more vehicles using ever more exotic materials (platinum for the catalytic converter, lithium for the batteries) and making everything heavier in the name of safety and cabin space. But at least the cars are getting more economical - the Austin A35 I learnt to drive in amazed my father with its 30-plus mpg which I thought it was appalling given there was no discernable acceleration. At the time my 400/4 would mange 45-48mpg even when thrashed as only a teenager can. In fact it seems to me that every motorcycle over 250cc I've ever ridden has done 40-something mpg. Maybe this was fine and dandy in the days of cheap fuel - yet these days sub 40mpg seems acceptable in the name of absolute bhp.
I started to thing about this when I was running a 450 Desmo on the Giro. Hammering after the big bikes it would still happily top 60mpg. Ditto an MV Agusta 350 Sport. So I dug out some period rod tests, which confirmed these are typical fuel consumption figures for these motorcycles, not the result of my aged, limp wrist. Yet back in the day nobody commented that performance middleweights were giving the sort of mpg normally associated with Japanese two-stroke 125s. Instead the testers grumbled that the bikes weren't as fast as 400 two-strokes. But that was then, this is now. If motorcycling wants to attract new blood (which it's been claiming it wants to since at least the mid-1970s) the industry needs to build what buyers want, and right now that means motorcycles that look the part and are cheap to run. How cheap? Well the Guzzi Lodola 235 that Richard rode through the Dolomites in the latest issue of Benzina managed 140mpg. Yes, one-hundred-and-forty miles to each gallon. Sure, you might want a slightly higher top speed than 65mph, but somewhere between the 450 Desmo's 63mpg/100mph and the Lodola's 140mpg/65mph is a sweet spot that is perfect for our straightened times. Pinching styling cues from those motorcycles would be a good idea too. When I put this to someone in the industry, they poo-poo'd the idea. "We need big numbers" he sneered. OK, Royal Enfield (selling a period-styled 500 that does 85mpg and 80mph) is trebling production. Big enough numbers? Oh yes.
6th May 2012 - Hypothetical worries
The Air Chamber for sale in a past blog was spotted by the seller's wife - who started asking questions about the woman in the picture and how and when she was in her garage. Or she might be pulling my leg... Anyway here's the actual thing keeping the damp off the very bike that apperaed in Benzina #6 - Phil's MV Agusta 350 Ipotesi ("Hypothesis" - as in how do you update the earlier Sport 350 (below, by legendary Guy Webster
) to compete in the late 1970s marketplace)
4th May 2012 - My sort of driveway
Thanks to all who came to tea-and cakes today; my sort of driveway, with a brace of Laverda triples (RGS and SFC), Guzzi Le Manses, a lovely Falcone Sport plus the Lodola that features in Benzina issue 8, and a Ducati Hailwood Rep. And a Guzzi Cali that featured an excellent cup holder (below) years before the car industry dreamt up the idea. Next Teas and Cakes is Saturday 2 June - see you then?
4th May 2012 - Air Chamber for sale, MV woes - and tea and cakes
Who'd be a new motorcycle (or indeed car) dealer these days? You have to kit out the premises at vast expense to a pre-ordained formula, order a full years stock in the depths of winter with the prescience of a time traveller. Even then if the manufacturer finds they've a hit on their hands it's the dealer who has to explain to ever less patient punters that their pre-ordered bike will be 11 months late and cost more money than they'd been told.
That's the reason one subscriber's got this brand new Airchamber for sale - (above): RRP £255, offers invited to email@example.com. He'd ordered an MV Agusta F3 way back in January at full list price of £9999. He's now been told it'll be at least £200 more and not available till early 2013. Unsurprisingly he's cancelled the order. Piaggio are also blaming dealers for the shortage of Guzzi V7s last year - they really expect even small dealers to order everything they think they might be able to sell at the start of the season (which could mean having to pay for their entire years stock within 90 days of ordering) and then wondering why they only sold 300-odd bikes in the UK last year.
Chat to dealers and the marque they want is Triumph. Triumph look after dealers, accept times are tough and that a happy, well stocked (with spares, kit and bikes) dealer can offer us mere punters the level of service we crave. There's not really a Trumpet I'd want (OK, a Speed Triple, if you're offering) but I love the pride owners and dealers take in the brand, and in these desperate time most of all I love the jobs and wealth Triumph bring to the UK
On a happier note Saturday 2pm on all welcome to our monthly Teas and Cakes meet (last one of 2011 pictured below) - see you then
2nd May 2012 - The rain in... Stafford
Luckily, the rain in Stafford falls mainly on the outside. The poor autojumblers got alternatively soaked and blown away by the air ambulance on Saturday, and all had left by Sunday morning to avoid getting trapped in the quagmire of clay and rain. Which meant the main hall stayed busy - especially when Ago (above) gave his little chats. Nothing revelatory although a fellow scribbler who's also interviewed him remembered how you could tell when a pretty lady was walking behind you - Ago's eyes swivel, followed by a lull in the conversation, then his head follows said senorita. Ah, Ago, you old silver fox. I did like his line that after the Isle of Man, a race at Assen "was like a day on the beach."
Thanks to all who came to say hi, including Benzina's new Running Out of Road columnist, Mark Williams (below), although we might need to upgrade his reading matter first...
18th Apr 2012 - Inspiration - then Norton nick the idea
Watching the Chinese F1 race on Sunday (don't cancel the subscription - I was killing the monotony of ironing) I was struck by Mercedes post-race rationale on why their victory was important.
The Mercedes F1 car is really nothing of the sort - it's a typical Garagista effort (as Enzo Ferrari called F1 teams not entered by a bone-fide manufacturer) with Mercedes picking up the tab in return for the team being called Mercedes Silver Arrows. Sunday's win was the first for a car thus described since Fangio won the 1955 Italian GP with a Silver Arrow that really had been built in Germany. Anyway, Mercedes delight was especially great because they won in China with a car that spoke of a heritage few other car makers can dream of. Their message is clear - new money is crass, but because that's the norm in the emerging economies (China especially), you can look like old money by buying into a brand that speaks of longevity and class. And if Mr Newly-Minted of Beijing buys a Mercedes (in silver, of course) not only has he bought from a company that wins in F1, he's buying from a company that can trace its F1 victories back to Pre-don't-mention-the-war days.
Hmmm, I thought. Moto Guzzi could do with some of that, especially since their new California 1400 (below) is the perfect competitor to the default Harley that the new markets love as much as the latest sportsbike. Except Guzzi don't have a sportsbike...Do they?
Well, Piaggio seem so keen to move Guzzi out of Mandello and closer to the modern Aprilia factory that they may have missed an idea I've shameless copied from Alejandro de Tomaso. His plan was to make Benelli mainstream, and Guzzi the upmarket, premium brand. So couldn't Piaggio built a modern Guzzi racer based around the Aprilia V4, maybe even for the CRT class in Moto GP? Perfect way to reposition Guzzi as a premium product and make the new Cali sell as well and as profitably as Ducati's Diavel? So obvious I wondered why no-one else had thought of it.
Ah, they have: Norton have just announced that they will race a Spondon framed Aprilia V4 (above) at the TT, with a "Norton" sticker on the tank. Damn, wish I'd called the Patent Office on Monday...
15th Apr 2012 - Monster SFC at tea and cakes
That should read Monsters, SFC, MZ and Enfield at teas and cakes. As the sun broke through Jack brought his "new" SFC (top) which is one of nine (yes, nine) Laverda triples he now owns. I guess the kid's bicycles now live outside.
Three Monsters turned up, including Richard's 696, brought as a change from his Lodola that features in Benzina #008 (below) although our greyhound wannabe,Ziggy, clearly thought it was a Parilla.
Benzina #008 ( available to order now ) out soon and certainly in time for the Stafford Classic Bike show where we'll be in the main hall, opposite Davida, on the 28/29 April. See you there
14th Apr 2012 - Sunday lunch
Sorry for the short notice, but this Sunday there's charity lunch at Carluccio's in Covent Garden in support of Riders for Health. There are ride ins from around the M25, and after lunch there's a charity auction - we've donated one of the Tribute-to-Cook-and-Phil tees signed by Cook Neilson; he even used a blue pen to match the logo on the one that will be auctioned and we've thrown in copies of Benzina issue 1 that tells the story of Cook and Phil Schilling's Old Blue/California Hot Rod, plus issue 4 that tells why Phil designed the tee shirt this was back in the 1970s. Cook has only signed three of these tees so hopefully it will sell well and support Riders for Healthexcellent work
More info via firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0844 318 6848 to book your place.
13th Apr 2012 - Tea and cakes - and Thruxton BSB
First Teas and Cakes of the year this Saturday, 2pm on - we're less than a 30 minute ride from Thruxton which is hosting this weekends BSB races - watch Saturday practice then come and meet some like minded souls. Please email if you'll join us: helps catering arrangements and we'll send back directions; we can be tricky to find
12th Apr 2012 - Ducati to launch M620 powered scooter!
No, not really - though this must be the running script in Ducati boardroom meetings theese days. The clip must be the most redubbed on YouTube, but still made us smile...
4th Apr 2012 - Dondo dreaming
One of the bossmen at Moto Corsa graciously allowed us access to his lovely Guzzi collection to photograph for Benzina #009 (I know, I know...#008's not out yet). The top pic was taken by Vespamore Photography on film with an old OM-10 and out-of-date film that can be processed to give these great effects; yes, that's my 900SS on his site looking very 1975. Groovy, baby...
My conventional digital effort is below; magnesium alloy drum brakes taste nearly as nice as the bacon sarnies that our host kindly provided. What do you mean, how do I know..?
2nd Apr 2012 - Back in the room
I've been tied to the computer and not even stuck my head in the garage for weeks. Even this blog's been abandoned and the kid's have finally gone feral. Never mind, issue 8 of Benzina is just about done so will be printed and on sale at Stafford. Included are stories on running Bimota's life-saving DB1 in road and race trim, then a run back down the years and capacity ladder brings in a 1956 Gilera 175 Sferica. Plus riding a Guzzi Lodola to the Dolomites and painting the Alpine views...as you do. And loads more
Bigger news is that I've been desperately trying to get the new look A4 Benzina #009 out for Stafford as well; bigger, better and with new contributors you'll really want to read. The timescale's looking very ambitious, but if you don't try...
BUT IN THE MEANTIME - we won't run teas and cakes this Saturady because we've got the family here for Easter - but we will welcome you all to ride over for, well Teas and Cakes, Saturday 14 April at 2pm. See you then
14th Mar 2012 - 1978 Castrol 6 hour video
This was the second year Mike Hailwood raced a 750SS in the Castrol 6 hours, just a couple of months before his TT comeback - full story in issue 7 of Benzina. Thanks to Andrew Gray for reminding me about this video
11th Mar 2012 - When BMW twins weren't flat
This great shot of Cook Neilson chasing Reg Pridmore at Riverside in 1976 might have a whiff of Photoshop about it to Ducati fans, but Reg and the Beemer could really fly. Up until the R90S (in Daytona smoked orange, please) BMWs were seen as fuddy old bikes for flat capped old men. Once ex-pat Brit Pridmore showed that the flat twins were anything but, folk realised the R90S was more than a fancy paint job and was the only bike that could be seriously considered as an alternative to the Italian superbikes of the era. More of this motor art at the MotoJones Gallery
10th Mar 2012 - RIP Mick Walker
Mick Walker, famed lover, importer and racer of Italian motorcycles has passed away after a long battle with cancer. Rest in peace, Mick, you'll be missed.
All who knew Mick will remember an ever-helpful, ever-smiling man who was always willing to help fellow enthusiasts. One time Ducati and Cagiva importer, he actually tried to buy the old Aermacchi factory when Harley wanted out (for the first time!): after Cagiva stepped in to buy it, Mick supported them and helped develop their products.
His knowledge and memory was legendary. When Ducati had a shuffle about in their factory and realised their usual lack of records meant nobody knew what all the old spares amounted to, it was Mick who went to Italy to sort out the mess and tell them what they had. No wonder he was far and away the most prolific motorcycling author the world has ever seen. Thankfully he finished his biography a little while ago; I last spoke to him in January, asking what he knew of the little Aguzzi featured at the back of Benzina #7. As always he was happy to chat and help out, even though he was obviously exhausted and very poorly. Didn't stop him talking positively about his next book, a definitive listing of every Italian marque ever built. Sadly that will never see the printing presses, but luckily we can all enjoy his autobiography, "The ride of my life" published by Redline books
9th Mar 2012 - Mike Hailwood's real comeback
Parochial fans too often talk about the 1978 TT as Mike Hailwood’s comeback. The familiar story goes that he returned after years away from racing, his Isle of Man victory made even sweeter by unexpectedly choosing to ride a Ducati rather than returning to Honda. Some people even gild the lily with tales of Hailwood arriving on the Island and having to come to terms with a left-foot gear change and a big Desmo twin when he’d last raced a right foot-changing 500 multi. Yet like so much of the received wisdom on Mike’s comeback, it’s all wrong. After the Nürburgring crash that mangled his right leg and ended his F1 career, Mike might have moved to New Zealand, but he certainly didn’t give up on bikes. The story of his real comeback to racing, and his journey to the Isle of Man was via the race tracks of Australia. The truth involved racing a Ducati 750SS in the Castrol Six Hour Race at Amaroo Park, a properly scary, knarled little race track where rock faces and concrete walls count as run off. Spookily prescient of Mike's return to the TT, his first attempt in 1977 went very well; third in the 750 class, and sixth overall. But like Mike's 1979 TT with Ducati, the following year just about everything went against him. Didn't stop him trying though.Mike followed this up by racing a Yamaha TZ750 at the legendary Bathurst circuit months before his 1978 TT win.
But how could the history books have such a huge gap in them? Simple: Australia’s a long way from Europe and the US, and racing there’s easy to overlook when you discover the way news was reported by even the mainstream press back then. Think: no internet, faxes or even reliable international telephone lines. A journalist would have to fly there and back, writing copy on the flight home. Once back in his home country that copy needs typing up, typically by calling into the office from a public telephone at your home airport. For the big US races that were seen as important to Europeans budgets would get busted, but the Australian market was seen as self-contained: you win in Australia, you tell the Australians. The rest of the world doesn’t need to know. Until now. In researching it I’m indebted to many Australians and particularly ace snapper Phil Aynsley who took the photograph and Mike's fellow Ducati racer (at both Amaroo park and the 1978 TT) Jim Scaysbrook, who went on to be a famed writer and these days edits Old Bike Australasia
The full story, including how Jim shoed Mike how to wheelie, is in issue 7 of Benzina
4th Mar 2012 - Trending in Top Gear
Funny how more and more petrolheads claim to hate Top Gear, and watching last night's latest Top Gear I can understand why - it ceased to be a car show years ago. But so what? Dr Girlie Nice-Smile and the kids laughed out loud, and it's one of the few TV experiences the teenagers will share with Mum and Dad. So perfect Sunday evening family viewing, despite leaving most 40 and 50-something blokes as grumpy as presenters Clarkson's stage personae.
But I do understand this; after years of being left alone with my love of Italian bikes in general and Ducati in particular in 1995 I succumbed to the urge to buy a 916. Fantastic bike (as long as you could take the riding position. And grumpiness in traffic...Or town. And the services costs.) except for one major failing - both the usual sportsbike brigade AND their detractors assumed I'd bought it because some magazine said it was the latest hot-shot must-have. Oddly enough if I was to buy a race-rep Ducati today, I'd get a 999 just to climb back into a hole to hide in while enjoying a bike nobody else appreciates. Like the Manic Street Preachers sang, there's a certain joy in Motorcycle Emptiness
28th Feb 2012 - Lessons from history
Sitting for three days on the Benzina stand at Race Retro gave plenty of time to reflect on the bikes around me, including "our" Mondial Piega and NCR rep as featured in Benzina #004 courtesy of Made in Italy Motorcycles. When Ducati/NCR beat Honda's RCBs at Montjuic Park's 24 hour race in 1980 even the biggest Duke fan must have accepted the mighty Big H would go on to rule the two wheeled world. Laid out in front of our stand was a Hailwood 350/4, a replica 500/6 and Ron Haslam's mighty 1100cc superbike. These were the racebikes fantasies of my embryonic love of motorcycles, and while I was one of the few people I knew who thought Mrs T could wrestle control of the UK from the big unions, I accepted Honda would probably kill Ducati the way they'd already killed Triumph. How wrong can you be?
I've blogged before on the heroic rebirth of Triumph under John Bloor, but who'd have thought back in 1980 that in 2012 a new Ducati would be hailed as the world's finest sportsbike? Or that a biking superstar like Rossi would be riding for Ducati in MotoGP? Or that 2012 might be the year when the Chinese sell more bikes in the UK than the Japanese? How did the Japanese get caught napping in exactly the same way as the British bike industry did way-back-when?
Sorry to any of my old economics and business studies tutors for being so succinct (for once), but the parallels are spooky. The Japanese rose to dominance, but fail to establish a premium brand. Just like the Brits even Honda have been (mainly) happy to let the Italians build the low-volume high-end motorcycles. And just like the Brits, they let another country pinch the low-value commuter and newcomer bikes, laughing at the poor quality of their early efforts. Did these people not learn this stuff while studying for MBAs? Worse, they built bikes in China just to benefit from artificially low wage and currency exchange rates, the later also a device used by Japan to protect her nascent motorcycle industry. Apparently no-one thought that the Chinese might copy not just the bikes, but also the production lines.
But there is another lesson here, especially for those who think our current woes can be brushed aside with some good old fashioned Keynesian tax-and-spend. When the world economy last crashed in the late 1980s the west chewed slowly, let over-borrowed households and businesses go bust, and moved on. It was horrid - and as the guy often collecting keys from bailiffs, believe me I know the heartbreak of watching a kid pulled out his home by a weeping mum on his fifth birthday. Japan did what people want now, but reflect on this; Japanese asset values are largely still below (often well below) 1988 values, and Japanese bikes have barely moved on from the early 1990s models that would have come from the R&D momentum of Japan's 1980s boom.
22nd Feb 2012 - Shows and sales
Great fun catching up with people at last weekend's Bristol classic bike show and to think of the year ahead rather than the gloom of winter. Best stand for me was the Morini riders' club: they had three Tresettes, a cut away 250 single (I think...) and Hugo Wilson's Camel that should have been covered in mud from the Exeter Trial but instead looked very shiny and not quite complete. Glad I'm not the only one missing deadlines
The results of Bonham's auction were about right; most stuff selling at or above estimate; the tidlers were making strong money especially and only one lot went unsold.
But my biggest smile was reserved for the club stand pictured; it was called "she's gone away for the weekend." Me too - will be at the Race Retro show this Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Hall 3 by the interview stage. On display will be a Mondial Piega and NCR900 Replica courtesy of Made in Italy Motorcycles and Neil of MiIMC (who built the NCR) will be around Sunday to answer any questions or bamboozle you into buying one of them
21st Feb 2012 - Nuova California
So this is the new Guzzi California 1400. Is this a watercooled motor I see before me, its radiator nice and low? Or an indication of an early GSX-R style oil cooling system? Whatever, this motor will be the basis of all future Guzzis so hope it's a beauty
17th Feb 2012 - Buy! Buy! Buy!
This interesting Laverda Monjuic is one of the lots at tomorrow's Bonham's auction as part of the Bristol Classic Bike show (which is 25 miles from Bristol!); there's enough being sold too make getting in worthwhile -a sweet Bultaco Metralla 250, a Steib sidecar, a bonkers-leaning 3-wheel Honda Stream and a Vincent moped! Prices will be a good litmus - the car world in running away, with people talking about £20m Ferrari 250s, and I fear the (better) bikes will follow; a standard Ducati 750F1 (which I commended here when they were about £7k) has just sold for £15,000. Compare that to your cash ISA..
Bonham's say this lovely little Monty "was acquired in September 2007 by the vendor, who advises that the modifications were made over a period commencing in the late 1980s. The rear suspension has been converted to mono-shock configuration, the engine bored out to 544cc capacity, and many other upgrades incorporated into this unique machine. Described by the private vendor as in generally excellent condition, this iconic Italian sports roadster is offered with current MoT, Swansea V5C document and many expired MoT certificates and bills detailing the work carried out."
But I'd find the extra and buy the 1977 (listed as a 75 - see blog passim) Ducati 900SS: Vincent money in the making, especially if Rossi takes the Bolognese firm to MotoGP glory
16th Feb 2012 - Mondial's at Race Retro
I'll be at Stoneleigh Park for the Race Retro show next weekend (25/26 February) with a couple of bikes courtesy of Made in Italy Motorcycles including this very special Mondial. The show's featured marque is Honda/HRC and they'll be firing up a replica 500/6 (it is LOUD)and interviewing Gerald Davison who's a bit of a legend if you're a Honda fan.
The Mondial Piega is the only bike Honda have ever officially sanctioned to have one of their engines fitted to (other than Hondas, obviously!) reflecting Soichiro Honda's gratitude to Mondial for providing him with a 125 racing engine in 1958 (that story was in Benzina #001) These 0 Kms Mondial Piegas are probably the final chance to buy a brand new Mondial with only just over 100 of these very special bikes ever being built. They were constructed to the highest standards using a Honda SP1 engine. The Piega incorporated the best components available including a handmade aluminium fuel tank, full carbon fibre bodywork, Brembo brakes, multi adjustable Paoli Kayaba 46mm TiN forks, Ohlin's rear shock and steering damper, Mondial's own light weight aluminium wheels and their own ECU control unit which not only smoothes out the standard Honda on/off fuelling issues but along with other modifications increases the power from 129BHP to almost 140. Each bike also comes with its own dust cover and presentation pack which includes not only the hand books and brochures but a full colour book on the Piega. £14950.00+VAT
15th Feb 2012 - Peking Duck?
Following last year's posting on Ducati Spa's proposed floatation on the Hong Kong stock exchange, the Financial Times has reporting that move is likely to be sidestepped by an outright sale to an existing car manufacturer. Given the AMG connection Mercedes are the obvious first-guess, but it would be a brave (and naive) person who'd bet against an Indian or Chinese factory stepping in. Should we care?
If it's China, definitely. Their view on copyright and patent law is simple; it plain doesn't exist. Yet we let them manufacture pretty much anything designed in the west to save us money (and lose jobs that we then have to replace with welfare) in the name of a free market; that's fine in theory, until the resulting wealth gets passed to a few already wealthy individuals while handing over our supposed advantage of a better educated and more skilled workforce. This could be a once-and-for-all abandonment of the technological advantage the west has enjoyed since the industrial (maybe even agricultural) revolution.
The second problem is China isn't a free market - their currency is deliberately undervalued and human rights just don't exist over yonder great wall. You don't even need to visit Hong Kong anymore to see the Chinese making something for a western company, then flogging the "run ons" (stuff made cheaply at the end of a production run) via eBay or as illegal counterfeits (except they're not counterfeits) in markets across the world. What can we do? Same as we did during the Cold War - not build production lines in places where we might live to regret it. Problem is we already owe so much money to the Chinese we've probably let the chance pass.
And that's the other thing to fret about - listen to the news and just about every business that goes belly up (including football clubs!) does so because it can't service massive debts, even at the peppercorn interest rates they have to pay. Story's the same every time - sharp young suit persuades private equity backers there's a fast buck to be made, huge wall of cash looking for a return above 2% leaps at the chance, and then...oblivion. Normally I don't loose too much sleep over this sort of stuff, because economies can usually fix themselves given time. But if Ducati goes, or becomes just a brand that used to build and race motorcycles out of Borgo Panigale, the world will be a poorer place
10th Feb 2012 - Rumi at the Inn
This lovely little Rumi 125 Bol D'Or will be for sale at Bonham's Bristol auction next weekend; these mad half bike, half scooters have a huge following, not least because of their racing history which is unsurprising given their performance: 90mph from a 125? Oh, yes - thanks to twin cylinders fed plenty of petrol by twin Dell'Ortos. Hardly the most economical 125, but quite possibly the fastest.
6th Feb 2012 - We won!
The Parilla 175 we supported won the Classic Bike of the Year competition at the Excel bike show yesterday: this is CB editor Hugo Wilson presenting the cheque for a thousand guineas (£1,050 - a guinea was a pound and a shilling) to Parilla owner John Crookes. Even the runners up felt John deserved the prize (second was a bathtub Triumph, third a home made V3 stroker) and Hugo didn't disagree when I said the best bike won. Congratulations to John and the discerning readers of CB: plus all of those who voted by email - it's what wins these things. John's story is in issue 7 of Benzina which will be mailed out this week.
2nd Feb 2012 - Strange kind of love
No, not the strange kind of love sung about by the excellent Love and Money, but the growing affection for the Ducati 500 Desmo Sport. It predecessor the 500GTL was an unloved old frump, with Giugiaro-alike styling copied from the 860GT and performance that left the 450 Desmo it was supposed to replace untroubled.
So Ducati's dynamic duo stepped in - Dr T added Desmo heads, and Tartarini's styling for the still-born Rollah single (see Benzina #006) was bolted on. Lovely. But despite being 20-odd mph faster than the GTL the 500SD was forgotten until bevel twins' prices spiralled out of reach and folk started realising there is Another Way.
So prepare to be turned by these websites - Parallel Twins is general interest, but Andre at Panigale Twins is prepping his 500SD for racing, starting with a dry-clutch conversion. As you do...
27th Jan 2012 - Hailwood in waiting
This is just one of the ad-and-padding free pages of Benzina #007, out soon - it shows Mike Hailwood racing at Bathurst on a TZ750 in early 1978. This would have been every bit as daunting as racing a Ducati 900 on the Isle of Man as he would a few months later, and great preparation for what us parochial Brits like to think of as his "comeback." The other pic was taken by a press photographer for a defunct newspaper: we'd love to be able to credit the guy, but haven't been able to discover his identity, especially since this is the only pic we've ever seen of Mike wheelieing. In fact it's the only pic I've seen of a Ducati 750SS being wheelied...and yet...
In fact it's not Mike, although that's how the pic was sold and credited. The snapper wanted the shot, but Mike just handed his helmet to co-rider Jim Scaysbrook whose motocross expertise allowed him to effortlessly hoist the bevel twin skyward. More (and more photos) in the hardcopy.
26th Jan 2012 - Back in the room
At last, life gets back to normal. A CD that represents Benzina#007 is in the post and the actual magazines should be with me within 10 days: late again...sorry. And the of course they've got to be bagged and sent for the post office to work their magic. Absence from the blog (and everything else) is due to the sheer workload involved in layout, proofing and wondering why InDesign changes things back to defaults when merging documents: apparently it's trying to be helpful.
But the main delays have been in trying to get things right: the brilliant debut of Ducati's Desmo 125 at Hedemora I've already owned up to, but even more challenging was getting to the bottom of Mike Hailwood's racing success on a Ducati 750SS in 1977. Yes, 1977 - in Australia, repeatedly, and well before that '78 TT comeback. He also raced at TZ750 at Bathurst, a properly hairy-chested circuit that the Isle of Man TT folk want included in a new world series for street racing.
The pic shows Mike's 750SS in Easter '78 livery (again before the TT): co-rider in the Castrol 6 Hour was Jim Scaysbrook, who deserves more recognition over here: he's been successful in most motorcycle racing disciplines and is regarded as Australia's #1 motorcycle writer, with a slew of books to his credit (including the one below): bizarrely his books are largely unknown (well, to me..) in the UK. Jim helped me no end, largely via Phil Aynsley without whom neither this story or the Desmo 125 piece would have ever got finished. Phil rang people, got things straight and pointed me in the right direction more than once. Please buy his photographs and book (if you can still find a copy). More soon, including a fab pic of Mike wheelieing the big Ducati...
10th Jan 2012 - Things that make you go "Hmmm..."
Spotted for sale on an Italian website - a DOHC "Bialbero" Bianchi 175 "As raced in the Motogiro." Hmmm....
The Giro was originally for production bikes, but being Italian this rule was quickly so twisted that for 1956 there were two classes - one for production bikes (macchine derivite della serie, aka formula 3) and sport/formula 2, a run-what-you-brung as long as it doesn't have a fairing or more than 175cc
The only time Bianchi featured in the F2 class was the final Giro in 1957 when Franzosi came home 6th (though the Tonale had a great record in the F3 class), which may or may not have been a one-off DOHC racer: but all the film clips, photos and even Bianchi publicity material show the SOHC Tonale, including a Corsa version I'd assumed was the F2 entry. So what's this? The one-off DOHC 175 built by Lino Tonti in 1960? But wouldn't that make the bike even more valuable, and of course the Giro as a pure road-race was gone by 1960.
So it looks like a fake, and an example of how well equipped native-Italian restorers are...unless you know different?
7th Jan 2012 - Bus-like Parillas
Just like buses - you wait ages for one, and then three turn up. No sooner do I line up a Parilla piece for Benzina, than the very same bike makes Classic Bike and Classic Racer use this fantastic shot of Eraldo Ferracci racing a hi-cam Parilla in 1960. Eraldo still runs Fast by Ferracci who prepped Doug Pollen's winning Ducati Superbike back in the 1980s. If this whets your appetite for more Parilla morsels, you should try Mike McGary's excellent Moto Parilla website And please remember to vote for John's Parilla in the Classic Bike of the year competition simply by sending a blank email to Votebike08@bauermedia.co.uk
2nd Jan 2012 - Vote, vote...VOTE!!!
I've trailed pix of this Parilla before, but ran out of time and space to get it into issue #006 of Benzina - all sorted for issue #008, out January if I don't have a nervous breakdown in the meantime...
The story of how John came by this little know beauty is fantastic, and he's a deserved finalist in the Classis Bike bike-of-the-year competition (CBOTY). In fact he should win the competition outright, because not only did he do most of the work himself (becoming an real marque expert along the way) he did it in-between running a full time business and looking after a growing family. Plus the other finalists are pretty ordinary - Brit twins (admittedly one with a funky De Fazio front end, a lardy old Honda plus some other stuff that I can't even remember from my surreptitious spying in WH Smiths.
Parilla's are so rare than CB even calls them OHC (only the original 250 racer was - the rest were strokers or OHV) but bikes just like John's still won classes in the Motogiro and Milano-Tarnto. And John's should win the CBOTY which is decided on a free vote - you can support him by just emailing to Votebike08@bauermedia.co.uk - one email ID gets one vote. Hmmm, I've got at least half a dozen emails addresses...
31st Dec 2011 - Gilera Saturno Cross
Spotted on an Italian website, claiming to be a genuine Gilera Saturno 500 Cross (as seen in
Benzina #004 originally one of just four ex-fiamme oro spec bikes delivered to the Ministry of Interior. These post '54 bikes differs from the first series with oval (not round) swingarm, different triple clamp mountings, exhaust pipe and seat. Restored in 1985, since then this Saturno has sat in a private collection bar a few outings to exhibitions. The price is said to be "challenging...but not absurd." In other words, if you have to ask... Still a thing of rare beauty, and incredibly undervalued outside Italy
28th Dec 2011 - Bialbero Ducati
Love this, shamelessly pinched from Cafe Sport blog - a home brewed double-overhead cam Ducati single. The Italians seem to delight in this sort of thing: in Benzina #004 the Gilera Saturno piece mentioned how every Italian biker seems to have a workshop capable of turning the pushrod single into a DOHC racer. Makes a refreshing change from the Brits obsession with the 100 point-perfect restorations that (for me) scar the Stafford shows.
Not that this seems to trouble the blogosphere - most seem to be asking (when they can steer away from the economy) who rides through winter anymore? Well, down in Devon with the in-laws for Christmas what should turn up on Sidmouth seafront? A Diavel, and two-up at that. Did I have a camera? Bugger...no, but well done that man (or woman) for dashing the clichés and making my day
11th Dec 2011 - The ultimate mono-MV
So we get monoalbero monocilindrico (single cam, single cylinder) - here's the logical conclusion: just one wheel on your MV Agusta - una MV mono ruota.
9th Dec 2011 - MV Agusta alternatives
Winter - the season of workshops and getting projects done. So given the MV 350 isn't standard, maybe the deviation from originality should be embraced. Most of the necessary bits could be provided by Disco-volante and it would stop all the geeks who love to point out variations from factory spec. Looks like a Giro racer, too. Bet Remo Venturi never had people coming up and saying, "oh, look double-overhead cans: that's not right, is it? Should have push-rods like my mate's 75 Turismo"...
7th Dec 2011 - Perfect present (to yourself)
Perfect presents or the finishing touch to the garage, sitting room or outside loo: A3 (about 42cmx30cm) canvas prints with gallery wrap (the pic goes round the edge of the frame - so the first image appears cropped viewed head on when you see the real thing - see the alternative images). You can buy HERE
6th Dec 2011 - 1968 TT and all that
Here's a newly unearthed film of the 1968 TT. Only 7 minutes, bit blury and the soundtrack sounds like you're running an old spool film with the Hill Street Blues music on in the background. But I think I spotted Ago, Read, Ivy, Robb, Cooper and Paso: that's why they called it a golden era.
5th Dec 2011 - The truth sometimes hurts
One of the Ducati legend set-pieces is that their first ever desmo racer (a 125 single) not only won its first race at the Swedish GP, but that rider Degli Antonio lapped the entire field. Always sounded odd to me (even though, ahem, the tale was repeated in Benzina #004 - sorry) especially when I realised how long and fast the circuit was (Hedemora). Then I found out the race favourite was the Swedish champion on another Ducati desmo, who came second to track novice Degli Antonio...
So with guidance from Alan Cathcart (currently in sunny LA - clearly I need to be a bit more ambitious) I think the win was mere seconds. A few more sources to check, and if you know the definitive answer please say. Otherwise the full story will be in Benzina #004 #007, out January(ish). In the meantime these pics are of the 1953 Senior GP at Hedemora and other 125 desmos racing in 1958
4th Dec 2011 - Red Alert
Seen these? Lovely aren't they? Just been stolen from a secure garage in South West London. Maybe a professional job using a van as one bike had no rear shock. They're probably already in bits, because some parts are especially trick and make the bikes easy to spot. So pleaseclick here for details and keep a look out: £5,000 reward on the table. After a week of people waving the Red Flag and banging on about sticking together hopefully there's no need to point out that if nobody bought stuff under dodgy circumstances there'd be much less thievery...
1st Dec 2011 - 2012 starts here
Those of us wondering about an alternative Italian expedition to the Motogiro have been waiting for this - confirmation that Ducati will run another World Ducati Week(end?) in 2012. With that date in the diary, the serious planning for next year's riding can commence
WDW will run Thursday 21 to Sunday 24 June at Misano circuit, and should bring together 60,000 Duke fans from around the world. It's sure to follow the tried and tested formula of race track events, shows, top riders, competitions and music (Italian rock, mind...) combined with the atmosphere created by thousands of (mainly red) motorcycles. Won't clash with the TT, because that's pencilled in for May 28 to June 8.
As the event’s massive attendance invades the entire Riviera Romagnola, Ducati has ensured the cooperation and the Province of Rimini, Misano, Republic of San Marino and more. It'll be fab - more at wdw.ducati.com (see what they did with that URL?)
30th Nov 2011 - Panigale privileges
These just in - Phil Aynsley's Panigale photoshoot of a pre-production 1199S. Photographed in Sydney, Phil unfortunately didn't get to see just how the 'frame' and engine tied together, despite wanting to. Build quality appeared (given it was a pre-production unit) to be the same as a 1198.Missed opportunity? For me, the post 916-series bikes have had too many little screws and bits of plastic that smack of accountancy rather than engineering - here's hoping the 1199's a great leap forward.
29th Nov 2011 - Spunky moped
This from Spanish heroes Radical Ducati - a 48 Sport, yours for 3,000 Euros. Oddly they emphasise you can't ride it - hope this isn't the start of the hang-it-on-your-study-wall thing that has deprived the world of so many Bianchi Superleggeras
28th Nov 2011 - It's complicated
It was quite a shock to see good-egg Stuart Mayhew of North Leicester Motorcycles staring back at me from the Sunday Times yesterday - yet another bod caught up in the mire of running a business when some busybody told him to buy a performing licence because the public could hear the workshop radio. Same legislation prevents me listening to music on show stands and I know someone who was told he needed one because he worked from home and the phoning-in jobsworth could hear the radio on in the background. You guess it - they worked for the Government.
So you can probably guess I don't have much sympathy for Wednesday's strike, and was a fan of Margaret Thatcher, not least because I hated school milk. Mrs T got rid of that as education secretary, because she didn't see why school's should subsidise feckless parents who couldn't be bothered to give their kids a decent breakfast. In fact I only lost sympathy with the-lady-who-wasn't-for turning when she waged war on the Argentineans, which was when my rather more jingoistic friends took up her cause. And she shouldn't have sold off our gas and water to the French...
Those were tough times, taking piecemeal jobs to complete my HND business studies course (which I paid for) but I understood we had to reign in pressure groups (yes, including unions) who were rightly only interested in their own members' interests, even if their actions were sending my family's modest business dangerously close to the rocks. Problem is, then as now, few people look beyond the trees for the woods, let alone years down the line. Where were all the protests and strikes a decade ago when it was clear most people's lifestyle was simply down to borrowing by consumers and governments alike? Why did no-one point out you can't have increasing pensions in a world of falling investment returns and rising life expectancy? Because if you borrowed the money to pay for it, the problem goes away...for now. And hopefully for a future generation to worry about (and btw - youth unemployment's been rising steadily since 2002, so why all the fuss now?) But guess what? The can wasn't kicked far enough down the road and we have to clear up our own mess. Seems fair to me...
Tax the bankers? They'll move, and already some of us have realised the EU's plans to do just that will kick the UK economy where it hurts. Stop folk like Philip Green hiding his profits offshore? Great idea, but the UK already has the most complex tax system in the world, and we're too dim to cope with change. An example - our chancellor wanted to simplify employee taxation by combining income, employers and NI taxes. Anyone who's had employees will tell you how frustrating it is to calculate these deductions only to send a single cheque to the tax office. In fact the only reason you bother with all the paperwork is you know you'll be hung out to dry if you have a inspection team land on your doorstep and make your life a misery for a week before fining you. So simple idea - add the three taxes (currently about 45% at the margin for a typical full timer) and abolish the departments that administer and enforce the various schemes. You'd save a fortune, as would the grateful employers who'd be spared the paperwork. Didn't happen though, because various factions would have delighted in "Basic income tax rises to 45%" headlines, without mentioning nobody's going to pay more tax and the exchequer would save a fortune.
