A British biker joins Italy's classic motorcycle road race.
I admit it, I lost my heart to a handsome Italian. What’s a girl to do? Big, powerful, exciting, begging to stay between my thighs for hours and take me to places that made me gasp with wonder. And with twin spark plugs, too. Yes, I’m in love with a 1000cc Ducati Monster.
|photo: Giuseppe Gori
It was simply a near-perfect week. Even an aimless tour on that bike through northern Italy would have been wonderful, but I had a whole experience. The Motogiro d’Italia was Italy’s classic motorcycle road race, reaching its peak in the 1950s, when schoolboys would run home to listen to the day’s results on the radio.
When road racing was banned it disappeared for over 30 years, but now it’s back – as a timed trial – with vintage bikes from the Motogiro’s heyday, some of them ridden by riders who are old enough to remember that era, and in a few cases to have ridden in it.
And behind the vintage bikes a joyful crowd of us follow on modern bikes. Though we’re not racing to get to the next checkpoint exactly on time (and this year’s winner was tenths of a second away from the runner-up) we do feel part of the occasion. Old ladies wave from the roadside; town squares are taken over by locals in traditional costumes, serving regional refreshments to hot, thirsty bikers. Coming from England, it makes a refreshing change to be welcomed because I’m a leatherclad maniac on two wheels. I’m more used to grudging toleration.
It’s also a joy to roll into the car park of yet another excellent hotel, find my luggage in my room, and join my fellow Motogiristas for dinner. ‘Did you see that…?’ is the refrain, as we relive the breathtaking views, the moments of magic that we couldn’t discuss at the time, hurtling solo along a mountain road.
And what roads! Gentle curves in the hills, then into the Dolomites for steep mountain passes that twist and double back tighter than any racetrack. I’ve only been biking for a couple of years, and I can feel my riding improving by the hour. I pick up tips on technique in the bar, and try them out on switchback turns the next day.
Why on a bike? The roads – in a car you simply don’t feel them with the same intimacy. The smells – from the heavy blossom scents of the plains, cut across every few miles by summer decay or animal smells, past sweet-smelling maize fields, on to cool pine forests. I can even smell the perfume of women I ride past in the towns.
And the instant camaraderie. I know – bogus sense of community, no substitute for real relationships built up over years, blah, blah, blah. The fact is, biking makes us into allies because only we know just how much fun you can have burning petrol. Maybe we have nothing else in common – but for those hours, the grin on our faces is bond enough.
It’s enough to make sure someone will always stop to check you’re okay at the side of the road, too. Yes, of course it’s dangerous. The sort of stupid mistake that dents your wing in a car will…well, we don’t have a wing, so it would be a thin layer of leather and then my leg that crumpled. And on holiday we all tend to take more risks than we do at home, so riding in Italy is arguably more dangerous than on home ground (though I’ll take an Italian driver rather than a Kensington pedestrian any day). So why do it?
One morning, the rainclouds were clearing as I rode down a steep straight. It was just me and the bike and the road. Ahead, I was looking down on white peaks shining in the Sun, apparently rising up out of white clouds into the pale blue sky. I felt I was going to emerge from between the tree-covered slopes on either side and fly into that blue.
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