Saturday, 30 July 2011

When it's gone, it's gone

Just sold the last pair of Barry Sheene gloves, despite all sorts of caveats on our website about how lightweight and unsuitable for riding thy are (although I wore mine on the Giro) and really don't know whether I'll recommission another batch. Similarly I've just ordered the Phil Aynsey Ducati book from sole European distributor Disco Volante - looks expensive at £65, but there are now just four left. That means £65 will look cheap next year. Why? Supply and demand.

Take good friend of Team Benzina's, Richard Skelton. His book, Funky Moped had an RRP of £15, discounted to just a tenner by WH Smiths. But now they're all gone, and copies already regularly top £30 on eBay. Looking for something else, I spotted my 50 Years of Ducati book (£15 in the bargain bucket at the NEC) now makes over £120. Eek, better keep it away from the teething puppy...

Folk will ask why the publisher doesn't reprint, but it's rarely worth it. A hardback need to be a run of at least 1,000 copies, which will cost the same as a really nice motorbike. A run of 2,500 to 5,000 is more like it, which will cost the same as a holiday cottage in France. Would you risk it?

Not when you discover that the resellers (Amazon, Smiths, bookshops et al) expect to trouser north of half the cover price, sometimes plus a listing fee. The publisher needs to make a judgement call, and so do we. If you want something and can afford it, buy it. You'll hopefully still appreciate the book (or bike, or meal out) long after you've forgotten what you paid for it.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Sweet Home Alabama

No, not the excellent Lynyrd Skynyrd song, but the Barber museum's NCR/Ducstock event in October to celebrate the 30th birthday of the Ducati TT2.

Much of the TT2 story has been covered in Benzina (especially issue #2, with some neat follow up pics in issue #5) because we think this is the most under-rated and misunderstood Ducati of all time. Much of our insider knowledge comes via good friend Pat Slinn, who spannered Tony Rutter's TT2 to world domination in an age that had written Ducati off. We also get access to Rino Caracchi (the C in NCR) via Vicki Smith who's organising much of Ducstock. If you've got the time and (not much) money the event's going to see some of the greatest bikes of all time on Barber's amazing track - you can ride too, and then visit possibly the world's greatest motorsport museum

Plus you'll get to learn about the TT2 and its 748cc successor, the TT1. Often (and easily) faked, maybe 20, maybe 40 or so factory TT2s were built, plus perhaps 200 customer bikes. I must've seen that many in the UK alone...Hmmm. Most telling is that the serious collectors (already up to their eyes in round case 750SSs) are moving in. If you have the cash and can find a genuine, verifiable TT2 or 1 buy it now, because in a decade whatever you paid is going to look cheap for what was the last Taglioni designed Ducati

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Sexism for grown ups

Interviewing the very wonderful Elizabeth Raab for Benzina #6, I started out by saying I didn't want to go over the feminism/sexist/exploitation angle other interviewers were seemingly convinced was the elephant in the room (Elizabeth's work is astonishingly erotic in a way that bears comparison with Bob Carlos Clarke): I was slightly nervous about this gambit, but luckily Elizabeth felt the same: we're all grown ups, everyone's being fairly remunerated, and no laws were broken. Move on, and let's not trawl over old ground.

Sure, ads like this 70s AGV number are troubling because the girl's made to seem a bit dim because she's interested in looks and money alone. Hmm. Next week I'm lucky enough to have been married to Dr Girlie Nice-Smile for 20 years, but was it her medical degree or understanding of the human condition that made me notice her standing in the neighbour's garden? Hell no, and I'd be disappointed she was first attracted to me by my insight into the evils of cementitious pointing. These things might have kept us interested in each other since 1989, but they were never the spark.
Anyway, the prudes who insist that finding the mere sight of the opposite sex attractive is wrong seem to be "Don't-do-as-we-did" come-lately prudes: Germaine Greer spoke at our local school about "Fun with feminism" and it was just one long grumble about how a very rich woman's life could have been even better. Ditto the insufferable Joanna Lumley's recent grumbles about "kids today": how can someone who played Patsy in Ab Fab whine about role models? We can't all be Ghurkhas. No wonder Lenny Henry left her. (It was her, wasn't it? Must buy Hello occasionally...)

