Moto Guzzi Rally

A Pilgrimage for the Guzzi Faithful

By Melissa Holbrook Pierson, Photography by Joe Sokohl

I am at a gas station in northern Pennsylvania on one of the oldest highways in America doing what I love best: sitting on the curb eating a luggage-smashed sandwich in the company of the vehicle that brought me here. I am scribbling in a notebook a few of the 600-odd thoughts I’ve had during the past 140 miles (tank limit), and looking at my motorcycle; through it, also—air is its heart. A bike is both solid and insubstantial. I write that down. It’s a good metaphor for pretty much everything.

And it makes strange sense; I am heading for a gathering that is both as unlikely as chance and as absolute as blood: the 41st annual national Moto Guzzi rally in the Virginia foothills of the Shenandoah, Buena Vista.

Guzzisti are themselves a peculiar lot—a bit like their gorgeous, unrefined, air-cooled motorcycles, first conceived in 1920 by three World War I veterans of Italy’s Corpo Aeronautico Militaire and built in a village perched on the rocky shore of Lake Como. Guzzi riders are “independent thinkers.” An owner of one of Mandello del Lario’s output is most likely to retorque his own bolts, possibly wearing a tee that reads “Moto Guzzi: Going Out of Business Since 1921.”

I know motorcyclists who have never been to a rally, but I don’t understand them. A rally is a combination community barbecue, mutual need society, and tent revival. It is the usual ride, writ large: four days and hundreds of miles; four nights of beer, bourbon, mediocre potato salad, campfires, and campfire tales; 400 buddies, not four. We will meet whatever comes—pain or pleasure, or usually both—together. The banner hung from the park pavilion’s rafters proclaims a truth, “Moto Guzzi: A World of Friends.”

On the first day, I choose the back roads that my bike—a 1986 650cc Lario—prefers. I am traveling old-school with tent and sleeping bag strapped to the seat, paper maps, and a route sheet in the vinyl map pocket of my tankbag. I had to make a guess at the junction of Interstate 180 and, lo, it does not in fact run north-south as it does in my road atlas. OK, then, west. I had a fifty-fifty chance of being right. I have never won the lottery, either.

But I chose correctly, in a way: the way of the journey. I have discovered an amazing road in Pennsyltucky. Route 74 from Port Royal to Carlisle exceeds every criterion the motorcyclist asks—little traffic, uncountable curves, and scenic surprise. That I had to go 100 miles out of my way to find it is no matter. I eat a quick meal in my motel room in Maryland as the friends I’m meeting return from their pub dinner. For some reason my notion of what constitutes excellent grub reverses itself on a motorcycle trip.

We are finally on the Blue Ridge Parkway the next morning, when Tom from Massachusetts drops out of sight in our rearview mirrors. We double back to find him at a scenic overlook—the main seal on his lovingly restored 1973 Eldorado had given way. It’s not a Moto Guzzi event without leakage.

Tom gets on the phone to a fellow 60 miles away who immediately agrees to come with a truck. Once at the rally, the Eldo trades places on another rallygoer’s trailer with his Norge. Tom would head home at the end of the weekend on a fully functional late-model machine; a kindness extended simply because both men had, one day, found the same object of an outwardly inscrutable affection.

By Melissa Holbrook Pierson
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