Thunderbikes’ Mario Poggioli, Perth’s Guzzi guru

CAPTION: Mario Poggioli at Thunderbike Motorcycles. "In all the years I've been here, I'm not aware of a single item being stolen from my shelves. Guzzi owners are good people."

IN A time when it seems the biggest growth areas in motorcycling are big multi-brand supermarket-style bike shops and small on-line micro-shops scattered across the planet, it seems improbable to find a business like Thunderbikes.

The man behind the counter owns the shop. He’s interested in just one brand — and a minor brand at that. Official figures show Moto Guzzi sold just 255 bikes in Australia in 2015. Ducati and Triumph sold almost ten times as many. Honda, near on 100 times.

And yet, if you walk into the shop and ask Mario Poggioli for a pair of throttle cables to fit a 28-year-old Guzzi LeMans, there’s a very good chance he will turn around and pull a set from the rack on the wall behind him. Try that at your local Honda dealer.

Indeed, the big parts inventory is an integral part of the Thunderbikes story and dovetails neatly to its business model which is, deliberately and historically, workshop-heavy.

“If I’m rebuilding an engine, I don’t want to wait three months for parts to arrive from Italy,” Mario says.

“It’s also less risky to carry plenty of parts for Guzzis than it would be for say, a Japanese brand. Most Guzzis stay on the road for a very long time so you can be confident the parts will  sell eventually. And many parts are interchangeable. I carry just five different oil filters in stock, and they cover every Guzzi ever made. And lots of parts also fit other Italian brands — Ducati, Laverda and so on run Brembo brakes and Dellorto carbs, for example.”

Mario greets me by name when I call in. I’ve been wandering into Thunderbikes, spasmodically rather than frequently, since buying my first second-hand Guzzi a decade or so ago. Mario has known and worked on my two Guzzis longer than he’s known me and, quite possibly, since they sat side-by-side shiny and new in the showroom of (long-gone) Stolarski’s Motorcycles way back in 1988.

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CAPTION: Eeny meeny miny mo — the Thunderbikes collection gives the showroom floor a museum feel to it. Customers tend to linger.

The Thunderbikes showroom floor feels more like a museum than a sales venue. Old bikes overwhelmingly outnumber new ones. There are multiple LeManses of various ages, as you’d expect, plus a bunch more. A 750 S3. A V7 Sport — that’s the original, not the modern recreation. Two 1000S’s. A V10 Centauro. An 850 Eldorado. An 1100 Sport. A four-valve OHC Daytona 1000. A pair of race bikes from the 1980s. And more. Most are near enough to concourse condition. And not for sale.

“It’s the first rule of investment,” Mario says with a grin. “Never sell anything.”

Mario says the bike collection has quite literally rolled in through the door. “I’ve never chased a bike,” he says. “They’ve come to me over the years as trade-ins or as direct sales. Some needed work, some didn’t.”

Thunderbikes is an interesting place to visit, just to admire the bikes.

But dig deeper and you’ll find a fascinating history.

IMG_0984There are two names that  loom large in the back story of Moto Guzzi in Western Australia. Mario is the Guzzi guru these days, but those with long memories will tell you that long before Mario and Thunderbike Motorcycles there was Ted Stolarski and his bike shop, Stolarski’s. Ted was a larger-than-life character; Australian Moto Guzzi distributor, retailer and racer from his shop in the middle of the Perth CBD.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the creation and early history of Thunderbikes is intertwined with the heyday and final days of Stolarski’s.

But first, some Poggioli family history.

Mario was born in Zimbabwe, or Rhodesia as it was known back in 1961, to Italian parents. His father Brando had bikes in his blood, running his first motorbike shop in Italy at the tender age of 16. At 21, Brando accepted his father’s advice to leave Italy and head for Africa to make a new life for himself.

“Dad was a mechanical fitter, and a natural mechanic,” Mario says.

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“He could fix anything; a broken watch or a stationary engine, it didn’t matter. He was just one of those sorts of people. When he moved to Africa he worked as a truck driver on the Kariba Dam construction project in Zambia, then as a mechanic on various mines in Rhodesia. But his dream was to plant a vineyard and develop a winery. And he did it. By the late 1970s he had an extensive winery in Umtali (now known as Mutare).”

By this stage young Mario was following his father’s lead into mechanics.

“My parents sent me back to Italy from 1977 to 1979 to attend a Don Bosco mechanical school. It was like a high school run by lay priests to prepare kids for a mechanical work life. It had a great reputation. The things I learned there helped me complete my apprenticeship as a bike mechanic six months faster than usual.”

Along the way, Brando found some time to travel. On a trip to Perth in the ’70s he developed a friendship with a man who had emigrated to Australia from Poland in 1955. His name: Tadeusz (‘Ted’) Stolarski. It was a friendship that would last a lifetime and would play a pivotal role in the future of Brando, Mario and, ultimately, in the creation and direction of Thunderbike Motorcycles.

