Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

Woolie’s Alpinestars 55th Anniversary Bike Brings Legends Out Of The Shadows

A bike that pays tribute to all the unacknowledged ones who labor for the love of cycling for its own sake

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lpinestars is one of the most legendary brands in the industry of speed. Its iconic A-star logo is a sign of devotion to the church of speed and graces the sleeves of MotoGP and WorldSBK stars, car racers, bicycle racers, and that guy at the coffee shop with the sweet old BMW R90S. To commemorate its 55th anniversary, Gabriele Mazzarolo, the president and owner of Alpinestars—and the son of the founder—decided it was a good excuse to buy himself a new motorcycle.

Mazzarolo is a well-known figure in racing paddocks around the world and knows his way around the track as well. I don’t know what it is with these Italian CEOs, but apparently they’re real haul-assers in addition to being savvy marketers and businessmen (see also: Claudio Domenicali).

Alpinestars 55th bike
Woolie grew up milling around the shop at his dad’s Ferrari dealership, where he developed a love of Italian shapes and style. It’s no wonder the Alpinestars 55th bike has a convincingly Italian vibe.Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

Fittingly, the idea to build the anniversary bike was born at the racetrack.

"I was talking to Woolie at Laguna Seca," Mazzarolo begins. "I think it was two years ago at WorldSBK. And he told me he was such a fan of the brand and he was so fascinated by the history. He said, 'Gabriele, why don't I build a bike for you? I can take elements from Alpinestars' history and make the best bike that I have ever made.' "

It was a bold thing to proclaim. But if you’re going to impress the president of Alpinestars, you’re going to have to bring your A game (naturally…). Of course, A game is Michael “Woolie” Woolaway’s only game.

Alpinestars 55th bike
That lucky son of a gun…Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

As Motorcycle Design Director at Deus Ex Machina in Venice, California, Woolie is famous for building lightning-fast, form-follows-function motorcycles for A-list celebrities. His current project is a street tracker build for MotoGP star Dani Pedrosa.

“I really like the way Woolie works,” Mazzarolo says. “If you look at the details, he makes sure the geometry is right, the motorcycle handles, the motorcycle has good riding position. It’s similar to what we do as a company because although we also make products that look good, that is always our second—or our last—priority. Our first priority is that everything we make has to function: for safety, for practicality, for comfort. A lot of it is also how Woolie works.”

Alpinestars 55th bike
Throttle open.Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

The challenge would be to commemorate Alpinestars' past while simultaneously reflecting its forward-looking ethos. To endow the bike with a "history of innovation," Woolie—as he so often does—would have to marry past and present, out-of-date and cutting-edge. Every part would need to be symbolic of something larger. And at the heart of it, to convey its larger story at a glance, it would need the perfect motor. Something with its own story. Ideally, something Italian, fast, and a bit special.

When a pristine 1974 Ducati Sport came up for sale in San Francisco, Woolie knew it was the one. The Sport’s round case bevel drive twin was conceptually appropriate, and this one had something extra to inspire—it had been shipped to Australia to be race-prepped by legendary “bevel drive whisperers” Vee Two.

Alpinestars 55th bike
Good grief.Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

Woolie recounts, “[The owner] put this Vee Two motor in the bike and decided, ‘You know what? It’s too pretty, I can’t race the thing,’ and put it in his living room. And [the bike] was super expensive—$55,000—and I thought, ‘Wow.’ I just hopped in the van, drove up there, and bought it just like that. I did all this before I had a deal with Gabriele.

“[Mazzarolo] is so busy, he’s all over the world, incredibly busy,” Woolie says. “So he agreed to meet me at like 9:30 in my shop on a Friday or Saturday night and we had a little meeting and came to a deal.”

Alpinestars 55th bike
Custom Akrapovič exhaust.Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

Woolie approaches building a custom bike the same way a race team approaches building a racebike. That means design is guided by objectivity. Perfect execution demands taking personal ego out of the equation. Single-mindedness comes with sacrifice.

