Monday, 5 January 2015

Millepercento Moto Guzzis - Filling the Void

Millepercento Alba Moto Guzzi
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Moto Guzzi has lost its way.

The boys at Mandello del Lario represent the oldest continuously operating brand in Europe in spite of operating in a near-constant state of flux due to catastrophic insolvency and unstable sales. Over the years the products emblazoned with the eagle crest have attempted to fill nearly every conceivable niche - sometimes successfully, more often not. Despite their attempts to crack into various categories with sometimes ill-advised oddball machines, Guzzis of old channelled a certain spirit that made them appealing to a certain type of rider who lusted for something peculiar. They were sporting machines, but not sportbikes. They were a bit rough and charmingly unpretentious, but refined enough to be pleasant. They were unique, but somehow familiar, and backed up by decades of heritage – passionate machines with antiquated guts. Moto Guzzi excelled at building the prototypical gentleman’s sports machine, exemplified by iconic models like the Le Mans, the V11, and the Daytona. They were not the fastest, or the most agile, or the most useable – but they were some of the most charming.

Millepercento Alba Moto Guzzi
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But it was not to last. With their finances in shambles and profits needed to keep the lights on, a new strategy would be needed. It was a boring solution, with practicality and rationality taking precedence over passion. When the Piaggio Group took over Moto Guzzi in 2004, the company gradually phased out the true heirs to the company’s heritage in favour of dull, safe products that would appeal to the masses. Thus we ended up with wallflower machines like an asthmatic retro throwback, a chrome-addled American-esque cruiser, and a Teutonic-aping capital-A “Adventure Tourer”. Guzzi weathered their near-demise to fight another day, but at the cost of all that made them interesting.



Projects that promised to satisfy the lust of the rabid Guzzi faithful like the MGS-01 were unceremoniously dumped in favour of practical machines. The evergreen V11 was dropped from the lineup. If you wanted a true sporting Guzzi, you would no longer find one in the dealer showrooms - unless you could tolerate the brutish ugliness and pavement-rippling weight of the Griso.

Millepercento Alba Ghezzi Moto Guzzi
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There is, however, an alternative - a series of machines that fill this lamentable gap. To get one, you'll need to visit Millepercento, which at first glance would appear to be a Milan-area Moto Guzzi dealership. It is here, operating quietly under the radar, that the true heirs to Guzzi’s lineage are produced. While Moto Guzzi proper languishes within the iron grip of the Piaggio group, the dealer/manufacturer Millepercento has been producing limited series of well-developed motorcycles that serve as the answer to the pleas of the world’s die-hard Guzzistas: properly quick, modern, and beautiful sporting machines powered by that iconic transverse Italian V-twin.

MPC Mariani Moto Guzzi Big Bore Components
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There is a long and rich history of dealer hot rods in the motorcycle industry, where large dealerships with passion and capital to spare set about improving the breed. It isn't far removed from the limited production machines produced by high-quality custom shops, but when a dealer like Millepercento is involved there is a certain amount of familiarity and experience with a particular brand baked right into the mix. In the case of the BB1, Alba, and Scighera, Millepercento has applied considerable experience with Guzzi tuning and exploited several valuable contacts to create some of the most delectable road-legal Geese we've seen since Piaggio saw fit to shelve the MGS-01.  

MPC Big Bore Moto Guzzi Pistons
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Millepercento is a relatively recent entry into the motorcycle market, but one that has deep roots in the Guzzi community. The Brianza-area dealer began in the early sixties and eventually grew into Bruno Scola LTD in the mid-1990s, with its namesake, a skilled Guzzi tuner, at the helm. It was during this period under Scola’s direction that the company established its prowess as a Guzzi tuner, developing ideas that would serve as templates for later projects. It was not, however, a terribly prosperous period, with Guzzi teetering on the edge of bankruptcy at the tail end of the period of DeTomaso ownership. The Aprilia takeover in April 2000 stabilized the situation, before Piaggio stepped in in December 2004 and took over both marques. In 2005 Stefano Perego, a businessman who had worked within the supply chain of the Cagiva group and had previous dealings with Moto Guzzi, stepped in to purchase the Bruno Scola operation and capitalize on what he hoped would be a renewed Guzzi resulting from the Piaggio takeover. The company was renamed Millepercento (“One thousand percent”) Moto Ltd and moved to a larger location in Verano Brianza. At the time the new facility made Millepercento the largest Moto Guzzi dealer in the world.