“By 1979, with apartheid being dismantled in South Africa, Dad could see there was trouble ahead,” says Mario.

“So he just walked away from the winery, and from Africa. With formal sponsorship from Ted, we moved to Australia.”

Brando opened a small motorbike shop in Bassendean and, a little later, in Guildford. It was called Rhotalia Motorcycles, a play on the words Rhodesia and Italia. Mario completed his motorcycle mechanic apprenticeship under the guidance of his father.

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CAPTION: New bikes snuggle in among old ones, spare parts aplenty, and exotic accessories line the shelves. If Aladdin were Guzzitsi, this would be his cave.

After a break from the bike trade, Mario joined Stolarski’s as a mechanic in 1983 and his relationship with Moto Guzzi motorcycles began. He stayed a decade before going out on his own; initially in a small workshop in the Perth suburb of Bayswater, then a slightly bigger one, and then in 1997 to the premises in Bassendean that he and Thunderbikes have occupied ever since.

“I remember walking in here with a box of tools and wondering how the hell I was ever going to use all the space,” he says. In the early years his business was servicing and repairing bikes. Selling new Moto Guzzis and becoming a one-brand-man came unexpectedly and, in some ways, unpleasantly in 1997.

“Ted died in 1995 and Mrs S (Ted’s wife) continued as Australian distributor for a year or so. But then Moto Guzzi decided on a change of direction and appointed a Melbourne-based company to take over the distributorship.

“Retailers followed the factory’s lead, as you’d expect, so Mrs S was left high and dry. She had 36 bikes and something like a quarter of a million dollars worth of spare parts, and no one to sell them.” 

With the historic family connection, Mario’s knowledge of Moto Guzzis and his competence with his tools, it’s no surprise that a  deal was done.

And so it was that Thunderbikes, primarily a workshop rather than a dealership — and with no official links to the factory (“and no one to tell me what to do”, Mario stresses) — became a substantial but unofficial Moto Guzzi sales outlet specialising in Guzzi repairs and service.

Mario makes no secret that his relationship with Moto Guzzi’s Australian distributor was frosty in the aftermath of Ted’s passing. Things have changed over the years, including Moto Guzzi company ownership and the national distributorship, and nowadays you will find Thunderbikes listed as a dealer on the Moto Guzzi Australia website. “But I still make my own decisions,” he says.

Mario’s clientele clearly bring him a lot of enjoyment.

“My customers are mostly long-term,” he says. “After a while they become friends; actually more like family really. Lots of Guzzi riders remain Guzzi riders. You don’t find many people who buy one and don’t like it. In all the years I’ve been here, I’m not aware of a single item being stolen off my shelves. I have good customers; blue-collar mostly, family people.

“And I like the product, obviously. Guzzis might not pop wheelies in every gear or top 300kmh, but they are good bikes. Dependable, simple, unique. The engines are accessible and fun to work on. Our service work is almost all preventative, rather than repairs.”

In many ways, the Thunderbikes of 2016 is the same as the Thunderbikes of 1997. Mario is still the man behind the counter. It’s a two-man show these days — Mario has a full-time mechanic to handle the bulk of the workshop load — but Mario still spends time on the tools as well. There are new bikes on the floor, as well as those wonderful old ones. And all those spare parts and accessories are a magnet for Guzzi enthusiasts,  just as it was when unwelcome circumstances delivered the Stolarski-era ‘leftovers’ back in the day.

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CAPTION: With an association going back more than 30 years, it’s little wonder that Mario’s knowledge of the Guzzi brand verges on encyclopaedic.

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More Guzzi-related stories:

Old race bike

Malossi versus UniFilter

Cafe LeMans plays up

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Also see:

John Britten and his brilliant V1000

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27 Comments on "Thunderbikes’ Mario Poggioli, Perth’s Guzzi guru"

  1. Scott Allen from Perth | April 20, 2016 at 10:22 am |

    Totally agree with all. Mario is fantastic to deal with; a great source of knowledge, unbelievable amount of parts on hand, and without whom I would have struggled rebuilding my Le Mans IV. And it’s great to meet someone with a similar sense of sarcasm.

  2. Kingsley Thorpe | April 16, 2016 at 8:43 am |

    Its with interest i read the post about never finding a guzzi parked outside a shrinks office, thats because Mario is our shrink. He always takes the time to interact with his customers, more as a friend than a business man. He is also always happy to offer endless advice to his loyal customers, something you will never get from any other marque. I reckon you would have to try really hard to tick this gentleman off. Having said that, one may have succeded. 8 Guzzi’s purchased, (2 still in my clutches) all purchased from Mario. Now, to find some more space in the shed………

  3. Daniel Moriarty | February 4, 2016 at 6:23 am |

    Thanks Mario, When I got my Le Mans II I needed help with the carbies. You got me to send them to you in a shoe box. You checked them over, replaced a few gaskets and o’rings and sent them back, NO CHARGE. I’ve never forgotten it. I’m now a customer for life. It’s a great way to do business.
    Dan

  4. Pearl Walker | February 1, 2016 at 9:24 pm |

    This is an excellent article Mario – well done.

