Dave Richardson the legend behind Guzziology

Guzzi site

Conversation with Dave Richardson, Moto International Owner, Guzziologist, The Guy You Want to Buy a Bike From. By Kevin Hoffberg

Dave Richardson. Pic by K Hoffberg.

I met Dave a couple of years ago when I first started looking to get on a bike again. He runs an outfit called Moto International.

In my mind, Dave represents everything good about motorcycling. He’s a decent, funny, extremely knowledgeable guy who cares deeply about riding, riders, his customers, and the companies he works with. In fact his devotion to Moto Guzzi, while perhaps not unique to lovers of the brand, is pretty damned impressive (Google him and see).

One of the great things about Dave is that he wants you to ride the bikes. More than one. Several. So many other dealers have so many reasons, some of them even good ones, why they don’t want you on the bikes. Not Dave. The notion that you wouldn’t ride before your buy seems daft to him. Some of that may be the clientele he deals with . . . a lot of middle-aged guys with stars in their eyes and money to spend. But I think a big part of it is just who Dave is: An enthusiast first who wants to share what he loves.

I didn’t buy a bike that first time. I bought a Ducati instead. There’s a story about that but the net of it was the bike was in my garage a year and I sold it for something else. A couple of bikes later I got a terrible Aprilia itch that wouldn’t go away. Dave was absolutely no help, offering to let me ride his entire inventory of new and used bikes, bench racing at his desk as long as I wanted, and then refusing the pressure me to buy something. How could I refuse such nefarious tactics. So I bought an Aprilia and am resolutely not dreaming about a Moto Guzzi.

I showed up today with tape recorder in hand (actually I was there for the 600 mile service for my bike), just in time to watch Dave and crew unpack his showroom floor. There is no other word for it. It’s like watching a meditation in reverse, each bike carefully rolled out with barely inches to spare on either side until there are actually several square feet of open space on the sales floor. Or maybe it’s the “customer area.” I’m not sure which. Truthfully, while it’s easer to move around without the bikes filling every square inch of the place, I like it better all filled up. There’s something about it that feels properly thrown back in time.
Yeah, it’s the kind of place that makes you want to pull up a chair and sit a spell. So do that now and read what Dave has to say about Guzzis, Aprilias, and being involved with bikes for 25 years.

On owning an Aprilia and Moto Guzzi Dealership

Moto InternationalIalways tried to get out of this and it wasn’t until we had this shop for a few years that I really committed to it [owning a motorcycle dealership].

Aprilias are a great bike. They sell because they don’t have problems and they’re so good. Guzzis are in a weird place in the market because so much of the appeal of motorcycles is based on performance.

The Guzzis appeal is kind of a rumble and a throb and feel. They are really wonderful bikes to ride on the street but not in a performance sense. It’s a hard thing to explain to people.

I call them the “Dr. Pepper Motorcycle.” They chase you down the street and force you to try it. “Okay, that’s good.” It’s kind of the same way with Guzzi.

It’s a harder thing to sell, but it’s a happy rider once someone has it. I like having the two brands because they appeal in different ways. The Aprilia people don’t understand the Guzzi people and the other way around. And that’s good. If you’re going to have two brands, you want them to draw from different places.

A Love Affair With Moto Guzzi

The weird thing about Guzzis, and this goes back to the 80s, I would have this dream of going there. I was somehow drawn to going there. That I wanted to save the brand. I was drawn there. [Dave is the author of Guzziology]

To Lake Como?

Yes. I’ve been there five times now. I got married in their town! I don’t feel like I’m the absolute Guzzi Nut. There are plenty of people way beyond me. But my fascination and this huge love of them is like this: Here’s something really good in the world and it’s ignored. How to make it better has become a sort of life quest for me. I spend time away from the shop trying to figure out how to make them more viable. I write annual reports that involve Aprila and Guzzi. Well not quite annual. Maybe over the last ten years I’ve written six or seven. They’re maybe 20 to 60 pages with suggestions for new models, distribution, parts, accessories; things that I would think would be good for the company. Do I think that everything I say would be good idea and they should do it? No. But I want to put it in front of people and see if they’re consider it.

