Visiting the 'land of the engines'
Motorbike tour to the bike factories of Italy
Northern Italy is thought of as the land of the engines. Not only renowned Italian motorcycle manufacturers have existed for decades, they also produce in Northern Italy. In times of globalization this is almost an anachronism. The name of the Castiglioni brothers Claudio and Gianfranco is mentioned with every manufacturing step and they have been involved in almost every Italian dream factory.
The trip by Markus and Jörg Jeske Golletz starts Easter 2009 at the factories of Moto Guzzi, Husqvarna, Cagiva, Gilera, Vertemati, MV Agusta, Moto Morini, Ducati, NCR, Aprilia, Bimota and Benelli. Even Japanese motorcycles have been manufactured for some time in the halls of Italian factories for the European market. This applies particularly for Honda and (ex-Belgarda)-Yamaha Motor Italia SpA.
The authors report on their experience during this trip. If you wish, you can the following the news blog as an RSS feed. Then you receive each new entry with a corresponding message.
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12-04-2009 11:32 by Markus GolletzDucati, Aprilia and Benelli
Unfortunately, the images are in some disarray and only fairly recent. No Internet café far and wide, but now a couple of Easter greetings from Slovenia and the message: We've done it, we have successfully visited all the Italian motorcycle factories! Here comes a summary:
7.4. - BolognaToday was a grweat day: We had the possibility talking to Franco Lambertini the inventer of the legend 3 1/2 Moto Morini engine from the '70ies and later we interviewed Michele Poggipolini from NCR (NCR built all Ducati racing bikes in the last century.
What a day, today we have spoken with Franco Lambertini and Michele Poggipolini, the makers of NCR. Lambertini, a 70-year-old man, designed the 3 1/2-Morini engine and the new 1200 V-engine design, all with a consistent philosophy, as he assures us. His children are his heritage in the traditional company and he is not able to accept that they are more interested in classical music than engine construction. There’s a little melancholy in his voice.
Lambertini also complains about the market: A motorcycle engine capacity in the middle range can hardly be produced by small companies because the costs for production and development are already at 6000 EUR. A gap remains in the higher price segment).
Then Lambertini scribbles his design ideas on a blank piece of paper; how the camshaft drive is constructed, how carefully the heavily loaded gearboxes of a 140 hp engine is relieved by constructive details...
The factories are located in an industrial area along the highway to Ancona. They are fairly large; the reason for this will be clarified later. Lucio greets us kindly in the anteroom next to the TNT and the Vertemati Sport Enduro. We leave immediately to get to the old factory halls of the Benelli Museum in time to take part in a guided tour. On the way in a car we pass TM and Motobi. Incidentally, we learn that Lucio has an old Ducati Scrambler with a trunk full of parts. The guided tour is quite extensive and shows that Benelli and Motobi often cooperated together, the cam gears were their specialty and, like other companies, Benelli and Motobi began again to produce 2-stroke engines after the First World War. Quatro and Sei, the smallest 250er four cylinder engine and the powerful Sei with 6-cylinders made history later on. We enjoy lunch with Lucio at the sea and afterwards visit the factory. Small scooters stand in the halls, a commercial product from China. Three- cylinder engines with strange output shafts move over the assembly line: for jet skies! But then we see familiar bikes such as TNT and Tornado Tre Trek and Amazonas.
In Noale we
enter the old factory which is now contains the departments for racing, design,
research and development. In the Design Department, we talk to Franco, see
Phillip Starck’s studies of the Moto 6.5, the X-Ray which was never built and
the Mana X, a design study with a V-1200 engine which may be constructed. We
speak with the designers and then have the opportunity to visit the department
of research and development. Photos are not allowed of course, but we discover
a Dorsoduro with a 1200 engine and an enduro-like design. We get the impression
that Aprilia is THE design brand in Italy. Other Piaggio brands are designed
and tested, a Moto Guzzi motor casing is subjected to a torsion test and our
guide says casually: "We can build that with half the weight." Breva,
Griso and Stelvio have been created here in Noale ...
