Category: Italy


My bike chose this moment to develop a slight problem, the choke stuck in the ‘Off’ position. Of course, rather than be annoyed, I was immediately thankful for small mercies as that is much better than it sticking in the ‘On’ position. I have dismantled the left hand switch and choke lever mechanism and that moves freely once disconnected, as does the choke mechanism underneath the fuel injectors, so it must be the cable. Unfortunately the cable is difficult to get to without taking the tank etcetera off, so as I can operate the mechanism by hand and starting is not a problem, I decided to leave it until a more convenient time.

Since before we left the UK Sarah has said that she wanted to have one expensive coffee in Monaco, so we set off from Asti towards the South of France.

There were loads more lovely twisty roads, which we enjoyed immensely, but after lunch I realised that either I was really off my game or that the handling on my bike had deteriorated. I eventually realised that my rubber mounted handlebars were moving slightly and quickly stopped to sort it out. We had taken the handlebar clamps off when working on the bikes before leaving England and one of the nuts had come loose. Unfortunately it was a size of spanner that I didn’t have with me. I spoke to a guy who was chopping wood outside his house nearby, he disappeared inside and lady luck was definitely with me when he came out a few moments later with the correct sized spanner. After a couple of minutes I had tightened the offending nut, checked the others, returned the borrowed spanner with thanks and we were on our way again.

What an improvement in the handling. It must have been gradually loosening for some time but so slowly that I didn’t notice until it got to a significant level. It just goes to show that having worked on something it is worth not just doing the double check once you have finished, but a triple check after riding for a while.

We had a fantastic ride, with some amazing scenery and mountain roads, and took the tunnel back into France. We didn’t see any border control and continued to the village of St. Dalmas de Tende where we stopped for a break. It was 5pm and we decided that this would be a good place to stay for the night.

We wanted to stretch our legs and so went for a walk through the woods along the banks of a nearby river. It was lovely with the sound of the water running over the rocks, and so picturesque.

A sign warned us to be careful about wild animals and snakes but neglected to mention the crowd of hungry mozzies who were queueing up to have a feast at restaurant Tony!

At least I kept them from biting Sarah.

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Having left Mandello del Lario it was wonderful to be ‘On The Road’ again, although getting used to riding the bikes fully loaded again took one or two bends to perfect!

After our experiences with Milano traffic we decided to give it a wide berth and stick to the smaller roads. Although far more time consuming this gave us the opportunity to experience more of Italy and the less known towns and villages. We did learn however, to be more careful when setting a Via Point in Mip our SatNav, when she took us into a busy town centre packed with heavy traffic and then out again. Fun with our panniers and luggage. She does exactly as she is told and takes us through the exact point that we clicked on rather than using any bypass or ring road to get around the town. Something that we need to remember when we are creating a route in advance on the computer.

After several hours of riding we were getting tired and opted to look for somewhere to stay for the night. We selected Asti as it was the next conveniently placed town shown on the map, not realising it was the Asti of Spumante fame! When we got there we were amazed by the beauty of the old town and all of the flags and bunting in evidence. We eventually found a hotel in the main square called the Hotel Reale, that had a room available and, as a bonus, also had secure underground parking for the bikes.

There was grandstand style seating erected in the square and workmen sweeping up sand. When we asked at the hotel Reale it was explained to us that they have a festival and a horse race around the square which brings in tourists from far and wide, and that it had all finished the day before. Perfect timing eh!

Once we had settled in we went for a walk around the town and sampled some truly delicious Italian ice cream from one of the many gelaterias before retiring for the night.

The following morning we decided to have a coffee in one of the pavement cafes and write a couple of postcards. As we were sat there I noticed a group of men gathering alongside the cafe who then all walked onto the pedestrian crossing and stopped. Some began chatting and a few were reading newspapers but it was obvious that they intended to block the road. After a few moments the traffic began to back up and after a few minutes a photographer appeared and began taking pictures. There were no placards or shouting, it was all very peaceful and civilised. By now the delayed drivers had all got out of their vehicles and were stood around chatting. I saw a circle of five bus drivers taking the opportunity to have a cigarette.

The Police arrived and two were talking to the protesters whilst others were diverting traffic away from the blockage. By now a television film crew were there interviewing one of the protesters. We later learnt that it was all about a local factory that is a big employer in the town being possibly closed in a restructuring. Then as quickly as it started everyone wandered off and the traffic began to flow again.

Our cue to be on the road again.

We have been enjoying riding around the Lake Como area, particularly after we picked up a free book of suggested motorcycle rides in the surrounding area from the tourist information hut in the park at Mandello del Lario. It’s a good quality book and was free. The only problem is it is only in Italian but it’s easy enough to work out. Also the guy in the pictures should really be riding a Moto Guzzi, but he’s not. It’s not even an Italian bike, it’s a BMW!

