Single Track Mind: Riding Thru 2012

January 8, 2013
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Casey Stoner took his fourth pole position of the 2012 season at Sachsenring.
Casey Stoner’s natural ability to ride a motorcycle made him a joy to watch and when everything clicked, he could beat nearly anyone on any track.

Some Very Little Thoughts – and One Quite Big One Too

2012 has been a strange year in the world of motorcycling. It’s not so much that in January 2013 motorcycling is in trouble because it isn’t. We’ve got the best bikes ever, which will go anywhere and do anything, and incredible tires which make motorcycling safer than it has ever been. Our riding gear is the most comfortable, and safest, in the last 100 years and there is no sector of motorcycling, from cruisers to classics, which doesn’t provide the rider with a vast range of wonderful motorcycles. And yet…

Every period in history has the same sense of idyllic excess just before the cataclysmic storm. I have spent all my life in love with motorcycling and bikes have given me some of the greatest highlights of the last 40 years and, incredibly, a living too. However, now I fear for the passion to which I owe so much.

If the future of motorcycling is worrying, there has been some real joy recently – albeit tinged with sadness. We went to see Casey Stoner ride, live and in living color, at Silverstone because we owed it to the young Australian, and to GP racing, to pay homage to one of the great, the very great, talents ever to ride a racing motorcycle.

It is difficult to articulate just how good Casey was as a rider because he was also flawed goods in many other ways. He needed a lot of care and attention – not to say love – in order to flourish but in terms of riding ability he was one of the two great motorcycle racers of all time.

Mike Hailwood on the 500 MV Agusta  one of the most talented motorcycle racers of all time.
Mike Hailwood challenges for the title of “The World’s Most Naturally Talented Motorcycle Racer,” in Melling’s opinion.

The only challenger for the title of “The World’s Most Naturally Talented Motorcycle Racer” is Mike Hailwood. What made Hailwood so incredibly, wonderfully, tear-inducingly gifted was his ability to ride any bike, in any configuration, and win GPs on them. It didn’t matter one iota whether it was a two-stroke or four-stroke or one, two, three, four, or six cylinders – Hailwood could simply get on the bike and win. No practice, no set up, no familiarization just an utterly God given ability to ride a motorcycle faster than anyone else.

There have been more successful, more professional and, arguably, cleverer riders than Hailwood but none with as much talent – except maybe for Stoner.

My contacts in the GP world tell me that the one thing which destroys, or destroyed because Casey’s career in motorcycling is over now, the other great riders of his generation was Stoner’s ability simply to get on a motorcycle and immediately go stupendously fast. It wasn’t set up, or planning, or preparation which enabled him to do this but simply the magic dust which the angels had sprinkled on his right wrist in the maternity unit.

None of the top riders fear each other. Pedrosa is sure he can beat Lorenzo and Marc Márquez will be certain that he can whup the pair of them. By contrast, Stoner was something completely different and, when his mind was in a harmonious part of the multiverse, they all knew that Stoner was going to beat them on any track, on any day. For a World Champion, or a top contender, that must have been a depressing thought.

Now for reasons which sadden me, but which I understand and even admire, Casey is gone and for certain the racing will be closer next year.

The Moto Guzzi California - one of the most breathtaking production bikes ever.
The Moto Guzzi California commanded Melling’s attention from the first moment he laid eyes on the bike.

If Stoner was a poignant mix of sadness and ecstasy, there was nothing but unbridled joy at the sight of Miguel Angel Galluzzi’s Moto Guzzi California. The first time I saw the bike in the flesh my jaw dropped – and this really is a motorcycle which is not well represented in images, no matter how good they are.

It is really strange that a cruiser should catch my imagination so powerfully because I have to admit that I am not a fan of big, heavy, clumsy motorcycles which invariably need a severe diet but the “California” is as different from Metric Cruisers, and even Harleys, as an amateur racer like me is from Casey Stoner.

