Thursday, 16 April 2015

Back in the room at last: with a new book, Ducati and the TT

And we’re back… where from? A year of research, commissioning and scribbling about three of my favourite things: Ducati, history and the TT. The result is a new book, Ducati and the TT; two legends, one story out on the 28th May.

Ducati and the Isle of Man TT; two legends certainly, but one story? Yet consider that back in the mid 1970s both Ducati and the TT were thought by many to be living on past glories and unable to survive the rise of the Japanese motorcycle industry and the new found glamour of Grand Prix racing. Despite this Ducati and the TT persevered and, despite both almost disappearing, started growing again largely thanks to the effort of a team convinced that they could win a TT with a Ducati.

 This is a glorious Limited Edition, large format hardback (240 pages, 280mm x 240mm / 11"x9.25") with many previously unseen and specially commissioned photographs, plus many by renowned photographer Phil Aynsley. Interviews with Steve Wynne and members of his team, together with others who raced or were involved with Ducati and the TT bring many untold stories to life.


 This historic reference starts with the surprising facts that the first Isle of Man TT races were for cars, and that Ducati had been in business for over 20 years before they built their first motorcycle. Yet now they are both inextricably associated with motorcycle racing and have built histories that regularly crossed paths, bringing four World Championships to Ducati. This, then, is the history of both these wonderful icons of motorcycling and how their worlds collided. It also tells in full for the first time how Mike Hailwood returned to motorcycle racing in Australia before attempting his TT comeback, along with new insights into the motorcycles he raced and the people he inspired.

The book then builds to a tell of a time when almost nobody, bar a few good men led by Steve Wynne, believed Ducati could rise to the pinnacle of motorsport back in the mid 1970s. The glorious achievements of the Sports Motorcycle team and Mike Hailwood in 1978, and their subsequent frustrating attempt to regain that glory, are the climax of this book that brings fresh perspective and insight into a tale many think they know, despite few appreciating the fascinating truth..

 Finally there is a "where are they now" appendix, telling where what happened to the most important bikes and riders, along with a table of Ducati's achievements at the TT.


 You can pre-order here. All copies will be signed and dedicated as requested. Fed up with the pittance paid by mainstream publishers (because retailers race to the bottom price on Amazon) I’m self publishing this one (although the money involved would buy a very nice bike), so although it’s pricey I think the quality, originality, design and size make it worth it. And at least I can promise you won’t buy it more cheaply elsewhere

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The highs and lows of racing the Panigale in British Superbikes

Had a great insight into the Lloyds British Moto Rapido team courtesy of Ducati UK. There's a full report on Vicki Smith's Ducati News webpage (because I owe her so many favours) and pictures at here on

Friday, 13 March 2015

Warning - eBay's GSP might not find you

No, not a GPS sat nav that's doesn't work, but eBay's Global Shipping Programme (GSP). A friend has just warned that a rare Dell 'Orto was not only refused shipping (because it might still have fuel in it 30 years after last being used) but was actually destroyed. Apparently they do likewise if they consider a package too big, which has led to vintage guitars being "liquidated" (who thinks up this jargon?).

Message seems to be that GSP generates a customs label from the listing, and that a carburettor is just a prohibited item, no questions or discussion allowed. Could you get round this using a different shipper and a seller who's prepared to fill in the custom’s paper work a little more imaginatively? Maybe, but if you get it wrong that could mean the destruction of a rare spare part. At least people seem to get their money back.

Another friend had to wait several weeks for a  green frame 750SS to be released to the shipper, and you can guess how much money was tied up while he sweated it out. Personally I've never had any problems buying from the US, but their border bods are most heavy handed in the world  - and that includes my experience of Iran and Iraq! I was arrested aged 18 trying to board a flight home from New Orleans because my work permit was three days out. Even they eventually realised it was more hassle than it was worth not to stick this bemused limey on the 'plane, but you have been warned; caveat emptor

