Mar 23 2009 Harriet Ridley
I WAS eight when I walked past the Trevi fountain with my dad for the first time. He'd chosen Rome as his next assignment in his job as foreign correspondent for UPI.
He'd spent time in Italy as a journalist in the 50s and loved it. No matter how much time you spend away, he said, Rome never changes. It really is the Eternal City.
And he's so right!
Here I am on a new Moto Guzzi in Rome, 15 years after leaving Italy for the UK, riding past my mum's favourite restaurant down the road from where I spent my childhood and teens.
And the restaurant is still standing. So is the garage, the flower shop and the bar I'd stop at for a Cappuccino in the early hours of Sunday mornings on my way back from clubs. It's here in Rome that I nurtured my love of bikes that would dominate the rest of my life.
My dad, a World War Two hero decorated with the Military Cross for bravery, always forbade me to go near motorcycles. He was on the front line in Italy, but insists the time he came closest to death in the war was on his motorcycle.
Of course, I disobeyed. I could never afford a bike of my own. But it didn't stop me riding pillion everywhere I could.
As I hit my teens, a prerequisite for being my boyfriend was to own a motorcycle. My most vivid memories are of Giovanni. He had a really cool Honda CB1100F Super Bol D'or. This was the late 80s, and motorcycle safety was a relaxed affair in Italy, especially in summer when things got hot.
We had helmets, but we slid them over our elbows rather than our heads. I'd ride pillion to and from our favourite beach on Lake Bracciano on the outskirts of Rome in a bikini, espadrilles and hair blowing freely in the wind. I have no idea how I ever survived those years. Or how I ever got those tangles out of my hair...
Moto Guzzi also does the nostalgia thing, and it does it to perfection. The famous Italian brand is still trading on the glory days with bikes like the new-for-2009 V7 Café Racer that I'm riding across Rome.
It's basically the same bike as the V7 Classic launched in 2008, but with café-racer style low and slanted handlebars. And it really looks the part. As standard the seat is for the rider only and it's very spacious. But you can get a twin seat and pillion footpegs as optional extras if you prefer.
I felt instantly comfortable as I clambered on board, my five-foot-six frame fits the bike beautifully, and you can afford to be a lot shorter as the seat is low. But you can't afford to be much taller - the tall journalists on the Roman launch had their knees up against the handlebars!
I just couldn't stop revving the engine - the deep, throaty growl of Moto Guzzi's twin cylinders is music to my ears, and I'm certain the engineers must have played around with the harmonics from the exhausts it sounds that good.
The engine is full of low-down torque, brilliant in traffic and power comes in smoothly with no jerks as you roll on and off the throttle. The gearbox is surprisingly slick and the controls are light, which contribute to the delightful ride. It handles beautifully too.
But if you're experienced and like a bit of speed, then the engine runs out of puff rather quickly. It only puts out 42bhp and I had to keep the throttle pinned round the corners to keep myself amused.
This Moto Guzzi is spot-on for people new to biking, or enthusiasts who love to bimble along rather than dust off all-comers as I prefer to do.
In fact, Moto Guzzi is keen to appeal to a young customer with its V7 Café Racer. It's a crowd who wouldn't remember the days when Moto Guzzis won all races and built the most beautiful bikes.
But it doesn't matter because anyone can see the V7 Café Racer, like the V7 Classic, looks stylish and straight out of a motorcycle history book, with a beautiful finish. It will also cost just £6,270 when it becomes available in April.
The Moto Guzzi Café Racer is the perfect entry-level bike for the style-conscious new biker. And it's a gorgeous motorcycle for the Moto Guzzi enthusiast who loves to finish off a gentle ride along the back roads with a cuppa down at the Ace Café.
Moto Guzzi Café Racer
Engine: 744cc, 90º V-twin, two valves, electronic fuel injection
Performance: 47.6bhp at 6,800rpm, 40.3lb/ft at 3,600rpm
Chassis: Steel tubular twin cradle with removable lower components
Transmission: Single plate clutch, 5-speed gearbox
Suspension: (F) 40mm telescopic forks (R) Preload and rebound adjustable twin shocks
Brakes: (F) 320mm disc and four-piston callipers (R) 260mm disc with two-piston floating caliper