Marc's Italian Adventures

Copyright © 1993, by H. Marc Lewis

Arrival in Ivrea, Italy
Motorcycles in Italy
More motorcycles in Italy
Renting a Moto Guzzi V50
The GTS1000A goes to Italy
A ride to Val d'Isere, France
A ride to L'Alp d'Huez, France
The Lamborghini incident
1993 Italian GP at Misano
1993 Milano-Taranto Rally
1993 Italian World Trials Championship
A trip to Augsburg, Germany
Italian food & customs

This being some notes which I posted to the WetLeather and Euro-Moto mailing lists and to Usenet's during my 5 month work assignment at Olivetti headquarters, in Ivrea, Italy which is about 40 miles north of Turin. I tried (unsuccessfully) to buy a motorcycle while there, so about halfway through my stay I returned to the USA and shipped my 1993 Yamaha GTS1000A to Italy via air freight.

Arrival in Ivrea, Italy

Well, I've been living in Italy for just over two weeks now, and am over the jet lag and some of the culture shock. So this will be my first posting on the subject of motorcycles in Italy.

First of all, there are a lot of bikes on the roads here. The small 50cc mopeds are mostly all Italian brands, Malaguli, Gilera, etc. The 125s are mostly GP replicas or Paris-Dakar replicas and are are often Italian, but with a moderate percentage of Hondas and Yamahas.

The big iron seems to come out after work hours or on the weekends. And, I'm surprised to say, it's almost exclusively Japanese. A small percentage of Ducati 888s, and 851s, and an occasional Moto Guzzi, Morini, or other Ducati model. I'd guess about 50/50 sport bikes and DP bikes.

Some of the better roads near here (approx 60km NE of Turin) have quite heavy M/C traffic, some of it going at a serious racers pace. For the most part, the fast guys (haven't seen a woman rider yet) are wearing high-buck color-coordinated leathers and helmets. On a nearby road which climbs the side of an old glacial moraine there's going to be an uphill race this Sunday. Apparently they will close the road to normal traffic and it will be a closed course point-to-point race in a National Championship series of road races. I plan to spectate. Film at 11. :-)

I haven't decided which bike to buy for my own use in the 5 months that I will be here. Maybe a used Ducati 750SS that I can later ship home for my girlfriend to ride. Used Bimotas are available for quite reasonable prices ('83 SB4, 6K Km, $8,800) although they are still fairly pricey. It feels like a crime to consider buying a Japanese bike in Italy, the home of such wonderful bike builders.

Also, there's the problem of theft, which is quite prevelant here. You almost never see an M/C parked here without being cabled or chained to something.

Here's a list of the top 10 best selling models (by number of units sold, not dollar value) from the first three months of this year:

  1. Honda CBR600
  2. Honda VT600C
  3. Cagiva Mito (125cc)
  4. Honda XRV750 Africa Twin
  5. Honda NX650 Dominator
  6. Yamaha YZF750R
  7. Aprilia Extrema (125cc)
  8. Honda CN250
  9. Honda CBR900RR
  10. Yamaha XTZ660

The only other additional manufacturers in the top 20 are Kawasaki and Suzuki. Ducati has only 2.9% of the market by total dollar sales. In comparison, Harley Davidson has 1.5%, and Honda (the Italian market leader) has 32.6%.

Motorcycles in Italy


I have been watching the papers in Turin and Milan for the last couple of months. I’ve seen two SB4’s, and ‘83 and an ‘84 going for about $8,500 or so. I also went and looked at two KB1’s, which I believe were the first models that Bimotas made. One was 100% original and complete for $7,000 and the other had been raced and was fairly worn looking and missing its fairing but was only $3,200. I’ve since seen one more KB1 being restored in a local shop, and it has revived my interest in the old racer I saw. The KB1 is very dated, and very wide. It also overheats badly in town unless the fairing is removed.

New prices in US Dollars:

	Bellaria 600	       $17,570
	db2			17,250
	Tesi			29,175
	Dieci 1.0		20,810
	Biposto 1.0		22,450
	Furano 1.0		28,100

Used prices:

	‘91 YB9 Bellaria       $12,650
	‘89 DB1 SR		10,750
	‘91 YB4 E.I.		16,150


There are a couple models available here that aren’t imported to the USA. I haven’t found many used examples for sale. Japanese bikes are much more popular here, although there are a significant number of 851s and 888s strafing the mountain roads in the company of CBR900s, GSXR1100s, etc.

New prices:

	350SS		       $5,000
	400SS			n/a
	750SS Semi		6,600
	750SS Full		6,800
	888 Strada		10,665
	888 SP			15,000
	900SS			8,000
	900 Superlight		8,530
	900 Monster		7,525

Used Prices:

	‘92 350SS	       $3,670
	‘90 Sport 750		4,240
	‘92 750SS		5,200
	‘90 Paso 750 LTD	4,180


Guzzi’s seem to be the most popular large-displacement Italian bikes here. They certainly have the broadest range of models, including quite a few which I didn’t bother to list here.

New prices:

	Trentacinque (350) GT  $5,150
	650 NTX			5,370
	750 SP			6,275
	Nevada 750		6,085
	750 NTX			5,850
	1000 Strada		6,930
	1000 SP			9,400
	California III i	10,200
	1000 S			8,640
	Le Mans 1000		8,900
	Daytona 1000		11,990
	Quota 1000 I.E.		9,165

Used Prices:

	‘92 Trentacinque GT    $2,785
	‘92 650 NTX		2,785
	‘92 750 Targa		3,800
	‘92 750 SP		4,175
	‘92 750 NTX		3,670
	‘92 750 Nevada		3,800


Just for comparison, here’s what the locals have to pay for bikes which are also popular in the USA:

	Honda CBR600	       $7,720
	Honda VFR750F		8,860
	Honda CBR900R		10,050	(FireBlade in Italy)
	Kawasaki EX500		4,900	(GPZ500S in Italy)
	Kawasaki ZX-11		10,350	(ZZR1100 in Italy)
	Suzuki GSX-R 750	9,870
	Yamaha Seca II		5,160	(XJ600S Diversion in Italy)
	Yamaha GTS1000A		14,690