MPC Big Bore Moto Guzzi Rockers
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Meanwhile, across town in the south end of Milan, an engineer by the name of Giovanni Mariani was finishing work on his latest project. Using technology and ideas gleaned from American pushrod V8 racing engines, mated with the hot-rod culture surrounding Moto Guzzi big-block twins, Mariani’s “Big Bore” engine would redefine Goose performance. The idea had originated several years prior as a template for a relaxed but powerful touring engine, but later evolved into an exercise of applying modern tuning and technology to the existing big block architecture, improving the basic Guzzi mill with some careful and significant re-engineering. While visually similar to the standard engine it is based on, the Big Bore used liquid-cooled cylinders and heads to facilitate a higher compression ratio and more extreme tuning without risking a meltdown. Cylinder and head fins were retained, while water passages were kept internal, preserving the air-cooled aesthetics. A water pump driven off the camshaft fed a small radiator that could be bolted ahead of the timing case between the downtubes of a Tonti-framed machine.

MPC Moto Guzzi Big Bore Cylinder and Head
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Bore was bumped to 106.3mm, mated to the 80mm stroke of a V11 series bottom end giving 1420ccs, with the pushrod tubes re-angled parallel to the cylinder and further away from the center of the bore to allow more room for the massive pistons: forged slipper items with dished crowns and DLC coated skirts, matched to titanium con rods with DLC coated big-ends. The top end benefitted from a new cylinder head design that was inspired by American pushrod V8 dynamics and tuning – word was that Mariani studied a Corvette racing engine to glean some of the principles he could apply to the Big Bore. The pushrod two-valve layout was retained, but the new heads had larger ports, a pent-roof combustion chamber with a very flat 14-degree included valve angle, and massive titanium valves – 53.3mm inlets and 40.6mm exhausts. Special attention was paid to reshaping the ports to maximize cylinder filling and charge swirl to achieve optimum combustion efficiency, aided by a twin-plug ignition system necessary to light up such a huge bore surface. A hotter camshaft drove roller tappets (vs. the flat tappets of a stock setup) and chromoly pushrods, acting on billet alloy rocker arms (which retained locknut lash caps for easy adjustment). Claimed power was 123 HP at 7500 RPM, with a stunning 97 LB/FT of torque at 5750 RPM - compare that to the claimed 91 HP and 70 LB/FT of a contemporary V11 engine. Later dyno runs proved the initial claims to be conservative, with as much as 131 HP on tap in “street” tune. Released to the public in early 2005, the Big Bore was offered in a package that could fit into a stock Guzzi frame, a direct replacement for any big block from the 850 up.

MPC Big Bore Moto Guzzi Engine
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The Big Bore engine had the distinction of earning Moto Guzzi a win at Daytona, though you wouldn't have guessed it if you were not familiar with Mariani’s design. Gianfranco Guareschi had taken a victory at the Battle of the Twins race at Daytona in 2006 aboard a standard MGS-01 Corsa, but for 2007 a new trick was up the team’s sleeve. The MGS-01 chassis would be fitted with a specially prepared Big Bore engine, destroked to 76mm to fit under the 1350cc displacement cap for a pushrod twin. The addition of a massive multi-level radiator and the lack of four-valve heads gave away the ruse to those familiar with the MGS, but few were aware of the architecture of the hotrod motor slotted into Guareschi’s machine. According to Mariani power at the crankshaft was 167 HP at 8750 RPM. Guareschi won the BOTT F1 category, beating two highly-developed NCR Ducatis despite having a significant disadvantage in overall weight, and took second in Sound of Thunder. Moto Guzzi proudly trumpeted their victory in the media, but failed to mention that the winning engine was not developed in-house and was quite distinct from the quattrovalvole mill that came stock in the MGS-01.  

