Starling on the Slipstream

What the hell do starlings have to do with motorbikes? Here’s what.

From Wikipedia:

Starlings are small to medium-sized passerine birds; the species familiar to most people in Europe and North America is the common starling. Starlings have strong feet, their flight is strong and direct, and they are very gregarious.

From the band Pavement:
 I heard what you said
The leaders are dead
They’re robbing the sky
I can hear their followers cry…

Starlings on the slipstream

From Italian, the most musical of languages:
A starling is a stornello. Stornello is also used to refer to an old folk song, as in “C’era uno stornello così da noi.”  ( “That’s a little song we used to sing back home.”)

From Moto Guzzi:
This little bird is a 1972 Stornello 125. It’s a pretty darling starling.


And this little bird is a 2016 V7II Stornello. My new Guzzi Stornello, a little song I brought back home, my starling on the slipstream.


Isn’t she pretty? I’m in love with an Italian bird-bike, and I think I like it.

So how’d this red-and-white Italian beauty come to nest in my garage, next to a honking Super Ténéré, a waspy Italian little cousin (my Vespa GT), and a forty-year-old BMW airhead? Well, here’s how.

Last summer, after having had a multi-year itch for a classic bike and finally scratching it, I found myself the proud and newly-obsessive owner of a classic airhead: an all-original, completely unmolested 1974 BMW R75/6.  I wrote about it here.


My airhead has been (and still is) a total hoot. Between the low seat, gently-raked bars, relatively light weight, and friendly overall ergos, the slash 6 is incredibly comfortable and easy to ride. I’ve done hundreds of delightful, low-key miles ambling all around southwestern Connecticut with her, and she never fails to turn heads, or the corners of my mouth upright into a smile.

But old-bike ownership has revealed a few things to me. First, if a forty-two-year-old bike is officially designated a “Classic” (note the special plate from the DMV below), then what is its fifty-two-year-old rider’s proper designation? Relic? Fossil? Antique?

Second: “classic” charm requires a certain love for (or generous forbearance with) classic technology. No matter how good the preservation or condition, riding a vintage motorbike is still an out-and-out mechanical experience, an analogue counterpoint to today’s inescapably digital world.

For starters, airheads run on carburetors, little metal contraptions that—with the twist of a throttle—fill up with gasoline and oil, which gets vaporized by a stream of vacuum-induced air and detonated in the cylinders. “Carburation” is achieved through a Rube-Goldberg assembly of needles, butterfly flaps,  floats, and bowls, cleverly assembled (Bingo!) into this:


It’s primitive technology for sure, but not entirely without fascination or charm. The same can be said for many other aspects of this vintage beauty. Everything is purely mechanical and manual, like the choke. The clutch lever provides a vigorous left-forearm workout, and if you use it enough, you might even develop asymmetrical limbs. Shifting requires some aggressive pre-load from your toes to avoid gear clattering and clunking. The brakes, while disc, are 100% analog and unassisted by technology. Which can produce some thrilling/terrifying/upright-sliding moments, especially when deer decide to make a surprise appearance. Don’t ask how I know.

And finally, with my airhead (and apparently 95% of all the other ones) you have to get used to the gas/oil equivalent of “pee stains” on one or both of your shoes, because forty-year-old airheads tend to dribble more copiously than the fifty-year-old men who ride them.

All of which, getting back to my earlier flight of fancy, is what starlings have to do with motorbikes.  A starling is why I decided that I’m not ideally suited to be part of the airhead flock. A starling is why I grudgingly put my airhead up for sale (still pending). And a humble starling is why I decided to take a flyer on this.

It’s a 2016 Moto Guzzi V7II Stornello, or “starling.” The Storny (as I’ve come to call her) is a factory scrambler variant of Moto Guzzi’s seasoned and successful V7 line, taking the basic architecture of the V7 (now in its second II series), but adding a brilliant red powder-coated frame, wire wheels and knobby tires, a high-mount Arrow exhaust,  fork gaiters, rubber tank grips, and several delicious aluminum bits, including machined foot-pegs, laser-etched fenders and number plates, and a micro-aluminum front fairing.

Caution: hi-resolution bike porn ahead.

I mean, how could anyone resist? I first spotted the Storny on the showroom floor of Hamlin Cycles in Bethel, CT.  I’d driven up there in the drizzle to test-ride a garden-variety “V7 Stone” as part of their “Guzzi Demo Day” promotion, just curious what a more modern air-cooled motorbike would feel like.

But the V7 Stornello was sitting there all by her lonesome, aloof and apart from the broader flock of V7 Racers, Specials, and Stones, next to a sleek new V9 Roamer…

The little red and white scrambler just called out to me like a sweet summer song. I made the fateful mistake of swinging a leg over, saddling up, wrapping my hands around the grips, and glancing down at the headstock.

It was Stornello #51. This graying bike-obsessive was also 51. A sure sign. Kismet. It was beshert.

So after some hemming and hawing (and help from Jim Hamlin, Adam Zuckerman, and a sweaty checkbook), I went from bird-watching to bike-buying. Jim gently guided my trembling hand towards the signature line, and with a squiggle and stroke, it was done, and she was mine. Just in time to turn 52. HBD to me.

Happily, the Storny is air-cooled, just like the airhead. She’s also low, light, easy to throw a leg over, and incredibly comfortable (and SOOOO fun) to ride. And just like an airhead, she’s propelled by a clean, maintenance-free drive shaft (not a dirty-bird chain).

But here, the parallels with a vintage BMW airhead end. The lil’ Guzzi might have all the optics and “emotion” of a classic motorbike, but she’s resolutely modern. Goodbye carbs, hello electronic fuel injection. Deceleration is assisted by ABS, which IMHO ought to be required equipment on all new motorbikes (and I guess now is). Wet road handling is made safer via electronic traction control. And the speedometer doesn’t make a gyroscopic whirring sound, since it’s not actuated via a set of gears and cables attached to the spinning front wheel.

I still haven’t sold the Beemer, although together, they make a pretty handsome couple—two birds of an airhead feather, flocking together.

But there’s really only room for one “classic” in my garage, and in my life.  And I’m going with the one that has classic looks, but a higher-tech soul. Anyone in the market for a pristine R75/6?


One response to “Starling on the Slipstream”

  1. Nice write up! I too scratched the vintage itch with a 73 R60/5, it has been a season of “working the bugs out”… ? The day I purchased said bike, I also test rode a 2015 V7 II, over the past few weeks I have started to question my decision.

    The Moto Guzzi is on my short list for the next bike.


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