  5. Well done U Mario!

  6. Franco Paiano | January 29, 2016 at 5:26 pm |

    Ciao Mario …
    Thanks for introducing my baby to me.
    It’s been a wonderful experience & im lookin fwd to many more.
    Franco

  7. GRAZIA MARIO , Allegro Appassionata !

  8. Mario is a great bloke, I’ve only known him a few years since I bought my first Guzzi, but he’s always helpful with knowledge and parts. If I want to know Mario is the guru.

  9. philip andrews | January 28, 2016 at 5:04 am |

    luv yer work thunderbikes

  10. I totally agree with the very positive comments posted by all when it comes to Mario. All of us Guzzisti over here in Victoria in the Moto Guzzi Club recommend Mario!
    Excellent service from a great man!

  11. Robert Glenton | January 27, 2016 at 10:49 pm |

    I bought a V7 from Mario three years ago. Marios shop is like going back in time, in the best way. He has time for you and is extremely helpful and knowledgable. His prices are beyond fair. I couldn’t do my own oil changes much cheaper. Perth is lucky to have him.

  12. I traded my first Guzzi (650 CAFE)at Stolarskis in 1992 with Mario on a 1000s and happily waited for it to be built.
    At 100,000klm I sold it…Mario said never sell your Guzzi !! he was right I regret it.In the meantime I bought an 1100 sport from Mrs S when she had been dropped by the factory.
    I now ride a Bellagio and have a small block cafe racer project in the wings.
    Mario is a true gentleman ,a reliable honest fair trader..The world needs more Marios and More GUZZIS….

  13. Great article. Interesting background to Mario and his business. Guzzi riders of WA are very lucky to have Mario championing the marque.

  14. David Hayward | January 27, 2016 at 6:51 pm |

    Mario has been looking after my guzzi for over 25 years. What I love the most is that Mario treats my bike like his own. It couldn’t be in better hands and I don’t believe there is anyone in the world who I would rather have look after the Guzzi than Mario. Thanks mate, you deserve every bit of praise here. 🙂

  15. David Burne | January 27, 2016 at 6:40 pm |

    Got a Thunderbikes sticker top and centre on the tailpiece of my 1996 1100 Sport and very happy to buy parts and stuff from Mario whenever I can. He ships and then I pay the invoice. None of this money up front and wait a month for a drop-shipped part from Italy or Germany. A genuine old-school businessman.
    Long may he prosper.

  16. Dave Bajjali | January 27, 2016 at 6:20 pm |

    Thanks for the article. I have been getting great parts and advice from Mario for many years – Shame he’s not in Adelaide.

  17. Ken MacDonald | January 27, 2016 at 6:16 pm |

    Good article to read with regards smaller dealerships but he turned me away from having my new 1200 Sport serviced in his business. Funny situation since he’d directed me to another outlet when I first called in there looking to buy one. Mario simply advised me that he services only what he sells so I’d better go elsewhere. I’ve since sold the Guzzi as a result of that experience and hope others don’t experience what I did.. Still follow the brand, always will.. Now my twin is a boxer..

  18. Paul Discombe | January 27, 2016 at 5:29 pm |

    Mario is the greatest source of Guzzi knowledge out there and has for the past 20 plus years supported my Guzzi’s a few of which are now 40 + years young. His trust in the customer base to do the right thing is a rare but welcome in what can be a sinical world. Well done Mario

  19. Sue Attrill | January 27, 2016 at 4:46 pm |

    Mario’s been looking after my Guzzi’s since I bought my Le Mans in 1980.

  20. Gracia Mario – Viva La Guzzi 🙂 – love my 98 cali – love guzzi

  21. Bought my first bike from Mario at Stolarskis MKv lemans 1000…. Bought my second from thunder bikes .. Mario is a very nice guy and a great person well done on the continued success

    • Peter Terlick | January 27, 2016 at 3:57 pm |

      Thanks for the comment Eric. I have two MkVs, both black and both I believe sold from Stolarski’s. I wonder what chance one of mine used to be yours?

  22. Laurie Ratcliffe | January 27, 2016 at 3:11 pm |

    I have been dealing with Mario for many, many years, and love his ethic to bits.
    I truly hope he never closes his doors; until I die at least.

    Good on you mate.

  23. Gary Bettini | January 27, 2016 at 1:41 pm |

    Well done Mario, great write up.
    You’ll never see a Guzzi parked outside a shrinks office!

  24. Great article… Great product… Great service. Love my Guzzi

  25. Good man, great service!

Comments are closed.