2011. In Minnesota of all places. One frigid November. On one of my customary week-long visits to my brother and his family. When I arrived, I casually mentioned that I was thinking of buying a “better” (read: more modern) motorcycle. James was thrilled. He was on his second Harley, a Road King, and was a die-hard fan of the brand. Thus four of us set off, James, me and his two youngest sons, to visit his local Harley-Davidson dealership where he was confident he could find me a suitable bike. Midwest motorcycle dealerships are lovely, much larger and better stocked than those in Southern California, which I find curious, considering how short their riding season is in comparison. Once I passed through the doorway of Wild Prairie Harley-Davidson, I was as enchanted by the leather jackets and gloves as I was by the lovely display of motorcycles: Sportsters which my brother derisively refers to as ‘skirtsters’ (as you probably wear a skirt if you ride one), V-Rods, Road Kings, Road Glides, etc. I wasn’t interested in a big cruiser, I wanted something more pared-down, so I tried out an 883. Right away, I was not crazy about the foot-peg setup. It felt awkward after months spent on my Suzuki, with the foot rest under me, not stretched out in front of me. So they changed bikes and gave me one with a more traditional foot rest location. Once astride, I gave the bike a little gas and headed out on a side street behind the dealership. It was not love at first throttle, but I told myself it wasn’t awful and perhaps I simply needed to acclimate myself to a much larger, heavier ride? All was going swimmingly until I found myself in a cul-de-sac. As I navigated the sweeping U-turn, I heard an awful grating metal sound. “What the HECK is that???” I asked myself, certain I had “broken” the Harley. It took a moment for me to realize that I had simply scraped the foot-peg on the ground. Just to make sure, I again maneuvered into the cul-de-sac. Yup, more scraping. I could not return that bike fast enough to the dealership.
After stepping down from the 883, I asked my brother if there weren’t any other motorcycle dealerships in the area? He grudgingly replied that yes, there was Leo’s South over in Lakeville, which “sold BMW and some other foreign bikes”. Unfortunately for him, we had nothing better to do, so off to Leo’s we went. The first thing I noticed upon our arrival was the Ural side-car out front. I had never seen one and was fascinated. Next to the Ural were several other four-wheelers, mostly utility vehicles for venturing into the hard-to-reach spots of Minnesota. Once in the showroom it seemed cramped, absolutely crammed wall-to-wall with bikes: Triumph, Ducati and BMW. While I found myself strangely fixated by a green Piaggio scooter with a brown suede seat, other than that, there was nothing that caught my eye….until I saw another flash of green in the crowd. I approached. And there in a sea of red Ducatis, was the most beautiful motorcycle I had ever seen. It was muscular, with a long, wide, curving gas tank in deep satin green accented by two creamy racing stripes running the length of the bike. A tasteful saddle brown leather seat complemented the paint job. In profile, the bike was just flat-out sensuous, sloping gently down from the tank to the seat, and back up from the seat to the rear tail-light. A naked bike, no fairing, not even a windscreen. The two large cylinder heads, topped off by matte aluminum and black valve covers, jutted proudly out from under the tank on the left and right sides of the bike. The glossy black wheels sporting steel spokes gleamed under the fluorescent lighting. It had an enormous twin muffler on the left side of the rear tire in brushed aluminum that I found stunning. This bike was both genteel and audacious at the same time.. And to top it all off, the one-sided swing arm on the right side was a direct drive; no chain to clean! I stood before this beauty, feet riveted to the floor; it was love at first sight.
Shaking myself from my reverie, I looked closer at the badge on the tank. “Moto Guzzi?” I had heard of Moto Guzzi, but not often. I had a vague recollection of a model called a Le Mans, but had no idea from where, or when. The motorcycle before me, which had so quickly captured my heart, was called a Griso 8V SE. The salesman approached. “May I help you?” He asked. “May I sit on it?” I responded. Smiling, he said that I could, and I settled into the comfortable seat. The height was perfect- I was nearly flat-footed while seated. The reach to the bars was a little long, and the bike felt massive compared to my little Suzuki 400. I asked if I could take it out for a test ride. The salesman explained that it had been languishing so long in his showroom that it no longer had a battery in it. He was eager to sell it however, and the bike had been discounted to $13,000.00, from the original price of $14,499.00. This seemed like a lot of money for a motorcycle, and I’d have to ask my husband about it…. So I stepped off of the lovely Griso, lost in thought about how I could buy one….