So while the government tries to work out how to tax those who should pay (like Boots, who are based in Switzerland...) we can make a difference. Don't do business with anyone who's using clever accounting to avoid paying their share, and make it your business to find the facts rather than the media's take on them. Ordinary people refusing to buy South African goods helped bring down apartheid, and the Israelis take more notice of you not buying their fruit than any whining government minister. Make your choices wisely, and accept that any boost to the economy by government is worthless if the rewards get blown on imported plasma TVs and foreign holidays.
But not Italian motorcycles, obviously...
25th Nov 2011 - Macau madness
Near neighbour to us (He's in Yeovil) Martin Jessopp claimed the runners-up spot in today's Macau Grand Prix, completing a fantastic one-two for the Riders Ducati team. But bloody hell - if this is what it takes to come second...well, we never had it. Martin, you're a legend.
Jessopp's team mate Michael Rutter (below, but not at Macau) won the race for Riders and Ducati, claiming a seventh victory around the famous Guia street circuit. Rutter made history by beating Ron Haslam's tally of six wins, but Jessopp was only 4.772secs behind in second, beating several top road riders including Ian Hutchinson in third and John McGuinness in sixth.
British Superbike racer Jessopp was delighted to get his Macau GP chance and paid tribute to British Superbike Championship veteran Rutter: “The last two years I’ve been learning from Michael. I hit the wall pretty hard on lap 1, so I settled down after that. I think Michael was playing with us for the first couple of laps.”
Rutter said of his team mate: “Martin has been there all year – he’s come along and learned a lot. It’s been a brilliant season.”
Sadly this might be the last Macau bike GP: long-time bike race co-ordinator Mike Trimby has said this is his last, and the organising committee will now think about whether the two-wheeled part of the festival will continue. Our hope is when they see this photo and the noise it's generated they'll realise it's a must-do.
21st Nov 2011 - Rider's/writing block
Just back from an excellent motoring writers' conference at the National Motor Museum with a truly inspirational keynote speech by Haymarket and Autocars' Steve Cropley. Turns out we admire the same writers' - Jenks, LJK Setright, Churchill and Hemmingway, and I loved his typically robust Australian views on writers' block. Turns out he's also a biker with old Brits dating back to 1909.
I managed to catch him at lunch, and ask what he thought of motorcycle magazines and why Haymarket don't have one. "Too many egos, which is why we got rid of TWO,"(latterly Visor Down): was his shock-horror proclamation: "Motorcycle journalists spend too much time telling the reader about themselves, and not enough about the experience." Like me he'd been surprised that Bike recently devoted just 600-odd words to a five day trip through Norway on the new Guzzi Norge: "They described a couple of corners nicely, but I came away knowing nothing about the bike." I listened and learned: turns out Haymarket scribblers are discouraged from even using "I" in their copy...
More worrying was that the conference seemed mainly to feature middle-aged car nuts looking for a "change of direction." Then I read that 100,000 people in the UK have registered as newly self employed over the last four months alone. Joining the dots, it's not hard to see where those folk who loose jobs but have too many assets to claim benefits have gone. One delegate moaned to a speaker that he never received so much as an acknowledgement for his unsolicited submissions to editors. Well, chum, 100,000 "Thanks, but no thanks" letters would make a hell of dent in Autocars' postage budget...
18th Nov 2011 - Italian anti-style
Think all Italian bikers are slim and stylish? Uh-oh. These chaps work hard to make us slightly podgy pale faced Englanders feel much better about ourselves. When I saw the lady on the back of the Guzzi for some reason Ram jams seventies hit Black Betty popped into my head: now it's an ear-worm that will stick with me all day. Oh, black betty, bam-a-lam...
15th Nov 2011 - Ago and me
Ago's head spins as he spots another young lovely, when he's supposed to be extolling the virtues of the Castiglioni's replica MV Agusta 500/3; over £200,000 to you, sir. That's me on the right pointing out to Benzina snapper Spike that the idiot's got the gearshift on the wrong side...
Nice as the bike was, I think the detailing's better on the Kay's bikes that I've seen. In fact I find them indistinguishable from the real thing. and just guess based on condition. Like the bike below, casually left by a caravan at Stafford with no explanation. Love it.
14th Nov 2011 - Difazio does a Ducati
Spotted in an old album, a Difazio Ducati 750GT. I've never ridden a funny-front-ender, but back in the 70s especially I couldn't see how this could improve a big bevel's handling. I was especially cynically because the weird Quasar (a "bike" with a roof and Reliant engine) was built nearby so coming across them when out riding wasn't unusual. Even armed with just my limited talent and a 400/4 they were easy to chase down and overtake. The future? Hmmm...
Googling to try and learn more about the Duke I came across Euro Spares in California. Whole range of info on old Italians including Difazio (who's Dad walked - yes, walked) from his native Italy to set up shop in Wiltshire. The Difazio Laverda Nessie replica below is from the Euro Spares site - now the big triples did need help with handling unless you spent a lot of time doing push ups. How they won races in standard trim (ahem) was revealed in issue 3 of Benzina
13th Nov 2011 - Let's not forget
Today we tried to get over to Imber, the nearby village that was requisitioned by the military at the end of World War II> The MOD had said it would be open, but when we got there the barriers were down and the red flags up. Like the folk behind us, we had to go somewhere else to observe the two minutes silence.
I've detailed the history of Imber before, and it seemed a good place to remember the losses of war; not just the lives, but the ways of life. This is a pretty apolitical blog, although I've sympathy with those who feel the UK should have accepted its military might needed scaling back after the humiliation of Suez. But I'm also a big believer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and think that if we can help the less fortunate people of the world, then we should - even if they don't have oil or supply our drug dealers. The poppy is not about jingoism or the glory of war. It's to remind us how terrible war is, and what people can achieve (with support) in its wake. The Italian and Japanese people especially worked hard to achieve great things after WWII, and it's interesting how their economies have stagnated as generations who never knew the horror of war took over the reigns of power. We don't need wars, but we do need to remember what they can do to the lives of ordinary people. When Brits complain about cutbacks in the same breath as boasting about their iPhone, I wonder if they've ever seen somewhere like downtown Bagdad, or spoken to people who knew Afghanistan in the 1970s. Today I enjoyed walking in the sunshine across the expanse of Salisbury Plain with loved ones, remembering what I take for granted is rare across much of the world and most of history. And I'll try never to forget what people gave up to allow me to enjoy so much in life. Including the bikes.
12th Nov 2011 - Check out this check in
Are you going San Francisco? Forget wearing flowers in your hair, get over to the international airport and before checking in, check out the Moto Bellissama exhibition - a display of sporting Italian lightweights right in the airport. Can't imagine that happening at Heathrow, let alone Stansted. There are more pictures thanks to Lou Caputo here
11th Nov 2011 - Next Summer's Villa
Isn't she lovely? A Villa brothers V4 racer, bought at the recent Bonham's auction by Sammy Miller for his museum. It will be run at the museum's Italian day July 22 2012 - this was the Bonham's listing:
Brothers Francesco and Walter Villa began building their own motorcycles in 1968. An Italian road racing champion in the 125cc class on four occasions, as well as two-time winner of the Barcelona 24-hour race, Francesco had previously designed two-stroke racers for both Mondial and Montesa. Walter raced Villa bikes before his rise to stardom, which saw him secure three consecutive 250-class World Championships for Harley-Davidson between 1974 and '76, to which he added one in the 350 class. The brothers' first racer was a water-cooled 125cc rotary valve single, which proved competitive enough for Walter to win the Italian championship in the bike's debut year. For 1969 a series of replicas were produced for sale to privateers and Moto Villa was on its way to international recognition.
While at Mondial, Francesco had designed and raced a 125cc horizontal single and a vertical twin-cylinder 125 and 250, all of them two-strokes. The first multi-cylinder two-stroke Villa though, would be a V4. Completed early in 1969, Villa's 250cc Grand Prix engine was essentially two air-cooled 125cc twins of 43x43mm bore/stroke mounted one above the other on a common crankcase at an included angle of 30 degrees, the crankshafts being connected via a coupling gear. As well as serving as the primary drive, the latter also drove the ignition unit and oil pump. Drive was transmitted via a dry clutch to the eight-speed gearbox, and the engine/transmission unit was housed in a heavily gusseted duplex loop frame. Ceriani supplied the front forks and rear dampers and there were Fontana brakes on both wheels.
Tragically for the Villas, their new baby arrived just in time to be rendered obsolete by the FIM's rule change limiting the 250 class to a maximum of two cylinders from the start of the 1970 season. Nevertheless, the brothers decided to try and race it at least once and entered the untried V4 in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. After running erratically during practice, the V4 was put to one side and Walter rode a rotary valve single that had been brought as backup.
The sole V4 prototype was later sold to the Bombardier Corporation in Canada and is now owned by a Swiss enthusiast. One man who had admired it during his time working for Moto Villa was Giovanni Galafassi, creator of the faithful replica offered here. 'I thought it was a tragedy it never raced,' said Galafassi, interviewed by Alan Cathcart for his Classic Racer article on the Villa V4 (March/April 2010 edition) 'that the FIM bureaucrats destroyed the heritage of Italian motorcycle culture represented by machines like the Villa and four-cylinder Benelli, in favour of creating a monomarca class for Yamaha twins.'
With Francesco Villa's assistance, Galafassi began collecting the necessary drawings and parts to build his replica, many of which came from Moto Villa's stockroom. Assembly began in 1999 but would not be completed for another ten years, such were the competing demands placed on Galafassi's time by his business commitments. Equipped today with a six-speed gearbox, the Villa has been tuned appropriately for greater mid-range and produces a maximum of 45bhp. Other changes from original specification include a right-side gearchange, Yamaha pistons and con-rods, round-slide carburettors, a one-off ignition system and minor alterations to the frame to facilitate easier engine removal.
Riding the Villa V4 for the very first time since its completion, Alan Cathcart found that the engine started pulling strongly from just under 8,000rpm on its way to a peak of 12,500 revs. 'I can't deny that seeing the V4 running on the track, after ten years spent in the workshop building it, gives me a lot of satisfaction,' said Galafassi.
Presented today resplendent in Villa's traditional orange and white livery, this beautiful re-creation represents a wonderful opportunity to acquire a mythical Grand Prix racing motorcycle previously only accessible via the pages of the history books.
10th Nov 2011 - How to look good naked vs. the copycat chassis
The Ducati PR machine churns out another new pic of the 1199 Panigale, this time with the bodywork removed to show how they've adopted a "frameless" monocoque very similar to the one on the MotoGP bike so hated by Rossi and Burgess. So hated in fact that they've got their beam frame (below, reputedly Made in England) for testing in Valencia.
And guess what - the times aren't really any better. The armchair pundits will now move on to the "90 degree V4 layout isn't compact enough"guff: amazing our manufacturing industry's in such poor shape given the number of engineering "experts" we've got...
But it's a shame (if understandable) that Burgess and Rossi want to chase convention rather than innovation. I recently had a long chat with someone who was very (very) well placed in the Japanese motorcycle business (including racing) and he used to tell the Japanese, "If I gave you a blank sheet of paper it'd still be blank tomorrow - but I show you someone else's plans and within half an hour you've improved it!" How can this be?
Japanese art and culture is about incremental improvement, but since the renaissance in Europe it's been about pushing the boundaries, but always with an explanation of why the new way's better. That's might explain why all Japanese bikes are in essence either based upon 1950s Italian racers, or East German racers. Can we please try something new? Me, I'd love to see a V8 desmo with a monocoque chassis and hub centre steering. As John Robinson once said, "if racing's to improve the breed the rules should read `the motorcycle has two wheels (one in front of the other) and an engine' Full Stop." Well said.that man.
8th Nov 2011 - Rollerburn - you know you want to...
Next Saturday's madness courtesy of Gary and Ben at Sideburn. Shame I'm already committed, tho given what's going on here maybe they should be too...
7th Nov 2011 - Ducati Panigale 1199s - show shots
Here it is, snapped at the Milan show: the new Ducati superbike. Wonder if it comes with a set of blue $uzu%i skittles? (Valencia, below)
7th Nov 2011 - Well hello Big Chief: one Indian's story
The head-dress on this old Indian made me smile, but then Indian owners never seem to take things as seriously as the HD crowd. But not very Italian, you say? Publisher Floyd Clymer (as in Clymer manuals) owned the rights to the Indian name, attempting to revive the marque with engines from Royal Enfield and Velocette (and Norton and Horex engines were tried): all were styled and built by Leo Tartarini when he was CEO at Italjet, before being shipped Stateside.
6th Nov 2011 - Push the button
Currently for sale with North Leicester Motorcycles, a rather nice looking Ducati 900S2: in essence a 900SS with an electric start. Save your aching knees the hassle of kicking a big Desmo over (and the nasty things that happen if it kicks back) while basking in the reflected glory of almost owning a 900SS.
Folk can be sniffy about the S2: an odd amalgam of Darmah, Pantah and SS that suffered from inconsistent quality control (even by Ducati standards) and handling some way short of a genuine SS. But to have survived 30 years, it ought to be a good one and at an asking price of £7995 it's half what the equivalent black and gold 900SS would be, never mind the earlier (and big-end munching) blue and silver models.
4th Nov 2011 - Model childhood
Ever since I made one of these plastic model kits of a Laverda 750 aged 15 I've thought they were the best looking Laverda, especially with the big seat hump. My best mate and I were aeroplane mad, making Airfix kits of WWII stuff then one day I saw this and was turned. Next thing you know the bike nut three doors up trades his Z1 for an SFC (details in issue #001 of Benzina) and that was it. I'd discovered bikes, then girls and a light went on in my life that shines brightly to this day. Lost touch with mate after he moved to Oz: Andy Lee, where are you now?
Clearly I wasn't the only one affected by the big seat on the Lav(!?): bottom pix from an obscure French flick (of course) and makes you realise why you loved the 1970s
3rd Nov 2011 - Cafe Society
Not sure I get the current Cafe Racer obsession any more than I get the 100 point better-than-new restoration thing, but as this Benelli Tornado proves clip-ons or ace bars plus a seat hump transforms a bike. Especillay if followed up with a little unbolting of unwanted peripheries - admiring the lack of silencers I asked the owner to start it up, but all he'd say was "Pardon?"...
31st Oct 2011 - Guy Webster's museum
I knew snapper-to-the-stars Guy Webster was an Italian bike nut and collector, but hadn't realised how deeply the disease had afflicted him. He's got a bloody museum: the obsession started with MV Agusta when he was living in Florence and he bought the first bike (the 750S above) to kick-start the collection in 1974. Check out the film below, and spot the deliberate mistakes? Like why it's called a Laverda Jota)in amongst the obvious love for the subject.
And thanks to Rob Emery for sharing this
29th Oct 2011 - Radical Ducati new for old
Spanish customisers Radical Ducati are offering this Dragon TT Vendetta body kit for the Ducati 848/1198 and mighty fine it looks too. What's impressive is that Radical Ducati can trick up Dukes of all ages as proved by the single below. While most specialist have a favoured era it's refreshing to see someone who's talent apparently know no boundaries. Got to love that
28th Oct 2011 - Lovely latinos, some going cheap(er)
Bonham's latest online catalogue's now up and running: thism Wards Riverside Benelli's on offer with a more sensible estimate, and there's a Ducati 750GT in there too. Best of all is the orange Vincent Rapide with matching dustbin fairing: the future's bright...
27th Oct 2011 - When ads went good
Love this 70s ad: for me the SFC was the best looking Laverda ever: couldn't believe the early one made below just £29k including premiums at Bonham's Stafford auction
- they've been catching-up with 750SS roundcase values over the last year. Still, I wouldn't be sad to see a collapse in classic values so that riders (rather than just collectors) can enjoy them once more
27th Oct 2011 - Willie's workshop
Willie Bullion's ice-cool workshop courtesy John Fallon
26th Oct 2011 - Namesakes
A US subscriber asked for more on Ward's Riverside Benellis, so here you go (and note 916 seat on the Yamaha behind!). What's interesting about these Benellis (though they weren't badged as such originally) is they tell how long it took the Italians to realise the value of building a brand: if someone wanted to buy you're bike but with a different sticker on the tank, you took the money and ran. So when American store Montgomery Wards Riverside wanted a range of bikes they just rebranded stuff from Lambretta and even Bianchi. R&D? Just say no...
This wasn't the only example: Laverdas were sold as American Eagle and Italjet built various "Indians" using Brit-bike engines. You can't help but wonder if the US would have a more varied motorcycle industry if someone had tried to develop and manufacture a new bike in the US rather than just outsourcing. Or if Ducati would be as strong a company today if they'd just been branded Berliner in the US
25th Oct 2011 - Another one for Guzzi fans
Almost 200cc of Italian stallion ready to take your girl up into the mountains. Take your time, tiger...
24th Oct 2011 - One for the Guzzi fans
Inspired by the pic of Sante Gemiani racing his Moto Guzzi Condor in the 1950 Milano Taranto (details in issue #001 of Benzina)our new tee is perfect for every Guzzi fan. Just remember to look where you're going...
23rd Oct 2011 - RIP Marco Simoncelli
Writing the earlier post I decided not to mention that Omobono Tenni died in practice for the Swiss GP: too morbid, and too commonplace back in the era he raced in. Then as I went to link the post to Facebook I saw the terrible news about one of the most charismatic racers of modern times: all those San Carlo snacks and delivery vans across Italy that have Marco's happy face splashed across them will be a sad reminder of a lost talent. I'm not a man of great faith, but friend Pat Slinn is, and has forgotten more about racing that I'll ever know. This was Pat's post:
"After praying and trying to come to terms with Marco's death, we should not forget his team San Carlo, his mechanics and race engineer's, Honda and all of his, and MotoGP's sponsors and officials, the doctors and medical staff at Sepang. And not forgetting of course Colin Edwards and all the other MotoGP competitors. Motor cycle racing is a wonderful sport, full of personality, colour, noise and laughter."
RIP Marco, and thanks for one of the greatest shows on earth
23rd Oct 2011 - Omophobic nicknames
This is the brilliant Omobono Tenni, Guzzi works rider and much admired rider, including by Motosimpatico Restorations from whom the pic was shamelessly pinched: as they put it; "surely our patron saint...but‘Omobono’ as a blog title? A bit obscure; postings by confused and angry U2 fans would surely flood in."
Folk often refer to his "Black Devil" nickname, but it turns out Omobono was his real nickname - it means "Good man" and he was christened Tommaso. This sort of thing's common in Italy - Palladio (as in the father of Palladian architecture) was a nickname too.
There's a football stadium in Treviso named after Omobono, he was that loved in his native Italy: the video below showing him racing at the TT tells why, as does a past blog
22nd Oct 2011 - Tartarini turn-ups
This is the official Ducati photo of the 1970s revamped parallel twin - Taglioni hated the original, and probably only deigned to update the engine so he could add his beloved desmo valve gear in place of the original's springers. The new styling job came courtesy of Leo Tartarini, and would find its way onto Darmah. Originally the plan was to paint the exhausts white, an allusion to the asbestos tape often seen on race bikes and highly fashionable on custom bikes today: unsurprisingly they never made it into production.
But as revealed in Benzina #006, Tartarini was originally charged with styling a new 350 single that never made it to the showrooms: when the single got the axe, the styling lived on for the 500 and Darmah. And despite what the naysayer's reckon the 500 Desmo Sport was a great bike - it just cost 860GTS money, and no 500's that good. Today the cognoscenti love them, including Benzina friend and custom car builder Gunter Oxler of Oxygen Customs - the bottom pic is a teaser from his website. So if you can, try a 500 Desmo Sport - you might like it, and at a third of Darmah money, who could blame you?
21st Oct 2011 - Selling up or selling out
Time to get honest - the garage has become a home for waifs and strays, and a snotty upstarts thumbing their noses at my lack of spannering talent. There's also no room to work on anything once the cars are squeezed in, so a cull is coming
I've never been a horder, or (believe it or not) one for looking back (as opposed to plucking the truth from history's murky clutches). The bikes I want are a trailie for teaching the kids to ride, a middleweight for the Giro (if I can shake the ennui for the Terni Club's rather diluted version) a summer cruiser and a winter ride.
That means either the Darmah or the Sei goes because they effectively do the same job, and the little Gilera 175 Sferica. I've kidded myself that the Gilera will be made road legal and Giro'd: but it's one of maybe 4 or 5 ever made and even if I could face a 1,000 ride on a 175, do I really want to do it on a racebike thrown into a mix of tiddlers, big singles and modern sportsbikes? No. So it goes.
Darmah or Sei? Well, it's not my only bevel and the Sei's just so wonderfully ridiculous that I'd like to have it sorted and get to know it better. That means the Darmah joins the Gilera in the van to John Fallon of Made in Italy motorcycles; £8k for the Gilera, £6.5 for the Darmah. Goodbye and goodnight, and yes I do seem to have something in my eye...
As well as using the proceeds to get the rest of the garage's contents in tip-top condition I also want to fund a publishing project: fun as Benzina is, I'd like to help get a couple of books into print. I'm lucky enough to have the time and (a little) liquidity, and encouraged by Julian Barnes saying that making his (Booker winning) book a thing of beauty was the only way to compete with Kindle and blogs, next year will see some new ideas. And hopefully more riding and less tinkering with truculent old Italians
19th Oct 2011 - New tees and a tribute to Cook and Phil
Our new tee shirts are here, including a tribute to Cook Neilson and Phil Schilling, inspired by the greatest bike writers of them all. As ever, Cook puts it best: "When my dear friend and Old Blue co-conspirator Phil Schilling designed tee shirts for our 1976 racing season, the diesel engine was prominently featured. First time I saw one in the cotton, I asked Phil why. His response: "That's the only part of Ducati that's making any money." "Unfortunately, the originals are in vanishingly short supply. My personal one was sold in a charity auction a couple of years ago for $1100." Naturally we've shipped a bunch to Cook and hopefully he can make good use of them. You can get your's here: we've even got a few XXL too - if you want one order any size but add "XXL please!" in the Paypal message box
17th Oct 2011 - Recession? What recession?
Finally back to normal after Stafford - a sincere thank-you to everyone who came and said hello, especially if they spent money. Generally traders seemed to be accepting they'd take less money than usual, what with all the doom and gloom. So when I saw the Bonham's catalogue was rammed with some of the highest quality entries I've seen in years, my instinct was that this was people liquidating in tough times. After all, there's been talk of 200,000 kids being pulled out of fee-paying schools, and those sort of sacrifices usually come long after the bevel-twins gone to a new home.
And then I saw Bonham's auction results - clearly there's still life in the market, and dealers watched pale-faced as private buyers bid prices no sane trader dare pay. Over £10k looked toppy for a tatty early Hailwood Rep, ditto over £4k for a similarly unloved Darmah. The Italian lightweights looked good value, perhaps reflecting the partial demise and tribulations of the Motogiro. But £12,000 for a Kawasaki Mach1/MarkIII? £24,000 for a Triumph Hurricane? Ber-limey. The headline grabber was (of course) a Brough SS100 at over £200,000 - and in case you haven't seen them there are some fab period pix of an SS100 on holiday in 1954 here
14th Oct 2011 - TT2s and Stafford
Loading up for the Stafford classic bike show - I'll be in the main hall, towards the exit for the Sandylands hall - but am getting the most fantastic feedback on this year's vintage festival at Barber's motorsport museum this year featuring the TT2: 30 years old, can you believe? This (with the 750F1 roadbike) was the starting point of every modern Ducati (see Benzina issue #2)and well worth celebrating - more soon and thanks to Jack Silverman for these photos
13th Oct 2011 - The Dark Side
Back in the days when all full time students had to do something extra-curricular (easy tiger), I was at college in Cardiff and the default option was rugby. Being a shandy-dinking southern Englander I could see this would end badly, so opted instead for philosophy with statistics: yes, really.
In essence this was the macro vs. micro, society vs. individuality, and actually came in damn handy when studying economics. You can understand it in the simply analogy that if you crash your bike you won't get to be a bit dead: you either go to meet your maker, or you don't. You might think it's your life, and I've got to go sometime, but it isn't necessarily that simple.
Years ago a buddy joined the police force, and on discovering he had a big, fast, late-model motorcycle, he got sent to break the bad news to widows, orphans and ex-parents. He quickly realised that if you hit a combine harvester at 120 per, you might just suffer a second of panic before the lights go out, but for a helluva lot of other people, from the paramedics through to the loved ones, and yes, to the copper watching hearts break, the suffering's just begun.
So my uniformed friend now has a Harley, and I (by-and-large) get by on classics. Bad stuff still happens, life's rarely fair, and one day the ferryman will get paid. But if it happens on a bike there is someone out there trying to help those left behind make sense of it.
Teresa Mills Davenport was widowed when hubby Rob died on his motorcycle, but is brave enough to want to turn her grief into something positive, by campaigning and offering support to others who find themselves in the same shoes. Naturally there's a website for the organisation she's set up to do this work, dying to ride and you might even come across it at a car show or school. Even if you or yours never need their help, if just one driver takes notice it might be you he doesn't hit.
And to finish on a brighter note, Pink Floyd have not only re-released all their stuff, they've hinted at a reunion gig. Every dark side has a bright side...
13th Oct 2011 - Something for the weekend
Will be at the Stafford classic bike show this weekend, with every issue of Benzina, some new tee shirts (hopefully) - and these: A3 (about 42cmx30cm) canvas prints with gallery wrap (the pic goes round the edge of the frame). Perfect for the garage, sitting room or outside loo; £20 to you sir. Just had ten made (one of each Morini by Vespamore Photography the Benelli Sei, the Guzzis and the Jota, plus a brace of each Ducati) so when they're gone...sorry, wouldn't risk handing them over to the postie but if you want to reserve to collect at the show just email email@example.com
12th Oct 2011 - Giro fever vs Cammy Mondial
This lovely and rare overhead cam Mondial has just appeared on eBay with an unusually detailed listing. Probably the fastest bike eligible for the Motogiro, and Soichiro Honda's inspiration as detailed in Benzina #001. Not sure about the Laverda speedo (below) but no doubt someone will put me right
With the sad demise of the Dream Engine event, it looks like the only Italian motogiro next year will be the Club Terni event and I know a heap of Brits have already signed up. If you're lucky enough to be going, enjoy. If you're dithering then don't: slap a bid on a bike like this and go: people say those who've been on a Giro go on about it too much. Here's your chance to find out why...
10th Oct 2011 - Sidewinder
Shamelessly lifted from the Bevelheaven site - love to see the guy on a Desmosedici. It's "Ecca" Erik Andersson practicing at Alasaro July 1997
9th Oct 2011 - Dirty Italian
Veteran of various long-distance trails as reported in issue #5 of Benzina this Mondial's gearbox got stuck in first (though first is all I can mange off-road...) on the recent Edinburgh Trail, robbing it of a 100% reliability record in competition. Owner Matt works at the engineering firm who built the prototype Ducati triple, and his Dad is a Classic bike dealer, so the little Mondi has been well looked after. But sadly this time it won't get fixed because (happily) within a month Matt'll be a dad and so the toys have to go. This means the bike' s for sale on eBay right now; buy it and you could be having the sort of fun seen below - note the red benzina sticker on the (alternative steel) petrol tank
8th Oct 2011 - What it means to be English
Went to see Sir Roy Strong talk about what it means to be English last night - our kids' school organises these so-called Mercers' Lectures free of charge (with free glass of vino) and partly because Sir Roy inspired Monty Don's garden, Dr Girlie Nice-Smile wanted to go.
As a past curator of the National Gallery and V&A, the old boy (76 and as fit as a whippet) is used to politicians and the media so stuck robustly to the facts: you're English if you live in England. His opinion is who-we-are started with Elizabeth I, so say 1558. This was our renaissance, gave us the Church of England (with common book of prayer and the King James bible), the first detailed maps of England and perhaps the finest literature there has ever been, including (of course) old Bill Shakespeare. Armed with this stuff (plus a few pirate-lords) we created the largest empire the world has ever seen, while obsessing in art and literature over the rural idyll of our green and pleasant land, although even back then more people lived in towns and cities.
Sparing the history (bar his despair at the James I of England/James VI of Scotland thing that united the kingdom but has grated with the Scots ever since) an hour later we got to the here-and-now: to be English means loving the countryside (even if only via glossy magazines, and I guess that includes open roads), being part of the CofE (even if just for weddings, Christenings and funerals - ah, and Jerusalem on the last night of the Proms) and appreciating the world's most widely spoken language. The two downsides are (i) we need to understand we aren't a global military superpower anymore and (ii) accept the Scottish and Welsh preserved their own identity and were only part of the union while England was rich and a world superpower: like the dolphins in Hitch Hikers' Guide to the galaxy they're now off, without so much as a "thank you for all the fish".
His suggestions as to how we appreciate what it is the be English came down to the predictable "Learn your history and read your literature" (well, he's a historian), to rethinking the double-speak in the word "British," usually used interchangeably with "English" and he thinks we shouldn't. So we need to accept our near neighbours want to tread their own path and do likewise. Bit Little Britain for me in places (especially his point that the EU still basically uses Roman law, were ours is largely common) but it got me thinking (as I do) how this might applies to motorcycle. Firstly I remembered Foggarty getting the George Cross (ie the English flag) on his bike rather than the Union flag, which captured the mood of the era (think England's football fans' facepaint). But most of all I thought about British bikes...well, there was never such a thing, was there? They were English through and through. So from now on Nortons, BSAs, Triumphs et al are English bikes: Sir Roy Strong says so...
6th Oct 2011 - Steve Jobs RIP
Though I'm not a Mac-man (where's the bloody right-click?) and more of a vinyl fan than an ipodder, I've still always really admired Steve Jobs - his interest in calligraphy led to all the fonts computer users (and so magazine readers) take for granted, so his influences go way beyond Apple products. Most of all though I admired his creativity and determination to make the world a better place. This came from true flashes of genius - for instance, when he took over Pixar the plans to have three buildings (one for creatives, one for boffins and one for..oh, I forget: say admin) were scrapped at great expense to have a single building with all the toilets in the centre. Jobs figured this was where people would bump into each other, get chatting and come up with new ideas.
More importantly he believed you should believe in what you do: that's why Benzina exists. So of course, Jobs was one of us; too cool to go mainstream, I love the pic of him on his old Beemer. Steve Jobs, RIP: the world needs more like you.
6th Oct 2011 - Imola revival
Photos of the Imola 200 revival are now online - another must do event? Although it's worth (like their Spa Classic)waiting for a year when the featured bikes suit your tastes; in the past that's meant sidecars or F750 racers, but this year's Imola Miglia 200 featured some Yamaha racing motorbikes....apparently they've been at it 50 years now, but it must still seem like a big change from building pianos
5th Oct 2011 - Le Container
Spotted on the Le container blog taken (I think) at the Imola Classic
4th Oct 2011 - Getting hot with El Paso
Made the most of the last of the sunshine by running down to the south coast (dropping by a friendly-dealer to admire a Jota, Guzzi S3, Morini 350 and Eldorado: what's not to like?) and was reminded what a fabulous bike the 906 Paso is. It's been ignored all summer in favour of the bevels and Italian hire bikes, but the comfy riding position and liquid-gold power-delivery are perfect for ripping along or getting stuck in traffic. Best of all you can buy one for next to nothing: £600 is the (admittedly risky) starting point, but £2k will score a beauty.
3rd Oct 2011 - Laverda Love
On eBay right now this Laverda Alpino/Alpina (more info in Benzina #2) - a non-runner but folk like Bob Dixon or Keith Nairn(and of course Slaters) can soon sort that. These are cruelly under-rated bikes, as is the Guzzi V50 below: they feel much more modern than their bigger cousins and were only sales flops when new because of price and, it seems odd to say all these years later, the Honda CX500: maybe that's what's troubling the girl on the Guzzi...
1st Oct 2011 - Safe or sorry? Guzzi factory update
Updating the story of the Guzzi factory in issue six of Benzina, following on from a chat with John at Ducati Restorations who was at Mandello for the 90th birthday-bash, and the inevitable PR guff that accompanies theses events - like Guzzi announcing a brand new engine by 2013 from an all-new factory to be built alongside the original (which will become a tourist and heritage site, as reported in Benzina #6).
John saw round the new facilities and was impressed at production levels; he (unlike me) even got into the old wind-tunnel, though the museum was so rammed he gave up trying to visit. "They shut off the town centre so that there were just bikes - you couldn't move for Guzzis."
So maybe all will be well, with Guzzi boasting sales are up by 31%, and if the new Norge (pronounced Norrgay - don't snigger, it means Norway to celebrate a past Guzzi trek oop north) can pinch BMW sales maybe all will be well. Problem is that if you did deeper that jump in sales is to just 6000 units a year, where last year they were talking of 10,000 with ambitions to double that.
More encouraging is that Piaggio are targeting the emerging Asian markets that already accounts for half of the groups sales, although back here in the UK one dealer grumbled to me that plans to double UK sales revolved around doubling the dealer network. Hmm... Our local biking Superstore George White's (which I remember being a corner shop on Swindon's notorious Manchester Road when it was really just George and his daughter) are now Guzzi dealers. I'm told GW's can sell you a GSXR for less than small Suzuki dealers pay the importers, and that might be the way to shift units, but it's not the way the build a brand or attract new faces into motorcycling. And I've just seen that the number of people getting a bike licence in the UK is the lowest since records began...
30th Sep 2011 - Ducati get Lucky (with the 750F1)
It really seemed the 750F1 would be the last ever Ducati, and if you think Ducati's should be penned by Fabio Taglioni it actually is. Yet despite telling everyone who grumbles they missed the bevel-boat to buy one, most ignored the advice on the basis a similar riding experience comes with a mid-nineties 750SS costing a quarter of the money. Well, too late...a mid nineties 750SS is now a tenth or less of the price of a nice F1 - and prime examples like the Santa Monica or Montjuich can fetch over £20k.
The start of the line was the TT2, exactly 30 years ago. The most (and most easily) faked Ducati ever, the TT2 was built in tiny numbers and even the people who built and raced them often disagree about provenance. Yet still people buy the same old books and pass off what they read as gospel. And as for the internet...(ahem). Anyway, the full story's covered in issues 2 and 5 of Benzina
After the Castiglionis rebooted Ducati they set about rebuilding the brand with racing. Enter one Marco Lucchinelli with a much-modded F1 and next thing you know Carlos Checca's won the World Superbike Championship for Ducati yet again(fingers crossed). If you fancy page one of this history book you'll need to persuade Ducati to part with Lucky's racer - it's in their museum, presented as an equal to the Hailwood and Smarty bevel twins, and rightly so. But for £15,000 John Fallon at Made in Italy will sell you this replica. I saw it at Goodwood a few years back and it's convincing both up close and on track. Probably twice what you might pay for a standard F1 privately, but less than it would cost to build and you'd still be unlikely to get an invite from Lord March to ride up Goodwood House's drive
29th Sep 2011 - MV Agusta 750
More genius from the lenses of Phil Aynsley - the lesser known sibling to the MV Agusta 750 Sport. Only 50 of these GTs were built, selling at triple the price of a Honda CB750 which limited its appeal somewhat. Photographed in the Hunter Valley, NSW. 2010. Phil's photography features regularly in Benzina and to see his stuff printed on quality paper is a real treat: Phil, you're a star. And I think Disco Volante still have a few copies of his Ducati tribute
29th Sep 2011 - Strangely attractive
Spotted in a supermarket carpark - strangely attractive variation on the usual matt black Honda CX500. Although ridiculed for their weight, styling and initial reliability problems (knock, knock: who's there? CX500 big ends...)the press raved about them in 1978. Even comparison tests against the Italian competition (Laverda Alpino, Guzzi V50 and Morini 500: the late 70s was a 500-fest)found the Honda handled as well as the Latin lovelies if you allowed for its girth, but was a lot faster, better spec'd and a whole lot cheaper. This looked like the beginning of the end for the Italian bike industry, making their current success all the more remarkable.
28th Sep 2011 - (Still) Running out of Road
Remember this? Bike magazine founder and opinionated curse of the trade, Mark Williams' "Running out of Road" column was always the first thing I read in a new issue of Bike. If (like me) you've ever wondered what became of the Laverda lover (he had a Jota and a Chott) you can follow his blog here. But more importantly (see my words passim on supporting local bizniz, as Mark would have said) you can go eat at his latest venture, a fine looking restaurant in rural Wales.
28th Sep 2011 - Ducati 1199 spy pix
Latest spy shots of the new Ducati Superbike, looking like the bastard love child of an early Triumph Daytona and a Ducati 999. Underslung exhaust's not exactly original, but hey, ho whatever it takes to win in World Superbikes
Nice to see a tubby tester, mind - us larger chaps appreciate a bit of room on a bike and after the success of the Daivel, Ducati have clearly realised the average biker often has an above average waistline...
27th Sep 2011 - Ducati UK launch party
Lucky enough (really lucky enough) to get invited to Ducati UK's launch party for their new Silverstone base. Tail end of man-flu meant I really didn't feel up to much, but boy am I glad I went. Plenty of bikes to take out on track (though watching the - ahem - range of riding abilities on show plus my enfeebled state I left my leathers in the car: I know, I know...) and remarkably only one crash - a famous racer gate crashed a friend who then 848 Dark crashed as thanks: I have never seen anyone's pride so severely beaten up, although the 848 survived surprisingly well.
Then it was back to the shiny new HQ for fizz and nibbles, rubbing shoulders with familiar faces and some worrying wealthy looking people all of whom had heard of Valentino Rossi. A brief ceremony by Gabriele del Torchio, President and CEO of Ducati and Derek Warwick president of the British Racing Drivers' Club (also Silverstone based)and then it was time for the band...and to take my dripping nose home
What was impressive was the sense of confidence - Ducati are the fastest growing 500cc+ brand in the UK and the massive gamble of the Diavel has paid off. Gabriele was promising they'd get Rossi and MotoGP sorted, and Carlos Checca's run in world supers makes you believe they can do it. When I first fell for Ducati it looked like the Japanese would crush them into the history books. And last night, some forty years later, I wondered at how fortunes can change - just click on the bottom pic for more photos
|Ducati launch party|
25th Sep 2011 - Stafford here we come
I'll be at the Stafford classic bike show 15/16 October (in the main hall, but in a different spot, yet again - come say hi) but definitely without any cash: I've got too many projects and getting older's making me less acquisitive, and more interested in just getting out there. Which projects/family/"summer" weather have conspired against too often. A friend's dad reckons four is the optimum number of bikes to maximise your time riding, and I'm beginning to think he's right...