“I worked everyday for three months on it,” Woolie recalls. “I worked through Thanksgiving and Christmas on it—New Year’s… Yeah, my wife is really understanding. I don’t design things on a computer. I work with paper and aluminum. And the patterns are what takes a lot of time.”

Alpinestars 55th bike
Race-prepped Vee Two motor, Jeff Cole frame, Woolie design. All are headline-worthy elements.Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

Motorcycling breeds obsession. Obsession breeds specialization of skills. The deeper you get, the better you get. That’s how the sport builds legends. And not just racing legends, but builders and tuners: the chassis guy, the frame guy, the wheel guy, the bevel drive guy. We all know a guy. Except Woolie’s guys are AMA Hall of Famers.

Woolie enlisted the help of legendary frame builder Jeff Cole of C&J Precision Products to fabricate a bespoke chassis. Cole, now in his late 70s, earned his place in the AMA Hall of Fame by building racing frames for countless championship-winning machines and riders. He’s built frames for Kenny Roberts, Scott Parker, Chris Carr, Bubba Shobert, and other legends. Cole is the legend behind the legends. Maybe even the legend who made the legends.

Alpinestars 55th bike
The bike wears all of Alpinestars’ logos, including the original edelweiss flower and the Oscar logo.Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

“The real motorcycle community—Kenny Roberts and all those guys [know him],” Woolie says. “But there’s a lot of people who don’t. To me—[it’s] just like going to the racetrack and meeting Gigi Dall’igna (Ducati Corse Director)—he’s my hero, not Jorge Lorenzo. So I thought bringing Jeff in was really important.”

While Cole is the most famous name involved in the build, he’s not the only one. Jimmy Wood, who does the suspension tuning for top flat-track racers—and is a racer himself—made the shocks at Race Tech; the forks are from one of Chuck Graves’ racebikes; and of course the motor is from Brook Henry and Andrew Cathcart at Vee Two.

Alpinestars 55th bike
Minimal instrumentation—it’s all you need.Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

These guys don’t get the same recognition as Marc Márquez, Andrea Dovizioso, or Cal Crutchlow (all Alpinestars-wearers, coincidentally), but motorcycles are the plot drivers in their stories to the same degree as for the men atop the podium. Woolie grew up right down the street from Mert Lawwill and began tearing apart engines by third grade. The Vee Two guys have turned their skills to as many storied machines as, I don’t know, Alan Cathcart has written stories about (as it happens the famous motojournalist is Andrew Cathcart’s father). Cole has built racing frames for six decades. I could go on and on.

Woolie guesses the bike weighs around 350 pounds and puts out around 80 hp. Mazzarolo allowed only two people in the world to try out the bike before it started making the rounds at shows around the world. Our inside man and industry vet Alec Dare was lucky enough to be one of them.

Alpinestars 55th bike
GP-style thumb brake à la Andrea Dovizioso or Mick Doohan.Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

The winding roads outside Palos Verdes provided the ideally imperfect conditions for Dare to put the bike through its paces and test Cole’s latest Deltabox frames, originally spec’d for dirt-track mile bikes. Dare was especially impressed with the incredibly planted front end and the way the relatively long wheelbase felt far shorter in the twisties. He noted the one-off Akrapovič exhaust made the bike sound like 1974, but the chassis made it feel much more modern.

Mazzarolo is equally happy with the final product: “The bike is registered in California so I can use it on the road. And I do love riding it.”

Alpinestars 55th bike
Woolie points out design elements to the European journalist while Dare gets a close-up of the motor.Geoff McCarthy/Alpinestars

Impressive as its svelte red lines and unique top-spec components are, the bike Woolie built for Alpinestars is significant for more than just the sum of its parts. Yes, the bike represents Alpinestars’ values, but more than that, it represents the values that drive our sport: dedication, the honing of skill, and the pursuit of passion. Those values are embodied by men like Jeff Cole.

Mazzarolo thought he was getting a bike to commemorate his brand’s legacy, but by enlisting the help of great men in the shadows of legends, Woolie built a bike that pays tribute to all the unacknowledged ones who labor for the love of cycling for its own sake. Alpinestars can now add the title “Patron of the Sport” to its future history.