Little, but real motorcyclists

A dive into the world of miniature motorcycling 

Between sharp bends and the smell of gas, the passion that unites father and son. Place the ball on the spot, ready to take the penalty. Decide in a fraction of a second, or in a time that seems never-ending for the fan, to put the ball in a net that’s 6 metres and 75 centimetres away. Or choose to risk everything by hitting a second service at full strength, without calculations. Different sports and techniques, but with the same tension inside the heart, that marks the line of demarcation between success and error.

Sport is a search for oneself, but it’s also about exploring an unknown territory that the repetitive nature of these movements, the required technical stock in trade, doesn’t pinpoint because it’s different, and new, every time. Worlds that can be discovered in a thousand ways: one of these, the highest on adrenaline, is speed. There’s Formula One and motorcycling, we all know these. Then there’s mini-motorcycle racing: kids eight or ten years old, sometimes even younger, who zip past on two-wheeled motors at speeds of up to 90 or 100 km/h.

“Dad, I want to be a motorbike racer!” is a statement that can leave you speechless and breathless, and can create fear and apprehension. Other times, however, by changing only one word, the fear leaves space for an awareness in which recklessness has no part: “Babbo, I want to be a motorbike racer!”

The term ‘Babbo’ has a distinct geographic association that links it to a part of Italy, Romagna, where speed is a category of soul. And San Mauro a Mare, with its circuit, is at the same time a real and magical place, like Macondo in Gabo Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. Here they grind out their first kilometres on a two-wheeler, they compete in their first race; even Valentino Rossi, Marco Simoncelli, Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone passed through here when they were children.

Just as is the case for adults, children’s mini-motorcycling involves Italian championships and multiple-stage regional trophies. Accompanied by parents, sometimes even with a full-fledged team, the mini-champions travel across Italy, competing on different circuits: San Mauro, Pomposa, Jesolo, Roma, Franciacorta …

A tour de force with quite a price tag: a single season of racing can require a budget of up to 20,000 euros and, in any case, even if one wants to cut costs (without compromising on safety), it won’t be less than 4,000 euros. You need passion, more than anything, the kind you have inside, or the kind that a parent passes on to you.

Thomas Bonomi Mendez was born in 2009, in the Dominican Republic. When he was seven months old Daddy Daniele took him on a motorcycle inside a baby sling. At two years old he was able to ride, at not even four years of age he took part in his first race. Alessandro Zanca too, a talented Romagna-born youngster from the CIV championship, inherited from his father his love for bikes. Daniele Bonomi says that he was able to take up this sport thanks to the sacrifices made by his family.

It’s not an investment for a son’s professional future as a motorcyclist: of all the youngsters on the circuit, only one or two will continue. Rather, the investment is on the present, and it can be gauged in relation to the time spent together travelling Italy in a camper, weekend after weekend, to reach the circuits. The photos of Thomas tell a story where competitiveness doesn’t occupy the limelight: they’re photos of games and of family life, barbecues with the boys you race against, mum’s hugs and summer ice-creams.

When dealing with young athletes, the issue becomes sensitive and delicate. Sometimes, it takes all too little to stop the fun, and what was born as a form of joy becomes a pursuit of the maximum result at all costs, even ending in frustration. For example, suppose a child lost the race at the last bend: when the pat on the back and the party to celebrate second place make way for the vicious circle of reproach and the obsessive analysis of the mistake, being exposed to criticism is mistakenly understood as the only way to grow up.

In reality, you’re no longer growing up. There’s nothing sadder than the eyes of a child who stops smiling in the context of a game, even if it’s dressed up as competitive racing. But if behind every defeat there’s a healthy education, the bitter moments are gone the next moment, and the very same children who were slugging it out a few minutes before come together to cheer for Vale Rossi in the MotoGP premier class. “Among them there’s no malice,” say Alfredo and Daniele. “During the race they can go in hard, but they do it to overtake, not to force their opponent off the track. When the engines are off, they play football or go biking together. Quarrels or misunderstandings happen because parents are the first to influence the kids by starting up arguments.”

However, these little ones are real motorcyclists, albeit in miniature. When they race they try to stick as close to their opponent as possible, they attack the curves with their knees on the ground, they have all the moves of a grown-up motorcyclist. They prepare for the race by talking with their dad, in this case as a coach, but also as a psychologist and mechanic, they get their bikes ready as best they can, establish a tactic and, when they go down to the track, they enter into a competitive trance.

They look for, and see, trajectories that others have perhaps not even imagined. They have to decide, in a fraction of a second, any changes in strategy; at the same time they have to pay attention to their adversaries’ attacks, to not falling and to a million events that they have to deal with metre after metre.

It’s the meaning of the sport, both for the young and for its champions: remaining calm even when your heart beats a thousand times a second and the butterflies in your stomach continue to remind you that in these instants you experience marvellous and dangerous emotions. Marco Simoncelli once said that five minutes in the saddle of a highspeed bike on a circuit could mean more than an entire lifetime.

About Marco, though, the news brings you face to face with harsh reality. So everything seems to have been thrown into discussion again. In July 2016, a six-year-old boy, also named Marco, was trying out a mini-motorcycle on the Viadana Racing Park circuit. But a trivial oversight, a cruel fatality, ended his life.

The controversy surfaced on the web: insults to his parents, for getting their son to do something so dangerous only to fulfil their own desires, harsh criticism about the pointless risks involved in certain sports. Fears and concerns can be understandable, but the vast majority of the objections raised, came from people who, in the world of motorcycles and mini-motorcycles, were in no position to comment.

The first thing to clarify – as Daniele Bonomi and Alfredo Zanca confirm – is that these children get on a mini-motorcycle of their own choice, without anyone making them do so. Despite their young age, they are more mature than the majority of their peers who go play in the park and, above all, they’re aware of the limits. This is already the first form of prevention, and probably even an investment in safety as a mainstay of their future.

Accustomed to speed, by the time they’re teenagers they won’t feel the need to prove anything to their friends, and their experience will help them to be respectful of the Highway Code, knowing that they’re not on the racetrack. Trivial as it seems to emphasize the point, self-awareness is not the only form of safety. The track, first of all, ensures that both the rider and the spec- tators feel no undue cause for concern, and the equipment is of the highest level. Alessandro Zanca, for example, races with a MotoGP helmet. Racing, when safety concerns are properly addressed, is like any other sport, but seldom do people pay any great attention to broken ligaments during a football match or a dislocated shoulder in a rugby match.

Just as nobody notices the dangers that children may encounter when playing in a park: an empty swing pushed too hard can give a distracted passer-by a nasty crack on the head, a ride may not have received proper maintenance – not to mention the trampolines.

Daniele Bonomi concludes on the subject with an anecdote: “About ten of my son’s friends have been to the hospital. Seven of them were injured playing football or some other sport, and the remaining three had fallen on their mini-motorcycles.”

It’s understandable, the roar of an engine can be scary, but mini-motorcycling is a competitive activity like any other, with higher safety levels and, despite this, not without an element of danger. Fans of the sport, and those looking after the practical arrangements it requires, simply see the children who are competing and the parents who are cheering them on.

Inside those coloured suits, smiling children have a chance to find themselves, they feel that tomorrow there’ll be someone who will love that buzz in the ears and the black of the engine. It’s sport, in its most beautiful form.

If you want to understand it better, you should take a trip to San Mauro, Forlì-Cesena. Because when it comes to engines, everybody knows that ‘Romagna Rulez.’


PH Giovanni Gallio & Sara Capovilla
TEXT Ludovico Rizzo

April 3, 2020

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