Bike of the Month can be sort of hit and miss. Some months, I can hundreds of votes, and there is some serious competition. Other months, not very many people will chime in. Other months, there is an overwhelming response to one bike, and there is a clear winner that seems to stir the motorcyclists’ souls. Back in August, I threw the Zaeta into the BOTM mix, and boy, did the fans come out. Not only was the Zaeta the hands down winner when it came to Likes, but enthusiasts were commenting right and left about the superiority of the Italian machine. I tell you, people absolutely love this bike. It has killer looks, but is built to perform. I can only hope that one day I will have the opportunity to ride one. Until then, I have to sit here and lust over Zaeta porn on the net. Thankfully, I have been able to quench by thirst to ride the bike a bit by chatting with the machine’s creator, Paolo Chiaia. Not many people can build a new motorcycle brand from scratch, so I jumped at the chance to pick Paolo’s brain a bit. It’s clear that Paolo is a very passionate man. I hope you enjoy reading the interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it.
Can you tell us a brief history about yourself? How did you originally get introduced to motorcycling?
I am 54 years old, always in love with motorcycles, since when I was 13 and I got my first mopet (Ciao by Piaggio). I was practicing in the countryside in a field with a cherry tree in the middle with riding in circle and trying to turn sliding. I am graduated in business administration in Italy, I have an application to Berkley Cal University to continue there. I passed the exams for admission, but then had to come back to Italy for family problems.
I have always worked on financial markets and managing financial risks (late 80’s in the treasury dept of an Italian multinational corporation; then worked rom 1993 to 1999 in an American Investment Bank; then at the end of 1999 in an Italian bank in charge for investment banking activities). Since 2004, I have run my own company advising clients on how to manage financial risks, and do economic planning. Apparently, I am much better in advising others than myself. I have two daughters in their early 20’s, and a second wife since 30th may of this year. I love motorcycles of course, but I love most of all free spirits in general. I Love Picasso, Keith Haring, Frida Kahlo, Maria Callas, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and Brasilian Bossa Nova. Music and painting are fundamental. And animals. I love my dogs. I love sense of humor, and sense of self irony and ability to laugh at everything.
What did you do before starting Zaeta? (Or, what do you do in addition to building bikes?)
As mentioned, I am still in financial risk management advisory business, but I am also minority shareholder of Confederate Motorcycles company, of which I have been in the Board of Directors ’till a few weeks ago.
How did Zaeta begin?
From a certain point of view, it started when I was 13 trying to learn how to turn sliding. Of course, I was not aware that I would have been starting a project for a dirt track bike many years later. Another important step has been when in Daytona in 2007. I watched my first dirt track race, and I fell in love with those bikes. More officially, Zaeta project began in December 2008 at Bologna Motorshow. I spent an afternoon speaking with Graziano Rossi, Valentino’s father, about the bike that did not exist in the dealer’s shops. Graziano had in mind a dirt track bike as the right tool for Moto GP riders to train, and I had in mind the same bike for street use. We ended the conversation with Graziano proposing to start the project. Graziano would help to develop the bike. I also involved Marco Belli, one of the most experienced dirt track riders in Italy.
The Zaeta name comes from a kind of sweets of yellow flour typical of my region (Veneto where Venice is). They were the buscuits that an ex-girlfriend used to give me in the morning. The first Zaeta was presented to the press in september 2009, and is owned by Graziano who still uses it. Two very important steps were made to develop and explain what Zaeta is now. In 2012, the project added Matteo Uliassi, who is not only a very skilled rider, but also an entrepreneur and a competent collector of motorcycles. He brought all his skills to the project. Almost at same time, we started a strategic partnership with engineer Giulio Bernardelle, and his In Motion company. Giulio has long experience in managing racing teams and projects, including being the Technical Manager of the Honda Minolta racing Team in Moto GP in early 2000’s. He also owns the patent of Kineo Wheels. In Motion supported us in re-designing and industrializing the new Zaeta, with its CNC aluminium frame.
What is a Zaeta? What type of motor? How much is fabricated, how much is modified, etc?
Zaeta is a dirt track single cylinder bike, made for racing first, and then developed for street use. In racing, Zaeta won the Italian Flat Track Championship, the European Championship, but also placed third once, and twice in fifth in the 750cc class at Pikes Peak. The frame is all CNC aluminium, with the seat, fenders and tank are all designed exclusively for us. We buy the engine (530cc) from TM, and the parts like exhaust (Termignoni), front suspensions, rear shock suspension, and all the parts that are normally other production bikes that are supplied by the best manufacturers. We wanted to be able to make a 100% Italian dirt track bike; Italian engine, Italian design skills, and Italian components, at least as much as we can.
Can you briefly describe your philosophy and / or process when building a Zaeta?
We don’t want the Zaeta to be perceived as a scrambler. I hope to be able to convey the real spirit with which the Zaeta has been conceived. I would love to combine pure racing spirit with the characteristic of being something fresh and new. Ironic in graphics sometimes, but seriously aggressive in performance. The bike weighs 115 kilograms with liquids in the street version. Light and different. I am too old to like vintage, and I think that everyone who wants to be a manufacturer has the responsibility of daring to innovate as much as he can. In the flat track, we tried to bring our contribution in making something somehow new, but still consistent with high performance. Thanks to In Motion, we wanted to apply the approach used in making racing speed bikes to the manufacturing of a dirt track bike.
What have been some of the greatest challenges that you have encountered while starting / running your own shop? (Or just building bikes in general)
Making a bike from scratch is complicated, and a great responsibility when you have other people riding it on track or street. But another challenge which is as great as the first, is to be able to make a new brand like Zaeta. We are nobody in motorcycle world, and we are new. With no history behind us, it’s a major effort to build credibility. It’s a day by day job . I love a sense of humor, as I said earlier, but in this area, I am extremely serious. Racing for us has been important to prove that we deliver what we promise, and that we develop our bike in the toughest conditions. Trying at same time to be consistent with the spirit with which Zaeta was conceived. “Love , performance. and sense of humor.” After all, they are motorcycles made to have fun.
Do you have any plans for new models in the future?
Yes, we want to build a two cylinders Zaeta with the same spirit. Then, maybe an electric dirt track, but this is more fantasy at this stage.
What are you working towards? Where do you see yourself / your shop in 5 or 10 years?
I would like to see me and the bikes to be recognized as part of a little bit foolish, and a little bit fun Italian project.
Are you willing to share any of your secrets, or do you have any tips for amateur builders?
No secrets at all.
Steve Jobs used to say “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” I would add, “Stay stupid.” Of course, not meaning to be an idiot, but with its positive meaning of ingenuous, and still able to be caught by wonder in front of what happens around us. But also, keep in mind history, from where we come. And most of all, be free.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to open their own custom shop?
I am not expert of customizing, or maybe I am just not expert at all. But, keep fighting for what you believe in.
Any last words of wisdom you would like to bestow upon us?
Don’t be too wise.
We won’t be… Or at least, I won’t be. Thanks, Paolo.