When I decided to ride in this year’s Motogiro d’Italia I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I had been doing related research and had written an article on the history of the event for The Vintagent.  However, I had never participated in any kind of motorcycle competition before and quickly had my vision of what a road “race” means transformed.

A few of the machines gathered in San Marino for the start of the 2021 MotoGiro. [Domenico Vallorini]
All-out racing on the streets has been banned in Italy since the late 1950s, following the deaths of several racers and spectators during the Mille Miglia race.  Since the Motogiro’s revival in the late 1980s, vintage motorcycle enthusiasts have found ways to maintain the thrill of competition while reducing the risks. In the materials the organizers from the Moto Club Terni sent me a few weeks before the mid-October event began, I learned about the elaborate point scheme based on precision timing in the skills tests, appearing at each checkpoint within a determined time frame, and obeying Italian traffic laws.

Riding over cobblestones in the rain can be treacherous. [Domenico Vallorini]
At the beginning of each morning of the six day, approximately 1700 km ride from the Adriatic Coast in Misano Adriatico through the Apennine Mountains to the Tyrrhenian Coast in Grosseto and back, I received a card with my number 102 and the list of the day’s checkpoints and arrival times. My group reported to the first timed test at exactly 9:22 am every morning and then went through two more timed courses later in the day — one around the halfway point and the last at the day’s finish line, which for my group was usually around 5:00 pm. The tests consisted in covering a certain number of meters in exactly the number of seconds specified, sometimes divided into sections of differing lengths or with obstacles. Many riders secured stopwatches to their tanks to make times such as 8.8 seconds achievable. I did my best to count in my head; it worked once when, to my surprise, I actually won a section! Arriving at the checkpoints ahead of schedule, though it didn’t happen often in my case, did not earn me anything extra. It just gave me a little more time to eat the tasty snacks provided at most of the stops or visit an espresso bar for a needed warm up.

Fellow female competitors Robin Webster and Hilde Speet on their respective machines. [Domenico Vallorini]
Most of the riders in the Motogiro’s four different timed classes took the competitive side of the event seriously. I was in the Motogiro Class for the newer motorcycles; Benelli generously provided me with a Leoncino 500 Scrambler for the event. Two veteran Motogiro racers, motorcycle journalist Claudio Antonaci and Grand Prix champion Pier Paolo Bianchi also rode Benelli Leoncino 500s but they had the Trail version. My riding companion Robin Webster competed in her fifth Motogiro on her late 1960s Ducati single in the Vintage Class.  We were joined on day three by Hilde Speet, the third of just five women participants this year, who as a newer rider chose not to be timed and so entered as a tourist on her Triumph Bonneville. Hilde’s Dad and another Dutch friend rode in the Historical Re-enactment category on a 1947 Vincent and a 1948 Harley Davidson.

One of the checkpoints that keeps time for the regularity event. [Domenico Vallorini]
When I first looked at a map of the proposed 2021 Motogiro route, I noted that many of the overnight stops were in towns not terribly far from each other. The direct road from our starting point at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli to our first stayover in the Repubblica di San Marino is just 30 km, for instance. However, none of the roads took us directly from point A to point B, and we traversed roughly 300 km each day on a mix of regional highways, twisty mountain passes, and narrow  cobblestone roads that had been carefully selected for the event. The organizers provided us with detailed instructions for each day’s ride with explanations of where to turn after a certain number of kilometers. A few participants outlined paper maps and stuck them in their tank bags or inserted all of the towns into their GPSs, but it wasn’t really necessary because each day the full route was marked with yellow and pink arrows attached to signs and other landmarks the mechanics removed once all riders were accounted for at the final stop. I admit I had doubts about how well that would work, but it did; in six days we missed arrows only twice and even then quickly relocated our path.

The Benelli group at an end of day stop. [Domenico Vallorini]
Despite all of these helpful tools, the reality of competition meant that I placed on just days three and five. The first day was rainy and cold. I was on an unfamiliar motorcycle on roads far more challenging than any I had ever ridden on before: multiple downhill hairpin turns at a steep grade; tight uphill off-camber right turns on the edge of cliffs; roads split into different surface levels from bad weather. Robin and I completed the first full route, but we were late to our checkpoints and thus disqualified.  At the end of the second day, a few of us decided to skip the last two checkpoints and go directly to our final destination in Todi. On day four, a Vespa rider lost his balance and fell into me, causing me to fall. My bike landed on top of me and the front brake lever broke.  The Leoncino arrived at our stop in Spoleto in one of the mechanic’s trucks, as did Robin’s vintage Ducati, which broke down at about the same time. I sat out on day six because I needed to have a pre-travel Covid test and couldn’t risk a late arrival, which ended up being the right choice because Robin ran out of gas that day.  My best place was 7th, not bad for a first time Motogiro rider in a highly competitive category. Most importantly, I gained first-hand insights into the realities of a multi-day motorcycle competition and I had a great adventure.  If you’ve never done something like it, I highly recommend you give it a go!

Wendy Pojmann wheeling through the corners in the Italian mountains. [Domenico Vallorini]
For more about the 2021 Motogiro d’Italia check out my short videos on YouTube at WhyWeRideTogether:  and visit the official Motogiro d’Italia website to learn more about past and future events.

Wendy Pojmann at the finish line after a successful ride. [Domenico Vallorini]


Dr. Wendy Pojmann is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Siena College in Albany, New York. Her most recent book Espresso: The Art & Soul of Italy was published by the Bordighera Press in 2021. Pojmann’s current project explores the social and cultural history of motorcycle coffee culture. She splits her time between Rome and upstate New York. Follow her on Instagram @wendysespressolife.
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