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Moto Guzzi, 2018 Le Mans Mk II Airforce... A Tribute to Giovanni Ravelli

By: Jeffery Steele / Photographs Courtesy of Death Machines of London

Giovanni Ravelli, The Legendary Aviator, World War I Fighter Pilot and Motorcycle Racer

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When Carlo Guzzi established the Moto Guzzi Motorcycle Company, he didn’t have to look far for inspiration. The motorcycle he christened “Airforce” was not only dedicated to but profoundly influenced by the heroics of Guzzi’s long-time friend Giovanni Ravelli. A legendary aviator, World War I fighter pilot, and motorcycle racer, the audacious Ravelli stunned early 20th-Century onlookers with his blazing speed, earning the label the “Italian Devil.” After Ravelli’s death at age 32 in 1919, Guzzi teamed with Ravelli’s squadron mate Giorgio Parodi to found in 1921 Societa Anonima Moto Guzzi in Genoa, choosing as their trademark the eagle symbol that would grace its machines evermore. Their “Airforce” motorcycle served as a testament to the notion nothing correct is ever convenient. The inconvenience required to design and expertly craft the motorcycle was evident in every component, from its hand-honed body to its streamlined chassis. All would serve as quicksilver testaments to the indomitable spirit of Giovanni Ravelli.

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Airforce... A Tribute by Death Machines of London

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To celebrate the 130th anniversary of Giovanni Ravelli's birth, Death Machines of London (DMOL) in 2017 bestowed the ultimate honor upon the Italian Devil. Within its iconic workshop, DMOL hammered out a custom tribute to the Moto Guzzi Le Mans Mk II, better known as "Airforce." The result is a motorcycle of such aerodynamic design that it would appear more at home racing through clouds than along byways. Firestone tires harken to the biplanes of aviation's first decade; a lenticular rear wheel and swing arm evoke images of the cutting-edge aircraft of yore. From its hand-beaten aluminum frame to the streamlined silhouette that looks lightning fast while standing stock-still, DMOL's Airforce is a wholly felicitous salutation to the memory of Giovanni Ravelli and to the fire he stoked in the generations of death-defying speed merchants to follow.

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A Tribute to the 130th Anniversary of Giovanni Ravelli's Birth

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To create its masterpiece, Death Machines of London started with a 1982 Moto Guzzi, the company's expeditionary force found moldering in a Southern Italian junkyard. The motorcycle had lost a battle of wills with a lorry and been left to corrode in the salty sea air. Still, its promise was evident to DMOL, which shipped the relic to its London works and promptly commenced stripping down and replacing parts. Finding the engine in surprisingly good condition, the team replaced bearings, seals, and gaskets, refurbished cylinder heads, modified the carburetors, furnished the rear with a hand-spun aluminum disc cover, and outfitted the suspension's lenticular rear wheel and swingarm with a Hagon-made, aeronautically-inspired rear suspension unit. Finally, DMOL delivered the crowning touch, blanketing its machine in a coat of custom-blended “Airforce Grey" certain to transfix anyone sighting the streamlined dazzler.

Death Machines of London has Created a Masterpiece Tribute to Giovanni Ravelli

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Motorcycles aren’t often compared to priceless watches. But in the case of DMOL’s Airforce tribute bike, the comparison is not just fair but inspired. The world’s greatest watchmakers meticulously integrate every finely-honed component of their bejeweled, intricately engineered timepieces. The DMOL team of bike builders insisted on the same ceaseless attention to detail in refining its testimonial to the greatness of Airforce. For instance, the builders entrusted the bike’s braking to a couplet of billet four-pot Brembo calipers, cabled to remotely control the Brembo master cylinder. DMOL kept the design of the 300 mm rotors in-house, devising one-of-a-kind all-steel specialty parts. Even the speedometer underwent a wholesale makeover, its nickel silver and brass housing precision machined, and its radial illumination rendered dimmable via a dedicated controller. Simply put, the rigor and exactitude accorded the building of Airforce would likely delight the most scrupulous and painstaking watchmakers in all of Switzerland.

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Inspired by Fine Watchmaking, Airforce ... A Tribute to Giovanni Ravelli

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These days, convenience is endlessly trumpeted as something to be sought, savored, and experienced repeatedly. Marketers everywhere tout the convenience of commutes, of stores, and of meal preparation, to name but a few. Convenience simplifies or saves labor, making life easier and more comfortable. But is convenience something to seek or to eschew? Convenience was given no quarter in the creation of the world's greatest treasures. All required limitless time and toil but ultimately proved well worth the sacrifice. So it was with the creation of the Airforce. Assembled in 112 days, its completion date serendipitously timed to the unveiling of Bike Shed 2017; Airforce demanded at every turn its creators sidestep the easy way out. Had it not deemed the belly pan in need of rebuilding or the levers in need of re-engineering, the DMOL team might have savored a few moments of relaxation. But that would have been the convenient thing, not the right thing. The conceit might have fooled others but would not have fooled DMOL. Somewhere up there, the Italian Devil is flashing a devilish grin.

Watch Video: Moto Guzzi, 2018 Le Mans Mk II "Airforce"... A Tribute to Giovanni Ravelli

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