So Benzina will keep printing pics of ladies we find attractive, with a very simple rubric: if Dr Girlie Nice-Smile and our daughter don't find the images demeaning or offensive, and they add something to a story, in they go.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Spa treatment 3 - warm up

Chris riding: not bad for first visit to Spa...more at Team Guzzi Nerd

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Night Moves

Maybe I spent to much time as a kid lying in the dark listening to stuff like Bob Seger's Night Moves but I love finding bike's tucked down dark alleyways. It's like finding a hidden gun or stash of drugs: what's it doing there? You just know the owner wouldn't take kindly to finding your loitering, so you move on. Who'd ride a sports bike to a night-time liaison that's held in a seedy backstreet? This 999 appeared at about 10pm and was gone just after midnight, parked barely 25m from a floodlit carpark. Not locked, but in the shadier parts of Italy you'd better be sure of your criminal connections before stealing it.

At least the 999 has an OK headlight, at least compared to the 916 series. Years ago, riding my 916 back from Bristol it started to get dark, and I actually stopped to check the headlights were working. By the time I got a 999 I was ready to ride with a torch between my teeth...

The 999 was a shock after the 916 series, and felt more like a fast ST4 than a 998. With the comfort seat and screen it was a real ground-coverer regardless of traffic or the road. Pity it was slower than a 998S. And it became the machine that turned me off modern bikes - where the 998 still had Dzus fasteners and natty brackets the 999 was more like a washing machine under the skin; zillions of little screws, and obviously intended to be cheaper to built than the 916 series. Maybe that's the way of the world, and it can be admirable - I love the way my Fiat 500 has a tensioned "carpet" that rests on the spare wheel to form the boot floor: simple, lightweight and clever enough to let them sell a brand new car at £8000. But when I buy something special - like a sportsbike - I want it to feel special. Like Bianchi bicycles, with their clickety-click alloy gear shifters and hidden cable runs. So when I look at an 848 Evo with those self-tapping screws holding one bit of plastic to another, or the Diavel's exhaust trying to look like there's two silencers rather than a single pressing I shudder. Too reminiscent of the final MV Agusta 750 America's abominations, for a start

Friday, 8 July 2011

The future of publishing (and everything else)

The crocodile tears over the News of the World's demise is an interesting insight into the future of publishing, and maybe the entire future of business. What analysts call the Tesco and Chanel future - basically you either sell a lot and make a little bit on everything, or you sell a few things to a niche (and ideally affluent) market.

The phenomenal readership of the News of the World means advertisers (normally) queue up to take display space. Circulation might (like all other mainstream titles) be falling, but 2.7 million sales a week gives advertisers a chance to reach far more household than any other Sunday paper can ever dream of. Visiting London I can't believe how many people are trying to give me free papers and magazines: even the once mighty Evening Standard is handed out FOC. Big Issue? Not unless it's free, my homeless chum. The game's the same, it's about the numbers - a real life internet, in fact.

So it is with Riders, an Italian magazine. Just 2.50 Euros: that's virtually free, when Motociclismo's almost treble that. Not many words (though there's a very random interview/photoshoot with Ben Spies) and some nice design, but not much to get your teeth into (a plus point if your Italian's as bad as mine). I could also get by without product reviews of swimming trunks and suncream. But look at the advertisers: trainers, cosmetics, clothes - even the odd bit of bike related stuff. Basically the cover price is for the retailer, while the publisher works on the advertising revenue.

