Monday, 16 January 2017

Holiday reading - some great motorcycle (and philosophy) books

Two weeks in India, catching winter sun and a bit of culture. But also two weeks with no meaningful Internet access and in a country where an Enfield 350 is a flash bike (and £1600 brand new rather than the £5k you pay in the UK) means books were my only escape to two wheels.

Every five years or so I reread Zen and the Art of MotorcycleMaintenance, trying to remind me of what’s important in life. But before that, on the recommendation of many reviewers, I read Derren Brown’s Happy. Now, I’m aware of Derren’s TV and magic show fame but have never been tempted to sample any of it. Given that background, a book on philosophy (and mainly ancient Roman and Greek philosophy) seemed just an attempt to cash in on his fame. But when the Sunday Times made it one of their books of the year, and admitted it would have been seen as a much more important work if it wasn’t written by one so famous. So it went in the suitcase.

And my, was I glad I brought it. Some of it is predictable – the knocking of faith healers, dealing with fame, and references to the author’s TV work could be skipped over with no real loss. But the work on philosophy had me taking notes and realising that the Romans really did build and Plato and Aristotle. Modern philosophers are discussed, including everyone named checked in Monty Python’s Bruce’s'Philosophers Song.

But what really comes across is that Derren’s a fan of the Roman Stoics (where we get our word stoic from, although that’s to misunderstand their philosophy). An important and timely book that should replace every self-help book ever written. But if you can’t be bothered to read it here’s one important point: we can only really control two things in our life; what we think and what we do. Understand that and accepting it might not make you happy, but it allows you to let go of everything that might make you unhappy. As the brilliant Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius put it, “The gods (aka fortune, luck, chance or whatever you want to call it) are not to blame. They do nothing wrong, on purpose, or by accident. Nor men either. No one is to blame.” Stoic words indeed.

Anyway, armed with Derren’s wisdom I fair rattled through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and finally understood every last bit.  Amazingly it remains the best selling book of all time on philosophy, and the money it made allowed author Robert Persig to pretty much disappear; understandable given his son Chris (who accompanied him on the motorcycle tour Pirsig bases the book around) was murdered a few years after Zen and the Art… was published. Still one of my favourite books of all time, never mind just motorcycle books.
My favourite ten motorcycle books would include Melissa Holbrook Pierson’s The Perfect Vehicle, which the Times compared to Zen and the Art... , saying while “at times (Zen and the Art) is hard going, this fluent book (The Perfect Vehicle) ultimately reveals more about the strengths and limitations of ordinary human beings in pursuit of happiness.”

Melissa allowed some of her the work to be used in Benzina 14 and has promised something original for issue 15, so I admit an interest. But, when I realised my copy of ThePerfect Vehicle was almost 20 years old, I decided it was worth a re-read. The writing is poetic, soothing but speaks directly to anyone with a passing interest in motorcycles and travel. If, like Melissa you like travelling on Motor Guzzis, it will make your heart sing. And support included help from another Benzina contributor, Ivar de Gier, one of the world’s leading Guzzi historians.

Next up was Mark Gardiner’s On Motorcycles – the best ofbackmarker. A lot of it’s online, but I’m a print junkie – Mark posted me a copy because it’s not on, although it is at the time of posting available on by clicking here. A collection of essays on every aspect of motorcycling, including ‘Who Would Jesus Kill?’, the inspiring ‘Searching for Spadino’, and ‘The Naked Frenchman’ it’s a perfect dip-in-and-out-of book (as are his Trivia books but they’re best sellers so hardly need promoting).

Not only is Mark a great writer (a career in the ad business almost makes that expected) his preparedness to get on a motorcycle or aeroplane to find the people who experienced his stories first hand is pretty much unique these days. I’ve been reading about bikes since 1975 (the July ’75 issue of Bike magazine), writing about them for 9 years and writing about old buildings for a decade or so before that. I love to read and dig up obscure information. This means that people not as fastidious in their research as Mark drive me mad: motorcycle magazines especially seem to repeat lazy half-truths, Wikipedia style, in the hope that history can be altered if a certain set of “facts” are rewritten often enough. Not so with Mark – not only did every Backmarker story resonate, Mark names his sources, is clear when he’s unsure of his ground, and – get this – invites readers to correct any apparent errors. A brilliant book that everyone with an interest in motorcycle history will love. Pricey maybe but, with well over 400 pages of solid, well crafted literature between the covers, worth every penny. I just hope his wonderful Riding Man (his personal account of entering the TT) gets made into a film and makes Mark rich. Though not rich enough to stop him writing.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Ducati TT symposium at the 2017 Classic TT to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Tony Rutter’s first win on the Isle of Man aboard a Ducati TT2 and his son, Michael, racing a TT1 replica.

