Saturday, 29 June 2013

My sort of traffic jam - Kawasaki Z1, Triton and Spitfire

Tried to get down to the  Chalke Valley history festival, especially as Saturday included the warbirds as part of the Chalke Valley air show . Sadly the long queue for the festival meant we didn't get in, but instead watched the Spitfires, Hurricane, Sopwith Triplane and more from a field, high above the show. So the traffic jam actually meant we had a better view than the show-goers. Perfect.

The approach lane was so narrow that bikes couldn't filter past the cars for much of the way in, which meant chatting to the owners of the Kawasaki Z900 and wideline/Thunderbird Triton below; if only all traffic jams were as entertaining.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013


Issue 11 is here, and just back from posting the first copies to the early-bird orders; thank you all. You can buy a copy by clicking here.

But that it has appeared at all might come as a surprise to those who were told issue 10 would be the final copy: Benzina had simply become too much work for a one man band. And then there was a wave of support, specifically from one subscriber: a graphic designer called Shaun Power.

Benzina #11 is a very different – and we think greatly improved – magazine. It’s now 100 pages of beautifully crafted matt paper in a unique 21x26cm (8.3×10 inches) size and, although the focus is still Italian motorcycles, we’ve introduced a little promiscuity, Like there’s a Honda in there. But when Gerald Davison (who ran Honda’s NR500 race team) started telling me the true story of the project (backed up by Ivar de Gier’s interview with the Japanese project leader) it was too good to let go. Basically most of what you thought you knew was wild guesses by journalists frustrated at Honda’s secrecy. The need to hide the truth might have been in part to hide the incompetence of the young aeronautical engineers drafted into the project. The policy was not to let anyone near the NR if they knew anything about motorcycles, in the hope of a blue-sky revolution. One example of this foolishness was a late night call from Japan telling the British mechanics to remove oil from the NR500 Ron Haslam as due to race – they’d discovered an extra 3bhp could be produced if the crank didn’t have so much oil to spin through at 23,000 rpm. What they hadn’t thought about was what would happen when Ron leaned the bike over; the feed was now above the oil level, and the NR blew up. Again.

Other issue 11 exclusives include the true stories of the Targa Florio Motociclista : plus – Laverda SCF750: Axel Budde on his Kaffeemaschines: Phil Schilling’s Ducati F3: Final part of the Ducati 860GTS project: The Moto Guzzi Le Mans that gave Yamaha the finger, plus the MGS-01: Mark Williams’ Running Out of Road: The art of posters, literature and poetry; and more. Buy it – you’ll love it

Friday, 21 June 2013

Taking tea with Bruce Springsteen

Snapped this couple, on the Ricoh Arena pitch, as Bruce Springsteen sang his heart out. They unfolded the picnic chairs, got out the Tupperware, and had supper as the other 40,000 people in the room watched the Boss. Surreal.

I never really enjoy Christmas, but last year it really was the longest day: Dr Girlie Nice-Smile bought tickets to see The Boss at the Ricoh on the Solstice. Plus a stay at a nice hotel nearby, full of middle aged couples squeezing into tee shirts and jeans to see if Bruce Springsteen has still got it at 63. And boy, has he. Looks like he still knows it and loves performing to boot. Pulled a request card from the audience with “Play anything” on it and held it aloft with a “I love you people!” Then spotting that the author had written “I’d look good playing your guitar” on the back, pulled her up to prove it.

Best bit for this fan (I fell, aged 15, for Born to Run: still play it – on vinyl – regularly, nearly 40 years after I bought the album) was when Mr S kicked into the title track and the reserved, middle class British audience finally got to their feet. A madman who’d been miming to the stands from the pitch finally hit overdrive - and then fell over. Then came 10th Avenue, then – unbelievably – She’s the One (at which point everyone seemed to check their smartphones; shame on them). And then the rest of Born to Run; every track. Over seven minutes of Thunder Road, and as Jungleland played out, I seemed to have something in my eye. Nothing from my second-favourite Springsteen album, Tunnel of Love, but then that’s about his breakup with the previous Mrs S, and maybe the lovely Patti Scialfa being on stage (the current Mrs S) had something to do with it; anyway, never mind. We all helped out with Hungry Heart, the quality of Springsteen’s passion carried clearly in Wrecking Ball, and the quality of his voice shone throughout. What a show, what a man. Three hours with nary a break. We went hope elated, and even after two hours queuing for a taxi, no-one complained. We could all die happy now, we’d seen The Boss at his best.

