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1. Old Hondas are just one of May’s biking passions 2. He’s done well to hide his Saxo with a seclection of modern classics 3. This 1978 Guzzi was rescued from the shed of an old girlfriend’s father 4. See, celebrities aren’t exempt from fines

James May shows his Top Gear for bikes TV’s Captain Slow throws open his garage to reveal the machines and kit that inspire him adam.duckworth


OU can tell an awful lot about a motorcyclist from the way he pronounces ‘Moto Guzzi’. To most, it rhymes with Muzzy. But to the pedantic or posh, the second word has a definite ‘T’ in the middle. Moto Gut See. It’s Italian, you see. Deep down, you already know Top Gear’s James May is going to say Gut-See. As “the other one” alongside housewives’ favourite Richard Hammond and gob-on-a -stick Jezza Clarkson on the flagship BBC2 show, he is painted as a characature of a bumbling, bookish, hairsplitting Captain Slow who loves to tinker with old mechanicals in his shed. And after checking out his actual shed – well, garage –

it’s fair to say May’s Top Gear characature is hardly an Oscar-like stretch of his acting skills. Half-dissected SU carbs from old cars nestle alongside his trademark open face lid and goggles, a massive screwdriver from a World War II tank, jerry cans of fuel, the odd biking trophy, and a battered leather jacket complete with badges. You also find a menagerie of old bikes, watched over by his cat Fusker – a gift from The Hamster. “Well, his wife actually,” May points out. But one thing’s for sure, May loves bikes. He’s the sort of real motorcyclist who could check his own valve clearances. And before his TV career began, he almost worked for MCN! “I went for a job at MCN in 1992 after getting sacked from Autocar magazine,” he

says. “But I didn’t fancy the idea of Kettering [MCN is now located in the far more salubrious Peterborough – Ed]. I was also in Your Cat magazine once. They wanted me to write a column. I declined.” He probably wanted to spend more time on the internet checking out used bikes for sale – his preferred way of killing time. “I came late to biking, I wanted a Fizzie but my parents said ‘no’,” he begins. “I was on (MCN’s sister magazine) Car Magazine in 1995 and we did a piece on how superbikes compare to cars. I did my bike test on a fiveday course, and wrote a piece for the magazine. “I’d always wanted bikes, and now I just keep buying and selling them, throwing all my money away. I kid myself that I should ride a Ducati or a Triumph

Daytona, but I’m actually not very good at riding.” May, now 45, has a passion for bikes that are slightly leftfield which smacks of a biking latecomer making up for lost time. “I feel a strange desire to rescue old bikes. If I had the money spare, I’d buy a 1976 Honda GL1000. Like this

exhausts changed for a fourinto-one. “I bought a 1976 Honda CB400-4 F1 in blue, my favourite colour. It’s a really big bike by modern standards. I’d really like a Suzuki Kettle and a 1976 Triumph Bonnie T140V; hardcore bikes but they ride like sh*t. Still, I do like character.”

May also owns two more bikes that aren’t in his garage: “I have a 1969 Honda CB250 and a 1972 CB500-4 that a mate wants to buy. But there are more important Hondas. I’m looking at a SL125 at Oxford Classic Honda that gives me a real hard on.” Both May’s CBs needed a

‘My Guzzis are too precious for me to ride them every day’ JAMES MAY one,” he says, eyeing up one for sale on the ’net. “Nice spoked wheels, but it has the wrong exhaust. I don’t like it when bikes have their original four-into-four

service and MoT and are off being sorted. One had a carb problem and a cylinder head gasket leak. He adds: “I’m good at spannering as I’m patient and pedantic. I just don’t have time to do it at the moment. A lot of work is done by my mate Steve at the Top Gear Technology Centre – they make all the projects for the TV show. “I like old cars too, but they’re frustrating as they don’t work properly. Most didn’t when they were new. I love old bikes as they’re just nice.” Here are a few of his favourite machines:


May loves Guzzis for their character and he bought a V11 new

“I have a 2001 Guzzi V11 Sport. Top Gear magazine did a feature on non-conventional bikes and I rode the V11 and thought it was great, so I bought a new one. It’s only done 4000 miles as



