Moto Guzzi V50 Monza
'Relatively few Monzas were sold outside Italy, and the model could hardly be seen as a great commercial success. But you only need one short ride to discover why most people who rode a Monza back in the 1980s loved it'
We try to discover why people loved the Monza back in the 1980s
I REMEMBER MY FIRST acquaintance with Moto Guzzi’s V50 Monza so clearly that it might have happened yesterday, instead of more than 35 years ago. It was the summer of 1982 and I was riding a Laverda Jota — which, at the time, was still just about the fastest superbike on the road. On a curving main road I caught sight of another bike up ahead, and gunned the big triple harder with a view to catching up and blasting past as quickly as possible.
Well, I caught up with the other bike, all right, but it took longer than I’d expected — and I soon realised that this fellow was going fast enough that I wouldn’t just be able to blast past and disappear. For several kilometres I followed, riding pretty hard to keep up as he threw what I soon recognised as a Moto Guzzi through a series of sweeping bends at an impressive speed.
Then we both had to stop for some traffic lights, and I got a shock to pull alongside the rival “superbike” — and realise that far from being a Le Mans 1000, as I’d expected, it was the legendary sports bike’s little brother, the V50 Monza. Such had been the bike’s pace that it had not even occurred to me that it could be putting out less than 50 PS from its 490-cc, shaft-drive V-twin engine.
On further reflection, I was less surprised to realise that the bike was a Monza, because back in the early 1980s the sports version of Guzzi’s V50 middleweight was regarded as one of the quickest and best middleweights on the road. The naked V50 itself had earned a good reputation following its launch in 1978, and the arrival of the faired Monza had added some extra sporting style as well as useful weather protection.
The Monza was essentially a scaled-down version of the Le Mans, having a neat handlebar fairing and angular dual-seat, which combined with those sticking-out air-cooled cylinders to give an unmistakable family resemblance. Its clip-on handlebars maintained the racy image, and the Monza also had slightly less restrictive exhausts and taller gearing than the standard V50. Most Monzas came in traditional Italian red paintwork rather than this bike’s silver.
After throwing a leg over the generously padded seat of this very clean 1983-model Monza, I was quickly reminded that in those days most sports models were far less single-minded than the machines we’re used to today. The clip-ons were narrow and steeply angled but the riding position was fairly upright, and the foot-rests were located reasonably well forward.
Even before pulling away I enjoyed the nostalgic feel of a uniquely Moto Guzzi experience: the view of twin Veglia clocks and multicoloured rectangular warning lights; turning on the ignition with the trademark hinged key; reaching down to apply the white plastic choke lever on the left Dell’Orto carburettor; and, finally, pressing the starter button to send the motor into life with a whoomp from the twin pipes and a torque-reaction rock to the right.
If there’s one word that best describes the feel of Guzzi’s smaller V-twin motors, it’s perhaps “sweet”. They combine the V-twin charm of the bigger units with additional high-rev smoothness and a notably rider-friendly character. That’s not always true, because early models were fitted with an electronic ignition system that created an annoying mid-range flat-spot. But Guzzi cured that in 1981 with the MkIII model, which went back to contact breakers; an effective if seemingly retrograde change. At the same time, the factory fitted bigger 28-mm (from 24-mm) Dell’Orto carbs, and enlarged the inlet valves by two mm, increasing peak output by four PS to a claimed 48 PS at 7,600 rpm.
This MkIII certainly ran very sweetly throughout the range, without missing a beat. I was sometimes aware that it wasn’t making a huge amount of low-rev or mid-range torque — that’s what the bigger Guzzi motors were good at, after all. But the little pushrod twin pulled very cleanly from 3,000 rpm and below, and had a wonderfully smooth, free-revving feel. In conjunction with the slow but positive five-speed gearbox that encouraged me to keep it spinning towards the tacho’s 8,000-rpm yellow mark, if not the red zone that began 1,000 rpm later.
