Saturday, 27 August 2016

Morini 350

I'd only owned the Morini 350 Strada for half an hour when things began to go wrong. You know how it is when a bit of paranoia creeps in on that first ride home alter travelling halfway across the Country to buy the damn bike of your dreams (well. I‘d really wanted a Sport, but a ’77 Strada tor £350 seemed a good deal). I was shooting down a deserted B road that snaked around a packed out motorway - ideal Morini country. l was running up and down these little hills, waiting for the last moment before slamming on the TLS front brake and really scratching through the bends. I was congratulating myself on buying such an ace bike, opening up the throttle wide as I hit the bottom of the hill, the front wheel skimming through a small puddle... er, hell, a great plume of water was thrown up in the air, vision disappeared as my visor was drenched in water and I was absolutely soaked through. I had to make a vague guess as to the direction of forward motion until I managed to flip up the visor.

Oh well, the little Morini was steady as a rock all the way through and seemed to have shrugged off the experience. I decided that the only way to dry out was to travel as fast as possible to get the water blown off by the wind. The 72 degree vee twin engine is quite a strange creature. It can be revved off the clock just like a Jap four, but unlike most 400 fours it has plenty of low speed pull when you need it. I soon got the bike up to an indicated 80mph (actually, the needle leapt 10mph either side) and was crouching down low over the flat bars, the riding position fine as the previous owner had been thoughtful enough to fit rear-sets, trying to knock her up to the magic ton on a piece of A road that was boringly straight.

Guess what happened next? With 95 on the clock it started to weave, none too gently. Just as I thought it was going to turn into a tank slapper the engine went dead, the sudden lack of power throwing the chassis out of balance and sending the whole plot leaping back and forth across two lanes of highway. I tried to hold on tight and brake hard. If I was going to fall off it made sense to do it at a low a speed as possible. I was just getting it into some kind of shape when the power switched on again and the bugger nearly shot off the road into a hedge. I managed to wobble to stop and hurt my foot when I kicked the engine. If I knew where I was I would have dumped the bike and hitched a ride home, but I was following the setting sun.

There seemed to be a lot of wires hanging out from under the tank and I saw that one of them was bare... I eventually arrived home - some 300 miles - with a sore bum, a grimace instead of the grin I’d hoped for and a foul temper that I inflicted upon the wife when she was silly enough to ask what the new bike was like. The next day, determined to get the better of it, I ripped off the tank, seat and side panels and tore out the total mess of rotted wires and toy town cells. I kept a large hammer close by in case it objected. The electrics were relatively simple as most of the switches didn’t work so I was able to wire it up with an on-off switch for the ignition and fit an old CD175 handlebar switch for the lights and horn. It fired up first kick and was such a delight tor a 100 mile buzz around well known local lanes that l forgave it everything and apologised to the wife.

It was still in the original colours and had 54000 miles on the clock. The paint was peeling off the frame and petrol had faded the tank paint. The tyres were well worn out and the brake pads well worn down. The chain was either too tight or too loose when the back wheel was rotated. A lot of the alloy was corroded, but the overall effect of the engine and shape of the cycle parts still gave it a kind of beauty; I could feel the beginning at a serious love affair. Yes, I stripped the damn thing down, painted it up and fitted new consumables, including a set of shocks. The new tyres and suspension removed the tendency to weave and it never approached a tank slapper again, thank god.

There was a bit of vibration, but nothing to worry over if you're used to British bikes, just the engine telling the rider what’s going on down below. It would cruise along at 80mph without a hint of protest and returned around 65mpg however hard I screwed the motor. Quite impressive. The previous owner had told me that the engine was completely rebuilt at 42000 and the fact that I did 5000 miles with just basic servicing seems to bear this out. In the curves it was a real delight, with so little mass, a good strong frame and stable geometry it had to be one of the fastest things on two wheels.

I could have kept it for a long time but some chap raced after me on a Honda 400/4 (both bikes were introduced at the same time and were rivals of sorts) and offered me £1500 cash for it. The wife was pregnant and the money was too much to resist, so it went to a good home and I bought a V50 for £400 as a replacement, thinking another Italian vee would be a good replacement just shows how wrong you can be.

Chris Williams

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