The boys get ready to roll into Europe

GPS? No, a map’s the thing for a retro bike test

Regular bike-swapping is the only way to do a proper group test

Harley’s XR1200 takes on Europe

The new XR1200R challenges the best European retro roadsters on a trip with Ducati’s GT1000 and Moto Guzzi’s 8v 1200 Griso to the Bikers’ Classics festival in Spa, Belgium adam.child


ESPITE the distant rain clouds and the fact I’m only 30 miles into our journey to Spa, I’m happy to be on board the Griso. I’ve managed to secure my magnetic tank bag to the pillion (it wouldn’t stick to the plastic tank) using the Moto Guzzi’s useful bungee hooks beneath the seat and at 80mph the bike’s updated 1200cc eight-valve motor is chugging along effortlessly and with less vibes than I had expected. The Griso’s curiously wide bars are a bit of a stretch, but they’re comfortable, the seat is wide, plush and near-perfect and, overall, I’m impressed. This trip is going to be a breeze – as long as can keep hold of the Guzzi, that is… Of course, it doesn’t work like that – it wouldn’t be much of a comparison test if it did. So as I hook up with

road racer/regular MCN road tester Bruce and new MCN snapper/experienced biker Mykel, it’s time to swap bikes. Mykel is enthusing about how good the new Harley is, so the XR1200R it is for the next stint to the Channel Tunnel. There’s no doubt that the XR1200R is a culture shock, whichever way you look at it. In the first place, simply jumping on a Harley and not putting your feet forward takes some getting used to. The pegs are relatively high and rearset, especially for a Harley, and annoyingly they don’t have a ‘return spring’, so every time you accidentally knock them up (moving away from junctions, for example) you spend the next few hundred yards trying to find them again. Pretty basic error, Harley – why don’t they have a simple spring? But I can also immediately agree with Mykel. Up to 80mph the XR is not too bad, whatever you compare it to (which is revolutionary

The Ducati (right) proved less of a high flier in terms of attracting attention

in itself for a Harley). But despite the optional small screen, there’s still a lot of wind blast on my shoulders and forearms. As a result, aound 90mph (5000rpm in fifth) seems to be the limit of comfortable cruising. Nor is it as comfortable as the Guzzi. The XR’s seat, in

‘I’ve slept on park benches more comfy than the Harley’s seat’ particular, is really hard – in fact I’ve slept on park benches which have been more comfortable. What’s more, the Harley’s clocks are cheap-looking and provide very little information. There isn’t a clock or trip meter and the fuel light seems to be illuminated by the smallest bulb possible.

And speaking of fuel, the Harley was always the first to run low with that miniscule warning light flickering on at 110-130 miles. The switch to the Ducati again left me looking for somewhere to strap my magnetic tank bag, as the GT1000’s tank isn’t steel, either. The riding position of the Ducati is the most conventional here, though. The seat is as comfortable as the Guzzi and the bars are less of a stretch. But as you’re more upright on the GT1000 you take more of the wind on your chest which means that comfortable cruising is restricted to sub90mph speeds. The Ducati’s clocks are classy and useful – they look like they were made by Rolex compared to the Harley’s, which have the look of Elizabeth Duke in Argos. The Ducati’s familiar DS1000 V-twin has a tall top ratio, which means that at cruising speed its top gear is like an overdrive, really

dropping the revs, which has obvious added benefits. First, the motor is barely ticking over even at 90mph, making it gentle and relaxing to ride, and second it helps give the Duke the biggest fuel range of the three. Conversely, if your speed drops below 50mph, you really need to cog down as it just won’t pull in top. After a few more changes of bikes, a pattern is emerging and the XR is becoming the least liked of the three. We chug through Belgium, past Brussels, down to Spa and on to the lovely roads in the Ardennes mountains surrounding the historic Spa Francorchamps track. I was keen to drop off our luggage at the hotel and have fun, as from my experience it’s best to make the most of the sunshine, because the region is renowned for rain. So, freed of our luggage, I grab the Harley’s keys first, to see if they have managed to produce a bike that can Continues over

The Griso’s handling and comfort made it a popular choice



Harley territory: arrow-straight roads “Don’t fancy yours much, mate.” Give us V-twin power over leg power any day of the week

Spa Francorchamps in Belgium, a classic circuit to visit on three sporting retro roadsters When static, the Harley proved an enticing proposition. On the move, it was a different story



HONDA DN-01 £9321

Powered by a 680cc V-twin engine – as used in the latest Transalp – with a unique hydraulic mechanical drive, this automatic machine is classed as a sports cruiser rather than a funky scooter. All the same, it looks different and is different to the norm – but does that justify the asking price?