But if you're in the market this Gilera Saturno was at Stafford in April: green frame (just like a 750SS!?) hints at a military past, but if you want to know more about these undervalued singles you clearly need a copy of Benzina #4
24th Sep 2011 - Thank you, thank you - together we can avoid armageddon
Thank you to everyone who's been in touch with kind words about issue #6 of Benzina: once an issue's in the post I always swear that I've had enough, then the supportive voices chime in and it's on to the next edition. One rod I make for my own back is that I use our local post office: it would be cheaper to have an agency frank them, and it wouldn't take three days for every copy to get stamped and posted on. But to paraphrase JFK, "ask not what your community can do for you, but what you can do for your community."
Our nearest High Street (Market Lavington,about a mile away) has a Post Office (obviously) that doubles as a sweet shop and general store - greetings cards cuddle up with radiator keys and dog food - and is run by a Mr and Mrs team. So when school chucks out, or when they need to go to the cash and carry, timescales slip. But hey, ho use it or loose it. Next to them is a newsagent, then a Co-op; not a mini Tesco's note, because the Co-op run a moral-high-ground policy of not competing with local services, so this one doesn't sell papers or magazines. I think of this when staring at the price of their frozen peas: expensive, but produced on Co-op farms in the UK, and buying them means I'm also supporting the newsagent and Post office, as well as the fabulous butchers opposite - Douse's, an old family firm who source all the meat locally, butcher it on site and sell their own faggots, pasties and more. Perfect, and good value. We are lucky to live here.
But what's this to do with, well, anything? Actually, I think it might have something to do with everything. We live in times that were created by a desire to have anything we wanted, and have it now. Not stuff we needed, note: oh, no - stuff we need like food (unless it's in a posh restaurant), looking after the old, safeguarding our country for the next generation, all has to be done as cheaply as possible, if at all. Stuff we want (cars, holidays, electrical goods) we'll pay the earth for (literally) and sod the fact the money's borrowed in the far east to buy far eastern goods. Or we buy from a big retailer, putting the small local shop out of business. Tesco's and Amazon aren't successful because of what they do; they make money because of what we do.
So instead of begging government to do stuff, we could do something ourselves. The current economic Armageddon is a threat because Governments are still being selfish - the French want Germany to bail out Greece because if Greece goes bust it will take French banks with it, which French taxpayers will have to sort out. And if Germany lets the Euro fail and goes back to the Deutschemark, the words greatest exporter by value will loose the ability to sell overseas via an artificially undervalued currency. So Governments will, my Whitehall sources tell me, "kick the can down the road" for as long as they can, at which point us or our kids will pick up the pieces. As classic bikers we're not the sort to wait for the AA without trying to fix things ourselves, and those who say we can't make a difference should dust down the history books and discover that both Israel and South Africa were brought to negotiating tables by ordinary consumers boycotting their goods. This isn't a plea to buy shoddy goods, like those dreadful late seventies "Buy British" campaigns, but a realisation that we're all in this together: researching the Guzzi factory story in Benzina #6 I kept asking Italians why they weren't on Italian bikes. "Too expensive," they would say to a man. Really? Buy buying (say) a Japanese bike did they really save enough cash to live on unemployment benefit? Seems unlikely to me...
22nd Sep 2011 - Diavel's a winner
Well here's a turn up for the bookies - Ducati's Diavel hasn't just won MCN's bike of the year, it's beaten Ducati's sales forecasts in the teeth of economic gloom few would have predicted when those forecasts were made.
OK, I was initially a sceptic, but seeing the buzz MCN's own Diavel created at the Ace Cafe (when it turned up unannounced to a mate's party) was a slap round the reality chops; it parked next to V-Rod and a neat low-rider but was far and away the most admired bike in the paddock (surely the tarmac in front of the Ace is a paddock rather than a mere car park?). Even as custodian Ian Jubb (one of MCN's photographer's) pulled off his lid a Rossi livered R1 rolled in, rider in matching leathers. Nobody even looked round...
When Ian had to leave, I felt for him as the crowd poured out to hear the Termis light up the night. Luckily the Diavel's clever electrickery meant a fluffed departure was as unlikely as the wheelies it reins in
22nd Sep 2011 - Alternative Aga
Just in case Dr Girlie Nice-Smile sees this: THIS IS NOT OUR AGA. And in fairness to the real owner I'm not even going to hint at what's going on, because his other half was out at the time...
21st Sep 2011 - The new Ducati Panigale
Just in from Ducati's PR machine...
Ducati officially announces the naming of its new generation 2012 Superbike as the “Ducati 1199 Panigale” and confirms that the unveiling and first public display will be at the EICMA International Motorcycle Show in Milan 10-13 November.
Having attracted massive, world-wide interest during the machine’s many test phases, the exciting new model is also now officially named in an emotional video released on the Italian manufacturer’s website, Ducati.com, and Ducati Motor Holding’s official Youtube channel. The wait to discover the incredible performance, innovative design and ground-breaking technologies of the new 1199 Panigale will continue for just a few more weeks.
Pronounced “Pan-ee-gah-lee”, the new model breaks with Ducati’s Superbike tradition by adding a name to its 1199cc engine capacity (referred to as eleven-nine-nine), making a significant and warm association to its historic roots in the Borgo Panigale area of Bologna. In an Italian territory known as “Motor Valley” and where high performance and racing runs through the veins of its passionate people, Ducati now underline their pride in being world ambassadors for the “Made in Italy” title by immortalizing their home town in the name of the new Superbike.
Developed as a true sport bike with competition in its DNA, the Ducati 1199 Panigale will first see racing action in the 2012 FIM Superstock Championship and, in accordance with the factory’s development program, make its debut in World Superbike in 2013.
The two-stage introduction enables Ducati additional development for the Superbike version of the 1199 Panigale, appropriate to the more open regulations of the World Superbike category, and in addition help control costs for World Superbike teams who can continue to compete with a 2012 version of the 1198 with technical support from Ducati Engineers.
18th Sep 2011 - Pauper's porcini
Funny how Italian peasant food is now some of the most expensive scoff you can buy. Pizza has the highest mark-up of any high street food, "wild" rocket costs more than sausages, and dried mushrooms run from £70 a kilo to however deep your pockets are. Time to get back to your roots.
We've got a great weekly market, and when I can buy a big box of mushrooms for £2 I'm buggered if I'm going to spend a damp morning looking for wild fungi to poison myself with. Top pic is just over half the mushrooms (rest in soup and pies) sliced and laid over the Aga to dry: an airing cupboard would work just as well.
Pic below is 24 hours later: crunchy dried mushrooms ready for a winter of risottos, soups and ragu. At least £40 at retail, but a solitary quid to me. All those Yummy-Mummy's shopping for Jamie's latest recipe must be mad, but then I see "fresh stock" has appeared in the supermarket's chiller cabinet, which means people are throwing away left-overs and then buying someone else's boiled up bones. Recession? Apparently not...
17th Sep 2011 - TT2 to a tee
16th Sep 2011 - Slot racing
As the tee shirt says, "I'm not racist - I'll race anyone" but with autumn on the doorstep you might want to think laterally...
A few years ago Dr Girlie Nice-Smile bought me the MotoGP Scalextric set, and I spent happy hours teaching our youngest the need for speed. But the bikes quickly went - frankly they're rubbish and just fly off the track at anything like race-pace. So Junior bought a TVR which was as tail happy as the real thing, and I bought the most beautiful car of all time (tho I rotate my choice with the Alfa 33 Stradale and the original GTA) - the Ferrari 330P4; as good at slotcar racing as it was on the Targa Florio.
When we started Teas and Cakes we put the Scalextric track out, along with table football, but no-one wanted a go: all just seemed grateful to be with like minded riders. But if you do like slot-cars check out the enzosscuderia blog
13th Sep 2011 - Those were the days
Can't remember where I first saw this but still makes you think those were the days
12th Sep 2011 - Do Davida do the Bunga Bunga?
Now this looks like our sort of place, a new pizzeria named after Silvio Berlusconi's infamous "Bunga Bunga" parties (and for the origins of Bunga Bunga click here - don't worry, it's a BBC site)
But what really caught our eye are the light fittings: are those Davida helmets up there? Genius...I just wish something like this would work in rural Wiltshire
11th Sep 2011 - Benelli Dodici?
Spotted on the Ottonero blog - whether it's a genuine doubled up Benelli Sei or just Photoshop fun, it's something to smile at on this anniversary of a very different sort of twin towers.
I remember 11 September 2001 perfectly - our son (then just two) called the through on seeing the breaking news with "Hey, Thunderbirds is on!" Sadly he was wrong: reading about the "jumpers" in last weeks paper took me several attempt, it was so moving: back in 1978 I stood at the top of one Tower, thinking the view below seemed unreal it was so far away. All gone now, but nothing forgotten.
10th Sep 2011 - Dr T on getting your own way
This black and white pic was shamelessly scanned from Classic Bike #1, published back in the early eighties when a certain Mrs T upset enough people to effectively invent nostalgia. Bill Haylock (for me the finest and fastest journalist of all time - Bill, wither are thou now?)already had a 450 Desmo and wrote eloquently about the first Ducati Desmo you could actually buy, the 350 MkIIID; sure, it didn't need the desmo valve gear (big ends are far more likely to limit revs in a big single) but Taglioni was desperate to get desmo valve gear into production, and what Dr T wanted he generally got.
There's a fabulous photoshoot of a redden and restored "Twin filler" (as these bikes are colloquially know) in Benzina issue 6 (out next week) plus an insight into a previously unseen replacement from 1975: no, not the Utah/Rolah (tho they feature too) but an earlier prototype. It seems Dr T really did do just as he pleased at Ducati, even if much of it never finished up in the showrooms. And more of Gilles Desmeurs 350D (below) by clicking here
7th Sep 2011 - New for old
We're about to get a new range of tee shirts in, so the old designs have to go to make room. Sad to see these go because we spent a fortune on details like the tags and embroidered "3" (as in Hemmingway's "There are only three sports..." that an online sales platform couldn't make the most of. Anyway the new tees will just have prints on the front and should be with me for Stafford in October...I hope
But in the meantime all tees, sweats and polos are BUY ONE GET ONE FREE- no guarantees what design the freebie will be but it will be the same size and type of garment as your purchase. However if you put any preferences in the Paypal message box we'll do our best to meet them
5th Sep 2011 - Issue 6 on the way
The CD's on the way to the printers, with the huge PDF that is Benzina #6 all done and dusted (I hope): our feeble broadband speed means there is no way to upload these files online. Subscribers' copies should go out around September 2oth, then it's all up to the postal authorities (god help us all...)
Really pleased with this issue: first up is Elizabeth Rabb's Ducati project - very Bob Carlos Clarke, and worth the cover price alone. Elizabeth also tells how she did it and what inspires the best bike photographer on the planet. Then there's what happens next at Guzzi: the recriminations, plans and dreams lined up for the factory's 90th anniversary. That's followed by Guzzi's Paris Dakar racer, then insights into ownership of the Laverda and Morini big trailies: big, clever and very dirty.
Next up is a prize-winning Ducati 350 Desmo twin-filler snapped by a fashion photographer, plus details of the restoration, and a comparison with the Ducati 350 singles that never made the showrooms. So we tell you about the MV350 twin you should buy, ideally dressed up as Ago's four.
More? Of course...extracts from a 50s race fan's photo album, including Geoff Duke pitching his Gilera 500/4 against Liverpudlians on Brit singles. Or how about racing Benelli Seis at the TT, with highlights from a man who did. And how to buy a 1976 900SS from a Frenchman who'll only send low-res photos: unbelievably, the story has a happy ending.
We wrap up with Laverda's forgotten spaceframed triples and Lambretta's shaft-driven four stroke 250 V twin: yes, just like a little Guzzi. All on lovely paper, feeling more like a book than the tat they pass off elsewhere as quality magazines. Buy it, and a copy for a friend, and get a free warm-fuzzy feeling. Then enjoyAnd thanks to all who help, contribute and buy: we love you all. Right, onto issue 7...
4th Sep 2011 - Morinifest
Thanks to all who came to our final teas and cakes - 17 Morinis, plus Guzzis and even some J@p stuff. No Ducatis - "It's September, they're all on SORN" claimed some (Morini riding) wag. Best news of all is that Morini are back off the ropes, with fresh money, a new two year lease on the old factory and a stand at the Milan show.
Thanks to all who support these events - if you want more buy Benzina, and if you don't you're a dirty freeloader. And a very special thanks to subscribers Dave and Robyn, who easily won the furthest travelled visitor: they came from Hawaii - yes, that Hawaii...
See more photos by clicking here
3rd Sep 2011 - Buy this bike!
On eBay right now this perfect Laverda 100 Corse, pictured with Giuliano Maoggi on the Giro. It's current owner is too modest to say on the listing, but he wrote about these race winning tiddlers in Benzina #1 and is a regular contributor to both Benzina and Classic Bike. If you're a Laverda fan with an itch to do the Giro or Milano Taranto there is no better bike to own.
2nd Sep 2011 - Morinis, tea and cakes
This fine Morini, owned by Neil P and snapped on film at Tring* station by Vespamore Photography should be at our final Teas and Cakes tomorrow, Saturday 3 September. Should be around 30 bikes, half of them Morinis. Just hope the weather behaves...
*strange but true: I was expelled from a convent in Tring, aged 7. Catholics, eh?
29th Aug 2011 - Life's a beach
Just back from family hols with the in-laws, who live right on the (subsiding) cliff tops of Sidmouth in Devon. This being God's waiting room, bikes on the seafront are rare but every now and then something special turns up, like this lovely Laverda RGA Sprint just like the one in Benzina #5
Naturally a crowd had gathered, eagerly discussing the value of the "Jota" before them - "Fifteen grand, I reckon" opined Expert #1, only to be trumped by Expert #2: "Nah, more like £18,000" he bluffed.
When I offered the truth (It's not a Jota, and you can buy these fabulous bikes for surprisingly modest sums) everyone wandered off. Something I said? Or was it just that none of these "Experts" owned a bike, and only see classics in terms of cash and bragging rights. Seems the sickness that's been in the classic car world for years has moved into bikes, which is a shame. At least these guys weren't bikers, just "Experts" (as in "Ex" being a has-been, and "Spurt" a drip under pressure).
18th Aug 2011 - Mach 1 TT lap
This is Keith Martin on his way to winning the 1974 TT 500 proddie race. It's a Kawasaki Mach 1 triple, probably the worst handling bike ever to win on the Isle of Man. Mods? Tank, seat and fairing - that's it. Not tuned by Stan Stevens, as some claim; the engine was bog standard
How do I know this? I spent a very pleasant evening with Keith, talking mainly about his races on a Benelli Sei in 1975. Only a man who won on a Kawasaki triple would think a Six would be twice as good. Full story in Benzina #6, which is now finished bar proof-reading. And printing, obviously. Should be with subscribers late September
17th Aug 2011 - Claudio Castiglioni RIP
Founder of Cagiva, and single handed reviver of much of the Italian motorcycle industry, Claudio Castiglioni passed away in Varese this morning after a brief illness. In recent months Castiglioni handed over control to his British-educated son Giovanni
Castiglioni was viewed both as a saviour and an incredibly cunning businessman. His most recent triumph came just last year, when Harley-Davidson paid him €20 million to take MV Agusta off their hands just two years after he’d sold it to them for €70 million. The deal made possible the new MV Agusta F3. When the lightest, most sophisticated supersport motorcycle ever goes on sale later this year, it’ll be a fine tribute to one of the most important men in motorcycling. Without him there would be no Ducati or MV, no 916, no Monster and no Eddie Lawson winning the Hungarian GP in 1992 on a Cagiva 500
14th Aug 2011 - Ducati for Sales (told you so)
Front page of the Sunday Times business section - Ducati could be floated in Hong Kong next year with a market value of £875million($1.4billion) which fits with blog passim on the Diavel
Ducati's private equity owner, Milan-based Investindustrial (with links to Silvio Berlusconi according to our spies) has discussed a share offering with banks but given the current market turmoil won't decide whether to proceed in early 2012.
Hong Kong has become the financial centre of choice for luxury brands seeking a public listing, with fashion house Prada, cosmetics group L'Occitane, and luggage maker Samsonite all launching initial public offerings there in the past 18 months.
Investindustrial has restored Ducati to profitability since taking it over in 2008. Bikes like the Diavel and the link with Rossi must surely have been part of this plan to tap into the Asian markets and the new world order
13th Aug 2011 - Parilla F3
A happy day snapping yesterday, admiring John Crooke's perfect Parilla F3. Art and design student daughter took these pics, and despite having little interest in bikes was totally besotted with the F3. This despite a bight red 175 Sport living alongside the F3, and John's workshop's waiting list including a Fireblade and R1. Seem's like the girl's inherited my excellent taste.
John's most famous for tuning Parilla go-carts, and only found out they'd made bikes when he heard the 175s were for sale. Unloved and shoved to the back of a garage, he's turned them into prize winners. Sadly Benzina #6 is almost full, so they'll just be a double spread of the F3, and then we'll revisit the full story in a later issue.
11th Aug 2011 - Legends
Now this is a photoshoot - the legendary photographer Phil Aynsley capturing legendary designer Franco Farne on legendary bikes. There are also shots of Benjamin Grau, winner of the 1978 Mugello 1000km as seen in Benzina #4. Legends is a very overused word these days. But not today.
10th Aug 2011 - Little but large
Bill Little Motorcycles' annual event is this Saturday 13th August includes autojumble, club stands and ride-ins. Show off your classic, enjoy live music in the evening, plus BBQ and a licensed bar. Bill's son Matt is a contributor to Benzina, having ridden Mondials on the Giro and long distance trails, and Bills an indefatigable biker - a foot injury led to a Guzzi outfit rather than a car.
Admission's free for British bike riders. Hmmm...a Vincent sticker on the 900SS should get me in once folk on the gate have had a few beers
UPDATE: ENTRY'S FREE FOR ALL (even c@r$!) SO SEE YOU THERE
9th Aug 2011 - Rhodes bike
Currently on its way from the Greek island of Rhodes to Disco Volante - an early sandcast 750 engine found in a shed. Front cylinder's missing, but DV have a replacement. Bubble wrap covers an original and very tidy 1980 900SS tank. If you need a(nother) winter project give Disco Volante a call
7th Aug 2011 - Original and best
A pair of Ducati 175s arrived at Saturday's Teas and Cakes ridden by a brace of Mikes. They were ridden separately for much of the almost 200 mile round trip, but still had enough power to keep up with modern traffic on all but the A303. Proof you can ride them, rather than hide them.
My fave was the wonderfully patinated unrestored bike (top, and on the left in the bottom pic): proof that restoration is justified a lot less often than Magpie collectors insist on, and making the bike a fantastic reference point for anything that does justify restoration. Even the original dealer "sticker" is still riveted to the front number plate. Just perfect: and in fairness the second 175, it was restored to ensure it finished the 200r Motogiro, which it did in style. A big thanks to Mikes 1 and 2 for bringing them along.
6th Aug 2011 - The great age of film
More genius from the Olympus OM10 and Zuiko lens of Vespamore Photography. I saved for ages to buy an OM10, then like a fool P/X'd it for a Canon Auto (that broke) and then went digital. Heartening to see more prints are now made from film than digital: like vinyl, film carries far more info that digital formats. The past might just be the future...
2nd Aug 2011 - Teas and cakes Special
Teas and Cakes as usual this Saturday 6 August - all welcome, email for directions - plus we'll be at the Churchill Arms (2 miles up the road) for the bikers meet about 7:30 tomorrow (Wednesday 3 August)
Then the final T&C of the year on 3 September will have something very special - the Morini riders' club are awarding best bike trophies. The idea is to try and get as many Morinis as possible in one place, and they also like the fact it's not too hilly round our way for those with ancient 175s. There'll be awards for various classes (including best non-Morini and biggest group ride in) as well as tea and cakes for all. See you then...
1st Aug 2011 - When the money runs out is Ducati's Diavel the answer?
Well the US has a fudged it's way out of a corner (borrowing another $2.4 trillion, promising to do something about debt levels within a decade) and unemployed Neapolitans are burning their uncollected rubbish rather than wait for the polititians to sort out their woes. It feels so much like the seventies I'm starting to crave Angel Delight and Vesta curries: where will it all end?
In a bad place, I suspect. Those baby boomers who were taxpayers and worker bees way back when are now pensioners and NHS bed-blockers: yes, they paid their taxes but that money's all spent, a huge and growing burden with a (particularly Italian) shrinking birth rate. With inflation outstripping GDP the problem's getting worse by the hour. At least the US can borrow at low interest rates - the Italian Government's having to pay nearly 6% if it can find a willing lender: that's the reason Moto Morini had to close it's doors - a short term funding crisis couldn't be tided over by the Government. If that had happened in the 1970s Guzzi, Ducati and Benelli would have disappeared. As would most of the car industry...
So what of the future? Reading up for a piece on the Guzzi factory in Benzina #6, I wadded through Paiggio's statement to shareholders. Piaggio own Aprillia, Guzzi, Gilera...even the Laverda name I suspect. Already they build their scooters in China, so where do they think the future of biking is?
Scarily but hardly unsurprisingly it precises as "Europe's shot, there's some mileage in big bikes in the US. But South America and Asia? Oh, yes please. That's the future". So they opened an R+D department in China. And Harley's shares went up when their CEO said "We might need to go water-cooled in our old markets, but the iconic air-cooled engines will still sell in emerging markets"
And do those emerging markets crave sportsbikes? No. They want a luxury brand, like Ducati, hopefully like Guzzi, and definitely like Harley-D. So maybe Ducati got it spot on with the Diavel, because although you might not like it, the truth might be it was never aimed at Europeans.
30th Jul 2011 - When it's gone, it's gone
Just sold the last pair of Barry Sheene gloves, despite all sorts of caveats on our website about how lightweight and unsuitable for riding thy are (although I wore mine on the Giro) and really don't know whether I'll recommission another batch. Similarly I've just ordered the Phil Aynsey Ducati book from sole European distributor Disco Volante - looks expensive at £65, but there are now just four left. That means £65 will look cheap next year. Why? Supply and demand.
Take good friend of Team Benzina's, Richard Skelton. His book, Funky Moped had an RRP of £15, discounted to just a tenner by WH Smiths. But now they're all gone, and copies already regularly top £30 on eBay. Looking for something else, I spotted my 50 Years of Ducati book (£15 in the bargain bucket at the NEC) now makes over £120. Eek, better keep it away from the teething puppy...
Folk will ask why the publisher doesn't reprint, but it's rarely worth it. A hardback need to be a run of at least 1,000 copies, which will cost the same as a really nice motorbike. A run of 2,500 to 5,000 is more like it, which will cost the same as a holiday cottage in France. Would you risk it?
Not when you discover that the resellers (Amazon, Smiths, bookshops et al) expect to trouser north of half the cover price, sometimes plus a listing fee. The publisher needs to make a judgement call, and so do we. If you want something and can afford it, buy it. You'll hopefully still appreciate the book (or bike, or meal out) long after you've forgotten what you paid for it.
21st Jul 2011 - Sweet home Alabama
No, not the excellent Lynyrd Skynyrd song, but the Barber museum's NCR/Ducstock event in October to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Ducati TT2.
Much of the TT2 story has been covered in Benzina (especially issue #2, with some neat follow up pics in issue #5) because we think this is the most under-rated and misunderstood Ducati of all time. Much of our insider knowledge comes via good friend Pat Slinn (below, right) who spannered Tony Rutter's TT2 to world domination in an age that had written Ducati off. We also get access to Rino Caracchi (the C in NCR) via Vicki Smith who's organising much of Ducstock. If you've got the time and (not much) money the event's going to see some of the greatest bikes of all time on Barber's amazing track - you can ride too, and then visit possibly the world's greatest motorsport museum
Plus you'll get to learn about the TT2 and its 748cc successor, the TT1. Often (and easily) faked, maybe 20, maybe 40 or so factory TT2s were built, plus perhaps 200 customer bikes. I must've seen that many in the UK alone...Hmmm. Most telling is that the serious collectors (already up to their eyes in round case 750SSs) are moving in. If you have the cash and can find a genuine, verifiable TT2 or 1 buy it now, because in a decade whatever you paid is going to look cheap for what was the last Taglioni designed Ducati
20th Jul 2011 - Sexism for grown ups
Interviewing the very wonderful Elizabeth Raab for Benzina #6, I started out by saying I didn't want to go over the feminism/sexist/exploitation angle other interviewers were seemingly convinced was the elephant in the room (Elizabeth's work is astonishingly erotic in a way that bears comparison with Bob Carlos Clarke): I was slightly nervous about this gambit, but luckily Elizabeth felt the same: we're all grown ups, everyone's being fairly remunerated, and no laws were broken. Move on, and let's not trawl over old ground.
Sure, ads like this 70s AGV number are troubling because the girl's made to seem a bit dim because she's interested in looks and money alone. Hmm. Next week I'm lucky enough to have been married to Dr Girlie Nice-Smile for 20 years, but was it her medical degree or understanding of the human condition that made me notice her standing in the neighbour's garden? Hell no, and I'd be disappointed she was first attracted to me by my insight into the evils of cementitious pointing. These things might have kept us interested in each other since 1989, but they were never the spark.
Anyway, the prudes who insist that finding the mere sight of the opposite sex attractive is wrong seem to be "Don't-do-as-we-did" come-lately prudes: Germaine Greer spoke at our local school about "Fun with feminism" and it was just one long grumble about how a very rich woman's life could have been even better. Ditto the insufferable Joanna Lumley's recent grumbles about "kids today": how can someone who played Patsy in Ab Fab whine about role models? We can't all be Ghurkhas. No wonder Lenny Henry left her. (It was her, wasn't it? Must buy Hello occasionally...)
So Benzina will keep printing pics of ladies we find attractive, with a very simple rubric: if Dr Girlie Nice-Smile and our daughter don't find the images demeaning or offensive, and they add something to a story, in they go.
18th Jul 2011 - Spa treatment 3
Chris riding in the warm up - not bad for your first visit to Spa! More at
Team Guzzi Nerd
16th Jul 2011 - Fangio, Alfa and Monza - perfect
13th Jul 2011 - Night Moves
Maybe I spent to much time as a kid lying in the dark listening to stuff like Bob Seger's Night Moves but I love finding bike's tucked down dark alleyways. It's like finding a hidden gun or stash of drugs: what's it doing there? You just know the owner wouldn't take kindly to finding your loitering, so you move on. Who'd ride a sports bike to a night-time liaison that's held in a seedy backstreet? This 999 appeared at about 10pm and was gone just after midnight, parked barely 25m from a floodlit carpark. Not locked, but in the shadier parts of Italy you'd better be sure of your criminal connections before stealing it.
At least the 999 has an OK headlight, at least compared to the 916 series. Years ago, riding my 916 back from Bristol it started to get dark, and I actually stopped to check the headlights were working. By the time I got a 999 I was ready to ride with a torch between my teeth...
The 999 was a shock after the 916 series, and felt more like a fast ST4 than a 998. With the comfort seat and screen it was a real ground-coverer regardless of traffic or the road. Pity it was slower than a 998S. And it became the machine that turned me off modern bikes - where the 998 still had Dzus fasteners and natty brackets the 999 was more like a washing machine under the skin; zillions of little screws, and obviously intended to be cheaper to built than the 916 series. Maybe that's the way of the world, and it can be admirable - I love the way my Fiat 500 has a tensioned "carpet" that rests on the spare wheel to form the boot floor: simple, lightweight and clever enough to let them sell a brand new car at £8000. But when I buy something special - like a sportsbike - I want it to feel special. Like Bianchi bicycles, with their clickety-click alloy gear shifters and hidden cable runs. So when I look at an 848 Evo with those self-tapping screws holding one bit of plastic to another, or the Diavel's exhaust trying to look like there's two silencers rather than a single pressing I shudder. Too reminiscent of the final MV Agusta 750 America's abominations, for a start
8th Jul 2011 - The future of publishing (and everything else)
The crocodile tears over the News of the World's demise is an interesting insight into the future of publishing, and maybe the entire future of business. What analysts call the Tesco and Chanel future - basically you either sell a lot and make a little bit on everything, or you sell a few things to a niche (and ideally affluent) market.
The phenomenal readership of the News of the World means advertisers (normally) queue up to take display space. Circulation might (like all other mainstream titles) be falling, but 2.7 million sales a week gives advertisers a chance to reach far more household than any other Sunday paper can ever dream of. Visiting London I can't believe how many people are trying to give me free papers and magazines: even the once mighty Evening Standard is handed out FOC. Big Issue? Not unless it's free, my homeless chum. The game's the same, it's about the numbers - a real life internet, in fact.
So it is with Riders, an Italian magazine. Just 2.50 Euros: that's virtually free, when Motociclismo's almost treble that. Not many words (though there's a very random interview/photoshoot with Ben Spies) and some nice design, but not much to get your teeth into (a plus point if your Italian's as bad as mine). I could also get by without product reviews of swimming trunks and suncream. But look at the advertisers: trainers, cosmetics, clothes - even the odd bit of bike related stuff. Basically the cover price is for the retailer, while the publisher works on the advertising revenue.
Question is, does this put the reader first? Who knows, but it does matter. With the disappearance of the middle market goes a lot of jobs, and a helluva hole in our High Streets. When I left school the bright but not brilliant kids could aspire to being a shop manager, work in a bank or become an apprentice. From here on in our kids are either going to get to the top of the greasy pole or stack shelves. The irony this is driven by technology as much as the emergence of Asia as a global force: the technology that was going to give us so much free time. Be careful what you wish for, because it amounts to haves and have nots: like the Kaiser Chiefs, I predict a riot
In the meantime, technology means Benzina can break even at 1,000 copies, which is pretty niche. Thank you to everyone who supports the project, and I guess it's the Chanel path for me. I wonder if that means I get to ride Keira Knightley's prototype Ducati 750 Sport off-roader (below)?
6th Jul 2011 - Spa treatment Part II
Dreams can come true: Team Guzzi Nerd came 18th in last weekend's Spa 4 hour race, despite this being their first visit to the circuit. They were first Guzzi home too. They weren't even certain they had an entry until they signed on, which is bloody heroic when you built the racer yourself and travelled from LA. Yes, Los Angeles USA.
Madman behind this is Andrew Gray, an English born designer plying his trade Stateside. He's been a good friend of Benzina magazine, helping raise sales and profile on the West Coast and I only wish I could have been at Spa to be part of what is becoming one of the greatest races in the world: full details of last year's nailbiting race was in issue #2 of Benzina. Interviewing old time racer Keith Martin a few weeks back (another lovely bloke, but clearly barking because he was not only mad enough to race a Kawasaki 500 triple at the TT - he won on it to boot) Keith told me he considers there have only been three real circuits: the IOM, Spa and the (defunct) Nurburgring. And he should know, because he's had success on the lot, and Spa was even more ball-breaking back then
2nd Jul 2011 - Teas and cakes today
If you fancy a rideout today it's teas and cakes from 2pm till fourish...more at Teas and Cakes
1st Jul 2011 - Tyred and tested
Where's the time go? I go for a few weeks away and suddenly it's all catch-up. Sorry if any benzinas have been slow going out, and if you've had problems with issue 5 please shout, because I'm taking one particular matter up with the printers.
Anyway, on to happier stuff. The lovely F1 Montjuichs in the picture have been recently restored to as-new, but with one sad failing: the tyres. The whole Paso/F1 16" tyre debacle staggers on, with the original sizes unobtainable unless you fancy paying £300-odd for a second-hand tyre that's probably sat outside on a bike, even though sellers always claim they've been in lightproof black plastic in a dry attic since new. Amazing foresight,some people. Or nerve...
The problem started with Pirelli giving up production of the sizes in question fairly early on (and it seems their tyres were never homologated in Germany) leaving Michelin as the sole manufacturer of tyres that would fit the Paso and F1. When both bikes bombed (barely 4,000 Pasos were made, some taking five years to sell, and only 2,500 F1s were sold plus maybe 1,300 of the 350/400cc variants) that left a fairly niche market. I'm told a tyre manufacturer won't do a run at less than a 1,000 tyres (unless you're prepared to pay silly money): so let's say (optimistically) half the bikes are used regularly enough to need new tyres every three years, and that half those people haven't discovered one of the many tricks that let's you go for alternatives - that still amounts to one tyre run every three years. But none have been made in over a decade...
I've been told the homologation certificate expired in Germany and it wasn't economical to rehomologate the tyre. Of course in these litigious times Michelin know you can't just sell in one country and claim they won't find their way into another. Occasionally NOS comes up but they can be 20 years old - the dating code's in Benzina #1. There are some bodges that allow slightly different tyres to fit (spacing sprockets out, or cutting swing-arms (eek)) but these are trickier on the 750 than the 906: which is why I bought a 906.
But Avon have now made some tyres that will fit without mods and the Germans have homologated them for the Paso (and by implication
the F1 series): interestingly, apart from the Michelin's these are the ONLY other tyres approved. They're the Azaro AV45ST (front) and AV46ST (rear) 130/70ZR16 and 150/80ZR16, and easy to source in the UK at about £220 a pair - they're intended for less sporty bikes so need a lot of warming up (faster riders tell me!) but at least those of us lucky enough to own a Paso can get back to mile munching in comfort without having to worry about wearing out tyres.
22nd Jun 2011 - There's lovely
Every cloud etc: a Benzina subscriber's selling this fabulous 750SS after a gentle 20 year of riding and restoring. All the goodies, most of which are original to the bike: despite being raced (as nearly all were) it' still got the original crankcases and most of the polished rockers. If you're good taste is matched by good fortune it's £75,000: email for more info. Alternatively any benevolent lottery winners out there please bear in mind it's my birthday in a few weeks...
18th Jun 2011 - TT quickie
2011 TT review coming soon - catch the preview here
17th Jun 2011 - Neatly trimmed box
Nicely topiaried bush, neatly trimmed box - ah, the old ones are...the old ones. We planted up this Italianate veg patch over ten years ago, and it's finally mature enough to take a petrol driven hedge-cutter for its annual haircut. Traditionally box hedges are cut on Derby day, presumably to give estate gardeners an excuse not to go and peer over ridiculous hats at a midget strapped to a bolting horse. Dr Girlie Nice-Smile reckons the job's best done in the rain (less damage to drizzle lubricated leaves) which just adds to the sense of penance, as we spend almost a full day leaning over and hand clipping. Then there's the rest of the hedges and toipary...
You can of course see the result of our (well, Dr GNS's) efforts at Teas and Cakes - next one's 2pm on Saturday 2 July
16th Jun 2011 - You're not alone
If you've ever suffered with an old Italian bike refusing to start, you're not alone - here's Ago, with his MV Agusta 500 at the 2011 TT, discovering how we mere mortals feel...
16th Jun 2011 - Never alone
If you've ever been frustrated by an Italian bike refusing to start (especially when there's an audience) you're in good company - here's Ago, with his old MV Agusta 500 at the 2011 TT, finding out how we mere mortals feel...
15th Jun 2011 - Made by Ducati: eats money
Spotted on a self-service train ticket machine in Pisa: looks like Ducati are branching out. Someone had scrawled "EATS MONEY" by the coin slot. I guess that means either the ticket machine was broken or the graffiti artist owns an old bevel twin...
14th Jun 2011 - Hotel in Lucca - we stayed on the second floor
With apologies to Suzanne Vega we really did stay on the second floor of a hotel in Lucca, a wake for the cancelled Motogiro and mopping up the airline tickets. Lucca's a fabulous hidden Tuscan gem, unless you're a Puccini fan in which case you'll know it's where the composer of Turandot and Madam Butterfly was born.
I've been visiting Italy since 1988, and in that time (like France) the thing that strikes me most is how Italians have become less passionate about supporting their fellow countrymen (or maybe just more open minded...): but certainly Italian bikes are now in the minority on the road. Even the police are running Triumphs (below), and along with BMW their market penetration is impressive - I'd guestimate they've easily got the Japanese on the run. Every Italian I asked about this gave the same answer - their home built bikes don't offer value for money, and few are inclined to pay what they see as over-the-odds prices just to support home-spun offerings. And it's no use spinning the "it's more expensive to build in Italy" yarn, because Hondas are built in Italy, while (I'm told) much of Guzzi's components come from the far east. Or it might just be the product - two weeks in Italy and I didn't see one Diavel, but you can't move for the new Fiat 500.
The classic scene's the same, although I'd say it's less vibrant in the UK (unless you're into tiddlers): most classics I saw were Hondas (500/4s especially) and more of those those pesky BMWs. No old Brit-bikes at all (though zillions of Harleys - wow, the Italians love Harley) which makes Triumph's current success even more impressive. When you think what John Bloor has achieved in a nation governed by fools who think we can all be media lovies or bankers it makes me proud to be English. Somebody give the man a Knighthood, and then put him in charge of...well, everything really.
13th Jun 2011 - The truth sometimes hurts...
This spoof blog for Classic Bike appeared over the weekend: wonder how long before the mighty Bauer get it taken down? Mind you, if they were a bit more online savvy, it might not have happened...
11th Jun 2011 - Things they don't have in Italy - thank God
Just back from a fortnight of zooming around Italy by plane, train and bikes. I love the madness of the place, but it's the bits they miss out that makes it really special: for example...
Health and Safety - just not available. You want to ride your bike in a tee shirt, shorts and Crocs? Hey, we're all grown ups
Queues? No chance - you want to get on the train? Get on the train. Let the old lady past, and her village and family will shove through too, leaving you on the platform wondering what the hell happened
Speed cameras - you missed the Caribineri posing with their braid in the sunshine? It might say "speeding" on the ticket, but really you're busted for missing their peacock moment
Fat people - not unless they're tourists. Ditto out of season veg: asking for garlic and artichokes in the north during May will mark you out as a friend of those idle Sicilians...
Drizzle - nope. Clear blue skies or thunderstorms are the main options. The endless grey we get in the UK never happens.
More on the Guzzi factory, riding the Circuito del Lario, and the Giro's demise when I can. And I need to lose some weight before I dare go back to Italy: the food (as ever) was epic
6th Jun 2011 - Hey Mum, I'm on telly
Wet morning in Tremezzo, so turn on TV to get a forecast: bugger me if there's not the 2007 Motogiro crew on an episode of Rai 5's "Dreams Road" - can't find it anywhere on the web, but if you're in Italy it's being repeated fairly regularly. Apart from the presenters bizarrely shouting "Dreams Road" into camera every so often it's not bad, although I could've done without being reminded I look older every year...