More motorcycles in Italy

Here's an alphabetic list of the 63 or so brands of motorcycles and scooters available for sale in Italy in 1993:

Agostini Moto
Black Star
Colella Officine
Di Blasi
Fantic Motor
GBM Benelli
Harley Davidson
Kwang Yang
LEM Motor
Mondial Moto
Moto Guzzi
Moto Morini
TM Moto

Among the bikes listed for sale, some noteworthy model prices are given below, using todays (June, 1993) exchange rate (1,453 Lira per US Dollar). The prices were about 2.5% lower in US dollars a month ago when I arrived in Italy:

	Bimota DB2			$18,760
	Ducati Monster			 $8,185
	Ducati 888 SP5			$16,355
	Cagiva MITO Lawson (125cc)	 $4,400
	Moto Guzzi Daytona		$11,835
	BMW R1100RS (options?)		$12,390
	Harley Davidson Dyna WideGlide	$18,585
	Honda CBR900 Fire Blade		$10,925
	Honda NSR750			$59,500
	Suzuki RGV250 Gamma		 $6,960
	Yamaha GTS1000A			$15,970

One of the more interesting Italian market bikes is the Gilera NordWest which is a 4-stroke single, in either 350 or 600cc capacity. It looks kind of like a cross between a DP bike and a sport bike. The top half is rather Paris-Dakar'ish with a mini fairing which comes down to about the exhaust port on the cylinder. Very streamlined and asthetically pleasing. The bottom half is pure sport bike: three spoked wide white rims with wide street-racing tires (120/70-17 and 160/60-17), dual disks in front, single in the rear, upside-down 41mm forks, Ducati 888'ish looking front fender, and monoshock rear suspension. Power is given as 35 DIN for the 350, and 53 DIN for the 650, at 7,500rpm in both cases. Prices are $5,100 and $5,885, respectively.

I'd love to bring one of these back to the USA, but I suspect licensing it (even in nearby Idaho where they're still fairly lax) would be next to impossible — read that as "not worth the risk of confiscation".

Interesting Note #1

It would cost about $20 to fill the gastank of the average bike here in Italy.

Interesting Note #2

The Rule-of-the-Road seems to be "The one with the most kinetic energy has the right of way", which is somehow appealing to the right side of my brain. In practice, this means that motorcycles split lanes, pass on the left or the right, move to the head of the line at stoplights, and generally do all the stuff we'd like to do in the USA but would either be paying Road Taxes for, or getting thumped for by some irate cager.

Interesting Note #3

In Italy there isn't any confusion about the word 'bike', like we have in English — in Italian a motorbike is a 'moto', and a bicycle is a 'bici'.

Interesting Note #4

In Italy (as in Germany) cats only have 7 lives — I wonder why American cats have 2 extra lives?

Renting a Moto Guzzi V50

Well, I finally got a bike! Sort of. While I am waiting for the last document I need to be able to buy a motorcycle in Italy, I talked a local dealer into renting me a bike. It’s a Moto Guzzi V50 III (500cc) and I’m paying the princely sum of about $16.50 per day for the priviledge of riding it. I had to buy insurance for a full month, although I only expect to have it for 2 weeks, and that cost about $65 including a “Green card” so I can ride into Switzerland (which isn’t a member of the EEC).

I’m writing this on Saturday night, after picking up the bike this morning and going for a ride in the heaviest rain we’ve had in the 2 months I’ve been here.

So, the scene is this: The Guzzi has steering about as light as a bicycle’s, and a very worn front tire. I depart in heavy rain, wearing full leathers and rainsuit in 77 degree weather, on slippery cobblestones and heavy weekend traffic. I’m headed up the Valle D’Aosta on narrow country roads and passing through small villages with streets so narrow that sometimes two small Italian cars can’t even pass one another. Did I mention that the drivers all seemed to be Italian? This means they drive super agressively, tailgate like mad, pass blindly wherever and whenever the mood strikes them (which it does all to often).

It also means that motorcycles are almost above the law, passing on the white line against oncoming traffic, passing on the right, lane splitting (Hell, creating their own lanes sometimes!), and of course doing all of this a the highest possible speeds. If one bike passes another, the passee seems to take this as a challange, and often a heated contest then takes place and disappears quickly (and at serious lean angles) up the road.

I seem to be the only motorcyclist on the road today, but such is the state of my mind after being without a motorcycle for 2 months that this doesn’t bother me. In fact, I’m having a blast! I can’t see too well, having forgotten in my haste to put Rain-X on my new faceshield, but the old reflexes are coming back and I’m coming to terms with the marginal brakes and power output of the old Guzzi.

At Pont St. Martin I turn North up a side valley towards Gressoney St. Jean just south of Monte Rosa on the Italian/Swiss border. The road is narrow, with rivers and sheets of water running down it. The raindrops are big enough that they are patterning the road in front of me with a patchwork of little white spikes.

The first part of the road climbs steeply through a little village and gains maybe 600 or 700 feet in just a kilometer or two. There are lots of switchbacks, most unmarked. In fact, the road markings here differ in one significant way from the West Coast of the USA — no recommended speeds for slow corners, and few markings for for sharp turns. You can be cruising at 100kph+ and suddenly be in an unmarked blind turn which in the USA would be marked as a 10 or 15mph corner. Also, if you’re unlucky, you can find a large tour bus coming the other way occupying most of your lane. Followed by a string of cars all trying to pass the bus at the same time! This is a country that definitely improves your riding skills. :-)

Further up the valley the rain lets up a little and I can see the meadows and farms on the hillsides shrouded in the rising mist. The houses have slate roofs, and balconies filled with red and pink flowers. Above them the trees give way to the rocky cliffs of the Italian Alps, and an occasional waterfall gives the scene a picture postcard quality. It’s not a day for photography, however.

