4 lessons I learned from my 18 months with a ’60s Italian motorcycle

Non-factory parts included the seat, air filter, handlebars, and pipewrap. The rear brake linkage had to be re-fabricated after purchase so the bike could stop.

It looked so sweet in the Craigslist ad. But if I’d known what I was in for when I signed the title and strapped the bike into the truck, I never would have bought that Gilera. I went through 18 months of old Italian motorcycle ownership, survived, and came out wiser—and a little more humble.

Here are four lessons I learned:

Do your research

I was always a fan of the speedometer mounted in the headlight bucket. The red light was a high beam indicator.
Kyle Smith
I was always a fan of the speedometer mounted in the headlight bucket. The red light was a high beam indicator.

I purchased a 1967 Gilera 106SS on an impulse. It looked cool and I could afford it, so I went for it. I should have taken a few minutes to poke around online and investigate if parts were readily available, how much knowledge was out there, if it actually held the value that I was purchasing it for. Turns out that undoing some of the hack work done by the previous owner required fabricating parts because finding original parts was a royal pain in the ass. Tuning the small four-stroke single engine was also a hassle; I only had the Italian service manual to look at, and I can’t speak or read Italian. There were a few online sources for help, but mainly just photos of motorcycles, and not much of a community to assist.

Ride it, but not too far (wear comfortable shoes, just in case)

This was where the Gilera could be found on most any ride—stuck in a parking lot awaiting rescue from the pickup truck.
Kyle Smith
This was where the Gilera could be found on most any ride—stuck in a parking lot awaiting rescue from the pickup truck.

The Gilera is 106cc four-stroke single, meaning it had about as much power as a motocross bike designed for 10 year old. It was good around town, but 45 mph was asking a lot with a grown man on top. I tried to ride it as much as I could, because my commute is relatively short. Since I was riding it often, it quickly earned its nickname—One Way. Between carb issues, constant plug fouling, and the throttle cable breaking, I found myself walking home no fewer than a dozen times. At the end of my ownership I had it running more reliably than ever, but I still never rode farther than I was comfortable walking.

Know the history

The previous owner added a set of clubman style handlebars which looked neat but caused binding in the clutch and throttle cables.
Kyle Smith
The previous owner added a set of clubman style handlebars which looked neat but caused binding in the clutch and throttle cables.

The vast majority of times that I took the Gilera out of the garage, someone asked me about it. It was a motorcycle they hadn’t seen before and weren’t familiar with, and they wanted to know more. Slightly customized, it confused some folks who thought it was a factory build. Being able to talk about how Gileras were sold through the Sears catalog and about some of the fun little details, I looked like an expert even though I certainly was not.

Make sure it looks good in the garage

No doubt good looking, but an absolute headache.
Kyle Smith
No doubt good looking, but an absolute headache.

If your experience is anything like mine, this lesson is extremely important. The bike had better look good in the garage because that’s where it will spend most of its time. You know, sitting in a corner leaking from a different gasket each week. I don’t have an excess of garage space, so in the winter I wrestled the bike into my basement, where I couldn’t help but stare at it every time I needed to do laundry—wishing, of course, that it was running like it should.

This is just my anecdotal experience, so take it with a grain of salt. Buy the motorcycle you like, ride it as often as you can, and enjoy the adventure it brings. Mine just happened to be learning to fabricate parts rather than exploring new roads with friends.

Now the Gilera is gone and a different motorcycle has taken its place. A new adventure is on the horizon, but if I ever need to fabricate parts again, I’ll have my crappy Italian bike ownership to thank for learning how to do it.