Sunday, 28 August 2016

Moto Guzzi V50

I had noticed a couple of Moto Guzzi V50s about town. The styling appealed and so did the name - not your usual Jap bike. One fateful day in the town centre I suddenly heard a deep roar. A black Moto Guzzi California appeared at high speed, the rider chucking it from side to side to avoid pedestrians belore having to make a swift exit up the street. Ahhhhhhhh!

After a brief and not entirely happy ownership of a GT250 in 1980, l was bikeless for six years. For practical reasons I decided a step-thru would be handy - I became the proud but self-conscious owner of a Honda NF75. Okay, it’s gutless but it’s automatic and it’s fun. Although it had become more than a mode of transport I wanted a real motorbike. Knowing virtually nothing about engines I was gently directed away from Bonnevilles towards the Japs, but then it hit me - I could own a bike l’d admired for a long time and upset my friends at the same time by not buying Japanese.

After some research Into prices I made the long trek down to Oxford to see a T3 California at £950 ono. Well, after travelling all that way I wasn't going to leave without buying the bike. After a brief ride on the pillion (it didn‘t break down so it must be okay), I headed up the road.

Not having ridden a bike over 250cc before and not having used a bike with a clutch for six years and never having driven a Guzzi before, the journey back up north was, er, character forming. I got a friend to check the bike over - pitted forks was the only problem. I considered myself lucky.

The bike had no screen and a broken pannier, but good value all the same. Stanchions and fork seals came to about £100. Replacing them was an ordeal. I resorted to using a hammer - one replacement secondhand fork leg and £20 later I resumed work. It took about ten hours in all and lotsa muscle, but hopefully I won’t have to do it again. In terms of reliability the bike has only let me down once in 6000 miles (better than I expected).

The ignition switch decided it was just too tacky to continue functioning - a bit of tin foil had the bike back to normal. The only other black mark on an otherwise respectable record is that occasionally the left-hand cylinder doesn’t fire until the revs are quite high - this happens mostly In the wet. The last time it happened it was cured by pushing the outer part of the cable properly into it’s seating at the choke. Of course, the main failings of Guzzis are reputed to be the parts which don't actually involve the engine. The electrics have a bad reputation but I haven’t had so much as a bulb blow in 6000 miles, although the starter motor does sometimes hesitate unnervingly.

The previous owner had the foresight to fit a spare throttle and clutch cable alongside the ones in use. A good idea since these cables are prone to breaking, which is hardly surprising given the weight of the clutch and throttle. Bleed nipples? The alloy is so soft you can forget about trying to remove them if they’ve been untouched for a long time. This may mean getting the caliper drilled out - and there are three of them and six bleed nipples! Similarly, the front engine bolt needs to be removed and greased every six months - if only I could loosen mine off. A job for a rainy day, I suppose. I will save everyone a long explanation of the linked brakes - you either hate 'em or love ’em and you won't know until you’ve tried them. A Ford Escort battery fits and is a lot cheaper than stock.

I sometimes wonder why I run a bike with a lot less performance than most Jap bikes of the same size which has higher running costs. It is only when on runs of more than a few miles that it becomes apparent. One can’t measure a bike by speed alone. What about the exhaust note, the character, the handling, the looks, the ease of maintenance? In the face of these redeeming features, performance figures become less relevant. The Guzzi isn’t slow but it's certainly isn’t fast either. With a healthy spread of torque, the Guzzi is great fun in the traffic and along winding country roads. On motorways it’s adequate able to cruise comfortably at 80mph all day, save that the lack of a screen means the upright riding position imposes a bit of a strain on the rider.

For this type of tourer, the handling's fine, way ahead of fat old things like Gold Wings. It’s got an old fashioned feel, stable in a straight line and flickable enough through the bends (helped by the very high bars). The rear shocks are the weak point in the system and shaft drive torque reaction is not unknown. But, overall, it’s a very secure ride with plenty of feedback.

Starting from cold the Guzzi feels like an old dog but after 50 miles it‘s settled down to an amiable hum, revs freely and inspires the rider to ride off into the distance just for the sake of it. For a leisure run the bike is a real treat. Or you can thrash the thing with little fear of getting it tied up in knots - thrash the engine and it sprews out lotsa oil, the oil pipes should be routed to the back of the bike so that following cars are splattered rather than man and machine.

Despite having the occasional longing for an LC350, FJ1200 or even a Jota, I can see no reason for selling the Guzzi. It is, as they say, a bike that rewards long term ownership. After 6000 miles I suppose I do feel a bit rewarded.

The bike now has 33500 miles on the clock and I hope to double that without any real problems. Is this asking too much?

Roy Campbell

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