It is quite late when we reach Bimota factory in Rimini where Anacleto Bernabei is expecting us. Since the 80’s, Bimota here is located near the highway A 14, in Ancona-Bologna. Occasionally, it had become quiet around Bimota, as Anacleto Bernabei told us. After a good phase with good sales figures the firm tried to become a full-service provider and in 1990 constructed a 500 cc two-stroke engine (Vdue). This design went off very well, however there were such burdensome and costly problems with the construction of a fuel injection system that Bimota was almost ruined. After a new start Bimota recuperated and, as the current CEO insists, will in no case go back to serial production. Nevertheless, Bimota is a bit far from producing a profitable annual number of at least 500 bikes. Only Ducati engines are installed and can compete with a Brutale. Requests are becoming more and more exclusive. Rich oil sheiks belong to the list of Bimota customers.
Michele Poggipolini greets us in San Lazzaro di Savena near Bologna. Race experts know that NCR was originally located near Ducati in Borgo Panigale, but Michele tells us that the firm wanted to be closer to the manufacturing facilities of Poggipolini. Today NCR builds racing replicas that they could not build earlier; with titanium frames and carbon fiber parts. The way the customer wants it. I try out a Supermoto, that NCR built as a prototype 12 years ago (!). It has a Husqvarna engine and is eye-catching with its hand-welded performance parts, carbon fiber parts and the toy-like weight of 77 kg! Our visit to the neighboring and associated company Poggipolini (from Poggipolini Senior) makes it clear that the exclusive NCR manufacturer is just the tip of the iceberg. Already in the entrance hall we quickly realize that Poggipolini produces for space travel and aviation, for Bugatti and Ferrari (exclusively parts for Formula 1). I do not find it easy to hide my open mouth when I see the high-tech CNC milling machines that crowd the halls. Poggipolini Junior remains relatively cool; he then shows us the old, fully manual lathe of his father: an old German fabrication. Finally we receive a CD. Up to now, we have not yet dared to open the price list,
Ducati, Moto Morini, NCR ...
The events are coming thick and fast...
Bologna: In front of us, an older master sits at his desk. It is Franco Lambertini, the man who is responsible for the legendary Moto Morini 3 ½ engine, and now has conceived the 1200 Corsaro engine. It is overwhelming.
The next appointment is at NCR and Poggipolini, a company that only sells high-tech racing equipment and/or upgrades motorcycles with titanium parts, or even better: develops almost completely light- weight motorcycles.
Just as we land at Benelli in Pesaro, we need to rush to Bimota in Rimini. Our story continues shortly! What's still missing: something more exclusive: NCR, Bimota and Ducati, but we need some time and an Internet café.
Weekend in Piedmont
Unfortunately, we must say goodbye to Giorgio. After a walk through the market (in the sun!) we buy an evening shirt for Josh. Giorgio has go to the university by 8 clock to teach. We ply ourselves to the highway to avoid the traffic of Milan. We encounter a small problem at the toll station, because we get no ticket from the vending machine. Then it gets even more dicey, as we take the exit to Novara. Josh gets into a routine control by the police with his Duc (Gulp!) I realize that we have no registration or insurance documents for the Hypermotard, and it’s exactly these documents that the police want to see. It takes some convincing to escape just punishment. The police believe the tale of our motorbike factory tour and probably want to avoid German bureaucracy.
During a photo op at the Po bridge the puny kickstand of my Husqvarna sinks into the asphalt and causes a broken clutch lever and a damaged suitcase spacer (for the Ortlieb bags so that they don’t get charred by the exhaust pipe). Later on I repair the lever with cable ties and a piece of pipe.
Enough tinkering, we discover in the area of Vercelli and Novara during the rice reseeding season. In those flooded fields we see those strange tractors that have no rubber tires, but steel wheels instead. The area where they plow contains very picturesque farmlands (Fattoria; Lucedio) and we shoot a few photos. We reach Turin from a high view point in the Monferrato area, where we see the absolutely beautiful scenery spread out in front of us: the chain of snowcapped mountains of Monteviso, past the Matterhorn, up to Monte Rosa, the checkerboard pattern of the streets of Turin with the Mole Antonelliana and the hunting lodge of Stupinigi. We pass this quickly, then we are invited to a very opulent dinner, as we will discover.