A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles


When it comes to motorcycling in Italy it is natural to think of Romagna as the cradle of this passion: (an Italian historical region that approximately corresponds to the south-eastern portion of present-day Emilia-Romagna, North Italy).

The city Pesaro is in this area, (Pesaro was dubbed the "Cycling City" (Città della Bicicletta) by the Italian environmentalist association). On closer inspection, starting from the top with its Benellis pizza, Serafini shoes, Brusi Jewellery to the motorcyclists of Salvatore Baronciani, Paolo Campanelli, Silvio Grassetti, Graziano Rossi and Valentino Rossi and including Eugenio Lazzarini, these cannot be considered only an add-ons in the area Romagna! As an aside this area was also responsible for the creation and the production of world famous "prosciutto" and Parmesan cheese.

‘Piovaticci’ is a Historical Italian Brand of Racing Motorcycles whose world adventure is closely linked to that of the only Italian world champion in the 50cc class, Eugenio Lazzarini and the Dutch team of Jan Thiel and Martin Mijwaart of Jamathi. This is the story: 

It was 1972 when the Pesaro-based entrepreneur and furniture manufacturer Egidio Piovaticci initially sponsored a local motorcycle racing rider, Eugenio Lazzarini, who was was active that season riding a 125cc machine with a handcrafted frame, built in the family workshop, powered with a modified Maico engine. This was a successful season.

The team ‘Piovaticci Racing’ was created in 1973 and was again situated in Pesaro, Italy. Its members were Egidio Piovaticci and Eugenio Lazzarini. It produced 125cc and 250cc Grand Prix motorcycle racing machines during the 1970s based on their own tubular steel frames and Maico engines. This was also Piovaticci’s debut year in the World Championship, for 125cc class machines. Lazzarini brought the Pesaro artisan house its first podium position at the GP of Nations in Monza and a following the victory in the Dutch races at the Asses track. To complete the season we must add an 8th place, as the worst result (excluding the three retirements), in this year which ended with the 5th position in the world championship. Not bad for a newly born artisan company and not underestimating Lazzarini's talent.

The heart of the smaller machine was a Maico 124cc 2-stroke single cylinder engine producing around 28bhp and good for approximately 116mph. It had a 6 speed gearbox, and redlined at 11,000 rpm. In 1970, it became a popular choice for privateers based on good results in 1969. The performance and reliability of the engine soon resulted in it being transplanted by privateers and others into different chassis, which swelled the ranks of Maico-powered machines racing around on any given race weekend.

The 1971 version of the 125cc Maico had the same single-cylinder engine with two-stroke action and rotating-disk feed. In that year's world championship Borje Jansson rode the Maico 125 into third place, Dieter Braun rode one to fourth place, and Bender's came in seventh.  The bike continued to develop in 1972. That year Jansson came in first in two Grand Prix races.  The following year, 1973 he won the Swedish Grand Prix for the second time, and the Italian racer Eugenio Lazzarini riding a 'Special', in his own designed tubular frame and still carrying a Maico engine won in the Netherlands.

When Egidio Piovaticci asked Jan Thiel to join his new team in 1974, Jan agreed provided he could do this in collaboration with Martin Mijwaart. The purpose of this employment was to build winning racing bikes for his friend and sponsored rider, the Italian top rider, Eugenio Lazzarini. These racing machines were to be called the ‘Piovaticci’

As mentioned above, the then current machines, which Jan and Martin took over, were "re-badged" 125cc Maico mounts. There was also a 250cc model, both with single cylinder air cooled engines. Although fast for their period these Maico machines were not very successful against the local 1974 competition or against the other more advanced racing bikes on the tracks, for example Morbidelli, Yamaha, Bridgestone and Malanca, a change of direction was urgently needed.