Do they?

Yeah. Well, I guess. There are some things that I see that directly relate to ideas that I have which is satisfying.

On Dealing with Piaggio

Moto Guzzi badgeLast year at the dealer meeting, the head guy of the whole Piaggio organization was there. I get sucked into a meeting as one of their top-ten dealers in the country. It was really a gab session. And I figured this guy was just what I call a “monopoly player.” Someone who buys companies. Last time it was telecom companies. Now it’s scooters. What the hell does he know about our stuff?

He wasn’t that guy. He knew everything. He was amazing. He sat in this stupid gripe session for an hour and a half and just listened. It should have been directed to the US people. Nobody was talking big ideas that should go to the head guy. In the conversation he said, “Well we bought Piaggio in ‘02 and it was profitable in ’04. We bought Aprilia / Guzzi in ’04. There were new bikes just developed by Aprilia for Guzzi. So all we had to do is bring them to market. Immediately Guzzi looked new and fresh.

Aprilia didn’t, so we put our money first into Aprilia. And now that investment is showing up. The Shiver is showing up and will be here for next year. Now we’re turning our attention to Guzzi and trying to decide where they fit in the world. A couple of times he said, “Maybe it should be like a Rolls Royce.”

I thought, “Gee that’s a really bad idea.” They [Rolls] don’t have technology. They don’t have a place in the market. They don’t have the customers. They don’t have the dealers. The culture. Nothing. Any company can move to any position, but the farther they move from where they are, the riskier it is that they won’t make it. That got me thinking that something that needs to be said here. But that didn’t seem to be the subject of the meeting, so I didn’t break in on that. Afterwards I sent an email through channels to somebody in Corporate and said, “Can I communicate to Mr. Colannino?” It took awhile for them to come back and say, “Yes.”

He comes back with, “I like your ideas. I want to talk more about them with you.” I thought, “That’s cool.” Then I thought: Wait a minute, I’ll probably be showing some guy a T-shirt and he’ll be trying to decide between the purple one and the red one and I’ll get Mr. Colannino on the phone. I thought, “This is not good.”

So I email them back and I said, “Rather than do that, why don’t you make me an appointment and I’ll come to Italy.” They said fine.
A week later I get an email form the head of the US operation saying, “I’m working on your appointment with Mr. Colannino.” And I thought, “That’s not going to be good.” I had sent the US guy what I sent to Mr. Colannino. He said, “I agree with everything you say. But there is still that feeling in a corporate hierarchy that I’m going over somebody’s head. But I don’t’ work in a hierarchy. I don’t work for them. I’m an independent businessman. I’ll talk to whomever I want to. But still, there are obviously problems. They fussed around for a couple of months and then it fell apart. What else can I do? It’s their company, not mine. But I see such an opportunity for them.

Where to Position Guzzi

The place they put Guzzi in the market isn’t the best. For example: The Breva 1100. I characterize it like this. There are four ways to build a bike.

  1. You can make a modern looking bike with modern technology like Aprilia’s sport bike.
  2. You can make a classic style bike with classic technology like Harley.
  3. You can make a classic style bike with modern technology, like a Japanese standard bike or cruiser.
  4. What doesn’t make sense is to build a modern looking bike with classic technology. That’s what a Guzzi is.

Do you characterize the Norge the same way?

Yeah, all it is, is the Breva tarted up. That’s fine. It’s the best selling thing they’ve had in a very long time. I would have to guess the reason is, in its market, large displacement, Sport Touring, it is entirely viable. The look, the feel, the performance, the comfort, the price, and what it does are all competitive in that market. Most of what Guzzi does is not. They are low performance and high price. Well, they have a great charisma and a versatility a lot of bikes lack. I think they are great bikes, but there are a much harder thing to sell where we’re right in the middle of a market.

On Aprilia

I’ve heard from Aprilia that their approach is to look at a segment and the competition . . . they run their calculators and ask, “Can we build a bike that’s better than the competition for less money.” If they see that, they do it. That doesn’t mean they’re always the best or the cheapest. But that’s their approach.