Traffic fades to nothing, it’s that magic time between Noon and 3 O’clock when everything stops and most people are eating their main meal of the day. I’m hungry, but am having too much fun to stop yet, especially when I now have the road almost to myself. I’m getting a little more agressive in the corners now that I’m learning how this bike handles. I slid the front end a couple times in a few of the villages due to the combination of rain, cobblestones, and metal manhole covers, but it’s feeling okay now. I don’t push it as much as I’d like, or as much as I would if I were on the ‘93 RGV250 I was looking at yesterday. 64BHP in a 305 pound bike with killer brakes and upside-down forks would be a serious blast on this road, even in the wet!

The temperature drops to about 50 degrees, and eventually my rain soaked gloves and boots begin to make a lunch brake seem like a good idea. I should have put on my Totes and brought an extra pair of gloves, but I’m a little out of practice, and in any case don’t have a tank bag. At the end of the valley (it’s a dead-end road) I turn back and stop at a nice looking hotel/resturante/bar. I eat an excellent meal of small square pasta units stuffed with some kind of cheese and mixed with a very small amount of a ‘ragu’ sauce (no not that Ragu). The 2nd course is roast Pheasant (? The waitress can’t find it in my little dictionary) and potatoes, also quite delicious. Then the (required) ‘caffe’, which is a very small demi-tasse half filled with seriously strong espresso which you drink in just 2 or 3 sips. No lingering over a nice cuppa java here, just 5 or 10 seconds and it’s over!

As I’m finishing (the resturante has emptied by now, since I was the last one to arrive) the owner’s wife (from Charlotte, SC) comes over to get an English Language fix. She’d been living there for about 9 months and was obviously enjoying speaking ‘American’ English with another native. After lunch, she and her husband bought me another caffe in the Bar and gave me some free Italian lessons. Nice people.

So, now wired to the max with legal stimulants, I head back down the valley into what looks like some serious weather. Sure enough, I finally score a f**king bike to ride and it has to rain like cats and dogs. Oh well, I’m feeling good and nothing is going to spoil it. Was there this much water on the road on the way up? This many slippery switchbacks? All to soon I’m back in Ivrea, slithering through the heavy 3 to 7pm rush hour traffic back to my hotel.

The GTS1000A goes to Italy

I arrived in Vancouver 24 hours before my flight to Europe as I was requested to do by Lufthansa Cargo. I stopped at a coin-operated car wash and cleaned the worst of the bugs off the bike, just in case the German customs people would object to some dead North American bugs without passports. :-)

The freight clerks at Lufthansa were very well organized and practiced in receiving a motorcycle for shipment to Germany. I rode the bike into a freight hanger, changed out of my leathers, locked my luggage (on the bike) and installed the 6 soft-straps I’d brought with me to make tying the bike down easier for them. Since the handlebars on my bike aren’t really structural members like on most bikes, I wanted to make sure they didn’t try to use them to strap it down. They didn’t.

I paid them with my corporate AmEx card, and it cost about $740US one way (about $100US cheaper than my 2-way economy seat). I will pay for the return trip in Frankfurt in German Marks next month. Total time involved on the Lufthansa premeses was about 20 minutes.

The flight was pretty good, considering. I mean considering that my company usually buys “Business Class” seats on overseas flights, which cost about 3 times what I paid in Economy, but which are only about 50% nicer. In Business Class you get more seat room, more leg room, and better food.

Oh, and some free stuff like cotton slippers, toothbrush, comb, etc. That’s about it.

Arrival in Frankfurt was pretty smooth too. I went to the Lufthansa information counter, where the German m/c insurance company had sent my “green card”, and picked it up. I took a cab to the Cargo building, and found the proper office. I had been concerned that arriving on Sunday would be a problem, but it wasn’t. The Lufthansa people, and the German Customs people, all spoke English. The paperwork was all in order, so I paid my small fees and signed a bunch of documents and went to the warehouse to collect my bike.

It was strapped (like some ferocious animal, with about two dozen straps) to a large aluminum pallet. A worker guy came over to help unload it and move some other stuff so I could get it out without carrying it in my arms (fat chance). He decided pretty quickly that my German was inferior to his English, so I ended up not having any communication problems at any time.

The bike was quite undamaged, to my emmense pleasure. I opened my Givi bags (which to my knowledge the Customs people never even knew I had) and put on my leathers. I was out on the road within about 1.5 hours from the moment the plane touched down on the runway. Pretty amazing.

Well, actually what was really amazing was to be out on the A5 autobahn headed south in Sunday mid-afternoon traffic where the slow lane was doing 80mph, the middle lane about 100mph, and the inner lane was empty but for an occasional Porche or Merc (with headlights on) going seriously fast. I was pretty tired, having not slept at all on the flight over (my internal clock thought it was about 4am) so I started in the middle lane, then cooled it in the right lane as I realized how altered my judgement really was and how hard you have to concentrate at those speeds.

I went about 160 miles before stopping in Freiburg to find a hotel, and realized I hadn’t been able to enjoy the countryside view at all. I’ve spent a day at the racetrack at those speeds (and higher), and often manage to cruise at DoD Nominal for a short while in the wilds of the NorthWest. But doing it for several hours straight in the middle of a bunch of tail-gateing cars and trucks takes some getting used to.

The old V50 Goose I was renting in Italy just wasn’t up to those speeds, and I was avoiding the freeways then anyway. The Italians think they drive fast, and I guess they do, but my opinion is that the Germans are the true speed freaks.

Monday morning I hit the road to Switzerland, although I only planned to go a few hundred clicks to Bern and spend the night there. My house in Italy wouldn’t be available until Tuesday afternoon, so there wasn’t any point in arriving before then.

Tuesday, I headed towards Italy via Montreux (where they have the famous Jazz Festival) and over Col Grand St. Bernard. Got a picture of the GTS1000 in front of an actual St. Bernard on the Swiss side of the pass. Interesting road, lots of heavily loaded motorcycles with foreign (i.e. not Swiss or Italian) plates and leather clad riders.

