Saturday, 31 December 2011

Gilera Saturno Cross

Spotted on an Italian website, claiming to be a genuine Gilera Saturno 500 Cross (as seen in Benzina #004 originally one of just four ex-fiamme oro spec bikes delivered to the Ministry of Interior. These post '54 bikes differs from the first series with oval (not round) swingarm, different triple clamp mountings, exhaust pipe and seat. Restored in 1985, since then this Saturno has sat in a private collection bar a few outings to exhibitions. The price is said to be "challenging...but not absurd." In other words, if you have to ask... Still a thing of rare beauty, and incredibly undervalued outside Italy

Wednesday, 28 December 2011


Love this, shamelessly pinched from Cafe Sport blog - a home brewed double-overhead cam Ducati single. The Italians seem to delight in this sort of thing: in Benzina #004 the Gilera Saturno piece mentioned how every Italian biker seems to have a workshop capable of turning the pushrod single into a DOHC racer. Makes a refreshing change from the Brits obsession with the 100 point-perfect restorations that (for me) scar the Stafford shows.

Not that this seems to trouble the blogosphere - most seem to be asking (when they can steer away from the economy) who rides through winter anymore? Well, down in Devon with the in-laws for Christmas what should turn up on Sidmouth seafront? A Diavel, and two-up at that. Did I have a camera?, but well done that man (or woman) for dashing the clich├ęs and making my day

Friday, 23 December 2011

It wasn't me...

It wasn't me, it was Ducati: my earlier post doubting their first ever desmo racer not only won its first race, but that rider Degli Antonio lapped the entire field was based on research prompted by a book (quoted on the Ducati website!) saying the win was mere seconds. Thanks to Swedish subscriber Anders I got in touch with the guy (pictured) who the book said came second - he didn't, he DNF'd and the "lapped the whole field" tale is true. Full story in Benzina #7, which I'm now miles behind with (largely due to chasing up this story!) but will get out late January...I hope. This also explains (along with Dr Girlie Nice-Smile's flu)why I didn't send any cards or post here for a fortnight. Sorry and Happy Christmas to all

twowheels+: Piaggio Vespa Pole Position Trophy

Courtesy twowheels+: Piaggio Vespa Pole Position Trophy: Scuderia Vespa Svedese - and yes, that's Alain Prost. Brilliant...

Monday, 12 December 2011

The utimate Mono MV

So we get monoalbero monocilindrico (single cam, single cylinder) - here's the logical conclusion: just one wheel on your MV Agusta - una MV mono ruota

Friday, 9 December 2011

MV Agusta alternatives

Winter - the season of workshops and getting projects done. So given the MV 350 isn't standard, maybe the deviation from originality should be embraced. Most of the necessary bits could be provided by Disco-volante and it would stop all the geeks who love to point out variations from factory spec. Looks like a Giro racer, too. Bet Remo Venturi never had people coming up and saying, "oh, look double-overhead cams: that's not right, is it? Should have push-rods like my mate's 75 Turismo"...

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Perfect present (to yourself)

Perfect presents or the finishing touch to the garage, sitting room or outside loo: A3 (about 42cmx30cm) canvas prints with gallery wrap (the pic goes round the edge of the frame - so the first image appears cropped viewed head on when you see the real thing - see the alternative images). You can buy HERE

1968 TT and all that

Here's a newly unearthed film of the 1968 TT. Only 7 minutes, bit blury and the soundtrack sounds like you're running an old spool film with the Hill Street Blues music on in the background. But I think I spotted Ago, Read, Ivy, Robb, Cooper and Paso: that's why they called it a golden era.

Monday, 5 December 2011

The truth sometimes hurts

One of the Ducati legend set-pieces is that their first ever desmo racer (a 125 single) not only won its first race at the Swedish GP, but that rider Degli Antonio lapped the entire field. Always sounded odd to me (even though, ahem, the tale was repeated in Benzina #004 - sorry) especially when I realised how long and fast the circuit was (Hedemora). Then I found out the race favourite was the Swedish champion on another Ducati desmo, who came second to track novice Degli Antonio...

