Upon my return to San Diego, I read everything I could get my hands on about Moto Guzzi, and the Griso in particular. I was surprised to see that the Griso had been around for several years already, in 850, 1100, and 1200 versions. The one that had caught my eye was a “Special Edition” hence the “SE” designation, and was a 1200cc twin with 4-valves per head, thus “8V” (no, not an 8 cylinder, as I overheard one gentleman explain to another while standing next to my Griso, a few years later!). What makes the SE different from other Grisos of the same year was the Tenni Green color scheme and the wire spoke wheels.
I spent a week dreaming about that Griso, about idyllic freeway rides to work, just the two of us…but I had a hard time justifying the use of household funds for what would most likely end up being just an expensive toy. Then one day, while lost in thought at the dinner table, I heard: “You can always use YOUR savings.” I lifted my head from my plate, looking in surprise at my husband. “My savings for what?” I asked. “Your savings to buy the motorcycle.”
It was true, I had “my” savings account, which I had kept since before our marriage. In it, I deposited every Christmas and birthday check given by my grandparents, every rebate or refund check, basically, any check I received that had nothing to do with my salary… and had been doing so for the last 25 years. In addition, I had invested quite a bit of that savings into Apple stock, at 25$ a share which was trading at over $100 at the time.… so I had just enough money to buy what had rapidly become the bike of my dreams. My excitement growing, that evening I pored over the yellow pages for local Moto Guzzi dealerships. In 2011 however, there was not much of a Moto Guzzi presence in San Diego. I found only two: Vey’s Powersports in El Cajon, and GP Motorcycles in downtown San Diego.
The following day, I set out on my quest to find a Griso and procure a test ride. As Vey’s was fairly close to my Grandmother’s home, I decided to try there first and combine a trip out to see her with a drive by the dealership. I was so excited as I pulled into the parking lot; I fully expected them to have a gleaming Tenni Green Griso in stock (silly me). The first impression I had as I stepped out of my car was the striking abundance of ATV’s and watercraft outside the showroom. El Cajon and the east county of San Diego are known for their great off-roading areas, so Vey’s seemed mostly to cater to the off-road and water sport crowd. Upon entering the showroom, the selection seemed sparse, and they actually didn’t have any Moto Guzzis at all. When I timidly asked the salesman why, he explained that they “don’t sell all that well.” So I left, disappointed.
Later that afternoon, I called GP. “Hello, I see you sell Moto Guzzi?” There was a pregnant pause on the other end of the line, as if the salesman who answered had rarely heard this question. “Err.. yes… we have a few models in stock.” “Which ones?” I breathlessly asked. “A Griso and a V7.” “Okay, I’ll be down tomorrow!” I excitedly exclaimed, hanging up after getting the salesman’s name: Josh.
The next morning I showed up at GP the moment they opened. Unbeknownst to me at the time, GP had been in business for nearly 20 years. It was founded by two friends, Gerry and Paul, who shared a love for vintage European bikes. In their tentative beginnings, they sold only used BSAs, Triumphs, Nortons and Ducatis, but their success snowballed and by the day I darkened their door, they were one of the leading Ducati dealerships in California. Thus, when I walked through their front door and gazed around the showroom, what first leapt to the eye were the numerous and prominently displayed KTM, Ducati and Aprilia motorcycles. Not a Guzzi in sight however, much less a Griso. I walked to the back of the showroom. The long glass parts counter was on the right, while in the left rear corner of the store there was a tiny cubbyhole that housed the sales desk, cramped behind the bathroom and unseen from the entrance by a protruding Rizoma accessory display. And there. against the left wall in front of that desk, concealed until you were right in front of it, was a little niche where the Griso and V7 were hidden.
