Aprilia RSV4 1100 Factory
Mugello, Italy
March 25, 2019

by Sam Q. Fleming 


183, 184, 185mph…oh fuck it…I am not looking down any more. 

The windshield is feeling pretty ineffective as the Arai chin bar crushes against my mouth. I aim for the tricolore paint that delineates the track from pit out and grab about a meter of it for my own use to get a straighter shot to the brake markers for turn one. And then I hit “the rise.” “The rise” used to light up rear tires and commit other mischief, but the TC and the winglets are keeping the Aprilia relatively calm given the velocity at which we are traveling together. Halfway past the 300m board I sit up and discover that, actually, the windshield had been doing a remarkable job of insulating me from the air resistance generated at 190 mph. The positive side of the wind trying to pull my arms out of their sockets is that it counteracts, to some degree, the ferocious bite of air cooled Brembos converting 130mph of stored energy into heat. All of this is pretty stimulating, which makes the autoblip down-shifting welcome.

All that is ugly in the world melts away as I am on my favorite race track, on my favorite motorcycle. Welcome back to Mugello.

Adopting Passions: Track Riding with the Army Of Darkness
Inde Motorsports Ranch and Yamaha Champions Riding School

By: Hiyori Yoshida           

I feel the pressure in my arms as I hear Chris’s mantra, “brake brake brake,” in my head as the forks compress, turning into the apex onto the straightaway. I hunch low on the gas tank, my right wrist holding the throttle wide open. I finally get the speedshift right and catch 4th, 5th, then finally, 6th gear. I can’t help but grin, my cheeks pressed against the sides of my helmet. For the first time, I feel like I’m letting the motorcycle fly free at its full capacity, with no trees, ruts, cars, or speed limits, and full traction.

Five years ago, racing into a twenty-mile-an-hour headwind chasing the four-time Army of Darkness championship racer Chris Peris astride a Yamaha R3 would have never seemed possible to the 15-year-old, quiet girl living in Japan. Growing up in Japan, I was taught to be respectful and not stand out, ever. I feared motorcycles and anyone associated with these loud, large, dangerous vehicles, since in Japan, motorcycles are taboos that provoke affiliations with the mysterious and scary Japanese gangster mob, the Yakuza. My wariness about motorcycles completely flipped when, at age 15, I got adopted by the captains of the multi-national endurance championship team Army of Darkness (AOD).

Peaky Bikers
Tuning For Speed: the Vincent Black Shadow
Part 1

by Sam Q. Fleming

I suffered through a childhood deprived of motorsports. This hardship was offset, to some degree, with unfettered access to groaning shelves of books. At the impressionable age of 12 I came across “Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas” by the late, great, Hunter S. Thompson.

Consuming this tome was a highly educational experience which indelibly marked my psyche in at least three ways:

  1. The adoption of Gonzo Journalism as my personal writing style.
  2. That declaring “On the advice of counsel…” magically invokes indemnity for any activity.
  3. The mystique of the Vincent Black Shadow.

Peaky Bikers
Tuning For Speed: the Vincent Black Shadow
Part 2 - Bang

by Sam Q. Fleming

Our beloved, and soon to be obsolete, four stroke gasoline engines require a spark delivered at just the right time to ignite the fuel air mixture which drives the explosive force of the burning fuel through the piston and rods into the crankshaft. For those of you not steeped in the theory, your engine’s connecting rod are kinda like the long bits on a bicycle crank. The pedals where you clip your feet are the pistons. Your legs, in this metaphor, are the burning fuel.

When the pedal/piston is at the very highest point of its rotation it is at Top Dead Center, or TDC. Anything that happens before that—valves opening, closing, or sparks igniting—happens Before Top Dead Center or BTDC. Anything that happens after TDC is, therefore, occurring ATDC.

Photo by AOD Ministry of Information

Peaky Bikers
Tuning For Speed: the Vincent Black Shadow
Part 3 – Suck

by Sam Q. Fleming

Imagine you’ve got a nice glass of water with a straw sitting in it. Close your lips around the top of the straw, suck in, and the water flows up the straw. If you live at sea level, you’ve got a column of air about 35,000 feet tall on top of the surface of the water in the glass. That column of air weighs 1 atmosphere, or 14.7 pounds per square inch. When you suck on the top of the straw, you are reducing the pressure at the mouth end of the straw versus the pressure that is on the water side of the straw. That causes the water to flow from the high pressure (glass) side to the low pressure (mouth) side. Replace glass with ‘float bowl’, water with ‘gasoline,’ straw with ‘needle jet,’ and mouth with ‘intake stroke,’ and you’ve got yourself a primitive fueling system!

Using a wider straw, you get more fuel and a richer mixture; using a narrower straw, less fuel and a leaner mixture. Following the metaphor, as the level of fluid in the glass/float bowl drops, a float opens a little valve to allow more fluid in. That system, to keep the glass always half full, is the float and float valve mechanism.

Peaky Bikers
Tuning For Speed: the Vincent Black Shadow
Part 4 - Anchors

by Sam Q. Fleming

My misspent youth involved a fair amount of riding around the country with a tent strapped to the back of a 1970 BMW /5 while wearing inadequate weather protection. That /5, currently hanging from a hook in my basement awaiting time and attention to bring it back to running order, has a twin leading shoe front brake and a single leading shoe rear drum brake. With an incredible amount of care and attention they could be made to work acceptably, for a 1970 motorcycle, when all brakes absolutely sucked.

In the mid-1980s a neighbor recklessly invited me to ride his 1950s BSA Goldstar. Imbued with the overconfidence of youth, I set off. I arrived at a green light only to find that an elderly woman had decided to roll through her red light in an approximately 5000’ long El Dorado. I got on the binders only to find that the low speed initial bite almost immediately faded away to nothing as I helplessly drifted through the crosswalk and narrowly missed her tailfin.

Drum brakes indeed.

Piaggio & Vespa Assembly Line and Museum
Pontedera Italy
March 22, 2019

by Sam Q. Fleming

Photos: Sam Q. Fleming

Given my cultural predisposition to rockers, not mods, it is understandable that I was wholly ignorant of scooter genesis or technology. Assuming, gentle reader, a similar ignorance on your part, indulge me in a little history as it eventually gives birth to the industrial era’s “David,” the Aprilia RSV4.

Piaggio follows a narrative arc not too dissimilar to Kawasaki. Both were founded as national champions of heavy industry. Both built railroad locomotives and rolling stock.   Both built aircraft and aircraft engines for the Axis powers. Both had their manufacturing plants obliterated by Allied bombing. At that point they diverge in strategy, with Kawasaki continuing to make rolling stock and ships while Piaggio focused more on individualized transportation and aerospace.