Monday, 28 June 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...

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Issue two at the printers

The final proofs have been signed off, and issue two of Benzina is now in the safe hands of Cambrian Printers in sunny Aberystwyth (really - that's it in the pic). We should post the pre-orders before the end of next week, and with a few copies of Issue 1 left there's still a deal to be had by subscribing.

Friday, 25 June 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.

Thursday, 24 June 2010


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

Wednesday, 23 June 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 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.

Tuesday, 22 June 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.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Italian Sports Moped 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

Friday, 18 June 2010


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.

Wednesday, 16 June 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 or 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.

Tuesday, 15 June 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.

Monday, 14 June 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

More pics here

Friday, 11 June 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

Thursday, 10 June 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..

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 bike's 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

Wednesday, 9 June 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.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Sport Classic? No thank you..

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?

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)

Monday, 7 June 2010

Confused? I'm not so 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

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

Sunday, 6 June 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.

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)

Saturday, 5 June 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 Laverda RGS (owned for 21 years) and Stuart for risking ridicule on a Kawasaki 400 when his Ducati wouldn't play ball

More pics here

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

Friday, 4 June 2010

Bolt upright shocks

This F2 Ducati race rep's 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.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Tea and cakes - and more

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...

Wednesday, 2 June 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...more at the main

Benzina website