Finding characters at the Guzzi rally

Buena Vista, Virginia

Frank rolled in a little late Thursday evening, and started to set up his tent in our “neighborhood.” I could tell right away, Frank was someone I wanted to talk with.


At age 75, Frank rode from his home in the other Buena Vista—Buena Vista, Colorado—to the rally, riding through Kansas with the  temperature at 107 degrees. Even the youngest of riders hesitate in those kind of temperatures. But, here was Frank, safely arrived, telling stories and setting up his tent in the twilight of evening.

The next morning, I grabbed Frank’s attention and invited him to our table. The others didn’t seem interested in our conversation, preferring chats about horsepower and legendary rides, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Frank’s legendary stories.

He bought his first Moto Guzzi in 1967. “That’s when they came out with this new V-twin engine sitting sideways. I thought it interesting and took a chance on it. I’ve been riding Guzzis ever since.” An engineer, he decided that first Guzzi needed better carburetors and fitted a pair of carbs off a Honda 450. After years of working at various institutions, including M.I.T., he retired from Boeing, and eventually settled in Buena Vista, Colorado—a place I have been to many times, including four rafting trips down the Arkansas River.

Frank said he rides about 20,000 miles a year and attends several rallies. But, he never wins the “oldest rider” award. He says there’s always someone local who rolls their Motto Guzzi out of the moth balls to ride to the rally, a couple of miles away, and win the oldest rider award. “We ought to have some kind of formula taking age and miles into consideration.” Sooner or later, I think Frank is going to win.

Out of 316 attendees at the Guzzi rally, why did I choose to write about Frank? Well, he was interesting. And, maybe it’s my own age that notices younger men and women tend not to pay attention to seniors—in Frank’s case, dismissing him as an old man on a motorcycle. But, under that façade is a lifetime of experience. Having conducted dozens of interviews with seniors—many of them WWII Veterans—I have found some fascinating stories. Frank was a joy to meet and talk with, and I hope to meet up with him again. Maybe at another Guzzi rally? Maybe in Colorado.

Coming up next: an interview with Melissa Holbrook Pierson, author of The Perfect Vehicle and the Man Who Would Stop at Nothing.


2012 Moto Guzzi National Rally

Buena Vista, Virginia

There are several reasons for attending the 2012 Moto Guzzi National Owners Club Rally, even though I do not own a coveted Italian-made Moto Guzzi. I was looking for a place to travel to, to visit with and make new friends, and to check out Moto Guzzis. Mostly, I was looking for a few stories to tell, and I found a few in my travels.

Typically, I choose a route that is non-Interstate, but admit that some slabbing is often required, as was this adventure. I won’t go into all the turn-by-turn route details, but will comment on one section.

West Virginia is a motorcycling paradise, and my planned route included US 60 from Charleston, WV, to the east side of the state where the highway connects with I-64 into Virginia. When I was calculating my time and speed, I thought I might be able to average 45 on that curvy, mountainous section of US 60. Wrong. 30-35 mph is probably more like it. By the time I exited the mountains into flatter countryside, my shoulders were aching from the back and forth motion of riding the twisties. It was like a roller coaster.


The rally site was a city park which allows camping. Lots of space for tents and a few RVs. Rally organizers say 316 people attended the event. After checking in, I picked a spot along the creek and set up the tent. Afterwards, I went looking for some of the guys from the SW Ohio Club. Later, I learned they would not be there until the next day.

It was hot. Temperatures were in the 90s and only a forecast of cooler nights made it bearable.

Motorcycle rallies are great for making new friends and finding old ones. As I was looking for my Ohio friends, I met a man from Peoria, Illinois. His name was Paul. I am from from across the river in Pekin, Illinois, we had some common ground. Turns out his riding buddy, also in attendance was one of my classmates, graduating in the Class of 1968, Pekin Community High School. I barely remember Steve Bruce because he only attended PCHS his senior year, but 44 years after graduating, we’re both at the same rally. Want more coincidence? He now lives in Cincinnati. What a small world!


The food was catered, and it was pretty good. I didn’t see or hear anyone complaining about lack of food. That’s always a good thing for a bunch of hungry motorcyclists.

Of course, there were plenty of Moto Guzzi motorcycles. It seemed that just about every model was represented—new and old and a few with character.


The first night actually turned out to be a pleasant experience for tenting. It cooled off sufficiently. The next day, Friday, started out as a furnace. When a park maintenance worker told me that it was already in the 90s, at 10 a.m., and headed to over 100. I decided to move on. I just can’t take the heat. I’d rather be creating my own breeze. I packed the tent. Loaded the bike, and departed Buena Vista on the Blue Ridge parkway, headed for Washington D.C.


There are two more stories to tell from Buena Vista. Stay tuned.


Test ride on a Moto Guzzi V7 Classic

If you have followed this journal for some time, you know that I have been hankering for a second motorcycle—something quite different than my V-Strom. Not that they are finalists, but I have focused on the Triumph Bonneville T100 and a Moto Guzzi V7 Classic.

If dealership availability is important, then Triumph might be the way to go. There are many more in the country. As for Moto Guzzis, well …. they are not so frequent, so it’s a little harder to throw a leg over one.


I can’t explain why these Italian motorcycles fascinate me so, but they do. There is something about the look. Maybe it’s the way the v-twin engine sits horizontal and sticks out from under the fuel tank. It looks different. It is different.


One feature all Guzzi owners describe: it’s easy to work on if you do your own maintenance. Since dealer availability is far from perfect, owners will have to do some maintenance. And for those not so mechanically inclined, well, look elsewhere. Fortunately, I managed to find Sloan’s Cycles, a multi-brand dealer including Moto Guzzi.

So, as I was standing there talking with Sloan’s salesman, Frank Poag, I notice something about the white V7 that produces a remark. “Looks like that bike has been out for a test ride.” He replies, “what do you mean?” I respond, “Looks like somebody forgot to wipe the bugs off the headlight. Are you using this one for test rides?”

That’s how the conversation headed down that road. With proper paperwork in order, Frank rolled the bike out the door. He even checked the gas, rode it around back and put some more in it. Then, he handed it over to me.

Geared up, in 90-degree heat, I swung a leg over, plopped onto the seat, grabbed the bars, and pressed the starter switch. It fired up, and rocked back and forth from the torque of the engine as I revved it a little. Yup, it’s a transverse engine. I slipped it into first gear, executed a u-turn and headed for the street.

Pulling away from the dealership, the V7 shifted smoothly—something you expect from a motorcycle that has many more miles and is well broken in. It had plenty of torque although not heart-pounding power, but plenty powerful enough. In fact, I think the V-Strom has more power, but then, this is just my first ride on the Guzzi. The first impression is quite positive.

I returned to the dealership and Frank was waiting. He had a big smile on his face—a little inquisitive. “Wellllllllll?”

“Well, that was fun. That bike has a lot of character, and it brings back the meaning of ‘throwing a leg over it’.” Frank says, “I keep hearing riders use that word about this bike—character.”

I started riding in the mid 1960s. Back then, motorcycles looked like this one and the Triumph Bonneville. BSA still existed. Even the Japanese bikes looked like standards. My first owned motorcycle, a 1962 Harley Davidson Sprint 250cc scrambler looked like this. And now, a couple of manufacturers are returning to their roots to produce a modern day version of the “standard.” And it sure looks like Moto Guzzi has hit the mark. The V7 Classic has some serious “wow factor.”


The Moto Guzzi V7 would be an excellent second bike … or a first one for the stable.

Thank you, Sloan’s Cycles, for letting me take a test ride.

See you on the highway.