We’ve all seen the photos—grainy shots of exhausted-looking Italians, draped over small-displacement Singles, cigarette dangling from a lower lip. Photos from the great era of Italian motorcycling, the 1950s, when buzzy little bikes competed in time trials on public roads, time trials like the Motogiro d’Italia. This fabulously celebrated and fondly remembered race that covered over 5000 miles of public roads, before a tragic accident ended public roadracing events in 1957.
What was remarkable about the giri were the small sizes of the comepting machines. Classes started at 75cc and worked up to the big-bore 175s—sounds like a big bore instead of small-bore, but thousands of spectators lined the routes and competition was incredibly fierce. When you think about it, why do you need more horsepower than your shoe size to have fun on a motorcycle? If everybody is giving it all they’ve got, bumping elbows, drafting and making kissing-close passes, that’s racing, even if you’ll struggle to break the speed limit.
This kind of racing is emotionally evocative, so you’d think the OEMs would be stepping over each other to build a ‘giro replica…and you’d be wrong. Not even Ducati, one of the last (functional) major brands to have actually participated in these events has traded on that stock, though Vespa gets kudos for building rally-themed scooters (yes, they raced scooters). And that’s a shame, as the simple, clean, racy looks of these bikes are just what our Spartan post-bust culture would seem to relish.
Enter industrial designer Adrian Van Anz, a man with a lust for small, lightweight cafe racers. He’s got big plans to introduce the American Velocity Works (AVA) Swift, a machine with vintage looks, modern engineering—and a Chinese-built price tag. Anz says the motorcycles are being built by Longcin, a China-based company that also makes components for BMW.
Anz introduced his new bike at the Quail Lodge Motorcycle Gathering in Carmel, California on May 4. Anz says he was influenced by 50s, 60s and 70s cafe racers and GP bikes, and it shows in the Swift’s humped seat, low drag bars, skinny tires and long, long fuel tank. Fit and finish, say those who have looked at the bike up close, is much better than the average Chinese-built motorcycle—easy to do on a press-launch prototype (all it takes is time and money), hard to do at a factory used to churning out simple, low-cost basic transportation for developing nations. Anz says he can do it, by paying more for higher quality and value, but “for the Chinese, this is a huge culture shift.”
The styling is nice, but maybe you’re wondering about performance? After all, there’s no replacement for displacement, right? I’d say you’re mostly right, but you can make up for less power by shaving weight. I speculate the 249.4cc overhead-cam Single may produce power in the mid or even high teens, which doesn’t sound too impressive until you hear Anz’s claim that the bike will weigh under 200 pounds. Then you can expect a triple-digit top speed, snappy acceleration and handling that will redefine nimble.
Other details: its got full lighting, will be 50-state legal, has real rearset footpegs, electric and kick start, has optional passenger accommodations (for an up to 165-pound passenger, which means that the bike’s load capacity is greater than its weight) and a front disc brake. Pricing will start at $3950, according to Anz. I’m looking forward to my first test ride. I may even start smoking. Ciao!