Taking the Gran Canyon to exalted company

A pilgrimage to Italy on a Cagiva Gran Canyon to visit the legendary MV Agusta factory

Wind the clock back to September 2009. A month into my dream trip around the world, well Europe, on my motorbike and the Italian border is within reach.

With my steed being a 2000 Cagiva Gran Canyon, with the fine two-valve Ducati 900 motor, I thought it fitting to make my first bike pilgrimage to the Cagiva factory. Riding around Varese for about an hour and still no factory to be found, I sat in the park and had an ice cream. Only then did I realise how close I was, 20 bikes came screaming past me and all turned right into what looked like a cul-de-sac. Choc ice dumped, I followed suit. And there it was, a great big red sign. CAGIVA Spa.

I park up, wander around and nothing. No visitors centre, no information board, niente! Brandishing my memorised quotes from the italian phrase book, I approached one of the workers who was heading back after lunch. “Excuse me madam, (it was a man), please can you tell me how many ducks will fit into a straw slipper and whether it would be possible to eat a cheese sunlounger on Wednesdays as I have ridden all the way from Iceland to be here.”

Second attempt, this time, in pigeon English with excessive postulating and mime work that would have had Chaplin asking for his P45. He got the gist that I owned a Cagiva, this resluted in a wry smile, and then he twigged that I had ridden it from England. “Mamma Mia!” He burried his head in his hands. I tried to explain that it was an excellent motorcycle, but was left floundering.

By this point the inner sanctum of the factory was nearly revealed, but guards were manning a post as if Steve McQueen was due to blast through at any moment. I slipped into the staff queue, pretended to punch in my time card and followed the herd. I’m in, I’m in...ahhh, no, I’m most definitley not, as the fat man packing a 9mm Beretta will attest. “Oh, sorry, is this not the factory tour? I thought this was where to go. I do apologise”  This chap wasn’t stupid and gave me the, ‘I can wrestle a wild boar to death’ look. “But I have come all the way from England, ON A CAGIVA”

Just when hope dissipated, a well appointed signora came over and explained something. I couldnt hear what she said as my ears had shut down allowing my eyes 100% of brain power to enjoy her fantastic Pirelli Diablos. Smiling like a school boy I graciously accepted the branded MV Agusta lanyards and keyring, and agreed to return in November when tours would commence. I later learnt that the new F4 was being tweaked before being launched to the press and the production line was top secret.

Speeding to 88mph, Marty McFly style, I am back to 2010, this time with better luck.

Since my bike trip came to an abrupt halt, I have been living and working in Italy, to get enough cash to ride home. In chimes Mark Bishop, Visordown.com’s teaboy, rent boy and all around gofer. “We need some pics of the factory when you go back to Varese, while you’re there and all that.” No problemo.

I mention to another friend that I am visiting Cagiva/MV again and he pings an email off to his mate at MV UK. All of a sudden lights go dim in Varese as the factory fire up their irons to straighten out the red carpet. The night before I leave, another mate hears of my trip and forwards me an email from the boss of MV, Giovanni Castiglioni (Mash his name and the town up and you get CAstiglioni GIovanni VArese). My mate sold GC an exhaust for his Bentley Super Speed and kept in touch. “Sure, I am back from Milano in the afternoon, and will call Ross when I am back.” Get in!

Riding the bike for the first time without 60 kgs of luggage is a dream. Well I say luggage, I meant two pairs of pants, half a toothbrush and a box of Swan Vesta, and 59 kgs of spare parts, tools and Italian build quality reversal devices. 20 minutes later and the heavens opened, and they stayed open for the next 4 hrs until it was dark and I gave up, pulling into a motel for the night. Apparently that isnt the same thing in Italy, as the clerk pondered my lack of prostitute and showed me the per hour price list. Luckily a luxury hotel on a building site, next to a football ground had a vacancy and would only relieve me of a whole days wages for the privilege. It's three stars might have become two as my panniers smashed themselves against the fresh alabaster walls and my boots left a nice soggy Alpinestar print through the lobby and up the marble stairs.

Quick hop, step and a jump to Bologna to get some more parts from Ducati and on to Varese. Before I die, I am going to seek out the person responsible for the road signs in and around Milan. I will then get them to kneel on the ground next to my bike with their manhood outstretched. With the back wheel spinning furiously they will be pushed, nob first into the blur of spokes and sprocket.