Anyway back to Italy for a few days for more intel: news of my visit to Mandello del Lario over the weekend
26th May 2011 - Gone riding
Away now till 6th June (would've been longer if the Giro hadn't been cancelled!) so orders might be a bit delayed going out: and sorry, no Teas and Cakes this month. Funnily enough, the family don't want to cater for a bunch of old time bikers...
I'm off to Lake Como to investigate the state of the old Guzzi factory and ride the Circuito del Lario. As per Benzina #4 I'll hire a Guzzi from Agostini (no, the other one: who won the Milano-Taranto) and try to get over another missed Giro. Maybe the dust will have settled when I get back, and the Terni Giro will become the default event. Or maybe it's time to do the TT...
24th May 2011 - Game over
Don't say I didn't warn you: if you never went on the Motogiro, you've missed your chance. Dream Engine have pulled the plug on their event, and while it looks like the Club Terni will happen, the truck was cancelled and the insurance wranglings are still unresolved: people, be careful out there...
The Terni event existed for years before Ducati money and the international clientele came along, which is what has kept the lawyers so well fed in recent years. I suspect it will drift back to being an Italian event for Italians, and certainly more club based than the welcome-to-allcomers nature of the Dream Engine event. In reality Dream Engine have been hurt by the lack of sponsors following the global meltdown: if you're a local club you can find volunteers to put up arrows and find broken bikes: if you're even semi-commercial all that stuff has to be paid for, and unless you're all fluent in Italian someone bilingual has to be able to liaise if anything goes wrong. And then even my dual-nationality Italian teacher can't tell me what "have you the shims to set my swing arm play to zero end float?" is in Italian...
I wish the Terni people well, but must admit to getting a bit bored with riding down little lanes to circumnavigate cones in a car-park. Too often (but understandably) the route was chosen for the 175s, and although I bought the Sferica Gilera 175, in the end I chickened out of squeezing my 6 foot, 12 stone-and-counting body onto it for 200 mountainous miles a day. My ancient knees won't cope, and anyway I'd rather ride a bigger bike. I'd also like to see more of Italy's automotive history - Monza (before it's gone), the Guzzi factory (ditto) and I've ridden past more historic walled towns than I've actually seen. Dr Girlie Nice-Smile also complains (a rare event in itself) that the WAGs bus spends too much time hanging around for Wives-And-Girlfriends to see their other halves ride by, and not enough time shopping/eating ice cream/admiring the view
So maybe there's another way, a tour (which is all Giro means) that let's the riders enjoy roads that suit the bikes they'd like to ride, and tries to offer the holiday of a lifetime rather than a rush of stopwatches and arcane rules. I might even be prepared to help organise it...
23rd May 2011 - Where'd everybody go?
Ran up to Silverstone yesterday for the Ducati Days Art of Corse and left wondering what you have to do to get a good turnout these days. While people crush and queue to see some pretty mediocre events (just because, I suspect, the going's become a habit) Silverstone felt empty despite a fantastic event.
First thing you notice is the laid back attitude of Silverstone staff, a pleasant change after only previously visiting for big-ticket events. Then you notice a handful of Desmosedicis scattered around the car park in-between the more mundane stuff - like 1198s...then watch those same DS16's howl around the track: the noise is fab, like Brian Blessed gargling with Chianti. I did record some but the camera and computer aren't speaking (yet)
And then the garages: full access to all - hello Jeremy (McWilliams), hello James (Hayden) - plus Matt Roberts, Paul Smart, Maria Costello, and more. Trade stands including Bianchi bicycles (another passion Ducati UK MD Tim Maccabe and I share) and then Tim took Alistair Wager's incredible Supermono out on track: proof he's not just the boss, but a fan like the rest of us. Plus Mick White's fine mini-museum of Ducatis past (special thanks to the owner of the GP125 emailing his offer of the bike via yrs trly) and pro-photographers, Vale's 1198...you get the idea. If they run the event next year, it's a must do.
I'm off to Lake Como Friday, and then the Giro (so no June teas and cakes, or posting stuff out for a fortnight: sorry I'm not a Blackberry-man and it is just me). Lake Como's a last chance corral type thing: I'm told the Guzzi factory's about to collapse, and despite Piaggo's promise it's just boarded up pending a refit, the fact you can see George Clooney's house from the site makes redevelopment tempting. The end of an era, and proof you can never rest on laurels: which is why it was so good to see Ducati UK pushing ever onward. My pics of the day are here and Ducati's are here
21st May 2011 - Sliders Knob
Just delivered Benzina #5 to the local Post Office who'll get them sent out Monday. The chore of bagging and labelling every issue in mitigated by (a) the warm, fuzzy feeling of knowing people have paid for every copy mailed out (thank you all) and (b) some of the addresses
The northern european ones are the most improbable, and seem to have too few vowels and too many letters; I'd love to know what a sörbyvägen is, and have concerns about what goes on in Hauptstrasse: but the American ones are the best. Red Dog Road? Fantastic, as is Medicine Hat in Canada. Favourite though has to be Slider's Knob in Tennessee, although I did Google it with some trepidation...
19th May 2011 - TT time - so why's the sun shining?
Chatting to Bill Snelling of foTTofinders (for all your TT pictorial needs) made me think this fabulous weather's got to break: it's nearly TT time. Although for the last few years it's been the TT that's been sunny, and the Manx the washout. English weather: don't you love it?
But then the Isle of Man has more tales of supernatural forces than anywhere else in the UK: love this pic by Don Bradley which carries this caption:
Liannan Shee (in blue) is a Manx faerie.
She can be benevolent or malevolent.
Those inspired by her live brilliant though short lives.
18th May 2011 - Big in Japan
Part of a collection for sale by a Japanese subscriber (yes, we're now Big in Japan)and you can see an uber-cool video of the bikes here although I wouldn't kick start a Mike Hailwood Replica in trainers..
Any interest in the bikes, just email me although I've no idea about shipping...
18th May 2011 - Hot Spa with Lav
Lap with a Laverda at Spa's 2010 Bikers Classic: best track in the world? Just a shame I can't justify going aagin this year, but the story of last year's heartbreaking and incredible 4 hour race is in Benzina #3
17th May 2011 - The other Monza
Just popped up with a buy-it-now price of £2500 on ebay - a nicely titivated Guzzi Monza 500. A year back I'd have said the price was a grand over the top, but these days it looks about right. Where will it all end? Just wish I had the money...
16th May 2011 - Monza - the slow way round
Couple of Monza Juniors on EBay right now: starting to make money, but cheap as bevels go and a tatty one still has potential. Basically a 160cc version of the late fifties bevel 125, the Monza Junior was Berliner's (US Ducati importer) attempt to steal the Honda CB160's market share. Failed of course, but plenty got built and although some folk will tell you they were the biggest selling Ducati of all time, I've never seen evidence to support that. And with over 200,000 Cucciolos and 40,000+ Monster 600s sold it seems unlikely...
Especially as Berliner refused the last shipment of 1,800 Monza Juniors, most of which finished up in the UK. This makes them more plentiful that the 125 Sport, torquier and far cheaper - a plan emerges, especially when Ducati frame and engine numbers aren't on record anywhere and anyway, the DVLA aren't interested
So if you fancy building a useable Giro bike, or as the inimitable Pip Higham puts it "A replica Gran Sport for the price of a shed rather the paying the price of a house for a real one (above)" look no further. Just be honest when you sell it on...
14th May 2011 - Poster Dreams
Ah, those were the days: as seen in Benzina #3 and originally a calendar: has anyone still got the original?
13th May 2011 - Phil Schilling's genius rewarded - about time too
Phil Schilling has finally made the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in the US, and for most of us the only surprise is it took so long. Phil could write, ride and spanner better than any of today's half-hearted magazine folk, and what he and Cook Neilson achieved has been praised on these pages before - but just to rub salt in current editorila team's advertising-centric wounds they turned Cycle into the best selling bike magazine on earth, simply by writting what people would read. They ignored what advertisers wanted, and treated readers with respect: so they didn't run articles on "How to kickstart a bike" (I'm not joking - that piece is this month's CB.) They also trusted readers to have an attention span - most editors these days are terrified of running anything longer than 1,200 words, and are happier with 7-800. Cycle's editorials would be longer than that. In other words Cycle was written by clever, literate people for clever, literate people. And they sold so many copies the advertisers had to bite their lips and kow-tow to the sometimes less than flattering reviews their products got.
I still cherish my copy of Phil's book, The Motorcycle World and various articles I tore from Cycle way-back-when. If any editor wants to find out how to stem his falling readership and advertising revenue, reading these would be a good place to start. Or the terminally lazy can just try the following editorial from Phil back in 1985, although some of you might need a dictionary...
Memo To Black Rock, by Phil Schilling
On February 4, 1985, CBS locked the deal. CBS, Inc., bought 12 special-interest magazines from Ziff -Davis Publishing Company, and William Ziff, Jr., became 362.5 million dollars richer in the exchange (cash, thank you). CBS Magazine Division, an important chunk in the CBS empire, will profit as well from the experience. Cycle was one of the 12 magazines in the Ziff group, and in cubic dollars this high-roller deal was the largest magazine transaction in history.
In setting, atmosphere and altitude, Cycle’s transfer to CBS differed markedly from its arrival at Ziff-Davis Publishing Company in 1966. According to legend, William Ziff, Jr., bought Cycle from Floyd Clymer at an Orange Julius stand on Pico Boulevard in one of Los Angeles’s seedier sections. Ziff paid the princely sum of $300,000, and Floyd Clymer, as company legend has it, took the money and ran, laughing his way to the bank. Ziff, events would demonstrate, had a later, richer laugh on Floyd.
Cycle has thus become this small Western outpost bobbing on the Pacific shore, part of a sprawling CBS empire, which is directed from the corporate headquarters in New York known as Black Rock. This Manhattan skyscraper looks like an earth-bound version of the Black Monolith from 2001.
CBS has long owned special-interest magazines, including Cycle World, so Black Rock is hardly a novice in the business. Nor was William Ziff. The Ziff organization believed that quality magazines could be written about any subject: radio antennae, baby rattles, door knobs or toxic dump sites. I saw little of William Ziff, though Cycle operated out of New York 13 years ago. Still, Ziff comes easily to memory. One day he shuffled into Cycle’s New York office, with the rumpled ambiance of your favorite college professor: scholarly, articulate, and seemingly a touch distant from this world. I doubt that William Ziff, Jr., ever rode a motorcycle; nonetheless, in one sentence he summarized Cycle’s editorial charge. ”Rather than a magazine written for motorcyclists, Cycle should be a magazine written for readers whose passion is motorcycles.” That was his legacy to motorcycling. It made Cycle different.
To: Black Rock, New York, New York
From: Westlake Outpost, California
To understand Cycle Magazine, forget the following: a) Motorcyclists are primitives who flunked kindergarten, entertain death-wishes, speak in mono-syllables and think in even simpler terms; b) They react primordially to heat, light, noise and the opposite sex or—more alarming to Middle America—to the same sex; c) Love of motorcycling is the motor-badge of the American Moron.
At Cycle we fight this junkyard of misconceptions constantly, piece by piece. Outside motorcycling, one common reaction is, ”What do you mean, you write for a motorcycle magazine?” This blight of stereotyping is more alarming within the motorcycle industry and its press: Give those dummies some photographs to lip-read; don’t bother with complexities or difficult concepts; simplification and mediocrity are good enough.
If true, Cycle—as a magazine distinguished by its literacy, honesty and expertise—should have been a stunning failure years ago. We’re still here, and the hallmarks of this magazine remain. The magazine has changed, of course, because its audience has changed, grown up. Today’s audience is made up of the same people as yesterday’s, from the same generation, and the magazine has grown up with its readership.
Cycle has been, and should continue to be, shaped by its audience. Fundamentally, motorcycling belongs to a particular Internal Combustion Generation that matured in the late 1950s, throughout the 1960s, and into the 1970s. Clearly, not every member of this Internal Combustion Generation became a motorcycle enthusiast, but the bulk of motorcycle enthusiasts belong to this special generation.
In the beginning, God created motorcyclists. CBS, the Japanese, and Cycle and Cycle World are powerless to create more of them. Assuming you reject a divine interpretation of origins, think of motorcyclists as products of massive social forces in play 1955-1975. While motorcyclists aren’t exactly relics of the psychedelic age, they carry the imprint of that era, its attitudes and dispositions: Do your own thing; never trust anyone over 30; if it feels good, it must be right; be yourself. Motorcycles were and are obvious vehicles for self assertion – dangerous, open-air, unorthodox – and they fit perfectly people intrigued by things mechanical and attracted to the unconventional. Motorcyclists today present themselves as independent, critical, skeptical, tough-minded individuals. They may have a house now, one-point-eight children, two mortgages, they may have voted for Ronald Reagan, but Walter Cronkite was the last national figure they ever trusted.
Cycle’s editorial franchise has been built on its critical awareness. It’s part of the structure rather than the paint. In order to be taken seriously by readers who are knowledgeable, experienced, skeptical, critical, independent, and tough-minded, the magazine must be critically aware. Motorcyclists still carry a lot of intellectual baggage from the 1960s and 1970s. To them, ”non-critical” translates into ”no credibility.”
Cycle has been a central source of corporate heartburn for motorcycle manufacturers. Indeed, for just causes magazines should be willing to spit into the gnashing teeth of hostile manufacturers. In large part, motorcycle makers, to their credit, have borne our criticism of their products with public grace and aplomb, and we like to think they understand the importance of a credible magazine. But our purpose, however noble, scarcely eases their agony over stories that, for example, detail the internal explosion of a new test bike or expose a chronic problem with a new model. Often manufacturers inquire whether Cycle’s readers care about such ”investigative stories.” The answer is yes, emphatically. Another query: Don’t you think the magazine grades products too hard, too thoroughly, too seriously? Our answer: no, no and no. Readers deserve the best damn magazine the editors can do, month after month. This magazine’s national treasury is readers whose passion is motorcycles. The readers, their passion and our treasury shall be zealously guarded.
Others think we give our readers too much credit. I say this: Tell me what you know and believe about your readers, and I’ll tell you what kind of a magazine you’ll produce.
CYCLE (May 1985)
12th May 2011 - Boxer beat #2
Benzina #5 includes the incredible story of MV's two-stroke eater - a flat-4 watercooled boxer with fuel injection: this in 1976 - and you might ask why this has remained forgotten for so long. Well, guess what: I'm told it's down to lawyers, and researching the piece I was warned off more than once, so none of this is in print, and I probably dreamt it all...
MV stuck the project away, but were persuaded to sell it to famous collector A, who understandably had a contract that said he'd bought everything, lock stock and barrel.
Collector B then leaked details of his bits and piecesof the boxer-4 to the Italian press. Litigation followed. People stopped talking. And engine pieces - maybe even a complete engine - was reluctantly handed over to collector A.
It's probably all nonsense, and if you'd like to know more, I'm afraid I've already forgotten who told me anything: that's the way it is with dreams...
Anyway the nuts and bolts story of the engine (above, in the seventies) and were it is now are in Benzina #5, out in a week or so...to be sure of getting a copy, subscribe by clicking the button on the right
10th May 2011 - Issue 5 on the way!
Benzina #5's at the printers, and will ship very soon. If you've not yet ordered a copy here's a taste of what you'll miss...
Impressionable youth vs. Ducati 750GT. Richard Skelton (of Funky Moped fame) didn’t stand a chance
Inspiring Taglioni: Moto Guzzi’s fabulous Bicilindrica ridden and rated by the legendary Sammy Miller. Plus reminiscing on racing for Mondial and Ducati at the TT
Riding a Mondial dirt bike 500 miles through an English winter’s night, and Pat Slinn racing Ducati’s Regolarita on the Isle of Man ISD. Yes, thePat Slinn who wrenched for Hailwood and Rutter. We've been through his photo album with a scanner. It's good....
Lost marques that deserve remembering, from Frera to Galloni. And more recent forgotten treasure: MV’s water cooled, fuel injected boxer 500/4 designed to lure Ago back to the Agustas, and rebuilding it today. To complete the Agusta fest, the truth about MV's racing sixes that never were, just because the competition threw in the towel - twice
Refurbishing an old Laverda triple (the future’s bright; the future’s orange) and the Morini Settebello and Rebello: beautiful in any language
Seaplanes to singles - the Aermacchi story: never mind bikes, they could beat Spitfires. And racing Aermacchi's pushrod single that could catch MV's GP bikes. 145mph at the TT
And still no ads, just the highest quality printing in the business. 88 pages of pure class - that's a lot when you flip through every othe magazine and realise almost 40% of the pages are advertising. How do we do it? With love and the hope you'll tell everyone you know to buy a copy: free warm fuzzy feeling when you get a friend to subscribe
9th May 2011 - Girl+Guzzi: the Crossbow way
Right, all these Crossbow Guzzis with no girl on board is getting weird: hope this makes amends...
8th May 2011 - Crossbow Guzzis - they give you wings
More from Ian B at rattlingracing.blogspot re: past blogs on the Ducati/MV wings - here they are on another road-going Guzzi. Just what you need on those flighty, wheelie-prone Mandello twins...
Photos courtesy of Crossbow Calendars
7th May 2011 - A kind of passion
Fabulous video of the recent Squadra Sutge classic event at Jarma - and very moving: thanks to Pete Falco for pointing me to this. After the shiny-bling at Stafford the patina of classic racers is especially welcome: and don't miss the sidecar racer's name at 3:25 - Luke Silverbollocks. Genius...watch it here
6th May 2011 - High mileage 916: raced, lent out, not original. Definitely not for sale
This is Ian Smith's 916, ridden by Carl Fogarty for a good few laps of Mallory Park. He then very kindly signed the body work which was auctioned off. The proceeds went to the Rob Vine Fund, which provides medical assistance for Motorsports events on the Isle of Man; good Karma for Ian's Manx 2010 race, the 916 now in silver bodywork and as the stickers show, well used. Despite all this, the 916 has never faltered, largely thanks to the ministrations of the excellent Ducati John.
The original parts went far and wide, the tank to Australia with shipping costing more than the donation for the tank! As Mr Whitham would say, “what a good do”
5th May 2011 - Say Cheese
Some fruitcake's made a replica of the Wallace and Grommit outfit, tried out by a good friend and writer Mike Lewis for the Daily Torygraph - only odd thing is he didn't mention the elephant in the room - why use a BSA (and leave it badged as such) for the replica when the "real thing" was a Triumph?The obsession Wallace has with cheese in the films reminded me of an Italian twist - don't know if it's true, but I was told that the success of Camozola was down to the Nazis trying to integrate Italian and French culture under occupation: it's basically a mix of Camembert and Gorgonzola. The German's aren't famous for their cooking (unless you like sausages and cabbage.
But German cakes are fab - which reminds me: Teas and Cakes this Saturday, 7th May: I know the Met Office are grumbling it might rain, but we've had none for well over a month. The lawn is very brown...
3rd May 2011 - Stiff little fingers
Stiff little fingers, maybe but 12" double jointed fingers (plus a spare hand) would be more useful. Spent most of the weekend trying to get bikes on the road (when I wasn't conscripted to the Urchfont scarecrow festival) and my god you realise how seventies bikes could be fiddly to work on. To change the Darmah's oil filter needs the front carb loosening, but I hoped taking the float bowl off would do - not a chance. Then you need to hold the carb with one hand, use another to put the nut back on, and another...bugger, run out of hands. On the other side the front exhaust really needs to come off, but if you do one zillionth of a turn before changing the spanner's angle you can avoid this...just. And the hose/ziptied funnel means you can refill the oil with the exhaust in place too. Genius (not).
And finally got the Sei to start - taking off the crash bars I'd inadvertently let the earth strap float off, because it's behind a bolt which goes into a non-captive nut behind the engine: all done by feel, Luigi: no wonder the Italians are reputed to be so good in the sack
1st May 2011 - TT3D trailer
Even getting good reviews in the mainstream press. you can see why on
1st May 2011 - Nothing new under the sun
Seeing the wings tried at Estoril (including by Rossi, above) proves there's nothing new under the sun. MV tried these in the seventies (as detailed in Benzina #2) soon followed by Suzuki. It came to nothing, but maybe what goes on inside a rider's head matters far more than aerodynamics...
29th Apr 2011 - Crossbow Guzzi
One for the Guzzi lovers out there. Ian B came across this photograph whilst printing some old film stock from his time as an aspiring motor sport photographer in the early eighties. According to the negative folder it was taken at Hullavington airfield at the practice session for a North Gloucester club racing season. It's Ian's story...
"I remember the bike as being purple & loud. A telephone conversation with John at Crossbow Calendars revealed that this was an early version of his body kit with the one piece glass fibre tank & seat unit (later outlawed). He couldn't remember too much detail but did remember that the bike belonged to club racer Steve Bateman who, via email, was happy to take up the story for me:
“Yes we built the Crossbow Guzzi in 1980 onto a standard 850 Le Mans.
We had a mechanic working with us Graham...? Sorry, forget his surname, who had worked at Sports Motorcycles in Manchester and he built a Guzzi for Roy Armstrong for the TT and we made loads of mods on the bike.
Firstly fitted 1000 barrels and PR cam, PR close ratio gearbox, lightened flywheel, drilled rocker gear to aid draining from the heads, lightened and polished the rocker arms, fitted Lucas Rita ignition Then I fitted the front end from an MV Agusta that was sitting in the firms barn!
It had two steering dampers and I had a fair bit of success at Brands and the airfield circuits. It was a complete animal but it taught me how to race a bike!"
Steve later went on to considerable success with a Peckett & McNab framed Suzuki (there I've done it again- mentioning the unmentionable on this site) but I wonder where the thundering Guzzi is now?"
Ian's also fired up his own blog at rattlingracing.blogspot
27th Apr 2011 - Alternative lifestyles
Purists look away now - Dave Brown took these pics at the Horsham Piazza Italia shindig, while I sweated it out at Stafford (more anon): that's one hell of an alternative look for a Darmah...
22nd Apr 2011 - Want one..
Apro pos the last post on Ducati UK's Art of Corse event Mick wants one of these. No, the Mach 1, not a woman...
21st Apr 2011 - Top twenty Ducatis
Ducati UK's upcoming Art of Corse event has left a very brave Mick White charged to curate a collection of "iconic Ducatis through the ages." Mick's a top bloke, handy old-school Ducati racer and a great choice for the job. But I don't envy him - he's predictably been snowed under with offers of 916-series bikes to show: so, given an absolute max of 20 bikes to show, what would you pick? Here's my pop...
Firstly some ground rules - these have to be important and pivotal bikes in Ducati's history, and it's for public consumption: as someone was heard to say at Bristol Auto Italia, "They all look the same," so six types of bevel single isn't a good idea. Even so, let’s get the clichés out of the way first.
Cucciolo (engine only) and a 65 - the first complete Ducati. A 916SP, in the original Tamburini graphics, and of course the only 916cc SP. Then a 999R: the winningest Ducati Superbike, and a very misunderstood bike. I'd stop the collection at that point in time, because everything that follows is effectively in the current range. So that's four down, 16 to go...
A Marianna, (failing that F3 or 175 Sport) - that Giro victory saved Ducati, and these first bevel singles were the how and why. A triple cam 125GP bike if I could persuade an owner to show it: if you don't know why, you're clearly not reading Benzina. Then a 350 twin fuel cap 350: the first Desmo road bike. That leaves 13 bikes: it's going to be tight.
Bevel twins: slightly controversial, but bear in mind the previous public consumption remark: 750GT, and a Mille Hailwood Rep - first and last, and easy to link to the Imola72/Daytona77/IoM78 trinity. After all Smarty's bike had centre-stand lugs, and Mike's NCR had that colourscheme. Plus maybe an NCR racer - all those endurance victories, plus the NCR name needs to be involved. And who wants another bevel single in there?
Ah, me actually: need a Street Scrambler as an example of the stuff that actually kept the production lines rolling, so ditto the Monster in original 904cc, tacho-free set-up: the bike that saved Ducati(again) and still the best seller today. Then an example of a folly - the 125 Regolarita or Six Days: proof Ducati made two-stokes, and the last mass produced Ducati single. And of course the Supermono has to be in there, for Bordi's engineering genius and proof that Pierre Terblanche can style a bike well enough to influence Tamburini's 916. Ok, that leaves just six spaces
Mention Tamburini and the Paso has to get a look in as his first bike for Ducati (now in Cagiva's loving arms)and a world-wide influence all bikes - especially the Honda CBR/Hurricane. And obviously an 851 (Tricolore or SP5?) as the start of the Superbike line, and a statement of Cagiva's commitment to racing.
Four to choose, and I haven't even mentioned Taglioni's Rubber-Ducks. First Pantah and an F1 750 - Fabio's first and last belters. Then there has to be a TT2: another NCR connection - (or is that overblown? More revelations and controversy being unearthed for issue 5) plus genesis - the 500GP racer, as raced by Read. That's twenty bikes and no room left at the Inn. The Apollo? No thanks - a prototypical backwater. The Desmosedici - arrg, go on, we'll never get the 500GP bike.
And I might be persuaded to pull a couple of others in favour of a seventies diesel and an early camera or radio, because without those "sidelines" there'd be no Ducati today. So maybe pull some twins, and slot in the stuff that made the bikes possible instead.
Good luck Mick, who's actually after some of the above, plus an MH900E and a bloody scooter...if you can help get in touch and I'll pass it on
19th Apr 2011 - French Leave
Perfect for a late summer weekend in France - the Trofeo Classic on Sunday 18 September is a free festival of Italian motoring, with cars and bikes parading in the morning, then lining up PM in the hope of prizes. The French do this sort of thing brilliantly, and the hotels and restaurants will put on a proper effort rather than just adopting the UK practice of hiking prices and forgetting bookings (as anyone who's been to Chichester during the Goodwood Revival/FoS will know...)
Best of all Clisson's just 120 miles from St Malo, which is where Brittany Ferries run to with their wonderful overnight service from Portsmouth. So tell the other half you've planned a romantic weekend, and practice your "Zut alors!"/look of surprise when Sunday morning sees Clisson city centre rammed with fine Italian metal
18th Apr 2011 - What a pair!
Spotted at the Auto Italia street festival in Bristol, the talented Alan Long explained to me these two beutiful Ducatis that he has built.
The green bike started life as a Bimota Mantra (old joke I know but the mantra is : "This bike is sh**..") with a cut & welded Yamaha Diversion fuel tank, & exquisite welding & detailing on the home made subframe etc.
The blue sport classic looks reasonably standard but closer inspection reveals a Harris fairing & yet more home made lovelyness in the fabrication department. The beutiful Italian blue colour is not quite what it seems either - the shade was copied from a label in a box of Adidas training shoes...
We salute you sir:- I'm told ther are more machines where these came from so we need to see inside your workshop!
(With thanks to Ian B)
17th Apr 2011 - Guardian Angel
Was riding through Bristol's less than beautiful suburbs on my way to the Bristol Auto Italia event when snap goes the Darmah's clutch cable: we've all been there, with that sinking bugger-there-goes-my-day feeling, as I coasted down a busy hill (it's still the A420 after all)and into a side road. Where to my utter gobsmakedness there's a bunch of bikers hovering outside a small workshop.
My guardian angel was truly on form - the workshop was home to Jim Mclean and Neil O'Dowd's Bike Care, the sort of old school bike shop I thought long gone. Despite a punishing MoT schedule Jim tried to find a suitable cable, but drawing a short straw made me one up. Turns out he's a Gilera and Morini fan, and has an MV 350 just like mine awaiting restoration. The crowd were top fun too - I especially like the Advisory note issued to a turquoise Honda: "Change the colour."
I still can't believe my luck - if the cable had broken a few hundred yards either way I'd have missed this perfect spot, and although I was an hour behind schedule, I've still got a warm and fuzzy feeling about the whole thing 24 hours later.
14th Apr 2011 - Testi Champion - del cane testicoli
Spotted at an autojumble: I'd have snapped it up to restore as per the bottom pic if my spannering skills stretched beyond tightening a chain.
These were the mutt's nuts in the late seventies: OK, just 50cc, but otherwise it outspec'd everything: name another production bike that had cantilever rear suspension, mag wheels, 6 gears...at 16 I could hardly believe such a thing existed. Maybe the headlamp shining through the windshield's a bit dodgy, but then who'd ride it after dark? Nobody could see you, and surely that was the whole point of such a magnificent folly
13th Apr 2011 - Funny front ends
Always had a thing for funny front ends, so welcomed these musings from Ian B:
Which of course led to Jack DiFazio (based in Frome, Somerset not far from Team Benzina HQ) & some of his creations including this Ducati 750.
Almost inevitably that opened up that delicious can of worms that is the feet forward motorcycle. Cue Royce Creasey’s 001 with a Ducati 450 engine
12th Apr 2011 - Holiday planner
These pics courtesy of Rocky Mountain Tours who seem to have some fine riding holiday plans out in Colorado. They rock the Rockies, as it were. If only if they were nearer, and there wasn't the Giro, Spa, TT, Goodwood, Coupe de Legends, the Manx...why is summer so damn short? Time to get riding
11th Apr 2011 - Disgusted of Warwickshire
Hmmm - appalled to see a Jap bike on the blog, Matt sent this pic of his helmet. Still kitemarked, still road legal. Lovely
7th Apr 2011 - Grounded
Wifey has insisted I scarify the lawn, which takes best part of a day followed by the same collecting the mess. Except the ride-on mower tore its inner tube (I hadn't noticed the tyre was going flat - damn thorns) so I've spent most of this week with tyre irons and such. Which means I haven't even started the bikes, let alone ridden them. Pathetic. And taunting by fellow Benzinista doesn't help - this from Ian B:
"After the hottest day of the year I just had to go for a blast after work. And with weather more associated with Tuscany than Wiltshire what did I throw a leg over? The Kawasaki…Well at Benzina we are a broad church, or at least I am. Greg has probably spat Chianti over his Gucci loafers reading this.
Anyway, please forgive my sins as I think the red Team Benzina sticker looks rather fetching on a black helmet"
But the good weather's set to continue...into the garage: eeny, meeny, miny, mo...
5th Apr 2011 - Harley's BMW GS competitor!
Have Harley Davidson gone mad? This prototype competitor to BMW GS trailie was spotted on Ed Youngblood's site - ah, on April 1st...
Shame I saw it too late for the real April Fool's day (though given today's the start of the UK tax year, maybe not - being married to Dr Girlie Nice-Smile I know all about the huuuuge waste of our taxes by the public sector)
4th Apr 2011 - Trip hazards
Courtesy great TB supporter Ian Brambley
"I came across this delightful photograph on the internet last week. Curiously it was entitled “I've no idea why she left” I have to say it had me foxed for a few days but then I spotted it. Look carefully on the right & you can see an electric cable running in front of the threshold to the kitchen. It’s a potential trip hazard - that’s got to be it right?"
3rd Apr 2011 - Mystery machines
Ivar de Gier is an especially good friend to Benzina, and supplies the magnificent period photographs that make producing the magazine such a joy. Ivar’s knowledge of period motorsport is phenomenal, and his patience with the gaps in my knowledge much appreciated. For issue 5 he’s promised to share some little known surprises of Italian motorcycle production. I’ve given him Carte Blanche, but here’s a taster of the sort of thing he’s come across in his research
“Italian born motorcycle legend Alessandro Anzani died in 1956, aged 79, seconds after asking a nurse “Please, do not shut the window” of his hospital ward. A motorcycle was driving by, and the nurse wanted to avoid the hard sound of the engine troubling her very sick patient. But Anzani did not want that: “I like the sound of engines,” he explained, although the energy it took to speak was too much for his ailing body and these were to be his last words. Maybe he wanted to move on that way, accompanied by the sound that always made his heart beat.
Italian born Anzani initially became famous for motorcycles that featured delicate twin and triple cylinder engines, and his bikes were immediately successful in racing. They also raced successfully on boardtracks across France, the country Anzani had moved to in 1900. Motorcycle racing had an incredible (yet today forgotten) birth on wooden velodromes (boardtracks) - the first motorcycles were bicycles with engines, so it made sense they also raced on velodromes. In an era where combustion engines were not yet accepted on the European mainland (apparently they had a tendency to turn milk in cows sour – and they scared horses), it was also an accepted arena for the first battles in motorcycle racing.
The Anzani lightweight motorcycles were absolute works of art. They delivered more power then any other motorcycle of that era with the same cylinder capacity. Alessandro Anzani was able to build these machines because of income generated by building “stayer” motorcycles (bikes that racing cyclists drafted when racing on velodromes). Yesterday I happened to come across a postcard in our archives that is now 107 years old, from 1904. It shows an Anzani twin cylinder stayer motorcycle. I believe it must have been one of his very, very earliest products as his more regular motorcycle production did not start up until 1907. Machines like this formed the bread and butter of the company at the time, and made it possible for him to expand his advanced and incredible engineering exploits further and further.
This early Anzani was truly gigantic and must have been almost impossible to ride. Why they were so big is a mystery and it would make a nice conversation point for the next “Teas and Cakes” of Benzina. I probably won’t be there, but maybe the drag behind these gigantic machines helped the cyclists gain speed. Or maybe the cyclist did not need to pedal at all as the pull of the inlet tract alone must have been gigantic…
But anyway, there is no greater contrast imaginable to Anzani’s early motorcycle racers than his own stayer motorcycles. I thought it would be nice to share this striking and extremely early Anzani find with the readers of Greg’s Benzina Blog. Benzina is about Italian motorcycles - even though Anzani did move to France he never gave up his Italian heritage and choose to keep his Italian nationality! Hopefully that justifies this machine, which, at first sight, seems to be out of place here.”
2nd Apr 2011 - Thanks for coming
Excellent turn out for the first Teas and Cakes of the year - thanks to all who came (the Ducatis almost outnumbered the Guzzis for once). Special thanks to Steve for bringing his lovely Mille Hailwood rep, with made Keith's 900SS (next to it) look...unrestored. Pantinaed. Or something: amazing how many differences between his and mine, despite both being pretty much as thy left the factory.
Sorry about the Harley interloper, though it did sound nice. And the Superlight that turned up later makes you realise that you can hear a Ducati dry clutch from almost as far away as the exhaust note...
31st Mar 2011 - Teas and cakes kicks off
Well, the weather forecast looks OK, so let's go for it even if it's short notice. This Saturday we'll kick-off the season's Teas and Cakes meetings, and also give you an excuse to get a bike off SORN, because six months tax from Friday means being road ready until October.
If you've not been here before we've some great local rides (link on the right) to these “tea and cakes” meetings. They take place on the first Saturday of most months, April to September, so join us from two-ish ‘till teatime as we throw open our gardens and garage. Just email back saying how many in your party and we’ll get back confirming exactly how to find us.
Definitely here will be the Ducati 900SS, Darmah plus the Gilera racer featured on the blog, There'll also be a Benelli Sei and an MV Agusta 350 Sport, plus whatever you care to bring. Ah, and the Paso
30th Mar 2011 - Ducati and the art of racing
Blimey - someone who listens to criticism and does something about it. Tim Maccabee (MD - Ducati UK) has just announced some meaty improvements to the Ducati Days, The Art of Corse. You can get in from just £15, plus under 16s go free. This gets the chance to watch wannabe Troys go mad under the tutorage of California race schools, a very special display of classic Dukes, kiddies entertainment and more. Prices go from there, right up to full access and said race school sessions on the MotoGP track over the weekend. We'll be there for sure, though I think my 1980 900SS might struggle in the fast group. Still, it's essentially the bike SMBH lapped the IOM on at well over 100mph, so maybe. Just won't be lending it to Sammy Miller, as Bob did for the TT parade lap (bottom pic)
29th Mar 2011 - Kiera Knightly and her Ducati
Full version of Kiera Knightly and her Ducati 750 Sport is out now - see it here
28th Mar 2011 - Surprisingly inspirational
These were fast, fun and surprisingly good - details of an inspirational resto here
24th Mar 2011 - More Spa treatment
This is what passes for progress with the bike that Team Guzzi Nerd have entered in the Classic Spa 4 hour race come July - a fabulous event detailed in Benzina #3 (funny but true - another rag was miffed they missed this story: I haven't told them their journo was in the bar while I was freezing trackside)
As long as it doesn't rain (and it does at Spa - a lot) this might just be the best bike event in the world. There's also possibly the best biking B&B nearby, so get the holiday booked now
22nd Mar 2011 - Scooter scoop
More pix from Paul at Vespamore Photography this time his real passion; 35mm film photos of Vespas - worth looking at to see the atmosphere created by using film rather than digital. Go on, have a crafty peek even if you think you're not a scooter fan: as admitted to in Benzina #4 I'm starting to find them strangely attractive...
21st Mar 2011 - Chasing bikes
Paul at Vespamore Photography
was riding back into London Epsom Down's way, when he was passed by a guy going the other way, looking very cool with Davida helmet etc on a beautiful Ducati, which turned out to be this Darmah. Looping round a roundabout he hared after the guy in the hope of catching him to take a couple of shots on his film camera. After a few slightly reckless overtaking manoeuvres and a couple of miles in traffic pulled him over to take these shots. Lovely; and there's more on his website. Thanks to Paul for proof that Spring has sprung.
19th Mar 2011 - Sunday brunch
Anyone in the south might like to know about Sammy Miller's bash this Sunday - famous writer, racer and all round good guy Alan Cathcart (accompanied by fellow scribe Mick Woolett)will open Sammy's new extension at 10am. There's space in there for another 100 bikes, plus the cafe will be on hand to cook you a fry up or a bacon roll. See you there...
18th Mar 2011 - Renaissance man
During the Renaissance you couldn't claim to be a real man unless you could do it all - none of the one trick ponies modern culture adores would get a look in. If you couldn't save a damsel in distress before breakfast, invent something useful mid morning before producing a great work of art over supper you were a loser. A friend made a good point when discussing the all-round brilliance of Nuvolari in Benzina #4 - can you compare those who could ride different bikes (and cars) in different disciplines to today's specialists?
Yes, said Ivar - if they can excel in different disciplines: Dr Costa was his example (he's a bit more than just the Clinica Mobile) and maybe Troy Bayliss's pro-standard cycling puts him up there too.
But for me the guy in modern times who stands out is Leo Tartarini - knowing this, Benzina contributor and friend Cedric Janodet sent me a copy of the excellent French magazine Cafe Racer which had a great piece on him: winner of the first Motogiro, head of Italjet, and a stylist who had three bikes in the Art of the Motorcycle exhibition. There's a CV for a modern Renaissance man, if ever I heard one.