My first reaction was disappointment. This Griso bore no resemblance to the lovely motorcycle I had seen in Minnesota. It had a black tank and silver frame, black pleather seat, and the wheels were three-spoke alloys. “Are you the one who called about the Griso?” Asked a friendly voice behind me. I turned and found a tall young man with an easy demeanor. “Yes” I responded. “But I was looking for the Special Edition model.” The ‘young man’, who turned out to be Josh, had neither heard of nor seen one. So he got on his computer and took a look. “Ah yes, I see that they have just lowered the price. It’s now only $12,499.00 for the 2012 model, as opposed to the 2011 one at $14,499.00.” he stated. I was surprised and suspicious. A $2000 price drop?? What had changed? Did it still have the real leather seat? What about the wheels? And the color? God, have they changed the color?? (A catastrophe in my mind). Josh assured me that no, nothing in the specifications had changed from 2011 to 2012. it was simply a matter of dropping the price to attract buyers. Josh was eager to sell me the Griso currently on his sales floor, the aforementioned black model, which turned out to be a trade-in and was a 2009 model. Despite its low mileage and attractive price of $8,700.00, I didn’t budge. I wanted that Tenni Green model that had stolen my heart, and was ready to turn over the down payment… on one condition: I insisted on a test drive. Heck, I had never ridden a Griso; sure it was gorgeous, but what if it was awful on the road?? In his attempt to entice me to buy it, Josh had already assured me that the 2009 model in his showroom had the same 4-valve-per-cylinder motor as the later models, and should feel the same on the road as the SE. Seeing my checkbook in hand, Josh quickly acquiesced to my request to take the Black one out for a short test drive. After filling out the necessary insurance waiver and handing over a copy of my driver’s license, I went to dig my riding gear out of my PT Cruiser and I suited up.
Josh wheeled the bike out for me and started her up. I was entranced by the deep growl emanating from the engine, and once seated with my hands on the grips, I was tickled to feel the engine vibration and the slight pull to the right each time I gave it some gas; a Guzzi idiosyncrasy which I had read about, but had never experienced. Josh outlined a short itinerary (which I turned out to regret) and sent me on my merry way.
So I turned onto India street and headed north. I was tentative at first, this bike had close to 110 horsepower, nearly three times that of my Suzuki, and twice as much as the 883 I had tried out. Turning onto West Washington and heading up the hill, I pulled a bit on the gas and was surprised at how strongly the engine pulled, even at low revs. Once at the top of the hill, it leveled out and I turned south onto Goldfinch, which descended down to a dip before a stop sign at the foot of the hill before rising again. Arriving at the stop, I pulled on the front brake and abruptly came to a full stop. Too abruptly for me, who was used to a drum brake dating from 1973. Straddling a water ditch in the road, my feet dangling in the air, the bike tipped forward and sideways to my right, and I could not hold her up. Slowly, inexorably, the bike fell onto the shoulder of the road. “Oh NO!!!!!” My brain screamed. What a disaster!
I struggled to upright the bike, all 489 pounds of her, with no success. A man across the street walking his dog watched me, unmoved. When I pleaded for assistance, he reluctantly crossed the street to help me. Once back on its tires and safely leaning on the kickstand, I surveyed the damage. Remarkably, it wasn’t all that bad, perhaps because it had fallen on dirt. There was a scraped bar-end and a marred passenger foot peg, plus a few scratches on the valve cover. Dusting myself off, I asked myself how I was going to overcome the shame of returning the now-damaged Griso to GP. After all, as a ‘girl,’ I’m acutely aware that when we fall, it’s exactly what the guys are expecting us to do. “Shouldn’t have tried riding such a big bike” is a refrain not unfamiliar to me.
Taking a deep breath, I pressed the starter button. Nothing. I tried again. Nope. I double-checked the key position, and then the kill switch. Everything was how it should be; ON. Panic welled up in me again; had the fall done more damage than expected? I gave the Griso another once-over and saw nothing abnormal. After five more minutes of unsuccessfully trying to start the bike, I swallowed my pride and called Josh, explaining my predicament. “Okay, I’ll come get you” he responded. He showed up 5 minutes later, and the bike started all by itself, as if it had never had a problem (I would rediscover this idiosyncrasy several more times with my Griso; after a fall, even a mild tip over, the bike takes 10 to 15 minutes to reset).
If my ride back to GP was humiliating, my arrival was even worse. While my cheeks burned, Josh kindly assured me that “It could happen to anyone.” He asked if I was sure I did not want to buy the black model. I refused. So I wrote a check for the insurance deductible for the damaged Griso, and another for the deposit for what would hopefully soon be my Tenni Green 2012 model. He said I could expect delivery on the bike in about a month. So I figured I’d get it just in time for Christmas!