Moto Guzzi 

by Shawn Downey

This Old Bike: You oughtta be in pictures


The angry bark of the straight pipes and the spewing gravel from the spinning rear wheel retort the quick snap of my wrist. I round the right hand corner on the way to the set. Traveling mid-pack, I see the director motioning some of the riders toward the far parking lot and the chosen ones to the prime real estate in front of the camera. In an attempt to guarantee my spot in the limelight, I fan the clutch and let the front end chomp at air. Stabbing at the rear brake brings the front wheel back to earth, but the rear wheel screetches in protest and slides to the left.

It is a controlled slide, of course. At least I think so. But wide-eyed horror in the director’s eyes tells me he may not think so. The director motions to the two riders immediately in front of me. Their wild grins betray their “bad boy” personas, as they take their place before the camera. I look to the director…he just has to have my pristine machine in this shot. My motorcycle alone could carry the scene and net him a Grandma, an Enema, a Dirty Harry or whatever the hell they give away these days.

But wait, what is this? Shocked, I watch his mouth form the words in slow motion, “You park over in the back lot. We’ll call you when we need you, tough guy.” Looking around in utter disbelief, I spy a conspiracy. All the bikes chosen for the scene are branded with one distinctive nameplate–MOTO GUZZI.

After trundling my bike to the far, far, far away parking lot, I slam the kickstand to the pavement, dismount, kick the ground, watch a cop give a ticket to a vagrant, tell the actors that Slim Fast has been declared an old age accelerator, and finally decide to prop myself up against my bike and take a quick nap. Suddenly I find myself in front of the snack truck. “Yes, I’ll have 14 bananas, a bagel with tuna and egg salad topping, that basket of Hershey’s Kisses, half of those strawberries, a triple mocha with cream cheese and a gross of those swizzle sticks.”

“You don’t ride a Moto Gootsie, do ya?” says the smiling vendor.

I look up and see a character representing every stereotypical Italian trait known to man. This guy has more Italian in him than the first twenty rows of a sneak preview of The Godfather. “Let me guess. You’re going to start telling me that once upon a time before WWI, there were these two Italian pilots, Ravelli and Parodi, who got together with their mechanic and driver, Carlo Guzzi. The first prototype was built in 1920 and blah, blah, blah. I’m not in the mood. I’m still reeling from watching that Hollywood meat puppet reject my work of art.”

“It’s the weight,” offers Mr. Good Eats.

I roll my eyes so far back in my head, that I nearly swallow my pupils. “The weight? The weight? Okay, it’s the weight.”

He continues, “Back in 1955, Guilio Carcano built a brand new Guzzi 350, and won the championship crown for three years in a row. He was a real motorcycle engineer who recognized that the most important aspect of road racing was overcoming the inertia. The smaller the mass, the more easily it could be done. That was why he strove to keep the weight low–both on the machine and on the scale.

The first time he brought his lean machine to the racing grid, an eerie silence enveloped the racers and the crowd. Here was a factory machine that used pieces of wood to hold the gas tank in place and a very thin coat of green undercoating on the fairing. Everything elsewas bare. He used 10mm plugs versus 14mm, eliminated the cast iron liner in the cylinder by hard-chroming the bore, maintained the valves with a single helical spring instead of doubles or triples and employed a trellis-like spaceframe instead of the usual ill-stressed conglomeration. All because of the weight.

He recognized that inertia increased in proportion to mass and that resistance to motion through the air increased with the square of the velocity. Hence, he kept the motorcycle low to minimize frontal area. All the other bikes dwarfed his in height but his was much more elongated. He was the first to start enclosing the rear wheel to reduce drag, and he introduced the earth-shattering transverse water-cooled V8. A 500cc V8 engine so light that even YOU could pick it up, tough guy.

And then the FIM did the unthinkable. They outlawed racing streamlined motorcycles due to instability in cross-winds. This was true, but only because the FIM arbitrarily mandated the dimensional limits on fairings. What the hell did the FIM know about fairings and wind tunnels? They used to suck on their fingers and hold them in the air to judge the wind speed.

Yep, those Guzzis were way advanced for their time. The frames were low and the weight was even lower. That is what gives the Moto Guzzi its distinctive look. The weight displacement. Not to mention the motors! They were so advanced the 500S used the same bore and stroke dimensions from 1920 until 1976.”

Slack jawed, I felt an uncontrollable drool coming on. As the drool turned into a small tributary, I slowly backed away and gazed up at the sign over the smiling Italian guru: Luigi ‘s Good Treats: Home of the Pasta and Oreo Burger.

“And just remember,” parts the old troll, “Pizza Pizza.”

“What?!?!” I fire back.

“Pizza Pizza, two toppings, $9.95.” The smiling old man’s face begins to contort and take on a different light. His image morphs into my friend who is shaking me wildly.

“Dude, dude, wake up man. You’re embarrassing yourself. You’ve got oil from the side cover running down your face and on your shirt. You must have pulled the line loose when you fell asleep. It was so damn funny they stopped shooting the movie and brought everybody over to take a look. Now drag your oil encrusted carcass out from under your bike, man. The pizza guy forgot to lock the oven doors and he’s dropping pizzas one by one as he drives toward the set. Come on man, free food.”

At that moment a little leathery guy walks by and says, “None for him, he’s trying to lose weight.”



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