The 1972 Maico 125cc Road Racer

The 1972 Maico 125cc Road Racer currently owned by British rider Ken Helliwell

The president of the IMF Colucci in front of the 125cc in the Lazzarini workshop

1973 The 125cc Lazzarini 

The president of the IMF Colucci in front of the 250cc twin in the Lazzarini workshop

In discussion with the new team, Egidio decided that the first 'Piovaticci' machine would be for the 50cc class, not previously attempted by Piovaticci and Lazzarini, and would use a monocoque chassis and have cast magnesium wheels made by Franco Ringhini. The engine would be a vertically mounted unit that had a capacity of 49.63cc (bore 40 x stroke 39.5mm) and would work on the two-stroke principle. The power developed was 18 bhp at 15,500 rpm. The fuel mixture was fed to the engine through a rotary (disc) valve, through a Mikuni 28 mm carburettor. Motoplat ignition was used to fire the charge. 

Later, in 1976, Campagnolo wheels were fitted which gave the rolling chassis an added advantage in weight. (During this time, Thiel and Mijwaart also designed a new 125cc twin cylinder, based on similar lines to the '50' that debuted at the Dutch Grand Prix.

At the end of that season, Lazzarini scored three podiums, a retreat and other top ten placements that earned him fifth place in the quarter-litre world championship. However, he did even better in the 50cc class: he was the first Italian to win in this category thanks to a successful win in Sweden, together with another five podiums including a 4th place and a retirement: He became the 50cc world championship runner-up behind Ángel Nieto.

At this time and as an aside, Jan commented: "However, while we were working on the Piovaticcis we made a set of casting moulds for the new engine barrels (based on our Jamathi experience), and from this mould we cast all Piovaticci and later the Bultaco cylinders".

The development of this 50cc racer produced an innovative and highly competitive machine which resulted in three 2nd places and one first place giving Lazzarini a second place in the World Championship during the 1975 season. Ceriani forks and a single disc brake, up front and a single Koni shock at the rear kept the handling under control. It produced between 15-20hp @ 16,000rpm and weighed around 50kg;

Jan Thiel tells how Jamathi became Piovaticci: 

"In 1974 Martin and I had two complete Jamathi bikes, with engines which were machined from solid billet aluminium. When we went to Piovaticci in October 1974 we took with us one complete Jamathi racing bike with fully tuned engine and a spare engine at the same level of tune and some spares. Picture: "Outside the Piovaticci factory in Pesaro, Italy, No. 165 is the modified, re-wheeled, re-painted Jamathi and No. 14 is the new 1975 Piovaticci, new in frame and engine." 

After arriving in Pesaro we went testing with the Jamathi, now repainted in Piovaticci colours; this was at the Misano circuit, Rimini. Lazzarini was really very small and he went out and completed one lap of the circuit and came straight back into the pits. Reason, he could not stretch right up to the handlebars for safe comfort as the bike was too long for him. He said to the team "I cannot ride the bike in its current set-up as I am seated too far away from the front and I feel the distance from the clip-ons means I cannot control the bike".

“We had to modify the chassis by shortening the length of the frame to put him into a more forward position. This first monocoque frame was so small, which we wanted but it was not safe and was uncomfortable. We decided to use a dummy to mould Lazzarini around. We used a wooden shape structure to work on to fit the rider, and vice versa. When we went back to Misano after this he beat the lap record, a very good start!   

We then realised that with this more forward position we would also be able to seat him a little bit lower in the frame, so making a really very small bike. Martin then decided to build a new frame suitable only for Lazzarinis' figure! This was a very small machine in height, length and width and it was also the very first 50cc racer with cast alloy wheels. Pictures: Hobby Horse. This was a very small machine in height, length and width and, as Jan said again it was also the very first 50cc racer with cast alloy wheels – another first”

 "The main reason we decided on making monocoque frames was that they were very narrow, giving an aerodynamic advantage, they were very stiff and handled very well but they were very difficult to make. Our frames were identified by year; usually we made one new frame each year using last year's experience. Our first monocoque was made in 1972 for the Jamathi. It handled very well but there was, during that time, a problem with our engine and our results were not good". 