(You can also get Cafe Racer from the excellent Magazine Man )
14th Mar 2011 - Duacti win again at Daytona - 1977 and all that
In scenes reminiscent of Cook Neilson's original 1977 win for Ducati at Daytona, privateer Jason DiSalvo and took the new Ducati 848EVO to victory in this years Daytona 200 - the bike’s first pro road race. In fact, Daytona saw seven 848 entered, the most Ducatis on the 200 grid in over ten years.
“It’s a magical thing and I’m excited to fight for the championship as the season goes on," said DiSalvo.
DiSalvo’s victory has him rubbing shoulders with past Ducati riders like Jimmy Adamo, Doug Polen and Cook. That's something to tell the grandchildren.
14th Mar 2011 - Keira gets her Ducati out teaser
Keira Knightly gets her Ducati out teaser here
13th Mar 2011 - Buy this book - ah, too late
Every now and then you pick up a book that you have to finish asap - it's that good. Last one for me was Mat Oxley's Stealing Speed but I've just finished Mark Gardiner's Riding Man and I think it might be even better. On the face of it, the book's just a go-ride-the-TT mid-life crisis by a guy who's done well enough in life to justify little sympathy from those of us with less opportunity and more responsibilities. But Mark's style is immediate, close up and personal - he is also a man with a huge sense of place and history; for instance, racing a Honda 600 because Honda can trace their roots back through the TT and European orthodoxy, inspired by Mondial especially. The other Japanese manufacturers owe their success to stolen two-stroke secrets, ironically the story Mat's book covers.
As a Canadian Mark also acknowledges countryman Mike Duff's place in history (Mike is still the most successful North American to race at the TT) plus a whole raft of Isle of Man folklaw and back story. By the end of this thoughtful, perfect book you'll feel you not only know Mark and his entourage, but also a little more about yourself. For a little know paperback to achieve so much is remarkable. I don't think you'd even have to know much about bikes to enjoy it, but as a lifelong biker it really got me thinking about my relationship with riding.
So maybe it's no surprise to find the books sold out - but try to track down a copy, or persuade Mark to reprint or Kindle-up via his website
12th Mar 2011 - Racing Rhinos
The Morini mopeds were nearly all called Corsarino, and featured this young lad playing at pirate - some models were even called Pirates in the US. Corsarino means "little corsair", a corsair being a more dashing and old fashioned word for pirate. But if it had been spaced out as "Corsa Rino" that would have been "Racing Rhino" a fine name for a moped...
It's odd that manufacturers hate cosy and friendly names for bike these days: Honda virtually built an empire on the phrase " you meet the nicest people on a Honda",. Today we get "Strike/Rage/Grrr I'm-a-killer-on-the-loose" type names, with styling to match. Plus an industry unable to understand why it can't attract new blood to the fold. Wonder why?
8th Mar 2011 - Retirement planning
Couple of Ducati fans have said the Diavel at least let's them finish their riding days on a Ducati. But maybe I've been reading Sideburn too much. because what I'd rather have is a flat-tracked Darmah. The only real issue I have with these wonderful bikes is that they're so damned heavy, so deal with that and you've got the perfect (I think) bevel-twin for your old age,
Just need to get my spannering skills up several levels above my feeble Photoshop skills...
5th Mar 2011 - Red Square
Last night 38,000 people squeezed into Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore in Ducati's pre-season party and send-off for Ducati MotoGP riders, Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden. Looks like fun, and I can imagine the love in the factory - when I was last there all people could talk of was raising the cash to bring Vale to Ducati.
But is it a case of be careful what you wish for? Friends in high places say Ducati have really raided the piggy bank to get Rossi and the Diavel onto the starting blocks, and both need to fly if Ducati are to make it through these treacherous times. Now I might not have an MBA, but to me that's one hell of a roll of the dice: if the Rossi/Burgess magic wand does it's usual trick, will people really credit Ducati? Or in two years time when Rossi heads to retirement/Ferrari/tax exile will it all be a spent wad?
The Diavel's a more interesting gamble - the rave reception talks of pinching Harley riders, but I think not: I know loads of Harley riders and they like the lifestyle/club aspect at least as much as the bike itself. that's a tough gig for Ducati dealers to compete with. HD riders also like the fact that maintenance involves an oil change and nothing else - the typical £600-£800 biannual Ducati 8-valve belt service is not going to go down well with this crowd.
Me, I'd have stuck with Stoner and maybe built on the Monster. I'd also go down the Harley/Ferrari route of making the dealer experience more club like and the slowly-slowly attempt of relieving the fan base of money via branded goods (have you seen the Fezza store opposite Hamley's? That's the real toy shop). I know the marginal cost of manufacturing makes endless iterations of one or two motorcycles look attractive, but ultimately (I think) it devalues what's being achieved. Reminds me of Guzzis recent decision to double the number of dealers in order to double the sales: guys, go look up marginal propensity to spend in the economic textbooks. Ah, too late - the Chinese are buying Guzzi. Sad but true..
Hopefully I'm wrong and the MBA's are right. But even if I'm right, Ducati fans know that the factory always works the real magic just as the rest of the world thinks it's going bust.
3rd Mar 2011 - Bikes for sale
Don't normally do this, but these bikes are special. First is a rather lovely Motobi 250, imported from Italy where it had been part of a large Motobi/Benelli collection. It was fully restored to enter Moto Giro 2006. It won the second day's Taglioni class, but hardly ridden lately so up for sale at £2,500. Email through the website if you're interested, and I'll put you in touch.
The Mondial (pushrod) 175 also ran in the 2006 Giro (and the 2002) and was a star on our Race Retro stand. The owner's also got a stroker Mondi that he trials, so this needs a new home. Lovely patina, and as you can see lives indoors. £2,500 seems very fair given the OHC version's £6k plus. Again, email and I'll do the intros.
Finally my lovely 450 Desmo (as seen on pp75 & 78 of Benzina #3) is with John Fallon at a reasonable £8,500 (ahem): started life as a 450 MkIII and had a desmo 450R/T slung in (so you get a decompressor) as well as all the Desmo bodywork. I love it, but it's my giro bike and I feel I need to move into the Vintage class. Torn to see it go, but I'm a believer that if you don't ride them, they have to go. Plus my poor right knee (one op down, surgeon wants another go) means rear sets and meaty kick starts are a thing of the past. That means I should really sell the 900SS, but even Dr Girlie Nice-Smile knows that's taking logic too far...
3rd Mar 2011 - More of the same - not
Feedback on the last blog made me realise It's not just me, it's the editors (actually it's the so-called "creatives" - now there's an oxymoron) who lack the courage to embrace originality. These are two of my fave Bike covers from the 1970s: Wild Bill Haylock (Bill, where are you in our hour of need?) tested the Goldwing and lost the mag a year's worth of Honda advertising in the process. Can you imagine any writer being prepared to climb off the fence to that extent today?
2nd Mar 2011 - Urban(e) bikers
I know I've grumbled about this before, but why are mainstream bike mags' photos so predictable? If it isn't "Look at me, I'm a racer I am", it's cosy garage and contented owner with mug of char. There's a place for these pics, but surely not every third page?
So I love these photos by vespamore-uk.blogspot - really gritty urban pics of urbane anonymous bikers. If Banksy did motorcycle photography this'd be right up his street.
The other thing I like about vespamore is that he uses film. Benzina's period pics are all printed on photographic paper from negatives before being scanned - it give a period feel that digital just can't capture. There's (I think) a wonderful pics of a Morini 350 by Vespamore in Benzina #4 that looks as if it was taken in the Seventies, despite the bike clearly having seen better days. Real people riding bikes they love every day, and not a trailer (let alone a van) in sight. Folk like this are (almost) as great a hero to me as old time racers like Read and Ago. This year I'm sworn to use less SORN
1st Mar 2011 - A V8 worth the wait
Everything's back to normal, and I've just about recovered from Raceretro: the Guzzi V8 was fab, and sounded more like a V8 than the replica I saw at Spa last year. Owner Giuseppe Todero (son of one of Carcano's original design team) was cheerful and chatty, and although the bike sounded incredible Ago's MV-3 was even better. The first of 8 bikes Giacomo has commissioned the Castiglioni's MV Agusta factory to build, there will be some for sale - but think £200,000-plus if you'd like one. Here's some more pictures
Ago was also very helpful with research for Benzina #5, as was Phil Read. But although they clearly respect each other, there's still serious rivalry. Despite Ready's more impressive back catalogue (to me, anyway) it was Ago who drew the crowds - I felt sorry for the guys who followed him onto the stage: huge crowd evaporate as Ago leaves, as if a DJ had put a duff record on
And a big thanks to those who helped - Stuart at North Leicester Motorcycles, Matt and his Mondial (for sale? Ask me) and Bob Dixon who at the last minute brought his Laverda 500-based racer as well as the 100 Giro bike: he only went and won the post 1970 concours...
22nd Feb 2011 - Go Raceretro
Tomorrow starts a 1,000+ mile marathon in a rented Transit (that has no radio and 220,000 miles on the clock) to sort Benzina's appearance at Race Retro - but thanks to Matt, Chris, North Leicester Motorcycles and Bob Dixon it'll be worth it.
We'll have giro bikes from MV, Morini, Mondial, Laverda, Ducati and Gilera plus hopefully a very special Aermacchi racer. That's as well as the show organisers promising a Guzzi V8, MV500/3, Ago and Ready. Come say hello before I collapse...and sorry, this means I'm out of reach till Tuesday
21st Feb 2011 - Motobi Spring Lasting
Spotted on eBay USA - a rather lovely Motobi Spring Lasting B200 race replica. Bidding ended at $5515, but that was below reserve so it's presumably still available. Nice to see someone on eBay using high quality photos for once, too
20th Feb 2011 - Bristol Classic Bike show
Took well over an hour to get in(damn traffic - one chap turned round, drove home and came back on his bike: I had the Magazine man's entire supply of Benzina #4 - that's nearly 100kgs, so a bike's out of the question) but it was just about worth it: more people than last year, but less to see. Still, met some interesting people, learnt more about old Patons than I'd expected and got home in time for pizza. Excellent. See more pics on Facebook
16th Feb 2011 - Pure Class - entering the Motogiro
People keep asking, so here are the definitive Giro categories for the Dream Engine event: but basically if you've a motorcycle, you're in (unless it's a 1960s tiddler)
Motorcycles up to 175 cc built before 1958, although (as with all classes) if the model was in production before the cut-off date it will usually be admitted.
Motorcycles over 200cc built between 1968 and 1978.
Touring Super Sport
To complete the travelling museum, which the new TSS class open to motorcycles and sidecars over 250 cc built before 1968.
Open to those who want to live the atmosphere of the Motogiro in a more relaxed way and at a non-competitive level. Bikes of all makes admitted (including hired motorcycles) follow the same itinerary as the classic classes, but are divided into groups of about 25 with a group leader who serves as a guide.
15th Feb 2011 - Spa 4 Hours - another bloody addiction
Resistance is futile - on the back of my addiction to the Motogiro comes a need to get back to the Spa 4 hour race covered in Benzina #3.
So I hope to be at Spa Bikers' Classic again come 2nd July, helping a Guzzi team
and maybe a Laverda team too - Team Rufus. They have one of the 2nd batch of Laverda space frames produced, and a couple of French riders from Team Lavergnac. I'm just a bit worried that a clumsy oaf like me has been asked to wear fireproof overalls - how hot do these guys like their coffee?
14th Feb 2011 - The last Morini's
Researching "The last single men" for Benzina #4 (on Morini's 250 single that nearly beat Honda's multi to the 1963 title) I didn't think we'd be seeing the last ever Morinis - but we are. It makes Pete Crawford's interview in the issue with Morini designer Franco Lambertini even more poignant. But Stuart Mayhew at North Leicester Motorcycles tells me it definitely all over, and if you know Stuart's Morini connections you'll know that this time it's definite.
The good news is that the receivers have been persuaded to tidy up the factory by turning what's left into around 40 bikes; the modern Morinis are underrated smashers (the Scrambler's my favourite) and given Stuart can still supply bits for the 350s, spares shouldn't be a worry.
The tragedy is this was just a short term funding problem caused by the banking crisis. Sadly the Italian government's in no position to help Morini out, and infamously the banks are still refusing to lend to private entrepreneurs. I suspect this won't be the last bit of bad news, because the roof's about to collapse at Guzzi's abandoned Mandello del Lario facility and there's no sign of owner's Piaggio started on their promised refurbishment.
Franco finishes his interview by saying to Pete "There is a lot of knowledge and technology in (Morini), good management and importantly a young staff: the young ones can fight, they are committed. Moto Morini can never die: for me it is impossible."
Let's hope Guzzi aren't next
13th Feb 2011 - Moto Martin Ducati bevel racer
Super rare Moto Martin 900 bevel racer with Bol’dor history - for sale! No price yet - for more info contact John Fallon
12th Feb 2011 - Project bike
Oh no - that most dreaded of things: a project. Beloved of mothers-in-law and magazine editors (um...but not this one), projects nag away like clingy mistresses until they're over (one way or another)
This one shouldn't need much work (famous last words) because it's been sat in a private collection until the recent hard times meant it came to market with the intriguing claim that it had been built with a Hemi (Sferica - ie hemispherical) head for the Milano Taranto. Surely BS, given that Gilera focused on the 500 class in the Milano Taranto and that only a handful of Sfericas were ever made. But the bike came via the highly trusted John Fallon so I dug a bit deeper.
First investigation was the engine number - hmmm, this included the stamping Gilera put on their Motogiro bikes, and the Gilera register confirmed the number went on a 175V (the V suffix was for the racers) supplied to a Rimini dealer in 1956 - the Giro went right through Rimini in '56, with a Bologna start/finish.
But engine numbers can be faked, and the only Sferica I could track down (with the help of Jim Dillard at Vintagemotos Museum no longer had it's hemi-head. Time to have a closer look...
The bike was on mainland Europe but John took a deep breath and shipped it over. Ace mechanic Neil Ridgewellf lifted the head, and there it was - a hemispherical head with vales set at right angles, just like the Gilera 500/4 racer. The standard 175 Sport had parallel valves and a flat head - and no dry clutch. The engine had clearly been run, so it's no fake: and for less money than a Ducati 175 it was mine. What? Does it run? Er, not yet
8th Feb 2011 - Emilio Mendogni's Morini 125
I thought thirty grand was the going rate for a Ducati Mariana, but here's an OHC Morini 125 on eBay at almost that - OK, it's a 1948 ex-Emilio Mendogni restoration, but even so...
(And thanks to Paul at Morini Mania for the tip off)
7th Feb 2011 - Uh oh...Valentine day's coming
Time to build those brownie points, because it'll soon be the riding season and already there's the question of bailing out of the usual Easter family get-together because some fool's put the Stafford Bike Show on over the Easter weekend.
But cook the lady (or chap) in your life a fine dining experience on Valentine's Day and who knows what you'll be allowed to get away with. If you can't cook this, you shouldn't be allowed out on a bike.
You'll need a couple of salmon fillets and some ready made puff (not shortcrust!) pastry (easily found in the supermarket) plus maybe some bits and bobs to titivate. Goes really well with grilled courgettes/zucchini (try Fab Frugal Foods idea, pictured)
Roll the pastry out (the packet will give advice, but you want it quite thin) and cut into a shape that'll let you make a parcel with each salmon fillet. I usually put a bit of butter and dried dill on top of the fillet, plus maybe some chopped capers if you're feeling flash baby spinach or asparagus (pictured) works well too): seal and brush with milk and sit on a oiled baking tray to rest in the 'fridge for half an hour.
Oven on to around 180 degrees (check the pastry packet for more info) and cook for 25-30 minutes when the pastry should be golden. Serve with the zucchini or even frozen peas if you struggle with cooking. Piece of cake, and now you're owed a favour
5th Feb 2011 - Health and safety Italian style
I once asked a garden designer when you could think of a garden design as finished, given my wife is forever tinkering with ours. "When the budget is spent" was the initial, rather cynical answer, followed by a more thoughtful "when the client needs it finished by."
So it is with stories. When I put the feelers out for info on the Circuito del Lario for the piece in Benzina #4 I had no idea how the tales would trickle in. Here's one that came in yesterday, too late to make the printed copy.
High up on the circuito is a 12th Century church, perched on a sharp bend the riders took at speed. Not all of them made it, and crashed into the church doors damaging rider, machine and the church. The solution in 1930s Italy? Leave the church doors open during the race, so that wayward riders could use the church aisle as an escape route. Only in Italy...
4th Feb 2011 - Single minded twins
According to Morini heroes North Leicester Motorcycles Moto Morini's receivers have been persuaded to build up around 40 bikes from what remains at the factory, and then that's it - Morini are no more. The Italian government is flat broke and out of credit, so the wonderful people who made so much history are scattered to the four winds, together with their immeasurable talents.
Peter Crawford very kindly contributed the last ever English interview with Franco Lambertini to Benzina #4, and it's a poignant reminder that this lovely man was just 25 when he designed the Morini 350. One insight is that the narrow 72 degree angle of the V was chosen so that the design could easily be modified to produce a smaller single. Singles of course are what Morini are famous for - they nearly beat Honda and Jim Redman to the 1963 250 world championship with one, despite missing rounds. Once I'd read the interview with Franco I was so moved that I knew we had to tell the incredible story of how Provini so nearly achieved the impossible, and how with a better economic background Morini would be doing the same today. Lambertini was especially proud that most of the components for the current bikes were sourced within 100km of the factory, an incredible feat in a world where too many think the food we eat has to be flown in from across the globe
(top pic vespamore-uk.blogspot)
3rd Feb 2011 - Genius
Brother-in-law is Royal Marines and suggested we stick a couple of these light sticks in the car. Glad we did - a puncture on a dark lane would normally have left me cursing the flat battery in the torch, calling the AA and flattening the car battery with the hazards. But these glow sticks were (just) enough to see to change the wheel, and mark the offside of the car for passing traffic.
They work when you bend them to crack and inner capsule and mix a couple of chemicals, creating an unstable reaction - basically electrons jump orbit and give off light: a similar idea to fluorescent paint, but turned up to 11. The sticks don't get hot, and were still giving off light 24 hours later. Readily available for pennies on eBay, they'll fit in a glovebox or under a bike seat no problem. Genius - don't leave home without them
2nd Feb 2011 - New home for old Ducatis
Spotted on Ottonero's blog, a Ducati engined Lefas. Not sure about the paintwork, but then John Britten's incredible racer was that colour(-ish) so maybe it's of an era
1st Feb 2011 - Standard paintjobs
Looking for a Guzzi S3 reminded me that we painted my brother's 400/4 that way back in the seventies: there it is tucked behind my recently acquired F2, which would finish up fully Yoshimured (below); back then keeping a bike standard just showed a lack of imagination, even though the paint job's were via cans and kitchen tables. These days "original" (ideally shinier than original) is all collectors dream of. Nostalgia originally was a word for a type of sickness. Odd, that...
31st Jan 2011 - Looking for a Guzzi S3
Currently looking for a nicely shiny Moto Guzzi S3 for a professional photoshoot - as original and ideally recently restored. A V7 Sport might do - needs to be in the UK, though: it's for a mainstream magazine so you might get to be rich and famous (or not)
Pic Rich Bourne/Flickr
29th Jan 2011 - The coming cool
For once there's something interesting in Bike magazine this month (but then it is written by Gary Inman of Sideburn fame) - bikes are getting trendy again. As a country boy I see the big city so rarely that changes really shout out, and suddenly the media loveies are on bikes. Not new bikes, and not classics, but stuff that sits in the very cheap middle ground. You could dismiss this as penny pinching in tough times, but then you clock the custom paintwork, Belstaff
jacket and Davida helmet and realise these folk have plenty to spend.
Sadly the mainstream industry doesn't notice or care. Like the story of the dog staring at his own reflection, convinced the "other" dog's got a bigger bone, everyone just wants to pinch someone else's market share. Yet here's a chance to grow the market - Ducati's old Monster Dark would be perfect as would Yamaha's SR400 (still sold in Japan, I think). These bikes could be sold for (comparatively) coppers, and pushed into non-biking arenas: the weekend broadsheets, or GQ and such. Or just give them to celebs, a common practice in the car world.
And as for Bike magazine's lack of identity, here's their chance: there must be more to filling pages than advice on how to spot speedtraps abroad ("Ask the locals" - really) and if you could attract these new recruits think of the advertising revenue. But I guess we need another R1vsFirebladevsGSXR test first...
(bottom pics a Honda single - choice of #7 and #666 is as interesting as the Ducati badge)
28th Jan 2011 - Issue 4 - and 5?
All quiet at last - issue 4 at the printers, with proofs due out to me today. Assuming all the photos are the right way up I should have the real thing by 9th February, although it can take our village post office 3 or 4 days to get them all mailed.
Main reason for the delay was trying various ideas at getting the layouts done more econmically without compromising quality: this had to be done to see if further issues would be viable. And I think we've done it... issue 5 here we come
23rd Jan 2011 - Single again
Digging deep for Benzina #4 (out in two weeks!) I realise how little is written about Italian racing singles unless they're a Ducati. Yet Morini's 250 single nearly beat Honda's 250/4 to the World title (despite competing in fewer rounds) and Gilera had fantastic success with the pushrod Saturno. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if the obsession with the Gilera/MV fours (which weren't even designed in house - see Benzina #1) is justified
Raymond Ainscoe's written knowledgably in his self-published books on the Gilera singles, but every other marque seems to be ignored. Most mysteriously there's little or nothing on MV Agusta's fabulous racing singles that took (I think) 10 of their world titles, starting with Sanford's 1952 125 championship. Something to do with our current passion for the Motogiro bikes of that era, perhaps?
Er, no - because Venturi came third on an MV in the first (1953) Motogiro, and won the final giro for the Count in 1957 (with team-mate Milani in second). So maybe it's just my plain ignorance. But then I can't believe I didn't know about Gary Kohl's fabulous MV museum in the US either, although I did know of Bill Irwin's virtual museum down in NZ. I guess you now know both...
There's more too - thanks to Jack Silverman for the link to a fab video of a MV exhibition
22nd Jan 2011 - Rumble in the paddock
Moto Guzzi's V8 legend is coming to the UK! These visit are few and far between, so this might be a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It'll be at Race Retro, Stoneleigh Park, from 25th to 27th February. And it will be worth it: I saw it run at Spa, and it sounds like nothing else. Sounds like? Oh yes, this will be no static display...
The V8's owner Giuseppe Todero will be running this 180mph two-wheeled ICBM every day during the show’s Fire Up Paddock. Ago will be there too with the (original) MV triple. Symphony in 11 cylinders (or something)? There was a piece on the V8 in Benzina #2 and we'll be at Race Retro with a motogiro display, plus issue 4 of Benzina. If you've got a nice giro bike you'd like to show, get in touch
19th Jan 2011 - Knowing NCR
Phew;three weeks non-stop to get it done, but done it is, and Benzina #4's in proofing and should be ready for the printers next week. Hopefully on sale before Valentine's day...
Issue 4 has a big piece on NCR by Graham Stoppani (Ducati owners' club) and Vicki Smith (whose giro bikes are prepped by Rino Caracchi): NCR were once the quasi-official Ducati raceshop and seem to have more mystery and romance surrounding them than, well, Valentine's day. Nepoti-Caracchi Racing (the R originally stood for Rizzi but he soon left) was established by a couple of Ducati engineers (Giorgio Nepoti and Rino Caracchi) who loved building race bikes and could make the then-new 350 Desmo fly. When Ducati needed yet more government cash around 1968 it was injected on the basis Ducati stopped "wasting" money racing, which might be why then-CEO Montano jumped/was pushed.
Luckily Montano's successors could see the potential of Taglioni's V-twin, which was fortunate because the diesel engines were the only part of Ducati making money and many saw the bikes as a lost cause. Although those who were there point out Ducati retained a race workshop throughout the seventies, NCR were credited with running it. But there's a possibility they might just have been credited with more than they actually did because if the Ducati race shop claimed any credit the Government subsidies would have been turned off.
By the early eighties (the time of the TT2 and Rutter's championships) NCR's official involvement was limited to running Italian race teams and preparing the TT2's engines for return to the factory and Ducati's mini TT2 production line. Official factory racers were taken off by Farne to be prepped in his workshop - by now it was an open secret the Castiglioni's were buying Ducati, and everyone knew they were keen to race (and if they didn't the Italian Government would close Ducati's doors anyway) so there was no need to keep up any pretence that NCR were Ducati Corse. The more you dig the more miraculous it is that Ducati survived.
Yet it could have gone the other way - just imagine if the Pantah had come out as a 750 in 1975 (because Taglioni had finalised the Pantah design by then, and it was only initially a 500 because management wanted the (soon removed) home market tax breaks): we might have seen Mike Hailwood race a TT1 in 1978
7th Jan 2011 - Random Ducatis
Prompted by a post on John Fallon's website (and I realise it's tragic I know this stuff) but these are mid-sixties Fattorinos (Errand boys) built by Ducati alongside the Brio scooter to make maximum use of their ubiquitous 48cc fan cooled engine (that eventually got to 90+cc in the Cadet!) I guess this make more sense in the 3 wheeler than the OHC 175 Ducati stuck in the Muletta, because I can't see a third world bush mechanic having the shims needed to set up a bevel single...
6th Jan 2011 - Irony at Imber
A few miles from benzina HQ is the forgotten village of Imber requisitioned for FIBUA (fighting in built up areas) by the MOD in WWII. I last visited as a teenage air cadet on exercise in the 70s, so I thought it was time to have another look-see
Oh, the irony - the MOD only allow limited access, and the snow this year meant the usual Christmas opening was short-lived and featured a visit by the VW owner's club. Every single car parked at Imber was German (I'd walked, so the Fiat 500 was miles away) despite the fact the people at Imber gave up their homes to stave off Nazi invasion.
The MOD had owned the estate since Victorian times, and when they need somewhere for US forces to train the local Lieutenant Colonel gave everyone a month to leave - the notice letter required people who'd lived in the village for generations to "vacate by 17 December 1943: we cannot provide alternative accommodation but might try to offer assistance to any villager finding themselves in dire straights."
That was it - the chapel, pub, shop, even recently built council houses were empty within a few weeks. Most folk went to stay with family, and some even left furnishings behind, certain they'd be allowed to move back in after the war. But it wasn't to be - a public enquiry allowed the MOD free reign, although a subsequent High Court action required the Church to be maintained and opened at least one day a year.
In fairness, Imber's typically open for 50 days a year although the MOD hardly shout it from the rooftops. Plenty of other FIBUA sites have been built on Salisbury Plain (some just like Afghan villages, ahem) but Imber remains jealously guarded by the MOD despite past resident's still living locally. At least the church is well cared for - it's one of only two sites in the UK to have bell ringing marks in the tower, and the Medieval wall paintings escaped the Victorian "scraping" making it an exceptional historical record.
All in all, Imber's a moving and affecting place to visit - there is a tarmac road in clearly marked with opening times at Gore Cross but a little sensitivity on what you take might be appreciated by locals who understand 1943 was a dark year, but would like their heritage back now, please.
More pics here
4th Jan 2011 - Water pumping Dukes
Both these pics were taken by my daughter, but are separated by a 12 years gap. First up's my first 916 from the "accident damage" era (when Ducati put hardy any graphics on their bikes) taken early one Sunday morning. Kids get you up the instant it's light, so I used to do my family duties and ride down to 3X motorcycles in the days' when Mizzi's burger van lived outside and they opened Sundays. Usually the first customer, I'd have a bacon butty, eyeball what's new and ride home in time to cook lunch. 3X will tell you they stopped opening Sunday because they never sold any bikes - not true, I bought loads but over the phone a few days later. Denied my Sunday rides, my business went elsewhere.
I was lucky enough to own most water-cooled Dukes from the ST2 to the 999 (no, I'm not minted - bikes are the only thing apart from family I spend money on) right up to the Monster S4RS, photo'd by daughter hanging out of the car. Fab bike, although poseurs please note - of all the bikes I've owned my wife thinks the best looking by far was a 600 Monster Dark; "Not trying too hard, and looks like Steve McQueen would have ridden one." Can't really argue with that.
A chance stumbling over John Fallon's website got an old itch going, and I ended up buying a bevel 900SS (back when they came for sensible money). I was a bit non-plussed with it initially (riding position felt like sitting on the toilet and trying to grab a loo-roll that's just out of reach), but then something odd happened. My wife arranged for us to go on the 2006 Motogiro and I was sold on classics. Some folk say it's an expensive/selfish/perverse holiday, but what price a life changing experience? There's just 24 hours to book at the discounted rate of 1100 euros, which will buy you a completely fresh perspective on life. And when was the last time you saw one of those for sale at any price?
28th Dec 2010 - First blood
Visiting Dr Girlie Nice-Smile in Aylesbury one weekend, her on-call commitments left me at a loose end - covering the special care baby-unit AND Stoke Mandeville (which explains her dislike of motorcycles) left her busy and me bored. I finished up at On yer Bike (now Ducati Aylesbury) and buying a blood-red Paso 750.
Even then (1990) Paso's had gone from rave-reviews to ridicule, but I'd had enough of worrying about what magazines thought, so one February Saturday saw me explore the Paso's infamous carb-icing on a packed Aylesbury roundabout. I lived long enough to relish the way the Duke was just about a sports bike, but would cover 200 miles without a twinge: far comfier a seat than the preceding VFR.
The only prob was a broken gearchange return spring, leaving me to limp home in second - something of a Ducati weakness, and ridiculously expensive to fix, because it's buried on the "wrong" side of the engine. If you ever have an engine in bits change the return spring while you can.
The thing that really got me about the Paso was non-biker's reaction - everyone loved it, and Ducati was just starting to be a brand recognised outside motorcycling. So while most bikers poo-poo'd it (even other Ducati owners did the "it's not a real Ducati" thing) women would ask to be photographed sitting on it. This was something new to me...
Spotting an immaculate Superlight in Three Cross motorcycles saw the Paso part-ex'd: one of the few SL's that didn't sport the #1 badge on the seat hump (because Ducati hadn't won the Superbike championship the preceding year) and lacking the original SL's Marvic wheels it was still an under-rated bike that's only just starting to be appreciated - a nice SL will easily fetch twice the equivalent SS's price, which is odd when in essence it's just a solo seat and carbon mudguard that make the difference. And the famous "limited edition" plaque on the headstock - ah, collectors: don't you just love them?
27th Dec 2010 - The final fling
Offered a GSX-R1100 cheap by a dealer because it had a scratch on the swingarm, I entered Nirvana. Even for a rider of my mediocre talent the Gixxer crushed all comers - you could sweep up behind anything (GPz900's especially) and pass it before an impossible turn: next time you looked in the mirrors they were gone. Checking the speedo before a turn usually involved around 150mph - this was always going to end badly. Getting home late one night I left in on the front path, rather than ride to the lock up and risk the ridicule of pub homecomers pointing at the dolt on a bicycle in full leathers. Next morning the 1100 was was gone.
The insurance money went on another magazine reviewer's must-have - a Honda VFR750L, the first of the single-sided swing-armers. By now I'd met Dr. Girlie Nice-Smile, and endless commutes to see her in various hospitals and homesteads meant the Honda racked up the miles including a track day organised by the RICS a few days before our wedding. But I didn't get the Honda, and it languished in the back garden all winter because (a) I couldn't be bothered to ride it 500 yards to the lock-up and (b) the scrotes who lifted the Gixxer felt the same way. One ad in MCN proved that I'm the only person on the planet who feels ambivalent about Sochiro's V4: inundated by calls I sold it to some Tynesiders who rode on to Cornwall (200 miles away) because "it seemed a shame to come so far south and miss it."
26th Dec 2010 - The Kawasaki years
Funny how you switch loyalties - happy with my Kat, but being a consumerist tart, when Kawasaki debuted the GPZ1100 I had the have one - fuel injection, Unitrack suspension and a proper fairing that let you go as far and as fast as you liked. I loved that bike, but when the GPz900 appeared (complete with small z!) the press reaction meant I had to swop.
And I was strangely underwhelmed - a riding position that wasn't one thing or the other and a much revvier character than the 1100 and big Suzy's I'd known and loved. Maybe because most miles were done with a pillion it seemed a step backwards, or maybe it was just that I was so used to wrestling the big old bruisers. Whatever, a test ride on a VF1000 made me think I wanted one of them 'till it overheated and poured coolant everywhere. So in a fit of maturity (I was now 25) I was again fell for the press hype and bought a BM K100. Horrid, hateful thing that lasted a week. My last Japanese bikes were on the way
25th Dec 2010 - The Suzuki years
Determined to buy a Ducati GTS860, I finished up with Suzuki 750s...after a go on a mate's Duke I loved the idea but hated the bottom end failures that seemed to plague the era's Ducati twins. Never mind, the Suzook handled better than any other Jap bike (how Classic Bike can compare it to the "where's the hedgerow?" GT kettle escapes me) and had a lovely glow-in-the-dark pink instrument panel (though I hated the gear position indicator - what? Do you think I can't count?)
The inevitable rise to a GSX1100 followed, but it handled like a wheelbarrow full of wet cement. But better than baby brother's 750 version, which he binned in front of the local Brit-bike fan club's weekly meet, grinding the alternator and his leather jacket to atoms. How the hell did we survive this?
All set to buy a Hailwood Rep just like mate Kenny Robert's (yes, really - and RIP, Kenny) the new Katanas turned my head - my Katana 1000 was a beaut, and kept me on the Suzuki trail longer than intended
24th Dec 2010 - The 400/4 years
How I loved these - never got the two-stroke thing, and as a teenager you just want to thrash the living daylights out of a rev-happy Honda. First one was bought privately in London, having taken the train up. No other means of getting home meant I had to buy it, but luckily it was fine, except as he took my cheque the seller casually mentioned "It needed a rebore, so I put a Yoshi 460 kit in." Lovely: hit my first ton shortly after joining the M4 slip road.
Unfortunately a car on the wrong side of the road meant it was written off in Cardiff - my pillion passenger surfed to safety on my back, wearing through my helmet visor and jacket. Never mind, my local dealer was keen to buy the wreckage for the 460 kit and engine to prep Richard Stevens bike for the F3 TT. It blew up...
But by then I had the F2 with Dunstall fairing pictured - Dunstall exhaust soon followed, and I must have done 20,000+ miles on that bike in all weathers: the regular commute to Cardiff during winter 1978 every Sunday night usually involved riding in darkness across the Severn Bridge footpath to save paying the toll. God, I got cold
Eventually it went for a GS750, but setting up home with my brother meant trading down to another 400/4. Oh, dear...after a 750 (never mind a bevel twin) it felt gutless as hell, but as in a blog passim Dixon Racing and Pops Yoshimura eventually sorted that out
23rd Dec 2010 - The L-plate year
Ah, the irony of riding Pat Slinn's perfect C15 for Classic Bike when my C15 was built the same year: but there the similarities end. Mine was registered the day I was born, so was nearly 17 years old when I paid £60 for it. The combination of dubious parentage (the bike's) and doubtful mechanical talent(mine) was always going to end badly. Still, I loved the torque after a moped, and having mastered kick-starting it was fun to watch others try and fail. Often painfully.
But duff reliability meant missed bike tests and school, so my parents generously bought a second-hand Honda 125S for my 18th birthday. Non-original tank was courtesy of the previous owners crashes, but I soon added twisted bars and crooked front mudguard after overtaking a friend on an unknown road, and finishing up in a disgruntled (but nicely spoken) chap's front garden.
Test passed, I could barely afford to keep the 125 in petrol, but took it everywhere - including weekly commutes to Cardiff and Southampton. I holed the piston when an article in Motorcycle Mechanics told how to adjust the points, surely something that would allow an indicated 70mph (at the far side of the red line, ahem) but instead I buggered the timing and holed a piston. When I joined the merchant navy I sold it to my brother, who not appreciating the little Honda's taste for oil soon blew it up. Never mind, the 400/4 years beckoned
22nd Dec 2010 - 12 days of Christmas
In the words of David Byrne how did I get here? Christmas shopping done in an afternoon, I don't understand why folk say some people are hard to buy for. But then my obsession with obscure old motorcycles means that, like most old bikers, unless you know the path that brought them to their current condition, I guess you'll never get what they really want for Christmas. Sure, less miles on the clock and a bit less grey hair would be good but research proves reliving your past makes for a happier and healthier present. So over Christmas I'll post all the bikes I've had, and think about whether I'd like to own them again
First up's the ubiquitous 1970s peds from Puch. My step-mum can't drive, so experimented briefly with an old Puch Maxi. I was 15 and not really into bikes, but endless cycling to get around and a village full of bikers made me think...
Spring 75 saw me persuading my parents that if I moved into the caravan in the garden, I'd be better able to study for the looming O-levels: this of course was a cunning plan to allow me to spend the hours of darkness whizzing around the countryside on petrol "borrowed" from the lawnmower, before pushing the silent auto-ped back to the garage. No-one ever suspected a thing.
So when a 2-speed (hand change!) yellow peril Puch M2 was bought in a local auction for £35 I persuaded Dad to lend me the money ready for my 16th Birthday. I was working evenings and weekends in a garage for 50p an hour, so you do the maths. Spare time was spent polishing EAM135L (still the only numberplatre I can remember), listening to Elton John and Kiki Dee on the DLT show and waiting for summer.
Would I have it back? Oh yes, if kid brother hadn't bought it to trash on home-made jumps in the garden. Although the Puch could trace its roots back to a 1962 half-ped, half scooter thing Puch were first on the sports moped bandwagon and dressed up their pressed steel framed fifties into ever more convincing mini-bikes. Problem was by the time their "proper"
sports mopeds arrived with a foot gear-shift the FS1-E had arrived, and brushed Puch aside.
But the summer of 1975 was fabulous, and as I buzzed along wearing just jeans and a red tee (like our Ride tees) despite wondering where mates with proper sports mopeds had gone, life seemed absolutely perfect.
22nd Dec 2010 - Man, that's Rollie Free
Nothing to do with John Otway's bonkers hit That's really free, but the infamous swim-trunks run at Bonneville by Roland "Rollie" Free in the days before fitted leathers and aero ski-suits, mimicked by Adrian Palmer for his excellent new blog - Ducatista.
21st Dec 2010 - Cars v Bikes
This was big in the eighties - car vs. bike pieces, usually run (a)by magazines struggling with sales so trying to broaden the readership base and (b)by publishers who had car and bike titles so got a buy-one-get-one-free deal from hard working journos.
