Italian Motorcycles: Winds of Passion



Rich Beach explores the Italian penchant for two wheeled style

Passion. Italians have it in spades. In fact, where we are all made of 3/4 water, the Italians are 75% pure passion. Passion flows through everything they do, from throwing a dish together, constructing an argument to building a motorcycle.

And the difference between Italians and the rest of their European brethren is starkly apparent when you have to sit through a pre-launch presentation from say, the press office of BMW motorcycles. Here, you’ll be efficiently bombarded with fact after German fact, number after number, dry weight, rake angle, torque curves… The spiel from a Japanese manufacturer will consist meanwhile of mind-bending new technology and nano-scale efficiency improvements, although admittedly with much talk of spirit. Honda is always particularly keen to remind we hacks of the spirit within their machines – albeit in a Zen kind of way.

But then you go to Italy, where a small almost cottage industry manufacturer (yes, Ducati is a cottage industry if you compare them to the Japanese), tucked away in the rolling countryside are releasing their latest machine – a machine designed with passion, powered by desire and marketed with dreamy, oozy desire.


Moto Guzzi’s beautiful Falcone of 1950

Outside the gates of the Moto Guzzi factory, in the tiny little picture postcard village of Mandello del Lario, the company’s slogan reads: The Winds of Passion (in Italian). Now, I won’t be so crude and repeat the interpretation some visiting bike journalists and myself made of this. Let’s just say we sniggered. But that was before we went inside and were stunned silent with awe as we were led around the museum filled with historic Guzzis. The only winds of passion came from the mouths of each employee we spoke to about their life dedicated to the town’s iconic marque. This was the factory their father dutifully toiled for, and his father before him. For each of them, it genuinely appeared to be an honour to work there.

The Germans and Japanese, also of course, have museums of motorcycle development. But in each case it feels just that – a pristine display of their ever forward marching progression. Inside the Italian factories on the other hand, it feels more like the scribbled pages of Da Vinci’s notebook, a scrapbook of ideas and family memories, faded pages and curled corners to boot. The history envelops you and, despite their current bikes’ modern technology, you still feel the weight of the history of the marque riding pillion with you. You get a feel for this inexplicable quality that is this ‘passion’, the joy. You experience it as you ride a Guzzi, or Ducati, Aprilia or even an MV Agusta.


MV Agusta is the ultimate Italian motorcycle marque. This 860 is one of our favourites

Italian’s don’t make food, cars or motorcycles; they make love. When you hand over £40-50,000 for a Ducati Desmosedeci RR – probably the sexiest, most desirable production supersports bike in the world, you’re riding a piece of highly efficient 200+mph, 170kg, carbon fibre filth. You dirty pervert you.

And it’s no coincidence the greatest motorcycle racer the world has seen is Italian. Valentino Rossi is storming towards his 9th World Champion title, despite the efforts of his Spanish and Australian title contenders. Not enough passion you see. No one celebrates a win, engages the public or showboats like Vale. He doesn’t like easy wins and he respects, not hates, anyone who can beat him. He’d do it if he didn’t get paid. Because of the passion.

If only the classic Italian automobilia were as reliable and consistent as Rossi. Which is a point that seems to prove the indubitable power of passion – if vintage, and even not-so-vintage Alfas or Ducatis, are renowned for breaking down, or suffering problems, which they are, then what is the attraction if a Jap machine will run and run and run?

The difference is, the enthusiastas of the rich and frustrating world of Italian machinery know full well that to keep a beautiful motorcycle, or car, in good order, they must dedicate time, affection and constant maintenance to her. Just like the young Sophie Loren – she’s beautiful but highly-strung. Most importantly, she requires regular, attentive, passionate, extensive, joyous and expert servicing.

Give her these things and she will make you feel like God.