Mountain Gravel Track

One of the suggested rides took us as far as it is permitted to go by motor vehicle up towards the top of one of the mountains. Great fun and tremendous views at the end of it.

Sarah enjoying her V7 off the tarmac

One day we decided to go for a walk along the shore of Lake Como. We were hand in hand, full of the joys of spring (well okay then, autumn) and enjoying a relaxing stroll. We sat on one of the park benches and were listening to the gentle sounds of the birds in the trees and the water lapping against the shore.

Suddenly I heard the roar of a big engine.  and saw an incredible powerboat come skimming along the surface of the lake. I have never seen one like it in the flesh and when it slowed to a halt further down the lake I expected Mr Bond to get out wearing a Tux!

After the factory visit with the Swiss Guzzitsi we all sheltered from the torrential rain by walking around the corner for a meal. It was so bad that we were all wearing our waterproofs and helmets. Rufty tufty bikers eh! It didn’t let up for 3 or 4 hours by which time there were streams flowing along most of the roads. Poor old Richard then had to leave to ride back to Switzerland in the pouring rain as he needed to be back that night.

We went with the remaining Swiss contingent to Agostini’s again as several had shopping lists of goodies to get before they returned home.

They then invited us to go with them to visit the Moto Guzzi Club of Mandello at their club house in the basement of the Guzzi B&B Guest House just down the road from Agostinis. Of course we said yes. The MGCM have a great set up, with a kitchen and a bar, and they laid on some drinks and nibbles for us and made us all feel very welcome indeed.

After partying with the Guzzitsi that night, Sunday dawned bright and sunny for them to ride home. Some left a little later than others after indulging in a tad too much Limoncello!

We had been planning to leave too, but a lot of our gear was wet or damp and needed drying out. No neither the tent nor the tarp had leaked. There was a slight slope to the ground and too much water for it to all sink in, so some of it decided to come and visit inside the porch of our tent. That wouldn’t have been a problem if the ground sheet in the porch hadn’t been old and rather porous. Luckily the sleeping area stayed dry.

We decided to stay an extra day to get everything clean and dry and festooned the bushes, bikes and any suitable dry surface with wet kit. I’m sure that it all looked very picturesque qently steaming in the sun, and if the site owners disagreed they were polite enough not to tell us.

The following morning was thankfully also dry and sunny but even so it took us ages to finish drying off stuff and to do a full pack down as everything had been unpacked. We were eventually ready to set off and say Goodbye to Mandello del Lario at the crack of 1pm!

Good to be back on the road though 🙂

The Moto Guzzi factory opens its gates for a tour of the museum every weekday at 3pm. Our friend Nich arrived at the campsite, unloaded his bike and we made the short ride to the factory in time to join the other Guzzisti waiting outside.

We had our obligatory photograph taken outside the gates and then went into the factory.

The museum is on two floors and contains a large number of Moto Guzzis from the very first one built by Carlo Guzzi to modern machines, although there is a bias towards the older machines. Unfortunately for us our guide only spoke Italian, but we all enjoyed the tour and our only complaint was that it was too short at just over an hour.

Spot the Wed-n-Fled sticker

Very shortly after buying the V7’s we had decided that we needed some windscreens for them, as riding an unfaired bike at motorway speeds is tiring and in the rain is a much wetter experience. Paul at Speedaway motorcycles had been trying to get us a pair of screens but not been able to locate any suitable ones for us before we had left the UK. Having checked with Paul by text that he had not had any luck since we had left, we decided to try some of the local Guzzi shops. We went to Agostini’s,  the official Mandello Moto Guzzi dealer, and of course had to add a Wed-n-Fled sticker to their Guzzisti visitors board.

Agostini’s had five genuine Moto Guzzi screens in stock and also some pattern ones. He couldn’t understand why we had had any difficulty obtaining them in the UK although another shop I spoke to did say that they had heard that there were difficulties getting the screens in the UK. After a quick session of holding them up to the bikes we decided that the genuine Moto Guzzi ones were worth the few extra Euros because of their shape, quality and excellent dedicated fitting kit for the V7 Classic. We negotiated the purchase of two, which got us a decent discount and free fitting.

Agostini Mechanic after staying on to fit our screens

I had also been looking to replace the standard crossover pipe in the exhaust which runs under the gear box. The problem is that it is huge and restricts access to the gearbox oil drain plug. I saw that Agoistini’s had had a batch of much narrower crossover pipes made in stainless steel with the correct fitting for the exhaust lambda sensor. A bit more haggling and a pair of those was also added to the list, again discounted and no charge for fitting. Time was getting on and the shop was due to close but the parts guy had a quick chat with the mechanic in the workshop, who agreed to fit both screens and crossover pipes whilst we waited in order to save us having to come back the next day. Excellent service.