A ride to Val d'Isere, France

Sunday dawned cool and sunny in Ivrea, Italy, with light clouds and just a little haze over the Po river plain. The mountains looked clear. A good sign after yesterday’s ride, which although lots of fun in itself, ended with serious rain and hailstones.

I stopped at my usual weekend haunt for breakfast, which consists of a Cappucino and a couple of Cannoli (BTW—Italians never drink Cappucini (pural of Cappucino) after noon, or even mid-morning. If you order one beyond about 10am it pretty well marks you as an American). I also bought some pannini (little sandwiches) to go with the water and apples I had in my tail bag. This way, I can stop at some scenic spot to eat lunch and don’t have to spend one or two hours eating in a resturant when I could be riding.

I headed up the Val d’Aosta and discovered a new road, one that lead past the old Fenis castle. This is a fairytale castle, with lots of towers and dragon’s teeth on the surrounding walls. No moat though. It’s set on a small hill with green meadows or pastures around it and a small village just below. I’ve got to go back someday and take some more pictures because it is the only castle I’ve seen that looks like the ones I saw in the story books I read as a little kid.

I stopped in Courmayeur at the foot of Mont Blanc (actually Monte Bianco since I was on the Italian side) to buy a new battery for my camera and put on my Capalene turtleneck. Then I headed southwest up a steep mountainside towards Col de Petite San Bernardo. Switchback city. It had been raining sometime in the night, so the roads were still wet in places, but traction was good. No sand or gravel on the roads like there so often is back in Spokane. In fact, the roads are pretty well marked here regarding motorcycle hazards, unlike in the USA where it often seems like the Dept. of Highways forgets that some of us travel on two wheels.

Just before the pass, I stopped to eat lunch and have a ‘caffe’ (pronounced just like cafe) at a nearby bar/restarante. My accent must have given me away, or maybe it was because we were so near France, because he asked me if I wanted it in the usual tiny cup or in a regular sized coffee cup. The usual in Italy is a tiny cup half filled with pure espresso, to which you add a bunch of sugar, and drink quickly in two or three sips.

While I ate, lots of motorcycles passed by headed up the pass. Most, as is usual here, on dual-purpose bikes. Often with saddlebags, almost always with a tailbag or box on the luggage rack. Strangely, tankbags are relatively uncommon. Maybe it’s the theft problem again, as you can lock a hard case trunk. Personal attire is generally full leathers, or colorful enduro style jackets, pants and boots.

The weather had been perfect, but crossing into France I encountered clouds bumped up against the mountainside which made it quite chilly. The road surface also changed from nice smooth asphalt to a ragged patchwork of different kinds of road material. Quite bumpy, but still okay for rapid transit. Must be tough on the bicyclists. Strangely, there weren’t any more cars, just us bikers for the next 40km or so. Lots of bikers in fact, and a lot more of them passed me than were passed by me. Never liked downhills as much as uphills myself.

At Seez I turned south towards Val d’Isere on an excellent piece of road. At one point heading back up into the mountains there was a huge dam with a face painted on it. The face must have been several hundred feet high and reminded me of Jim Morrison, although I’m sure it was someone else.

From Val d’Isere I continued south on a narrow road which crossed the pass at Col de L’Iseran, where another famous stage of the Tour d’France ends. Once again I’m amazed at the effort that must be expended to climb that steep road on a bicycle after already spending a half day in the saddle. There is nothing but a small empty stone building at the top, even though in the videos of the TdF it looks like a town with about 50,000 people. Here there were more bicycles on the road than either cars or motorcycles.

Down the other side is pretty desolate. You’re way above the timberline even though the pass is only about 8,400 feet. Just rock, little waterfalls, some alpine grasses, and an occasional flower. The road is narrow and has no guard rails whatsoever. Sometimes the edge of the road is about one foot from a sheer drop of hundreds of meters. It gives “holding your line through the corners” a sharp new meaning!

At the bottom of the valley (you are almost always either climing or descending in this part of the country) the road joined a secondary road back into Italy — the main road is a freeway which tunnels directly through the mountain. This road goes over the Col de Mont Cenis and has the most switchbacks per mile I’ve yet encountered. On the French side, on the way up, I latched onto the tail end of an agressive group of four riders: the leader on a R100GS, then an Honda Africa Twin (also a DP bike), then a Yamaha FZ750 and finally a Suzuki GSXR750. I managed to stick with them up the pass, over the top, and back down the other side to the border crossing. Then we encountered some traffic and they made some daring passes on the outside of blind turns and I let them go. The rush from our lean angles and the awesome pull of the GTS in 3rd out of an 80mph corner had left me with a flushed feeling of well-being and such joy in being where I was, that I didn’t mind dropping off the back.

In the valley of Susa at the bottom of the pass I refueled ($18 to put in about 4.5 gallons of “Senza PB”, unleaded super), grabbed another quick caffe, and boogied home. No Countachs this time, although a guy on a Ducati 900SS pulled onto the freeway in front of me at a high rate of speed (which turned out to be about 130mph :-). This is the life! Great roads, great scenery, a great motorcycle, accomodating drivers, and good weather. I wish I could record these experiences and sensations somehow and be able to play them back for my friends...

A ride to L'Alp d'Huez, France

Last Saturday (Tuesday, August 24th 1993) I took an interesting trip to visit L'Alp d'Huez, the famous ski resort the climb to which is often included in the Tour de France bicycle race. My route took me over several Alpine passes and into southwestern France.

I took back roads to Turin, where I wanted to turn west on SS25 and head up the valley into the southern Alps from the east (Italian) side. I won't admit to being lost in Turin, although I did keep re-discovering the proper route out of the city. :-) I the traffic in Turin is heavy, and there are lots of 6 or 8 way intersections with no indication whatsoever as to which of the other streets is the continuation of the one you want. Fortunately, the Sun was out and I just maintained a westerly route until I got to the edge of the city and discovered I was on SS25 after all.

