The Little Motobi That Could

The Little Motobi That Could | RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel

Tearing through a small village on the Adriatic Coast, the thundering sound of our redlined engines reverberates off the ancient stone walls in a glorious cacophony. This group of breakaway riders is determined not to relinquish a single position, collectively disregarding posted speeds as mere suggestions. The crowds lining the streets cheer us on, adding to the adrenaline rush.

This isn’t as dangerous or as irresponsible as it sounds. It’s the 2005 revival of Motogiro d 'Italia, the famous Italian road rally, and all the contestants are pre-1957 small-displacement machines. So, how much trouble could we actually get into with 12 horsepower?

The Motogiro began in 1914 and went on to become the premiere motorcycle road race in Italy. This was when road rallies for motorcycles and automobiles were commonplace in motor mad Italy. The event was a kind of gentlemen’s competition based on maintaining a strict time schedule with a number of daily “special tests” for bonus points. However, following the deaths of several racers and spectators at the Mille Miglia—a popular automotive rally—the Italian government put an end to open-road racing in 1957 and Motogiro disappeared.

In 2001, Ducati partner Dream Engine resurrected the Motogiro as a bi-annual vintage event. I had been invited to participate in the five-day rally as a journalist, with Ducati providing a 1957 Motobi 175cc, a machine that was one year older than myself. Prior to this, the closest I’d been to any vintage machinery was seeing them behind the velvet ropes at bike shows and auctions. I’d rarely heard one, let alone ridden one. All that was about to change.

Introduction to My Mount

Throwing a leg over the diminutive Motobi, I was immediately aware that the motorcycle had all the presence of a feather between my legs. Despite it representing the height of racing machinery in its day, it felt very toy-like—a tiny bar, tiny triple clamps, tiny everything. This race version had a full bubble windscreen and partial fairing. The little 175cc single-cylinder engine produced an estimated 12 horsepower and had such unimposing compression you could actually kick the engine through with your hand.