Saturday, 29 January 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)

Friday, 28 January 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

Sunday, 23 January 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

Saturday, 22 January 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

Thursday, 20 January 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

Saturday, 8 January 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...

Thursday, 6 January 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.

Click here to learn more about Imber in a new book about Wiltshire
More pics here

Tuesday, 4 January 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?