If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Mid-Range Touring, Part 3

Following on from Parts One and Two, here is the third episode in Endemoniada_88's report of his trip to the World Superbike races at Misano, and a return home the pretty way.

6: Day 4, Misano Race

Having seen the access, facilities and particularly the parking, we decide to make an early start and get down to the track in time to claim a decent space. My early morning resolve is tested somewhat by Mike D pulling off an absolutely seismic stint of snoring throughout the night: he tells me that I actually issued a highly sweary bollocking on the subject sometime around dawn, and I'm suitably embarrassed. Steve probably has the right idea – he just wears his earplugs.

As it turns out, we needn't have rushed. The traffic is quite light, although the last few miles are busy. Almost everyone is on a bike, wearing the traditional Italian uniform of shorts, T-shirt and devil-may-care attitude. One is sporting some horrific gravel rash and riding pillion on his mate's pristine Ducati: obviously trashed his own bike on the way down from wherever. Parking is even more of a free-for-all, but we find some room on a gravelled footpath and leave the bikes there. The stands are largely empty – I've seen more people at Thruxton for the BSB – but vociferously pro-Ducati. No surprises there, given that the factory is based in Bologna. BMW's popularity is still surprisingly high, but there are a fair few enthusiastic Germans in the crowd.

It's a blazing hot day, nothing like Superpole, and the track is fast. It's hard racing for the Superstock 1000s, but Giugliano's Althea Ducati victory - followed by a horde of BMWs – is a real crowd-pleaser. We take the opportunity to wander around after that, sampling more of the local meat-in-a-bun and eyeing up the largely Italian bikes on display. I decide I have to have a gunmetal Moto Guzzi Stelvio special edition, albeit perhaps not right now. Over to one side, Christian Pfeiffer is stunting a BMW F800R (the Chris Pfeiffer edition, obviously) with a healthy disregard for the laws of physics. Opposite – and rather inexplicably – a bunch of scantily-dressed girls are doing a synchronised Macarena. No idea what they're selling, but it probably doesn't matter too much.

The superbikes come out at midday, and Checa pulverises the opposition. There are huge cheers every time Biaggi runs wide trying to keep even partly in touch - possibly the Aprilia camp are over on the other side of the track; they're certainly not anywhere in earshot of our seats. The BMW crowd are pretty glum, with only Badovini even managing a finish. Just next to us, an ingenious group of Italian lads zoom their mobile phone cameras through a large pair of binoculars to take pictures of a girl in a risqué bikini in a far distant grandstand. It works amazingly well, and they excitedly swap the results via Bluetooth. Meanwhile, Checa runs out of petrol and does his parade lap from the back of Xaus's Honda.

Supersport – usually far from my favourite class – follows, with an awesome charge through the pack for Foret and a podium for Lowes that has us, at least, cheering. We're rather more mystified by the Two Nations support race: Italy vs Russia on 600 Superstocks over two rounds, one here and one in Kazan. It is, to be honest, a bit rubbish. Still, the Italian victor is chuffed, and feels obliged to lob his clothing into the stands as a bit of a celebration.

The second superbike race follows much the same pattern as the first, though the BMWs put up a better showing. Checa runs out of petrol again, and does his lap of honour on a pit scooter, to deafening applause, and that's basically it. A short programme compared to most other tracks, but then, Misano does feel more like a club circuit than a world championship venue.

Getting out is easy, though: despite the lack of any marshalling and the narrowness of the roads, I don't think I've ever managed to get out of a circuit so quickly and easily. Not much overtakes us on the way back, apart from an R1 with pillion, both in shorts and flip-flops, travelling at utterly ridiculous speed. We catch up with him at the péage, where the woman in the booth is giving him a huge telling-off for riding like a loon. His mum, perhaps – at any rate, she doesn't give us the same lecture.

Back at the hotel they tell us – not terribly politely - that, of all things, a junior basketball convention has taken over the place and booked all the restaurant facilities for the whole of the evening. Mike B manages to get a recommendation for somewhere in town from the receptionist, and we find ourselves in a pavement trattoria ordering some wholesome Italian food. We wander round Bologna for a bit afterwards, then get a taxi back. Our driver is simply certifiable: at one point taking a light some 5 seconds after it goes red doing 90 kph and still accelerating. We're more than happy when that trip finishes.

7: Day 5, Bologna to Genova

Now that the race weekend's over, we can start the road part of the trip. We try to get a visit in to the Ducati factory and museum first, but they need to be prebooked so we hit the road instead. It's not going to be a huge day, just 180 miles to get from the Adriatic to the Mediterranean coast and we're basically cutting straight across the Apennines to do it.

The roads are narrow, twisty and largely empty, with a good deal of mountainous scenery to admire. They're also full of the most outrageous hairpins, interspersed with Hills Have Eyes-type false turnings past ramshackle farmhouses. It feels entirely possible that following any of these too far could result in being eaten by the locals, but luck is evidently on our side this time as the satnavs are often useless. At a couple of points, they simply give up and display big squares of purple where the turns are so close they can't actually distinguish where the road goes.

I don't particularly enjoy this first set of climbs, to be honest. I've not managed to get my head around how to deal with ultra-tight Alpine-style hairpins – uphill, it's too easy to bog down and downhill they're awkwardly cambered and easy to run wide into. Judging by the number of dabs, white line crossings and thrupenny-bit apexing going on, I'm not the only one struggling to get a half-decent rhythm going. Still, we get through without mishap and after lunch everything opens up to a wider, faster descent. It's still twisty, but much more predictable: soft(ish) right, hard right, soft(ish) left and vice versa, depending on the prevailing direction. We all pick up the pace and the faster of us – Steve, Mike B and myself – get to chase off and let Paul and Mike D come down at their own speed.

At times like this, the VFR really shows what it's capable of. Being at the back, I have to get past Mike D's Triumph and Paul's Guzzi before I can really get on with the fun. Mike's not too much of an issue: he tends to be steady, brake early to take the corners tight and leave space on the road. The Honda's got enough power to use that with comparative ease. The Guzzi's altogether different at pace: Paul goes in wide, brakes hard and squares up, before driving out in classic point and squirt style. The grunt of that 1200 V-twin is phenomenal, though, and I can't put enough horses on the tarmac to out-accelerate him in a straight drag. I find the only way to get past safely – after all, we're not actually racing – is to go in hotter, faster and in a lower gear, with the revs up in V-TEC territory, then either wind it up from the apex onwards (if the road's clear) or back off (if it isn't). As a consequence, I'm chucking the bike around far more than anyone else to keep the front end pinned to something like the racing line. It works well, though, and once past the Guzzi I can quite easily haul in the other two. I don't try to pass either, though: they may not be pursuing quite the same level of aesthetically dramatic riding, but they're both travelling as fast as I want to go, on lines and with corner speeds I'm comfortable following.

On and off, we play similar games of chase all the way down to the E80, then turn north towards Genova. Tonight's hotel is actually a youth hostel in the mountains a few miles before the city, but we take the last section of twisties in order and sensibly, not wishing to push it all too hard on the first day. As a bonus, the nearby restaurant serves what turns out to be the best pizza any of us have ever eaten, even if they are utterly baffled by my traditional request for coffee before and during the meal. Everyone else finds this endlessly amusing - throughout the entire trip - as they go for a far less controversial beer or wine.

Enjoying a late-night cigarette outside, I'm entertained by a swarm of fireflies dancing around the hotel courtyard. It's a warm night with a gentle breeze, the only sound is a distant waterfall and everything's peaceful. Just perfect.

Next time: kamikaze scooterists, the Monaco Hairpin, and the best day's riding evah.

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