About 1/3rd of the way up the valley I began to actually see the foothills of the Alps. There's a lot of smog here, and the high humidity and temp means there is lots of moisture in the air too. At Susa, I turned onto SS24 and headed up another valley towards the Col de Montgenevre where I crossed into France. The roads here so far have reminded me of the Going to the Sun highway in Glacier NP, the roads around Mt. St. Helens, WA, and parts of highway 3A across southern British Columbia — only with more traffic.

Crossing borders in Germany/Switzerland/Italy/France on a motorcycle has been super easy for me. I've always just been waived through, without stopping or showing my passport. I often expect to see them come after me if they notice my Washington State license plate, but it hasn't happened yet. Must be because of the EC and the relaxed attitude about country borders.

The roads I took on this day were all 2-lane, except for the final dash home. It's late August and *LOTS* of people are on vacation, so the roads were way more crowded than they were even just 6 weeks ago. Being on a bike means you can pass just about anywhere, and most of the cagers expect it and will even make it easier for you by moving into the rightmost part of the lane. It's going to be hard to un-learn all these 'bad habits' when I return to the USA, like passing on the white line against oncoming traffic, lane splitting within a single lane, always moving to the front at stoplights and construction delays, and riding at and elevated speeds without fear of being ticketed, etc.

In France I took a 'tourist' route which approached L'Alp d'Huez from the back side and involved about 20km on a narrow and rough road which switchbacked its way up an incredibly steep hillside to cross the Col duh I Forgot. The views were specacular on that side, because there wasn't much vegetation and the air was very clear. White fluffy clouds, blue sky, and many-hued rocky peaks and steep valleys. Some big waterfalls too, with long trails to them hugging the hillside and lots of parked cars alongside the road. Europeans are serious about 'walking in the mountains'.

At the top, the road continued along the shoulder of the mountains past alpine meadows filled with sheep (made me think of the sign I saw on a BMW at the Jiggles Run last spring: NEVADA — SO MANY SHEEP, SO LITTLE TIME). I smiled. No llamas, though.

Although L'Alp d'Huez itself was a little disappointing (what with it's CLUB MED and all), the road the bikies take from the village below is incredible. A 12-degree grade most of the way with a zillion switchbacks, and lots of riders and team names written on the pavement and the rock walls. It gives you a new appreciation for what it takes for someone like Andy Hampsten (who won the L'Alp d'Huez stage of the '92 TdF) to outclimb a few hundred other guys after already riding 150 miles or so that day. Whew!

The ride back was verra nice until I started descending back into Italy and the smog and haze. There are lots and lots of motorcycles on the road, with maybe the biggest category being DP bikes loaded with gear and unwilling to give an inch to a GTS1000. On the straights they don't have a chance, and in the corners I can hold my own, but in passing maneouvers they are simply braver (or ???) than me.

BTW — my front tire is now almost worn out on the sides, and the rear tire in the center. I guess that's due to the number of turns per mile and the miles per hour between the corners. 90+ mph in hot weather really eats up rear tires. And I'm a *CONSERVATIVE* rider here, at least in my own mind!

The Lamborghini incident
Having said that, there's one more interesting bit to report. As I approached Turin, I passed an "Area Servizio" (the Italian version of a gas station and convienence store, accessable only from the freeway) where a Lamborghini Countach was fueling up. About 30km later on the freeway from Turin north to Ivrea, in very light traffic, the Countach passed me in the fast lane — swoosh! I thought to myself, "hey, I'm in Italy for crissakes!" so I just twisted the right handgrip and suddenly I was on his tail, or maybe 200 meters behind him anyway. I was surprised he wasn't going any faster, then I looked at the speedo. 225kph, or about 140mph, and it really didn't seem like we were going that fast, honest! We stayed in formation for about 5km or so, then came upon a group of vehicles and slowed down to about 110mph. Then he took an offramp and I slowed back down to about 95 where I usually cruise. A fond memory to take home with me. And a great day of riding...

1993 Italian GP at Misano

This is a posting about the experience of attending the Italian GP for motorcycles held September 4th at the Santamonica racetrack in Misano Adriatico, Italy. I’ve put race results, and a note about Wayne Rainey’s terrible accident, in other postings.

The trip from Ivrea, in NW Italy, to Misano on the eastern coast of Italy, was about 1,000km of boring Autostrada with about 5km of secondary roads on each end. The freeways have controlled access, and you are charged about 100 Lire per kilometer, or about 10 cents per mile. But it’s worth it. You can really make time on the freeways, and you really *CAN’T* make time on the lesser roads. For example, it took me about a total of 8 hours to travel over 600 miles. And I got passed fairly frequently!

It had been raining in Misano, and the path across the fields to the racetrack was very sticky with mud. Overhead was the helicopter and I could hear the echoes of the PA system muffled by the wind mixed in with the sound of the 125s practicing. Excitement!

The entry to the track was a single two lane road, filled with people walking and motorcyclists exercising their left wrists and heating up their clutches. I’d guess there were only about 4 actual entrances to the track, and each had only two or three people selling tickets. So you can imagine that there were huge crowds (many hundreds) around each ticket booth. Lots of motorcyclists were also in line, right along with the people, and zinging the shit out of their engines every once and a while just to remind everyone they were there, and maybe scare up a little more space ahead, literally. A Sunday-only pass was 60,000 Lire (about $40).

Inside, there were lots of places selling m/c related, and F1 GP related, clothing. Food too. But not the broad spectrum of stuff you’ll find at the USGP in Laguna Seca. The Italians didn’t seem to be buying much though, so I easily found some fairly nice T-shirts to take home as gifts.

The track is surrounded about 70% by a large earth embankment, with grass and a row of trees on top. Quite a few tents were still up, and more than a few people were still laying around sleeping. There is a stainless steel wire fence (heavy gauge stuff, maybe 1/8” in diameter, 2” by 4” squares) atop a concrete wall maybe 12’ tall on the track side, but ground level on the spectator side. This new fence did not stop the Italians, however, and in many places it was freshly pulled away to allow access to the wall as a place to sit with unobstructed view.