But what did they tell us? Bikes faster than cars? When the family go down to the in-laws I usually follow on a bike, but reality bites when their prep consists of closing the car door, while I spend ten minutes kitting up and fiddling with U-locks. And sure, traffic jams don't slow a bike much but then car drivers don't stop under bridges to put on waterproofs if it rains.
Truth is bikes - especially old, Italian bikes - are great fun, but comparing them to cars is pointless. In fact comparing them to each other seems dubious, because most of us are old enough to think for ourselves: this comparison malarkey just seems to be an obsession with auto-publishers. After all, have you ever seen a food magazine boasting "Pear tart or Cornish pasties? Read our 10 page special investigation."
14th Dec 2010 - Copy Kat
Ah, I knew it would turn up...an old photo album discovered while retrieving Christmas kit from the attic has led to a full on scanning session. Sadly negatives seem long gone and faded little Truprints aren't the ideal starting point, but needs must.
My brothers and I were Kat crazy - I was all set to buy a Hailwood Rep til Suzuki launched this icon: if the vino rosso hasn't destroyed my memory Kat's were the first Jap bikes with fairings and clip-ons - most folk hated them, because the look was still fringed black leather and sit-up-and-beg. But my lust was driven by the Street Racer look personified by the Italian superbikes, and riding as fast as I could (faster, occasionally, than I could...)
I had the 1000 slide-carb'd version bought at a £1000 discount: weird to think now nobody wanted them. This is my brother's 1100, which got written off just south of Salisbury when his talent ran out over adverse camber. He's a police officer now, and married to the girl who was on the pillion when he crashed...
13th Dec 2010 - Fame Acadamy
Huge thanks to Ian Brambley for scanning these pics he took at pre-season practice at Hullavington (north west Wiltshire) back in '84. Two questions spring to mind - who is it? And what class might a roundcase 750SS be competitive in way back then (although the GSX-R and FZ750 were still a year away)? I don't think Battle of the Twins ever came down our way, and even by 1984 the roundcase SS was (dreaded word) collectable. Anyway, whoever it is he was clearly a hero of immaculate taste and style.
9th Dec 2010 - Space Cadet
This Ducati 100 just popped up on eBay, and the seller posts for info on what it might be...as someone obsessed enough with classic Italian bike to publish benzina here goes...
It's a 100 Cadet - a 7bhp stroker built from 1967 to '69: four speed, 52x46, chrome bore, 98cc, 55 mph. Had been preceded by a fan cooled three speed engine, succeeded by the pushrod 4-stroke Cadet 125 (which was the last ever pushrod Ducati) and the 100cc stroker Scrambler which was the last mass-produced 2-stroke Ducati (although the limited edition Six Day and Regolarita were a smidge later)
Tragic that I know, but then I still think the Cadet Scrambler (below) was a funkier thing that the mainstream Scrambler...
7th Dec 2010 - Pedal power
New years' resolutions start here - you'll want to loose the Turkey Tummy, and maybe you fancy a retro racing bicycle to help you
Vespamore photography took these fine photographs for Retrospective cycles, a classic scooter dealership that's just started importing period Italian racing cycles: prices seem fair, and you can see what you're getting - a huge improvement over the pot luck I took buying my old Bianchi
6th Dec 2010 - My type of Christmas present
Steve Jobs of Apple (hell, Steve Jobs IS Apple) was a college drop-out spellbound by calligraphy, and when he came up with the Mac and Ipod fonts were still as important to him as the technology. Nowadays, thanks to Jobs, every computer offers dozens of fonts yet we still hunger for more.
This is all courtesy of Simon Garfield's excellent new book Just my Type which is breezy yet factual, and even has jokes (Comic Sans walks into a bar - barman says "Sorry, we don't serve your type") - for a limited time you can read the first two chapters here
4th Dec 2010 - Last chance Playboys
Can't believe I missed one of the best bits of petrolhead TV broadcast in years - well, I can because it was tucked away late on a Monday night, and padded a bit with the dreaded Max Clifford. But otherwise When Playboys Ruled the World surely deserved a prime-time slot or even DVD release. Featuring the parallel universes of Barry Sheene and James Hunt, their friendship, and uniquely paired 1976 Wold Championships (the only year Brits have won the top car and bike classes) there was also a feel for the revelry in the new cult of celebrity and the lack of concern for what the masses thought. Stirling Moss offers the insight that post race "We were chasing girls, today they're thanking Vodaphone", and Murray Walker's "it was a time when sex was safe and racing was dangerous" - during the Sheene/Hunt era over 20 F1 divers died, and 40 plus bike racers. Perfect TV, available until 15 December here
(or buy the B+W pic here)
3rd Dec 2010 - The older we get, the faster we were
This is me, c1979. Moved into a flat, started an evening course, needed money. Sold a GS750, bought another Honda 400/4 and realised I was never going to keep up with home-boy mates still on 750s. So every spare penny went into the 400/4, because insuring it cost a third of a 750's premium, and tyres lasted twice as long.
This was its final incarnation. Built in a second floor flat, getting it back down the stairs was challenging...but worth it. 458cc Yoshimura pistons, R/T cam, 4-1 Yoshi pipe, lowered gearing, S+W fork springs, the list went on. Would ride round bigger bikes in corners, just about hang onto their coat tails in a straight line. Seem to remember the brakes were a bit iffy.
The Dixon racing catalogue recommended ignoring Soichiro's 8,500 redline and waiting until 11k+ for max power. Had a hell of an appetite for oil pressure switches, which I could change on the dealers forecourt in 10 minutes.
College done, I got a proper job and was back on a GS750 in no time. But I'd been cured of keeping bikes stock for good.
30th Nov 2010 - Christmas lists
Assuming Wikileaks haven't passed on your Christmas list already, it's time to make sure you get the stuff you want, especially if (like me) nobody else in the family has the slightest notion about bike stuff.
I've bemoaned the lack of decent bike boots before (and in Benzina #3) and ace lensman Ben Part was kind enough to recommend Bates Leathers who make these retro-raceboots, surely a snip at $250. Definitely on the list, and maybe even in red; what an old tart...
And I love Alpinestars ladies' boot. Even though my wife never goes near a bike. Just look at those laces - not too-tight, Josephine...
29th Nov 2010 - Congratulations -it's (V) twins
Say hello to Michael as he crosses the line at the end of the 1978 TT F1's race - and rebuilds his legend for a new generation
The CX500 propped up in the background is perhaps almost as significant. Honda provided these new V-twins for the TT Marshals, despite their racers in every class being inline fours. Back then Ducati, Guzzi and Morini were the lone V-twins in a decade that had seen the rise and rise of the multi. The CBX-6 and Z1300 were the cutting edge bikes. And then up pops the CX...
These days an inline multi's seen as the vanilla option; we want something a bit more interesting. The CX500 was a tacit admission by Honda that we're right; despite teething troubles the CX became a best-seller - if it had bombed, would Honda have built their V4s? And we know more than one ex-CX owner who stuck with (Italian) V-twins happily ever after
26th Nov 2010 - Rocket man
Raymond Ainscoe is well known for his handy range of (mainly) self published books on Italian bikes, especially Gileras. I've just enjoyed the excellent Gilera and MV rivalry, but also got the Vostok racers volume. What an eye opener - bevel drive DOHC 125 racers in 1954, and a 500/4 that almost beat Ago and his MV. All from the people who gave me the Airfix kit I built so many years ago...
Best deal is to buy them from Raymond direct - they're UK post-free at £15 each (UK cheque payable to him) from 3 Mendip House Gardens, Curley Hill,
Ilkley LS29 0DD.
25th Nov 2010 - Brass Monkey weather
While the UK freezes, the usual tosh on the origins of "It's cold enough to freeze the ball off a brass monkey" gets repeated again and again. But anyone with a passing interest in engineering will know the tale must be an urban myth.
(A recap if you've never heard this - the myth goes that the Royal Navy stored iron cannonballs in pyramids, retained by a brass triangle, called a monkey. In cold weather the brass contracts, and the cannonballs are squeezed out and roll away. This ignores the foolishness of storing cannonballs in a pyramid on the heaving deck of a ship - they were actually stored in holes in planks - and the fact that the coefficient of expansion of brass and iron are about the same)
In fact it seems the aiming handle on a cannon was often brass, and nicknamed a monkey, and the original phrase was probably "cold enough to freeze the tail off a brass monkey." The reference to balls appeared in the US around 1930. Damn uncouth, some of these Colonials
24th Nov 2010 - MV Triumph
Here's the new MV Agusta F3, the long overdue (and Harley Davidson funded!) middleweight from the Castiglionis. They say the three-cylinder, 675cc format is perfect for a sporting middleweight: Triumph must be flattered. Or something.
No specs or price, but I'd guess fast and expensive - which is how we like them...
23rd Nov 2010 - Inspiration
James Lee Burke Never give up. I believe that talent comes from a hand outside us and that it is given to us for a reason. Never let the naysayers get you down. Write one day at a time and write for one reason only, to make the world in some fashion a better place. Eventually every artist learns the following lesson: Take pride in rejection and excoriation. The boos always come from the cheap seats. You stay on that oldtime rock and roll and grin and walk the cannon smoke and let go of the world. It will drive your critics insane.
(I admit it - ex Simon Mayo's radio show - but still inspirational
23rd Nov 2010 - Targa Florio truths
It took some time, but finally the truth's out about motorcycles and the
Targa Florio - with many thanks to Raymond Ainscoe and Gualtiero Repossi
It seems there was indeed a motorcycle race, run as a prelude to the Targa Florio's more famous Sicilian car race. But the Targa's founder, Vincenzo Florio, wasn't a huge bike fan and so it didn't get pushed the way the car event did. The Italian factories didn't complain, because with most races and factories in the North of Italy, getting to Sicily was a major undertaking. This could explain why BMW's flat twins had such success at the Florio during the late twenties - Germans were being encouraged to compete abroad, Mercedes were entering the Targa Florio, and BMW had just launched their first car. Turning up a week early made for handy extra practice laps in the cars, and the chance to show off BMW's bikes and engineering.
The bikes mostly ran the shorter Piccolo Circuito delle Madonie road course which was gradually adopted by the cars. As the clouds of war gathered bikes and cars moved to a much-truncated track-based version of the Florio, the last event being held in 1940. The new
won the bike race, and Masserati took every single place in the car event.
The car's got going again in 1948, but bikes were never to return to the Targa Florio. That's a shame, because while road-racing was banned in mainland Italy in 1957, the Sicilians refused to play ball and carried on until 1977 - racing GT40s, Alfa 33s and Ferrari 312s on mountain roads. Imagine an NCR Ducati or Laverda V6(!) in that mix...
22nd Nov 2010 - Racing Blues
Bianchi’s trademark turquoise paintwork, celeste (pronounced chay-lay-stay), has as many myths surrounding it as any of the firm’s products. Celeste can mean “heavenly” in Italian (it’s the source of the English word celestial), but it can also mean sky-blue. Edoardo Bianchi claimed he chose the colour for his racers while “Teaching Queen Margherita the art of cycling,” to match the colour of her eyes.” If her peepers really were that bright a shade of blue-green, he’d certainly have noticed them.
Others say its colour of a Milanese sky, and the early racers were closer to a pale blue than the more recent, greenier, shade. The story runs that only one person was trusted to mix it, and as his eyesight faded, so the colour changed. Celeste was always reserved for the racers, including the post war Giro Tonales and the 500 grand prix twin - and of course Fausto Coppi’s all conquering bicycles. Not everyone likes the colour, and even Bianchi toyed with going over to red (as Ducati did) in the 1980s. But most Bianchi fans love celeste, even if some heretics say it's the colour of toothpaste.
19th Nov 2010 - Guzzi cool
Love this, spotted at Fiction Fred. Might be just the thing now my knackered right knee and ancient bones makes the clip-ons and rear-sets thing ever harder to enjoy. Far cooler than a Harley, and being a Guz you know it will go on forever (as well as leak oil from the bell housing. And change gear very s-l-o-w-l-y...)
18th Nov 2010 - End of an era
Thanks to one of TB's excellent photographers CJ for putting me right on France's love of speed - it's now illegal for French advertisers to associate a product with motorsport; so no ads with Sebastien Loeb for Citroën, no ads for Peugeot's sporty 908 concept, no ads with F1 for Renault.
Far cry from the days of the Joe Bar team (you can see the full strip here)
16th Nov 2010 - The Gentleman's Jota
Continuing IB's Laverda themed blogging: (this time from July 1984)
I was rather taken by the style of this RGA rider I snapped as he was departing our local pub.
Never underestimate the protective qualities of a well tailored English check shirt & a silk scarf. However, a note of caution to anyone thinking of emulating this look - sleeves should always be rolled up to reduce flappage & please absolutely no gloves. It would just look wrong.
(Hmmm, not sure about the gloves remark - they'd make an excellent Chr..oops, nealy said it. GP)
14th Nov 2010 - Remembrance Sunday
High flight, by John Gillespie Magee, Jr
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
13th Nov 2010 - Cross dressing thug
I snapped this labour of love over at the TT races in 1983. Even back then the metal flake finish, white suede seat & chromed everything looked slightly, well slightly camp to be perfectly honest. But don't be fooled, this bike was like a cross-dressing thug with its turbocharged 1200 Mirage engine housed in a special (Harris?) frame. Love it or hate it you certainly couldn't ignore it on Mad Sunday!
Now my idea of a radical alteration for a Laverda would be limited to an ally tank & single seat so this is not really my tazza di tè, but I do like it. There, I've said it! Should I now expect a visit from the Benzina style polizia? Probably, but I don’t care I’m off out now to buy a set of Grab On grips for the Ducati..
(Welcome, TB newbie IB)
13th Nov 2010 - Excess baggage
The In-laws are just back from a couple of weeks touring the Italian Lakes (hey, what about the grandkids' inheritance?) but didn't care for Lake Como. "Full of Germans," complain the generation who might have, um, issues, "And bikes," although they missed the Guzzi Museum (in fairness, most do, with its random opening hours) they photo'd one of their fellow guests transport especially for me. The efforts of Bordi and Terblanche to make the SS a svelte and agile sportsbike are clearly lost on its owner; you can just imagine how the packing went ("pass that duvet, dear - there's still plenty of room in the left pannier.") Or is this first use of a motorcycle for human trafficking?
12th Nov 2010 - Teased by the dark side
This is what we want - a bit of teasing; as they say, a glimpse of stocking is something shocking, pumping blood much harder than the more obvious stuff. Taken by Vespamore photography it's a great example of what can be achieved by someone with a bit of imagination (and a love of film). I really like the way the pics use the background to add impact, as with the MV below
My mind's been focused on photography by the endless trawl for pics for Benzina #4, and once again I've been struck by how few of us can photograph a bike, me included. Bikes not quite in focus (but the rubbish behind pin-sharp of course) is often a digital camera being too clever for its own good, but just standing over a bike and snapping away produces work that is dull, dull, dull.
Vicki Smith's stuff couldn't be more different, and what's really impressive is that most of it's shot on the run - at last year's Giro she was press-ganged into being the official snapper when the booked guy had to back out; Vicki still rode the event, and took photos good enough for Classic Bike to use. Damn, I wish I could take decent photos...
11th Nov 2010 - Puting the Dustbin out
This is the latest instalment in Jack Silverman's fabulous Ducati desmo 125 Grand Prix racer, coming together under the watchful eye of Hugo at Vintage Italian Restoration's
That fairing was hand-beaten by Evan Wilcox as detailed in Benzina #2, and it'll be a sad day when it's painted; but you've got to love the tin of red racepaint propping the bike up. You're going to need a big brush, Hugo...
And it's Armistice day - 92 years since the end of a war to end all wars.
9th Nov 2010 - Shameless Sham
Ah, more seventies sexism, this time courtesy of Italian helmet maestros AGV. Their full face helmets were £45, (more than a Bell although they were only available in black or white) and half as much again as the Griffin fibreglass job most went for.
But if price was no object the Bell usually got the nod over the AGV, and it was Barry Sheene's helmet of choice. Once he started to get known he struck a sponsorship deal with King helmets, and wore...a Bell, with badly applied King stickers; in period pics and videos you can clearly see the King stickers have been applied in a hurry. Ironically a Sheene replica King cost more than a Bell, and they still gets chased on eBay by Sheene fans, who perhaps don't know everything about their hero.
For 1979 Sheene struck a deal to wear AGVs, and the pro paint jobs make deciding if he actually stuck with Bell more tricky. But dig out a pic of Sheene in an AGV and consider the bottom photo here - in the ones I've seen, Barry's "AGV" visor doesn't have the finger tab at the bottom, and his helmet lacks the AGV's kick-up at the back to clear the neck; seen next to Kenny Roberts (in a Bell) their helmets look remarkably similar...
7th Nov 2010 - Magic Numbers
Here we go again - another Ducati on eBay with matching frame and engine numbers. Guess what - Ducati numbers never match; stuff gets pulled in as it's needed, and until very recently what the books told you (eg, bevel 900SS forks were painted black) isn't necessarily so. John Fallon of Made in Italy Motorcycles tells the story of turning up at the factory to collect a I-will-if-you-will pair of 900SS with a mate, to see one with polished forks and one with crinkle-finish black. Hey, you-a-like our quality control?
So how come you see old Dukes with matching numbers? And why don't the DVLA squeal? The bike is probably a personal import or a rebuild that someone wanted to register for the road. This means getting a declaration from someone recognised by the DVLA as a marque expert, who'll certify the age and model of the bike in question, In this case someone who missed something as basic as frame and engine numbers matching...
So can you trust anything else on the V5? Like who owns the bike...
5th Nov 2010 - Targa Florio - it's all about cars...isn't it?
As every damn fool and his dog knows, road racing in Italy was banned in June 1957, after a Spanish playboy slammed his works Ferrari into the spectators' arena during the Miglia Mille; the Milano-Tarnto was just a few weeks away, but the Italian Government rushed through a decree that stopped it in its tracks, as reported in Benzina #1
Except the Sicilians don't consider themselves part of Italy, so their great road race carried on regardless. Like the TT the fabulous Targa Florio even retained its world championship status until the seventies, racing works Fezzas and Alfa 33's on crumbling mountain roads. But once stripped of its status as a world class event, the Targa Florio soon petered out and last ran in 1977. Since then it's been a rally or a recreation. But so what?
Well, how about Porsche naming their "Targa" tops after the event? To cope with racing in Sicilian heat, teams would chop roofs off cabins, leaving rear buttresses/windows intact to maintain bodyshell strength. Then Porsche trademarked "Targa" and now guard it jealously - the reason our tee shirts omit "Targa" from the design, and use 1978 because there was no real race that year.
There's an excellent piece on driving the Targa Florio's route in December's Motorsport, and it's fantastic to see it given the treatment it deserves (even if as an occasional freelancer I pitched the identical idea to them over a year ago...). If this whet's your appetite, you can get a video of the 1965 event.
And I know - what's this got to do with bikes? Well, references to bikes in the event occasionally do crop up - everyone says it must be a mistake, but I've got a couple of sources who think there's a grain of truth in the rumours. We'll see...
4th Nov 2010 - Sexy, single - and expensive
Yes, it's a genuine Ducati Supermono (these days worth around sixty grand) and yes, it had been ridden to this meeting, and just parked up. So of course you've got to love it - people get so precious about their "investment" in a bike, forgetting it was designed and built to be ridden. Ducati were apparently so impressed with the quality of the conversion from pure-racer to pukka-roadster that there was even brief talk of doing a kit. But if you have a Supermono and want to ride it on the road, I'm sure I can track the owner down. Don't have a Supermono? There is (of course) one for sale with Made in Italy Motorcycles
2nd Nov 2010 - New for old
I've known about these for a while - a brand new Darmah and Six Day 125, finally up for sale and inviting silly offers here; so should you?
Well, in fairness they're described as zero-miles, and not new which makes a big difference. It would (I fear)be a brave man who'd start the Darmah especially - the bearings are likely to have flats, and seals will be drier than Sicily in August. At the moment I'm busy researching oil for Classic Bike Guide and many will tell you it should still have had an annual oil change, and the engine turned over regularly. Unless you want it for a museum, bearing in mind Ducati already have a NOS Darmah tucked away.
But if you want to ride it, then what's it worth? Well, a decent recommisioning (new bearings, seals and such) could easily add up to a £6k engine overhaul, and at the moment a really nice Darmah (with say sub-10k on the clock) might fetch six grand. About what this would be worth if you rode it for a year.
Collectors only, then. Same goes for the Six Day - rare as they come, with fewer than 1,500 made. Sadly that was because the bike wasn't competitive in Six Day trials, and even most collectors get sniffy about Ducati strokers.
So if I had any money, I'd hang onto it. But then Ducati UK will soon have a shiny new foyer at Silverstone to fill, so who knows?
1st Nov 2010 - Cheap Ducatis
More post Halloween spookiness - I mention the stationery Ducati diesel engines, and one pops up on eBay UK - siezed, and with a £65 buy-it-now, but it's still the cheapest Ducati I've ever seen for sale...
31st Oct 2010 - Happy Hallow'een
Hallow'een in the UK? When I was a kid it plain didn't exist; bonfire night was the biggie. Everyone had their own back-garden party with fireworks, guy and an unspoken who's-built-the-biggest-bonfire competition. Then the kids set-to, baking potatoes wrapped in tin foil, burnt fingers stirring pans of beans with mini sausages over the bonfire - what could possibly go wrong?
But sometime in the 1980s the big firework shows came along, everyone got the health and safety paranoia, and with family bonfire parties gone there was a void. The supermarkets didn't need asking twice, and gleefully imported Hallow'een from the US, pushing the usual suspects - witches hats, sweets and other plastic tat. And then the trick or treating started, another US import I didn't ask for. I'm not lovin' it...
Although I mustn't grumble, because Hallow'een's been kind to me: my wife and I got together (not married then, obviously) at a Hallow'een party in 1990 - her cousin was my neighbour, and wanted a lift to London for the party. Since I had a company car I was happy to drive. Odd to think that if I'd had a different neighbour, or just didn't want to drive a 200-mile round trip to a party, life would have been very different. And if my wife hadn't organised for me to ride the Giro as a Christmas present in 2005 I'd never have met the wonderful people who've made Benzina possible. Spooky...
30th Oct 2010 - Legends in full colour
This from the legendary Cook Neilson - Cook and Phil Schilling(left)way back when, following yesterdays post. As ever, Cook tells the story best
"Was entertained to discover that the "sea green" color of the 750 SS was inspired by the paint job on Ducati's stationary diesel powerplants. When my dear friend and Old Blue co-conspirator Phil Schilling designed tee shirts for our 1976 racing season, the diesel engine was prominently featured. First time I saw one in the cotton, I asked Phil why. His response: "That's the only part of Ducati that's making any money." So can we have a tee shirt like that?
"Unfortunately, the shirts are in vanishingly short supply. My personal one was sold in a charity auction a couple of years ago for $1100."
If there's enough interest I'll have some run off - you know where I am...
29th Oct 2010 - Ducati green - or is it blue?
So, why did Ducati paint their racebikes (and the bevel 750SS)a mix of blue-green? Nobody seems sure, but here's some facts...
By the late sixties, Ducati's state-appointed masters has a simple job to do - create jobs for Italian workers: this line had to be toed until the Castiglionis took over the reigns in 1983, and is the main reason so many early eighties Ducatis were blighted with unsuitable (but Italian) Webber carbs - the Nuovo 900SS was transformed when it was allowed to breathe through Japanese Mikunis, and finally painted red.
Through the seventies Ducati's main source of income (and management's faith in its future) came from (Ducati fans look away now) marine diesel engines. Oh yes...
The blue/green reflected this watery ambition, and was used all over the sea-going plodder's engines. So when they went racing, Ducati bosses naturally wanted the same paintwork on motorcycles, to convince punters (and Government paymasters) that the bikes and outboard motors really did come from the same factory. Even the Pantah was painted a silvery-blue, ironic considering it's launch was delayed nearly three years while bosses focused on diesel engine production. The good news is that if they've still got any Valentino Rossi could have one for his yacht
28th Oct 2010 - Guzzi Green
This is the wonderful Guzzi V8 featured in Benzina #2, and mentioned in a current bike mag (unless I misunderstood) as being painted the house-green filigreed of Guzzi fifties racers; hmmm, filigreed means fine work in precious metal wire, usually for jewellery - I think they mean verdigris, the green-grey of corroded copper...
The choice of this colour wasn't chance or whim - it's an anti-corrosion treatment for the super-lightweight mag-alloy fairing the race bikes wore; designer Carcano was so obsessed with weight saving he wouldn't countenance merely painting any race bike.
This much you might know - but the next bit I didn't, until very recently. When Guzzi launched the
V7 Sport the green tank colour (that lives on in the current model) was chosen to mimic the old racers, but this being the 1970s a splash of metalflake was added. So as with the orange chosen by Laverda (see blog passim) and the blue/green of the early Ducati 750SS, the colours were chosen for good reasons. What, you don't know why Ducati used that blue/green? More later...
27th Oct 2010 - Price-tag MV
Spotted on Pistonheads - a lovely MV Agusta 350 at an unbelievable £12,000. It's with a posh car dealer, so maybe they don't know what they're up to; time will tell. But I've never seen one crack four grand, even via true specialists like John Fallon.
John recently managed around twelve grand for a lovely Tony Brancato restored 450 Desmo that was probably the best 450 you'll see, and let's face it, Ducati single prices have recently skyrocketed. But MVs? The fours, oh yes, but in the end the MV 350 was just a poor old pushrod parallel twin trying to keep up with Japanese 400s, when it cost more than their 750's - in 1976 the £1400 asking price was just a few hundred quid less than a Ducati 860, and half as much again as the surely superior Morini 350 Sport. The press were particularly cruel to the MV (but loved the Morini) and Bike magazine called it a great pretender: the black and white pic is their wonderful spoof of the sort of poseur they imagined would buy it. Tester Peter Watson was unequivocally damning, but then time tends to re-write every line. The bike sure is pretty, and having followed them on the Giro, I can vouch for the handling and brakes.
But £12,000? That's bevel 900SS money...
26th Oct 2010 - Time on the Lav
Bob Dixon's racing year finished on a high last weekend, with the 200 miglia event at the Franciacorta circuit, Brescia: his (OK, Piero's) Laverda Corse team finished first in the 500 race to secure second overall in the 500 classic endurance championship. It was a bit of a nailbiting finale because although the opposition in the 500 class had all but melted away, they were faced with the task of trying to complete the necessary amount of laps before the race ended. To score points in an endurance event you have to complete at least 75% of the total laps covered by the winner - regardless of what class the winner is in. Easier said than done when you're racing big-inch Bimota KBs, SBs and suchlike. To compound Laverda Corse's problems, the race was terminated 10 laps ahead of schedule due to poor visibility.
Anyway they did it, with riders Piero Laverda, Hermann Ansorge and of course Bob. Incredible achievement, and congrats to all. And proof that if you need the fastest and most reliable Laverda 500 in the world, you need to get to Laverda500.cc
25th Oct 2010 - Comedy Store
Not Italian, but still worthy of a look (if not pointing and laughing out loud): a CZ 175 with trailer on eBay right now. Might even squeeze into the Giro, and think of all the spares you could carry...
23rd Oct 2010 - Bevel drive DOHC - in 1924
This is probably the first engine to ever use bevel driven cams, the vertical tube and double overhead cambox looking remarkably like the Ducati 125 Desmo tested in Benzina #3 - but the Ducati came nearly forty years after this bike raced around the Circuito del Lario, the nearest thing the Italians had to a TT.
The bike's a Bianchi Freccia Celeste ("Heavenly Arrow") and it might have been the first motorcycle to feature DOHC, an idea pinched from the car world. The short stroke (71x81mm) 348cc twin gave 20bhp at 5,000rpm, a hell of an engineering achievement in 1924. But Bianchi had one further trick up their sleeve.
Bianchi's rider was Tazio Nuvolari. Because the early racer had a crude friction brakes (not replaced by drums until 1927, by which time power was up 20%) a lever throttle and hand gear-change, a very special rider was needed to make the most of the engine.
So, spend all the money on a bevel-cam engine, and then buy in a rider able to make up for other short-comings? Sounds like another source of Taglioni inspiration...
22nd Oct 2010 - Autumn breaks
Benzina #3 is bagged, labelled and almost ready to post - freebie stickers due here Tuesday, together with a little extra something to say thanks to all who've ordered
In between this and writing a piece for Classic Bike on Pat Slinn's BSA C15 (yes, Tony Rutter's famous Ducati fettler has a C15!), Pat's been telling me about the autonomy Taglioni and his development workshop enjoyed. Pictured is - well, you tell me? A Ducati prototype single? Looking for all the world like a Desmo Sport 500; ironic, really, since the original twin was prototyped in 450 Desmo bodywork, only to hit showrooms in sub-860GT style. The Leo Tartarini styled Desmo Sport appeared in 1976, two years after single production ended. This was taken (Pat thinks) in '75, and yes, it was a runner - he even had a go on it. So was this Taglioni trying to cuckold the twin with his beloved singles? Sadly we'll probably never know, but as Pat points out, part of the romance of Ducati is the complete mystery that surrounds so much of its history
18th Oct 2010 - Sleepless in Stafford
10 hours sleep in 3 days might have left me a bit out-of-it, but huge thanks if you came and said Hi at Stafford. The kind words (especially when parting with hard cash) make it all worth while.
By Sunday I must have been hallucinating, because the Bonham's auction results looked all over the place. Having seen the Roger Nicholl's NCR Ducati (and realised that like most race bikes it's not all it once was) I'm not surprised it didn't make daft money, but even so the £44k-odd it got to is a lot less than a roundcase 750SS would rush you these days; surely it's a better bike than that? And a lovely early Gilera Saturno (complete with original funny suspension) just scraped past £7,000 - 25% less than a lesser bike made a year ago. I guess that's down to a weaker Euro, because while the Italian's love Saturno's, most Brits don't even know what they are (better than any Brit equivalent, is the short answer). And a grand for an MV125 track star? Cheap as patate fritte.
But as predicted in Benzina #1, Paso's are on the up - a 907 made over £3 grand - bargain against a new Multistrada, but double what you would have paid 18 months back. And a £1,600 bid failed to secure a fairly ordinary 750 Paso - that would have been over £2k with premiums, and I remember when £700 would have sealed the deal. Buy now, while stocks last...
15th Oct 2010 - Why you must go to the Stafford show
I'll be at the Stafford Bike Show this weekend with Benzina #3 fresh off the press - on the balcony, next to the bar. Ah, the wit of show organisers. But that's not the only reason to go. This is lot 358 in the Stafford Bonham's auction. And yes, it is what you think it is - the ex-works NCR/Ducati prepped by Sports Motor Cycles for Roger Nicholls to ride in the 1977 Isle of Man TT Formula 1 race. He was just beaten into second place (some say robbed of victory) by the Read/Honda combo . Roger teamed up with Hailwood the following year, and the rest is history.
TB friend and hero Pat Slinn confirms it's the real thing, and Bonham's say Steve Wynne and Livio Lodi agree. So how much? The upper estimate is £75,000, but based on the £130,000 asked for the NCR recently sold by Made in Italy Motorcycles I'll be astonished if it doesn't make more. Just wish I could afford it.
12th Oct 2010 - Diavel - first official pic
No surprise, but official confirmation the new Bruiser cruiser will be called Diavel and launched at the EICMA Show in Milan and the UK's Motorcycle Live showin November.
Ducati say Diavel is the Bolognese word for devil, pronounced Dee-ah-vel. Fair enough. The rest of the story is suspiciously like the original claim for the Monster's name, back in 1993. The official line is that an employee saw the bike and exclaimed in a Bolognese accent “Ignurànt comm’ al diavel!” (Evil, like the devil!) Just how the Monster was named, say Ducati. Hmmm...in a recent interview the Monster's designer, Miguel Galluzzi, repudiated that story, saying the name came from toy robots his kids were into. He also famously said of the Monster “All you need is a saddle, tank, engine, two wheels, and handlebars to have fun” Shame people sometimes forget that
Anyway, the official line is that the Diavel will "have a commanding presence and take the man-motorcycle relationship to the next level in absolute comfort. For connoisseurs of technology, ABS, Ducati Traction Control and Ducati Riding Modes will deliver confidence-inspiring sophistication while, the Testastretta 11° engine and 207kg (456lb) of authentic Ducati performance will drive a comfortable sport lifestyle that could only be dreamt of until now"
Gosh. But if you have dreams like that, think about cutting down on the cheese at bedtime
12th Oct 2010 - Remember 1978?
Love this - Ducati's Monster Logomania that lets you change the look of a Monster in around 10 minutes. You can match your Monster to a whole range of past classics, from the black and gold Darmah/900SS combo seen here, back to a fantastic Mach 1 or 100 Sport colour scheme. Pure class.
What's really brave is that each kit uses the Ducati font and badging of the era - these days marketing gurus fret endlessly about the brand, and worry that people are dumb enough to get distracted by a bit of history. Now, how about an SCR Scrambler with chrome tank panels and a proper badge instead of a sticker?
10th Oct 2010 - Tight sweaters
Now here's something it would be good to see more of - cheerful advertising that doesn't take itself too seriously. Modern ads seem to fall into two camps - deadly serious (bloke with stubble looking off to one side, sportsbike at max attack) or knowing and funny (which works once or twice, then drives you nuts). Of course, way back when, you could always use sex to sell, but that's not allowed now.
But these period ads are proof there's another way - cosy and comfy, in a Kath Kidson way. The Mosquito was Garelli's Cucciolo, a clip on engine that gave birth to complete motorcycles, and ultimately(?) the sports mopeds, the Rekord and Tiger Cross. Full details of Garelli's birth in Benzina #3, available at Stafford (I hope!)
And tight sweaters on ladies. Loving that.
9th Oct 2010 - Great Bustard
A few fields from us, there's the Great Bustard Rally - an annual weekend for those that think camping in a field in October is fun. And it is, sort of: the bar opens Friday afternoon and closes late Saturday, about the same time an enormous bonfire gets lit. There's bands, hot food, and best of all the most eclectic bunch of bikes and bikers you could meet. Slightly posh types on big Japanese stuff, right through to the HD bad-boys (one being ignominiously towed in by a Yamaha 600). And of course, there's the Guzzi crowd - if ever a group use their bikes, it's the Guzzi crowd. When the petrol runs out, I'm convinced the last bike running will be a Guzzi V-twin, because like the old UK V-Bomber force, there's always a Guzzi taking off somewhere in the world.
8th Oct 2010 - Devil in the details
The first time I saw the Monster chop here, I didn't know what to make of it. Very clever, some amazing details but would I want one? No: I love the Monster, and having owned loads of them I now reckon the simplest (ie aircooled)were best. Sure they needed some tidying up (I hated the rear mudguard, and the pillion footrest hangers on the originals), but less is more - so take them off. The Monster's a good old fashioned motorbike for sunshine cruising or chasing surprised sportsbikes owners off your home turf. It didn't (I think) need watercooling, let alone chopperising.
But I see Ducati disagree - the new Diavel has been leaked in advance of its Milan-show debut by Italian website Motoblog, and it's hideous. Or is it just me? But then I wouldn't want anything to do with the new Ducati his'n'hers smellies either. Splash it all over? No thanks; now can I have my favourite motorcycle company back, please?
6th Oct 2010 - Big lamps
Spotted on a Dutch (I think) Le Mans (or whatever it started life out as): a brilliant and original solution to getting that race-bike look on the road. Behind the mesh vents is a light. Not sure how effective it would be, but who'd ride this in the dark? I mean, no-one would see you...
5th Oct 2010 - Esoteria
Anyone know what this is - or knows where one is? Clue: it's not what you think. It's a really early 1953 Ducati 98 Sport, as run in the '54 Motogiro, and apparently not (exactly) the same as the later 98s as seen in the photo. If this is all too esoteric for you, join the club, but TB supporter (and push/pullrod Ducati aficionado)Diego Montefusco has asked for help - check out his magnificent obsession
4th Oct 2010 - Basket case
Spotted on a rare Gilera 300 twin (basically a doubled up 150 Tourismo) - a wicker top box. Apparently this was a genuine option back when the bike was new.
Nearly all bikes had a top box fitted at some point back in the seventies - I guess when your bike was your only form of transport, you had to be able to put the shopping somewhere. If memory serves, they really took off when helmets became compulsory, and leaving your helmet locked to the bike wasn't an option - you'd return to find some wag had stuffed the remains of his fish supper into it.
Then the street racer thing took off, and the top boxes disappeared. But a rucksack's a pain, and as autumn appears I realise I use the car not because I mind getting wet, but because I worry about cameras, paperwork and such getting wet. So maybe a wicker basket is the way forward...
27th Sep 2010 - Bike-curious
Scooters: thought I hated them, now not so sure. I rode a hand-change antique years ago, and the twitchy mini-wheeled madness mixed with a lack of substance between my knees (I'm talking scooter-riding here) scared me. Stir in Quadrophenia (watched because - bizarrely- the support film was a Kenny Robert's documentary) and I'd made my mind up.
But the years do weird things, especially when you don't knock round with a bunch of Brit-riding proto-greasers anymore. Audrey Hepburn in Roman holiday, the fun sports moped riders have, and the scooters on the giro have made me wonder if I was wrong. Then I see the fun the modern-Mods were having at Goodwood (versus bored looking Rockers who clearly were the original Ace Cafe crowd) and I think I might have missed a trick.
26th Sep 2010 - Radio Ga-Ga
Before the Second World war Ducati were world leaders in electronics, as this beautiful pearwood radio proves. Being Italian, Ducati radios had to be as stylish as they were effective, and some of their stuff was (of course) world beating.
Sadly this made Ducati a target for allied bombers, and when peace returned to Bologna there wasn't much of a factory left. The allies also prohibited the manufacture of high-tech stuff (including aeroplanes, which is why Agusta and Aermacchi turned to motorcycle manufacture) so although Ducati continued to make everything from razors to cameras under the Ducati Electronica banner, they also created Ducati Mecchanica to build engines. They got to be rather good at it...
24th Sep 2010 - Made in Italy NCRs
This drop-dead beauty was sitting in pride of place when I dropped by Made in Italy Motorcycles and no wonder - John and Neil built it themselves. Not cheap at £18k, but you could chop £2k off that by going without the dry clutch, and then it starts to look like something very special at close to Multistrada money. And we all know what will be worth more in a couple of years...