A time later I reach the Cagiva/MV Factory, park in the same spot as last time and waltz in, with a Begbie from Trainspotting confidence in my stride.  The same gun toating fat man is on the gate, I smile and announce that I am a journalist, here to see the big man, Signor Castiglioni. Visitor pass swinging from my original, but now very grubby, MV lanyard I make my way to meet Alessia, who is to instigate the VIP treatment.

Giovanni’s office is something else. Achingly cool crash helmets are pride of place on the vast bookshelf, with two of Ago’s in the middle. An MV branded snowboard and skis in the corner, an MV mini moto in the other. This guy is living the dream.

After a coffee and pleasantries Alessia asks if I would like to take a bike for a spin. “Well only if it is not too much trouble” my mouth said, with my brain muttering, “you are rubbish at riding sports bikes dummy, what are you doing, please not the F4, you have no self control, today is the day you die and leave your family with an €18,000 debt.”

“Fabio, please prepare a new F4 for Signor Sharp. New tyres and fuel” Bugger!

Then there was a tour of the MV Agusta factory which I was unable to concentrate on as I was soon to be unleashed onto Italian roads with a near 200bhp beast under my quivering ass.  And there it was, gleaming in the sunshine with fresh cut slicks ready to get me to an accident really quickly, oh, and they left the stickers on the tyres, how thoughtful.

Enduro lid on, and black visor down. But somehow my grin was poking out of both sides as I rumbled towards the security gate. I think one could smell the smugness as I nodded at the fat man to open the gates.

Here we go!! First couple of roundabouts were taken as if the road was made of ice and ball bearings, with baby oil holding everything together. Confidence grew very quickly as I wiggled through the traffic and roadworks and out into the countryside.“ Right, bollocks you only live once” said my mouth, So very true said my brain” as it sent some jazzy electrical signals to my right wrist.

James Whitham et al, please explain to me why on gods earth you need something this fast on a public road?! I am no pussy, pansy or scaredy cat but seriously, this is ridiculous. First lap of the lake is a sighting lap, 20kms or so to work out what is what, and to relocate my rotator cuffs after a triple digit brake test.

Second lap and the traffic had eased slightly, enough to overtake half a dozen cars in one go without feeling like the bloke from the Ghost Rider DVDs. All the way around the roundabout and pin it, come on man up you pussy, if the copper asks you, just say “oh, a 50kmh limit, the sign is in Italian, I thought it said 150!) I did my impression of an oil drilling derrick through 4 gears and turned around for another go. This time I knew what was coming, called down to Captain Scott in the engine room and put in my request, hunkered down, shifted my weight forward and jammed the throttle to the stop, and made acquaintances with Reverend Limiter.

After letting the engine pop and bang on overrun for a good 500 metres I realised I had forgotten to ask the speedo for pub bragging stats, damn it. Oh well, will consult the manual when I get back and see what it says under ‘throttle cable stretched in 4th’.

Calmly trundling back into the factory I felt satisfied with my mature behaviour that had heeded to the experience that tells you when enough is enough of a good thing. Although this was tested as Alessia asked if I wanted to go out with one of the test riders, I declined in the knowledge that when your mum told you to come in for tea, and you stayed out playing for just that bit too long, your teeth got smashed in, or the skin on your knees disappeared to be replaced by itchy gravel and Savlon.

Smile still super wide and adrenal gland going like a epileptic at a techno rave, I stepped into Giovanni Castiglioni’s office for a chat and a coffee. Well dressed, immaculately groomed, devilishly handsome, sockless feet in expensive loafers and a rose gold Rolex Daytona on the right wrist. That’s him by the way. I have mismatched and ill fitting enduro gear on with 12,000 miles of riding grime, a Triton t-shirt, silly MV lanyard and a 2ft grin.

After an hour of ruthlessly slick banter on my part, another well dressed and stylish man walked in and in Italian suggested that Giovanni ditch this scruffy oik and get to the boardroom. I left the premises clutching my carbon fibre MV F4 press pack, wondering which items of clothing would be left behind to make space.

Needless to say, the trusty Cagiva fired up first time. But now felt like the engine was a diesel, with Ready Brek for oil and a riding position to make a mahoot comfortable.

See, its all about who you know, not what you know. Oh, and according to the manual, 4th is good for 155.1mph.

Click here for Ross' tour of the MV Agusta factory

For more on MV Agusta click here