As soon as we rode the bikes it was immediately apparent that the screens were very effective and had been well worth buying. I also thought that the bikes sounded and felt a bit crisper with the new crossover pipes on, but that may well be wishful thinking.

I later visited another bike shop called Stucchi, where I discovered that they had made the crash bars and racks fitted to our bikes. They were very helpful, getting an employee who spoke English to come down from the office to serve me. I was able to get a pair of genuine side panel stickers for my Le Mans, without having to spend an arm and a leg.

Afterwards I popped into another shop called Vallassi (I think) which transported me back in time to an old british bike shop called Autocycle in Bilston. I used to regularly visit Autocycle as a 17 year old, as I had a 1967 Triumph Super Cub (a Tiger cub engine in a Bantam chassis) that I needed to keep on the road! The owner Chris was an eccentric, and the first time I visited his shop he very politely asked me to wait whilst he took a .22 rifle from behind the counter and shot a huge spider on the opposite wall. He apologised explaining that ‘he had been after the bugger for weeks’! Chris had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the hundreds of parts on the wooden shelves in his shop and Vallossi’s appeared to be just the same sort of shop with shelves of gear box parts and crankcase studs all sorted and labelled. A slice of history.

We had a second chance to visit the Guzzi factory when the Valais Moto Guzzi Club and the Leman Moto Guzzi club of Switzerland turned up in Mandello for the weekend. They had arranged a special visit on the saturday morning and we were invited to go along.

It was excellent. We had plenty of time there and the Italian guided talk was being translated into French for the Swiss so we were able to understand at least some of it.

Two of my favourites were the 3×3 tracked pick up that Guzzi built for the army and the bike that they built with skis for a record making visit to Alpine refuges in the 1930’s.

We also saw examples of the original V7, which our bikes are a modern interpretation of.

Sarah enjoying the original V7 special

I have to say that ours are proving to be an excellent choice so far. They are using a bit of oil but I spoke to a Moto Guzzi mechanic who said that they will use progressively less oil over the first 10,000 miles as it takes that long to properly run them in. He also insisted that we use 10-60 oil not 10-40 oil as the engines do run hot.

I only had model airplanes hanging from the ceiling in my room as a kid

Panorama of Lake Como

On previous trips to Europe I had tried to squeeze in a trip to the Moto Guzzi factory but, for one reason or another, it didn’t come off. So now I can’t quite believe that we are camping by Lake Como in Mandello del Lario just down the road from the Moto Guzzi factory.

View from Bar Paradiso terrace towards the mountains

The storm had moved on in the night leaving us bathed in sunshine and gentle steam as everything dried out. The Bar Paradiso has a roof terrace with a wonderful view across Lake Como to the mountains on the other side and we were sat there enjoying an ice cream when I heard the roar of an engine from the lake. I went to the edge of the terrace and was rewarded with the sight of a float plane, it looked like a sea otter, taking off from the lake. Unfortunately I was not quite quick enough with the camera and only got a shot of the tail of the plane and it’s wake as it disappeared behind some trees.

We walked into the centre of town and had Panini’s for lunch outside a lovely street-side cafe, accompanied by a really nice bottle of the local white wine, all for a few Euros.

Tent and Tarp

Once back at the site we decided to set up our tarp for the first time. The plan was to use it to cover the tent to help if there were further storms and to give us somewhere to sit sheltered from the rain or sun. It took a bit of doing as we both had definite ideas of the best way to put it up but I think that our first attempt went well. V7’s make particularly sturdy, if somewhat expensive, tent pegs!

At the campsite we met a Finnish biker with a Moto Guzzi V11 Le Mans and a Dutch Couple with a 1956 Moto Guzzi single, all of whom had been to Mandelo del Lario a number of times before.

In the Old Town

As a result of talking to them and others we got lots of ideas of good places to visit, great rides to enjoy and where the best restaurants and bars were.

Sarah, Nich and I decided to get on our bikes and go out and explore. We had a great ride through some fantastic lakeside and mountain scenery. Our hairpin training in Switzerland definitely came in useful!

This is a beautiful area and I can certainly see why some people keep on coming back to enjoy and explore it.

It was time to leave Switzerland for a couple of very good reasons: 1) it was blowing the budget even more than the rest of the trip (beautiful country, not cheap!), and 2) we’d been in touch with our friend, Nich, who was planning on getting to Mandello del Lario in Italy on Friday so he could visit the Moto Guzzi factory, and did we want to meet up? The answer to that was a resounding yes, so on Thursday morning we packed the bikes up, gave the SatNav our destination, and were off.

Time to pack up and go...