The bike's (of course) a replica of the NCR F1 racer, as raced by Hailwood in 1978. The F1's were really built for endurance racing (with some success), and way back then NCR were effectively Ducati Corse, and based in the Ducati factory: unbelievable now, but back in the late seventies and almost up until the Cagiva takeover, nobody at Ducati saw any value in racing, so were happy to let NCR clutter up the factory and bask in any reflected glory. NCR also built Tony Rutter's TT winners, as featured in Benzina #2.
NCR was born in 1967 in Borgo Panigale, almost next door to the Ducati factory. Giorgio Nepoti, Rino Caracchi and Rizzi gave their initials to create NCR, a state-of the-art raceshop, tweaking and racing Ducatis. When Rizzi left the R came to stand for racing, and the business still stands proud today. Sadly Giorgio died along with his wife in a car crash in 2006, but Rino's still very much building bikes - including a perfect 125 Ducati for the Motogiro.
19th Sep 2010 - Glorious Goodwood
Home again after the Goodwood Revival - it was rammed, and you have to walk miles to take everything in. But before complaining about aching feet and stiff muscles, I thought about all the ladies in seamed stockings and heels. Made me feel much better...
And just as I was thinking there's not much for an Italian bike nut, I got to shake hands with Alan Cathcart after his 6th place in the first Sheene memorial race aboard a Gilera Saturno. Pics of that, some lovely Alfas, John Surtees MV Agusta and more here
18th Sep 2010 - A new view
Absolutely fan-bloody-tastic new perspective of one day in June 1978 by TB member Ray Stephens. Can you guess what happened next?
15th Sep 2010 - Once in a lifetime
Next year is the 25th Anniversary of the Milano- Taranto recreation as featured in Benzina #1, and they're doing something very special.
Not only will they follow the original route as closely as possible (hey, Autostradas happen), for 2011 only they'll admit any bike up to 500cc and registered 1925 to 1965 into the prestigious Storica class. Not got an eligible bike? Then try the sport class for absolutely any 1966 to 1986 bike. Ten classes in each mean mopeds and scooters are as welcome as big Guzzis and Laverdas.
Read more courtesy of Google translate here, or try the original Italian here.
Dates are 3 to 9 July for a 1900km journey of a lifetime. We're 90% certain we can do this, with a truck taking bikes to Milan and collecting in Taranto. Flights are do-able, and there are group discounts. I'm also pretty certain you'll be riding with some famous names, as well as making friends that will last a lifetime. If you're up for it, email me - firstname.lastname@example.org
14th Sep 2010 - Money
That money talks, I'll not deny,
I heard it once: It said,
(by Richard Armour - pic dgsport SPRL)
Personally,I spent all my money on fast women, faster motorcycles, and fine wine. The rest I just wasted...
12th Sep 2010 - Toolkit
More genius from Tony Brancato (no, he's not online - you need to phone 01865 891203 or catch the "Classic Gaskets" stand at shows like Stafford): this collection of bits packs in a tankbag or rucksack and tightens exhaust collets, adjusts your chain - or whatever you want. Tony will make them up to order (metric only) so that your classic is permanently Giro-ready, regardless of whether you ride with Dream Engine or Club Terni...
11th Sep 2010 - MV 175 for sale, stand not included
Spotted at an autojumble: £800, stand not included...
9th Sep 2010 - A Harley that handles?
Here's a rare treasure - a Harley Davidson 250RR roadracer. Any good? Good enough to win the world championship three years on the trot back in the seventies, as recorded in Benzina #2.
Built by the old Aermacchi crew, the bike's a water cooled development of the Aermacchi Pasolini died racing, and hailed from Varese rather than Milwaukee. Researching the project I quickly realised no-one at Harley knew or cared about this gem, except for John Warr of the legendary Kings Road dealership - he's even ridden one. Maybe the blind spot at HD explains why they bought and sold the Varese factory twice: these days it makes MV Agustas for the Castiglione clan
8th Sep 2010 - Summer Holidays
"The English winter - ending in July, to recommence in August” according to Byron, and I know what he means. It also means July gets rammed with biking events, and you need to bagsie family diary dates for the choicest events early. 2011 starts here...
The Spa Bikers Classic is pencilled in for the weekend of 1/2/3 July, and I'm really hoping Team Guzzi Nerd will be there, and let me stand round their pit dropping spanners and making coffee. The next week is the Milano Taranto - a tougher, less fluffy-pillow event than the Motogiro, but some of us are thinking it's time for a change and maybe giving it a go. 2011's the 25th anniversary of the recreation, and the organisers are putting a lot of effort into recreating the original route. - most Giro bikes are eligible (it's only the Ducati 175s that aren't)but you can also enter stuff like Gilera Saturnos, hand change Harleys and Nortons - Giuliano Maoggi raced a 350 single in 1950.
It's 400 miles from home to Spa, and 480 more to Milan. Hmmm, stand on the podium at midnight after we win the 4 hour, clear up, celebrate, and to bed by daybreak. Sleep Sunday, drive overnight to Milan ready for the Milano Taranto's traditional midnight start. It's a plan...
(And if you need to know more, both the original and recreation of the Milano Taranto were covered in Benzina #1 )
6th Sep 2010 - Coffee time
Love this - my favourite coffee Lavazza (especially the hard-to-get Oro) apparently sponsoring one of my favourite bikes - a Laverda Jota: excellent. Spotted by TB member (thanks Dave) at the Morini riders' club Tutto Gas trackday at Cadwell. More random "sponsorship" deals coming soon...
5th Sep 2010 - Zoë & the Art of Motorcycle Illustration
Chatting to a friend who's a gifted (as in Royal Academy) artist, we decided the real beauty of machines is in the detail. Sure, your head is turned by the voluptuous curves of fuel tanks and fairings, but the thing that keeps you looking (specially on classic Italian motorcycles) is the castings: the close fining of a Laverda triple, the brazed clip-ons of a 50s' racer, and best of all (for me) Ducati engine castings from the Taglioni era.
If you think the same, here's a change from the usual tackiness masquerading as motorcycle art. The work of Zoë Kean, they'll mark you out and a rider of style and keep non-biking visitors guessing about your taste in abstract art. Good value too - £60 unframed for an original charcoal drawing, or you can commission something unique. Get that Christmas list started now...
4th Sep 2010 - Eclecticism
What do Laverda, Velocette, Moto Guzzi, Triumph and Ducati all have in common?
All turned up at today's tea and cakes: thanks for coming one and all. Joanna excelled herself with raspberry muffins and strawberry scones, as well as the usual chocolate cakes.
Next chance (in fact last chance for 2010) will be Saturday 2 October - see you then...
3rd Sep 2010 - Heroes
Mike Hailwood's usually cited as a hero for his riding, but this is him in 1973 performing one of the greatest acts of heroism in all of motorsport. During the South African Grand Prix, Dave Charlton crashed taking out Hailwood and Clay Regazzoni. Inside the fireball Mike triggered his fire extinguisher, but Regazzoni lay unconscious and trapped.
Hailwood tried to save Regazzoni but had to run when his own clothing caught fire. Marshals doused the flames but as they tried to drag a still unconscious Regazzoni clear, the car reignited. Mike dived back in to pull Regazzoni out. Back in the pits a taciturn Hailwood simply told his girlfriend they were leaving, and she finally discovered Mike’s heroism via the next morning’s papers. He was awarded the George Medal for his actions, the second highest award for civilian bravery granted in the UK. "Hailwood" read the citation, "totally ignored his own safety and the intensity of the flames." See the full vid here
2nd Sep 2010 - Being Giuliano
This is perhaps the definitive Motogiro d'Italia picture, of Giuliano Maoggi and his Ducati 125. In 1955 he won the 125 class of the Milano Taranto for Ducati at their first attempt, and the following year won the giro outright, his 125 being more than a match for other manufactures 175s. If he were a less modest man, Giuliano could tell you he saved Ducati and he’d have a point. I'm lucky enough to have met him, and can report that he’s a charming and very fit octogenarian with a wicked laugh and a twinkle in his eye, still riding the modern Motogiro more quickly than most.
His trademark helmet was designed to let Ducati mechanics spot their riders early, the blue and white rings identifying a 125 rider. Team mates on 100cc bikes used red instead of blue, corporate branding limited to Ducati’s then trademark “D”.
So when I decided I needed a pudding basin helmet there was only one design for me. The lovely people at Davida made it real, and it's just arrived. Not road legal, but nor is most of what happens on the Giro...
More on helmet art and the lovely ladies of Davida advertising, as well as Giuliano's Giro exploits, in Benzina #3. Out late October, you can make sure you get a copy by subscribing here
1st Sep 2010 - Two for one offers, free tea and cakes: generous or what?
Clearing the way for new ranges, some of our tee shirts now come with a free polo shirt: same deal with the jacket and sweatshirts. Buy one, get someone's Christmas present free (how about the pink crush sweatshirt for the lady in your life?): details here or phone with plastic at the ready: 01380 812176. The diecasts are also at clearance prices, so that I can focus on the magazine. When they're gone, they're gone
And if buy-one-get-one-free is too pricey, we can even do free - our (almost) legendary tea and cakes is this Saturday 2-4pm(ish), maybe followed by a ride out to the Ducati rally at Charmouth (guest of honour one P. Smart Esq.): email if you fancy the run down
31st Aug 2010 - Bargain Benellis (and Sunday ride-outs)
This is a brand new, unregistered, Benelli Tornado. Under six grand to you, sir. It's even in the historic green and silver. For sale with Moto Corsa, who are well know to Guzzi fans and can also supply new MV Agustas.
Better still, they're trailing Sunday opening just two doors up from 3X Motorcycles: this at last gives me somewhere to ride on a Sunday morning. Years ago 3X used to open Sundays, with a burger van in the car park. Perfect excuse to leave the family to Sunday morning drifting, while I had a quick 100 mile ride on empty roads punctuated by Ducati drooling and a bacon roll. Back home to help get lunch, and the kids don't even realise you've been gone.
Well, maybe Moto Coras can be the new Sunday rideout. There's an excellent foodstop on the A338 just south of Salisbury, and Moto Corsa's stock is as eclectic as it is fascinating. As well as new Benellis, MVs and Guzzis, there was an original Guzzi Cali and Eldorado, a Laverda Atlas (a what?), and this old Guzzi racer. Ah, I remember when white exhausts were the future...
29th Aug 2010 - Ducati V8...oh yes!
This is Ducati's prototype V8, snapped by the world's most famous Ducati photographer, Phil Aynsley.
I've a call in to Livio Lodi at the Ducati museum but he's on holiday (like the rest of Italy: in the meantime we think it was built for an O.S.C.A. (a Maseratti offshoot: Stirling Moss loves them; just watch him race one here) and was intended for F1 when 1500cc was the capacity limit.
A two valve air cooled V8 competitive in F1? Well, if you know better, get in touch. And you really should buy Phil's astonishing book before it sells out; amazing how out-of-print Ducati stuff seems to rise in value...
28th Aug 2010 - Ding dong
This fantastic image is Katrien aboard a Zagato-Guzzi cafe racer, the stars of many a Davida ad. It was taken by Ben Part who has a way of capturing light I love. How does he do this? I went on a photography course and learnt that despite the evil march of digital cameras some people have just got it, and I'm not one of them.
I also love the fact this picture is sexy but not sexist: Katrien looks like she can ride, and can probably ride faster than most. This is a tougher trick to pull than you'd think, and something looked at (in lovely hi-res) in Benzina #2. Unable to resist more of the same, Ben's kindly agreed to contribute to Benzina #3, although that won't be out till October. If you can't wait, have a look at Sideburn which he publishes with writing star Gary Inman. Issue 6 just out, and worth buying just to see Ben's creativity let loose
(And does anyone else remember Leslie Phillip's in the Carry on Doctor? That's where the expresion "ding dong" comes from, made by Phillips with feeling every time a pretty girl walked by. How times have changed...)
27th Aug 2010 - There's tasty
Spotted on John Fallon's website - a super rare Santamonica. John has an uncanny knack of sourcing rare bikes, and they don't get rarer than this: just 204 Santamonica's were built, supposedly for Japan only which was Ducati's biggest market back in the mid eighties. Named after the Autodromo Santamonica (where Lucchinelli won a Formula 1 round on a 750F1 racer), this was the end of the line for Taglioni designed Ducatis, as detailed in Benzina #2. If you think a Ducati should be a straightforward vee twin designed by Dr T, this was the last Ducati ever built.
So how mush is it? I didn't ask: I can resist anything except temptation. But I'll wager that whatever it costs, in five years it'll will be worth much more. Pension plan? It's Santamonica vs. Santander...
26th Aug 2010 - Agent orange
Team Benzina contributor Rob Dixon with be pulling on his Laverda Corse race kit this weekend for a four hour endurance race at Rijeka in Croatia.
Sharing the riding will be Hermann Ansorge and Piero Laverda himself. The pics are Rob and Piero in the last race at Magione. Rob's had an intense six months building the latest racer which culminates with its debut as the teams ‘A’ bike in Rijeka: no pressure then...
Hopefully Rob will do a piece for Benzina magazine on the development of the new racer. Rob promises it’s quite interesting: well he thinks it is...
In the meantime good luck to our Agents Orange, and if you need advice on Laverdas, Rob's website is a regular treasure trove
24th Aug 2010 - Happy Birthday Cook Neilson
If you've not sent a card, you've missed Cook Neilson's birthday, and if you're a Ducati fan a card is the least Cook deserves. Back in the mid seventies he was editor of Cycle magazine and wrote "Racer Road," a series on race prepping the Ducati 750SS that became know as the California Hot Rod/Old Blue. This culminated in winning the 1977 Daytona 200, still the only time a Ducati has seen the top step of the podium in a Daytona Superbike race.
When Benzina #1 was still just an idea, Vicki Smith of ducati.net casually mentioned she knew Cook and my jaw dropped. Cycle had cost double what UK magazines did, and as a college kid I had to make tough decisions about the mags I bought: in the end there was an overarching rule - if there was a Ducati in it, I'd buy it. If it was a Racer Road I'd rob Peter and Paul. So I asked Vicki if she might approach Cook to write something for Benzina
Vicki promised to forward a few questions, with the caveat that there were no guarantees. Cook's a legend, so I guessed I'd get stonewalled, but hoped for a couple of hundred words. When Cook submitted the piece I was blown away. That 2,000+ words of perfect prose arrived without a single typo inside a few days was wildest dream stuff.
And the best bit in what a nice guy Cook is. He pays for his own copies of Benzina, and tells other people to do likewise. I've been lucky enough via Benzina to get in touch with quite a few of my past heroes and...well, I can see how they got difficult jobs done in the face of adversity. But Cook's just a great guy, and if Benzina had just published his story that would be enough for me. So happy birthday, Mr Neilson: you deserve it
(And apologies to Motorcycle Classics for the bottom spoof pic)
23rd Aug 2010 - Pay to advertise
Probably breaks a ton of copyright laws, but this period ad appeared in Benzina #1 as a freebie ad for Ducati, and as unashamed nostalgia for anyone who can remember it from first time round. Look closely and you'll see the studio shot has the Desmo's spark plug lead disconnected: nascent health and safety or forgetful photographer? Who knows.
Any way, this is on hardwearing vinyl, ideal for the garage or even outside. Depending on where you are it's about £25 posted - email us if you're interested
22nd Aug 2010 - Aprilia's new world record
No-one's made a fuss about it, but Aprilia overtook MV Agusta as the winningest manufacturer in MotoGP last weekend when Nico Terol won the 125 race at the Czech GP. Aprilia now has 276 wins in the MotoGP, one more than MV Agusta. That's 133 race wins in the 125 class, 143 in the 250 class, 36 World Championships, and 18 manufacturer championships.
Aprilia started racing in MotoGP in 1985, when it debuted in the 250 class. It took two years to find its first win, with Loris Reggiani in 1987.
The first 125 World Championship came in 1992, and in 1994 Biaggi took the 250 title.
But Aprilia's wins go beyond MotoGP. 43 championships include 7 off-road, plus perhaps the 2010 World Superbike silverware - Max Biaggi has 9 wins so far in the title chase, giving Aprilia the lead in both individual and manufacturer standings.
21st Aug 2010 - French genius
Motorway services define countries, if only because that's what you see when you need to get somewhere fast. Michael Palin can witter on about taking the slow road all he likes, but he doesn't have to be home on Monday. So big miles means motorways, and flats down the centreline of your tyres.
In the UK service areas start with warnings that you'll be fined if you loiter too long, and entreaties to buy expensive coffee in paper cups. But you need to rush anyway, because if you leave your bike too long it'll have been pinched. Ah, the entrepreneurial spirit of the new age.
But in France they have these lockable bike cages: no need to unload luggage or carry giant locks, just pop the bike and your kit into the Box Moto, and go take a shower. Yes, really - a decent, clean shower, that's free to use. Then enjoy food that tastes of something other than 'fridge, while taking in a view that's not essence of shopping mall. Finish with proper coffee in a proper cup, and continue on your way. Perfect.
But in case you thing I've come over all Francophile, remember this: 100,000 Frenchmen with their hands in the air is what France calls an army...
20th Aug 2010 - Shelling out
This lovely MV Agusta 125 should have been at our last tea and cakes, but broke down on the way. A duff condenser was suspected, but no - spark, fuel and everything else was present and correct. Ho, hum, and home here we come.
Next day the impoverished owner stuck the contents of the MV's recently filled fuel tank into his Triumph Adventurer and set off. After exactly the same distance the MV had managed between filling up and failing, this Trumpet was blown. White spark plugs were the only clue that something was wrong.
But the weirdest thing? Fresh (different) fuel and flushing was all it took to get both bikes running. The culprit seems to have been a famous petrol brand's premium product, but in these litigious times You Can Be Sure Of...me keeping the details to myself.
19th Aug 2010 - Dull but useful
If I had a pound for every time someone asked where this mirror on my 450 Desmo came from I'd have enough to buy another one. Anodised alloy, folds back for filtering, really great wide-angle vision. Goes on either bar (main pic is outside the Ducati factory, so I'd switched it over for riding in Italy) and looks as trick as a mirror can. Originally bought for the Giro (if you can ride through Italian cities without mirrors you're braver - and probably deader - than me) by the end of the week I was so impressed I bought one for the 900SS as well. £40 with the `bar adapter is top dollar, but cheaper than landing on a fast lane BMW. Made by CRG, I bought mine online from Faster by Design
17th Aug 2010 - Can you tell what it is yet?
This was passed on to me by a valued US subscriber - hardly anyone seems to know what it is (sadly I guessed right).Clue - the CZ tee and Suzuki tape are red herrings.
In fact it's a hyper-rare JSD250. John Surtees (yes, that one) built these in the early '60s using the famous Reynolds 531 cycle tubing and Earles forks ; the engine's a "Hailwood" Ducati 250 Desmo twin cam parallel twin. Seems funny to think of someone making a frame to improve a Ducati's handling these days, but 50 years ago things were very different in Bologna.
The story goes (and Ducati's own conflicting webpages have been taken down) Stan Hailwood got Taglioni to design Mike a 250 based on the 125 Desmo twin (featured in Benzina #3)- and while he was at it, Dr T built Ken Kavanagh a 350, which also finished up in the Hailwood's garage.
But, although powerful enough the 250 especially was just too heavy and, Mike said, "handled like a 5-bar gate." Underdeveloped and unreliable, Hailwood hardly used the bikes. In 1961 they were sold to John Surtees, who built the "John Surtees Ducati" for brother Norman (and others) to race.
16th Aug 2010 - Ducati's inspiration?
This is Omobono Tenni racing a Moto Guzzi Bicilindrica at the 1948 TT. He's in the lead and setting the fastest lap of the race, but mechanical problems meant he finished ninth. Tenni was nicknamed the Black Devil, one story says because after a TT crash he remounted and finished covered in dirt. He'd already used the Bicilindrica ("two cylinder") 500 to win the Milano Taranto, twice as detailed in Benzina #1, where you can see this photo in glorious high resolution. I was lucky enough to see a real Bicilindrica paraded by Sammy Miller at his Italian day, and he thinks the bike was Fabio Taglioni's inspiration for the bevel twins. And why not? Taglioni admitted being influenced by Guzzi's horizontal racing singles when he created the 750SS, admiring the way the design ensured plenty of cooling air and a low centre of gravity.
Carlo Guzzi created the Bicilindrica by doubling up two 250 singles, and maybe if Taglioni had admitted to admiring the Bicilindrica rather than Guzzi's singles (when his 750 bevel was effectively two 350 singles) he might have been accused of plagiarism rather than genius.
15th Aug 2010 - Our (red) Motorbike
(By Elfriede Jelinek, translated by Michael Hofmann and reckoned by The Guardian to be one of the ten finest pieces of motorcycle literature)
wooden moon on the roof
signs of night &
the red motorbike's
fleshed stalk dripping
and overgrowing our evening
a sign of darkness
a leek's fat body
the red motorbike
our night fire
ravishment of chrome
our red motorbike glazed
with henna and betel it squirts
salmon juice between the dark
of our thighs it sprouts
and shouts at the bar
it wears a portion of
evening in its eye
it sloughs off sleep like
the bushes drop resin &
our rags dip purring in
even redder roar
our muscles softly skip sweet
sweat flickers we polish
assiduously our eyes are perched
on steel antennae surely there is
nothing redder than our motorbike
we will live on it
our red tent
dig our claws into
its heart cherries meat it
the juice instructs
in the language of iron
the red night squats
pressed against our motorbike
we ride hunting little girls
in the wooden sky
14th Aug 2010 - Passion
You absolutely must own this - a new DVD, pretty much a labour of love by the firm's curator Livio Lodi - "Ducati - the story." Just watch a clip here and then order via your nearest Ducati dealer. Unbelievably they're only available to special offer, and not cheap at £29.95, but then hardly anyone seems to understand customer relationships anymore. But that might be a view formed by the book I'm reading at the minute
13th Aug 2010 - Punk v Rock
Recently read Tony Parson's "Stories we could tell" - usual thing on holiday, read everything worth reading so dip into whatever's lying around - and if you liked the punk era, maybe it's for you. But it got me thinking that the bike crowds I was mixing with at the time (one in Wiltshire, one in Cardiff) never really got punk. We went to see Buzzcocks live, but after hearing "Ever fallen in love..." played badly 37 times we left think the support act was better; clever lyrics, catchy hooks and people who could actually play. They were called Squeeze , and I seem to remember went on to great things. But the people we really liked, and who came out of nowhere, were AC-DC. And anyone who can make you rave to a song about having sex with a 19 stone fugly clearly knew a thing or two about what makes great music. Bon Scott, rest in peace
12th Aug 2010 - Big bang theory
Oops - this is the back tyre on my 1975 Bianchi racer. The front tyre matches. Bought recently on eBay.it, it was to be a little light nostalgia, and a reminder of how far bicycles have come. Ridden up and down our lane all (eventually)seemed OK, and although the original tyres looked, well, 35 years old I liked the period touch. So I thought I'd give it a go at Chippenham Wheelers Tuesday evening Castle Coombe track session. I soon realised the tyres needed a bit more pressure, and duly stuck 80psi in each. Riding onto the track I thought the back wheel was loose, but it was a large tyre blister pushing against the frame. Two surprisingly large bangs got me some attention, and made me grateful I wasn't being followed by a large truck at the time...
10th Aug 2010 - Carry on Campy
If the blog on old Campy mag alloy wheels got you thinking about building a real Hailwood Replica, you need these Marvic Campagnolo reps in your life. Porn on a spindle, and thanks to good TB friend Andrew Gray for finding them. His Guzzi racer blog is well worth a look too
9th Aug 2010 - Heresy?
Some might think it's heresy, but judging by the reaction to the Ducati 175 story in Benzina #2 ("Prize winning restoration ravished on the Giro") plenty of you guys like the racer look better than judge pleasing authenticity. My current obsession is this Bianchi Tonale prep'd for classic racing. Still a 175 (the factory racers could be over 200cc) although it looks bigger and uglier than that in track trim. There's more - including a Laverda 500, Gilera 150 and my old H**!* 400/4 with Yoshi everything on the "more pictures" link
8th Aug 2010 - Tea and cakes
Thanks to all who came, especially Jack and his Jota (promises his "new" 3C next month) and the Davids - one with a lovely 250 Ducati, one with his recently acquired T3 Cali. Beauties one and all
7th Aug 2010 - There's lovely
This lovely Ducati 50 is the latest buy for good TB friend and Australian Distributor Paul Stoker. Used as a daily ride in Milan until the previous owner sold it, Paul is a serial Ducati restorer but is finally wondering if the NOS, perfectly primped and pimped look is the future. My view is that show winning formula is the past, if only the judges would wake up and inhale the espresso. My formal training is as a conservation surveyor, and in a past life I looked over old buildings telling people what needed fixing, and how to do so sensitively and within the law. This is the reason I don't get shiny bikes - I want patina, and the reason I love my 900SS is it's one of the few that still has the paintjob it got in Bologna. The car world is just about getting the idea - I mean, (to pick an extreme) if you had Hailwood or Smarty's racers would you want the scuffs that they put there, or would you want it all as new? And if you want it as new, do you mean like Ducati made them (fly in the fibreglass and all) or how you wish they'd made them? All very personal, and in the end it's not my bike, but the considered view with antiquities (and legal position with Listed Buildings in the UK) is that the wear and tear tells a story -this 50 was used, and that's hard won Milanese grubbiness telling a fifty year tale. I'd do as little as poss to make it clean and tidy, scrub back any rust with Solvol and put silicone on plastics to stop further hardening. And enjoy it.
6th Aug 2010 - Lost in France
The family holiday this year returned to a rented old village home that belongs to friends of the family. Just the right air of gentle decay and French brownness to feel authentic, and we've stayed there many times before so we know the butchers, the bakers and give-it-stick makers - being on the road means plenty of passing bikes to admire. Except not this time - we've not really stayed in France for a decade, and at first I wondered where all the bikes had gone. Even on Bastille day, where the roads are rammed and the car park's a queue, just a handful of Japanese middleweights appeared piloted by the usual grey haired suspects. Sure, there's the pre-licence kids on fabulously tricked up `peds, but just like the UK the teenagers are in hatchbacks with whale tails and drainpipe exhausts. The end of an era, and I fear the end of motorcycling as we know it. Having studied the Brit bike industry at college way back when (a business so badly managed it was used to teach us how not to do it) I can't help thinking, "here we go again." Manufacturers are flogging the big and profitable stuff to middle-aged wannabes, and hoping someone else (the Chinese?) will grow the next decade's customers. But the reality is the Max Power generation want Saxos to play their iPods in, and see their idols in the pages of Hello! stepping out of chrome wheeled cruisers. Suddenly I realise I'm not interested in modern bikes because nobody else is. And that includes the people who make them.
3rd Aug 2010 - Remembering Campagnolo
This is the Campagnolo mag-alloy wheel of an early Darmah, just like (well...) the ones on Hailwood's 1978 TT winner. By the time Ducati got their own "replica" in the showroom they'd chickened out of fitting mag alloys, after collapsing Speedline wheels destroyed a number of later Darmahs and 900SS. Despite the blame being taken by the nature of mag-alloy, Campagnolo's Darmah wheels never gave any trouble that we've heard about. So maybe it was the sharp edges of the Speedlines - after all, Campagnolo were awarded the "Design and Application Award" by the International Magnesium Association in 1975. In the end Darmah riders just got used to Hailwood Rep owners offering cash and a swop of their FPS aluminium alloy wheels for Campagnolos, in the pursuit of a bike more like Mike's. Campag (as motorcyclists call them; the more sexually assured cycling set go for Campy)were true innovators - founder Tullio Campagnolo invented the QR wheel and Derailleur gears, and in motorcycling they designed conical hydraulic brakes and more. But it wasn't to be, and they settled down to make the best bicycle groupsets money can buy
2nd Aug 2010 - Faking it
This rather fabulous 750SS has just been restored by a serial Ducati nut to showroom fresh shinyness, and is a thing of rare beauty. A roundcase SS makes top dollar now, chasing down Vincent and Brough prices, and why not? They've a fabulous heritage, and depending on who you believe only between 200 and 400 were ever made. Sadly this makes them attractive to fakers. We know of at least two 750SS that are probably silicone rather than flesh, and so have made someone a lot of money. Which is why the owner of this one gathered together the sort of paper trail that left not a trace of doubt in his mind before parting with hard earned. Sadly this is the way of the world, from the Turin shroud on. Italy is full of "collectors" with wonderful workshops capable of top draw restorations or convincing fakes, depending on the people involved. And the Italian's charming if fatal habit of telling people what they want to hear doesn't help. So what to do? Either know your stuff, know who to ask, or know who to trust. The Good Guys links on our site might help, and I'm usually happy to get involved (OK, be nosy) but in the end it's caveat emptor. Buy a bike because you like it, and at a price you can afford. After all, the hit you'll take if you buy a fake's probably no worse than if you prang it. And if you're buying it to hide away, well - hopefully you're the proud owner of that 750SS with GT internals...
1st Aug 2010 - Desmodromics and Harley
This experimental Harley engine was supposed to make it into the 1970 XLHCR as “an answer to Ducati’s V-twin” according HD’s chief conservator, Dr. Martin Rosenblum. Maybe they were onto something, because as the legendary Cook Neilson told us in Benzina #1 all Ducatis are, "are XLCHs that don't vibrate, don't blow up, start, go fast, handle and stop". Frankly the design was already dated in prototype form and the project was binned, for Harley to do what they always do - put style over substance. The result was the cafe racer XLCR, a mean and moody looker, but no match for a Le Mans or 900SS. It bombed. But that needn't have been the American way - in 1914 the US Condor motorcycle company built a successful board racer with a 1000cc V twin engine that used overhead desmodromic valve gear 40 years before Taglioni tried it at Mondial, again as per Benzina #1. More on that Mondial soon
30th Jul 2010 - Burn up
Here she goes - after the digging, building and trapped fingers the pizza oven gets its inaugural burn up. Lovely wifey told me an hour was plenty to get up to cooking temperature - not so, unless you like raw pizza. Then she claims that's with kiln died wood. Hmmm. The oven weighs 300kg (so not really portable) and it's simple thermodynamics (er, simple thermodynamics?); you've got to pile a lot of heat into that sort of mass. After 2-3 hours and a lot of wood we had this. And some damn fine pizzas. So anyone for a Peroni and pizza get together? Camping available...
29th Jul 2010 - Putting the dustbin out
The ever resourceful Jack Silverman (just check out his museum ) has now got the "dustbin" fairing onto his incredible 125 Ducati GP racer. This masterclass in handbeaten alloy was covered in Benzina #2 and is the work of Californian craftsman Evan Wilcox. More on Ducati 125s soon - they've an incredible history, and were the start of Ducati's international success. Did you know Sammy Miller rode one for Ducati's first assault on the TT? And that they made a Desmo version, and even a 6 speed Desmo twin that Hailwood raced. More in issue #3, out October
28th Jul 2010 - Desert racers
Think Arizona, think wind carved rock, endless desert - and classic Italian motorcycles. The organisers of the 2011 Giro d'Arizona talk of riding the high desert region of Sedona and climbing the renowned Mogollon Rim to find the mountain lakes of Central Arizona. Just pack a copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and go. Except from Europe it's a long, long way. Still wish I could go
27th Jul 2010 - Picante pleasure
Shortest blog ever - just the link to the Sammy Miller Italian day pics.The Guzzi Bicilindrica was my favourite, but the 750SS roundcase was pretty special too. Oh, and the Itom was cute - let me know what you think
24th Jul 2010 - Big Society
Trendy talk is about creating a "Big Society", but it's already here. Calne is a slightly run down Wiltshire town that annually welcomes bikers of all hues - knee sliders to patch clubs, Gold Wings to Tiger Cubs, Speedway bikes to race reps; they're all here. The old folk's sheltered accommodation open up their garden for bike displays and sell tea and cakes, one pub had a bike display in their courtyard, and plenty of shops had old bike pics and memorabilia in their windows. There were the volunteer IAM instructors who ride for Freewheelers, the emergency bloodrunners for the NHS. There were disabled charities, Christian bikers, and a Druid who scrutineered Hailwood's Ducati at the 1978 TT. Incredible - and thanks to all who said hello and spent some cash. Right, better load up for the Sammy Miller Museum Italian day tomorrow...
22nd Jul 2010 - Pizza and Peroni
Last year, due to an unwillingness to risk getting the wrong size/year/geeky detail, my lovely wife didn't get me a (main) 50th Birthday present - this year she made amends and then some with a pizza oven. And believe it or not this photo IS the intallation instructions, with current discussion focusing on how high it should be. I don't want a concrete tower block sitting outside the window all winter, so want to build it as low as possible, wifey worries about my back so doesn't want it too low. And eldest daughter's already invited friends round for a pizza party. So I'd better get cracking, and maybe this year's final Teas and Cakes will be pizza and Peroni...
21st Jul 2010 - Lemons no more
Guzzi's Le Mans was a great bike in its day,but until Dr John Wittner came along it never quite fulfilled its promise. On race tracks, especially in endurance races it lived in the shadow of the older V7 Sport, while Ducati and Laverda built on earlier success, and the Japanese continued their rise to dominance. So what's going on today? Guzzi Le Mans are seen as robust, successful racers across the world. This years 4 Hours of Spa was won by a Le Mans, as was last years - different teams with different bike too - while Ducati propped up the mid-field. It seems you can now run these monster twins at 1100cc and (relatively) sky-high revs, making them unbeatable ard relatively affordable. Modern metallurgy is clearly a wonderful thing
20th Jul 2010 - Holiday reading
Holidays mean books, and eventually you read books you'd normally find an excuse to avoid. Sharon at Davida insisted I had to read The Mike Duff Story - Make Haste, Slowly and even leant me her own signed copy to make sure I did. And am I glad she did - an unbelievable insight into what being a Grand Prix race star meant in the 1960s. The camping, the driving your Thames van across Europe on three cylinders, and the crowds - up to 450,000 on race day in Eastern Europe. Ah, and what The Cold War really meant to ordinary people. I guess Mike Duff's always thrown me, because he later became Michelle and the book's written with a feminine voice and a little self doubt that's a refreshing change from the usually chest thumping in top tier sportsmen's biographies. But this means an even greater insight into a racers psyche, and there's just the final "what happened next" chapter to explain Michelle's life after racing. I thought I wouldn't want to read it, but by the end of the book I just had to. After all, Duff still stands as Canada's most successful GP racer, and the first North American to win a GP. Buy it and read it.
2nd Jul 2010 - What would you do?
Millions in the bank, missing the first races ever in your pro career, hurting like buggery. The phone rings; "“If during your convalescence you feel you would like to do some training on four wheels, then remember that the door to Maranello is always open to you” says Montezemolo (boss at Ferrari) - what would you do? (Thanks to Superbike/Image Bank for the pic)
2nd Jul 2010 - Big boy's toys
MCN have leaked these dodgy pics of another new Ducati - half Multistrada, half Monster (Munster-strada?). Hmmm - maybe that's a pizza with too many toppings, but now it's over to the buying public
1st Jul 2010 - Productionised posting
This is normally where we eat - for the past week it's been a production line of mailing bags, address labels, sealing stickers - and boxes of Benzina #2. All finally delivered to our local post office, who'll get them out over the next couple of day. Sorry for the slight delay, but even with the kids press ganged into service it takes forever to get ready for the postie. As the boy grumbled; "This is like a sweat shop. We'd be better off making knock-off Gucci - at least we'd make some money"
28th Jun 2010 - Art for Art's sake
One of the most iconic images in Ducati history, nicely caught by Pep; go visit his site - he knows his cool. Other stuff includes Harry Palmer (what do you mean, "who?" Ipcress File was one of the finest films ever made) and Steve McQueen. Just wish I could stop blowing my money on two wheelers long enough to afford some conventional art - ah, the secrets out. More soon...
25th Jun 2010 - Armed Forces Day
Saturday 26 June is Armed Forces Day and whatever your political views on wars old and new, these guys deserve our support for the work they do; we elect the suits who tell them what to do and we have a legal system that (theoretically) allows us to challenge them - that's more than most of the world's population can say. The picture is of what remains of RAF Alton Barnes, used as a flying school in WWII. I pass it often, with its poignant memorial to the lives lost in accidents; students and instructors alike died. The village I grew up in is a few miles away and has a fake airfield, that was lit up at night to distract Nazi bombers from the real deal. As a child I heard tales of airmen's bodied being found in gruesome states, but it seems a lifetime ago. These days the deaths are half a world away, but it's the stories of heartbroken families and young men in wheelchairs we will have to pass on to future generations. These people deserve our support, and armed forces day is one way to do it.
24th Jun 2010 - Dreams
Honda have lengthened and rereleased their fab "Impossible Dream" Ad - you can watch it here - the best telly ad of all time? And don't say where's the Italian connection - if you've read issue 1 of Benzina you'll know that without Mondial's help Honda might never have amounted to anything. There's also a footie fan's version here
23rd Jun 2010 - The last word
So the motogiro is over for another year, both events sounding fabulous despite the odd hiccough; but when you're trying to sort out 200-odd folk on old motorbikes, problems are going to crop up, especially when Italian organisation is stress tested to the limit. Hopefully next months court judgement will finalise who runs what next year (and maybe there will be an Alfa as a prize - sadly that didn't happen) but I'll hopefully do the Dream Engine event again. Why? Because I love the people, the sense of history, and the chance to ride with the giros last winner when it was a proper race -the incomparable Giuliano Maoggi. And if you think I'm mad, take a look at ducati.net Vicki Smith's pictures - those photographs don't lie. In memory of fabulous times past here's a pic of Steve des Landes in 2002 taken by The Captain himself.
22nd Jun 2010 - Max Gas
Steeple Ashton's a village about 5 miles from me, and still home to these fab old pumps. Don't work of course, but are a reminder of a time when every other village had fuel. You'd pull in, bloke would appear from fixing some old Riley, fill you up, take cash, end of. No queuing behind fatties asking about the lottery, Ginsters pasties or newspapers. But if you needed the bike fixing, or to borrow a spanner to tighten loose nuts, you could get it sorted on the spot. So how are modern petrol stations better? If I want coffee I'll take a flask; if the bike breaks I want help now, rather than when the AA turn up. Mind you, in Wales last year a friend asked for a paper in a small filing station. "Problem is papers come ever day" he was told. "But people don't." That's what I call rural.