Guareschi Big Bore MGS-01 Daytona 2007
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In 2007 Millepercento purchased a controlling interest in Big Bore Ltd. In November of that year Millepercento Ltd. was founded as a motorcycle manufacturer.  In March 2008 MPC Ltd. hired the legendary Giuseppe Ghezzi, half namesake of Ghezzi & Brian and designer of the MGS-01 during his brief tenure with Moto Guzzi proper, to design a series of heavily reworked Guzzis that would be produced in limited numbers. The company’s first offering, announced in late 2008, was the Millepercento BB1 – a modified Griso 1100 that featured a Big Bore powerplant.

Millepercento BB1 Big Bore Moto Guzzi
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Being Euro 3 compliant and street legal, the BB1 proved to be one of the most powerful street-going Guzzis of all time, with significantly more power and a lot more torque than the 1151cc 8V engine introduced by Guzzi in 2008. Using the full-fat 1420cc version of the Big Bore engine the BB1 knocked out over 115 HP at the wheel, a power output that eclipsed the stock 2-valve 1064cc Griso mill by over 50%. Claimed power was 135 HP at 7,100 RPM and 108 LB/FT of torque at 5,600 RPM. Aside from the heart transplant the BB1 was mostly standard Griso fare, with stock brakes, wheels, suspension and final drive. The only distinguishing items were a reshaped seat that narrowed the midsection, a carbon fibre belly pan, and carbon fibre side panels masking the presence of a huge rectangular radiator running the full height of the engine.

Millepercento BB1 Moto Guzzi Big Bore
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Despite the extra components claimed weight was supposedly lighter than the standard Griso 1100 at 480 LBS dry.  Price was quoted at $32,000 USD (24,190 Euros, with Ohlins suspension available for an extra 3,000 Euros), with delivery slated to begin in early 2009. Testers found that the power was impressive, with ridiculous torque that had the heavy machine pawing the sky in the first three gears. The fine handling of the Griso chassis was undisturbed, but early reviews noted the custom fuel injection setup was cold blooded and extremely choppy, with very poor throttle response. Some Italian testers didn't seem to notice – either the FI issues were sorted on their test machines, or their breathlessly patriotic assessments didn't have room for criticism.

Ghezzi & Brian Supertwin 1100 Moto Guzzi

Ghezzi then turned to developing a new chassis for an upcoming sport model that would fill the gap left when Moto Guzzi dropped the V11 series in 2005, fulfilling one of Ghezzi’s desires that he felt had been denied during his time at Mandello – the introduction of a modern, street legal sport Guzzi. Ghezzi was no stranger to building fast Geese, and his work on big-block powered sportsters is well known among the Guzzi faithful. The Ghezzi & Brian SuperTwin and its naked Furia/Fionda stablemates were bikes for discerning Guzzi nuts – they mated a bespoke chassis and top-spec running gear with a standard big block Guzzi twin, with an emphasis on fine handling and component quality over outright power. Ghezzi & Brian began when Ghezzi pulled the engine out of his personal Le Mans and built a racing chassis of his own design around it, upon which he went on to win the 1996 Italian Supertwins Championship. Ghezzi’s chassis design addressed several key issues with sporting Guzzis: aside from offering a stout backbone with better suspension and brakes, they improved the intake with an airbox integrated into the spine of the frame that isolated it from engine heat, addressed drive shaft jacking with a torque arm linkage, shortened the wheelbase by several inches, and improved real-world roadholding with a rising rate rear suspension that production Guzzis lacked at the time. The resulting bikes were considerably lighter than standard Guzzis, had superb handling, and were handsome in a functional kind of way.

