Italjet is an Italian company that started in 1959 by a motorcycle racer who was contracted to Ducati. Recently, his son has decided to make a big move into electric vehicles. The thing that caught my eye is the gorgeous classic look of their selections, which are clearly made in the style of the board-track racers of the 1920’s.
There would be no Italjet if it were not for a dashing young man named Leopoldo Tartarini. He was born and raised in the city of Bologna, in the very cosmopolitan region of northern Italy, which is only a short drive to the borders of five other countries. Signore Tartarini opened a Ducati motorcycle dealership in 1954, and it was not long before his adventurous son began racing around the streets of Bologna on Ducatis. The young and bold Leopoldo was so naturally talented, that soon he became a factory rider for the Ducati race team.
However, in 1955, his racing career ended when he had a decisive 24-minute lead over the next closest rival in a long-distance race. Leopoldo pushed himself too hard in a turn, which resulted in a severe accident. He lost the use of his legs for several months, but then he slowly regained the feeling in them. The doctors would not release him to race in the next season with his injury still being too tender at that stage, but…he was still under contract to Ducati until the end of 1957, and the pay was very good for a rider of his fame and prestige.
He suggested a publicity tour with another rider, where they would ride across Europe to promote the Ducati brand, and their bosses agreed. In September of 1957, all the preparations had been finalized, so Leopoldo and Giorgio Monetti started their publicity tour…an adventure that they thought would end in Turkey.
Around the World on a Ducati!
The two intrepid travellers started in Bologna, and they zigged and zagged across the continent to pass through as many nations as possible. Their energetic and gregarious personalities made them a big hit everywhere they went, with many newspapers and magazines wanting to interview them. When they arrived in Turkey, the tour had been such a great success, that the factory authorised them to continue on and go as far as they felt they could.
This “short publicity tour” ended up lasting a little over an entire year. Along the way they crossed through 42 countries, with three of those countries being in the middle of revolutions (Iraq, Syria, Indonesia). They were robbed by bedouins in the desert, were hospitalized with a severe flu, and spent the night in jail more than once. When they were crossing Australia, it was so hot that they travelled at night and rested during the day (as they had learned to do when crossing the middle east).
“Motoleggere” means lightweight motorcycle.
Here is a delightful 2 minute video from 2014 about this epic ride. And here are 16mm-film clips taken from their epic journey, which are being made into a documentary (click on the city names to see clips from that part of their journey).
With his employment to Ducati finally ending in 1959, Leopoldo felt he would be wise to use his recent fame from the world tour to help him start a business of his own, and he formed Italjet. Their first motorcycle was released in 1961 and it used a 125cc MZ engine. This first model was followed by many other bikes such as the Italjet 50, which was released in 1962 and was the first moped created by Tartarini.
In 1963, entrepreneur Floyd Clymer began manufacturing motorcycles in the USA using the Indian name, apparently without purchasing it from the last known legitimate trademark holder. He attached the Indian name to imported motorcycles, and commissioned Italjet Moto to manufacture 50cc minibikes as the Indian Papoose. These were so successful that Clymer also commissioned Tartarini to build full-size Indian motorcycles based on the Italjet Grifon design, fitted with Royal Enfield Interceptor 750cc parallel-twin engines.
The model shown below is the 1966-69 50cc Italjet “Vampiro”, and it was specifically designed to run only on race tracks. The frame was made of Cromoly steel and featured a “specially prepared” engine, but it was only produced for three years. The engine is an air-cooled two-stroke with a 13:1 compression ratio, and it utilized a 20mm Dell’orto carb. Producing 11 horsepower at 11,000 rpm, the factory clocked it at a top speed of 80.7 miles per hour. This model uses a 4-speed close-ratio transmission with a wet clutch, and Pirelli tires front and rear. The whole package weighed only 110 pounds in “full racing trim”.
In 1999, the business launched the Grifone, powered by a 900cc three-cylinder Triumph engine. A completely new factory was built to manufacture the Grifone, located in Roseto, on the southern coast of Italy. Sadly, in 2002 the company was bankrupt. However, in 2005 it was taken over by Massimo Tartarini, the son of the original owner.
The “New” Italjet…and electric vehicles
In 2011, the world got a peek at what the new Italjet had been up to at the EICMA motor show in Milan (Esposizione Internazionale del Ciclo e Motociclo / International Exposition of Bicycles and Motorcycles). In March of 2014, they completed an “Indegogo” campaign to raise money to expand their production of Italjet E-bikes.
I haven’t been able to find any details about the Italjet Bulldozer motorcycle, but it has been reported to be capable of 125-km/h (77-MPH). I am skeptical about this claim, and I would have designed it to only achieve 72-km/h (45-MPH). This could easily be achieved using 72V, and also using a motor of the size shown in the publicity pics.
The Italjet Mantra
The Italjet Mantra takes its styling cues from the Bulldozer motorcycle (seen above), but this model has pedals, and uses the 36V Bafang BBS01 mid drive for power, to meet the EU-legal pedelec power limit of 250W.
The Italjet Diablone uses a Bafang geared front hubmotor, which is an EU-compliant 250W pedelec system. The battery is just behind the seat, and the controller is located just below the battery. The black leather case in the frames triangle is only for storage. The Diablone is likely to be their most affordable model.
I haven’t found any details about this model below, but I like how they used an Internally Geared hub (IGH) as a jackshaft. E-bikes with a large rear hubmotor might only have enough width for a single-speed freewheel, but…using an IGH like this would allow you to easily and affordable add 7 gears. This arrangement also changes the chain angle, so the chain does not need to be broken to remove or swap-out the chain, when it might be damaged or worn.
The Italjet Ascot
There have been other E-bikes that simply added leather accents, and a springer fork with a chrome teardrop headlight to evoke the style of the boardtrack racing motorcycles of the 1920’s. However, the details of the Italjet Ascot have set a new standard for E-bikes who aspire to bring back memories of this bygone era.
The leather accessories play a major role in the presentation of this vintage styled E-bike. All of the leather components are made by A.G. Spalding & Bros. from New York, except for the leather saddle, which is a well-known Brooks model from the UK.
If you want to see even more pictures of the various models, here is their Facebook page
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Written by Ron/spinningmagnets, September 2015