What makes the “California” so special is that it captures the spirit and soul of motorcycling in the same way that an Impressionist painting encapsulates its subject. There are many better representations of a sailing ship than Turner’s “The Fighting Temeraire” but none which better captures the soul of a fighting ship.

Vastly more accurate representations of water and flowers exist than Monet’s “Water Lily Pond” but nothing will take the observer more deeply into this magical world than the subtle, insightful brush strokes of this French master.

So it is with the California. Viewed from a practical point of view, Honda’s range of elegant, practical, new 500s are vastly better motorcycles. They will handle better than the “California”, stop more quickly and corner with aplomb. But, exemplary motorcycles as the Hondas are, they remain distant from the soul of motorcycling – the spiritual core which makes a motorcycle not a car, nor a van, nor a truck, nor a garden tractor.

By contrast, Galluzzi and his team in Pasadena have lodged the California at the epicenter of motorcycling. How this has been achieved is interesting. First, Galluzzi is one of us. He is not an accountant or sales executive or Head of Corporate Finance. Rather, he is a motorcyclist who just happens to be one of the world’s great motorcycle designers and so he makes motorcycles for motorcyclists.

With swooping  graceful lines and impeccable detailing the Moto Guzzi California is as stylish as it is powerful.
With the power of the Piaggio Group behind him, Miguel Angel Galluzzi produced a breathtaking cruiser.

Next, he has the strength of Piaggio Group behind him. When Miguel Angel worked for Claudio Castiglioni at Ducati it was always a back yard operation. Claudio worshipped the Argentinian – Galluzzi quite literally saved Ducati from extinction with his first “Monster” – but Ducati, Cagiva and MV Agusta were always running on the fumes in the financial gas tank. Piaggio are a vastly different set-up and their funding has allowed Galluzzi to produce one of the great motorcycles of the last 100 years.

No doubt Piaggio’s truly appalling sales and service arms, and the company’s utter contempt for its customers, will ensure that the California will become a financial disaster area but you can’t blame Galluzzi for this.

If the California is the reason to wake up in the morning, look at the dawn sky and ache to ride, then the ever growing storm of legislation aimed at stopping all motorcycling is the cold chill which makes you reach for the Gore-Tex: we really do have a problem.

The challenge we face is not so much a legislative one but rather the philosophical beliefs which are driving the legislation. This thinking is predicated on one key issue – and one alone. Thus: it is fundamentally wrong, in the same way that murder, stealing and sexual assaults are unacceptable at a base, human level, for anyone to put themselves in danger or worse still, for suppliers of goods and services to allow anyone to harm themselves.

This issue is a critical one which addresses elements of our very humanity. I once spent three days at the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels and was very disturbed at the distance between these unelected bureaucrats and the world I inhabit. These lawmakers are not evil in the way that some manic African dictator commits genocide on a rival tribe but they are utterly and completely distant from my world.

Critically, they have no knowledge, empathy or understanding of what pleases or excites me – literally none.

The transverse 1380cc V-Twin puts out an incredible 88.6 lb-ft of torque at only 2750 rpm.
One trend which was all too clear in 2012 was the utter disconnect between legislators working to impose new regulations on motorcycling and those who actually ride.

Worryingly, these very highly paid bureaucrats are truly transnational. You have the same Eurocrats, with only slightly different accents and job titles, running your country from Capitol Hill – you really do.

All these hyper legislators have attended the same tiny cluster of leading universities and have studied the same narrow range of subjects.

They will never have worked in any productive industry and they even marry each other – no doubt to prevent alien DNA from contaminating the purity of their gene pool.

Socially and recreationally they attend the same functions, eat the same food and holiday in identical locations.

Most worryingly of all, they are ferociously good at making laws. Should this be a surprise? Not at all. If you provide highly intelligent people – and they are very, very bright – with all the facilities and money to make as many laws as they wish, then this is what they will do.