Even when revved hard, the Guzzi’s outright speed was not all that great, with a top speed of about 175 km/h that was bettered by plenty of middleweights, including Ducati’s Pantah. Where the Monza scored, though, was with its rideability. The fairing and screen gave a level of wind protection not approached by most contemporary rivals, and combined with the slightly leant-forward riding position to make the Guzzi capable of cruising comfortably at close to its maximum speed.
The engine’s smoothness and the well-padded seat also aided highspeed comfort. The relatively softly-tuned twin’s good fuel economy combined with the 15.5-litre tank to give a range of about 250 km in normal use. And on really long trips the shaft final drive gave an edge over rivals’ stretch-prone chains.
A Monza rider didn’t need to slow down all that much for the bends either, as that chap I caught up in 1982 had demonstrated so
impressively. Guzzi’s big V-twins had earned an impressive reputation for handling and stability through the 1970s and the smaller models upheld that while adding the benefits of less weight and greater manoeuvrability. At a true 165 kg with five litres of fuel in its tank, the Monza was 50 kg lighter than a Le Mans as well as considerably more compact, with a wheelbase that was 63 mm shorter at 1,448 mm.
This bike’s narrow Pirellis — 3.25-inch front, 3.50-inch rear — helped to give respectably quick steering despite the old-fashioned steering geometry and 18-inch diameter wheels. Perhaps, it was the rather worn front MT65 that made the bike tend to fall into bends rather abruptly. But the Pirellis were sticky enough to make good use of the reasonably generous ground clearance and the Monza handled well enough to be plenty of fun.
Riders who tested the bike when it was new certainly thought so, too. “Its power to weight ratio makes it a real joy in back road twistery,” wrote one. “You can shoot into bends as fast as you dare, only to find that the Monza could have gone faster. It lets you know that you are in control — you can even change your mind about your course when you’re cranked right over in the middle of a bend.”
Good quality suspension was an important reason for that, along with the strength of Guzzi’s tubular steel frame design. The forks and shocks were air-assisted, so offered potential for tuning, although the air valves were difficult to reach without the aid of a special pump. Fortunately, this bike’s front end gave a ride that was reasonably firm and very well controlled. The same was true of the shocks, despite the inevitable extra weight of the Monza’s drive shaft system.
The brakes were powerful, too. Guzzi’s linked Brembo system used the foot lever for the rear plus one front disc, and the handlebar lever for the other front rotor. Using just my right boot was enough to have the Monza shedding speed at an impressive rate. Squeezing the hand lever to add the third disc gave stopping power that few contemporary rivals could have matched.
I wasn’t totally convinced by the linked system, because that single front disc on its own didn’t have much bite. For normal braking it was necessary to lift my foot on to the pedal, rather than simply squeeze the hand lever as normal. But, overall, the Guzzi setup worked well enough to show why it was so highly regarded in its day. That would doubtless have been even more true if I’d ridden the bike in the wet, when some contemporary Japanese disc-brake systems were still scarily poor.
The Monza’s lighter weight meant that it had the potential to stop even harder than bigger Guzzis, further enhancing its giant-killing potential. That was just one of its many attributes that added up to a bike that was outstanding in many ways, not just by the standards of its class. It could not be described as fast even in its day, but it offered respectable performance, sweet handling and comfort. It was capable of maintaining high average speeds, and had an appealing style and character all of its own.
Perhaps, the one significant thing that the Monza lacked was the hairy-chested charisma of Moto Guzzi’s big-bore V-twins. On the contrary, the diminutive and softly tuned V50 had been viewed by many as an ideal woman’s bike, just as its modern namesakes are today. The faired model inherited that image to a degree, which possibly didn’t help sales. The inevitably high cost of Guzzi ownership was more of a problem with a middleweight, too.
The result of that was that relatively few Monzas were sold outside Italy, and the model could hardly be seen as a great commercial success. But you only need one short ride to discover why most people who rode a Monza back in the 1980s loved it. And why I had so much trouble getting past that hard-ridden example all those years ago.
The smooth 490-cc V-twin was one of V50 Monza's highlights
Twin Veglia clocks added to the motorcycle's style
Linked Brembo system took care of braking duties
Style was never scarce with this Moto Guzzi