Ducati TT symposium at the 2017 Classic TT to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of Tony Rutter’s first win on the Isle of Man aboard a Ducati TT2 and his son, Michael, racing a TT1 replica.

There can really only be one place for a Ducati TT2 and TT1 symposium: the Island that gave these race winning motorcycles their name.  It will be 35 years since TT2s first raced – and won – at the Isle of Man TT so, between the 25th and 28th August 2017, fans of the TT2 and TT1 can join people who raced them both in era and today, and people who have spent years studying them. Guest of honour will be Pat Slinn who was Tony Rutter’s mechanic for each of his world championships, as well as being a member of the Mike Hailwood and Sports Motorcycle team.
Based in a marquee between the paddock and TT course start line on Glencrutchery Road there will be opportunities to learn more of the TT2 and TT1’s racing history, and see some of these beautiful motorcycles both on and off the TT course. There will also be the chance of a guided coach tour of the TT course and to parade on the closed course. And, of course, to support the Ducatis racing in the Classic TT. Alex Sinclair will be competing on his Louigi Moto/Fox Racing TT1 (bottom photo by Sports Pics). Even more mouth-wateringly, Redfox Grinta will have Michael Rutter aboard their TT1. If you’ve ever wanted to visit the Isle of Man or the Classic TT, 2017 will be the year to do it.
Alongside the symposium and the racing, the 2017 Classic TT will also celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bob McIntyre recording the first 100mph lap of the 37¾ mile TT Course on his way to victory in the 1957 Senior TT Race. Michael Dunlop, fresh from the first sub 17-minute lap at this year’s TT, which he improved to a barely believable 133.962mph later in the week, will pay tribute to McIntyre’s achievement with a celebratory lap, complete with replica kit, on an identical dustbin faired Gilera, meticulously recreated by Kay Engineering.

August 2017 might seem a long time away, but the Isle of Man’s accommodation and transport needs to be booked well in advance, especially if you would like to bring a bike or be sure of staying with other members of the symposium. The aim is to make a block booking in a hotel within walking distance of the symposium’s marquee and to allow people to meet and eat together over the weekend. If you’d like to join in please register your interest as soon as possible, giving details of how and when you will be travelling (advice happily given)  and if you would like to bring a bike.

And you might also want to pencil in the bank holiday weekend of 24-27 August 2018 when, on the 40th Anniversary of Mike Hailwood’s Formula 1 victory for Ducati, there will be an opportunity for 40 owners of Ducati Mike Hailwood Replicas to join in the celebrations.

More info:, Facebook Group Ducati and the TT

About the TT2 and TT1

In 1980 Ducati officially returned to racing, entering the Italian Junior Championship, also known as the TT2 class, with an uprated Pantah 500SL. The Federazione Motociclistica Italiana (FMI) introduced the Formula TT 1, 2 and 3 classes in 1980, adopting a very similar set of rules to the Isle of Man’s Formula 1, 2 and 3 World Championships. Initially Ducati’s racing Pantah used the kit that was available to anyone who could afford it, comprising engine and suspension upgrades along with alternative bodywork. But Ducati’s Fabio Taglioni appreciated the Pantah was a compromised road bike, designed for mass production as well as meeting the environmental demands of authorities worldwide. So he set about an almost complete redesign of the Pantah with only the engine (complete with electric starter as required by the FMI rules) to create a new racing Pantah that looked nothing like the original 500SL. This was the 1981 597cc TT2, named after the Italian series it was designed to compete in, and the new Ducati was immediately dominant, even against Bimota’s Kawasaki-powered, four cylinder, KB2 Laser. A TT2 sleeved to the Pantah’s original 499cc came 7th in the Mugello round of the 1981 500cc Italian Championship, only beaten by Suzuki RG500s and Yamaha TZ500s. The Ducati even beat the Honda NR500, the oval pistoned 32 valve V4, entered in the race to aid its development.

With Tony Rutter aboard the TT2 powered to four Formula 2 World Championships, and Tony was only beaten on the near identical 748cc TT1 on the Isle of Man by a brace of factory Honda RVF750s ridden by Joey Dunlop and Roger Marshall: bikes with over 120bhp compared to the TT1’s claimed 80. As late as 1986 Marco Lucchinelli won the opening round of the Formula 1 World Championship at Misano on a TT1. On the podium Taglioni was beaming at reporters.