PS - Issue 11 of Benzina out this week; more soon

Monday, 3 June 2013

Kawasaki Z1A, Laverda Jota and the Air Ambulance

Don't Panic - it's not what you think. Saturday's
Teas and Cakes was overflow by the Wiltshire Air Ambulance - spooky; after all we only raised £33, so it can't have been the money. Truth is, it passes by regularly on the way south avoiding the military fly-zone of Salisbury Plain. Should have pooped in - Neil's lovely Z1A had even the Italophile's admiring it, and parked next to Jack's Jota it really did highlight two approaches to selling big, fast motorcycles. And once again the Morinis outnumbered everything: Chris's Sport was lovely, but frankly even Dr Girlie Nice-Smile liked Howard's Ducat 750GT best. Ridden a round trip of nearly 400 miles just to drop by and see us, it is a thing of beauty. Only wish I'd bought one when they were three grand. And if you need spares or extras Howard doesn't just ride Ducatis - he's also behind Disco Volante and Widecase, the eponymous Ducati singles’ site .

Enjoy the pix - next event is 6 July, just a £3 donation to the Air Ambulance getting you homemade tea and cakes, a chance to natter with like minded souls and a fine ride through Wiltshire countryside.




Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Tea and cakes and bargain tee shirts

We’ll be running teas-and-cakes next Saturday 1st June from 2pm till late afternoon, but with no Benzina etc. to promote we’re asking for a  donation of £3 per person, £2 of that to Wilts Air Ambulance; there’s rarely a huge crowd but we still donated £20 last month. You are of course more than welcome – the more the merrier. More info and approximate directions on the website – postcode is SN10 4PX. More at

And breaking news - We’ll be relaunching Benzina magazine in a month or so, so – as they say – everything must go.  That means some great clearance offers on the website shop: tee shirts are Buy one, get one free, and loads of stuff is half price. More at


Monday, 20 May 2013

Controvery at Donington? Meet the real Ducati TT2 and TT1

The Ducati TT2/TT1 symposium planned for the Donington Park classic event over the weekend of 9th-11th August is shaping up nicely. Based on the TT symposium that's run in the US for several years (below) there should be plenty of controversy - like does Tony Rutter's TT1 (above at the TT) exist anymore? Tony had a nasty crash at Montjuic Park (probably on a blown-up GSX-R's oil, which explains the occasional claim he was riding a Suzuki: it's in some photos of the crash.) and the TT1 was destroyed: Tony was left in a coma for several days, with the oft-maligned Vernon Cooper part of the beside vigil in Barcelona. Post-crash photos show the TT1's frame in two, and all the magnesium cases and suspension melted by the ensuing fire. But then how often do you have to replace an axe's head and shaft before it stops being your axe? As Paul Simon wrote, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest
The TT2 was Taglioni's swansong, and reflected his distrust of complexities like 4-valve heads and liquid cooling. Once the Castiglionis had Massimo Bordi in the big chair (and thanks to Reno Leoni working out how to stoke a Pantah to 748CC) the TT1 became the prototype Ducati Superbike, with rising rate rear suspension and super trick front forks, courtesy of Cagiva's 500GP racer. From then on 4-valve heads and a liquid cooling were only a matter of time, along with the legendary 851cc capacity. So that makes the TT2/TT1, rather than the bevel twin, the real genesis of Ducati's domination of superbike racing and that fantastic T-shirt with the Cagiva elephant and the Sumo wrestler...
 More on the event below
The  9th 10th and 11th August 2013  will be the dates for the first ever TT2 Symposium to be held in the UK with people coming from as far afield as Australia to view and show these wonderful bikes. We have a dedicated area where we shall have The Italian Village where these classic bikes will be displayed in all their glory, we are also anticipating having an area where one can sell and buy spares etc for their bikes.

It is being held at Castle Donington in conjunction with the CRMC.....It is possible to buy weekend passes and there are excellent secure camping facilities available. £40 will get you 2 adult passes, 1 camping space and the facility to display your bike. Should you wish to book please mail your interest to If camping doesn’t appeal there are many hotels and B&Bs in the area and I suggest you look at

Should you wish to enter your bike for an event please visit the CRMC site to down loads the regs etc. However there will be an opportunity in the early evenings to parade the bike around the track ( not a race I stress !) For any further information please contact Roy Thersby on 01642 612784

Friday, 10 May 2013

Something for the weekend? Moto Guzzis in the alps and paintings in Bath


If you fancy a wander around Bath while being bit a bit more intellectual than the average tourist, you could stroll round Newbridge Art’s Trail and take in Richard Varley's paintings (above and bottom) as seen in issues 8,9 and 10 of Benzina magazine . Also really love the work of Robert G Fresson, below.


Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The return of tea and cakes - plus famous Ducati Mike Hailwood Replica for sale

We’ll be running teas-and-cakes this Saturday 4th May from 2pm till late afternoon, but with no Benzina etc. to promote we’re asking for a donation of £3 per person, £2 of that to Wilts Air Ambulance. You are of course more than welcome – the more the merrier - but please email via the website first so that we have an idea of numbers. More at
One of our regular visitors has been this Mike Hailwood Rep, a one-time cover tart for Classic Bike magazine and their 2009 bike-of-the-year winner. Now for sale; you could become famous! More details below.


Ducati 900MHR 1982. 5000 miles since fully rebuilt mechanically and cosmetically. Red/Yellow paint like TT2, Lucas RITA style ignition system, updated with digital MOIRA box and modern coil, SS half fairing. Classic Bike of the Year in Classic Bike magazine, March 2009 issue. Top end rebuilt by Nigel Lacey, Improved Crankshaft by Godden Engineering. Very clean and tidy, but was built to ride, not as a show bike. Fully useable, ridden to Manx GP and back last year without missing a beat. Original Owners Handbook, two full fairings available. Fully serviced, new chain, sprockets, tyres and ready to ride for the summer. More details on request. £12500 o.n.o. or 07917247027

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Real Thing - Ducati TT2 for sale


Genuine TT2, a privately campaigned bike in the same ownership last 18 years. All the right bits like forks, rear calliper carrier and lovely NCR stampings. No frame number – seems it has never left Italy until now. Engine numbers known, but was upgraded to TT1 spec many years ago with 650 crankcases, and the Rino Leoni developed trick of stroking to 748cc. 41.5mm carbs. Was last paraded in 2012. Perfect for parading at the TT1/2 symposium 9-11 August at this year's 

Good value at £30,000 when Santamonicas are making over £20k and especially considering what the TT2 from the Ducati museum made last year. Tempted? Me too. If you have the money and the taste get in touch with Made in Italy Motorcycles

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Classic Race Bikes at Castle Coombe

Yes please - maybe we'll organise a ride back to Teas and Cakes

Saturday 8th June at Castle Combe will be a unique opportunity for classic riders to give their machines a run out, when NG Road Racing will be hosting a Classic Parade at the only bike race meeting this year.

Riders aged between 18 and 70 riding Classic race or sports machines will be on circuit for two 15-minute sessions. This will be a chance to relive those historic racing moments from the last century. When not on track there will be a display of all the classic machines with details of their racing history.
If you would like to join the action full details will be found at

If you are a spectator advanced tickets will be available at


Friday, 12 April 2013

Ben Hur reloaded - Charlton Heston on a Vespa

Spotted in the Sunday Times magazine; a Warner bros behind the scenes snap of Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd on a Vespa. I vaguely remember that the chariots were pulled behind motorcycles, but I don't think I've actually seen the film (a grandmother used to make us watch classics whenever they were on TV); funny how everyone knows the chariot race anyway.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Back in the room with Borrani

Well, it looks like Benzina will return, but perhaps it'll bee September before we've a hard copy on sale. A subscriber who became a friend (as many do, and it is much appreciated) is a pro-designer and the ideas are very exciting,. But more anon...

In the meantime a long-time friend (as in over thirty years) has taken over as editor of Classic Bike Guide and, given that he didn't sit in the big chair 'till February 6th, boy are there some changes - all for the good. As well as CBG now looking far more stylish and grown up than anything else on the market, the content is (I think) several rungs up from the "Here's another restored Commando", roadtest driven stuff on offer elsewhere. It's even got Gary Inman of Sideburn fame commenting on the link between loving vinyl and old motorbikes, plus a column by - scoop this - Paul D'Orlean aka The Vintagent.
I was also flattered that Gary asked me to contribute, which meant disappearing from here. Inevitably I got roped into a Honda 400/4 buyers' guide since I had three as a teenager. But did you know that the boxy tank and 4-1 exhaust were simply cost cutting measures? Me neither. Plus I did a piece on the new Borrani rims (see the pix), which caused a bit of a ruckus behind the scenes. Which, all you lawyers, I might have dreamt. A very big wheel builder and seller questioned whether these are actually made in Italy. In fact, he went further and claimed that he had seen the rims being made, dimpled and drilled in China before being sent to be stamped "Borrani - Made in Italy" near Milan before being dumped on a duped public. He also claimed the quality of the drilling was so poor that premature wear at the very least was inevitable.