So with guidance from Alan Cathcart (currently in sunny LA - clearly I need to be a bit more ambitious) I think the win was mere seconds. A few more sources to check, and if you know the definitive answer please say. Otherwise the full story will be in Benzina #007, out January(ish). In the meantime these pics are of the 1953 Senior GP at Hedemora and other 125 desmos racing in 1958

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Red alert

Seen these? Lovely aren't they? Just been stolen from a secure garage in South West London. Maybe a professional job using a van as one bike had no rear shock. They're probably already in bits, because some parts are especially trick and make the bikes easy to spot. So pleaseclick here for details and keep a look out: £5,000 reward on the table. After a week of people waving the Red Flag and banging on about sticking together hopefully there's no need to point out that if nobody bought stuff under dodgy circumstances there'd be much less thievery...

Thursday, 1 December 2011

2012 starts here

Those of us wondering about an alternative Italian expedition to the Motogiro have been waiting for this - confirmation that Ducati will run another World Ducati Week(end?) in 2012. With that date in the diary, the serious planning for next year's riding can commence

WDW will run Thursday 21 to Sunday 24 June at Misano circuit, and should bring together 60,000 Duke fans from around the world. It's sure to follow the tried and tested formula of race track events, shows, top riders, competitions and music (Italian rock, mind...) combined with the atmosphere created by thousands of (mainly red) motorcycles. Won't clash with the TT, because that's pencilled in for May 28 to June 8.

As the event’s massive attendance invades the entire Riviera Romagnola, Ducati has ensured the cooperation and the Province of Rimini, Misano, Republic of San Marino and more. It'll be fab - more at (see what they did with that URL?)

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Panigale privileges

These just in - Phil Aynsley's Panigale photoshoot of a pre-production 1199S. Photographed in Sydney, Phil unfortunately didn't get to see just how the 'frame' and engine tied together, despite wanting to. Build quality appeared (given it was a pre-production unit) to be the same as a 1198.Missed opportunity? For me, the post 916-series bikes have had too many little screws and bits of plastic that smack of accountancy rather than engineering - here's hoping the 1199's a great leap forward.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Spunky moped

This from Spanish heroes Radical Ducati - a 48 Sport, yours for 3,000 Euros. Oddly they emphasise you can't ride it - hope this isn't the start of the hang-it-on-your-study-wall thing that has deprived the world of so many Bianchi Superleggeras

Monday, 28 November 2011

It's complicated

It was quite a shock to see good-egg Stuart Mayhew of North Leicester Motorcycles staring back at me from the Sunday Times yesterday - yet another bod caught up in the mire of running a business when some busybody told him to buy a performing licence because the public could hear the workshop radio. Same legislation prevents me listening to music on show stands and I know someone who was told he needed one because he worked from home and the phoning-in jobsworth could hear the radio on in the background. You guess it - they worked for the Government.

So you can probably guess I don't have much sympathy for Wednesday's strike, and was a fan of Margaret Thatcher, not least because I hated school milk. Mrs T got rid of that as education secretary, because she didn't see why school's should subsidise feckless parents who couldn't be bothered to give their kids a decent breakfast. In fact I only lost sympathy with the-lady-who-wasn't-for turning when she waged war on the Argentineans, which was when my rather more jingoistic friends took up her cause. And she shouldn't have sold off our gas and water to the French...

Those were tough times, taking piecemeal jobs to complete my HND business studies course (which I paid for) but I understood we had to reign in pressure groups (yes, including unions) who were rightly only interested in their own members' interests, even if their actions were sending my family's modest business dangerously close to the rocks. Problem is, then as now, few people look beyond the trees for the woods, let alone years down the line. Where were all the protests and strikes a decade ago when it was clear most people's lifestyle was simply down to borrowing by consumers and governments alike? Why did no-one point out you can't have increasing pensions in a world of falling investment returns and rising life expectancy? Because if you borrowed the money to pay for it, the problem goes away...for now. And hopefully for a future generation to worry about (and btw - youth unemployment's been rising steadily since 2002, so why all the fuss now?) But guess what? The can wasn't kicked far enough down the road and we have to clear up our own mess. Seems fair to me...

