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'

Bike India - - CONTENTS - WORDS: ROLAND BROWN PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: PHIL MASTERS

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

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