DIY motocross races

It’s a crisp cold autumn day in Northern Italy. Summer is over, the fields have been cleared of all the corn, it isn’t raining nor snowing yet, and everyone wants a last hurrah before the motorcycle season is over and the cold winter arrives.

Why not throw an impromptu neighborhood motocross race in one of the neighborhood fields? If you get the word out soon enough, a few volunteers will step forward and before you know it, you’ll have everyone in the neighborhood racing. Just follow these simple guidelines:

  • Erect signs so that people will know where to find the race.

  • Tape off areas for spectators, or find a natural barrier to separate spectators from the track.

  • Tape off a starting grid near the main spectator area for maximum impact.

  • Make sure your volunteer race director wears a timer around his neck to look professional.

  • Hire a food truck for hungry participants.

  • Put a few seats out so elderly spectators can enjoy the races comfortably.

  • Tape off a course tight enough to create some racing action.

  • Provide a jump or two, even if you need to build them by hand.

  • Don’t forget the kiddie class.


Salone del Gusto. Part II.

We had just finished sampling some chocolate in the last post, right? Let’s move onto some of the more unusual stands.

How about some oysters?

Mutant lemons soaked in booze?Waffles.Oh please, more cheese! (Inserted here to demonstrate the overwhelming variety of cheeses showcased at the Salone)Fish fries:This photo is a little blurry, but these cakes are rounds of cheese. The one in front is covered with porcini mushrooms, the small one to the right is covered with salmon, the cakes behind offer grapes and strawberries.Speaking of mushrooms, there were lots.My favorite part of the entire show were conceptual portable food holders.

Behold the “snack holster”:

And do not overlook the utility of the “beer walk”:

I suppose the “beer walk” would be great if you were sporting a full right-angled arm cast. But regardless, how are you supposed to drink your beer without flinging your nuts and chips all over the front of you?

Salone del Gusto. I Went. Part I.

Every two years, the former Fiat factory in Torino becomes a giant salon of food at the Salone del Gusto. This is a Slow Food Foundation event geared toward protecting food biodiversity more than it is a hoity toity meeting of foodies (of which I am decidedly not. I think I burned the majority of my taste buds off through year of eating fiery hot sauce and ultra spicy dishes.)

Anyway, we went because it was something to do on a Sunday, as GP lives 35 minutes away.

The first interesting thing encountered was spiraling ceiling in the Lingotto building. This was used as car storage when it was a factory. (You might also know about the test track – on the roof of the building!)

After resolving to return when we can view the track on the roof, we entered this food fair.

Since this event is in Italy, the majority of the focus is on regional Italian foods (there were International salons as well, mostly European and South American). We sampled plenty of  Italian cheeses, like giant wheels of hard cheese covered with the post wine grape corpses(called “vinaccia”) :

Delicious cheese covered in dead grapes.

And stinky French cheese, made by mountain people in Northern France, aged by burying in the dirt or grass for various lengths of time.

Incidentally, the regional inhabitants looked like mountain people as well.

Other interesting  things cheese is buried in includes grass and animal poop. Animal poop cheese is called “fossa” in Italy. In case you were wondering.

I tried the grass cheese, and given that it tasted reminiscent of tangy grass, I skipped the poo-cheese.

Would you like some grass cheese?

In truth, there was so many cheeses from all over Italy and Europe, that after sampling a Polish cooked cheese, I was cheesed out.And ready for some wine.

We found many samples in the regional salons, though the samples were small.

Me, wondering if the wine pourer will pony up some more wine.

You could purchase another entrance to a wine tasting salon for another 6 Euros, but we passed. A glass for purchase or wine tasting/wine pairing discussions were all over the place.

And wine stewards, tired of standing in their funny uniforms all day, that could be coaxed out of a glass or two for some diverting conversation.

I also came across a cigar/booze pairing discussion. I guess Italian farmed tobacco is protected just like regional cuisine.

Come here to learn what to drink with which stogies.

And beer, including Abba beer (no relation to the band, unfortunately).After booze and cheese, it was time for something a little more substantial, of which there was a lot of at this fair: Meat!

I’m generally not a meat eater and never have been (I remember spitting steak into napkins as a child every time I was served it and flushing sausages down the toilet), but animals for consumption in Europe, especially regional specialties (with the exception of France) have natural diets, are humanely raised and slaughtered, are not treated with any antibiotics, hormones, etc that they taste entirely different and I will occasionally eat meat here. And nothing is better than a sandwich of a couple slabs of simple organic meat and bread!

Tartar that GP drooled over.

After our little snack, we sampled probably 50 different olive oils and breads. GPs favorite oil was from Puglia, which is a region full of ancient olive orchards and oil production. Some breads had branding marks on them, or no salt, or were rubbery or chewy. But all were seriously delicious.Of course, we sampled tomatoes and tomato sauces, the best in my opinion coming from Sicily.

The Sicilians have a very distinctive interpersonal manner. They are engaging and can remain stony faced while being humorous trades people, and therefore very charming to my American sensibilities. These guys were wrangling customers and no doubt were killing it with the Americans who were visiting the Salone del Gusto (I heard a few here and there).And then there was my favorite part.

