Saturday, 30 January 2010


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. Join us at team benzina

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Inspiring Soichiro

If we can decide on which giro to enter (see below) we might break with tradition and try it the hard way - on a pre '57 175. But which one? Ducati 175s float our boat, but thinking ahead (just for once) they're not eligible for the Milano Taranto. So how about a Mondial? The 125 racers were inspiration (closer to a blueprint, actually) for Honda's original 125 racers. And MV Agusta's. And they taught Taglioni about bevel cam drive and desmodromics. For a firm that built a tenth of Gilera's output, never mind Guzzi's, they're up there as one of the greatest bike builders of all time. A 175OHC roadbike would be fab, but they're silly money. So how about this little 160 at North Leicester Motorcycles?

North Leicester Motorcycle's Mondial 160

Undervalued classic?

As word reaches us of yet another roundcase Ducati 750SS selling for some £60k, and a couple of Laverda 75oSFCs making over £30k, this Guzzi V7 Sport might be the most undervalued Italian classic around.

The Italian's were into building low run 750s for racing in the early seventies, and Guzzi's was the V7 Sport. Based on the touring V7, designer Tonti ditched the belt-driven dynamo between the cylinders and stuck an alternator on the front of the crank instead. This left space to run the twin top tubes of his new frame from headstock to tail, doing away with the V7's loop frame, lowering the overall centre of gravity and improving handling beyond recognition.

Homologation for production racing required 100 bikes to be built, and it's thought less than 200 of the red (chrome-molybdenum) framed bikes were hand built. Later bikes came via a production line with black painted steel frames, but still had the gear driven cams and more performance than any other 750, including the Honda four and Ducati 750GT.

So how much for this nicely prepped slice of lime? Just £10,500 from the always fair John Fallon at madeinitalymotorcycles

Better than money in the bank

Jack Findlay racing a V7 Sport

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Losing focus

Another month, another Bike magazine. What have Bauer done to turn this once proud Goliath into a mincing David? It's not even printed in focus this month - if I were an advertiser trying to flog those blurry bikes I'd refuse to pay

Why buy it? Er, it came free with Tesco's Clubcard. And now it also comes with a buyers' guide for those who don't know what bike they want. Consumer guides are fine for antiseptic ephemera like washing machines and TVs, but shouldn't a bike be something you just want, deep in your gut?

Case in point - the current Guzzi V7 Cafe; quite a looker (if you ignore the plastic sidepanels) and in urine yellow evocative of the 70s original. If you can't cope with the "will it work" voices that go with classic ownership it's a great bike. In fact it'd be a stylish way to run around and save the wear and tear on your classic for a summer's day.

But what do the tyre-warming heroes at Bike say? "Has very realistic 70s dynamic." Hmm, compared to what? In the early 70s the original V7 Sport was beating full blown, fully faired racers, especially in endurance events. The only mod was tyres in a special compound, but squeezed from the same moulds as the wartime Dondolino. No fairing, no tuning, and yes you could buy one and have a go yourself

So track day bores, enjoy your Bike. And if there's nobody to read the "how to ride at night" article to you, just remember to turn your lights on

Luciano Gazzola on his way to third in the '72 Monza 500km.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Benelli fours and Tomaso's sauce

Benelli had some magnificent victories with 500 fours, and the sight of Renzo Pasolini on board the green and silver DOHC racer must have been pure magic in an era when a pushrod parallel twin was the most complex road bike you could buy. Paso was timed at 148mph in the 1967 TT as he chased Ago's MV and Hailwood's Honda around the Island

So when Alejandro Tomaso tried to chase Honda's road bike success in the 1970s a 500 four made sense, especially since Soichiro's mob had left us dazed and confused when they replaced the wonderful 400/4 with a twin. The new 504 Sport looked like a 400/4 for grown ups with its insurance friendly 500cc, Le Mans I handlebar fairing and giant killing handling.

But Tomaso underestimated the Japanese pace of change, and while he was really pedalling a SOHC Honda engine from 10 years earlier, Kawasaki wheeled out a DOHC all-new four at barely half the price of the Benelli. In fact the Benelli cost more than many 750s, and at a time when the average biker was barely 20, talk of past glories was probably pointless - just as well, because the UK importers didn't mention it, and the old green and silver racing colours never got a look in.

These days Chinese Benellis hint at their heritage with green and silver bikes - but with yellow cooling fans in the tailpiece for three cylinder engines. Where's the heritage in that? Come on Benelli, how about an 8 gear four cylinder Kel Caruthers replica?

And if anyone's got some decent pics of a 504 Sport we'd love to see them. Why? Wait and see...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Giro? Giri? How very Italian...

Almost 30 years ago the Terni motorcycle club reinvented the Motogiro as a Mille Miglia style tour for bikes. Given racing on roads was banned in Italy in 1957, these days it's a thousand mile timekeeping challenge for old bikes. And we love it.

In 2000 marketing company Dream Engine took over the running, going upmarket with a bucketful of Ducati cash. Sadly, being Italian, Dream Engine and Terni fell out a couple of years back so split up and now organise competing events. The relationship is almost down to horse-heads-in-the-bed, but at least they keep the two giros a week apart. This means minted folk can do both (and if you've shipped a bike over from the US I guess that's fair enough) but the rest of us have to choose.

