Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Motociclo Bello!

I often wonder what it is about Italy. It’s a small little country, and unlike Japan or Germany, it’s not generally regarded as being particularly advanced in… well, anything. With one exception though. Italian motorcycles. And cars for that matter. Some of the most exquisitely beautiful motorcycles available today are from Italy. Which is delightfully surprising, because none of its neighbouring countries is anywhere near Italy in terms of motorcycle building abilities. French motorcycles? When was the last time you heard of a Voxan? Germany? Except for the BMW K1200R and the R1200GS, I can’t think of a single German motorcycle that I’d want to have anything to do with. Austria? The KTM 990 Super Duke is interesting, but apart from that, absolutely nothing. And it’s the same story with Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, Algeria, Bulgaria, Croatia, and… I can’t think of any other countries in that neighbourhood. Motorcycles from these European countries? Zero, zilch.

While the Japanese are certainly making some of the most powerful, quickest, fastest, and fun to ride motorcycles (which are also very reliable and affordable…), the Italians have taken the art of making motorcycles to another level altogether. The engine performance may be just about equal to, and in many cases below that of similar-spec Japanese bikes, but when it comes to styling, the Italians are Gods. Take one look at the MV Agusta F4 and tell me if you think its lines can ever be improved upon. The F4 750 was launched in 1997, and ten years on, it’s still the best looking motorcycle in the whole world. And the other MV, the Brutale 910 isn’t too far behind either.

The man who designed the F4, Massimo Tamburini, also designed one more motorcycle which the world will never forget – the Ducati 916. While Ducati have, since then, moved to the 999, the new bike certainly isn’t as svelte and sexy-looking as the old 916. Which is understandable perhaps. Tamburini is Italian. Pierre Terblanche, who designed the 999, hails from South Africa. At least the Ducati Monster, especially the S4R, continues to look good as ever. The new Ducati Sport Classics have more style, more beauty than the best Milan fashion houses put together, and the Paul Smart replica is to die for.

Though I rate the Bimota Mantra as one of the ugliest bikes ever made (but then it was designed by Sacha Lakic, a Frenchman, not Italian…), I have been a big fan of other Bimotas. The SB6 and the YB11 was really good looking, and the even more gorgeous Furano, fuel-injected and packing 164 horsepower, was, for some time in the mid-1990s, the fastest production motorcycle in the world. And what motorcycle enthusiast can ever forget the hub-centre-steered Bimota Tesi 1D, so radical, so beautifully engineered and so deserving of success? What a pity then that Bimota have never really managed to earn enough money for proper, full-scale R&D operations. Still, the new Bimota DB5 and the Delirio are some of the most sumptuous motorcycles produced anywhere.

And the list doesn’t end with MV Agusta, Ducati and Bimota. There’s also Aprilia with the very beautiful and aggressive RSV 1000R and the slightly insane Tuono. There’s Moto Morini, with their mind-blowing Corsaro 1200. And there’s Benelli and Laverda and Moto Guzzi, whose long-departed Sei 900, Jota and Le Mans 850 are still remembered with so much fondness, by fans of Italian motorcycles. No doubt, Italian motorcycles have always been special in ways that cannot be explained by real-world logic. Let’s hope they stay that way.

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