Thursday, 5 March 2015

RIP Franco Farne

Franco Farne has passed away in Bologna, aged 81. For me the greatest of the great, perhaps even more important to Ducati than Fabio Taglioni. A quiet, retiring man who shunned the limelight he did it all. His parents worked at Ducati and while he raced a Cucciolo he ran around town on the rare Ducati Cruiser scooter. Associated with Ducati for well over 50 years, by the time Ing. Fabio Taglioni joined the company in 1954, the 20 year old Farne was already working there as a mechanic and part time racer/test rider. He soon became Taglioni's right hand man in the race department where he stayed up until 2000. During the 1970s, when the factory did not have officially go racing, he was a part of the unofficial effort at NCR. He then "returned" to the factory and was in charge of the race department under the Castiglionis. In 2000 he joined Bimota to manage their World Superbike team but when that failed (due to sponsorship problems) he returned to NCR - thus returning to the Ducati fold. Pictured here with one of the six 1970 450 Desmo GP bikes he helped develop.

Rest in peace Franco - and if there's a heaven you, Masimo Tamburini and Dr T will make it a very special place

With thanks to Phil Aynsley

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Another Ducati book? Oh yes - the Desmodues

Before some smart Alec points it out, I know that technically all the old bevel and pushrod Ducatis were Desmodues (two valves per cyclinder) but it was with the launch of the Pantah Ducati that started to use the label (actually retrospectively when the Desmoquatros arrived).

Anyway the book tells how Ducati rose from the post war ashes, serious contemplating giving up motorcycle producation on a number of occasions. The most hair raising thing was waiting on the Scarmbler, especially since Ducati won't let authors use their press archives in books (unless, it seems, you're called I*n Fa$100n) so for early show shots I'm indebted (as usual) to Vicki Smith of Great insights too courtesy of Pat Slinn, and the other members of the Sports Motorcycles team to whom the book's dedicatied.

It’s probably cheaper elsewhere (cheaper than I can buy it in fact - publishers, got to love them) but if you’d like a signed and dedicated copy you can buy one at   
my Big Cartel webshop adding a message in PayPal. Or just email me . Thank you!

Honda V4 - the four strokes; my second Crowood book

An Italophile writing a Honda book? But the V4 story fascinated me, and I was lucky enough to have invaluable insights from Cook Neilson - racer and Cycle editor of legend - and Gerald Davison, who ran Honda UK and the NR500 project. Genuine never before told insights. Includes production histories, specifications and over 250 colour illustration, from development of the first Honda V4, the oval piston NR500 and the  VF road models that followed. Also covered the VFR750 and VFR800 (including 2014 update) and VFR1200F; the legend of the RC30 to the opposite extreme of Honda V4-ness the 1990 Pan European/ST1100/1300 and CTX1300 cruiser. And of course  Honda V4s in MotoGP and, finally, owners' experiences and insight from those who worked in the industry.

It’s probably cheaper elsewhere (cheaper than I can buy it in fact - publishers, got to love them) but if you’d like a signed and dedicated copy you can buy one at   
my Big Cartel webshop adding a message in PayPal. Or just email me . Thank you!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Old values, new (wave) customs

 Ducati have done the obvious - but wise - thing and handed over a trio of Scramblers to customising houses. Love the Scratch with its bashed 1970s Yamaha 600TT look. Oddly it's the yellow Deus ex Machina Hondo Grattan I 'm least smitten by. Maybe that's because the name is Latin for "grotty Honda" (only kidding). The black bike is Scrambler Caffe Racer by Mr Martini , and it looks like The Right One, especially with that exhaust.

Dario Mastroianni – Customiser at Officine Mermaid: “We decided to
customise the Ducati Scrambler because we immediately earmarked it as a uniquely convertible Italian bike. We've infused it with our unmistakeable Officine Mermaid style, with a kind of rough-and-ready look that's spartan and basic. We named it using the English word Scratch, to convey the idea of it being scraped or damaged. This can be seen straight away from the fuel tank, which we stripped of paint and treated by hand – a procedure we use only on our most exclusive bikes. The metal mudguards have been left rough (a bit like us) and
then hand-brushed at the workshop. We've left only what is essential on the bike – anything that wasn't necessary has been eliminated. Even the exhaust, for example, while derived from the original, has been reduced to a minimum. For the front we've chosen a traditional stanchion fork with a wide 21'' wheel and an 18'' wheel at the back, while the saddle and handlebars are made of vintage green leather with a decidedly Western style. Our Scratch has a main rally-style headlight and a smaller lateral spotlight.”