Endless jams, cookies, biscuits, crackers…And don’t forget …chocolate!

“Woo” chocolate with vanilla from South America was pretty good.

I’m not sure why the racist images of blacks are ever present in Europe and associated with chocolate, but there they still are.

I have more photos to share, so this post is to be continued.

I’ve Been Busy

Oh hello, I didn’t see you there.  Evidently I have a blog I forgot about.

I’ve been busy, so let me recap quick like and then I can get back to posting photos of food and crap like I have been doing.

– I went to the Mugello GP with the boyfriend. Met my home girl Susanna there and two of her friends. Boyfriend stayed in a house with his team and I stayed in a hotel with Suz, where all of my former co-workers, including former  boss, were staying. Awkward?

– Been riding mountain bikes a lot in Italy. Boyfriend was a downhill racer, wants to return to the sport, and has hopes that I will want to race downhill too. However, it has become clear this is not a sport I am going to excel in. I tend to look forward to the parts of the ride that are on the pavement instead of the rocks, and I like uphill better than downhill. Oh yeah, all those beautiful mountain trails and river runs? SWARMING with mosquitoes. Maybe growing up in the desert gave me no resistance to mosquito spit or something, because I scratch bites until they bleed and scar. And of course, freak the fuck out when they cover my legs and are swarming in my face and ears.  My behavior is, as my boyfriend says in his special English, “like a children”.

– Gave up the supermoto racing plans. I mean, supermoto is fun and all but 1) I’m slow 2)  I prefer roadracing. I’d like to return to roadracing and will start on a 125 again if I do. I’ll of course keep you updated if that happens. But I HAVE been preparing for it. You know, as in breaking my collarbone.

– I lost 15 pounds. (This is related to preparing for racing but it merits it’s own bullet point.) I can now wear the same clothes I brought with me from California when I came here in 2008. The bike riding has helped, but stopping with the eating of the chocolate every single day for the last two years (I did not miss one day, call me consistent if nothing else) maybe helped a little as well.

– And finally, there is work. The project I am on is ending in two weeks or so and the deadlines are inflexible. Not only that, but daily I receive tasks from various departments that are marked as Urgent and have a COB deadline  (that means the end of the day for you non office types. Mom.) COB in California is 5pm. For me, that means 2am. So yes, I’ve had some late nights. Last night, in fact, I worked until 3am. Did I mention yesterday was Saturday? So yeah, I’ve been under a little pressure from work. And based on how many emails I sent and received yesterday  I am not the only one working on the weekends. Remember that Loverboy song that goes “Everybody’s working for the week-end”? Well that song doesn’t apply to me. Just sayin.

And now my friends, I have to get back to work. But before I go, let me just share with you that as I write this, there is an American style (?)  rodeo/horseshow literally in the field next door. Complete with American flags flying. Announcers blabber (in Italian)  and music plays over the loudspeakers for 12 hours straight – Shania Twian and Willie Nelson, and when they run out of country CDs they play Lady GaGa and Jay-Z. Oh and right now, they just played the American National Anthem to present awards to a group of 6 year olds. You can’t make this shit up.

Italian children horse show contestants wondering when the US National Anthem with finish and the DJ will get back to playing Jay-Z. Photo taken from the balcony of boyfriend's house.

Italian Minibike races

Last weekend, the second Italian minibike series in the season commenced. GP (that is the boyfriend) has a bike/rider in this series every year to hone his engine and chassis building, tuning and team management skills.  We went to support the new engine and to have some fun.

Minibike racing (50-80cc two stroke and 125cc fourstroke) is a big thing in Italy. It’s professional, very competitive and draws a big crowd. There is quite a bit of money involved, as in most racing, but not usually minibike racing. There is also just as much posturing as any other racing series, with photos and numbers of the pilots on the side of race rigs and campers. And of course a lot of guys who think they may as well be in the world championship just because they won a few races. They tend to wear their shades any time they are not on the track.

The bikes must all line up at the starting gate before the ten minute qualifying.

Lunch break is an hour and a half. People pull out the long tables and BBQs and tons of food. And wine, which everyone drinks including the pilots. This is normal for any lunch in Italy. Why should racing be an exception? Why indeed.

They also indulge in harder spirits before the races. For real.

The racing itself is pretty exciting, with lots of shouting and cheering from the sidelines and crowds. I don’t have any photos because they look like any other racing photos you have seen. Throughout, GP wrenched on his bikes. And yes, his rider won all his races.

Dinner in the little town was so stereotypically what Americans think of when they imagine Italy, it was almost embarrassing. Just look at this guy. Of course he is making pizza.

The pizza was delicious but it was the mustache that deserved an award.

Incidentally, this guy is probably from Southern Italy by the looks of him. Northerners generally hold a lot of resentment against the South. I even saw graffiti in this town that said Dio salve il Nord – God save the North. However the transplants who come to work in the North are respected, because unlike the rest of the South, they are working.

And that, my friends, is your cultural lesson for the day.

More motard

Dudes, I have such a long way to go if I’m going to race. I seem to be learning to ride a motorcycle again. But let me start from the beginning.