The 125s pulled off, and the 500s came out to practice as the track was drying off. Unbelievable! At the time, I had walked to the end of the straight where the brake markers start. As the bikes came by, you could hear this terrible, wonderful ripping sound as the air was torn apart by the passing motorcycles. The bikes were loud too, but the tearing air sound was at a different, lower frequency and was very noticeable and most strange.

I hadn’t heard a 500 GP bike since the first USGP at Laguna Seca, before the era of the “big bang” or “droner” motors. Under power they don’t sound like 2-strokes at all, but not like 4-strokes either. When they back off, they sound pretty normal. The shriek is gone, the low-pitched drone is in. I like it. In the race, some of the backmarkers were riding bikes with the old-style motors, so you could really tell the difference the new engine firing order makes.

Just before the 250s raced, three Ferraris took to the track. One looked like a Testa Rosa, the other two were shorter- wheelbased (I’m not up to date on Ferrari models), and had “DOCTOR” in large white letters on the hood. Rich Italian Physicians using their professional privilege? Anyway, one of them almost lost it (back end came way around) on the esses across from the starting-line grandstands where I was sitting. The crowd got a good laugh from that. (BTW—one Ferrari would follow the bikes during the first lap of each race, and even the 125s would out-accelerate the car. And you could hear the Ferrari and he/she wasn’t taking it easy either!).

The 250 race was super popular because Italians took the top three places. I was thinking. Those 250s have say 90BHP, just a few down from my GTS1000, and they weigh 1/3rd what my Yamaha does. Wonder what it would be like to have the opportunity to ride one at a track? Not that I’d want any spectators, of course. I know I’d be going seriously slowly compared to the guys on the track. They were dragging their knees, true, but they weren’t sticking their knees out, their knees were just an inch or two from the fairing, and less than that from the track! I heard one 250 guy once showed up with pucks on his elbows, and even had scuff marks on them!

In the 500 race, I went to the infield corner where the Italians had pulled away the fencing so you could get right next to the track. The sight and sound of the 500s coming around you, just 15’ away, leaned at an impossible 55 or 60 degrees from the vertical is beyond my ability to describe. You can almost feel the bikes hook up as they suddenly start ‘droning’ and accelerate wildly out of the corner. I say wildly ‘cause usually the front wheel comes off the ground and once in a while the bikes twitch pretty violently. And because they are probably doing 80 or 100mph in the corner and reaching 140 or 150 just a second or two later before jumping on the brakes for the esses.

Well, Cadalora won, driving the Italians wild and onto the track. Big surprise, huh? Rainey got badly hurt, but I didn’t see it, and only knew it was him when he was missing the next time the leaders came around. [Rainey’s accident took a lot of the fun out of it for me]. There were a lot of people rooting for Schwantz, I guess he’s quite popular, much like Randy Mamola was in the 80’s.

I was wearing my 10th Anniversary Isle of Vashon TT t-shirt and was secretly hoping it would catch the attention of some European Denizen or State-side biker person, but no joy. On the way into the track, I bought a Luca Cadalora t-shirt, and he ended up winning. I wish I’d bought a Schwantz t-shirt and maybe changed the course of events... :-(

WETLEATHER P.S: There was a large cloth sign hung on the wall along the straight which read “Daniela, Gass Gass, by Debi”. Allowing for the misspelling, could this be our own Debbie, back on earth? If so, then who is this Daniel? As I recall reading here, Debbie was last seen ascending into the sky filled with gas. Perhaps she descended in Italy, attracted by the pull of Ducati, which is mighty strong these days. Who knows?

1993 Milano-Taranto Rally

I stumbled upon an interesting motorcycle event called the “Milano-Taranto”, a 4-day ride for antique bikes down the middle of Italy from the North to the South. The 100-plus riders (mostly men in the 40-60 age group, with Italian sounding last names :-) departed from the old castle in the center of Milan at Midnight on July 4th. No neon leather in this group, in fact there were damn few full-face helmets. Lots of smiles though!

The bikes were mostly pristine, although a few were ‘aged’ looking, just a bit. What mainly caught my eye were the many bright red Moto Guzzis of the Airone (250cc) and Falcone (500cc) variety. With their scissors-type rear suspension and primitive looking slider front forks, and the totally wonderful looking horizontal air cooled single cylinder engines. Beautiful castings and fittings, and the most melodious exhaust note!

Few of these bikes had mufflers. Most either had to be push started, or the riders wanted to add to the ambiance by bump- starting them. They started by class, up to about 3 per minute. So each departure was a mini drag race through the park to the city streets, where the Police were holding back traffic for them.

This is all quite sanctioned and legal, even though the bikes quite obviously aren’t exactly legal. There is apparently a ‘reliability’ component, and you are supposed to follow the traffic laws, but from the speed and lean angles some of these guys were getting with this old iron and modern rubber, you’d never know it.

The ride consists of about 400km per day, for a total of about 1,500km. Apparently, if you have a bike more than 28 years old, and belong to a club which sponsers at least 2 rides a year, you can avoid having to license the bike (and therefore be taxed). Although this may be part of the motivation for this ride (the 7th, by the way), these guys obviously love these bikes and just like to ride ‘em.

