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  • Jason Beatty

Viatore Via Veloce

Giro di California: Viatore Via Veloce

(Viators of Velocity) by Ivan Thelin

Few experience the many small pleasures of a winding back road as much as someone riding a small bike does. The tiddler rider hums along with the sun warm on his back, enjoying the scenery and the gentle beat of a miniature muffler. The near weightless bike is effortless to ride, turning and slipping along the tarmac as easily as a kayak navigating a smooth current. Speed is not the goal here, so the ride is relaxing, and you may sneak up on deer, wild quail or frolicking skinny-dippers that would never be spotted while roaring past on a big, bad, road-burning behemoth. The small bike rider really has time to smell the wildflowers, and so you are – when suddenly you are ripped out of your reverie by a gold n’ crimson Moto Ducati 175 Sport single roaring past you, trailing a faint hint of blue oil smoke. With a wave of an ivory gauntlet and a toe tap on the gearshift, the pudding-bowl helmeted rider pulls away smartly and disappears around the next sweetly cambered corner. It’s just another participant in the Giro di California, the West Coast’s premier small bore vintage event.

The Giro d’Cal (as the participants call it) plucks inspiration from the Motogiro d’Italia, that famous Italian road race that drew huge crowds of fans along the shoulders of its thousand mile public road route stretched through both rural countryside and urban townscape in pre-Autostrada Italy. That Giro ended in 1957 after a disastrous crash at the Mille Miglia sports car race caused the Italian government to ban racing on public roads. But the Giro di California is a touring and regularity event, and its circuit is solid California backroad gold. The route varies each year, but includes as many beautifully scenic, curving country lanes and byways as the organizers can squeeze into two day’s of riding. Major highways are avoided, because this event is purposely designed to bring out 50’s era Italian motorcycles of no more than 175cc.

And bring out the hot Italian metal the Giro d’Cal does, featuring dozens of beautiful crimson machines with multi-vowelled names lining up at the start, and again at the end of the day. On these museum pieces, average speeds tend be unintimidating, even relaxing, and should a steep ascent be encountered some riders complain more audibly than their mount. But what goes up must come down, and diminutive Italian “motociclismos d’epoca” have been known to fly past modern bikes on a tight canyon road (with gravity aiding their momentum). The event champions aren’t always squinty-eyed speed demons, though. Steady riders who can read a map and anticipate checkpoints more often take home the large and much-coveted silver cups given out at the awards celebration that climaxes the final day’s Giro banquet dinner. It’s anyone’s game when math, hidden checkpoints, and 12 horsepower are involved.

My personal experience with the Giro di California started very humbly. On the very first Giro, an obstinate magneto relegated me to riding shotgun in a sweep truck, watching (somewhat too eagerly) for other competitors who had sputtered to a stop along the route. But at the next two Giros my Motobi ran very well, going the distance and earning me a podium spot each year in the highly competitive 125cc class. With near zero regularity event experience, I had found the mental challenge and slower speeds a refreshing break from the scalded-cat frenetic pace of club racing and street riding that had dominated my weekends for over two decades.

What hasn’t changed are the people: the riders, helpers and organizers. Motorcycles, especially older ones, just seem to bring out the best in people. Riders welcome stranger and friend alike, help each other fix bikes, and make one another laugh constantly, sharing stories of trial and tribulation and lives lived joyously on two wheels. Doing all this in a spirit of friendly low-key competition, while flogging smartly designed old-school Italian machinery along inspiring curvy California roads (with a good meal to look forward to each night) is what the Giro di California is all about. The Giro di California holds its 13th annual event on October 1-4, 2017 somewhere in California. For further information, including entry requirements and additional photos, contact us.

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