True love: a commitment to the Eagle brand is forever, indestructible, a never-ending passion, an eternal bond. That’s what it’s like for true Guzzi bikers. Bikers like Manuele Biondi, a youthful 55, born in the Tuscan town of Piombino (where he works in the steel plant), a lifelong traveller and biker: in over thirty years on the road, so far he has ridden more than 700,000 km, and always on a Moto Guzzi California. He first fell in love with the “Cali” when he was a young man and has owned a variety of models over the years, but two names have always been proudly displayed on his bikes: Moto Guzzi and California.
From left: Maurizio Pandolfo with his California Vintage 1100 and Manuele Biondi with his California 1400
On a rainy day in November, Manuele was the guest of the editorial staff of Wide Piaggio Magazine (at the Piaggio Group offices in Pontedera, near Pisa). He was accompanied by a friend from Grosseto, Maurizio Pandolfo, aka “Mad Pandy” (the founder of the Roadrunners Gang 1983); more than 20 years ago, in 1994, Manuele and Pandy set up the “California Crew” Guzzi club (as club president and secretary respectively). The pair arrived for the interview on their fantastic Guzzi bikes: Manuele with his California 1400 from 2013 (in an elegant white livery, with matching crash helmet, also by Moto Guzzi); Pandy on his black California Vintage 1100 with white details, like his two-colour helmet by Moto Guzzi. The athletic duo certainly didn’t go unnoticed: leather jackets, boots, studs, chains, Moto Guzzi patches, eagles everywhere, even on an earring. In short, the typical look of the die-hard biker, but with a typical touch of Italian style, given that they’ve been riding the elegant bikes made in Mandello del Lario for decades. “We like riding comfortably, with an accommodating seat and broad handlebar, so we can enjoy every single kilometre: and the Moto Guzzi California bikes are just perfect, in every detail. And very Italian.”
Manuele tells us about himself: “Moto Guzzi was a family passion, my grandparents were Guzzi bikers too. I got my first California II in 1984, a California III injection in the 1990s, then the California limited edition from 1995, of which only 750 were produced; this was followed by a California Special in 1999, and now I’m enjoying the California Touring 1400 second series, which I bought in 2013.” Manuele has travelled widely, covering the length and breadth of Europe before heading for the States; his most important trips include: 1985 North Cape, 1986 Morocco, Scotland, 1992 Russia and Moscow (where he met army trucks refuelling along the way); then two trips to the USA, coast to coast from New York to San Francisco and back. Plus countless rallies, including such extreme events as the Elefantreffen, and those organised through California Crew’s ties with the US Moto Guzzi National Owners Club (info: www.mgnoc.com); the MGNOC also has a European Division (American David Smith is one of its founders), which organises rallies in May and October.Moto Guzzi National Rally Parade July 2011
And where have you been in recent years? “I’ve competed in the Tourist Trophy on the Isle of Man, continued travelling around Europe, and taken part in Moto Guzzi rallies everywhere: Norway, the UK, Belgium… Yes, I really have spent my life on the road, and I’ve never had a serious problem, except this summer when I needed the excellent technical assistance of the Moto Guzzi Bäcker dealer in Laer, Germany, for a welding job on the silencer.”
When he was a bit younger, says Manuele, he rode from Piombino to Berlin almost “without stopping, 1,300 km, then back again; that was a really satisfying trip, a real thrill.” And his most recent expedition, this summer, was no mean feat: he rode 8,500 km to St Petersburg: “It was a great journey: from Piombino to Trieste, then Slovenia, Slovakia, Poland, towards Russia, Moscow and St Petersburg, then back through the Baltic states (Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia), via Finland, from Helsinki, then Warsaw and Berlin. In Germany, near Laer, I met up with my friend Mad Pandy, with whom I’ve ridden on many trips and rallies, and he in turn had met another Guzzi biker from Tuscany, Carlo Alberto Duè, riding a vintage Guzzino V35 II, who was on his way back from Russia (see the article in Wide 5-2015:
Among Manuele’s most memorable journeys were his two coast-to-coast trips in the USA, including a stretch along the legendary Route 66. “The first time I went was in 1994,” says Manuele, “with my friend Gianmario di Bergamo on our Guzzi bikes: me with my California 1000 II and Gianmario with a Spada 1000 (“the predecessor of the Norge”), because we didn’t want to hire a motorbike when we got there, as many people do. I contacted a shipper in Livorno, Savino Del Bene, about sending the bike to New York: I built the case myself, all in metal (dimensions: 2.50x1.30x1.10 metres). My Cali travelled by sea for 16 days and I flew to New York to pick it up. After all the customs and insurance procedures (they gave me a provisional number plate to put in front of the windscreen), and a visit to see the “Big Apple”, from Manhattan to Long Island, we left for Pennsylvania and the Niagara Falls, and on to Michigan, Detroit, Chicago, Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, we parked our bikes in front of the Harley-Davidson factory, and the employees who saw our bikes came out for a chat. Then we rode to Minnesota, Nebraska and a stopover in Sturgis, South Dakota, for the great August rally (it was the 54th edition) where thousands of bikers come in from all over the world.”
2015: Stargis Motorcycle Rally, 75th edition
And he wants to go back there, having heard that the next edition of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (8-14 August 2016), America’s most important biker event with half a million participants, will provide the launch pad for “The flying fortress”, the spectacular new Moto Guzzi MGX-21, which had its world preview at the recent EICMA motor show in Milan.
The trip continued: “Monument Valley, Death Valley, where I launched my Guzzi on the Bonneville salt flats. A fantastic journey: more than 13,000 km NY-San Francisco-NY”. What about the second trip? “That was with a friend, with the same itinerary as before, but we had an unexpected – and unfortunately sad – experience: on Monday 10 September 2001, at 9 in the evening, we passed the Twin Towers on a 180 km stretch towards the Appalachian mountains; the next morning, heading for Pennsylvania, we saw scores of police and fire-fighter vehicles going the other way, towards NY. We still didn’t know anything: in the afternoon we stopped near Niagara Falls and heard about the attack on the towers when we went to an Italian restaurant. People were frightened, for a month the country was isolated, you couldn’t fly. Apart from that – and the difficult stretch through Death Valley, 83 metres below sea level with temperatures of 50°C – during the second trip I also reached Canada. It was a real thrill, plus meeting other bikers, seeing wonderful places (including Hollywood, I felt as though I was in a film): travelling with my California has always been an investment in happiness.”
Manuele’s friend Maurizio Pandolfo, 66, from Grosseto (he was born in Venturina), otherwise known as Mad Pandy, is another authentic Guzzi biker: “I’m a monogamist: in my life I’ve only ever owned Moto Guzzi bikes, from the 1972 Stornello, then the new Falcone 500 Idroconvert, the California III, the California 1100 Special, and most recently a California Vintage 1100 purchased in 2008 (when I retired), on which I’ve ridden 112,000 km in seven and a half years, and taken part in dozens of rallies.”
Mad Pandy with Karin, from the Austrian Moto Guzzi Club, at the Kirchberger rally“Among the recent Guzzi models, the Eldorado is a great bike, and when I saw the new V7 II Stornello at the EICMA show in Milan, it reminded me of the historic Stornello scrambler, and my heart started racing.” You never forget your first Moto Guzzi.
The Moto Guzzi Stornello Scrambler, from the 1970s
The Moto Guzzi V7 II Stornello presented at the 2015 EICMA show in Milan