That’s not to say that’s the best approach either. That’s not being inventive and having your own product image . . . who you are. You’re basically holding up a mirror and reflecting it off everyone else. That bothers me. I feel like that Aprilia doesn’t have enough individualism. They’re looking too much at Ducati. They have much more inventiveness on the scooter side than they do on the motorcycle side. More of a clean sheet vision going on.

The next generation of Aprilias will be a V-Twin based on the Shiver . . . they’ve said that engine goes 750 to 1200 ccs. It’s a 90-degree twin which will give away what’s unique with the 60-degree twin and be sort of a Ducati which it really isn’t. Rather than going with something that’s unique and arguably better, they go back to copying again.

On Guzzi Buyers

When a guy walks through the door, can you just pick him out . . . that’s an Aprilia buyer; that’s a Guzzi buyer? Well, we do have plenty of crossover buyers. My average Guzzi customer is 45 to 60. He comes in and tells me he used to have a bike and then he got married and had kids and the wife told him to get rid of the bike. Now the kids have grown up and he’s been given permission to have a bike. This happens over and over again.

To me, this is really big news for someone like Guzzi when you have such a consistent kind of person looking. When you go back to when that guy was young, it was the 70s and the 80s. For instance when I look at Kelly Blue Book from that era, there were something like 18 brands in the US. Now there are 140. But his range of what was or is, is probably a bit stuck in the past. So what’s he going to pick from? BMW, Triumph, Honda . . . the Guzzi was something that was a bit classy and upward and now he’s back looking at Guzzi.

That’s great. Give the guy what he wants. For instance I was pushing them to make something like Ducati makes with their Sport Classics. But don’t copy your own sport bikes. Don’t just copy an old Le Mans or V70 sport. So many people take their old touring standards from the 70s, T3s and bikes like that, and make them into cool café racers. So emulate your customers and not yourselves. Then you have something unique.

What came out of that? They’re making something called a V7 Classic, which is a little 750 with a gas tank that sort of looks like an old V7 Sport. The rest of the bike looks like an old Triumph. It completely ruins the idea. Based on a 750, sure it’s cheaper and lighter. But the guy I’m thinking about is not looking for a 50 hp 750. He’s looking for an 1100 with a lot of horsepower.

That person walking through the door has a Guzzi echo. He remembers it.

Exactly. Aprila doesn’t have that. I thought when we first had Aprilia we’d have a bunch of young guys looking at GSXs who wanted to come and look at these and race around on them. It doesn’t happen. These things are way off the map for them. I don’t know if they don’t know Aprilia exists, or they’re too exotic, or too expensive, or what it is. We’re three blocks from a Suzuki shop and we don’t get the 22 year-old kids looking at our bikes.

The author's Aprillia RSVHere’s another problem. I think most Aprilias, and yours is a nice exception (2007 RSV100R Factory; Black on Gray], are too adolescent in their looks. You have these big lion heads, the checkerboard stuff, the flashing graphics . . . that’s all GSX stuff. In fact, GSXs have grown up and they don’t have so much of that stuff anymore.

Aprilia would be much better off if they made a good classic looking bike like the Ducati. I put this to the brand manager in the US just before he went to Italy on one of his trips. He came back and said that Aprilia views their customer as younger than the Ducati. I was shocked. To me, Ducati appeals to guys in our age group. The Monsters appeals to the 20-somethings. We don’t have something for the 20-something.s Maybe they think the Shiver will be that bike. But most people who I see looking at those bikes are in their 40s or 50s.

On Aprilia Buyers

The typical Aprilia buyer is maybe five years younger [than a Guzzi buyer], but not a whole lot. I’ve had people come in and look at Aprilias and say, “Gee everyone has a Ducati. I want to be different.” That blows my mind because I was a Ducati guy in the 70s and early 80s. I had a regular group of friends I would do vacation rides with in Portland because there just weren’t any Ducatis in Seattle. The people who had them, they were special bikes and they never rode them.

It just blows my mind that people think that Ducati is the thing everyone has. There will always be a counter-culture bike. The Victory is for the guy who wants something that isn’t Japanese but more modern than a Harley. It’s a niche. That’s where Aprilia has got themselves. They’re the anti-Ducati. They want to be more than that, but they’re not doing a good job I think of expressing who the company is by way of being more than that.

