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20th July 2004

Italian Adventure

Russ Gannicott has more Italian bikes than he can handle (at once) so he drafted in a few friends to get them all to an Italian-oriented event. Foul weather, unfamiliar Italian machinery: what could possibly go wrong?

'I counted them all out, I counted them back in again…'

Quoted Carole, my wife, on our return from the Sammy Miller Museum Italian and German day.

The plan was a simple one; I wanted to take three bikes. I could only ride one, so I needed to recruit some help. The two obvious candidates were Paul and James. Paul is an old mate who I've recently introduced to the joys of classic riding, whilst James is the mechanic at the local Yamaha dealership who takes care of my MoTs. Both are highly experienced riders in whom I have total trust… and both are used to left-hand gear shifts and electric starts! Should be amusing.

The Gang. From the right; Ducati, Morini, MV Agusta.

The plan was to meet at my house at 10am for the short trip to the museum, stick around for a couple of hours or so and then swap bikes for the return ride. Joining us on this little jaunt was Phil with one of his Polizia Guzzis and my neighbour Sean, who rides a new BMW 1100.

I have to confess to waking up late so it was fortunate that I'd checked the bikes over the previous night. They only needed to be wheeled out of the garage and have their tyre pressures checked in the morning. It's a funny thing, and probably comes from my days of having race bikes ridden by other riders, but you tend to be extra fussy when you know your bikes are going to be ridden by someone else. I guess it's the added sense of responsibility. When the guys arrived I hadn't had the chance to warm the bikes up, which I had intended to do, so we had to go through the briefing of starting, choke settings, throttle control, and all those things that are so easy when you do it, but so damn hard to put into words for others.

Thankfully (for my neighbours), we eventually set off with me riding the Ducati, James on the Morini and Paul, who'd be setting the pace, on the little MV. Escort duty was provided by Phil on the Guzzi and we deliberately set off ahead of Sean to give him a chance to get above second gear and of course, let his grips warm up!

The ride there was uneventful, but I'm sure James' road positioning behind me was to get out of the pulse wave from my megaphone… an experience he later likened to being shot at by a machine gun!

Ducati street scrambler, and an overdraft of Bimotas...

The museum car park was fairly quiet when we arrived, but whilst supping some tea we started to hear the bikes arriving. Interestingly, this year the event was dominated by BMWs, which was probably due to the weather. Scattered showers and occasional downpours are enough to put the fear of God into the average Italian bike rider. Having said that, there were some lovely machines there including a superb MV America with a chain drive conversion an Magni bodywork. The owner had previously had a standard America and was amazed at the difference the chain drive made. The bike was apparently far more tractable and sporty feeling.

There was a nice little Ducati Street Scrambler sitting alongside one of the largest gatherings of Bimotos I've seen, and a nicely used MHR which came along with a couple of Mk2 Le Mans.

Unusual 'naked' MHR Ducati. The un-faired ones were available as standard from new at a slightly cheaper price.

Amongst the German contingent there were examples of BMWs from the 1950's to present day, a beautifully restored NSU Max and a very rare Hoffman boxer twin.

After a couple of hours of dodging showers and drinking tea we decided to swap keys and set off home. This time, I'd be riding the MV, James would wrestle the Ducati into submission and Paul would have his first go on the Morini. A quick check of the bikes showed that the MV had spat out its exhaust sleeve, so proceedings were halted while I produced the 'magic box' from my back pack. The 'magic box' is one of those things a rider of Italian classics should never leave home without.

Hoffman boxer twin. And I thought Horexi were rare...

Inside the watertight container (an ice-cream tub!) are three rolls of insulating tape, several metres of wire, a box of fuses, various crimps and terminals, a spare plug cap, two feet of HT lead and a multimeter. Oh yes, and at the bottom a Phillips screwdriver, pliers and ten mill spanner. Like I said; never leave home without one.

Once again a briefing session ensued regarding starting and the additional hazards of the Ducati in the wet… and what would happen if you shifted the wrong way through a bend(!), and getting Paul used to the idea that now he'd not only be riding with a right hand shift, but one which had an extra gear and went the other way up!

Five minutes later and after lots of wheezing I stopped laughing and rescued the other two who were struggling with kickstarts and wet boots. All bikes were finally running and we were off… ah, no, we weren't. I was frantically trying to start the MV which had flooded and couldn't hear it when it did fire up due to the noise of James warming up the Ducati! By now we'd gathered quite a crowd; because of the noise? Because of the Italian glamour? No, because we looked like something from a Marx brothers' film. First one stalls and can't restart, then another, with me running round shouting instructions and making senseless hand signals whilst running back to the MV every few seconds to blip the throttle to stop it flooding!

Somehow we made it out of the car park… God knows how, and we were back on the road. I got the impression from the way he was riding that Paul was enjoying the Morini and I allowed him and James to put a little space between themselves and me on the twisty country lanes. Well, the truth is that the Ducati was deafening to be behind and I couldn't keep up anyway!

My big moment came, however, as we had to go down a fairly steep, long hill… with a following wind. Flat on the tank with the steering damper stuck into my chin I watched the speedo rise; 80, 90, 100, 110! Yes! I'd done it, 110! Wow, in MPH that's sixty-six! Did I feel cool or what?

Arriving back home we all had Cheshire cat grins; me for my speed record, Paul for finding a gearbox he could use and a bike he felt comfortable with, and James for understanding how a 1970's hooligan biker truly must have felt! A great day, and proof if it was ever needed that you don't have to travel far or fast to have a hell of a lot of fun.

NSU Max single. Nice.

Were you there?


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