Moto heaven in Tuscany
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Ever fancied travelling back half a century on a two-wheeled time machine? If so, head to San Marino, which is set to become a motorcycling mecca for classic-bike lovers thanks to a carpenter living near the foot of Mount Titano.
In an old stable, Pietro Casadio Pirazzoli has accrued a vast collection of ’70s classic bikes, from Italian thoroughbreds such as Moto Guzzi’s long and lean 850 Le Mans, to Japan’s groundbreaking Honda CB750 Four. In between there are Nortons, Ducatis, Benellis, Kawasakis, BMWs, Moto-Morinis and Yamahas, all housed within walls bedecked with period motorcycle advertisements, garage memorabilia and vintage riding kit. It’s what Casadio Pirazzoli calls “the clubhouse”, and it’s the official headquarters of a newly launched venture called Ride 70s that aims to offer motorcyclists the chance to experience these chrome-rich classics on some of the most beautiful roads that Italy has to offer.
“I grew up in the town of Imola, which is most famous for its race circuit,” he says. “My grandfather took me to the 200-mile motorcycle race there in the early ’70s – and I was immediately hooked on the smell of fuel and oil and the sights, sounds and colours of the bikes.” Soon he was motorcycling to school, cruising Imola’s streets and spending Sundays with friends blasting up and down the mountain passes of Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna.
By his early 30s Pirazzoli was riding the latest plastic-clad race replicas capable of 150mph-plus. And then he became a father. “Up until that point I had only wanted faster and faster sports bikes, but I had greater responsibilities and had also grown tired of the modern motorcycle manufacturers’ race to make ever more powerful machines.” He switched to classics, buying his first, a 1971 Honda CB500 in candy gold, in the early 2000s.
Using money earned through his artisan carpentry work, he gradually built up an impressive collection, and eventually decided to turn it into a business. “Classic bikes from the ’70s have developed a really strong following because of their retro looks and slower pace,” he says. “But they have become expensive to buy and restore, they need to be properly maintained and, most importantly, regularly ridden. Many people just don’t have the time for all that – so Ride 70s gives them a chance to experience adventures on a classic superbike without having to own one.”
The first relaunched Ride 70s tour happened in late spring this year and, as a lifelong classic-bike fan, I didn’t need to be asked twice if I wanted to take part. As it was the inaugural event, Casadio Pirazzoli and his colleagues were on as much of a learning curve as some of the participants, not all of whom were familiar with the quirks and foibles that often go hand-in-hand with riding classic bikes. These include gear-change levers being on the right rather than on the left (as is the modern way); kick-starters that require not only a Herculean leg, but also a basic understanding of the four-stroke combustion cycle; engines that are slower to respond and relatively less powerful than contemporary ones – and brakes that often demand a degree of “forward planning”.
I got to ride a 1974 Moto Guzzi 750S, and grew to love its long, loping gait as we wove our way east to west between Tuscany’s green and velvety fields, rumbled between canyon walls and cruised through avenues of lofty cypress trees.
The 12-strong party was an intriguing bunch, with fascinating stories. Norwegian cycling champion Svein Langholm, for example, told us about his remarkable childhood, living alone in Oslo throughout his teenage years after his father moved to east Africa to found a Swahili newspaper. Mike Federer, the owner of a Zurich-based bathroom company, described how he and his parents had been forced to flee Vancouver in the ’60s in fear of the Canadian mafia. New Yorker Kerry Sano talked of a decade trying to be accepted as a lone female mechanic in the world of Nascar racing before setting up her specialist Ducati repair shop and founding the cult Brooklyn coffee shop Tar Pit.
The four-day ride took us across the width of Tuscany from Ride 70s HQ to Montalcino, on to the island of Giglio and back via Montepulciano. Our first night on the road was spent at Hotel dei Capitani in Montalcino, a charming old building with panoramic views across two valleys at the back; on the return there was a night at a small palazzo in Montepulciano with fabulous painted ceilings and mouldings, which was being gradually renovated by the owners. But the highlight was Giglio on night two. We bumped up the steel ramp onto a slow ferry and soaked up the sun on deck during the hour-long crossing. On arrival, we were led along the island’s scenic coast road to the remarkable Strulli vineyard, a family-owned enterprise that clings to a hillside dropping steeply towards the sea. This was our alfresco lunch spot – courtesy of the owners who had prepared a barbecue using only produce from the island. After taking the bikes on a postprandial tour, it was time to check in to the adjoining villas in which the entire party was staying and to enjoy a vast communal supper under the instructions of Ride 70s co-organiser and photographer, Fabio Affuso.
A Naples native, he had quickly sniffed out the island’s fish market, purchased vast amounts of seafood and, with the help of his many sous chefs, converted it into the finest (and probably the largest) spaghetti vongole any of us had ever tasted.
Back on the mainland the following day the journey was broken after 100 miles with a visit to the hot springs of Bagni San Filippo, where the warm, sulphurous waters helped soothe some of the aches caused by three days in the saddle.
The trip was proof that there really is no such thing as the so-called “typical biker”. Cassie Bennitt, an executive producer on the Netflix series Formula 1: Drive to Survive, summed it up best: “I was in great need of a holiday, I love adventures and I love old motorcycles – so when I heard that it was possible to hang out with some like-minded people and to ride bikes through some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe, I immediately signed up.
“Being on any bike provides amazing freedom and makes it possible to see bits of a country that you would probably miss in a car – but it’s enhanced by being on a classic. You go more slowly, you take more in. You come to love the bike.”
Forthcoming Ride 70s tours include “Force of Nature”, 12-17 July, six days from €1,650; Ride 70s x Casa Etronia II, 27-31 July, five days from €1,450; and “Forgotten Peaks”, 6-13 August, eight days from €2,450. ride70s.it