19th Jun 2010 - Italian sports mopeds' annual tour
Lucky to be invited to the Isle of Wight today for the third annual Italian Sports Moped tour, organised by Garelli Tiger Cross nut (and Raleigh Chopper fan) Gary Hughes. More later, but in the meantime enjoy the pictures here
18th Jun 2010 - Nuvolari
This is Tazio Nuvolari, the man Ferdinand Porsche called "the greatest driver of the past, the present, and the future." Nuvolari started motorcycle racing late, at the age of 27. In 1925 he won the 350 cc European Motorcycling Championship, which would amount to wining MotoGP today. He also won the Nations Grand Prix four times and the Lario Circuit race five times between 1925 and 1929, always on a 350 cc Bianchi. Nuvolari then raced bikes and cars until the end of 1930, but for 1931 decided to concentrate on racing for Alfa Romeo's factory team. In 1932 he took two wins and a second place in the three European Championship Grands Prix races, winning him the title. He won four other Grands Prix including a second Targa Florio and the Monaco Grand Prix. Post war he became the iconic Ferrari fixture as the new (European based) world championships appeared. There's little doubt that had the earlier series been called world championships Tazio Nuvolari would have beaten Surtees to winning a world title on two wheels as well as four.
16th Jun 2010 - Favourite shirt
Well, favourite jacket really. I bought this Dainese jacket over 12 years ago, and have tried to pension it off on a regular basis. Too blue. too cool, too OTT. But I still pass over the trad black and Ducati branded stuff and wear this almost every time I go for a ride. The jacket's got to that age where I think I'll wear it forever, big ni-ni-ni-nineteen across the back and all.
15th Jun 2010 - Orange crush
Whenever Laverda good-guy and 500 specialist Bob Dixon mentions another Laverda obsessive they always seem to be Dutch - but then orange is Holland's national colour, as well as being Laverda's traditional racing livery. Bob tells that when Piero Laverda was preparing the firm's endurance racing challenge in the early 1970s, he discovered yellow would be the easiest colour for his pit crew to see at night. But another team already raced with bikes daubed like April's dandelions, so he asked a friend in the know to find out the second easiest colour to spot on a gloomy Mulsanne straight. The answer was orange, so that's the colour the racing SFCs were painted. The V6 followed, as did the Jota and Montjuic. Today we just think of racing Laverda's being orange, and assume it's some sort of branding exercise. Nothing could be further from the truth.
14th Jun 2010 - Spa-rk out
438 miles in barely seven and a half hours, despite knarled up traffic at three lots of road works (not very French) and one car crash (more typical), yet the Paso didn't miss a beat. Comfy enough that I could turn round and do it again (and at 57mpg could afford to), and being a Ducati Japanese tourists took turns being photographed next to it in a Belgium petrol station. But Spa - what an event the Bikers Classic turned out to be, and I even missed the rain. Chatted to Sammy Miller about his second place here back in the fifties, wave at Phil Read and Ago, marvel at Marco Lucinello's new goatee, and wonder how a 6 foot plus Dieter Braun ever won a 50cc world championship. And as for the circuit - pictures don't begin to tell you about the very literal ups and downs. Sammy says that even today it eats engines, and an 80s car endurance racer told me of the difficulty controlling a car as it crests the top of hills. Book your weekend off for the 2011 event asap
12th Jun 2010 - Spa break
The Paso's packed ready for a 400 mile hit to Spa Fracochamps for the Bikers Classic somewhere that's been on my "to do" list for too long. The fastest motorcycle lap record of all time still stands on the old, much longer, circuit - 137mph to Barry Sheene. Phil Read and the MV went well here...I'll be happy to watch them's that can and soak up the atmosphere. The sun's even due to put in an appearance - most unlike Spa
11th Jun 2010 - Being English
Apparently there's going to be some football played over the next few weeks, which, if the last world cup was anything to go by, means the roads will be empty. Marvellous - and I've just realised that if the schedules fall just so you could ride down through France, stop for a pizza in Italy, then ride home again through beautiful, abandoned countryside. The comedy is that St George's flags are flying from every other car in the UK (knocking 3-5mpg off your fuel consumption; official!), despite the cars being German, French, Japanese...everything but English. So why does an Englishman who's mad about Italian bikes think he's any better? Well, I'm not - obviously. Our little lump of rock in the North Sea is home to nearly 60 million souls, and one of the most densely populated places on earth. The Celts, Picts, Saxons, Moors, Romans and finally French all invaded in one way or another. Even the Germans had a couple of plucky attempts. To add to the melting pot, we ran the world from about 1400AD until the Americans took over post WWII. The English are indeed the most bastard race on earth, but we know who we are - we're a bit of everything. Roast beef, sushi, pizza, curry (Thai or Indian), and steak and kidney pud - love it all. And we'll mix it up to our own taste, so none of this "my mother's way is the only way" here. So of course the UK's full of people who like Brit bikes, Harleys..and Italian stuff. The pic shows Italian bike connoisseur, English journo and fast-as-flip racer Alan Cathcart. Loves Italy, has Union flag on his helmet. Dichotomous? Not really; we've been here forever, and seen off - or happily lived alongside - everyone. Ours is mongrel-strong bloodstock, a nation of warriors, innovators, heroes - and yes, Napoleon - a nation of shopkeepers. Didn't stop us thrashing his short French arse. So do I hope England win the footie? Well, be nice if they got to the final - keeps the roads empty as long as possible..
10th Jun 2010 - The TT in black and white
Watching the Superstock races on ITV4 makes a road and very occasional track rider like me realise how deep my lack of talent and bravery goes. Even on an old telly, knowing you're watching something that didn't go wrong (I still like to believe UK TV wouldn't transmit a pre-record of someone's last few minutes), those ancient trees and stone walls don't look like they'd give an inch to a motorcycle, no matter how fast it's going. And watching the TT you realise it really is the last of its kind. Road racing disappeared from Italy in 1957, and Spa, Le Mans, and the Nurburgring are all castrated versions of what they once were. The TT remains the last beacon of what once was the norm - great riders on great bikes versus the roads we really ride on. The pic shows the way it was - Dickie Dale on the Guzzi V8 at the bottom of Bray Hill in 1957, hoping the drum brakes have cooled enough to work. The big Guz was running without its full enclosure dustbin fairing, partly to help keep the brakes cool, but mainly to improve the bikes dreadful handling. Dale brought the bike home in 4th place, hindered by an engine running on just seven cylinders... More in Benzina 2 and thanks to A Herl Inc for the pic
9th Jun 2010 - And the winner is...
Willem van Beest from Holland walked off with a brand new Alfa Mito as winner of this years Dream Engine Motogiro d'Italia. This presumably required a rule change, number one of which has always been "an Italian shall win" - this was the first time a non-Italian has won the main event. Given that a Dutchman also won the Terni event, us Brits clearly need to stop messing about with Bantams and get our heads into gear. And - cue fanfare - it was the first time Ducati has won; when Federico Minoli left Ducati and the Moto Giro he'd reinvented he said a great regret was that Ducati were winning just about everything but the modern giro. So special congrats to Willem and his Ducati 175 at a time when Ducati Corse are struggling. We'll do a full retrospective of the Dream Engine decade of giros in issue 3 of Benzina , hopefully out October.
8th Jun 2010 - Sport Classic? No thanks..
So the Sport Classic has (almost) disappeared from Ducati's range - apparently it was the riding position what killed it (that's what Ducati tell me) and the fix of lower bars on the GT and higher bars for the Sport came too late. What fickle folk we are. So if you fancy a cheap-ish replica of an expensive Ducati, your chance has gone. Or maybe not.. See this 900SS? All £20,000 worth of Borranis and Taglioni magic - or is it? Nope, this is the work of genius Rene Waters (aka ducatimeccanica , built for wife Sue) based on an 860GTS. Isn't she lovely?
8th Jun 2010 - Say cheese..
As Diana Ross put it, "can it be that life was so simple then, or has time rewritten every line?" I mean, I like looking at an attractive woman as much as (OK, more than) the next man, but even my 17 year old self could see these ads were Very Wrong. It's not as if she's getting on the bike dressed like that, is it? If you wanted porn way back then, you took a deep breath, reached for the top shelf and accepted your humiliation like a man. Then through the 1980s we got serious, and true artists like Bob Carlos Clarke found it all a bit hard to take. The caring sharing ninties meant this sort of stuff was bound for the history books, and poor Bob Carlos Clarke took his own life in 2006. Lord knows what he'd make of the Nuts generation. (Thanks to Bevel Heaven for saving me the trouble of digging out an old Bike magazine and scanning a pic)
7th Jun 2010 - Confused? I'm not sure..
Spotted at the Ace Cafe (thanks Dave), here's a man whose loyalties are clearly split. Or maybe the helmet's usually reserved for riding a Cucciolo. Whatever, he's clearly a man of discernment - Laverda SF750's are brilliant bikes, far better than any Brit twin, cheap as chips (well, bargains against the £30k plus their sporty SFC siblings make) and are sturdier than a very sturdy thing
7th Jun 2010 - Italian multis
Recognise this rare Tomaso era Moto Guzzi 400/4? The story goes that when Alejandro de Tomaso bought Guzzi he stalked through the factory waving a (Japanese!) ceremonial sword, shouting "no more stupid twins!" (in Italian, presumably). So he set about rebadging half the already-in-production Benelli multis as Guzzis - there's even a pre-production Moto Guzzi Sei in the Mandello del Lario museum. But then he was pleasantly surprised at how profitable the rationalised 850T3 and 750S3 were compared to their predecessors, Lino Tonti had a quiet chat with him, and bingo - the Le Mans appeared. And that definitely wasn't a stupid twin
6th Jun 2010 - A better way than eBay?
Is it just me or does stuff make more than it should on eBay? Great if you're selling, but trying to buy gets ever more painful But if you want an old Italian bike, especially something rare, this is the best site I've come across. It's Italian, and the bikes are in Italy (which means sterling's woeful exchange rate works against you) but stuff that's rare in the UK - Ducati Scramblers, Bianchi Tonales, and the lovely Mondial 175 pictured are suddenly easy(ish) to find. It's called Subito (Italian for "immediatley") and it's well worth a peek. Especially since ex GP racer Chas Mortimer can collect for a very modest fee.
6th Jun 2010 - Drinking and driving
Bushy's (Isle of Man brewer and TT beneficiary) built this to promote drink driving (presumably and allegedly) - a van shaped like a beer bottle... Part of a display of promtional vehicles at the UK's national motor museum
6th Jun 2010 - Tea and cakes again
No wonder my leathers are getting tighter; scones, cream and fresh strawberries for June's tea and cakes. Thanks to all who came, especially Alan for bringing his lovely RGS (owned for 21 years) and Stuart for risking ridicule on a Kawasaki 400 when his Ducati wouldn't play ball
5th Jun 2010 - Investment opportunities
This is issue 1 of Rouleur, a quarterly cycling magazine - £9 an issue, No.18 just out (and now bi-monthly); so that makes issue 1 just over four years old. So - to all those critics who say Benzina (and Sideburn, et al) should have covers that say what's inside, what do you think this cycle racing mag with an obscure name and picture of a chain link on the cover just made on eBay? £225, or about $315. So the moral of the story? Fill your attic with unopened first issues of magazines that don't say what they do on the tin. Better than money in the bank
4th Jun 2010 - Bolt upright shocks
This F2 Ducati race reps on eBay at the moment, the seller claiming the frame was changed to mimic Tony Rutter's 1981 TT winner. You might look at those vertical shocks and think he must be joking - and you'd be wrong. Pat Slinn spannered all of Rutter's Ducatis, and I was chatting to him for a piece in issue two of Benzina. Tony's original 1981 F2 TT racer wasn't a TT2 - Pat built the engine, and a crashed Pantah frame was beefed up by Ron William's of Maxton fame. When Tony saw the bike he couldn't believe the vertical shocks would work - but then Maxton built the chassis that finally brought Honda's ill-stared NR500 (limited) success. So maybe this is a very special bike - although the NCR claim's a bit rich; NCR had no involvement with the 1981 TT winner. NCR were effectively Ducati Corse in those days, and based in the Borgo Panigale factory. They alone built the genuine TT2s, perhaps the most faked/replicated/misunderstood Ducati ever made.
3rd Jun 2010 - Tea and cakes this Saturday
Last of the good weather due this Saturday - so take one of our rides and join us between 2 and 4(ish) - free tea and home made cakes, but an email before you come helps our baking plans and makes sure you can find us; we are a bit tucked away And then the following weekend, I'm off to Spa-Francorchamps Bikers Classic - should be fab, tho' my loyalties to Ducati will be sorely tested when Team Benzina hero Bob Dixon shows off some lovely Laverdas. Aim is to leave Wiltshire early-doors Saturday 12 June, cross at Calais lunchtime, get to Spa (220 miles from Calais) mid to late afternoon. Then to the circuit for the 4 hour endurance race (finishing at midnight!), full day there Sunday and back home early Monday. If you want company, or just to ride shotgun for my inevitable breakdown, get in touch. Although if the weather forecast's right, I'll be in the Fiat 500...
2nd Jun 2010 - Bikes for sale...
Half a dozen or so Italian beauties for sale - not cheap ($6-$15,000), and located (as the dollar signs hint in the US. If you've got the deep pockets to indulge your undoubted style and taste, get in touch. There's a Benelli 175, Parilla 175, Motobi 200, Mondial 200, Maserati 160, MV scrambler and Capriolo and Motobi racers. And probably a discount if you buy the lot...
31st May 2010 - One Giro ends, another begins
This is (I hope) the winner of the 2010 Club Terni Motogiro d'Italia, Dutchman Hendrik Willemse and his Moto Guzzi Lodola 175. Yankee dandy Hugh Schink managed the 125 prize. But you haven't necessarily missed anything, because the Dream Engine event starts today in Monaco. Why? The simple facts are that Club Terni started the modern Giro in 1991, and then armed with Ducati cash (and a lot of it) Dream Engine took over the reigns in 2000. Club Terni continued to arrange a lot of the nuts and bolts of the event, and then when Ducati cash disappeared a couple of years back Terni and Dream Engine had a very public falling out, and organised competing events. For the rich this was brilliant - they could do both events. For the rest of us it has diluted the spirit, especially if you get caught up in the acrimony between the competing organisers. Lack of cash has been noticeable, with neither event what it was (say) 2000 to 2006. The fact that Dream Engine briefly seemed to disappear and be reinvented as Dream Engine 2, and can't get FMI backing doesn't help. And so the the scurrilous rumours; that Terni won't be allowed to use the Motogiro name after a court hearing scheduled for July, and that Dream Engine have to start in Monaco because the FMI won't give them start permission. The saddest part for me is that neither event is reflecting the original race routes. Maybe it's time to do the Milano Taranto as featured in issue one of Benzina
27th May 2010 - Little fleas..
Some folk dismiss our love of giro flyers, 175cc (or even less) of Latin lightweights that competed in the Italian Gran Fondo races. Typical Italian nonciness, they say. Us Brits like our steeds big and chunky. Really? Until 1971 Brits were allowed a 250cc bike from their 16th birthday, no questions (let alone tests) asked. Cars were a no-go zone 'till you hit 17, but from '71 Big Brother decided 50cc bikes with pedals were the limit. They'd not seen what the Italian could squeeze from 50cc. And when they did (Although it was 1977 by the time they noticed) 50cc bikes were limited to 30mph. So for a certain age group, sports mopeds were all we dreamt of (well, that and the lovely Julie who sat behind me in French. And that girl in Chemistry was..sorry, drifted off)and for me a Garelli Rekord would have completed my world (and, unbelievably, I thought would allow me to nick the lovely Julie from her Ford Escort driving boyfriend.) A good friend's dad had a Garelli franchise, and he had a blue Rekord in 1975. I stayed on for A levels so had a Puch M2...tragic. So celebrate the Italian 'peds and ignore the claim they'd do 60mph - assuming you still weigh the 9 stone dripping wet you amounted to at 16. But even 45mph was unbelievable when a push-bike was all you'd had at your disposal before (Thanks to Ian Scott for the pic of his fab restoration)
25th May 2010 - Testing, testing
MOTs - first dates for bikers? You've plucked and preened, learnt your lines, she looks like a goer; what can possibly go wrong? Even though I checked everything the night before, I check everything again - the Darmah's fixed horn's still fine, but the 450's headlight won't work. Undo headlight shell, peek inside, realise that first night nerves mean I didn't turn the switch all the way round. So now I'm late...what else can go wrong? The ride to the MOT station can, that's what. For the Stafford show, A N Other had decided to set up the rearsets correctly, i.e. down-for-up. I have them (slightly) bodged the other way, so couldn't work out why so much clutch slipping was needed to pull away - and then changed into first when I finally got some speed up. Eek. Realising what was up didn't seem to help 30 years of memory telling me my foot's prodding the lever the wrong way. End of 450 's dramas and Darmah's woes. Both bikes sailed through the test ready for summer.
23rd May 2010 - Classic Bike HQ
Lucky enough to be invited up to Classic Bike HQ this week to share coffee and ideas with Ben and Hugo - proper gentlemen, and lovely chaps with(like their mag)refreshingly under-control egos. 320 mile round trip on the bevel 900SS meant the oil was good and ready for draining on my return. But..the building. Bizarrely (or perhaps unsurprisingly ) there are no pics on-line, but what a temple to Mammon. Big and shiny doesn't do credit to the size of the operation, which they share with Royal Sun Alliance. Everything from golf weekly to Kerrang sits in rows of identical desks with rows of identical Macs, broken up by the odd pot plant. Outside there are lakes, waterfalls and what could pass for a golf course. Refreshingly, the bike titles (MCN, Bike et al) are easy to find. There's an ex-Schwanz RG500 in the hallway, and most swivel chairs have a leather jacket slung over the back. The mention of paper quality gets a wistful sigh, and when I say to editor Hugo I'd expected a prefab with a shed outside, he smiles "I'd prefer that" And then shows off the mudguards that arrived that morning. What great people
15th May 2010 - Kempton Park Autojumble
The most surprising thing about Kempton Park is the toilets - rows of urinal's at half the usual height. First reaction is that these are the kid's loos, but then the penny drops - Kempton Park's a horse racing course, and jockey's are famously vertically challenged (or are we allowed to say short once again, now that our all-men-are-equal government are finally gone?) Bagged an ancient copy of Motociclismo from the brilliant Magazine Man who is the main UK outlet for Benzina, and caught up with Britbike fan Chris Smith of Motorsport Publications who distributes for us in the US And then nabbed six 1980's Classic Bike mags for £2! All featured old Italian bike stuff I can cut and paste into a future Benzina....(only joking Hugo);a glance at the Rumi's and that was it for us Italophiles. But then there was the car park. Most wonderful. Click on the pic for much more
7th May 2010 - The fastest Laverda
Thanks to the very helpful and knowledgeable Bill Snelling of FoTTofinders for supplying pics (including this one) for issue 2 of Benzina (out June)which will have just enough TT stuff in it to smell of kippers. The guy racing is Swedish Superbike champ Lennart Backstom at the 1980 TT. He's on a Laverda F500, basically a clubman racer based on the Montjuic, and the fastest Laverda ever around the Isle of Man. Yes, faster than a Jota. There goes another preconception.
2nd May 2010 - Ace Cafe Italian Day
Well, the Italian Day at the Ace Cafe wasn't what I expected. Gentleman and heroic rescuer of the Ace, Mark Wilsmore, invited us to put up a stand "but you'll need to be there by 8:30 if you want to get in - we get really busy" A 6am start meant I rolled up in plenty of time, only to find an empty and rain lashed car park. A big-boys breakfast was enjoyed in the company of 11 times Italian Day organiser Pat Cooper of the Italian motorcycle owners club as we prayed for the promised sunshine. It never came. In the end barely 20 Italian bikes made it - just 3 modern Ducatis, a lovely series 1 Le Mans, and some great classic Laverdas. Benellis put us all to shame - there were 7 including not one Sei, but three. Incredible.
29th Apr 2010 - Tea and Cakes with scarecrows
Our first Teas and Cakes of the year is this Saturday 1st May, from 2pm 'til 5ish - I know the forecast's dodgy, but it'd be great to see at least a couple of folk; email if you can make it, or see details of the great rides here Urchfont Scarecrow Festival 2 miles up the road's also well worth at visit - here - or you could leave bored other halves there, or at Devizes Farmers' Market 5 miles away
28th Apr 2010 - Stafford in rude health - but is Moto Guzzi dead?
Everyone raves about the Stafford show and now I understand why; my lips are cracked from talking too much, and my feet still ache from standing around all day. Busy doesn't begin to cover it - I saw the stand and the way to the toilets, and hardly anything else. Thank you to everyone who dropped by - and if you missed me I'll move heaven and earth to be at the Ace Cafe's Italian Day this Sunday 2 May. But our Italian visitors brought sad news from the shores of Lake Como - Piaggio have shut the Moto Guzzi factory at Mandello del Lario, and started to empty the museum. The good news is the museum's back up and running, and Piaggio say the factory's only shut for refurbishment. The good news stops there. Our Italian friends say this is just a smokescreen to move Guzzi production from the factory they've been built at since the firm was established in 1920, and wriggle out of paying redundancy cash. This is our heritage. Paintings, sculpture, buildings - they all get instant kudos and often legal protection to save them for future generations. When the petrol runs out the first century of mass transport will finally be appreciated. The green lobby may point at magnificent follies like the Guzzi V8 (pictured in the Guzzi museum) but this was built with the cash from thousands of Guzzilinos and such that gave us ordinary folk the freedom to venture beyond our own villages. And when future historians try to understand this, in the same way previous eras are researched by examining old buildings and artefacts, what will we say? Oh, we got rid of it all. Couldn't screw enough money out of it.
22nd Apr 2010 - Laverda enters, Laverda wins
Congratulations to Team Benzina supporter and contributor Rob Dixon - a 1st and 2nd place in round one of the Classic Italian Endurance race, teamed with Piero Laverda who reckons the success made him fell 20 years younger. Rob's been a Laverda nut since the age of 16 and savagely pruned his collection of Laverda's to fund the season ahead; We can only imagine what it feels like to be asked to race alongside Mr. Laverda in Italy. Rob's a top guy, and he'll be writing about his experience in Classic Bike. We have to make do with him telling us what the V6 racer goes like in issue 2 of Benzina
21st Apr 2010 - start them lean, keep them keen
If Ducati made bicycles, they'd be Bianchis (hang on, they are actually)and in a way bicycles are the ultimate distillation of personal transport. Also beautiful, right down to the tiniest detail - especially if it's made by Campagnolo. This sort of thinking has rubbed off on my son, so when he announced he wanted a roadbike for his 13th he insisted it was a Bianchi. But we've got a limited budget, and even with him chipping in his hard earnt savings a Bianchi roadie looked a million years away. But if you want to keep them lean, the exercise regime has to keep them keen. So cunning use of Google advanced search unearthed this beauty for under £300. Less than 4 years old, the current equivalent’s over £600 - if anyone’s got one in stock. Only problem was it was in Brixton. Even a country boy like me knows that's not the posh end of London town. But a 200 mile round trip in the Fiat 500 (yes, it fitted; well, just)took less than 4 gallons of fuel and 5 hours including dealing with a very friendly vendor (thanks Viadas)and a father/son bonding session in Heston's Popham Little Chef. What a perfect day. And the boy's so chuffed he's keeping the bike in his bedroom. Mind you, his Mum's not home yet...
20th Apr 2010 - Stafford - then Teas and Cakes
First - a huge thank you to everyone who's made issue 1 of Benzina a success - hugely appreciated (and a massive relief). I'll be at the Stafford show this weekend (Sandylands Hall, opposite Ducati Owners Club) so come and say hello. And then Saturday 1 May our first Teas and Cakes of 2010, 2pm on - details on the teas and cakes page - come and ridicule the Paso, help get the Darmah's horn working, or just tuck into Joanna's baking. Click on the picture for a taste of what you can expect. STOP PRESS - issue 2 ready early June - words and pictures nearly done, then the drag of design and proofing for the home run; there's Laverda V6 riding impressions plus their Formula 500 racers at the TT. Sticking with the Isle of Man, the story of Tony Rutter's partnership with Ducati and the development of the TT2 that led to the F1 roadbike. A smattering of Benelli Sei (did you know Joey Dunlop raced one?), a goodly dollop of Ducati Silverstone and a slice of MV750 Sport are some of the tasty roadbikes on offer, plus riding with Dustbin fairings, Guzzi V8s, and touring Europe on a Le Mans in 1976. Phew. I'd better get on with
16th Apr 2010 - Il Paso arrivo
It's here - my latest Ducati, and an ideal daily ride; the Ducati 906 Paso. The ministrations of Moto Marianna fettled it to perfection (although I needed a sit down when I saw the bill) and the new tail light went on in (several) minutes (see blog passim). The Darmah Queen decided her horn wouldn't work, so The Paso nicked her MOT slot and sailed through - with me standing next to the missing chain guard, ahem. Hopefully Andy at Mdina will find me one before one pops up on eBay, and I think I can source the correct decals. Tempted to have the lower bodywork done in 750 gunmetal rather than the 906 white though. Chain and sprockets nearly new, as are the tricky (and expensive) to find tyres. And hopefully I've discovered a way round the replacement tyre conundrum, although the trick doesn't work on the 750. More anon, but if you need to know email me
12th Apr 2010 - Purists look away now
There are two schools of thought on bike restorations - make them shiny (far shinier tha the factory ever did) and bask in the admiration and prizes of your peers; or (my prefered option) do what you damn well please (bearing in mind I'm a chap - chappesses do not mean "do what you damn well please" when they say it; they mean "you know what I want you to do". Be warned. And don't ask me why I know this) Anyway, Peter Korens GTS860 is the perfect example of what we love. More at Made in Italy Motorcycles
11th Apr 2010 - Ducati on pole in Qatar
Another year, another season of Moto GP starting as usual with a night race in Qatar. In 1978 I was working in Qatar, chased back onto a ship by a kid with a machine gun, but these days they want to be all shiny and modern. Except for the Green thing, because holding a motorbike race at night means undertrack heating and floodlights. But who cares when Casey sticks the Desmosedici on pole.
5th Apr 2010 - Go Tommy, GO
Here's to an emotional reunion...our local track demon Tommy Bridewell showed superstar qualities in BSB last year, riding his late brother's Suzuki complete with the #46 plate our much-missed Ollie always ran. This year Tommy's got an ex Shakey Byrne Fireblade and in the very first round of 2010's British Superbikes showed the doubters what some of us already knew - boy, can he ride. In race 1 he was looking good for a podium when disaster struck as he slid out at Graham Hill Bend; looking to make amends in race two, another fantastic start gifted fourth place which he used to chase down the leaders. But fighting to maintain his position he clashed with Michael Laverty, crashing out at Druids Corner and out of the race too. Yes, DNFs are always a disappointment, but as Wayne Rainey said: It's easier for a fast rider to learn not to crash than for a slow rider to learn how to ride fast. Come on Tommy, we know you can do it... I've know the Bridewells forever - Dad Marcus and me would chat as his Dad filled my Dad's car with petrol (hey - village garages with petrol pumps - those were the days). Marcus and his Dad were useful grass track racers, so Tommy's got real provenance. If you see him, cheer him on. Details of the series on the more pics link
2nd Apr 2010 - Happy Easter!
Thanks to Tony for the pic Have a great Easter everyone
1st Apr 2010 - April fool
So the new Paso's on the way - bought cheap from a dealer who thought a minor workshop bump would cost pennies to fix, but learnt the hard way that manufacturer's just don't stock spares for bikes more than 5 minutes old... Minor bump broke the rear light lens - a huge affair on the Paso that covers the rear indicators too. But you can't get them anymore - they used to be supplied as a complete unit (lenses, backplate, casting and fittings for back lights and indicators) but no more. Sometimes NOS appears on eBay, but even if you can wait they make as much as £200. Not what a dealer with stock to shift wants to hear... So one cheeky offer later, and the Paso will soon be my daily ride. Just needs a fettle and the new lens (above) found overnight by the ever helpful Andy Jones of Mdina (see our "good guys" page) for under £50. Excellent. Just need to sort the bloody weather out now...
29th Mar 2010 - Anglicized Carbonnara
Well, Benzina is selling very nicely (thank you all) even to Italy. Which is where the trouble starts... One of our subscribers has questioned my carbonara recipe (actually, he said it was completely wrong, an English bastardization of an Italian national treasure..) so let's put the record straight. Apparently carbonarra pre-dates WW2, shouldn't have any bacon (it should be pancetta dolce, pancetta affumicata, or guanciale) and no parsley or wine. Oops... But just to prove there's no hard feelings and that the rest of the mag is good he offers the following - spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino - the simplest recipe in the Italian cookbook, and a national favourite for some midnight spaghetti after going out with friends... which probably should make it a "3am spaghetti"... Lots of olive oil, lots of garlic (as a whole if you don't want to actually eat it, or thinly sliced if you do) and lots of crushed chilli pepper... quantities vary according to you our taste... sauté everything together (watch out not to burn the garlic if it's sliced), cook and drain the pasta al dente and add it in the pan with the ingredients, mix mix mix with the flame still going on under the pan and serve... here some chopped parsley is appropriate, just sprinkle some on the serving dishes (i.e. don't cook it)
27th Mar 2010 - Spring is sprung
Finally it's starting to look like riding weather (meaning weather it's good to ride in, rather than weather it's possible to ride through) so time to treat the bevels to an oil change (straight 40w for the 450, putty-thick 50w for the 900s). And as an early Easter present one of these apiece - magnetic dipsticks. £20 odd each from Tony Brancato - (UK -01865 891203) is cheap when you think what they could save you. Given Taglioni's apparent dislike of oil filters these give an early warning of things going wrong, so you can minimize the outrageous cost of a rebuild - or maybe avoid it altogether - thanks to Tony
25th Mar 2010 - Forgotten Era
Everyone and thier old man knows Ducati's bevel twins legend, and the 916/Foggy era that made Ducati mainstream; the missing link is the aircooled rubber duck racers from a forgotten era. Tony Rutter took four (count 'em) world championships for Ducati on his TT2 racebike yet the roadgoing version, the 750F1, can still be bought for half the price of a bevel 900SS. Cheaper still is the 350/400 F3. Same frame and bodywork, just needs upgraded brakes and suspension (the same as most 25 year old bikes, then) and a bigger motor. This lovely chap got to just £1900 on eBay despite loads of shiny stuff and a 650 Pantah engine having been added
9th Mar 2010 - The kids are alright
Spotted early doors one Sunday outside a Sidmouth newsagents. Belonged to the young lad serving inside, paying for his bike while his schoolmates are all still in bed. So nostalgic I went for my hankie. A zillion years ago I worked in a petrol station all day Sundays (and plenty of weekday evenings) to pay for mopeds, bikes and beer because I was doing A levels and mates who'd left school had 250s on HP. I still pine for those days, fettling my bike instead of checking paying customers oil levels with radio Luxemburg on loud enough to hear across the forecourt
4th Mar 2010 - I sei..
There were a couple of beautifully restored Benelli Seis at the Bristol Classic show, all gleaming chrome and bonkers exhaust. But we like this much better - mad as a barrel of monkeys, a genuine racing Sei with the finest exhaust system we've seen in ages. Love those continentals, they'll race anything. And before the purists say only a fool would race a Benelli Sei, remember Joey Dunlop rode one in the legedary 1978 TT F1. He broke down, but then so did Phil Read's works Honda. Some bloke called Hailwood won. On a Ducati - of course
28th Feb 2010 - Killing time...
A wet and windy Wiltshire is no place to ride old Ducatis, especially in February. If the mud and falling branches don't get you, the road salt will eat your crankcases alive. So while my lovely wife (Dr Girlie Nice-Smile) is experimental baking ready for this year's tea and cakes (back 1st Saturday in May) how to kill some time? Well, how about model kits - they still turn up on eBay, and can help with pre-teen bonding as offspring build up Warhammers kits. This was my first bevel 900SS - just need to change those Speedline wheels...
24th Feb 2010 - Trinity
Benzina are indebted to Louis Stellar for this - a Ducati 3 wheeler called the Muletta (little mule). This one was probably imported to the States by long time importers Berliner, but apparently there are (were?) loads of them in Italy. Why have a two stroke APE three wheeler when you can have one powered by Taglioni's bevel overhead cam single? And you can't help but wonder if a 450RT motor would fit in there...
21st Feb 2010 - Always in the wrong
Team Benzina helped out at the Bristol Classic Bike Show, trying to look knowledgeable on the very wonderful Ducati and MV Agusta owners' club stands. And occasionally creeping off to badger the ever helpful Magazine Man into selling more copies of the benzina magazine But the day involved using up lots of brownie points, so much effort was made to seem positive and interested when returning to Benzina HQ, especially as the family had made pancakes for a postponed shrove Tuesday. "But why are they green?" I foolishly asked "They're not" came the reply "they're blue" "Well they look green" I insisted "Thats because the yellow of the egg yolks makes them look green, but the food dye's blue" So lesson learnt; even when you're right, you're wrong Never mind - the new mag looked fab on the stand next to the coolest mag out there Sideburnand the lovely Men's File. And the new Classic Bike mag featured an Interceptor article by TB - talk about sychronicity
19th Feb 2010 - You asked
Folk love our tees, but keep asking for a simple little black number with benzina in our top speed typeface. Well here it is; when they're gone, they're gone
16th Feb 2010 - While the cat's away...
February in the UK's even more flipping freezing than usual, and us soft southern types can't cope with artic garage antics. Especially when the kids have nicked the heater for their bedroom - our electric meter's spinning like an old Guzzi's bacon slicer. So TB member and arty type - no, let's not mention his name - needs to get his MV125 ready for the Bristol Classic show this weekend, and finds himself on the horns of a dilemma; frostbite in the garage or a frosty reception on the MV club stand when he tells them his bikes not finished. But there's always another way, especially when his wife's taken the kids away for half term. Move the bike into the house - TV, beer and bike all within easy reach, and nice and toasty. Just watch those oily fingermarks. And be ready for that quickening heartbeat when you hear those three little words; "Darling, I'm home!"
12th Feb 2010 - Pass the crowbar..
This is the Team Darmah - the perfect old bus for relaxed summer rides. But at some stage in its history the sidestand went AWOL, I'd guessed because a faster rider than me missed the ground clearance. Or succumbed to the temptation that comes every time you see the price sidestands make on eBay. TB friend and pro bevel fettler Brian Silver (aka Moto Marianna) knocked me up a new one, and I thought even I could fit it. How hard can it be? Buggeration. The non standard stainless steel downpipes have different bends to the original. So the sidestand goes on, but the exhaust won't. Or vice versa. Hand me the crowbar, Eugene. Brian's sold me some new downpipes. And arranged to have them chromed. I might have to sell the sidestand to pay for them...
10th Feb 2010 - Guys, be ready for Valentine's..
Sunday 14th is St Valentine's day. One of those days when treating the lady in your life well is a get out of jail card, safely tucked away for the next time you tread straight 50W across the hall carpet. So here's an easy Italian supper that looks posher than it is and won't make her worry it'll go straight to her waistline. You'll need smoked pancetta strips (Sainsbury's sell them in packs of 12 for £2, on special offer right now) plus one skinless chicken breast per person (if you're Alan Clark, the Lord who took his mistress on Honeymoon, you may want the family value pack). Hopefully your storecupboard can do the other bits; olive oil, white wine, tarragon, sherry vinegar or balsamic. Wrap each chicken breast with 3 strips of pancetta, pop into a shallow ovenproof dish. Splash in a little wine and smidge of vinegar, pinch of dried Tarragon, drizzle of the oil over the chicken. Into a 180c oven for 25 minutes Serve with pasta (I like the little fuselli spirals) or mash, maybe with pesto, plus green beans - or crusty bread and green salad. Final cheffy touch is to cut each breast into 3 or 4 slices and spread out, but you don't need to. Bottle of white, tablecloth and candles - you never know, you might get more than Brownie points...
7th Feb 2010 - Rallying call
On a freezing February morn the final photoshoot for Benzina #1 took place, as newbie model Chikki Violet grinned and bared it for lensman Jeff May - our tribute to the genius of Bob Carlos Clarke's original. The printers start work tomorrow, and should have issue 1 ready before the end of the month If you like the idea of spending time outside, the Rally season starts here. Ducati owners club start with the Severn Valley Rally on 7-9th Mayat the Unicorn Inn (B&B available), Hampton Loade, Shropshire. If you like your fun in-tents (sorry) contact Kevin Baker 07971 972866 M/H 01384 868844 or Richard Curzon 07853 261054/01562 864591 or use email@example.com At the other end of the season there's the Southern Rally on 3th - 5th September 2010 at Newlands Campsite, a sort of mini Centre Parcs close to beautiful Charmouth in Dorset - contact Chris Calton 01305 773990 H/M 07816371857 or firstname.lastname@example.org
4th Feb 2010 - Don't rub too hard
We all love shiny, but some Ducati bevel owners go a bit too far. Here's a 450 Desmo crankcase that some would buff to a mirror finish. Given some free time we'd rather ride than polish - better for the bike too, as discovered by the poor soul who took his Bacofoil bright Desmo for a service. See the unsightly ridges circled on our Desmo? His were gone. They're the timing marks... "Oh bugger" was our oppo's surprisingly restrained response when a well known Duke fettler broke the news
3rd Feb 2010 - And now for something completely different
Now this is very special - an Arai handpainted in the style of a Rio Grande blanket, c1890 Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Navajo and Hispanic weavers mastered the art of dying handspun wool with synthetic dyes, just as generations before them had mastered the art of dying with indigo. The intensity of colour carried from one dye lot to the next, allowing weavers to create depth within each colour - or so it says on the very wonderful and original Silverman Museum - and yes, you can buy one
1st Feb 2010 - Electrickery
Electricity's like gravity - we know what it does, but not what it is. The Haydron Collider's trying to suss pulling power, but electricity? It's like women - we've given up on the understanding thing, and are just grateful for what happens. Trying to grasp that electrons shuffle about outside the wires (I'm back to electricity, not women) hurts nearly as much as 240v. But Catweasel's electrickery holds no mystery for TB friend Will H; local high school techie, he fixes bike wiring for fun (mind you he did a post-grad in production engineering for fun), and upgrading a supposedly pro re-wired Desmo 450 he observed that whoever did the previous work had a crimper which made joints "look very pretty, but not really meaty enough" That explains the dead battery and rectifier on last years Giro... We like to share this sort of expertise. Here he is at work on a 1950s MV Agusta 125, which now might make the 2010 Giro. Thanks Will.. And if you need help, maybe Will'll be at our (now Saturday pm) teas and cakes. He charges (pun intended) but his tastes are more local ale than fancy wine, so it costs bugger all for a job well done. Let us know if you need help - maybe we can track him down...