Sunday, 3 May 2015

Geoff Duke OBE; four lasting legacies


 
So RIP Geoff Duke. While others will speak more eloquently than me of his racing success, it's his inspiration to others that I most admire. In the words of Bruce Springsteen - not a bad touchstone to live your life by - champions come on go. But here are four lasting legacies.

1 - he taught the Italians that motorcycles need to handle as well as be powerful.

We take this for granted, and even that Italian motorcycles are often faster point-to-point than more powerful rivals. But when Geoff Duke arrived at Gilera he found a motorcycle that prized straight line speed at the expense of all else. Using the skill sets he'd absorbed from Rex McCandless at Norton, Duke soon tamed the wayward big four into a motorcycle that could beat all-comers on the straights and even catch them in the corners.

2 - he inspired Massimo Tamburini

As a young man Massimo Tamburini had his hair cut in Rimini by a motorcycle racing fan who had pictures all over the wall of Duke racing the big Gilera. He would explain to Massimo how Duke had taught the Gilera racing team the importance of balance in motorcycle design, ideas that came through loud and clear when Massimo founded Bimota . Anyone who's ridden - or even seen - a Bimota or Ducati 916 can appreciate these virtues learned from Duke - albeit via an Italian barber.

3 - he invented racing leathers.

Before Geoff Duke, race wear was pretty much a Belstaff Trialmaster two-piece waxed cotton affair - and these were the days before they were Hipster must-haves. Duke had his tailor - yes, he had a tailor! - run up the first set of one piece leathers, and when everyone else realised how much more speed and protection they offered, almost overnight Duke's innovation became ubiquitous
 
4 - he founded Duke video.

In a world of four TV channels, motorcycle racing on the box was limited to the British Grand Prix and some scrambling on ITV's World of Sport. With Duke video suddenly we could watch motorcycle racing and history any time we wanted. Even in today's multi-platform media there's still a place for a Duke DVD in every motorcyclist's treasure chest. After all, as Bruce Springsteen puts it - 57 channels and nothin' on.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

"Every generation thinks it invented sex"; so which generation had it best?


Good friend and Benzina contributor Richard Skelton has published a massive tome on Motorcycling in the 1970s at a bargain price of £1.97 on Kindle. Unsurprisingly it's been well received and is selling well; more surprising is the reaction from those whose formative motorcycling years weren't in the 1970s.

The headline quote "Every generation thinks it invented sex" came from another friend who was a big cheese in the industry in the 1970s, but started out racing in the 1960s. His point is our introduction to motorcycling is always a fabulous baptism that stays with us throughout our lives. Although he has a 1970s classic, he still rides modern bikes and offers advice to the industry. As he says, just because the bikes he started out on were old British bikes in the days before hire purchase, it doesn't mean motorcycling wasn't fantastic in the 1950s and '60s: it was just slower and less reliable.

And then another well-known author got in touch with Richard claiming the 1980s were better than the '70s; and guess when his biking career started? Certainly I enjoyed the rise or the race replicas in the 1980s, but the music? Stock Aitkin and Waterman have a lot to answer for.

 I guess for me it's not just that I'm a child of the (late) 1970s, starting out on a Puch M2 in 1975 (no Hire Purchased FS1-E or Garelli Rekord for those who stayed on at school for A levels) but more than that I'm an Italian bike fan. Sure, there were some great lightweight Italian bikes in the 1950s and '60s, but they were... well, lightweights. And as they say in Top Gun, men of a certain age feel the need; the need for speed.

So from the Guzzi 750 Sport and Laverda twins of the late 1960s to the 900SS a decade later, it was - to my partisan eyes - a golden era. By the early 1980s the Mike Hailwood Replica - especially the Mille - was still a charismatic and beautiful motorcycle. But so was my Katana 1000 (the homologation special with slide carbs) and it was 30% cheaper and a good 10 mph faster to the astonishment of an MHR900 owning friend. Another reason to love that era - empty roads during early evening while the rest of the country watched the soaps and we found some interactive entertainment while waiting for the pub to open. Different times indeed.

Yes, there were some great Italian bikes in the 1980s - the Laverda RGS, Guzzi Le Mans III and Ducati Paso were my favourites - but they were just so damn expensive. The greatest one - the Laverda V6 - never even made it to the showrooms, and it's hard to see how it could have sold up against the Kawasaki GPz900R and Suzuki GSX-R1100 in an era when most bikes were still bought by guys in their 20s who relied upon them as their sole means of transport.

The 1990s looked like they would be even worse for the Italians, and Ducati came closer to shutting up shop than most folk realise until the Castiglioni's pulled the Monster and 916 out of the proverbial hat.

So I'm with Richard - the bikes, culture and music (and the weather) were at their best in the 1970s. But fascinated by other points of view that will be picked up in Benzina 14 (out when I've sold a goodly chunk of the Ducati at the TT book!).
 

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Shock, horror; bikers overrun Salisbury City centre


Went to Salisbury Sunday to buy our daughter lunch only to find the city clogged up with more bikes than I’ve ever seen in one place away from a race meet. Sadly only had a phone with me - and with a grubby lens; should clear out my pockets more often -  but here’s what I got













 
 













































 

Food for thought. Unless you'd rather eat it



I have to confess that my love Italiphilia goes beyond the fabulous motorcycles that have sprung from those shores - I also love the food. Now a lot of people say that but much Italian cooking in this country has been spiced up to cater for Englishmen raised on Balti and green Thai curry. Sure, southern Italian food – especially as you get down to the far south and Sicily – can be rich with a chilli hit, but more often food is surprisingly subtle and, by the time the overseas mass producers have homogenised it – Holland, I’m looking at you – it can be dull and bland.

 Mozzarella’s a good example. The cheapo mass produced stuff is fine on pizza, but not a shadow of what true mozzarella – made with buffalo milk – can be. I still vividly remember coming round a blind corner in Tuscany to find one of these beasts loose, and their milk is every bit as a much of a surprise. Served at room temperature with good tomatoes, fresh basil and a splash of balsamic it is a joyful light lunch or starter. Tear it up, rather than slice it, and go for big tasty tomatoes. The Italians call it insalate caprese; salad from Capri (the island, not the 1970s Ford icon).

 But where to buy it? Not in the mainstream supermarkets, though Lidl’s occasionally have good stuff. But hey, this is the internet age and I can heartily recommend Nife is Life (weird name, apparently meaning “nice Italian food everyday”). Not expensive, free delivery if you spend over £60 (rather too easy) and great service. They were mortified when a courier cocked up, offering refunds and heartfelt apologies.

 I can also recommend their artichokes at the moment - £1.60 each, again ideal as a lunch or starter. They don’t have chokes (the thistle bit, not the carburettor component) so just poach for 30 minutes, and pick away, dipping the leaves in melted butter with a splash of lemon juice and then tucking into the meaty heart.

 I feel a recipe coming on; time to go shopping

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 ducati.net

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