As far as twist-and-go maxi scooters are concerned, Suzuki’s Burgman range is the most typical. This 400cc version is the most common on UK roads because of its 70mph cruising speed, ample grunt away from the lights, low maintenance, huge carrying capacity and cheap insurance. Few machines are more practical.

SUZUKI M800 £5599

Arguably the archetypal Japanese Harley clone, the M800 has modern chassis components bolted around a sorted 805cc water-cooled V-twin engine which first appeared in 1992 in the VS/VX800 cruisers. Constant styling upgrades and the inclusion of fuel injection have kept this shaft-driven beast at the top of the cruiser game.

For great rates on any Honda models call CIA insurance on

0800 089 0797 or visit our website: Ref: MCN 02

The Suzuki Burgman 400 is a popular and proven maxi scooter – a good twist-and-go benchmark to test the DN-01 against

Suzuki’s M800 typifies laid-back cruiser style with its V-twin engine


DN-01: maverick or misfit? Honda’s oddball DN-01 is a unique machine, but we put it against two machines that seem closest to it trevor.franklin


It looks like a scooter, but Honda calls it a sports cruiser. The DN-01 is certainly different

OT that we here at MCN are sceptical or anything, but it is difficult to place Honda’s latest technical marvel. After all, there really isn’t anything the DN-01 can be likened to. Honda tags it as a ‘sports cruiser’, which makes it fairly unusual. But as it looks more maxi-scooter with a hint of a cruiser, we’ve decided to compare it to examples of those two types of machine – Suzuki’s popular Burgman 400 scoot and the same firm’s M800 cruiser – to see exactly where the DN-01 lies and to see if it measures up to Honda’s hype. Honda says the DN-01’s liquid-cooled four-stroke 680cc OHV V-twin demonstrates powerful and flat torque characteristics. We can’t argue with that, the DN-01 is super-smooth to the point of being dull and

‘All three thrum nicely at 70mph, but the Honda is more relaxed at high speed’

DN-01 aims to combine the Burgman’s ease of use and the laid-back attitude of the M800. And challenge visual stereotypes

boring. Except it isn’t so slow because it romps away from the Burgman with the same ease we dodge city centre cap-holding soap dodgers. As for its top end, the DN-01 revs freely and creeps up on the vibrating M800 that initially gets away because of its extra lowdown torque. And the DN-01 will overtake the Suzuki when its rider struggles to make headway into 100mph wind blast. All three bikes’ engines thrum nicely at 70mph, but it is the Honda and its rider that are relaxed when higher cruising speed is required. Round one to the DN-01. Where the Burgman has

the smooth ease of a fully sorted modern scooter thanks to its CVT (Constant Variable Transmission) driveline, the M800 cruiser has all the equally traditional lumpiness of a large fourstroke V-twin with a clutch and gearbox. The five-speed gearbox is typical Suzuki – everything falls into place like the last five minutes of a TV detective programme. The real beauty (if such a thing is possible on a Jap cruiser) is the Suzuki engine can be kicked from a comalike state to eyes-half-open simply by dropping down a gear. It makes overtaking altogether easier. On the Burgman it requires patience and a keen eye to fathom out an oncoming car’s speed, or the distance to the next bend in which to complete the manoeuvre. This is where the DN-01 steps up with chest puffed outwards like a fan-tail dove. It’s hydraulic mechanical system (mechanical engine power is used to drive hydraulic oil, the flow rate of which can be easily controlled by valves before being turned back to mechanical power via a pump to turn the shaft drive) can be used in fully automatic mode or as a six-speed manual shift via a switch to control the hydraulic valves. The bike gets livelier when a ‘sports’ button is pressed to give revised ignition settings, and overall the DN-01 is just as easy to ride as the smallercapacity Burgman. So what about Honda’s assertion that: ‘From the low and long and modern organic body design comes a truly individualistic style’? Has Honda lost it? The first view of the DN-01 in the flesh hurts hard. Motorcycling’s old stagers will verbally shoot the Honda for being ugly. They don’t know it yet, but what they really mean is its different looks scare them… Comparing it to our lineContinues over