MPC Alba Moto Guzzi
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At Millepercento Ghezzi penned a new chassis and styled a beautiful sporting machine that would make MPC the envy of the Guzzi faithful who pined for an up-to-date Mandello sport bike. The Millepercento Alba 1200 (also referred to as the M2S in prototype form) was unveiled at the 2009 EICMA show. The Alba was named for the Spanish Circuito de Albacete (notable for being a venue of the Endurance FIM World Championship, where a MGS-01 won its class in 2004) and featured a steel tube frame that was lighter and slimmer than any existing Guzzi chassis, hanging the engine from a tubular trellis space frame in a semi-stressed arrangement that brought the engine 40mm higher and 75mm forward of its placement in the Griso donor. Claimed dry weight was 453 LBS. Wheelbase was 57.9 inches and rake was 24 degrees, with 3.85 inches of trail – quite a bit more compact than the Griso, but not as tight as a SuperTwin. The engine, 6-speed transmission, and rising-rate CARC driveshaft were pulled straight out of a Griso 1200 8V – the internally unmodified high-cam 95x81.2mm 1151cc engine produced a claimed 108 HP and 89 LB/FT. The prototype was shown with Ohlins suspension, but production machines would come with the standard Griso 1200 Showa fork and Sachs shock while fancier bits were available as optional extras.

Millepercento Alba Moto Guzzi
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A large oil cooler was mounted below the seat at a steep angle where you'd expect to see the rear a mudguard – cool air was fed to the rear via two long ducts that flanked the crankcases and swept below the cylinders, which in conjunction with a belly pan gave the appearance of a nearly-complete fairing, if it wasn't for the big cylinder heads jutting out either side. The reason for the odd arrangement and complex ducting was simple – the liquid-cooled 1420cc Big Bore engine was an option in the Alba 1500, and if so equipped the radiator would be placed under the seat to keep the front end uncluttered. The huge 24 litre fuel tank was aluminum while the rest of the body was carbon fibre. Styling was unique and modern, with sharp angles mixed with upward sweeping curves that were reminiscent of the MGS-01, but maybe not quite as handsome. Reaction to the looks were mixed, but most pundits were happy to see a proper sport Guzzi coming down the pipe.

Millepercento Alba M2S Moto Guzzi
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It took several years before the Alba would hit the streets. Final specs were announced in 2011 with a starting price of 19,752 Euros for the base model equipped with standard Griso running gear, a brushed alloy tank, and bare carbon fibre body panels (sans bellypan). Test bikes featured some subtle modifications to the engine – a quickshifter-ready Athena engine management system, a MPC accessory clutch that was 7.7 LBS lighter than the standard item, and MPC’s “Air One” intake kit. The twin 50mm throttle body intake of the standard 8V was replaced by a single 64mm Dell’Orto throttle body feeding an alloy plenum. Similar to the intake of the Big Bore, this kit is offered by MPC as a way of supposedly improving low and midrange power, with a slight penalty at higher revs. The stainless-steel 2-into-1 Zard exhaust was also claimed to boost midrange torque. Claimed power was up slightly, to 110 HP at 7200 RPM, while maintaining Euro 3 compliance.

Millepercento Alba M2S
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Testers came away impressed with what Ghezzi and MPC had cooked up. Comparisons to the BMW HP2 Sport were common and perhaps inevitable - expensive, high-spec European machines with weirdly oriented, antiquated air-cooled twins are apparently a small niche. Comfort was secondary to handling, and the Alba delivered in that department. Agile and light handling was noted, the exact opposite of almost every Guzzi reviewed since the dawn of print. Power and throttle response was noticeably improved and (unlike the BB1) fueling was noted to be quite good. High price, limited production, and a nearly invisible market presence limited the appeal, but those who had the opportunity to take an Alba for a ride came away impressed and wondered aloud why the hell Moto Guzzi  wasn't the one building it.

