Thursday, July 28, 2011

Motorcycles I Have Seen

Not a mirage, but a bright pink Vespa 125, this one spotted in the Tuscan town of Lucca though we saw several others on our trips.

As we traveled around I took pictures of motorcycles and scooters and the odd three wheeler for which Italy is famous among riders. My own ride was this BMW 1200ST, an air cooled twin cylinder sport tourer that I enjoyed more than any other bike Giovanni has rented for me over the years. At 110 horsepower it has more than enough oomph but unlike the water cooled four cylinder bikes of years past it felt lighter and easier to handle on the road.

I have always had a yearning for a Moto Guzzi, but when I was a kid I could only afford smaller motorcycles and in the 350cc range, Moto Guzzi was outclassed by Moto Morini and MV Agusta so I never did own the infamous transverse v-twin. And with the current lack of dealers and support particularly in South Florida it doesn't look to be on the cards. This guy in Pollenza has no such worries.

I saw this one, Moto Guzzi's answer to the retro Bonneville in Orvieto and lust overcame me. Silly isn't it? My bike is faster more reliable and more comfortable.

There are a lot more Ducatis around like this one, ideal to slip through the traffic and winding mountain roads of the Republic of San Marino.

ATGATT anyone? No wonder I find the 'all the gear' crowd in North America tedious and pedantic. Seen in Carrara.

Another feature of street life in Italy are the public fountains, some are artesian and flow all the time, others have faucets. They are left over from the time when piped tap water was a rarity in Italy. I am 53 but I remember when hardly anyone in the village had water in their homes. We were the wealthy family and we did but we also had cisterns under the roof that were filled automatically during the two hours a day in the summer that the mains water was turned on. Conserving water was a feature of life back then and considering how things are going may well be soon again. I wonder how my middle class American neighbors will take to water rationing in the twilight of American exceptionalism?

I always drink from public fountains for old times' sake and because it's cheaper than bottled water and when I looked up there was an elderly Sportster looking out of place in Piediluco.

Introducing the Ape the three wheeler produced by Piaggio who are the manufacturers of Vespas, and these days my beloved Moto Guzzi as well. The Ape (pro: aah-pay) means 'bee' where Vespa means 'wasp' and its the work horse of lower middle class Italian laborers. It has a scooter engine usually around 175cc though they make a moped model with only 50cc which can be driven without a license. They have handlebars, a bench seat a windshield wiper and a hand brake and they come in a zillion different formats, flatbeds, covered and tarped.

With gas at €1.60 a liter, or ten bucks a gallon, these machines are economical especially compared to a V8 pick up.

Another Moto Guzzi that I never get to see in Key West, the Norge 1200 tourer, which Giovanni likes quite a bit himself as the rival to his BMW RT.

He says one doesn't see many Moto Guzzis on the street in Italy but I saw a ton including this Nevada 350 cruiser, a style I am not actually very fond of paradoxically.

And of course the classic, perfectly restored elderly Vespa as daily rider seen in Gubbio. I love this picture taken in a hurry as we were about to ride off.

Giovanni's eight valve R1200 RT tourer was described in Motociclismo as wide as a car and agile as a bicycle. He is struggling to imagine replacing it with the ridiculously overwrought K1600GTL. I think he's an idiot and I told him so. This is then perfect bike for him.

Another workhorse Ape. My nephew used to race his 50cc Ape but I have never driven one, and my few rides as a passenger have left me enamored of a machine that doubtless doesn't deserve my wistfulness!

This guy in Deruta caught me admiring his restored Vespa. "I did everything except the paint," he told me with well deserved pride.

Oh god another Moto Guzzi. I passed him on my BMW going up the hill out of Terni, and I got far enough ahead to stop and pull out my camera as he came chugging up to the village of Cesi. He slowed and stopped as I clicked away. He was 18 when he bought it brand new, his Moto Guzzi Falcone 500, the flat single produced in one form or another from 1922 until 1978. He bought it in homage to the racers of his youth who won riding this machine.

I told him I wanted to buy one in 1976, a Moto Guzzi I could afford brand new. My friends put me off (Giovanni!) saying the new Falcone was old and slow and a bad idea. I got a sport bike instead. Silly me. It wasn't until the Yamaha SR500 came into my life in 1979 that I finally got to enjoy my Big Single.

Gas stations are a feature of life when you ride 1500 miles in ten days. €20 a tank didn't seem so bad until I realized it was three times what I'd pay to fill my Bonneville at the Ramrod Key Shell.

This Yamaha is an example,of the type of basic Universal Japanese Motorcycle not imported into the US. These bikes offer easy city transport, a step up from a modest scooter with touring and sport riding abilities as well. In the US lane splitting and slicing traffic lanes isn't allowed and the utility of a fast commuter is lost. The art of adding chrome and useless "personalization" is decidedly not an Italian trait. These bikes were bought to ride.

I loved parking the funky three wheeled MP3 at angles, locking the front wheels and walking away. No side stand needed. In the two days I had it I didn't figure out locking the wheels as we rolled up to red lights, it was always feet down for me at stops.

The same argument against scooters prevents their best use in American cities. In Italy the scooter is the only sensible way to get around in a hurry. Buses and even bicycles can't keep up with a well ridden scooter slicing and dicing traffic. Note the universal windshield and top boxes. These riders ride not out of scooter passion like Americans fondly imagine but because they have to. Most of these people would rather be in cars if they could afford the time and expense and hassle of parking and fuel and insurance and taxes and fees paid to drive cars in city centers.

Riding clothes are work clothes. Helmets are required these days, and no half helmets or pudding basins allowed. Not wearing a helmet could lead to confiscation of the motorcycle.

A tour to the Gran Sasso d'Italia is for fun.

"As wide as a car..."

A Triumph Adventurer rumbled by, making a noise peculiar to triples. I saw a surprising number of Triumphs on the streets, far outnumbering Moto Guzzis.

Free scooter and motorcycle parking outside every city. This was Giglio Castello.

And then we close with a calesse, based on the recently superseded horse carriages, at the Vespa Museum of Pollenza, in the Marche.

I was encouraged to ride by my mother who didn't take enough risks in her short life. Surrounded by these machines it's hard to imagine quitting before I absolutely have to.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Chuck and the Pheebs said...

Oh my.
what a GREAT post!

stuck here halfway around the world, missing my rolling stock, imagining a Ducati or Guzzi as the next bike, and along comes this gem!

M vision of Italy and the Ape has an elederly man chasing a goat through a village nestled in the foothills of the Italian Alps, north of Borgomanero. The goat was pulling hard on the Ape - opening up goat-lengths of daylight on a battered bright blue working man's truck.

And yes - I do want one, if only to get groceries at Publix.

Thank you for such a great post - it made my day!

Conchscooter said...

An Ape in Key West would be astonoshinglyncool come to think. And useful too.

bobskoot said...

Mr Conchscooter:

I would love to have an Ape, but 3 wheeled machines are impossible to insure in British Columbia. Either that or a Tuk Tuk . I would also like to have a P200

Riding the Wet Coast

Conchscooter said...

Move to Florida. I pay $80 (imperial dollars redeemable in Afghanistan Somalia and DC only) for insurance for the Bonneville and the Vespa. Of course I pay for my own damage, and an appendectomy will bankrupt me and my house is worth half my mortgage. And it's 32 canadian degrees outside.

SonjaM said...

Great posting. Too bad we can't get a decent Guzzi or Ducati dealership network out here. I always loved the distinct sound of the European Harley.

Thanks for taking me with on this awesome trip, so that I could revisit the places of my past.