It is of course a well-known fact that the Italians are as passionate about motoring in all its forms as they are about good food and wine. No too far from Bologna, home of Ducati and many other automotive factories and museums, is the Autodromo di Varano de’ Melagari. This small but interesting race track not too far from Parma is used by Alfa Romeo for testing, and each year in May plays host to the ASI Moto Show, which is now in its sixteenth year.
Despite the title, basically it is a three-day track event and a moving display of not only Italian motorcycle history, but of motorcycles in general. Unlike any other such festival, (the obvious comparisons being our own VMCC ‘Festival of a Thousand Bikes’ and the French ‘Coupes Moto Legende’ event,) it is totally free to view!
The organisers Automotoclub Storico Italiano (ASI) who have 250,000 members say the idea is to encourage people to preserve classic machines and come out and ride them so that others will follow in their wheel tracks. Having spent the three days seeing nothing but thousands of happy visitors chatting with the owners of some superb machines spanning all decades and watching the track action from packed stands, it certainly seems to be working.
The bikes ranged from the turn of the 20th century with a 1900 Bernasse complete with wooden mudguards, through to the early 1990s. The bikes are split into 18 categories, all getting at least two sessions on the track each day, and it is all run with the same mechanical precision as many of the bikes, despite what anybody says about Italian organisation!
Enthusiasts mixed with past works riders and despite the varying levels of skill, all seemed to enjoy their time exercising their mounts in complete safety- there were no incidents apart from the odd breakdown or lack of fuel whilst on track.
In the paddock though, the history of motorcycling worldwide could be seen with models ranging from the humble and mundane, to exotic race machines. Various clubs put on excellent displays and members happily answered questions from inquisitive fans.
It is clear the organisers take into account that not all members of the family are that passionate about the bikes and they put on a coach for wives and partners taking them to some local tourist locations and throwing in some shopping instead of having to spend each day at the track reading a book or similar. (On the Saturday evening there is also a big banquet for all to socialise and enjoy a glass of the local vino.)
The tours are part of the entry which covers two machines and is based on the bikes age - the older the bike the less it costs – to encourage the older machines to take part!
While the first two days are dedicated to the mainstream entrants, there are plenty of ex-works riders and former world champions who take the opportunity to put in a few quick laps, often showing that age has not slowed them down.
It also appears that the latter has not resulted in the need for new leathers either, with many still managing to fit into their original attire, although wisely opting for new modern helmets!
However, the shorter day on Sunday ends at lunchtime with a parade of former champions who arrive specially to add to the occasion, joining those already there. This year the list included Freddie Spencer, Kork Ballington and the most modern rider, Italian favourite Pier Francesco Chili, riding machines supplied by British collectors Steve Wheatman and Marty Jones.
But for me the pleasure was having seen many of the great Italians like Remo Venturi, Carlo Ubbiali, along with former world 50cc &125cc champion Eugenio Lazzarini circulating throughout the weekend in the various track sessions - champions I was too young to see in their heyday!
Overall it was a magnificent event and a good model on how to do things and to show other organisers how to put something back into motorcycling to help ensure the future of classic bikes. Definitely worth adding to next year’s to-do list! www.asifed.it