Millepercento Officine Rossopuro Scighera Moto Guzzi
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In 2011 Ghezzi left Millepercento and continued his work of building hot Guzzis alongside Bruno Saturno back at Ghezzi & Brian. The Alba and BB1 remained in production, but MPC flew under the radar for the most part, only seeing coverage in European magazines and not receiving much attention outside of the Guzzi forums. With Ghezzi gone it seemed that development at MPC had slowed and was limited to building faddish customs, but in 2014 it was revealed that they were still toiling away behind the scenes on a new model. The Scighera, named after the Milanese term for morning fog, is based heavily on Alba architecture but with completely revised styling courtesy of Filippo Barbacane of Pescara-based custom shop Officine Rossopuro. The Alba space frame is retained, along with the 1151cc 8V motor, 6-speed transmission, and CARC driveshaft, but everything else is reworked to turn the Alba into an elegant, naked sportster that makes the Griso look like a lumbering Neanderthal in comparison.

Millepercento Officine Rossopuro Scighera Moto Guzzi
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The subframe is reshaped and stylized into an abbreviated solo tail with exposed alloy framework. The tail is no longer burdened by the awkward housing and intake vents for the underseat oil cooler of the Alba – the cooler is relocated under the transmission, hidden within the bellypan and fed by a pair of air scoops. Custom tubeless Borrani wire wheels are a nod to the current retro fad, but don't distract from the modern, high quality components present: Ohlins forks and shock, Brembo radial master cylinders and .484 Custom calipers, CNC milled triple clamps, and carbon-fibre body panels. A hydroformed 2-into-1 exhaust caps it all off. The styling is by no means radical, but it shows how much nicer a naked big-block Guzzi can be with just a little care - without resorting to stupid “classic” styling cues and neo-retro clichés.

Millepercento Officine Rossopuro Scighera Moto Guzzi MPC
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Technically the Scighera is not far removed from the Alba. Chassis geometry is identical, aside from the slightly different specifications of the Ohlins components. The Air One intake and an Athena GET ECU are used; claimed power output for the Scighera was 105 HP at 7600 RPM and 91.8 LB/FT at 4900 RPM. The massive cone filter for the 64mm throttle body juts through an opening in the undertail, the only aberration in the otherwise clean lines of the machine. More important than the power figure is the weight, or the lack of it: the Schighera is supposedly one of the lightest street legal big-block Guzzis of all time, weighing a claimed 419 LBS. For those keeping score at home, that’s 70 LBS lighter than the claimed dry weight of the 2014 Griso 8V SE.

MPC Officine Rossopuro Scighera Moto Guzzi
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The public ate it up, and attention was unprecedented for one of Millepercento’s projects, despite a projected price starting at 29,000 Euros (34,000 for the specification as shown on the prototype). Release of the Scighera is slated for early 2015. It’s clear that the market wants machines like the Scighera, and once again, the resounding question that arises is “why isn’t Guzzi building this?”

Moto Guzzi V12 LeMans Pierre Terblanche
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Back at EICMA in 2009, on the other side of the hall from where MPC was unveiling the Alba, Moto Guzzi proper was showcasing Pierre Terblanche’s V12 concepts. A trio of sporting machines, based on a common chassis around the 8V engine with modular bodywork and different running gear, the V12s were seen as the much-hoped for return to form for the company. Piaggio didn't agree. Despite intense interest from the market and the media the V12s were buried immediately after EICMA, stuffed into the back of a warehouse and covered with a tarp. All requests for photographs, details or interviews about the concepts were denied. The implication was that sporting machines like the V12 would be seen as an infringement on Aprilia’s hegemony of sport motorcycles within the Piaggio group. They didn’t represent the “direction” management had in mind for Moto Guzzi. Thus, the project was killed and the prototypes forgotten.

