Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tuscan Loop - Gearing up

I dragged myself out of bed at the villa we rented in Cappanori just southeast of Lucca. The neighborhood rooster made my iPhone alarm redundant.

I showered, grabbed by motorcycle jacket and photo gear, pulled on my summer riding gloves and climbed into the back seat of our rented Fiat 500L.

It was seven-thirty as we pulled up and out of the steep gravel driveway and began weaving our way through the narrow, twisting, hillside backroads headed to Noleggio Moto Toscana in Pontedera. My son Jonathan took the wheel hurtling around blind corners with Italian brio. My son Andrew rode shotgun handling the GPS, adding timely hints (no! Right, hard right!) and blasting tunes from his iPad over the Fiat's Bluetooth.

We pulled into the rental shop's parking area. The front door to the shop was wide open. A comforting sight. I'll be the first to say that the shop doesn't look like much, but never judge a book from its cover, as the saying goes.
I strolled into the shop lined with Vespas and a few motorcycles. I spotted a distinguished looking gentleman in the glassed-in office at the back of the shop. Guessing it was Roberto, I introduced myself.

He rose to greet me, struggling somewhat with a pair of crutches. He made a face explaining the cast on his foot. He had been riding and was sideswiped by an errant driver. Having experienced what it means to drive in Tuscany the previous day, twisting our way to Siena, and on to Montefioralle, it's a wonder to me that half the riders in Tuscany aren't hobbled with broken limbs.

As Roberto worked on the inevitable paperwork, I selected a helmet. I settled on a copter style open face helmet with a full face shield. I would have picked a modular, but that option wasn't available. I wear vintage Bausch and Lomb aviators with loop-around arms. A full face helmet just wouldn't have worked.

I dutifully signed the rental forms, here, here, and there, inserting my signature opposite Roberto's X marks. I'm a lawyer, so I read nothing.

Roberto went about the remaining paper-shuffling with the enthusiasm you might expect. I busied myself with the helmet, installing my Sena SMH10 headset which went on without any difficulty at all.

Satisfied with that bit of work, my attention returned to the business of getting a bike ready to roll.

The black Piaggio MP3, the only MP3 in the shop, was parked Italian style, the second to last bike in the long line of bikes in the shop. Roberto grimaced at his foot, and apologized that his colleague would be there soon to get the bike out. I asked if he minded if I took on the challenge. He sized me up quickly. I guess I looked convincing enough in my Corazzo 5.0 jacket with the ModernVespa patches and 10,000 mile badge. Roberto nodded his approval.

When I say that the bikes were parked Italian style, you'll understand if you've ever been to a major Italian city, like Rome, or Florence.
You can certainly wedge a piece of paper between the bikes, maybe even a piece of cardboard. But that's about it. I angled the handlebars on the MP3, then angled the handlebars on the neighboring BMW GS, sucked in my gut, held my breath, and edged myself between the bikes.

The MP3 was on the centre stand. I straddled the bike. Roberto was quite focused on the proceedings. I held the rear brake firmly and rocked the bike off the stand. With the back wheel locked, the bike barely moved forward and dropped off the stand. Roberto looked at Jonathan and Andrew and said appreciatively "your father knows what he's doing". He looked visibly more relaxed now. I released the MP3's parking brake, turned on the ignition and released the front wheel locking mechanism. I gingerly walked the bike out of its parking spot into the open area in the centre of the shop, executing a four or five-point turn. Roberto added "your dad's really good!" There have been prouder times in my life no doubt, but I confess that I couldn't think of any at that precise moment.

I flipped the kill switch to the run position, held the rear brake and hit the starter. The MP3 stuttered to life, purring gently in the confines of the shop. Keeping a little pressure on the rear brake, I twisted throttle and rode the bike to the shop door. I negotiated the door sill, angling the handlebars gently left then right to avoid touching the door frame.

I hit the switch to lock the bike's front suspension which holds the bike in a vertical stance, and engaged the parking brake. As I switched off the ignition I found Roberto had followed me out. He patiently explained how to use the ignition key's multiple functions to release the rear trunk, the underseat storage, and the fuel filler lid.
Copyright Roland Mager
Copyright Roland Mager
Much of the explanation was lost on me because Sonja and Roland had pulled up to the shop on their Vespa GTSs and half my attention was focused on them.  Fortunately Roland was paying attention and he was able to show me how to unlock the underseat storage a little later on.  Sonja's orange Vespa GTS 300 i.e. Super Sport is a brand new bike purchased in Germany. Roland's red GTS is the bike he had in Vancouver. I had ridden behind that bike a few years back.

We indulged in the inevitable rider chit-chat while I stowed my camera gear and rain jacket in the MP3's storage compartments and installed the RAM mount for my GoPro camera on the right mirror stem. A few more minutes were lost as we struggled to pair our Sena helmet headsets. With those preliminaries dispatched, I said goodbye to my sons, we saddled up, fired up the bikes and merged into the morning traffic on the Via Pisana.

None of us had eaten, and we all needed to gas up, so a few pit stops were in order. We stopped first for some coffee followed by a refueling stop.
Copyright Sonja Mager
 Then we hit the road headed southeast towards some of the very best spots Tuscany has to offer.


Unknown said...


Very clever of you to meet up at the Vespa rental place. What ! you just left Jonathan and Andrew there hungry and starving whilst you went and had some refreshments ? after they were kind enough to get up early to drive you there in the 500L. What does the "L" stand for ?

I see part one is picking up the Vespa. Can't wait for part Two "the lunch".

Riding the Wet Coast

RichardM said...

It's beginning to look like any trip to Tuscany should be for months not weeks!

Entertaining post.

David Masse said...

Bob, JD and Andrew were fine. When they left me they went shopping for breakfast goodies for the gang back at the house. No one suffered.

The "L" is for... "large"?? Who knows, but it's the SUV in the Fiat 500 line. Jonathan was the designated driver for that car, and he hated it. I think it's because the drive train was the same as from the base Fiat 500 which might be fine in the smaller car, it sucked in the large 5 seater.

We rented a Ford Focus station wagon and I have to say I loved it. It handled really, really well on the twisties. When the twisties were tight, I was in second gear with the engine close to the redline. Pure joy. Jonathan even struggled in 2nd gear in some spots, even with the pedal to the metal.

Both cars were diesels.

Don't hold your breath expecting some lavish Italian feast. We contented ourselves with bruschettas in Volterra, followed by gelato in San Gimignano.

David Masse said...

Thanks Richard.

I assess the risk of Tuscany as follows:

- One week: not nearly enough.

- Two weeks: will leave you wanting more.

- Three weeks: there is a decent chance you'll never leave.

Trobairitz said...


David Masse said...

Lots and lots of fun :)

The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.