Tax the bankers? They'll move, and already some of us have realised the EU's plans to do just that will kick the UK economy where it hurts. Stop folk like Philip Green hiding his profits offshore? Great idea, but the UK already has the most complex tax system in the world, and we're too dim to cope with change. An example - our chancellor wanted to simplify employee taxation by combining income, employers and NI taxes. Anyone who's had employees will tell you how frustrating it is to calculate these deductions only to send a single cheque to the tax office. In fact the only reason you bother with all the paperwork is you know you'll be hung out to dry if you have a inspection team land on your doorstep and make your life a misery for a week before fining you. So simple idea - add the three taxes (currently about 45% at the margin for a typical full timer) and abolish the departments that administer and enforce the various schemes. You'd save a fortune, as would the grateful employers who'd be spared the paperwork. Didn't happen though, because various factions would have delighted in "Basic income tax rises to 45%" headlines, without mentioning nobody's going to pay more tax and the exchequer would save a fortune.

So while the government tries to work out how to tax those who should pay (like Boots, who are based in Switzerland...) we can make a difference. Don't do business with anyone who's using clever accounting to avoid paying their share, and make it your business to find the facts rather than the media's take on them. Ordinary people refusing to buy South African goods helped bring down apartheid, and the Israelis take more notice of you not buying their fruit than any whining government minister. Make your choices wisely, and accept that any boost to the economy by government is worthless if the rewards get blown on imported plasma TVs and foreign holidays.

But not Italian motorcycles, obviously...

Friday, 25 November 2011

Macau madness

Near neighbour to us (He's in Yeovil) Martin Jessopp claimed the runners-up spot in today's Macau Grand Prix, completing a fantastic one-two for the Riders Ducati team. But bloody hell - if this is what it takes to come second...well, we never had it. Martin, you're a legend.

Jessopp's team mate Michael Rutter (below, but not at Macau) won the race for Riders and Ducati, claiming a seventh victory around the famous Guia street circuit. Rutter made history by beating Ron Haslam's tally of six wins, but Jessopp was only 4.772secs behind in second, beating several top road riders including Ian Hutchinson in third and John McGuinness in sixth.

British Superbike racer Jessopp was delighted to get his Macau GP chance and paid tribute to British Superbike Championship veteran Rutter: “The last two years I’ve been learning from Michael. I hit the wall pretty hard on lap 1, so I settled down after that. I think Michael was playing with us for the first couple of laps.”

Rutter said of his team mate: “Martin has been there all year – he’s come along and learned a lot. It’s been a brilliant season.”

Sadly this might be the last Macau bike GP: long-time bike race co-ordinator Mike Trimby has said this is his last, and the organising committee will now think about whether the two-wheeled part of the festival will continue. Our hope is when they see this photo and the noise it's generated they'll realise it's a must-do.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Rider's/writer's block

Just back from an excellent motoring writers' conference at the National Motor Museum with a truly inspirational keynote speech by Haymarket and Autocars' Steve Cropley. Turns out we admire the same writers' - Jenks, LJK Setright, Churchill and Hemmingway, and I loved his typically robust Australian views on writers' block. Turns out he's also a biker with old Brits dating back to 1909.

I managed to catch him at lunch, and ask what he thought of motorcycle magazines and why Haymarket don't have one. "Too many egos, which is why we got rid of TWO,"(latterly Visor Down): was his shock-horror proclamation: "Motorcycle journalists spend too much time telling the reader about themselves, and not enough about the experience." Like me he'd been surprised that Bike recently devoted just 600-odd words to a five day trip through Norway on the new Guzzi Norge: "They described a couple of corners nicely, but I came away knowing nothing about the bike." I listened and learned: turns out Haymarket scribblers are discouraged from even using "I" in their copy...

More worrying was that the conference seemed mainly to feature middle-aged car nuts looking for a "change of direction." Then I read that 100,000 people in the UK have registered as newly self employed over the last four months alone. Joining the dots, it's not hard to see where those folk who loose jobs but have too many assets to claim benefits have gone. One delegate moaned to a speaker that he never received so much as an acknowledgement for his unsolicited submissions to editors. Well, chum, 100,000 "Thanks, but no thanks" letters would make a hell of dent in Autocars' postage budget...

