photography by the author and Peter Switzer
Italians love to congregate—whether it is the evening passegiata through the town’s piazza, with everybody having an ice cream cone; or the Mafia bosses gathering in upstate New York, thinking the cops will never know; or a couple of hundred Moto Guzzi riders getting together in Malibu, California.
Malibu? Pretty ritzy. Seems more like a place where the Ferrari and Lamborghini folk might gather to drink expensive asti spumante (that’s Italian champagne) and watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean. No, the Guzzi gathering was more a beer and Gallo wine affair, to wash down good grub in the evening—served on paper plates. During the day the myriad roads in the Santa Monica Mountains offered great riding, whether it was on Latigo Canyon or Yerba Buena Road, or just cruising the old Mulholland Highway past the Rock Store.
The venue was Leo Carrillo State Park, just 10 miles west of Malibu’s center on CA 1, the Pacific Coast Highway. This was the handiwork, and hard work, of Todd Eagan, longtime member of Moto Guzzi National Owners Club, aka MGNOC (pronounced mig-knock), and SoCal rep of the club. He’s a man who wears many helmets, and also runs several websites, including www.guzzitech.com, to help answer the many questions that Guzzisti have about their motociclette.
MGNOC has been around since 1972 when a Kansan flat-lander by the name of Frank Wedge decided he needed to start a club. Una famiglia dei Guzzisti, as an Italian might say. He let it be known through the moto-magazines that those Americans impassioned with the product from Mandello del Lario would now have a forum, a place to communicate. His has been essentially a one-man operation since the start, the greatest effort going into the monthly newsletter he has been sending out since May of 1973.
For the first dozen or so years the national rally was held in the middle of the 48 contiguous states, like in Kansas and Iowa, and then as the club expanded people from the coasts began demanding equal time. And here we were on the shores of the Pacific.
The bikes were, in the main, big-block twins. There was a trio of “salami slicers,” the old Guzzi singles with an external flywheel, and a few small-block bikes, but the big boys ruled, from Eldorados and Ambassadors to the latest sporty Grisos and some 1200 Norge touring machines, most of which had covered some serious miles in order to get to the rally. At the show the most attractive lineup was, for me, the series of V7 Sports and Le Mans models, all shiny and looking like they might go quite fast.
Another bike that attracted a good deal of interest was The Mandello Meteor, a partially faired LeMans intended to break a few speed records. Rider Bill Ross had recently turned 161 mph out at California’s El Mirage Dry Lake, and was later headed for Bonneville. The time and money involved in any such effort is all being done, not by big corporations with lots of money, but a group of MGNOC enthusiasts—who politely call themselves Team Subtle Crowbar.
The Guzzi demo fleet was set up in a parking lot at the campground, offering outrageously fun rides through the mountains. Author Greg Field was in attendance, and I imagine two-thirds (if not more) of the club has a well-thumbed copy of Moto Guzzi Big Twins at home.
Describing the MGNOC faithful would take pages; close to 300 of the 2,600 members chose to show up for the rally. As an example of MGNOC enthusiasm, before the rally a relay was run with an old Guzzi salami-slicer flywheel, just the flywheel, being carried from the Pacific to the Atlantic and back, dozens of riders participating in the event. That heavy hunk of iron went all the way up the East Coast, from Florida to Maine. The relay is certainly a good way to meet your fellow club members.
The rally was also part of another event, the Moto Guzzi—AMA Grand Tour of Italy in America, in which riders go to various Italianate locations in the contiguous 48, such as Rome, New York; Italy, Texas; or Venice, California; and have pictures taken for proof. And the winner, however he or she will be determined, gets a new Norge.
The official rally lasted two days, and on the second evening awards were presented in the amphitheater, with shots of grappa, sort of Italian moonshine, being handed out. Eagan was in charge, and it was an entertaining affair, with most everybody receiving a prize. Even I got a shirt from a shop in Japan that specializes in working on Italian bikes. Riders who thought they might have a chance at the long-distance award just got up and announced their mileage, all done in a friendly manner. I liked one fellow saying he had ridden 1,800 miles, then another getting up and saying, “Well, I live five miles north of him, so I’m in for 1,805.” Claps and cheers. If I remember correctly the winner was a Norge rider from New England, who saw most of Canada on his way to Malibu.
After breakfast the next morning many of the attendees, including myself, began to disperse, but the unofficial rally continued. On that third day riders gathered at Moto Guzzi of Thousand Oaks, where the new Stelvio dual-purpose bike was on display, the first in the country. The demo fleet had also set up in Thousand Oaks, and was busy all day.
On the fourth day more than a dozen of the hardest-core moved on to Willow Springs Raceway, where they could pay $95 (cheap!) and wear out their Pirelli (or other) tires during a day at the Streets of Willow track. No one embarrassed himself.
Arriverderci; vi vedremo l’anno prossimo. Bye bye; we’ll see you next year.[From the December 2008 issue of Rider]