"Write it well,” he told them; “to win two valves and two cylinders are enough!” Although it was now obvious to most observers that Ducati would need more than that to continue winning on the world stage, nobody contradicted the great man. Because, for five glorious years, a tiny factory in Bologna had built a bike that seemed as simple as sawdust but was cleverer than quantum physics when it came to racing. This is why the Ducati TT2 and TT1 are so revered by Ducati fans. They were Taglioni’s last stand and could beat motorcycles with a specification that suggested the little Ducati was on a hiding to nothing. Only 50 TT2s were built, plus perhaps as many as 13 TT1s and a handful of factory racers, yet the design was so good that replicas are still competitive in many classes of racing.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Lost and found. Benzina #13 all gone but #11 back on sale

The last issue 13 of Benzina has just sold. But in my searches I came across a few copies of issue 11 that I thought was also sold out. Have both the Guzzi MGS-01 cover or the alternative Ducati single but otherwise identical. Click here to see more details or buy a copy

I spent hours checking with other sellers if they had any issue 13s spare, but it seems they've all gone. Only 600 copies were printed because I was getting fed up with the admin needed to run a subscription publication - basically enough were printed to fulfil subscription obligations plus a few more. For issue 14 on, Benzina's only been available on an issue by issue basis for the sake of my sanity. To those who've bought a copy, and especially those who said nice things about my efforts a huge thank you.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Funky Superbikes - Richard Skelton's follow up to the best selling Funky Mopeds

Richard Skelton’s first book, Funky Mopeds - the 1970s Sports Moped Phenomenon, was a best-seller. Funky Superbikes is four volume follow-up series which tracks the momentous changes in motorcycling, and in society in general, that took place during the 1970s; biking’s biggest, brightest and best-ever decade.
Featuring great writing, exclusive interviews, newly-commissioned artwork and evocative period images, Funky Superbikes will build to become a comprehensive history of big-bore motorcycling in the 1970s. It covers the arrival of extraordinary sporting machines from Italy and a new generation of bulletproof BMW twins, as well as the inexorable rise of the Japanese motorcycle industry and the wasteful, lingering death of its British counterpart.
In the 1970s there were more motorcyclists than ever before, ever more fabulous motorcycles crammed the showrooms, and motorcycling became an exciting new leisure activity. It was the time of Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts, of Bike and Cycle magazines, and of brilliant journalists in their pomp such as Cook Neilson, Mark Williams, Dave Minton and LJK Setright. It can now be seen as a pivotal decade, and a unique high point in motorcycling history.
Part One is on sale now, with Part Two out in time for Christmas 2016. Parts Three and Four to follow in 2017.
Buy at, or post a UK cheque, payable to Greg Pullen, to Lower Heath Ground, Kings Road, Easterton, Devizes, SN10 4PX. Price per volume: £12 + £2.80 postage.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

New - by popular demand: red Spirit of 1978 tee shirt. And news on the real Hailwood bike

Lovely new tee shirts - in red by popular demand. And it seems the real 1978 Mike Hailwood NCR900F1 as provided and run by Sports Motorcycles will be leaving its New York home for the UK next July.
More on the tees by clicking here . And more on the Sports/Hailwood bike's time in the UK when it's safe to say...

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

1976 MV Agusta 350S Ipotesi for sale

Always happy to post details of an Italian motorcycle for sale by a Benzina buyer, so here goes
1976 MV Agusta 350S  Ipotesi.

                   Older restoration.

                   Owned since 2009.

                   Fitted With New Electronic Ignition 

                   Also New Dellorto carbs.

                   Taxed & Insured & Mot  until 2017.

                   Price £4750, including the early Benzina sticker!
Interested? Email greg@teambenzina co uk (I know the dots are missing!) and I'll  do the intros

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Benzina at the Donington Classic Motorcycle Festival

This weekend, 5-7 August, I'll be at the wonderful Donington Classic Motorcycle Festival - latest copy of Benzina and my books. If you're after a particular back issue of Benzina email before 9am Friday and I'll bring a copy. Otherwise just come and say Hi. Will be between the Paddocks with Pat Slinn signing books

The racing's always great and there's such a varied entry list you can download here and club displays. The static bike show includes a Beale Benelli 350/4 like the one Dave Roper races (above) and an Aermacchi HD250RR - the full list is here and most of them will be paraded on what must be the best UK track for spectators. There's also a Steve Parish BBQ on Saturday evening - make of that what you will.