Friday, 18 November 2011

Italian anti-style

Think all Italian bikers are slim and stylish? Uh-oh. These chaps work hard to make us slightly podgy pale faced Englanders feel much better about ourselves. When I saw the lady on the back of the Guzzi, for some reason Ram Jams seventies hit Black Betty popped into my head: now it's an ear-worm that will stick with me all day. Oh, black betty, bam-a-lam...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Ago and me

Ago's head spins as he spots another young lovely, when he's supposed to be extolling the virtues of the Castiglioni's replica MV Agusta 500/3; over £200,000 to you, sir. That's me on the right pointing out to Benzina snapper Spike that the idiot's got the gearshift on the wrong side...

Nice as the bike was, I think the detailing's better on the Kay's bikes that I've seen. In fact I find them indistinguishable from the real thing. and just guess based on condition. Like the bike below, casually left by a caravan at Stafford with no explanation. Love it.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Difazio does a Ducati

Spotted in an old album, a Difazio Ducati 750GT. I've never ridden a funny-front-ender, but back in the 70s especially I couldn't see how this could improve a big bevel's handling. I was especially cynically because the weird Quasar (a "bike" with a roof and Reliant engine) was built nearby so coming across them when out riding wasn't unusual. Even armed with just my limited talent and a 400/4 they were easy to chase down and overtake. The future? Hmmm...

Googling to try and learn more about the Duke I came across Euro Spares in California. Whole range of info on old Italians including Difazio (who's Dad walked - yes, walked) from his native Italy to set up shop in Wiltshire. The Difazio Laverda Nessie replica below is from the Euro Spares site - now the big triples did need help with handling unless you spent a lot of time doing push ups. How they won races in standard trim (ahem) was revealed in issue 3 of Benzina

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Let's not forget

Today we tried to get over to Imber, the nearby village that was requisitioned by the military at the end of World War II> The MOD had said it would be open, but when we got there the barriers were down and the red flags up. Like the folk behind us, we had to go somewhere else to observe the two minutes silence.

I've detailed the history of Imber before, and it seemed a good place to remember the losses of war; not just the lives, but the ways of life. This is a pretty apolitical blog, although I've sympathy with those who feel the UK should have accepted its military might needed scaling back after the humiliation of Suez. But I'm also a big believer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, and think that if we can help the less fortunate people of the world, then we should - even if they don't have oil or supply our drug dealers. The poppy is not about jingoism or the glory of war. It's to remind us how terrible war is, and what people can achieve (with support) in its wake. The Italian and Japanese people especially worked hard to achieve great things after WWII, and it's interesting how their economies have stagnated as generations who never knew the horror of war took over the reigns of power. We don't need wars, but we do need to remember what they can do to the lives of ordinary people. When Brits complain about cutbacks in the same breath as boasting about their iPhone, I wonder if they've ever seen somewhere like downtown Bagdad, or spoken to people who knew Afghanistan in the 1970s. Today I enjoyed walking in the sunshine across the expanse of Salisbury Plain with loved ones, remembering what I take for granted is rare across much of the world and most of history. And I'll try never to forget what people gave up to allow me to enjoy so much in life. Including the bikes.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Check out this check in.

Are you going San Francisco? Forget wearing flowers in your hair, get over to the international airport and before checking in, check out the Moto Bellissama exhibition - a display of sporting Italian lightweights right in the airport. Can't imagine that happening at Heathrow, let alone Stansted. There are more pictures thanks to Lou Caputo here

Friday, 11 November 2011

Next summer's villa

Isn't she lovely? A Villa brothers V4 racer, bought at the recent Bonham's auction by Sammy Miller for his museum. It will be run at the museum's Italian day July 22 2012 - this was the Bonham's listing:
Brothers Francesco and Walter Villa began building their own motorcycles in 1968. An Italian road racing champion in the 125cc class on four occasions, as well as two-time winner of the Barcelona 24-hour race, Francesco had previously designed two-stroke racers for both Mondial and Montesa. Walter raced Villa bikes before his rise to stardom, which saw him secure three consecutive 250-class World Championships for Harley-Davidson between 1974 and '76, to which he added one in the 350 class. The brothers' first racer was a water-cooled 125cc rotary valve single, which proved competitive enough for Walter to win the Italian championship in the bike's debut year. For 1969 a series of replicas were produced for sale to privateers and Moto Villa was on its way to international recognition.