The Dream Engine event is probably truer to the original, and tries to keep the modern bikes away from the classics (Terni seem to suffer from crashes where narrow tyred classics make tight turns, then get outbraked by modern triple discs) but the Terni organisers are more laid back so there's more of a holiday mood. On balance, we've preferred the Dream Engine thing.

But for reason's only clear to God this year Dream Engine's Giro starts in Monaco and spends two nights in Turin - Europe's busiest city. No historic connection to the original Giro or the Italian motorcycle industry. Terni on the other hand tour Tuscany, and visit two bike museums. And they're cheaper.

I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Bending the wind

Thinking of how powerful brakes are (see past blogs) reminded me of Bill Lomas saying how much the streamliner on his Guzzi affected braking points

Over 60mph most of a bike’s power is being used to push the air out of the way, so when you roll off the throttle the giant airbrake that is the rider quickly slows the bike. Unless you've a full streamliner fairing

The air around us is easy to forget, even when it lifts you and 150 tonnes of Jumbo up, up and away on your hols. Whatever you're doing now, there's a tonne or two of air weighing down on you, its molecules pulled down by gravity.

This is of great interest to F1 car-bores, because you can pinch this weight as ground effect to make Jenson and Hammy look like passengers in a giant Scalextric set. No good for bikes though, because the direction of the downforce changes when you lean over. Didn't stop MV trying in the 70s, mind..

Rarer than steak tartare

Seen on an Italian website, and possibly the rarest Ducati ever sold, a 220cc F3 racer. This is the big bore version of a 175 F3, presumably built to gatecrash the 250 class before the 250 F3 appeared. The seller reckons just five were built, and will only talk money after meeting up at his home in Italy. No timewasters, he says. Like you could.

A lovely thing, but what would you do with it? Hand made to order, nothing from any other Ducati will fit. So if it breaks, you've got to find someone who could make you, oh I don't know, a crankcase say.

First person who says it could go in a museum gets a lifetime working in Harley Davidson's new model development shop.

Brakes are more powerful than engines

Another snowfall, another unfortunate to dig out of the roadside. The brakes on a family car can generate more power than a Ferrari engine, which is why their 60-0 time is faster than the 0-60 acceleration of any Fezzer. But so what?

So what is that everyone who's crashed down our lane says "the brakes just locked" or "the ABS didn't cut in" No, you burke, because on packed snow friction is fiction, and you can no more brake than you could max out a new Italia. Get over it people, and learn to think ahead.

Those who ride bikes, and especially old bikes, know that you can never rely on brakes alone. I just wish I could trust everyone else to do the same, as they slide past my kids, completely unable to control over a ton of scrap metal and hoping they hit something soft.

Like a pedestrian

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Spaghetti Carbonara - American bacon meets Italian cucina

Friends have just got these little fellas, so come early summer they'll need to be space in the freezer and hopefully some homemade bacon.

As the liberating Americans came up through Italy they'd ask Trattorias if they could cook something using the eggs and bacon sent from home. Spaghetti Carbonara was the result, so it doesn't want pancetta but thick cut smokey bacon. One of Team Benzina's faves, and a family meal that takes 15 minutes from 'fridge to table. Ready meals? How very American...

Try it - this'll serve 4; you'll need 6 slices smoked back bacon, 2 eggs, parmesan or similar, a clove or two of garlic, fresh parley, plus 350-400g spaghetti depending on your appetite

Big pan of water onto boil, and get the pasta on. Meanwhile chop bacon into smallish squares, and fry in olive oil 'till browning - 5 minutes plus. Crush garlic cloves and fry with the bacon for 30 seconds or so and then bin (the garlic cloves, not the bacon!). Add a splash of white wine and let it reduce, then keep the mix warm

Break the eggs into a warm bowl big enough to take all the cooked pasta, whisk briefly with a fork, adding a chopped tablespoon of fresh parsley, pepper and about 50g of grated parmesan.

Soon as the spaghetti's cooked (see the packet, but usually about 10 minutes) drain and add to the eggy bowl, pour on the bacony gloop, and stir madly to coat with the all the egg/cheese/parsley/bacon. Serve prontisimo on hot plates.

And please - no cream. We're not French, dammit

Get me a pic, and make it snappy

Team Benzina were privileged to help out on a Classic Bike photoshoot, with ace lensman John Noble catching olden days racer Richard Stevens at large on his Enfield Interceptor. And as with most things, you never realise what's involved until you get involved. Hours doing statics, getting lighting just so, with kit that costs about the same as a roundcase Duke 750SS does these days.

And then, chasing fading light, onto the road. Lawyers and Hi-Vis vest types mean the days of hanging out the back of estate cars are long gone, so eight grands worth of Canon gets Duck taped to the back of a fruity Vauxhall. Purtroppo (as the Italians say) a dead car battery left the car rolling backwards towards the proverbial grassy knoll - on a blind bend. My, how we laughed. Only much later, when we'd saved the camera.

Here's my pics of the gig. John's efforts should make CB's cover in March. Mine took seconds to catch - John's took hours, plus post production (aka Photoshop) and a damn near 300 mile round trip. The guy's a legend in the bike mag business for very sound reasons