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MBE Verona, Sideburn Choice

Sat on a gridlocked M25 is not how I like to spend my Friday night. With nearly another hour of driving to go, I’d kind of lost interest. Frustrated, tired and hungry (a great combination) I was looking for a silver lining to all of this.

I was making the ‘big journey’ down south to Gatwick airport, because my Dad and I were flying out to Verona for the Motor Bike Expo. Just as my patience and mood on the M25 dipped and I considered ramming everybody out of the way my phone rang, it was Gary, Sideburn's editor. Immediately I acted as if I was emotionally stable and ready to take on my challenge, Gary tasked me to sight out the best ‘Sideburn-esque’ bike while at the MBE for it to win the magazine's award. Easy I thought…

Having never been to the show, I didn’t quite know what I was actually expecting. The show is huge and full of bikes from the beautiful and brilliant, right down to the damn ugly and impractical. Unlike any other show that I had been there was a massive presence of independents, not just massive manufacturers showcasing their latest models. So immediately my nice little task became not so little, due to the sheer volume of bikes on display, the massive halls I kept getting lost in and, of course, my very indecisive nature.

After repeatedly circling said halls,I spotted American Flat Track styled plates on a bright blue framer. Upon closer inspection I saw the bike had a KTM LC4 engine, very similar to a bike previously owned by my partner, George 'Greenfield' Pickering. I know how well these bikes can go, which increased my attraction to it. At a first glance the bike seemed to encompass Sideburn’s ethos; transforming a bike built for the road to a dirt track racer, the custom tank, the knight seat unit, shortened stock forks and the fact that it all looked so tidy- ticking all the boxes for me. I had to find out more.

Later that afternoon I returned to the stand to track down the owner. There was a lot of loitering going on around the bikes, I then clocked a guy wearing a KTM hat but a Norton tee… how very conflicting. I flagged him down in a very British way, trying not to impose but almost scaring him off. Excuse me is this your bike?' 'Ahh yes, yes,' was the response, a sigh of relief from me for the fact that he spoke some English, already far better than my Italian. After a brief exchange and trying to emphasise that I was not there to take his bike away from him, I arranged to come back the next day and learn more about ‘Sliding Blue’ built by Luca Sorrentino and his friends from Just Bike in nearby Venice.

Sliding Blue is the result of a hand drawing by Luca, brought to life by Just Bike. Luca described how the bike was built with four principals in mind. Firstly, a custom made tank. Two, a Knight seat unit. A stainless exhaust, again handcrafted. Finally, Luca’s emphasis on keeping the bike as classic and stylish as possible with the bold blue colouring isn’t just any blue but the exact same blue of the 1970s KTM GS’. Paying homage to classic KTM’s is something Luca is passionate about. The fine details of the bike are again acknowledged by the fact that the stitching in the seat are the same blue. All other aspects of the bike are more or less standard to the original, the suspension, the engine and 17in wheels, which Luca chose to keep due to ease of supply in Italy, instead of running flat track 19in wheels. The front radiator is taken from an Aprilia 250 so instead of the standard two vertical radiators, it’s just one horizontal, which, he says, proves far more effective.

I was impressed to see such a bike, alongside many others at this show which have roots in flat track racing. Like many, Luca loves the style of the flat track scene, in particular the classic framers that hard not to love. Having seen the likes of Kenny Roberts and Bubba Shobert in magazines, with their effortlessly cool style Luca was inspired to create something similar. Adding to that is his admiration for GP greats, like Rossi and Nicky Hayden who both dedicated a lot of time to riding flat track, he explained how all the good racers realised the potential in the transferable skills that can be gained from riding flat track.

Luca and I discussed the rise of Flat Track in Europe; however, he describes to me how in Italy the sport is still small but growing, thanks to the ‘Over the Top Flat Track Series’ and their promotion of the sport. One of the biggest challenges facing the Italian flat trackers is the lack of suitable tracks with the whole Over the Top series only running from one track. It’s also important to remember that Sliding Blue wasn’t built with just sliding in mind, the bike is road legal and one of Luca’s regular rides, although it’s hard to envision when everything on the bike is so immaculate. Luca is adamant that if the opportunity arose he would take straight to the track from the road on the KTM, but the suspension of the bike is still standard, and he does feel that the forks are too high.

The number boards? Well the bike has nothing to do with AFT’s Davis Fisher but is simply the year Luca was born and seeing as he commissioned the bike for a special birthday it was all very fitting- adding the AMA and AFT stickers for effect.

Seeing bikes like this at international motorcycle shows really makes my heart sing as a flat track racer. It’s a credit to the growing presence of flat track throughout Europe and the awareness of what is going on Stateside.

And that’s why the KTM was my choice for the Sideburn mag award.

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