While at Mondial, Francesco had designed and raced a 125cc horizontal single and a vertical twin-cylinder 125 and 250, all of them two-strokes. The first multi-cylinder two-stroke Villa though, would be a V4. Completed early in 1969, Villa's 250cc Grand Prix engine was essentially two air-cooled 125cc twins of 43x43mm bore/stroke mounted one above the other on a common crankcase at an included angle of 30 degrees, the crankshafts being connected via a coupling gear. As well as serving as the primary drive, the latter also drove the ignition unit and oil pump. Drive was transmitted via a dry clutch to the eight-speed gearbox, and the engine/transmission unit was housed in a heavily gusseted duplex loop frame. Ceriani supplied the front forks and rear dampers and there were Fontana brakes on both wheels.

Tragically for the Villas, their new baby arrived just in time to be rendered obsolete by the FIM's rule change limiting the 250 class to a maximum of two cylinders from the start of the 1970 season. Nevertheless, the brothers decided to try and race it at least once and entered the untried V4 in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. After running erratically during practice, the V4 was put to one side and Walter rode a rotary valve single that had been brought as backup.

The sole V4 prototype was later sold to the Bombardier Corporation in Canada and is now owned by a Swiss enthusiast. One man who had admired it during his time working for Moto Villa was Giovanni Galafassi, creator of the faithful replica offered here. 'I thought it was a tragedy it never raced,' said Galafassi, interviewed by Alan Cathcart for his Classic Racer article on the Villa V4 (March/April 2010 edition) 'that the FIM bureaucrats destroyed the heritage of Italian motorcycle culture represented by machines like the Villa and four-cylinder Benelli, in favour of creating a monomarca class for Yamaha twins.'

With Francesco Villa's assistance, Galafassi began collecting the necessary drawings and parts to build his replica, many of which came from Moto Villa's stockroom. Assembly began in 1999 but would not be completed for another ten years, such were the competing demands placed on Galafassi's time by his business commitments. Equipped today with a six-speed gearbox, the Villa has been tuned appropriately for greater mid-range and produces a maximum of 45bhp. Other changes from original specification include a right-side gearchange, Yamaha pistons and con-rods, round-slide carburettors, a one-off ignition system and minor alterations to the frame to facilitate easier engine removal.

Riding the Villa V4 for the very first time since its completion, Alan Cathcart found that the engine started pulling strongly from just under 8,000rpm on its way to a peak of 12,500 revs. 'I can't deny that seeing the V4 running on the track, after ten years spent in the workshop building it, gives me a lot of satisfaction,' said Galafassi.

Presented today resplendent in Villa's traditional orange and white livery, this beautiful re-creation represents a wonderful opportunity to acquire a mythical Grand Prix racing motorcycle previously only accessible via the pages of the history books.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

How to look good naked vs. the copycat chassis

The Ducati PR machine churns out another new pic of the 1199 Panigale, this time with the bodywork removed to show how they've adopted a "frameless" monocoque very similar to the one on the MotoGP bike so hated by Rossi and Burgess. So hated in fact that they've got their beam frame (below, reputedly Made in England) for testing in Valencia.

And guess what - the times aren't really any better. The armchair pundits will now move on to the "90 degree V4 layout isn't compact enough"guff: amazing our manufacturing industry's in such poor shape given the number of engineering "experts" we've got...

But it's a shame (if understandable) that Burgess and Rossi want to chase convention rather than innovation. I recently had a long chat with someone who was very (very) well placed in the Japanese motorcycle business (including racing) and he used to tell the Japanese, "If I gave you a blank sheet of paper it'd still be blank tomorrow - but I show you someone else's plans and within half an hour you've improved it!" How can this be?