Aprillia TuonoTo me, the two companies are quite opposite. Aprilia does everything to make a bike that performs well, fuss-free, low maintenance, very durable, all these things, but they don’t have any aura about them like Ducati does. Ducati has the aura.

Until the 1098 came out, we always had the faster, better bike. Now they have a bike that’s lighter and more powerful and almost the same price. Aprilia has lapsed because the situation of just being bought by Piaggio with more stuff on the way. So we’re in a hiatus time with no new engineering. So Ducati has run by us.

The other problem is that Ducati has introduced the idea of the 1200 sport bike. The Aprilia engine was designed to be as functional as it could be at 1000 ccs. It’s not designed to go bigger than that. A good move by Ducati to force Aprilia to build a whole new engine to move on. Aprilia has such potential to have such a great aura around them. There are three classes of GP racing for motorcycles, and three for the riders. That’s six. Of the six, Ducati won two and Aprilia won the other four. How many American’s would even know that? Who the heck cares about 125 and 250? Aprilia is involved in these classes because they always have and it appeals to young guys and scooter riders in Europe. It doesn’t do anything for us over here. They don’t seem to have enough of an idea about how to promote themselves over here.

It’s changing though. They won the ST Championship last year with the Tuono. They’ve won the first couple of races this year. They won SuperMoto this year as well as in Europe. They do well in the fringes. They need to jump into the main thing. And they’re going to.

Aprillia V4The Aprillia V4

The whole idea with the V4 is to go super bike racing and I think they intend to race in the US as well. What it will do for them, I don’t know. Where does the V4 fit in the market? It’s kind of brilliant in a way. Ducati has a V4 but they built it as a super exclusive bike. Aprilia has a chance to be more in the price of an MV maybe. I don’t know where this thing will be priced. But if it’s the price of an MV or the upper price of a Ducati, that’s a bargain. But that’s way more than an RSV is now. And the RSV is more than a Japanese bike.

So if the V4 is going to be thousands and thousands more, does it matter that it has all that performance? Will you sell a few more a year than the RSV? A lot more? Is it a better bike? It could be a worse market to be in. Maybe you get some press, but how many people are looking to but $20,000 bikes? I don’t know what the pricing will be. They haven’t hinted at it. It’s tough for them with the dollar being so worthless. How do you make anything and sell it for any kind of price over here? But building a bike that they’ll only sell a hundred of instead of something they can sell many hundreds of doesn’t make sense to me.

Maybe they can build a miracle V4. There is some hope. A Four vs. a twin: It’s more a matter of how many castings you’re dealing with. The four has the same number of castings as a twin. The fact that it will be an in-house engine vs. something they buy out means it will likely cost them less.

I could have bought something other than the RSV. It wasn’t really a financial decision for me. Maybe I’m just a life wimp, but at some point, for where I am, there is a concept of “enough” performance.

Uh, huh. And that’s not a normal motorcycle standard. There is never enough. There is always more. And in America, I think that we sometime make decision based more on what our friends are going to think of it. So do you buy a bike that isn’t the highest horsepower? Are you a wuss or something? It reminds me of when Aprilia brought a 450 and a 550 to the market. They were maybe $500 apart in price. Well who in the world would buy a 450 when you can buy a 550? If you’re going to race in a 450 class that’s fine, but if not, you’re a wuss. Aprilia said they felt like their customers were discerning enough to know their horsepower requirements. I said, “You have to be nuts.”

"The Aprilia people don’t understand the Guzzi people and the other way around. And that’s good. If you’re going to have two brands, you want them to draw from different places."

Thank you so much to Kevin Hoffberg for this amazing insight into someone who, this side of the pond at least, is known purely and simply for the remarkable Guzziology. I learn stuff about Moto Guzzi each day, a terrific by-product of working on this site, but thisis article has really opened my eyes about a number of "behind the scenes" things. Catch up with Kevin at his own site: www.midliferider.com Once again, thank you so much for the words and pics, Kevin!

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