Here’s a listing of what was there that I saw:

75cc Class
Laverda (1954)
Laverda Sport
100cc Class
Ducati (1955)
Morini Sbarazzino (1957)
125cc Class
Mival Sport
Mondial Monoalbero
Mondial Sperimentale (1957)
Morini Corsaro (1964)
MV Sport
175cc Class
Alpino Prototipo
Gilera Sport 150
Mondial TV
Morini 150
Morini GT
Morini Tresette
Morini Tresette Sprint
Moto Guzzi Stornello
MV Agusta 175 (1951)
250cc Class
Aermacchi Sport ala Verde
Morini Settebello
Moto Guzzi Airone
Moto Guzzi Airone Sport (1948)
Moto Guzzi Sport
500cc Class
Aermacchi TV 350
BMW R51 (1938)
Gilera Saturno (1946)
Gilera Saturno Sport (1951)
Matchless G80 GS (1953)
Moto Guzzi Astore
Moto Guzzi Falcone
Moto Guzzi Falcone Sport
Moto Guzzi GTV (1946)
Moto Guzzi Nuovo Falcone (1970)
Moto Guzzi Sport 15 (1932)
MV 2-Cilindri 350
NSU Konsul
Just to whet your appetite, if you like old bikes like this, I saw in the Milan ‘secondhand’ newspaper two ads for Moto Guzzi Airone 250s, one restored for about $5,700 and one supposedly all original unrestored and complete for $1,000. I may have to give ‘em a call...

1993 Italian World Trials Championship

Got up at 4:30am, had breakfast, and hit the road for Foppolo (5,000 ft) in the Alps on the border between Italy and Austria. Made good time on the Autostrada (driving 85 to 90mph) and got there in 2.5 hrs. The only real traffic was very near Fopolo at about 7:30am. Got to watch the riders clock out, then went to the first set of sections and stood in the trees near a stream and watched some amazing feats of trials prowess. [and spectator prowess at finding good places from which to watch]

As the day progressed, there were more and more people. Lots of places selling food and drinks, but no T-shirts or other event memorabilia. I got a poster of the event to bring home, that’s about it.

Got to watch and photograph the world’s best, and shot a lot of film. Talked briefly with Geoff Aaron, the only US competitor. He was very glad to hear some American English! Didn’t see Dale Malacek, the guy to does the great trials videos. I guess he didn’t make it to this event, bummer, ‘cause it’s neat to have a tape that you are either in, or remember seeing the same thing in person.

The riders who were most impressive were: Jordi Tarres, of course. [BTW —I have now seen Jordi’s first and most recent World Round win, his first was at Walker Valley, north of Seattle, in the late 80’s]. The Japanese rider Takumi Narita has improved tremendously, and was looking like a real contender. And the crowd loved him (big cheers when he cleaned a section — maybe ‘cause he’s riding a Beta this year rather than a Yamaha or a Honda as he as been in the past). The young French rider, Marc Colomer didn’t look quite as smooth, but was cleaning most of the sections anyway. The Finnish rider Tommi Avala (current World’s Champ) looked as good as Tarres, but somehow five’d a bunch of sections and dropped to 6th place by the end of the trials. A new and very young rider, Camozzi (probably Bruno Camozzi’s son or nephew), looked amazingly polished and had great technique.

The new French bike, the SCORPA, looks very very good. Wrap around spar frame like the Beta, male-slider forks, neat looking engine (293cc). It was getting major looks from everyone. Maybe France will do what Spain did with the Gas Gas (next to Beta, the most common bike in the top ranks was Gas Gas), namely go from nothing to being one of the very best bikes in less than 5 years. I guess some rich French guy just decided to create a new trials bike, and the Scorpa is the result. I think I probably saw about half of the total Scorpa’s in existance (I saw 3 of them).

The new Beta prototype, ridden by several riders, looks most trick. Almost everything that was plastic is now carbon-fiber. I’d guess the factory bikes were down in the 160 pound range. Unbelievable.

The new Yamaha TYZ looks pretty good, despite not having male- slider forks. Several were used in the event and seemed to perform quite well. Didn’t see any of the Honda 260’s at all.

The Gas Gas bikes, and a few of the prototype of other makes, are now using hydraulic clutches, so I expect the next big enhancement to come in the trials bike arena will be hydraulic clutches for all brands.

Watched the awards presentation: 1st) Tarres, 2nd) Colomer, 3rd) Narita. In the overall standing, Tarres still leads, with Colomer second. Avala is fourth. I believe that this is the 5th consecutive win for Tarres in 1993 out of 5 events. Looks good for him to win the Championship again and break all the records for number of wins, number of Championships, etc.

A trip to Augsburg, Germany

Friday I bailed out of work at 11am and headed towards Augsburg, Germany, about 460 miles away (taking one of the shorter routes) on my 1993 Yamaha GTS1000A. Freeway to Milano, then 2-lane roads north towards Switzerland and Austria. I wanted to try some new passes in Switzerland and Austria and then cross into Germany near Garmisch.

The countryside leading up to the pass just south of St. Moritz (not Splugen Pass, but near it) was like a sloped garden, with lawns (actually meadows) and flowers and bushes and later on, pine-like trees and rocks begging for the caress of a trials bike. The road was pretty wet, sometimes with running water flowing down it, which slowed me down more than I would have liked.

The last part of the road before the actual pass climbed the mountain on a slope which would make a serious Black Diamond ski run. The road was built almost entirely on rock and mortar walls, with switchbacks every 100 meters or so. Maybe a dozen of them in a row, climing at maybe a 15% or 20% grade. Even though it was raining, it was still a nice ride, and much better than the Col de Tour Buses, with it’s endless line of frustrated cagers...

At the Austrian border, I finally got ‘checked’. At first, the guard waived me through like has happened the last 20 border crossings or so. Then he saw the WASHINGTON license plate and ran after me yelling for me to pull over. He wanted to see my ‘Green Card’, i.e. proof of insurance, and my passport. He didn’t seem to care if I had a drivers license or not. It just took a few minutes, though, and I was back on the road.

Trying to ride such a long distance on secondary roads, particularly very twisty secondary roads, sometimes with lots of traffic, is problematical. The problem resolved itself west of Innsbruck when it started raining cats and dogs (just like in Washington!) and I decided to jump on the freeway rather than tackling another mountain pass in the rain. I got pretty cold, even with my many layers, full leathers, and raingear. When I arrived in Augsburg at 9pm I had been riding for 10 hours, with only a couple of brief snack stops. It no longer seems strange to ‘flow’ down the Autobahn at 90-100mph in the rain in moderate traffic and never have to venture into the fast lane.