Japanese art and culture is about incremental improvement, but since the renaissance in Europe it's been about pushing the boundaries, but always with an explanation of why the new way's better. That's might explain why all Japanese bikes are in essence either based upon 1950s Italian racers, or East German racers. Can we please try something new? Me, I'd love to see a V8 desmo with a monocoque chassis and hub centre steering. As John Robinson once said, "if racing's to improve the breed the rules should read `the motorcycle has two wheels (one in front of the other) and an engine' Full Stop." Well said.that man.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Rollerburn - you know you want to...

Next Saturday's madness courtesy of Gary and Ben at Sideburn. Shame I'm already committed, tho given what's going on here maybe they should be too...

Rollerburn from SIDEBURN on Vimeo.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Ducati Panigale 1199s - official shots

The first official pics of the new Ducati superbike. Wonder if it comes with a set of blue $uzu%i skittles? (Valencia, below). Available in UK late March from £14,995 for the base 1199 to £23,495 for the S Tricolore. There'll also be a shiny Diavel Cromo at £15,295 by January.

Well hello Big Chief: one Indian's story

The head-dress on this old Indian made me smile, but then Indian owners never seem to take things as seriously as the HD crowd. But not very Italian, you say? Publisher Floyd Clymer (as in Clymer manuals) owned the rights to the Indian name, attempting to revive the marque with engines from Royal Enfield and Velocette (and Norton and Horex engines were tried): all were styled and built by Leo Tartarini when he was CEO at Italjet, before being shipped Stateside.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Push the button

Currently for sale with North Leicester Motorcycles, a rather nice looking Ducati 900S2: in essence a 900SS with an electric start. Save your aching knees the hassle of kicking a big Desmo over (and the nasty things that happen if it kicks back) while basking in the reflected glory of almost owning a 900SS.

Folk can be sniffy about the S2: an odd amalgam of Darmah, Pantah and SS that suffered from inconsistent quality control (even by Ducati standards) and handling some way short of a genuine SS. But to have survived 30 years, it ought to be a good one and at an asking price of £7995 it's half what the equivalent black and gold 900SS would be, never mind the earlier (and big-end munching) blue and silver models.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Model childhood

Ever since I made one of these plastic model kits of a Laverda 750 aged 15 I've thought they were the best looking Laverda, especially with the big seat hump. My best mate and I were aeroplane mad, making Airfix kits of WWII stuff then one day I saw this and was turned. Next thing you know the bike nut three doors up trades his Z1 for an SFC (details in issue #001 of Benzina) and that was it. I'd discovered bikes, then girls and a light went on in my life that shines brightly to this day. Lost touch with mate after he moved to Oz: Andy Lee, where are you now?

Clearly I wasn't the only one affected by the big seat on the Lav(!?): bottom pix from an obscure French flick (of course) and makes you realise why you loved the 1970s

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Cafe Society

Not sure I get the current Cafe Racer obsession any more than I get the 100 point better-than-new restoration thing, but as this Benelli Tornado proves clip-ons or ace bars plus a seat hump transforms a bike. Especillay if followed up with a little unbolting of unwanted peripheries - admiring the lack of silencers I asked the owner to start it up, but all he'd say was "Pardon?"...

Monday, 31 October 2011

Guy Webster's museum

I knew snapper-to-the-stars Guy Webster was an Italian bike nut and collector, but hadn't realised how deeply the disease had afflicted him. He's got a bloody museum: the obsession started with MV Agusta when he was living in Florence and he bought the first bike (the 750S above) to kick-start the collection in 1974. Check out the film below, and spot the deliberate mistakes? Like why it's called a Laverda Jota)in amongst the obvious love for the subject.

And thanks to Rob Emery for sharing this

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Radical Ducati new for old

Spanish customisers Radical Ducati are offering this Dragon TT Vendetta body kit for the Ducati 848/1198 and mighty fine it looks too. What's impressive is that Radical Ducati can trick up Dukes of all ages as proved by the single below. While most specialist have a favoured era it's refreshing to see someone who's talent apparently know no boundaries. Got to love that