Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The 1970s - great for motorcycling, if not for food

Good friend and Benzina contributor Richard Skelton has just self-published a number of eBooks reminiscing on motorcycling in the 1970s: as ever with Richard, these are minutely researched and thoroughly readable even if you’re not hopelessly nostalgic about an era that was a defining moment in so many areas of life. Of my top 100 production motorcycles only a few would be post 1970s: the Ducati 916 and Monster, for sure. And I'd have to allow the Honda RC30, perhaps alongside the oval pistoned NR. Err… perhaps I'd also want the first GSX-R1100 and Katana 1000 as well. Oh, and a Guzzi MGS-01. But that’s it for the last 35 years, peanuts compared to what’s been launched since 1980. I can think of more mopeds from the 70s scorched into my memory banks than modern bikes, and chances are you’re the same: Honda sold 10 million of the original sohc CB750 in 10 years, but have only just sold the 100,000th Fireblade, 20 years after its launch. To put that in perspective, over the same period little old Ducati have sold 250,000 Monsters.

The fabulous summer we’re having in (most of) England is another reason to reminisce about the 1970s. I wonder if this might be current teenagers 1976 memories in years to come, although our generation spent rather more time outdoors than the Facebook and Xbox crowd do. But were the seventies really so much better? In many ways I think so, despite the dire state of our economy back then, often forgotten by the trendy Radio 4, Thatcher hating, pseudo intellectuals none of whom seemed able to grasp Higgs Boson let alone the cruel truth.  

But there was one area of British life that was really dire back then – the food. If you loved Angel Delight and raisins and desiccated coconut with your curry, it was… OK. If not, lumpy mashed potatoes with fatty grey lamb passed muster as a typical school dinner, and through 1976’s heatwave my grandmother thought cold baked beans and lettuce was a reasonable tea time staple. No wonder I soon learnt to cook, even if (along with arriving everywhere on a motorcycle) it was seen as a very strange pastime for a chap back then. A girlfriend once boasted to her dad that I could cook, to which he responded, “What, fairy cakes?” – and in those days “fairy” was a standard homophobic slur that shows how far we’ve come.

First thing I cooked – aged 15 - was spaghetti Bolognese, back in that long hot summer. My best mate at the time (Andy Lee, where art thee? Still in Australia?) had very middle class, Francophile parents. They had duvets, cafettierres and fondue parties. They were the 1970s, with white furniture and fluffy rugs that were a million miles from the museum pieces in my antique dealing parent’s house. Anyroadup (as Mark Williams used to say in 1970s Bike magazine) leaving Andy and me for the day, his mum said “oh, I’ve left lunch in the kitchen” before disappearing to shop in Bath. "Lunch" turned out to be a purple paper packet of super long spaghetti, some mince, an onion and a tin of tomatoes. Of course, there was Elizabeth David’s Italian food on the bookshelf. It would be decades before I realised how great the 1970s were, always chasing on to the future as the young tend to. But it was the summer of 1976 when my love of Italy was stirred by making a passable spaghetti Bolognese and obsessing over another good friend’s Garelli Rekord. Within a few years I knew that Ducati made the finest motorcycles on earth and that ragu Bolognese is never served with spaghetti in Italian homes – and that along with the ingredients we’d been left for lunch there should have been chicken livers, bacon, carrot and celery. And a lot more time – ragu needs a couple of hours to meld on a low heat, ready for another couple of hours spent at lunch itself, along with –as Elizabeth David put it – some “good, rough red wine.” She might have been writing in the 1950s but really it took 20 years for her ideas to pass into my tiny corner of rural Wiltshire, and become a part of a very special decade. So that was the 1970s, that was; mostly great, especially if you loved motorcycles.

You can buy Richard’s book here – his synopsis follows

'Motorcycling in the 1970s. The story of motorcycling's biggest, brightest and best ever decade' Volumes One to Five by Richard Skelton, author of Funky Mopeds.

'Motorcycling in the 1970s' is a series of five books about motorcycling. The books are designed to be read together, but can also be enjoyed separately.

The first volume, 'A Brief History of Motorcycling from 1887 to 1969', is a general history, swiftly told, of motorcycling in Britain from its beginnings at the end of the 19th century up until the dawn of the 1970s (interwoven to an extent with two-wheeled goings on in the USA and elsewhere).

It charts motorcycling’s pioneering years, skips through two world wars, tells of social acceptability in the 1920s, hard times in the 1930s and growing ostracisation and decline in the 1950s and 1960s.

This book attempts to make sense of the two-wheeled world order, and of motorcycling’s place in society and everyday life, and sets the scene for the larger, more detailed volumes which follow.

Volumes two to four are entitled Funky Motorcycling Parts One to Three and together they form a comprehensive, in-depth history of the bikes and motorcycling trends and events in the 1970s.

These three books tell the story of the arrival of the Superbike, the continuing and inexorable rise of the Japanese motorcycle industry and, partly from an insider’s point of view, the wasteful, lingering death of its British equivalent.

They tell of the thrilling and extraordinary sporting machines from Italy and of the bulletproof BMW twins designed in Bavaria. They tell of motorcycling culture and of two-wheeled life and lives.

In the 1970s, motorcycling became a leisure activity in a new and exciting way, there were more motorcyclists than ever before, or since, and dozens of new and ever more fabulous and technologically advanced motorcycles crammed the showrooms every year.