Putting aside what Mr Concerned of Big Business Wheels was doing in a Shanghi factory that makes substandard spokes and rims, I chased up UK importers Disco-volante and we got onto the Italians themselves. Oh, what a tale emerged...
It seems Mr Concerned had a couple of goes at securing the UK distribution of these "poor quality Borranis" himself, and only turned whistleblower when he was politely but firmly told a deal was done with Disco-volante. Following his accusations, the Italian distributors (who make their money on the car side and are adding bike rims to the range as an act of historic enthusiasm) have said anyone can go to Italy and see the rims being prepped, "Except Mr(redacted) who we would only like to see in court."

The reality is that Italy has no natural resources, so even the original Borranis would have been made from imported alloy: in truth to keep costs down the new Borrani motorcycle (but not car) rims are made in China, but are polished, dimpled and drilled in Italy to the original patterns. Wheelbuilders who have used them like the new Borranis, and certainly feel they're better than running a 40 year old original. The point about having Borrani stamped on rims is important to lots of folk - so many bevel Ducatis were raced that inevitably their original wheels went in crashes or in favour of cast alloy items. Take it from someone who got bored to death of folk crouching down to see Akront stamped on the rim of my 450 Desmo and then saying (adopt adenoidal train-spotter's voice), "It's a fake then?" If only the new-old-Borranis had been available when I had it built in 2008...

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Moto Guzzi V7 Cafe Classic for sale

 Moto Guzzi V7 Cafe Classic for sale 
- first registered on 1-11-09 on a 59 plate - I am the second owner - 9000 miles -recent full service at Moto Strada, a well respected Guzzi dealer in Shipley, Yorkshire - finished in Legnano green- recently the subject of an article in Real Classic magazine 103 -phone no. 0114 2662252 07889 345866  £3800.00

These are lovely daily rides - I rented a Classic from Agostini's (story's in Benzina #9)

Monday, 18 February 2013

Benzina #7 reappears

We've found a couple of boxes of Benzina #7 with another vendor, so can now offer single issues again. Amazing what some people have down the back of their sofa. You can buy online here

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Phil Read and MV Agusta in perfect harmony

1974 French film; Phil Read at his finest. The title means "the iron horse". Best watched while listening to "Ace of Spades" by Motorhead. Or is that just me?

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Mike (Michelle) Duff Film

Thanks to Davida for pointing out that this film has appeared on YouTube. Nine minutes of period racing with Mike (now Michelle) Duff and an insight into what it was like to be a privateer in the 1960s. Hugely under appreciated rider, and her book Make Haste, Slowly is a must read.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Kevin Ash

So within hours of posting an "at least they died doing what they love" blog, I was told Kevin Ash had died on the BMW GS1200 launch. What to say? His daughter's words are the most poignant, posted on his own website, Ash on bikes:

'The phrase “he died doing what he loved” sprang to mind but I would like to stamp that firmly out. He loved his family more and we love him. As his oldest daughter, I only recently started to fully realise just how much further his parenting went than most; on receiving a tearful phone call at Stanstead airport it was a natural response to immediately cancel his press launch and ride back home to teach trigonometry the night before exams. Everything he did was entirely for his children and his wife, and a little bit for his cat. My parents loved each other very much and I hope that one day we can learn to live without him.'

I Met Kevin very briefly at the Silverstone Ducati HQ opening and he was a personable, ego free zone unlike too many other motorcycling journalists. I wasn't surprised, because his writing style reflected this, and never descended to the "I'm a riding God" routine but instead gave useful insights and clear advice that made it obvious he wrote for the reader not his ego. He was also happy to embrace his inner geek , and Ill miss him for that. But then we shared many of the same thoughts, like the hopelessness of the BMW K100 and electric bikes; perhaps the greatest tribute to Kevin is Chris Hunter of BikeEXIF's interview: read it here.

When Ollie Bridewell died, I gave his parents a copy of one of my favourite poetry books with the following verses by Mary Frye picked out. They have become much repeated over the last decade, but still work for me.
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
Rest in peace, Kevin Ash

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Less is More. Plus some heresy...

Thanks to Benzina supporter Shaun Power Design for the first two pix; I'm no fan of obsessive adherence to originality, but sometimes it's better than trying too hard. The gold heat shield on the 900SS, the unexplained crotch chain, the... No, none of my business. But if you spot me looking like this take the humiliating snap and then throw rocks. Please.