Moto Guzzi V12 Strada Pierre Terblanche
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Terblanche was disappointed but not surprised. Despite having far less brand recognition than Guzzi and being hampered by poor marketing, Aprilia remains the golden child of the Piaggio hierarchy and any designs that might encroach upon on its sporting pretensions will be summarily executed or repurposed to suit the pecking order.

Moto Guzzi V12 X Pierre Terblanche
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Companies like Millepercento are happy to fill in the void left by the distinct lack of irrational passion over at Mandello, and independent projects like the Alba and Scighera continue to demonstrate how far Moto Guzzi has strayed from its ideals in the pursuit of stealing header-wrap market share from the Triumph Bonneville and building Italian BMW and Harley knockoffs. For those who crave a modern sporting Guzzi, there aren't any options in dealer showrooms. For that you'll have to open your mind and your wallet to the boys in Verano Brianza.    

MPC Millepercento Alba 1200 Moto Guzzi
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Interesting Links
Photo Gallery
Millepercento website
Archived Big Bore website
Interview with Giovanni Mariani
Details of Guareschi's Big Bore MGS-01
Motorbox announcing Guareschi's 2007 Daytona victory
AnimaGuzzista review of the MPC BB1
Moto Guzzi interview with Stefano Perego
Millepercento BB1 on Motorcyclespecs
DueRuote on the BB1
Millepercento Alba on the Monza circuit
Motorbox MPC Alba review
Motorrad MPC Alba review
Cycle World First Look at the Scighera
Motociclismo overview of the MPC Scighera
Millepercento Scighera launch video
Officine Rossopuro website
Millepercento lineup 2015 retail prices
OddBike profile of the MGS-01
Pierre Terblanche's 2009 V12 Concepts

Millepercento Scighera Moto Guzzi
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6 comments:

  1. Aside from this post feeling a lot like an advertisement for Millepercento, how many average Guzzi devotees could afford a 30,000 Euro bike?

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    Replies
    1. Please, don't fall into the trap of judging a bike's worth by "affordability". Just because it's expensive doesn't mean it doesn't deserve to exist. Sure their price targets a different market, but that's more due to economies of scale than anything else. MPC is a tiny manufacturer. It costs a lot for them to put one of these things together, especially when they are buying and chopping up a brand new Guzzi to do it.

      I like what Millepercento is doing. Deal with it.
      ...However I don't like their "custom" arm. Google the Bellajack to see what I mean. I'm not sure how they can produce something as cool as the Alba and then something so awful as the Bellajack. And of course the BJ is solely what Guzzi profiles in their hipster bait video interview with Perego: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9i-SS6NW5uw

      The problem is that Guzzi (Piaggio) is sitting around building V7s, Californias and Stelvios all day long while actively avoiding the sport market. Companies like Millepercento are showing them up. And they aren't the only ones.

      Delete
  2. I lost track of the big bore engine during the article... looks like it didn't make it into the current MP lineup, in favor of a stock 8V?

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    Replies
    1. It's available as an option in the Alba and Scighera, and the BB1 is still available: http://www.motociclismo.it/millepercento-il-listino-dei-prezzi-2015-di-bb1-alba-e-scighera-moto-60657


      Millepercento BB1: 28.250 euro c.i.m.
      Alba 1200 (base): 27.250 euro c.i.m.
      Alba 1500 (Special Edition) : 37.750 euro c.i.m.
      Scighera 1500 (qui potete vederla in azione): 39.250 euro c.i.m.

      Delete
  3. This implication seemed to be of which flashing products such as V12 could well be viewed as a encroachment with April's hegemony connected with hobby bicycles in the Piaggio collection.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article! As a fan of Ghezzi & Brian, Guzzi and MPC I found it very useful, interesting and I learned a lot. Great to see other People with the same passion. I'm following OddBike on FB, please keep up the good work. The MPC Scighera is one of my all time favorite street bikes. The Scighera is high on my list when I will retire my Panigale from racing and go searching for a streetbike.

    ReplyDelete