Aprilia Mana’s auto motor AUTOMATIC motorcycle gearboxes are not new. Honda delved into hydraulic-powered transmissions with the Juno scooter in 1962, and even went as far as producing a RC250MA motocross machine with a much revised system – it won the 1992 All-Japan 250MX race series. Aprilia has also produced an automatic machine – the Mana. Not as futuristically styled as the concept-based DN-01, it’s more of a traditional naked. It uses an 850cc version of the 750cc V-twin Shiver engine. The Mana’s Autodrive system is completely managed by electronics as per the Honda, but goes further. Along with fully auto mode, there is a sequential mode allowing the rider to change up or down via a bar-mounted button or traditional foot change. There’s also semi-Autodrive for manual downshifts for optimum power delivery for overtaking. Three separate modes allow touring, sport or rain maps at a flick of a button. The Mana means gives everyday riders a viable motorcycle that can be ridden like a normal bike (for commuting, fun etc) for not a lot of money (£6499) and it doesn’t look like an overweight scooter.


Deal or no deal Who’s sorted for 2009 and who’s not


Has a deal for next year with Ducati, and an option for 2010.


Split from Ducati for 2009. Could be sacked after this weekend’s US GP.


Will announce a new Fiat Yamaha contract at this weekend’s Laguna GP.


Edwards battles Rossi at a soaking Sachsenring

Edwards stays with Tech 3 in ’09 COLIN EDWARDS had one of the worst races of his career in Germany – and then signed a new contract to stay with the Tech 3 Yamaha team for 2009. The Texan was fuming after his bid to extend the best run of form in his MotoGP career was abruptly ended by a crash on lap 21 of a rain-soaked Sachsenring clash as he lay in fifth place. But he consoled himself by ending speculation about his future by penning a new contract to keep him on a YZR-M1 next season. MCN understands he signed the one-year deal with an option for 2010 on Sunday afternoon. An official announcement will be released tomorrow (Thursday) on the eve of his home race at Laguna Seca. Edwards, who at one stage was linked with a move to Kawasaki’s factory team, had been given a final deadline of tomorrow (Thursday) to sign by Yamaha’s management following protracted negotiations. It is understood that

Yamaha has again agreed to pay Edwards’ salary for 2009, with Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal unable to meet the double World Superbike Champion’s wage demands without sponsorship investment. He was contracted directly to the Japanese factory in 2008, but Yamaha initially seemed reluctant to continue with that arrangement. Edwards, who had intended to quit MotoGP at the end of ’08 to return to the US Superbike series, has been revitalised this season. But his hopes of a sixth straight top five finish ended in a pile of gravel as he encountered severe rear grip issues with his Michelin wet -compound rear tyre. Third at the end of lap nine, Edwards faded quickly out of podium contention and he was incandescent with rage at Michelin’s performance as he crashed unhurt out of fifth on lap 21. With eight out of the top ten riders on Bridgestone rubber, Edwards said: “I’m really f**king pissed, really

‘He signed the one-year deal with an option for 2010 on Sunday’ pissed. That wasn’t racing at all. That was walking a tightrope for as long as you could keep it up. It was an absolute joke. My start was OK and I thought if the pace stayed at 38s then I’d have no major issue. But then they started doing 35s and 34s and I thought ‘Jesus, this could

end at any moment at any corner’.” Edwards blamed a lack of temperature in his rear tyre for his performance. He said: “I did 20 laps and my race tyre looks brand spanking new. It never worked. The normal scenario in the rain is you get a bit of load on the tyre and you twist the throttle. There might be a little bit of movement and the traction control might kick in and you know the electronics will save your ass. But I couldn’t even get the electronics to work, because it was just snapping around. When it’s like that it’s borderline dangerous and that’s why I’m so pissed. You can really get hurt. I’d much rather go and climb a 1000ft cliff, because at least I got ropes I can tie myself into. “I have not been this pissed off for a long time. Motorcycle racing is a difficult game anyway, and you are always working out the risk to reward the ratio. Well the ratio was off the scale and I’d have been really pissed even if I hadn’t crashed.”

