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It's Nelly's World

That's Amore

alec vanderboom

{This piece, an interview with one of the most fascinating motorcyclists

I know, originally appeared in "Boxer Shorts," the newsletter of the

Yankee Beemers. The photo below shows the subject

running in the 2006 Motogiro d'Italia.}

For a pursuit that is largely solitary, motorcycling has a satisfyingly perverse habit of bringing people together. Across miles, even continents; over years and differences. Then the cement is as lasting as any found in human society.

Marina Cianferoni is an Italian writer (in addition to contributing to a Spanish classic-bike magazine, she is author of a 2007 study detailing every significant appearance of motorcycles in international cinema) and rider who lives north of Florence. Her story is but one of many examples of how these singular vehicles set us up better than ever could.

Our mutual love for them brought us together: I’ve corresponded with Cianferoni for a decade. Her command of English has been helpful in bridging whatever gaps our deep regard for bikes can’t cross; my Italian is limited to a few choice words picked up in the days of attempting to comprehend Guzzi workshop manuals. It was my good fortune to meet with her last December for coffee in Great Barrington, where she laid out proof that she is one of the great philosophers of the inimical passion motorcycles inspire.

For her, bikes are both a personal pleasure and, for a hundred years, an historically important aspect of culture. Not to mention a supreme matchmaker: she is sitting in Uncommon Grounds with her husband, Juan, a Spaniard who one day logged on to, looking for information about the R75/7 he hoped to buy. It so happened that this is her beloved bike—“a real friend,” she says, as she believes the relationship can be so profound that you come to know your bike almost as a person—and the machine she says she will never, ever part with. “A bike is more than an instrument; more than just a way to experience freedom. It is a creature, like a human being. Always as a child I heard my father speak of his cars and motorbikes as ‘he’ or ‘she,” and this colored the way I approached them.” That introduction left her, she says, with “a very romantic feeling.” It will be returned by the machine, she believes, “if you respect her maintenance.”

Her first bike, at 21, was a Yamaha SR250—“I really fell in love with her. It was a very easy bike to learn on. I rode this bike to work in Siena—and what emotions! to ride, alone, with my map, me and she.” Not only emotions toward two wheels, once again: she proposed writing an article about the 200-kilometer trip to the editor of a bike magazine, and he took the article—and, briefly, her heart. After selling the Yamaha due to the requirements of a subsequent boyfriend, a Greek (we agree that she would have done well to remember you get rid of boyfriends, not bikes), she borrowed a Honda VF400F from her father. That is when she learned she prefers two cylinders: “This was a very nervous bike. I developed a relationship with her, and I liked her, but the need to rely on brakes, not the engine, is not the way I like to ride.”

The way she likes to ride—on a responsive, beautifully engineered and balanced opposed twin—was literally a gift. The R75/7 (“less beautiful than a /5, but rare”) was given to her by another boyfriend. “I will never sell her, never never. Even if I was going hungry. She and I will always stay together.”

She says that in Italy, being a female motorcyclist is still relatively uncommon, and those women who ride are more often interested in competing against men on the track. But this Cianferoni finds hard to understand: she has little interest in riding fast, but much in riding well. “Like a painter, I want to draw a line through the turns that becomes a thing of beauty. Then the satisfaction is enormous.”

Like the stereotypical BMW rider, perhaps, she prefers to ride alone. The club mentality is not for her, nor is new-bike fetishism. To her, history is a continuum that lives inside each and every motorcycle, and thus the mark of a “real” motorcyclist is an abiding appreciation for that genealogy. Riders of newer models, she observes, often won’t look at her bike, an unconcern she finds incredible: “After all, she is the grandmother of their machine!” She feels the majority of bikers today are not “real” because they do not care about history or philosophy. They don’t have respect for the past, she explains, and knowledge of the past is fundamental to a true understanding of motorcycling. That is why she wrote her book on motorcycles in cinema—because movies show the history of our culture, and motorbikes are situated solidly inside culture. “The film critic does not understand this—they know cinema, but they don’t know what a motorcycle is. For this reason, I wrote from anger: I will explain to you why this is so important!” Her title is a manifesto of her theory: Due Ruote e una Manovella, or, loosely translated, “Two Wheels and a Crank Camera” (a reference to Dziga Vertov’s 1928 film Man with a Movie Camera, which contains footage of the director riding pillion while operating a crank camera), since the development of moving pictures was coincident with the development of the motorcycle. They are bound together in both the velocity of their rise during the first decades of the last century and in the particulars of their “moving,” cyclical technologies.

Marina Cianferoni is the truest of the true biker, and a passionate exponent of the power of motorcycles. Without them, we wouldn’t be friends; she wouldn’t be married to Juan; and I would not, that day in Massachusetts, have been given a package of the most unbelievable pasta I’ve ever tasted. Viva le moto.