Born in Lecco, Italy, Lietti grows up on that branch of Lake Como. He never stands still and, at just over forty years of age, he has seen and experienced half of the world. He hops on a motorcycle for the passion of the journey rather than for the love of the “engine.” In 1998 he graduates with a degree in architecture from Milan Polytechnic. Based in London in the early 2000s, he leaves for Australia in 2005 but stops in Hong Kong where he still resides. Always traveling light, of luggage and of heart, he has neither family nor children.

Eclectic, traveller, painter, architect, and musician, Lietti comes to the bike with a linear path, at a mature age, as if the very nature of the two-wheeler and his personal and restless search were destined to an inevitable love affair. Faithful from a young age to the lightness of luggage and thought, Francesco Lietti represents those Italians belonging to the middle generation, in their forties, who are born analogue and grow up digital. In his youth, he laboriously learns the craft of his trade with classical techniques, but then he has to abandon those same techniques because they become obsolete. Francesco learned to draw by hand on a drawing board with a square and a ruler, but during the Faculty of Architecture, which he attended during the nineties, the use of CAD became mandatory and he had to use it during the writing of his thesis for the first time.

After the University, he moves to London. It is not his first emigration: he has already lived in Paris for a year and in Barcelona for another during his studies thanks to the Erasmus study exchange program. As a student, he enjoys a stray style of travel, carrying an old Cassin mountaineering backpack with very few things inside: famous is his towel consisting of a smallish piece of a deerskin, of the same type used to clean the chassis of cars. He loves the universal train ticket of Inter-Rail, a master pass for any European train valid for 30 days. He abuses it for five years, reaching every corner of the continent and beyond, including Estonia, Romania, and Morocco.

In London he spends seven years working as an architect for a couple of large international firms. He frequents the foreigners in London, those like him, not only the Italians, but also the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Asians, the South Americans, those who were beginning to be called in the early years of the nineties “brains on the run.”

Lietti ends up in Hong Kong almost by accident while accompanying a fellow Australian workmate who had asked him to come on the descent to the Southern hemisphere by land. So, they board the Trans-Siberian railway all the way to Beijing, then continue by bus through the “Middle Earth.” Francesco only stops when he falls in love with the former British protectorate, the dense tropical island off the coast of Mainland China and, thanks to the handful of curricula vitae sent by email from a Mongolian guesthouse, he quickly finds himself busy working and living in Hong Kong. He doesn’t make it to Australia until seven years later, riding a Suzuki 650 around the Victoria State. He is already thirty-five when he buys his first bike, a second-hand Honda 250 single-cylinder from the dismantled fleet of the Hong Kong Urban Police.

It might seem unimaginable, but the densely populated island allows for some motor-touring: there are hills packed with thick jungle on the southern side, you just have to get out of the highway and, within minutes, you feel like you are in Borneo, far from the skyscrapers of downtown, surrounded by monkeys in the trees. Hong Kong is not only an interesting city professionally and culturally speaking; Francesco uses it wisely as a base for his Asian excursions to the neighboring countries and farther. Taking a flight is always necessary, it is true, for it is not possible to travel by bike starting directly from home, but, within one or two short and cheap hours, you can visit an array of exotic destinations, all peculiar and different from the next. During a decade of living in Hong Kong, Francesco reaches Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, Burma, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Peru, Cuba, and Iran.

The bikes he rents to run around in those places follow in a sense the philosophy and the lifestyle of the countries visited. In the Philippines, he touches at least 7 islands of the archipelago, during perhaps more than a dozen visits, riding a Honda Innova, the typical scooter with a rocker gearbox and an automatic clutch, which is the primary mean of locomotion for many families in Southeast Asia. On the island of Mindoro, he covers 120 kilometers in one day, on roads to the limit of the practicability; he drinks a chilled mango juice on the beach and gets back to where he came from. Lietti blends in, he tries to leave as little trace as possible, penetrating the culture and the lifestyle of the locals, eating what they eat, and then, almost naturally, he also uses their bikes.

Once in Borneo, he arrives from Kuching at the border with Indonesia (Kalimantan), leaves his passport at the kiosk and walks across the frontier to have a couple of medium-sized Bintan beers inside Indonesian territory without documents. On the way back he is caught in a strong tropical storm and must stop for the night at a shack. He recalls those night rides by scooter in Saigon as an almost mystical experience. Immersed in a sea of similar, tiny bikes, channelled into a liquid, intense traffic, only composed by two-wheel vehicles, he gets lost and eventually gets arrested by the local police without documents and without a helmet and barely manages to escape, only by bribing the agents. In Australia, in a more westernized fashion, the “iron” is a 650 Japanese four-cylinder, a Suzuki GSF Bandit, with which he circumnavigates Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula along the legendary Great Ocean Road passing close by the incredible limestone cliffs, the Twelve Apostles.

This raw traveller spirit also appears in his paintings. Acrylic and oil colors recount his life through the places he has seen. Cities, countryside, tropical seas, or the beloved mountains surrounding Lecco are described in a style at the same time sober and baroque. The colors especially, that rough and primitive look, almost childlike, well describe the places visited through the eyes of a true globetrotter. Memories, imagination, emotions, and adventures come together on the canvas like the elements the artist adds to his works, in the form of collages, newspaper clippings, receipts, bus and train tickets collected during his exotic excursions. He dreams of owning a classic British motorcycle, the Triumph Bonneville, which is only imported second-hand from Japan at crazy prices. So, after a long search, Lietti brings home a Kawasaki W650 to replace his Honda 250.

 

by Davide Marelli  |  motorbike writer