I got the Honda that I am purportedly supposed to race all season. My BF (yes – by BF I do mean boyfriend) conveniently has a dyno room in his workshop. So he dyno’ed it for the owner and did other electronical testing and voodoo to it (I actually do know about mechanics and can change the top end of a two stroke cylinder and basic things like that but I won’t go into uninteresting things like that, especially now that I already have…but I digress.)

So anyway, we had the bike.

And did some stuff to it.

And then I rode it.

And then I crashed it. (By the way those are an old pair of Randy De Puniet’s Gaerne boots on my feet. They fit me perfectly and are now in my possession.)

And then I got back on the Yamaha which is slower, has no slipper clutch, doesn’t slide nearly as easily, but the geometry is better and so I am faster on it. Hey, I never was a dirt bike rider and I don’t know how to muscle a bike. Maybe I will need to learn to do this soon?

Oh yeah, then the next day I crashed the Yamaha.

Did I mention how I am doing with the MX part of supermoto? No I didn’t and that’s because there has been none. It has been too muddy on the MX part of the tracks to practice and by practice, I mean learn, since I’ve never taken a supermoto in the dirt before. I think this team made a wise choice with me, don’t you???

So, on to more bike stuff. The Italians take pocket bike racing very seriously. Here is a local mini bike track we stopped by on a weekday. Note the work stands, astro turf pit surface (their own) and sponsor stickers.

Some dude was modifying his old scooter he brought in the trunk of his car by sawing off the back fender. You know, less weight = more HP.  I think some new tires would help too.

And that’s all the moto news I have for now.

Supermoto adventure in Italy

I just spent a week in Chivasso, Italy doing a little riding (actually I am still here but going back to Spain tomorrow).  Originally, I was going to ride various bikes: some at the track, maybe a couple off road, but then there was some talk of a supermoto team wanting a girl to ride this year, and I had available to me a Yamaha 450 so I decided I wanted to give it a try. I mean, I had two whole days to learn to ride supermoto before the guy came to see what I could do. Plenty of time.

The bike was stock, with supermoto wheels and a roadrace brake. The first day at the track was my second ride on a supermoto ever, and it was so much fun I didn’t even care if the team wanted me or not.

On the first day, I was the only person on the track until the afternoon, when some karts and cars showed up. Trackdays are run a little differently out here. Spectators or pit crew stand whereever they want, run across the track or walk all over it. At one point, three people stood at the transition of a fast chicane, with only some cones between them and my oncoming bike. I kept thinking… what would they do if I blew this chicane and just barreled straight into them like bowling pins?

The second day at the track I figured out body positioning a little better. I was still the only person on the track until the afternoon.

It was so cold my hands would freeze after 4 laps and I had to stop and stick them on the pipe to defrost them. But the guy came out for an hour to see what I could do. Of course, I pushed it and tucked the front on the fourth lap out, but he said I should go talk to the shop to let me give one of their bikes a try. I would definitly need to learn how to use the rear brake first….

I couldn’t practice the next day because it snowed. So on the weekend we drove 3 hours to a track in San Remo, on the coast where it’s much warmer. Of course when we arrived, the track proprietor had rented the whole weekend to a group of people who rented all their karts. This is after we called that morning to make sure the track was available to us. So I ended up riding in a (rare) parking lot to practice using the rear brake.  A group of kids gathered to watch upon hearing the engine noise and I’m surprised I didn’t crash trying to impress them.

We stayed at a friends place that was something like a bed and breakfast on the side of a mountain. It is a farm, though positioned on such a steep hillside the name farm calls to mind something entirely different. The proprietor is a sharp girl in her early 30s who inherited a wheat farm from her grandparents and built a small inn and a restaurant. She prepared the entire meal, from growing the food to cooking it, and her boyfriend served us. Her boyfriend races supermoto and sportbikes, (from whence the friend status comes) and the restaurant was decorated with farming tools and racing trophies. We were the first guests to stay there, as it opens in a week.

We had an amazing dinner. All the food and wine was grown in hothouses on the property. We started with an aperetivo  of white wine…

With olives from the trees outside the door and an oversized loaf of bread made with wheat flour grown on site…

And chopped stinging nettles(yes, those weeds that when you grab them sting the shit out of your hands) fried in olive oil…

First course was spaghetti with mussels, clams, calamari and big shrimp. And a salad of celery, tomatoes, walnuts, and some other stuff I don’t remember because I didn’t take a picture.

Second was…some kind of fish I don’t remember and potatoes and rosemary (broth grown there of course).

Dessert was an apple cake, which we were sent off with more of in the morning.

Homemade lemon grappa to finish it all off (in a Carrefour bottle).

In the morning, we just drove the three hours right back to Torino and straight to the track. It was Sunday, so there was quite a crowd of minibikes, supermotos and karts. Snow was on the side of the track but it was just warm enough to get the tires to grip.

Later in the day, a guy let me try his 2010 Honda 450, all set up for supermoto with aftermarket triple clamp and offset, supermoto brakes and a shortened swingarm. It was great, so easy to turn and slide with the lowered front, it was even easy to crash, which I did, right in front of him. Oh I’m ready to start racing again all right…