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Motor racer Sarah Bennett-Baggs feels quite at home hairing around motor circuits in her pink Porsche but she is racing right out of her comfort zone by taking part in the gruelling Milano-Taranto d’Italia on a 1967 Triumph T100 SS motorcycle.
She will be accompanied on the ride by her husband Mike Thorne who will be riding another fine old British classic motorcycle, a 1967 BSA Hornet.
Milano-Taranto d’Italia – huge test of stamina
At 1,800km (1,120 miles), for Sarah especially, it will be a huge test of stamina. She is an everyday rider but the longest journey she has ever made was the 400km (250 miles) trip from her home in Bristol to Stafford for the Classic Motorbike Show and back – even then the journey was broken by an overnight stop.
Sarah struggled with the multitasking needed to safely ride a classic motorbike and talks with mixed emotions about that first road trip: “I was fumbling my way through a box of neutrals; trying to stop with spongy drum brakes and get used to the pedal being on the wrong side of the bike.
“I had chronic pins-and-needles which comes from the vibration… all this while constantly looking over my shoulder because I had no mirrors and flapping my arms about for hand signals because I had no indicators.
“By the time we reached Stafford I was tired and emotional. But by the time we got back to Bristol the next day, I had fully embraced the classic biking vibes and was loving it.”
Sarah’s fabulous day on a 1957 Triumph Street
Sarah has extended her classic biking skills with a “fabulous day” out on the road with bike racer David ‘Spike’ Abraham.
“He gave me some sound advice and top tips for road positioning and cornering. I spent the day riding around the pretty north Cambridgeshire countryside on his 1957 Triumph Street – now I am feeling much more confident in my own riding ability.”
With renewed confidence, Sarah is all set for the 32nd Milano-Taranto organised by the Motoclub Veteran San Martino. The event was originally held in the 30’s and then resumed in 1950 but authorities put the brake on all motorcycle road racing in Italy in 1957 after a series of bad accidents.
In 1987 a group of classic bike enthusiasts decided to organise a commemorative run along the original route and to celebrate the classic machines that used to ride along it. It has run every year since.
Milano-Taranto d’Italia bikes must have been manufactured in 1967 or before
The Milano-Taranto d’Italia is no longer a race but an endurance event over six days with riders completing around 200 miles per day. The bikes taking part are all classics which must have been manufactured in 1967 or before.
Mike has an eclectic mix of classic motorcycles – including classic trials and pit bikes, a 1960s Malanca moped, a Monkey Bike, an Indian built Royal Enfield and a GS1200, which is his daily ride, but he and Sarah bought the two 1967 bikes in December specifically for this event.
They are confident they will stay the course. Both bikes have had a major service but, apart from the fitting of indicators and rear view mirrors, the bikes are both true to the original production models.
Sarah is well known in the motoring world as editor of the Auto Addicts magazine and website and she had been racing cars since 2004 when she won a place in the all women championship, Formula Woman.
Before that she had many media and marketing jobs working on automotive accounts, running track days around Europe, and managing a Porsche racing team.
Her exploits on the race track led to a sponsorship deal with the Adrian Flux insurance group, of which Bikesure the motorcycle insurance expert, is a part. Out of interest, and ideal for touring events such as the Milano-Taranto d’Italia, Bikesure offers cover for 180 days European travel (90 days per trip), as standard for most policies.
Sarah still has her pink Porsche 911 SC
She said: “Since starting racing I have raced every year since 2004. My partnership with Adrian Flux started in 2007 with support for endurance races in a BMW E36 M3 and grew from there.
“Since then I have been lucky enough to have raced a BMW E46, BMW Z4, Porsche 911, Aston Martin GT4, but these days I stick to racing classics. We have a Healey 100, and Healey 3000 and I still have my pink Porsche 911 SC.”
Despite her experience on the track with four wheels she has had to do a great deal of prepping to get road ready on two wheels.
“I have been riding around Bristol to increase my road miles and I went out with a local IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) Roadsmart instructor to learn some defensive riding techniques – I have been noticing all sort things I didn’t notice while driving a car, even very familiar landscapes feel totally new on a bike.
“I generally think bikers make safer car drivers – you become more aware of what is going on around you on a bike.
“Often car drivers are wrapped up in their own little heated world and they can be blissfully unaware of other more vulnerable road users.”
“I sold my Honda S2000 sports car to buy a Suzuki SV650”
Sarah has only been riding motorcycles since 2008 when she sold her Honda S2000 sports car to buy a Suzuki SV650. Now she loves motorcycling and enjoys “the connection you get with the scenery” from being in the saddle.
She feels very at home on the Triumph but she was very close to repatriating an Italian machine for the tough Italian endurance ride.
“It seems a Moto-Guzzi is the one to have, they won many times in period. They’re fast, reliable and (apparently) don’t have the vibration of English bikes.
“We were planning to hire one, but the Milano-Taranto d’Italia organisers were so overwhelmed with entries they moved the entry criteria back to 1967 and this was a 70s bike which suddenly became ineligible.”
Frisky 51-year-old Milano-Taranto d’Italia bikes are barely run in
There are 200 bikes registered for this year’s event and among the earliest are a BMW R57 from 1929 and a 1937 BMW R5 500cc. In comparison, Sarah’s Triumph and Mike’s BSA, the pair of frisky 51-year-olds are barely run-in.
The ride will take in the beautiful scenic routes of 10 regions – Lombardy, Veneto, Tuscany, Marche, Umbria, Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Basilicata and Puglia.
Each stage will include four daily stops, providing an opportunity to relax and enjoy the specialties of regional gastronomy, assuming of course, Sarah and Mike aren’t stranded on the roadside making running repairs to their bikes.
But they remain optimistic: “I think we’re as ready as we are ever going to be.
“Both bikes have had a full service, new head gaskets, new cables, new carburettors, new batteries, fresh oil, new tyres, new clutch, a brake check and fresh fluids. We have a box of spares cables and bits and we will both be carrying a few spanners and bulbs, so fingers crossed!”
The Milano-Taranto d’Italia kicks off at midnight, from Idroscalo in Milano, on July 8, and the arrival is scheduled for July 14 at Lungomare Virgilio in Taranto.
Are you off on an adventure with your motorbike this season? Email Louise Hepburn at [email protected].
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