The Italian mega-hunk who lent his physique to more than 2,000 romance novels has a new hobby, an energy drink, and a few important things to get off his impressively chiseled chest

It has been about 10 years since Fabio Lanzoni, now 48, posed for the cover of a romance novel. His hair is still long and flowing; his pecs still resemble a pair of perfectly bronzed cinder blocks. But he’s older now, a bit wrinkled—no longer the caricature we knew, or thought we knew. It seems the man who was, arguably, the greatest sex symbol since the V-2 rocket is ready for his second act—not just as an empty vessel for the fantasies of flyover state housewives or a tireless pitchman for everything from Miller Lite, Cheerios, and the Gillette Oral-B Sensitive Toothbrush to Versace’s fragrance Mediterraneum, but also as a producer of content in his own right.

Not that he hasn’t tried before. In the mid-’90s, Fabio launched a fitness quarterly, Fabio’s Healthy Bodies Magazine, and published a book, Fabio Fitness. In 2003, he introduced his own signature line of women’s outerwear in conjunction with Sam’s Club. There was an inspirational phone line; various movie cameos, including a memorable walk-on in Zoolander; and the little-known album Fabio After Dark, a recording of his favorite love songs.

Fabio’s latest projects include an energy drink, a charity motorcycle rally, and a reality show involving Grand Prix motorcycling, his greatest passion. So far, he says, two networks have expressed interest in the series. “I have a business mind,” he explains. “I come from a business family. My father was the second man in the world to build conveyor belts. I love business, and I love people.”

But one gets the sense there’s more to all this frenetic activity than that. What Fabio seems to want, after decades of being seen but seldom heard—a slab of beefcake and late-night punchline—is to be taken seriously.

When I first meet him in the summer of 2006, on the occasion of his passing the torch as official non-butter spread spokes-hunk—he juiced annual sales of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! from around $25 million to $250 million—he’s in a voluble mood. Finally unshackled from his major sponsorship obligations, he’s eager to show that he has more on his mind than the ripping of bodices—or, for that matter, the metaphysics of butter.

“The Israeli people have been the sacrificial lamb of history,” Fabio declares. It’s mid-August, and the bombs are dropping in Lebanon as we stand in the kitchen of his sprawling Spanish-style mansion in Los Angeles (his publicist asked that we keep the neighborhood a secret to deter stalkers). The so-called Harlequin heartthrob, a diehard news junkie, has had a lot on his mind lately, particularly when it comes to Middle East policy and the Iraq war.

“It’s about fucking time,” he says, as Fox News reports on Israel’s attempt to push Hezbollah out of Southern Lebanon. “[The Jews] have been getting killed for 5,000 years. Enough is enough. The rest of the world does not give a shit, except America, because the Israelis have no oil. Everyone sticks with those Arabs—because they have the oil.”

Oil is a big issue for Fabio. Despite being an avid dirt-bike aficionado, he’d like to see America wean itself off fossil fuels. “We should fucking get alternative energy and tell all the Arabs and the rest of the world to stick it up their ass,” he says. “Fuck them and the oil!”

In the meantime, though, he’s hard at work organizing a charity bike rally up the California coast for the families of soldiers injured in Iraq. He’s calling it “Ride for the Heroes.”

Fabio has roughly 180 Yamahas, Kawasakis, and Ducatis parked in the front yard of his house. There is also a Dodge Ram pickup and a rusting Bentley.

To encounter such a renowned icon of virile masculinity can wreak havoc on a man’s self-esteem, and as Fabio shows off his collection, I find myself exaggerating my interest in—and ability to drive—the machines. Earlier, when he’d suggested a ride in the foothills, I’d eagerly assented, despite never having been on a motorcycle before.

“Come on! Don’t release the clutch so quickly,” Fabio yells from a hundred or so yards down the road, as my engine chokes for the sixth time. “Have you ever ridden a bike in your life?!”

“I guess it’s been awhile,” I mumble, inducing him to give me a quick “refresher.” Finally, I get the hang of shifting gears, and we make our way to the hills where he routinely goes on wheelie-popping, trail-blazing excursions.

On our way over, a Jeep Cherokee filled with girls who either live in the neighborhood or simply know an international sex symbol in a helmet when they see one, drive by and scream his name.

For Fabio, motocross is part adrenaline rush, part exercise, and part therapy—it makes him feel like a “free spirit.” Growing up in Milan, the son of a wealthy factory owner who bought his son a new sports car on a yearly basis, he developed a need for speed.

“We should fucking get alternative energy and tell all the Arabs and the rest of the world to stick it up their ass,” Fabio says. “Fuck them and the oil!”

Aside from his ability to zoom up a nearly vertical precipice—a feat he demonstrates numerous times—what’s most striking about our time on the trails is his patience and genuine good nature. Each time I wipe out in a bush, and there are many, he instantly appears—usually by way of a flamboyant skid—and talks me back up. “Come on, Spencer! You can do it!” On a typical afternoon, Fabio spends up to four hours riding around his neighborhood. But after two long hours, he takes pity on me and agrees to head home.

Back at the house, I pour two glasses of water, and scrutinize the contents of his fridge: lots of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, some eggs, soy milk, OJ, and an astounding array of vitamins and protein powders.