And as for the Guzzi; at least it's just a V65 and the sheer effort is admirable... but is that a look? And no excuse for the lights. Look like he pinched them from a stairwell in a high rise car park. If you must there's more if you click here.
Surely less is nearly always more, and to stick my head further over the parapet, further heresy by suggesting the Honda at the bottom of this post proves the point. Bobbed mudguards, flat 'bars, and a truncated seat. Nice eye for detail and proportion: if you can achieve this on a Honda G5, what could the builder do with a better canvas? So I'll forgive the finned engine covers because I had some on a 400/4. It was the 1970s...

Friday, 18 January 2013

Giant Test: health & saftey vs. snow vs. Morini Corsarino

Snowmagedon, they're saying on the radio. Yet this is our lane, just after I'd pushed the milkman's float straight. Yet the police are saying don't travel; health and safety. You'll die, or worse. Our eldest is trapped in Salisbury because a lorry's jacknifed, and every hill (not that we have big hills in Wiltshire) is blocked by another stuck lorry. Yet the snow is maybe six inches deep, and certainly no worse than our school bus slithered through when I was a kid. Guess the lorries are just bigger, which also explains the potholes (even if the HGV industry talks about the pressure per square inch being similar to a family car; scarily that means HGV owners don't understand hydraulics. Hmmm)

You have to wonder how old time racers would view this. Researching the idea that Enzo Ferrari ran a motorcycle race team (hmmm again) I've been ploughing through old interviews. Not a word about bikes, even though he talks at length about the great Tazio Nuvolari who drove for him and of course raced a Bianchi 350 (see Benzina #4); this was Enzo's view on the pressures to make racing safer in 1977:

"Nuvolari lived a life of passionate risk, yet died, humiliated, in hospital; humiliated because he was unable to die in a race."
Not sure I'd want to run that line past grieving parents, but those I have known all said the same thing, and taken comfort from it; "he died doing what he loved." I hope I never have to wrestle with such demons, and am not entirely disappointed our kids have no interest in motorcycling. But when our daughter was offered the chance to skydive we didn't dream of talking her out of it. If we make the old folks' home, all that will be left are memories. Riding a Morini Corsarini with knackered frame bearings in deep snow will be one of mine. 

Monday, 14 January 2013

Love and Money

This programme from the 1992 Motogiro d'Italia was a present from Neil at Ardenne & Eifel Aventures and intriguingly is for "edition 4": I'd understood that the event had been started in 1988, to reimagine racing events that took place sporadically between the 1920s and 1970s. Note there's a 500 class, as well as the expected sub-175 entries. Although the most famous races are the Stadio events of 1954 to 1957 limited to sub-175cc bikes, certainly Laverda claim success in the 1970s with their 750 twin. Like the Terni event, it was probably a small scale thing that got little attention in the Italian media, let alone overseas. If you know more, please email via the team benzina website.

The Terni event is pretty much back to what it was, a club event run by Italians, for Italians, although they're happy to have anyone who can pay the entry fee on board. It certainly isn't the event run from 2001 to 2009-ish depending on how you look at these things) when the then CEO of Ducati set up a company called Dream Engine to take the event up market armed with a bucketful of Ducati cash. The hope was that the event could become a two-wheeled Miglia Mille, but for various reasons that never happened. Corner me in a pub, fill me with Peroni, promise they are no lawyers about and I'll tell you more. But in essence, when the money arrives people expect to see a return on their investment. Then someone else decides they don't want the world, just your bit of it. People do it for the love or the money, rarely both. See also MotoGP...

And so to the ill words spoken of our wonderful local event, Calne bike meet; basically, a town centre turned over to an I'll show you mine if you show me yours motorcycle show. Fantastically eclectic, there have been Desmosedicis parked up with pre-war Indians. Better still, it was laid on by the Rotary Club as a fund raiser, with bands playing, club stands and more. A perfect day out that need cost nothing more than the price of the petrol needed to ride there. For 2013 the plan was that the Rotarians would join forces with fellow charity-ors (see what I did there?) the Lion's club to make it bigger and better.

But then the event was to move to nearby Bowood House (which was auctioned off bit-by-bit in the 1950s as a tax... no, better not say) and it now a golf club cum country park. And charges you to get in. Suddenly it's hardly the egalitarian event of the past and more a mini-Goodwood chance to make money. Unless you own a pub, sandwich shop or anything else in Cane town centre. Now I know the charities involved do god work and are manned (peopled?) by volunteers but the grumblings about motives soon started. The event got cancelled, and a bit like the Motogiro the recriminations hardly help get the event back on track. But fingers crossed there will be a 2013Calne bike meet on Saturday 27 July