Question is, does this put the reader first? Who knows, but it does matter. With the disappearance of the middle market goes a lot of jobs, and a helluva hole in our High Streets. When I left school the bright but not brilliant kids could aspire to being a shop manager, work in a bank or become an apprentice. From here on in our kids are either going to get to the top of the greasy pole or stack shelves. The irony this is driven by technology as much as the emergence of Asia as a global force: the technology that was going to give us so much free time. Be careful what you wish for, because it amounts to haves and have nots: like the Kaiser Chiefs, I predict a riot

In the meantime, technology means Benzina can break even at 1,000 copies, which is pretty niche. Thank you to everyone who supports the project, and I guess it's the Chanel path for me. I wonder if that means I get to ride Keira Knightley's prototype Ducati 750 Sport off-roader (below)?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Spa treatment Part II

Dreams can come true: Team Guzzi Nerd came 18th in last weekend's Spa 4 hour race, despite this being their first visit to the circuit. They were first Guzzi home too. They weren't even certain they had an entry until they signed on, which is bloody heroic when you built the racer yourself and travelled from LA. Yes, Los Angeles USA.

Madman behind this is Andrew Gray, an English born designer plying his trade Stateside. He's been a good friend of Benzina magazine, helping raise sales and profile on the West Coast and I only wish I could have been at Spa to be part of what is becoming one of the greatest races in the world: full details of last year's nailbiting race was in issue #2 of Benzina. Interviewing old time racer Keith Martin a few weeks back (another lovely bloke, but clearly barking because he was not only mad enough to race a Kawasaki 500 triple at the TT - he won on it to boot) Keith told me he considers there have only been three real circuits: the IOM, Spa and the (defunct) Nurburgring. And he should know, because he's had success on the lot, and Spa was even more ball-breaking back then

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Teas and cakes today

If you fancy a rideout today it's teas and cakes from 2pm till fourish...more at Teas and Cakes

Friday, 1 July 2011

Tyred and tested

Where's the time go? I go for a few weeks away and suddenly it's all catch-up. Sorry if any benzinas have been slow going out, and if you've had problems with issue 5 please shout, because I'm taking one particular matter up with the printers.

Anyway, on to happier stuff. The lovely F1 Montjuichs in the picture have been recently restored to as-new, but with one sad failing: the tyres. The whole Paso/F1 16" tyre debacle staggers on, with the original sizes unobtainable unless you fancy paying £300-odd for a second-hand tyre that's probably sat outside on a bike, even though sellers always claim they've been in lightproof black plastic in a dry attic since new. Amazing foresight,some people. Or nerve...

The problem started with Pirelli giving up production of the sizes in question fairly early on (and it seems their tyres were never homologated in Germany) leaving Michelin as the sole manufacturer of tyres that would fit the Paso and F1. When both bikes bombed (barely 4,000 Pasos were made, some taking five years to sell, and only 2,500 F1s were sold plus maybe 1,300 of the 350/400cc variants) that left a fairly niche market. I'm told a tyre manufacturer won't do a run at less than a 1,000 tyres (unless you're prepared to pay silly money): so let's say (optimistically) half the bikes are used regularly enough to need new tyres every three years, and that half those people haven't discovered one of the many tricks that let's you go for alternatives - that still amounts to one tyre run every three years. But none have been made in over a decade...

I've been told the homologation certificate expired in Germany and it wasn't economical to rehomologate the tyre. Of course in these litigious times Michelin know you can't just sell in one country and claim they won't find their way into another. Occasionally NOS comes up but they can be 20 years old - the dating code's in Benzina #1. There are some bodges that allow slightly different tyres to fit (spacing sprockets out, or cutting swing-arms (eek)) but these are trickier on the 750 than the 906: which is why I bought a 906.

But Avon have now made some tyres that will fit without mods and the Germans have homologated them for the Paso (and by implication

the F1 series): interestingly, apart from the Michelin's these are the ONLY other tyres approved. They're the Azaro AV45ST (front) and AV46ST (rear) 130/70ZR16 and 150/80ZR16, and easy to source in the UK at about £220 a pair - they're intended for less sporty bikes so need a lot of warming up (faster riders tell me!) but at least those of us lucky enough to own a Paso can get back to mile munching in comfort without having to worry about wearing out tyres.