This 1974 KTM 125 GS Represents A Family’s Passion For Vintage Motocross
Photography by Andrea Casano
Internal combustion engines are far from extinct, but the sounds of humming electric vehicles are an increasingly prevalent piece of the soundscape. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I like listening to long-haul trucks trundling down the motorway, but I appreciate a confident engine note like any other enthusiast.
In a city like Milan, one is bound to hear all manner of cars going about their business, but it’s pretty rare to be assaulted by the staccato clamor of a vintage two-stroke motorcycle starting up. I was treated to this distinct sound (and the blue smoke that accompanies it) in a bar in Milan. I parked my drink and weaved through the tables toward the front door, where once through I found this 1974 KTM 125 GS loudly clearing its lungs of unburnt fuel mix. This was how I met my friend Alberto.
I waved my hand to get his attention, and over the din of the engine, I asked Alberto what the story was with this KTM. I wasn’t sure exactly which model year it was, but the clean paintwork and componentry certainly wasn’t showing its true age. Like a lot of younger guys in the city with interesting vintage means of transportation, I guessed that he may have recently purchased the bike from a specialty dealer or some such thing, but was happy to learn that the KTM’s condition was the result of a restoration carried out by Alberto and his father in their workshop.
I think “workshop” long ago went the route of “artisanal” in the sense that they’re often just buzzwords used to describe otherwise banal conditions of creation—mass-produced knickknacks don’t magically become works of art if they’re labeled as artisanal, but that doesn’t stop people from trying. Alberto’s place is the real deal though, it’s no rental unit with a few tools masquerading as the office of a real craftsman. Friendly and happy guy that he is, Alberto was quick with the invite; “My father and I have a restoring shop for classic motorcycles in Novara, come and visit us for a chat!”
I’m a romantic when it comes to these stories of friends and family following their passions—whether it’s cars, bikes, bicycles, watches, or what have you—so I was more than happy to take him up on the offer. A few moments later my friend Jonathan gave me a call to ask if I wanted to join him on a visit to shoot some video with one of his friends who restores older motorcycles. Even after traveling to the opposite end of my country I’m reminded just how small the world can be.
Destiny, luck, or coincidence, whatever the case, it just meant more good company, and so I got busy looking forward to our get-together. About a week later I met up with Jonathan and we headed to Alberto and his father Daniele’s workshop, Soiatti Moto Classiche.
We were warmly welcomed by Daniele, who founded the business to put his knowledge of, experience with, and passion for motorcycles to work. If the 10,000 hours rule is true, then Daniele is a master of this domain, but you don’t need to count up all the days he’s clocked in to get an immediate sense of this man’s character. Before he started this shop, he had already lived a life on bikes that included some time as an official motocross rider for the well-known Italian manufacturer SWM in the 1970s.
While Daniele handles the restoration work today, Alberto deals with the communications side of their family operation, a combination of talents that has led their bikes to be recognized at competitions as famous as the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.
I ask Alberto which bike of theirs is his favorite, to which he replied, “I would say that I have my favorite, but I avoid that word. It would be more correct to say that I have a bike that I am more fond of than the others, and that is definitely the ’74 KTM 125 GS that I was on when we met. My father raised me around cross bikes like this one, and I remember him having so many different ones over the years, but from his stories it is clear that this bike was the one he wanted most in the 1970s.
“Back then cross bikes were among the most sought after among teenagers, and we could define these aspirations as being similar to wanting a Ferrari in a lot of ways; both very expensive in relative terms, both high-performing, and both beautiful to look at back then and still today.”
As we prepare to head out to our first location for photographs, I ask Daniele if he could share some of the bike’s history and peculiarities, who with a small but immediate smile answered with what I can only imagine is the same enthusiasm he’s held onto since the bike was brand new. “These were just so fast! This KTM was bike that you could buy and participate in regular races without exaggerating or modifying it much to keep up with the changes in the decade.”
Daniele added, ”This bike represents being the penultimate model with the Sachs engine, and compared to previous models in ’72 and ’73, had some small peculiarities at an aesthetic level such as a new exhaust and the removal of the chrome grille and the light alloy fenders which easily deformed on contact.
The Sachs-built engine with its 27mm Bing carburetor remained unchanged in the various versions, and it was practically the same engine that was used by SWM in its cross bike, producing about 18hp to the wheel though a six-speed gearbox.”
We chat a bit more, and as soon as Alberto is ready we pick our first location. I tell him I’m looking for a place with earth and dust, and he simply tells me to follow him to the perfect spot.
Our mutual friend Jonathan was shooting video on the way as Alberto and the KTM leaned between the corners with a grasshopper-esque agility, the bike seeming to hop upright with each change of direction. Whether we passed modern buildings or hillsides that have been there for millennia, the KTM injected every surrounding with a blue streak of 1970s style set to a wonderfully liberating two-stroke soundtrack.
We soon arrive at the location Alberto had in mind, a foundry for aluminum and bronze. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time shooting cars and bikes in some beautiful places, but I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect union between machine and setting for this photoshoot. Dust-refracted light poured in from every gap, turning the interior of this industrial compound into a moody cave of contrast.
Stone debris and dirt are piled high and strewn all around us, but Alberto seems to know this place as if it were part of his daily commute. Every time I ask him to reposition the bike to catch another beam of light he takes the opportunity to kick up a few fresh clouds on the way over—I can’t blame him for taking advantage of our time in this playground. The bike is still in its break-in period following the restoration, so Alberto is careful to not overcook it, but his smiling face lets me know there’s still plenty of fun being had despite not being fully unleashed.
With that said, the bike (nor Alberto for that matter) does not like being sat still for too long, and after we finish our shots in the foundry we take it back out to the road to capture some rolling shots while the bike gets rid of its unburnt mixture. If she prefers to spend her time on the right side of the tachometer who wouldn’t oblige?
The 18-horsepower output is paltry by today’s standards, but then so is an early 911’s power figure compared to a modern one. What’s important is the feeling imparted by that power. The KTM still hustles, is still happy to raise its front wheel. Given the power to weight ratio and short gearing, the little 125cc engine is set up to shine. It’s got a literal shine, too, thanks to the work of Daniele getting this bike back to its original condition. Whenever we passed somebody we’d draw the inevitable prolonged looks, swiveling heads tracking a blue streak.
Motocross machines typically put function over form to a great extent than most, with the general vibe bringing to mind muddy number plates and rock-scratched graphics on no-nonsense bodywork that’s all but exclusively designed for inevitable contact. However, the older examples like this have an elegance about them that’s been lost over time in favor of angular, ATV-like cladding. The KTM’s design is simple, but it’s beautiful where it needs to be. It may draw some scrunched up faces when it’s belching blue smoke in the middle of the city, but that’s a different story.
Our day ends in calm isolation in the countryside with a spectacular sunset. It’s a place that Alberto visits often, a spot where he can test a bike at the end of the day before taking a break to enjoy the evening light before heading back to make or find some dinner and a glass of wine. I must confess that it doesn’t sound like such a bad routine.
Alberto and Daniele are not people who simply restore motorcycles for the money, we are talking about people who love their work to the point where they wouldn’t call it that. Motorcycles are an integral part of their life, a passion that’s been handed down embraced like a tradition.