Tuesday 26 July 2011

Moto Guzzi 1000S

I was wondering what the hell I'd let myself in for about thirty seconds after purchase. I'd bought the four month old, 7750 mile retro off some old codger who coughed as inconstantly as the Guzzi ran at low revs. He, clever chap, refused to give me a go at the controls but had proceeded to scare the shit out of me during a twenty minute test ride. Something to do with his reluctance to hit the brakes or obey minor traffic laws. Anyway, I'd been sufficiently impressed with the Guzzi's turn of speed to hand over a not inconsiderable wedge.

First time at the controls, the damn thing felt like a fully laden Goldwing. The clutch was incredibly heavy with a vicious take-up that caused the agricultural gearbox to scream for help and the shaft drive to jack itself up. I thought the bloody thing was going to flip off the road. I really needed both hands just to wind the throttle back, something that caused the engine to shudder between my knees as if it was about to bounce out of the tubular frame.

The steering was so slow at 20mph that I almost rammed into the back of a cage instead of shooting around it. Not helped any by a most uncomfortable riding position, I felt perched atop the machine with bars about six inches too low and the footrests six inches too far forward. My body was soon blitzed by terrible cramps, had to pull over after a mere 20 miles to stretch my limbs.

I know Guzzis take a bit of getting used to, that they only show their virtues after a bit of effort was put in, but this particular 1000S seemed so hard-core that only the most perverse motorcycling pervert would buy one after a test ride - I guess most are sold on their handsome looks.

Before I could become used to its nastiness, I had a spate of blowing fuses. Italian f..king wiring; spaghetti time. It wasn't very amusing to be tearing along on the Guzzi only to suddenly have the engine go as dead as my throttle hand after half an hour in the saddle. This turned out to be connectors falling apart due to corrosion, not too much fun as half the chassis had to be torn off to get at the more obscure connections. The solution was to tear them all out, wind the wires together, apply solder and then cover with insulation tape.

I only did this after about a month of electrical hassles, before that gaining an unwanted insight into how the Guzzi handled with a suddenly dead motor and wildly flapping back end. Well, I'm still here writing this so it couldn't have been all bad but I wrenched my back on one occasion, so badly that once I crawled off the bike I had to spend a week in bed recovering. The alternative to the vicious jerk was playing chicken with a giant artic, so I suppose I got off lightly.

It really took six months and 10,000 miles, a higher set of bars, mild rear-sets and a lot of mental activity until I became used to the Guzzi's ways. I even managed relatively smooth and quiet gearchanges, an art that only BMW boxer owners have to put in more effort to acquire. With the better riding position the seat revealed itself as reasonably comfortable, although if it was three or four inches lower I would've felt much more part of the Guzzi, but then I'm well over six feet tall.

Even after that period of acclimatization I still found the engine far from being smooth and sophisticated. Judging by the antics of the previous owner it may not have been run in well. My main complaint was that 70mph cruising in top gear, equating to a mere 4000rpm, was rough enough to affect my hands and feet after a just half hour. It didn't start to smooth out until more than 5000 revs were on the tacho and more than 90mph was on the speedo. Fine if you don't want to keep your licence for long but I really didn't want to be forced to cruise at that speed......the shaft drive meant I couldn't alter the final drive ratios by merely changing sprockets.

For a big vee-twin there was also not that much torque below 5000rpm, with a lot of grumbling from the engine, although once past those revs it would take off with enough of a kick to deserve my full, sometimes white knuckle, attention. I'd had some fun with the handling at speed until I'd turned the suspension to its highest settings at both ends and fitted some Metz tyres instead of the Pirellis that the previous owner had deemed suitable.

It still weaved a little, above 80mph, but had a nicely secure feel even on wet roads. Until about 15000 miles when the fork seals started leaking, down to my refusal to polish the forks every day, allowing them to develop as many pits as my acne scarred kid brother. With blown seals the front end seemed to bounce from bump to bump, with all kinds of heart attack inducing tremors if I tried to accelerate through it. The throttle occasionally stuck open for a few moments, which added to the insanity.

An amusing week was spent tearing the forks apart, having them rechromed and then reassembling with new seals and, yes children, gaiters. It was such a tiresome business that I had no intention of repeating it. Whilst the front end was apart I pulled the calipers out to give them a thorough clean, not that I had much to complain about with the linked brakes. I would have preferred pads that lasted for more than 6000 miles but they were cheaper than most Jap brake pads.

It wasn't cheap on fuel or oil, either. Fuel averaged about 50mpg, even at my moderate riding pace. This equated to a 200 mile range, which was certainly long enough in the saddle for me. Oil was about 200mpp, which meant I only rarely bothered to change it. The carbs stayed in balance for less than a 1000 miles, although the valves, ridiculously easy to get at as they were, could be left for the intended 3000 mile service.

The only mod I made to the engine was to fit a K & N airfilter, the OE one was deep in crud. The silencers had also become a bit noisier, some rattles where the baffles had corroded. Without doing anything to the carbs, this modification liberated some extra power below 5000rpm, smoothed out the engine running a little and improved fuel economy to 55mpg. Money very well spent (it was cheaper than buying a stock one).

Just to keep me awake, after this mod was done and I'd put 110mph on the clock with ridiculous ease, the front headlamp started blowing. It had never been very good with a dip that had me peering over the bars, ever hopeful that I might see where the road was going and a main beam that petered out into nothing. I was rather annoyed to have to spend hours tracking down the rotted wiring for such an ineffectual light. Some rewiring stopped this amusing trait from throwing me into screaming fits that had weird noises reverberating in my helmet.

Whilst the Guzzi tracks quite true in most bends, it does need an excessive amount of muscle to throw through the tighter stuff and until I was used to it, I ended up wobbling around bends in a most demented manner. It's one of those bikes that needs to be set up well in advance on its required line, but under extremis when some fear inspired muscle is applied it can be pulled on to a different line as an alternative to plowing into some mad auto or misplaced log.

As 20,000 miles came up on the clock I began to worry about the effects of winter weather on the finish. The frame paint seemed to be flaking off even where I'd patched it up with Hammerite. The tank was okay except around the filler where it was flaking off. The worst part of the bike was the exhaust, which was speckled with rust and getting louder by the day. The foot protectors on the downpipes had already fallen off. I was cleaning the bike up every weekend, a full Sunday morning's worth of hassle.

In a strange way I'd grown to quite like the Guzzi. It was a big, rough twin with enough character, even if it was the character of the black sheep of the family, to keep me coming back for more. On the open road, though, my mate on a neat CB400N, could actually burn the Guzzi off, albeit at the cost of frenzied footwork and 12000 revs on the part of my friend. I seemed to have put a lot of effort into mastering the Guzzi but not got all that much performance out of it. In town, she was still a bit of a pig, with poor running and heavy controls. It wasn’t wide but a hell of a handful to throw through gaps with anything approaching elan.

When I finally persuaded someone to give me a job as a DR there was no way the 1000S was going to be much use for the cut and thrust of the capital. I felt incredibly sad when someone rushed over to buy the Guzzi (for £100 more than I'd paid). After a year and 23000 miles the bike had become part of my life but it only took a week on a mundane Suzuki GS450E to put the Italian bouncer into perspective. The Jap did everything much better than the Guzzi, even cruising at 90mph was less of a hassle if more frenzied. I began to wonder why I’d put so much energy into the Guzzi until I saw a nicely renovated T3 that grumbled and growled, somehow had such a natural poise. These big vee-twins get into your blood!