Jan Thiel reviews their Monocoque Frame approach:

 “For 1973, while still running the Jamathi concern, we designed a new frame, based on the 1972 design and a new engine. This engine, along with a second improved version made in 1974 later became the units for the Piovaticci and Bultaco race bikes. 

Also in 1974 and still at Jamathi, two more frames were made. At the end of the 1975 season and with the break-up with Jamathi, one complete bike and the engine of the second bike became, with our move, the property of Piovaticci. The second frame was sold to our friend Juup Bosman and fitted with a Kreidler engine. Our colours for the Jamathi in 1974 were blue and yellow. I don't remember why apart from the fact that when we were about to join Piovaticci the MAICO colours of the 125cc were also blue and yellow! Picture: Jan working at the milling machine in the workshop of Piovaticci

The first race of the new Piovaticci was in Modena, we had the fastest practice time and the Piovaticci concern celebrated it with a meal for about 30 people. The next day we won the race with a big lead, and this was again celebrated with the same 30 people and a very good meal.

(Editors Note: Many people have interviewed Jan over the years and I have researched these, re-translated where necessary  and checked the data with Jan during our internet chats to build a picture of the sheer effort needed to develop the engines and technology with the running gear that he and Martin have created).   

Question; In 1974, you and Martin moved to Piovaticci. How did you enjoy that when you found that you could finally realise your ideas without first having to look into the wallet?

Jan replied: "In the beginning it was not very easy, because we did not speak Italian, but it was only a matter of time before we could. It was, of course, fantastic to finally be able to work exclusively on racing engines".

"We did not know the financial situation of course, as there seemed to be no lack of money at all. But we worked very hard and sometimes Piovaticci came late at night and brought with him some guests, such as the president of the Pesaro Motor Club, the Mayor or the local Police Chief, but also, at times his hairdresser or a bank manager. All Pesaro was very enthusiastic about motorsport, it was even more important than football. The grapevine was also very good and we heard the latest motorcycle news every day, for example, when something special was happening at Morbidelli, we knew about it within a few hours and the reverse was probably the same. It was an incredibly beautiful time that you could not forget"!

Another question for you about the next racing class. In late 1974/ 75, you also produced a 125cc twin cylinder engine and raced it in the Dutch TT in 1975, had this always been a wish of yours to move into the bigger class?

"Martin and I had for a long time been thinking about building a 125cc race engine, but there were absolutely no means during the time of Jamathi I then unfortunately made a big mistake in the design of the twin and made the drive output from the centre of the crankshaft. All of the Japanese racing engines had followed this approach and it was a decision I have had for years been disappointed with. Jorg Moller did resolve this, when working for Morbidelli after his experience with the Bridgestone and information from Jos Schurgers, he did much better. I was of the idea that all power of a 125cc twin-cylinder transfer through one big-end bearing on the side was too great a risk. That risk was not hypothetical because when Morbidelli's over the counter production racers were selling they also had suffered from broken big-end pins and bearings". Photos below of the Piovaticci 125cc Race machine.

The end of 1975 was another break point in your career with the two-stroke as the Piovaticci period was very short. Due to circumstances outside your control, at the end of 1975 the race team had to close down. You and Martin were were doing very well with development and racing success and the future looked good. This must have created mental challenges that the team had to contend with? 

"That Piovaticci had to stop was a big disappointment, and I have never fully understood what and how it happened. It went very quickly. I think there was a problem with a loan from the bank, and certainly not the racing itself. But Egidio Piovaticci was also easy on spending his money, he never checked the expenses of the company or the Racing Team. The disappointment for himself was even bigger because he lost his factory. A short time after that he died. Martin and I had already been made an offer to work with Angel Nieto in Spain for Bultaco, but that is another story.".

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