We had had some debate about which route to take… The SatNav was offering up the quick-but-dull route on motorways through Italy after crossing the Alps via the Saint-Bernard tunnel. The Saint-Bernard pass has quite a reputation as a fun and twisty one to ride, but we’d ridden a fair amount of twisties over the last few days, and Tony really wanted to ride through one of the big tunnels. We ummed and ahhed for a while, and eventually agreed to go for the tunnel. After all, we still had a lot of mountains to ride up ahead! After that we would play it by ear (or road!) and see how we felt after getting into Italy.

Planning to ride a little more safely than this...

The gloomy weather forecast was proved wrong, as after packing up under a few clouds, the skies cleared to another sunny day. The road leading up to Saint-Bernard was a glorious one, full of bends and twisties, and even the hairpins were easy-peasy after the roads we’d ridden with Jean-Maurice.

There be snow on them thar hills!

This was a main trunk road after all, with full-sized HGV’s driving it, so the hairpins had plenty of room for manoeuver. We played leap-frog with one of them, as we had to stop and take some pictures en-route, and each time he would overtake us, ready for us to go past him at the next appropriate moment.

Uh-oh, he's sneaking up behind us again - take the darned picture!

We got to the final decision point where the road branched off for the pass, and carried straight on the tunnel. We had no idea how much it would cost, but figured it would be worth it just for the experience, let alone the saved fuel and time (although we know, we know, we missed the views and a great pass to ride this way!). In we went and pulled up to the toll gate, where Tony shelled out 17.5 Swiss Francs per bike. Italian customs waved us on through and we rode into the depths. And kept riding, and riding, and riding. 4 miles on and we were just coming out of the tunnel proper, but there were still another several miles of gallery before we emerged back out into the light. It really was an interesting ride, and I’m glad that we took the decision to go that way, for all that we missed out on the pass.

Into Italy and more twisty turny roads down out of the mountains. We were stuck behind a truck for a goodly amount of the time, which was a tad frustrating as there were very few places where overtaking was allowed. Eventually we saw a gap, as did the driver, who kindly drove over to the right to allow us past. We swooped our way down the rest of the bends, which held no fear for me after the roads of the last few days. Wish I could say the same for the Italian drivers, however, who more than lived up to their reputation!

We hopped on to the motorway so we could get some distance under our belts, as the weather was starting to look a bit iffy and we’d had a few splodges of rain. We were doing one of those “shall we stop for waterproofs or shan’t we?” things that most bikers will be familiar with. It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that the odd laybys and rest areas were not exactly abundantly signed – it was rather a case of “There’s another one we’ve just missed, doh!”. Luckily it was nice and warm, so the odd bits of rain dried quickly and we never regretted our lack of waterproofs – indeed we would have cooked in them if we’d put them on!

We were making great time, and decided to push on to Mandello del Lario, as it looked like we’d get there in plenty of time to get the tent up and settled in. Then we reached the outskirts of Milano. At rush hour. Bloody hell. Not my favourite riding experience of the trip, that’s for sure! The traffic was truly awful, and this was just the outskirts – I dread to think what it’s like actually in the city proper. The problem for us was that the lanes were really quite narrow, so filtering with the bikes loaded up and with metal panniers was a bit of a problem. We filtered where we could, but had a couple of close scrapes and spent a goodly amount of time just stuck in the traffic, watching scooters shoe-horn their way past. And as for lane discipline, well, the less said about that the better! It seems that to drive in Italy you need the balls of a lion, a completely brass neck, and a complete lack of concern about yours or anyone elses safety! But I could be being a tad harsh here…

Spot the health and safety violation...

Suffice it to say that once we’d finally escaped from the madness that was Milano, we set off hell for leather to reach the relative safety of Lake Como. Coming into Mandello we were glad to spot a small petrol station, as we were getting close to running on fumes having not filled up since Martigny in Switzerland. The petrol pumps were attended, something I haven’t seen in years, and we caused much merriment to the lovely chap who filled our tanks, who was most approving of us riding Moto Guzzis. Mandello del Lario is the home of Moto Guzzi after all! Neither of us speak any Italian, but we still managed to communicate enough to enjoy a little banter. I asked about camping, and the one English speaker amongst the attendants came over and gave us directions – they might be scary drivers, but on first impressions, they’re lovely people! We headed off with much waving and smiling, and found our way to the campsite with ease.

There was no-one available at the camping reception, so we rode on down to the campsite and pitched the tent, sure that we could find someone to check in with and pay in the morning. Luckily we just managed to get set up before the storm that we’d heard rumbling thunder around the mountains hit the site. We finished unpacking to the sound of the rain on the tent, then took a brief walk up to the bar and restaurant on site, Bar Paradiso. We ordered our first real Italian pizzas before watching the storm from the veranda. It was most spectacular, with big flashes of lightning lighting up the sky, and huge rolls of thunder echoing around the lake. Fantastic. We’d arrived in Italy.