Mid-Atlantic Italian Motofest

Text: Chris Myers • Photography: Chris Myers

The hills echo the sweet Italian music from a finely tuned pipe orchestra. The players are twins and singles, their maestros, riders with a passion for the road and a weakness for the beautiful dissonance of dry clutch rattle and the faint whine of gears. Heads turn in the beautiful countryside as the Orchestre di Motofest brings it's own slice of Italia to historic Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

About six years ago, my friend Travis stumbled across a sweet deal. You know the deal I'm talking about: the slightly damaged bike that's totaled by the insurance company and resold at a song. The kind of deal that always seems to elude me. Anyway, the bike was a Ducati 900ss. He put some money into it, fixed the "damage" and had it souped-up some. I believe it had some kind of carbon fiber exhaust canister on it that created a note that was truly inspirational. You could feel him coming before you could hear him. That Duc sent the feeling through your feet that the Earth had a pulse, and each and every time I heard that bike it certainly got mine racing like a rabbit's. It wasn't loud, just very present. It did not demand respect; it didn't have to. I loved the way that bike sounded and Travis knew it.

Whenever he rode by my house, he'd clutch it and pop the throttle a few times. I guess that's how you thumb your nose with a full-face helmet on. Ever since then, I've had a passion for Ducatis that has spread to Italian bikes in general, and when the offer to attend the Mid-Atlantic Italian Motofest in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, presented itself, I jumped. I packed the Bandit and hit the road. Yeah, yeah - I know what you're thinking. Look at it logically, though, Suzuki ends in an i. My GIVI bags are Italian, and there were always bandits in those old spaghetti westerns. Hey, what's the worst that can happen? A lashing with a wet noodle? Sign me up.

The Motofest is officially a two-day event. The actual show is on Sunday, but participants are encouraged to come on in a day early to enjoy the area and do some riding. I arrive for the ride on Saturday morning to a warm welcome by hosts Bill and Linda Freeman. They have actually arranged for the city to shut down a street for the gathering. There are bikes of all different flavors. Ducatis, Guzzis, Aprilias, a BMW or two, a Buell, and a Suzuki - with Italian bags.

Bill and his fellow Italophiles from the area have mapped out several different routes of varying distances and interests. All of the routes highlight scenery, history and the great roads in the Shepherdstown area. The sound of all those motors firing off for a morning ride is truly stirring. If you make it in for the Saturday morning ride, you won't regret it. Guys that know the area lead the way and it is stressed that this is a ride, not a race. Safety is the major concern.

I follow a small group of older machines because how often do I get to go riding with a group of Ducatis and Guzzis when the newest one dates from the early '70s? The day promises to be a treat for the senses. The sights and sounds from a time gone by resonate on the road and throughout the history-steeped hills of Maryland and West Virginia. Day one ends with an invitation to everyone from Bill and Linda to join them at a local Chinese restaurant for dinner. Not to worry, we're assured there will be Italian food at the event tomorrow. Bellies full and new friends made, we part ways looking forward to the big show tomorrow.

The Mid-Atlantic Italian Motofest is held at Morgan's Grove Park in Shepherdstown. Conceived in 2000 by Bill, an Italian bike enthusiast extraordinaire (there are 11 Italian bikes in his garage), the event is sponsored by The Shepherdstown Men's Club and the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Department. Bill is quick to point out that the Shepherdstown Men's Club is not just a club for men. Women are active members of the civic club and contribute on an equal basis. The club owns and for the most part maintains Morgan's Grove Park, although the space is open for public use as if it were county property. In fact, the only time of the year the park is closed to the public is for the Motofest. Bill hopes that events like this one will raise the public's awareness of the property, which he feels is woefully underused. That's too bad because the park is a wonderful setting.

The whole show is nonprofit, with all proceeds going to the Men's Club to further their ongoing civic activities. Everything you need for a great bike show is on tap at Morgan's Grove Park. Plenty of sun to make the chrome sparkle, plenty of shade to park your bike under, and a pavilion with tables and a kitchen area for the volunteers to cook up some fine food. A plethora of door prizes are given away, and there is even a $ 5 per ticket raffle for a scooter donated by Velocity Motorcycles of Richmond, Virginia. The supply of small plywood squares available to drop your kickstand on is also a nice touch. Sometimes it's the little things that impress.

But the focal point of the Motofest is the judged show. Bill has turned that responsibility over to fellow enthusiast Scott Swaltek who explains the criteria. One of the classes, Concourse, consists of perfect or near perfect specimens. These are the older bikes that have been restored to showroom condition and judged as such. Meticulous attention is paid to the details, and all aspects of authenticity, workmanship, and maintenance are pored over by the judges. There is a class called Ridden, which is for bikes that are, well, ridden. These are the machines that in all likelihood were ridden to the show or on the tours of the previous day. These bikes are essentially judged by the same criteria as Concourse except that points are not deducted for "personality" marks like minor scratches, dents, grease, or recent dirt. There is also a Scooter class and a Modern class for bikes that are post-1985. The judges certainly had their hands full and seemed to be taking their job very seriously. Finally, the machine judged "Best of Show" wins its owner a spot on the judging panel for next year's event.

Perhaps the most popular event of the Motofest is the Best Sounding category. Unfortunately, I had to leave before that took place. Probably not a bad thing for me though - the last thing my poor wife needs right now is me coming home with the sound of Italian motorcycle engines ringing in my ears. For some strange reason she's under the impression that three bikes in the garage is enough. I'd be bugging her to death if I'd stayed for that contest.

'Can I get an Italian bike, Kathy?' 'No.' 'Can I get an Italian bike, Kathy?' 'No.' 'Can I get an Italian bike, Kathy?' 'No...' You get the picture.

Guess what? I had a great time in Shepherdstown. It was well worth the 800-plus miles of interstate hell I endured to make the show. But if I'm able to attend again next year, I will certainly take a couple of extra days to enjoy the ride. If you or someone you love is an Italian motorcycle enthusiast, you should really try to make this event. Any pertinent information can be found at www.italianmotofest.com, and according to Bill, this is the only show of its kind in the region. You'll most certainly see something you've never seen before. If not in the show, then in the parking area which turns into quite a bike show of it's own. The Italian bike community is a unique bunch. Fun, friendly, knowledgeable, and maybe a bit odd, which I'm fairly sure they'd all proudly admit. Ciao!