A GLORIOUS LIFE
OF HEALTH, WEALTH
& FAME By Massimo Zanzani
ROGER, WHERE DID YOUR INTEREST
IN MOTORCYCLES STEM FROM? There
was an annual trials event near my house.
Back then, which would be in the 1950s, there
was also an endurance race that went from
Brussels to Rome and back. They raced over
the mountains and through the streets. At
that time the racers were on a lot of Italian
motorcycles, as well as English bikes, such as
Triumphs, Nortons and BSAs. There was even
a scooter class with Vespas. Well, there was a
pub right next to my house, which served as
a checkpoint. The riders would have to stop
at the checkpoint in order to get their cards
punched to show that they stopped there.
During those 24-hour races, I couldn’t sleep,
because I had to see the racers go by. I was
around 10 years old. That’s when I got really
interested in motorcycles.
WERE THERE ANY OTHER
INFLUENCES? A couple of guys lived on
my street who were a decade older than me
and they had motorcycles. One guy had a BSA
and another had a Norton. I would always visit
them and look at their bikes. Not so far from
my house there were some motocross races,
and I would go watch. To me, the motocross
racers were like gods. That held especially true
when I went to some big races, where Bill
Nilsson and Sten Lundin competed.
DID YOUR PARENTS BUY YOUR FIRST
MOTORCYCLE? No. Growing up, my parents
provided me with a warm house and food, but
there was no extra money to buy motorcycles.
At that time, the riders didn’t start as young as
they do today. My family was not into motorcycles. My dad worked at a steel mill, and
his shifts would change. One week he would
work from the morning to the early afternoon.
Another week he would be on the second
shift, working from the afternoon until late at
night. He also had to do the overnight shift.
When I was 12, I started working at the motorcycle shop when I had days off from school. I
cleaned bikes and did little jobs like changing
tires and putting on new chains. I saved my
money and wanted to get a race bike. My parents didn’t have the money, and while I was
saving everything that I could, I was making
such little money that it took a long time to
buy a bike. When I told my parents that I
wanted to race motocross, they thought I was
crazy. For my parents, the focus was always on
going to school. I was the oldest child in the
family. My younger brother was really good in
school. I was only dreaming about motorcycles.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO
SAVE ENOUGH MONEY TO BUY A BIKE?
When I was 16, I bought a motorcycle to race.
I didn’t know so much about what it took to
race, and my preparation was very poor. The
first three times I raced, the bike broke. I
didn’t have transportation to the race, so every
time I rode my bike to the track and back. I
took a backpack, a few wrenches and a can
of gasoline. After three races I had no more
money and the bike broke, but I learned. Then
winter came. I worked hard during the winter
and saved my money. At the motorcycle shop
where I worked, I learned that Morini street
bikes had good forks with aluminum sliders.
They were actually upside-down forks, so I
bought a set. Then I wrote a letter to Girling
in England asking about buying shocks. I told
them how much I weighed and how much my
bike weighed. I didn’t think that they would
ever answer me back, but they did! They sent
the shocks to the Belgian distributor. Over the
winter, I also bought some tubing and made
a nice air filter so that no dirt could go into
my engine anymore. My bike was a little bit
heavy, but the handling was really good. I
learned to go really fast down the hills, and
the first time I raced that bike the following
season I won.