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

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Orgasm faker and a nit-raker; the truth about Fiat 500 owners

"I'm an orgasm faker and a nit-raker"; genius - guys, we need to do our bit. " Two million views so far yet Fiat initially thought this was too controversial to release.

Friday, 4 January 2013

What happens in Vegas

 Another year, another Bonham's auction, this time in Las Vegas. There's the usual older Japanese and British stuff, and some nice Americana but that's hardly our fetish. So pushing past the worryingly appealing BMW racers (I blame Reg Pridmore) it's on the frankly bizarrely estimated Italian stuff. Around £5,000 for this Laverda SFC, for instance. Hello? Try six times that or more, and then clock that it's not got an SFC frame number. Yup, a fake listed as the real thing but priced as a fake. Weird. But then Up to £19,000 for a "racing" MV Agusta 175? £9,000 for a CST175? The American's must love their MVs. And then there's the "NCR" Ducati racer at £40,000. About what the ex-Roger Nichol's bike made, but hey this one had the later squarecase engine. If anyone can confirm that the later NCR works bike used these I'd love to hear more. In the meantime consider this - works Ducatis and NCRs hade frame numbers (because otherwise you couldn't get them in and out of Italy) but these are a closely guarded secret. The listing for this bike gives standard 900SS frame and engine numbers, but then there's a letter from NCR saying this "It is certain that the motorcycle Ducati 860 NCR frame # DM N860SS*088923, property of Carlo Saltarelli (ah, that might explain a lot...allegedly) was converted to a Tourist Trophy Version by our company. This was done with part kits from ciclistica and with mechanical motor parts from Franco Farne"
Hmmm. Wonder who the cataloguer asked abut this? But there is also a 250 Parila racer listed. Or did it start life as a Wildcat? That's the problem with shaky listings - everything starts to look dodgy. But if you're tempted to bid, remember importing into Europe will involve import duties and VAT. And taking advice from someone who knows the marque you're interested in...

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Stuffed: here's to 2013

So that was Christmas; hopefully you had a good one. Best thing for me was not getting much stuff - as a friend said, we're at the age where getting socks (and I did) is a blessed relief. Trying to look grateful for something you didn't want and are going to be asked about later is not for me. Love, health and happiness will do nicely, thanks, along with time to make the most of them. Having spent much of the last few months researching Moto Guzzi's rich history really does bring home the one constant - we all die, and what remains is not the stuff we had but the things we achieved. Life should be about doing, not having. So it was with delight and relief that Dr Girlie Nice-Smile's presents to me were a copy of my long-lost "Twistgrip" by LJK Setright (which I snaffled at a bargain price on eBay months ago before handing it to her without even peeking inside) plus tickets to see Bruce Springsteen in June; about the only music we agree on. We've been married for over 20 years and both had our own homes when we met; we do not need more stuff. Apple’s iStuff leaves me cold, as do computer games: in fact before buying anything these days I need to be sure I’ll still want it in the house (or garage...) a decade from now. As William Morris counselled, do not own anything you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. Wise words that should be posted on the doors of every place of commerce; I cannot understand how people spend Christmas day unwrapping stuff, then charge off to the shops on Boxing Day to buy... more stuff. Where do they put it all?
Maybe that's why I've got fond memories of 2012; it was a year of happenings. Bradley Wiggins winning the Tour de France and the Olympics opening ceremony both reduced a grown man to tears. And both proved what Britain can achieve when it works as Team GB, rather than adopting the confrontational bickering of politicians and union leaders. We can guess what you want, people, we've heard the same stuck record for decades. Go look up that Kennedy quote; no, not the one about going to the moon, the one about asking what you can do or your country.

Going to the moon? 2012 saw Neil Armstrong’s passing and reminded me that ours was a generation blessed by science being sexy. Knowing stuff rather than wanting stuff was seen as the future. Still might be... and the Higgs Boson thing answered a question a Physics teacher planted in my brain n 1976; what is gravity? Not what does the force we call gravity do, but what causes that force. And now I know; hopefully we'll find out what light is next. And how things fly; really - turns out it's not the Venturi effect after all...
But the all year high was getting into the Morbidelli museum, guided around by Snr Morbidelli himself. For free. He even insisted we sat on his V8 and Grazianno Rossi's 500 racer. Who wants stuff? It'll be times like these I'll remember in the old peoples' home, not that I never owned an iPhone. So I’ll remember 2012 for what happened (below) and I wish you a happy and memorable 2013

+ thanks to Cycle Garden for the girl-on-a-Guzzi pic