Tuesday, 30 November 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...

Monday, 29 November 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?

Friday, 26 November 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.

Thursday, 25 November 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

Wednesday, 24 November 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...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


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

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 in 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, that 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  Gilera Saturno won the bike race, and Masserati took every single place in the car event.

The car race got going again in 1948, but bikes were never to return to the Targa Florio. That's a big 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...

Monday, 22 November 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.

Friday, 19 November 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...)

Thursday, 18 November 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

Tuesday, 16 November 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.)

Sunday, 14 November 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.

Saturday, 13 November 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)

Friday, 12 November 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?

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 by the endless trawl for pics for Benzina #4 , and again I've been struck by how few of us can't 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 another great photographer, 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...

Thursday, 11 November 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

Tuesday, 9 November 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...

Sunday, 7 November 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...

Friday, 5 November 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, Alfa 33's on crumbling mountain roads. But once stripped of its status as a world class event, it 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...

Thursday, 4 November 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

Tuesday, 2 November 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?

Monday, 1 November 2010

World's cheapest Ducati?

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...