Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Italian Riders

It happened on the last day of my vacation that Giovanni had some business to tie up. He was trying to take advantage of reduced real estate prices to buy an apartment in a formerly expensive part of downtown as an investment. If the deal worked out he'd have a larger surgery for his private patients, and friends visiting from say, America, might have a convenient, independently located room close to his residence. Buying real estate in Italy is a complicated business and he had to act all of which left me at a loose end on the sidewalk outside his bank. A man and a camera....Happily motorcycles get to park where they need to in Italy and if there is a piece of sidewalk, well that will do just fine. I read a lot about cities without two wheeler parking in the US. In Italy where cities are crowded, motorcycles get away with murder and road rage from car drivers is never a problem, oddly enough. This was how we parked while Giovanni went to check up on his Realtor and I crossed the street to visit the liquor store to buy a bottle of grappa to take home with me:

Which is not to say that formal two wheeler parking doesn't exist, it does, but parking for cars is so completely unavailable that everyone rides and parks something on two wheels and parks them where they can. The chance of getting a car towed is all too likely, a scooter parks with impunity:

In the US cities are mostly expansive and built to order for the motoring world, in Europe residents have to deal with a different reality. Certainly a more picturesque reality from the tourist point of view, but in Terni, like Key West, scooters are a vital tool in the struggle to survive in an overcrowded environment. Scooters are tools, not luxury lifestyle enhancers, as Piaggio USA would have you believe. Thus in Italy most scooters come with two vital accessories, a screen and a top case, which may not enhance looks, but remember these are urban survival tools, Swiss Army Knives with wheels. In this case a Taiwanese Kymco:

I was quite impressed by this machine's enhanced luggage capacity:Even in Italy there are some places where bicycles scooters and motorcycles can't go, like the courtyard of the building where Giovanni's brother practices law :The words just back up the picture: "low flying motorcycles prohibited." Nevertheless on turning the corner what do we find? No, not a low flying motorcycle but some other prohibited vehicles...

Just as Key West, in Terni don't ignore the signs because what locals get away with isn't what strangers are allowed to get away with. Meanwhile back at the bank I was waiting outside wondering what to do with my precious ebbing time so I decided to take some pictures. And as there were lots of moving targets on Viale Oberdan in front of me I figured that was what I might focus on: Your average, getting around town scooter rider. Not very glamorous are they?

Most Italian last names end in a vowel, yet Guglielmo Oberdan does not, wherein lies a story. There was a time when parts of northern Italy, including Milan, Venice and Trieste were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Trieste was that Empire's critical outlet to the sea. so the Austrians were very unwilling to give up those parts of Northern Italy. All of which gave rise to furious freedom fighting, guerrilla movements and your common-or-garden terrorism. Nowadays yesterday's terrorists have become street names and Oberdan is celebrated as the man hanged by the Austrians who, before he slipped through the trap door to his death shouted "Viva l"Italia!" which freedom/terrorism cry I hope needs no translation.

The highest selling scooter in Italy is Honda's SH150, now at last also on sale in the US. However between all it's models Piaggio is still the number one in sales, between Vespa, Gilera, Beverly, Aprilia, Liberty not to mention it's motorcycle brands, including Moto Guzzi. Despite the Italian preference for large wheeled scooters the old Vespas are still to be seen on the streets, some of them kept in quite nice condition:

That last Vespa reminds me of my youth. In the bad old days Vespas were extremely popular, being the main scooter company in the world (Lambretta was in distant second place in terms of numbers) and thieves liked to make off with any part they could for re-sale. Thus it was habitual to remove the engine cover to avoid theft, which I always thought to be very irritating. They still keep the habit up apparently. My buddy Giovannis confessed to me he really never liked old Vespas. He was quite enamored of my modern 250GTS and got quite annoyed when I sold it. But the old geared Vespas were just not his thing, a fact I found surprising. My brother in law bought his Vespa 125 almost new nearly 45 years ago:

And Vincenzo still has that same machine under dust covers in his shed. Except for some slight clutch slippage it still runs but he refuses to ride it on the grounds that Italy's helmet law for a machine that barely hits 50 miles per hour makes a man look like a laughing stock riding it. He now limits himself to instilling his three-year-old grandson with a desire to ride:When we were youngsters we all enjoyed the possibilities offered by 50cc transportation in a world that eschewed helmets, licensing or even tags at the tender age of 14.

And yes that is a Lambretta fifty on the left, now a very rare collector's piece in the US! I was not in that picture but I was always a Vespa fan from my first 50R model which my mother bought me in 1971, breaking the law a tad as I was only twelve. Italy still allows youngsters to ride at 14 but now they do require licenses and tags at least and of course a helmet is mandatory. I miss the freedom of my youth.Nowadays they even have training on actual motorcycles, "scuola guida" obviously means "driving school": Could you see this sort of after school transportation in the US? I've seen kids riding in Key West but I don't think they'd go for it too much in Peoria, though I'd like to think I'm wrong: Motorcycles are dangerous aren't they? Giovanni doesn't think so. After a decade of riding Beemers he is wondering if it isn't time to try something other than a BMW. He checked out this Kawasaki 1400 we found on the street: He ended up figuring that he's not yet ready for a Japanese motorcycle in his life. he's actually contemplating going Italian as he feels Moto Guzzi is finally getting up to his standards of finish and reliability... Some Italians just love the American cruiser style: Personally I like Italian bikes and even though this character is failing signally to ride with any gear, not even socks, he is riding a Ducati:
Which is as it should be, in Italy at least.