So, currently, we have those who inhabit the real world – and the European Union bureaucrats who don’t. This has led to an avalanche of satire which, except for the fact that making fun of European legislation is not really that funny, would keep us sane.

Here is one of the cleverer spoofs which have been circulating amongst managers in the real world this Christmas.

Health and Safety Advice for Christmas:

All employees planning to dash through the snow in a one horse open sleigh, going over the fields and laughing all the way, are advised that a full Risk Assessment will be required to evaluate the safety of open sleigh transport for members of the staff.

To avoid offending those not participating in celebrations, we would request that laughter is moderate only and not sufficiently loud to be considered a noise nuisance.

Following last year’s well-publicized case, everyone is advised that Equal Opportunities legislation prohibits any comment with regard to the redness of any part of Mr. R. Reindeer. Further to this, exclusion of Mr. R. Reindeer from reindeer focused activities will be considered discriminatory and disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty of this offence.

Benches, stools and orthopedic chairs are now available for collection by any shepherds required to watch their flocks by night.

Hopefully Santas not becoming a 1 .
Santa hired two personal assistants to help fill out the paperwork necessary to make this photo shoot possible.

Whilst provision has been made for remote monitoring of flocks by CCTV cameras from a centrally heated shepherd observation hut, all users of this facility are reminded that an emergency response plan must be submitted to account for known risks to the flocks.

The Angel of the Lord is additionally reminded that, prior to shining his/her glory all around, he/she must confirm that all shepherds are wearing appropriate Personal Protective Equipment to account for the harmful effects of UVA, UVB and the overwhelming effects of Glory.

While it is acknowledged that gift bearing is a common practice in various parts of the world, particularly the Middle East, everyone is reminded that the bearing of gifts is subject to Hospitality Guidelines and all gifts must be registered.

This regulation applies regardless of the individual and includes royal personages and those claiming to be associated with divinities.

It is particularly noted that direct gifts of currency or gold are specifically precluded, while caution is advised regarding other common gifts such as aromatic resins that may invoke allergic reactions.

Finally, in the recent instance of the infant found tucked up in a manger without a crib for a bed, Social Services have been advised and will be arriving shortly.”

Sadly, the satire was, and is, incredibly near the truth. Here is what happened in a meeting last year. The comment is neither satirical, nor apocryphal and nor is it second-hand reportage because I was there!

Dani Pedrosa held the lead early in the race after Lorenzo went down  but Stoner took over out front with 10 laps remaining.
Though motorcycle racing serves no utilitarian purpose, it is as important to certain humans on this planet as ballet or classical music are to others.

I was singing the praises of MotoGP to a group of senior officials. One of the bureaucrats, a highly intelligent lady lawyer, frowned and said: “Why should anyone want to watch motorbikes going round and round a track? What’s the purpose?”

Her colleagues nodded in assent. Why was all that time, energy and money expended just to go a little bit faster than someone else?

Although I come from a joke poor family, I have benefited from a fine education and have developed an eclectic range of cultural interests so this how I answered her.

“You are right, motorcycle racing has no utilitarian purpose and it rests firmly in the same category as very small women dancing around the stage wearing impossibly tiny skirts, or groups of people with no practical skills making hollow pieces of wood squeak, or blowing in sections of rolled brass in an attempt to imitate mating animals.

“None of these activities have practical benefits to human kind compared with the care and skill of a doctor or the dedication of your neighborhood’s garbage collector. So, since they are equally useless let’s ban motorcycle racing – along with ballet and classical music.”

I would claim a nano-particle of victory because, for the briefest of moments, the officials actually paused to consider the point I had made.

At this time of looking forward, we need to fight back on every front to protect our motorcycling heritage.

We need to evangelize and spread the joy of motorcycling to the wider community and in so doing, forget all about fighting amongst ourselves. If not exactly Hallelujah, then at least, “Get the tire warmers on and let’s go racing.”

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to read Single Track Mind. My best wishes go to you all for a wonderful year of motorcycling ahead in 2013.