Saturday, we went to Munich and visited the BMW Museum. The factory offers tours also, but only on weekdays, and only via advance reservation. The Museum is in a building shaped kind of like an old teacup, with the entire top of the structure forming a huge BMW spinning-propeller logo which is visible only from the air, or from the tall BMW office towers next door. Inside is a little coffee bar, and lots of BMW related gift items (I bought two old ad posters from the 20’s and 30’s).

I got my picture taken next to the (or one of the) original K1 prototypes — it was very noticably different from the production models: different foot rests, handlebars, guages, bodywork, seat, etc. They also had lots of old antiques, of course. More cars than bikes, and more bikes than airplane engines. One of the neatest cars was a 750iL sedan cut in half in a big arc so you could see inside almost every component of interest.

One of the neatest bikes was an R80GS that had made an around- the-world trip taking 10 years and covering 350,000km. There was a map showing his route (for most of it he had an American girlfriend on the back) and he really did cover most of each continent. Unbelievable was the posted fact that the first ‘service’ done on the bike was at 180,000km and nothing was found amiss.

Lots of stuff about the heyday of BMW’s motorcycle business, when they held many world’s speed records and various racing championships. I was disappointed that there weren’t any of the really new bikes there, the newest was a ‘91 K100LT. No mention of the R1100’s, the F650, or any of their design studies. Maybe I’ll get to see those at the Frankfurt Auto Show next weekend.

Sunday, I couldn’t leave until 1pm ‘cause I was forced to eat a scrumptious German dinner, including corn on the cob! (which is quite unusual, most europeans probably only eat corn in the form of Polenta). It wasn’t raining, and the sun started poking through the clouds as I rode south through Bavaria. I didn’t want to miss this part of the country ‘cause who knows when I’ll be here again on a motorcycle.

The roads on the way to Fussen are like a racetrack laid out on a rolling golf course. Perfect road surface, no patches or repairs, fairly wide by European standards. The edge of the road is just 6-10” from the fog line and blends smoothly into the grassy fields. No fences, thankfully. A dry road and few cars, too. Heaven!

Crystal clear air, evergreen forests climbing half way up the steep snow-capped mountains, a lake, a castle on top of a small hill surveying a green valley and a little village. The towns and villages here are so clean and well-maintained, while in Italy everything is so old and run down and in poor repair. Could it simply be the condition of their respective economies? Or is it something else? Well, the road bekons and it takes most of my attention to do it right, so enough speculation.

Lots of motorcycles, mostly DP bikes as usual, but for some reason cruiser-style bikes are pretty common here today. Over the Fernpass the ratio of motorcycles increases to astronomical levels. Down the other side slicing back and forth through the trees and braking heavily for the occasional sharp switchbacks, and into the first “Radarcontrolle” and my first speeding ticket in Europe. After all the serious abuse I’ve done to local speed limits, I get caught doing 104 in an 80. Childsplay! But the good news is it only costs 300 Austrian Schillings, and the nice Policeman (who speaks English) lets me pay with 40 German Marks instead. And unless one of you readers tells my insurance company, it will go completely unnoticed on my record. :-)

Just to add another country to my ‘score’, I take a left at Feldkirch and ride through Lichtenstein (so that’s what the (FL) stickers mean!). The day is fading fast, and my headlight is adjusted too high. The owner’s manual doesn’t say how to adjust it, and my inspection suggests that removal of the upper half of the fairing is probably the only way to get at it. So I jump on the freeway again and boogie back ‘home’, arriving at 9:30pm — 8.5 hours this way, with no rain. Four days and I start the long trip back to Spokane...

Italian food & customs

And now for something completely different: Eating...

Did you know that us Americans are identifiable to Italians in any of several ways we eat our food? The obvious ones are not using the fork-in-the-left and knife-in-the-right like the locals do, or cutting the spaghetti rather than twisting it on a fork (only the southern Italians have to use a spoon for this, which is perhaps more a northern Italian attitude about the southerners than an actual fact).

The difference that caught me by surprise was that the Italians only eat one thing at a time, and finish that thing before even tasting another thing. They are constantly amused that I eat a little of this, and a little of that, and often taste everything before finishing any one item.

The food here is truly excellent, however, which pretty much makes all the weird stuff about eating into a moot point. Even the little mom&pop type places usually take great pride in their cooking. My taste in pasta has been changed forever! From now on its al dente and very little sauce, thank you. I even learned to actually *LIKE* eggplant (which, BTW, the Italians find to be a hysterically funny name, theirs being Melanzana).

They also eat very fast here, which is ironic since you can’t possibly eat a sit-down meal in a resturant in less than one hour, more commonly two hours, without Papal dispensation. I honestly believe there could be 200 people lined up outside the door waiting for a table, and if you didn’t actually ask for the bill, you could sit there until closing time and no waiter or waitress would ever even hint that they could use the table.

Another thing — Hours of Operation: Although there are minor local differences the usual store hours are 9am to 12:30pm, then again from 3pm to 7pm. In the case of a bicycle shop, for instance, this means they have to put all the bikes out on the sidewalk (and lock them all together, of course) twice a day, instead of once. It also means that you can forget going shopping during your lunch hour. Almost all stores are closed entirely on Sundays and often one other day of the week, although there isn’t really a standard for that other than that food type stores are generally closed Wednesday afternoons. This includes most gas stations, BTW, other than the ones on the freeways. Need to fill up during your lunch hour? Better find a station that accepts “coupons” (actually 10,000 Lire bills) via an unattended machine or you are shit out of luck.

Oh, and filling the tank on your motorcycle — how about $15 for the usual 3.5 gallon fillup. Oil? About $6.50 per liter (say $6 per quart) for plain old run-of-the-mill engine oil. Don’t know how much the really good stuff is. I only know about the regular stuff because the Alfa Romeo 155 TwinSpark I was renting leaked and/or burned about a liter of the stuff every 1,000km. A problem? Not according to the Avis rental guy, “It’s Italian” and a shrug of the shoulders was his response.