JORGE LORENZO was another high profile victim of Michelin’s Sachsenring nightmare, as he crashed unhurt out of the top six just three laps into the rainlashed race. The Spaniard high-sided his factory Yamaha accelerating out of the fourth corner and he was relieved to walk away unscathed after a spate of big crashes and subsequent injuries. The 21-year-old clearly laid the blame at Michelin’s door. He said: “I was really motivated for this race, because I knew I had a better chance in the wet than I did in the dry.

“In the last races during wet practice I have been very fast, but on the sighting lap I knew it was going to be a different story. The rear tyre had no grip at all. “My feeling was not so bad and I wanted to be aggressive, but the rear gave me no confidence to do that. I got a pretty good start and passed a few riders around the outside at the first corner, but when I opened the throttle on the exit I nearly crashed. “I had two or three more big moments on the first lap and the same happened again on the second lap. And on the third lap I crashed. I just opened the throttle and


Lorenzo ‘loses the fear’ (and the rear)

Already signed for 2009 to stay with Yamaha’s main factory team.


Will announce a new Tech 3 Yamaha deal tomorrow (Thursday) at Laguna.


Signed for 2009 after just three races of his rookie campaign.


Out of contract at Honda and tipped to replace Melandri at Ducati.


Has another year to run on his factory Honda deal.

ANDREA DOVIZIOSO Wants to replace Hayden at Repsol Honda.


Expecting to sign a new one-year deal with Suzuki in 2009 at Laguna.


Linked with WSB Ducati, but wants to stay at Suzuki


Another year to run with the LCR Honda squad.


Unlikely to be retained by Gresini Honda. WSB?...




The excitement has evaporated from MotoGP races – and the teams are blaming electronics THESE are dangerous times for MotoGP. Teams are slashing budgets because of the global credit crunch, while some are just keeping their heads above water courtesy of Dorna backhanders. At a time when it’s hard to extract cash from sponsors, you need to be able to sell something exciting to get them on board. But a salesman good enough to sell ice to Eskimos would be hard pushed to sell MotoGP as a vibrant and exciting brand right now. ‘Boring’ was never a word associated with MotoGP. Now it is the buzzword in the paddock. That and ‘dull and processional’, which is the spectacle the new 800cc machines are producing. Runaway leaders and barely any overtaking used to be the exclusive right of F1. Now the disease is killing off MotoGP as an entertainment business. You know its bad when Nicky Hayden – a man who’d rather cut off his right arm than criticise bike racing – comes out and says racing is boring. The man with the laptop is now almost as important to a Sunday result as any rider. And now rather than defend his beloved MotoGP, I’m told Valentino Rossi’s stint at the microphone for Eurosport on Sunday saw him mention the dreaded B-word.

And everybody is blaming electronics. I particularly liked Nicky’s assertion that his right thumb – used to flick between various mapping modes – is as influential on his performance as his right hand. But for 45 glorious, sodden minutes on Sunday, Sylvain Guintoli got an unexpected reminder of how much fun it used to be to ride a MotoGP bike. It was nothing to do with him scoring his best result of the season, but down to a failure of the traction control system on his Alice Ducati. Guintoli was beaming like a Cheshire cat after the race, and it was prob-

‘Boring is now the buzzword in the MotoGP paddock’ ably because his right hand was totally in control of his destiny. The only thing that stood between him and a face full of gravel was his own ability to master dreadful conditions. The only other person to exhibit the sort of self control Guintoli did on Sunday was race winner Stoner when he prevented himself emptying the contents of his stomach during a BBC interview. Now that was control.

May replace Dovizioso at JIR Scot Honda , but may stay at Gresini Honda.


Will be axed by Kawasaki. Could get WSB Kawasaki deal or be back in WSS.


Has another year to run on his current factory Kawasaki deal.


Lorenzo high-sided after just three laps at the Sachsenring before I knew it I had lost the rear.” After making such a stunning impact in MotoGP

with a victory in only his third race, Lorenzo has now gone five races without a podium.

Likely to be sacked by Alice Ducati. Denies Yamaha WSB approach.


Improving results seem unlikely to save him. May be WSB-bound, too.

Sylvain Guintoli: traction control failure made his race fun

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MCN Jul 16 sample issue  

A 16-page sample of the July 16 edition of MCN featuring Harley Davidson's new flat-track inspired XR1200 and Yamaha's plans for a magnesium...

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