It was the time of Jarno Saarinen and Giacomo Agostini and of Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene. The time of British magazines Motorcycle Sport and Bike, and of Cycle in the USA, the time of Mark Williams, Dave Minton and LJK Setright in his pomp.

These books set out the argument that although the protagonists were largely unaware of it at the time, the 1970s as a whole can now be seen to have been a golden era in the history of the movement, a pivotal decade which represent a high point in the history of motorcycling that is never likely to be matched.

The final book in the series is entitled ‘The Magic of Motorcycling'. It takes a sideways look at the 1970s classic motorcycle scene in the second decade of the 21st century, and explores what it is that makes motorcycling so special to so many people yet an anathema to a great many more.

This is followed by a comprehensive set of appendices listing nostalgic, amusing and sometimes poignant reminders of the life and culture of the 1970s, reminding us of the global goings-on and domestic backdrop underlying the motorcycling scene and, of course, all lesser matters!

Monday, 21 July 2014

New Ducati Scrambler - prototype photographed at World Ducati Weekend

It was bound to happen - in 35 hours in the Scrambler zone at World Ducati Weekend, some 4,000 people filed past the Ducati Scrambler, all stripped of anything that could take a photo. As if that was possible... so this is from a French Twitter account, and seems genuine. I like the distressed tank finish in lieu of the original chrome. But at least one person I know has got fed up with the endless teaser campaign and bought a new Scrambler this week - from Triumph.

Official launch of the new entry level Ducati is at the Milan show in November, and it’ll be Spring 2015 before you can buy one in the UK

Monday, 14 July 2014

All that glitters isn't yellow - or when is a Ducati Scrambler not a Ducati Scrambler

Compare and contrast – a brace of Ducati 250 Roads: one rather tatty; the other recently restored and recently sold by the first class team at Made in Italy Motorcycles. It made under £3000, possibly less than it cost to restore. So what does that make the tatty non-runner worth?
The Road was an even more asphalt targeted version of the Scrambler developed by Mototrans, the old Ducati outpost in Barcelona. Note the reinforced right hand engine case, with those bulges ribbed inside (oh-err, as Frankie Howard would say) for extra support and a better oil pump. Some say the quality wasn’t up to Borgo Panigale standards, but the 250 and then 350 Scramblers were built by Mototrans (with the usual Ducati engine cases) for final assembly in Italy. Funny old world

Even funnier is that the tatty non-runner has just finished an eBay auction at £1851 – in other words a grand less that it’ll be worth restored and running. In fairness to the seller, I said nothing while the listing was live, but as it happens even £1851 wasn’t enough to reach the reserve, so it seems the prospective buyer’s been saved; well, I think so. Having said that, maybe due to ignorance, it was listed as a genuine Scrambler and perhaps bidders thought it was. Emphatically not the case – the early narrow case Mototrans 250s, starting with the 24 Horas, even had different bore and stroke to the Bologna versions, and many internals are different. As are the tank, seat and loads of other stuff that differentiates the Road from a genuine Scrambler (below). So be careful out there – especially if the new Scrambler launch next weekend brings on a bout of old Scrambler fever 

Saturday, 12 July 2014

A Ducati spares catalogue from Down Under that includes recipies

You've got to love the folk at Belt and Bevel - their latest Ducati spares catalogue from Down Under even includes Italian recipes... but if it's spares you want email me (greg@teambenzina.co.uk) and I'll forward the 3MB PDF

Friday, 11 July 2014

More on Mr Falloon - Ducati 860, 900 and Mille Bible v The Art of Ducati

Another brace of Ian Falloon money spinners, another hernia for the postman. In the interest of transparency, one book is great (and Kim at Veloce sent it to me for free); the other I paid for, and is... um, disappointing. Well to me, and I certainly have every admiration for Ian, having run an interview with him alongside praise for his work in issue 13 of Benzina. So let's do the positive stuff first.

The Ducati 860, 900 & Mille Bible is a pretty reliable, does-what-it-says-on-the-tin, reference, based on what the factory said it did, although if I was restoring I'd find the extra £15 and pay the eye watering £50 needed for the Ducati Bevel Twins 1971 to 1986 - Authenticity & restoration guide . Lots of period and restored bikes in both but there is an argument for buying the cheaper tome because, although the latter has useful details, the photos are better in the Bible. Well, I think so, but what do I know about photography?

Nothing apparently, because The Art of Ducati was a bit of a let down. Maybe that's not helped by the long delay in printing (perhaps due to it being printed in China, something I'm not a fan of - but at least it's admitted to; Veloce are more coy). The first thing to make my heart sink was the first sentence on the cover flap: "In the 60-plus years since Ducati's inauspicious start manufacturing cheap motorcycles - really no more than a two-stroke powered bicycle". Just plain wrong, and a bit of a fish across the face to Ducati fans.

There are other silly mistakes that contradict Ian's previous - and better - books. It's also a shame the owners of the bikes don't get named; maybe they're all paranoid about getting burgled or hit with a tax bill.

But it's the photography that should be the star turn, yet disappoints the inner anorak: non-standard bikes that seem to have been chosen for their shinny two-pack paintwork and polished alloy. If that's your sort of thing, and prefer your Ducais to have cambelts (and hate pushrods) you'll love this book. But for me it's a missed opportunity, and might explain why a newly published book is already so heavily discounted by Amazon to £26 from a cover price of £40.  Hand on heart -if you can get a copy - Phil Aynsley's  Ducati Tribute is much better, both to look at and as a reference. Sorry Ian