MY MORINI AND ME
In 40 years of her ownership, Christine Wise’s Moto Morini has raced at the TT, commuted in snow, won the National Rally and even been written off – yet it’s still going strong
In 40 years of ownership, Christine Wise’s Moto Morini has commuted, raced, been written off – and is still going strong
Ifirst saw a Moto Morini 3½ Strada in MCN. My brother rode motorbikes and I read his paper every week. I was only 12 years old or so, yet I said: “I’m having one of those when I pass my test”. The Morini was just pretty – simple as that. They did the Strada and the Sport in both colours, red and silver, but for me the Sport should only have been red and the Strada should only have been silver. And only the silver Strada is pretty… My parents were never fans of me having a motorbike, but I persuaded them I needed to pass my test so if boyfriend Trevor was taken unwell, I’d be able to ride us both home. It was 1978 and I was 18. I’d spent six months in plaster after breaking my leg coming off my learner bike, a Suzuki B120.
A week after passing I went and tested the Morini at Ongar Motorcycles in Essex, near where we lived, with Trevor on the back.
The Morini felt big after the Suzuki and had engine braking, which was new to me after a little two-stroke. This wasn’t going to put me off, though – I don’t know why I had the test ride really, I was buying one regardless. I went back the next week and collected the same bike.
Trevor was busy racing, so I looked after the Strada. It was my only transport. I was commuting into London, going to the bike club, nipping to college. The most difficult thing was, and still is, changing spark plugs – I had to buy a special spanner. When I first got the bike I had a real issue starting it too, which turned out to be plugs. We spoke to a chap from NGK who Trevor knew through racing, who suggested better ones. Problem cured. Another eccentricity was the manual had tyre pressures in ‘atmospheres’, so I had to get a new gauge.
I bought the Morini in February, and by July had done 10,500 miles. Trevor and I were getting married, and my mum foolishly asked how he was getting to our wedding. He replied he was going on my bike. As soon as she sarcastically said: “Yes, dear,” that was it – the Morini was going. Our photographer noticed its ribbons and insisted on a photo, to the annoyance of Trevor’s new mother-in-law. It went on the honeymoon too.
I never contemplated a car as I’d fallen for the Morini’s riding experience, as well as its looks. We moved to Rutland, and though it had coped with riding into London, the new roads to work were what it was designed for. On the A606 towards Melton Mowbray it was adorable – lovely bends, little traffic, and fast. The finance director at work stopped me one day and said he couldn’t stay with me through the bends, and wanted to know what car to buy to keep up. I told him he needed a new 7-Series BMW… the next week he pulled up in one. Come rain, come shine, I went to work on my Morini.
It proved tractable in the snow. There was an occasion when I abandoned it, got a lift on a farm vehicle and went back later to collect it from within all the abandoned cars, but generally if a car could get through so could I. However, one morning the snow was particularly heavy, hiding deep ruts underneath. A lorry tried to overtake me but didn’t make it, hit the back of the Morini and took everything off its righthand side – mirror, indicators, rack, as well as my leg. The driver was shocked at the expletives from the girl under the helmet!
Trevor was racing a Yamaha TZ250 by this time. We’d already got 350 heads and barrels, so we could swap about and enter two classes, but he’d moved up to National level and there weren’t as many races. He’d fancied racing my Morini in the production class, which was obviously a no… but when I got knocked off, Trevor said all the bits he’d risk damaging by racing were already off the bike. New parts were coming on the insurance and he could fit them afterwards. So, for some reason, I agreed.
During that 1979 season I was still using my bike for work. We’d take off the stand and numberplate in the paddock, and Trevor used road tyres. They were club-level races with grid positions drawn out of a hat, and at the second meeting he drew front row. There was a grid full of two-strokes with dropped ’bars, in-gear with the riders’ thumbs on the starters, and a bloke at the front stood ready to use the kickstart! He got a few trophies, though – the Morini had useable grunt, handled differently to the Japanese bikes and took a different line. And if anyone barged up the inside, they got hit on the head by the high ’bars.
North Leicester Motorcycles were interested in what Trevor had done on my bike. I don’t know how the conversation came about, but we persuaded them to enter a Morini in the F3 TT in 1979, a World Championship round at the time. They had a written-off bike to use as the core of the racer, so everything was arranged and booked. Then, at the very last minute, the bike became unavailable. On the promise of a cosmetic job afterwards, Trevor asked if he could use mine… From memory, we fitted sport cams (“Not that they did much,” says Trevor), changed jetting, used open mega exhausts, and removed the alternator and charging system. We had an old TZ tank, some clip-on ’bars, and adapted a TZ fairing and seat. The wheels, forks, brakes and aftermarket air shocks I already had, all stayed. The bike’s narrow so took the TZ parts, but looked very tall. Race day at the TT was wet and foggy but gave us a moment I will treasure forever. The live commentary moved to the Bungalow where they awaited the arrival of Charlie Williams on his two-stroke Yamaha (in the F2 class, run at the same time), with the microphone ‘open’ so everyone could hear the noise. They didn’t realise the fog had thickened and Charlie had slowed, and the whole island got the sound of my four-stroke V-twin on open exhausts going flat-out into the gloom. It sounded amazing. The commentator had to rapidly explain it wasn’t Charlie Williams – it was Trevor Wise on his wife’s Morini!
All the race parts came off afterwards. This took a while so they loaned me an MZ 250. Not impressed. However, once it was a standard Strada again – just as Trevor promised, complete with new indicators – it went on being a commuter. Trevor again pushed his luck and used the bike to do the BMF National Rally with my brother. A special test determined the overall winner,
which involved riding a short, bendy course at a fixed 28.5mph or similar random speed. Trevor didn’t stand a chance, as the Morini’s speedo was only accurate to the nearest 10mph and waved around. He just kept the needle between 20 and 45mph – and won. My brother, a seasoned trialist, was miffed to say the least.
By now I’d qualified as a teacher and started at a prestigious girl’s school. Most staff lived on site, but at the interview I said I’d travel to work on my bike. “Oh, a motorcyclist,” they said. “We haven’t got one of those.” From there I moved to a local school and, after having two children, the Morini was treated to a more sedate way of life involving Sunday afternoons and local events.
As the children grew and could be left with grandparents we decided to do the 1990 National Rally; Trevor on his bike, me on my Morini. He was running a local rider training scheme and the lads gathered to wave us off. A car decided to dash between the two of us and I hit it side-on, breaking both wrists. The frame was bent and the forks were a very strange shape, so the bike was a write-off. We bought it back from the insurance, had the frame straightened, fitted new forks and plenty of other parts – Trevor loved rebuilding it.
This didn’t stop us doing many more National Rallies. They brought exciting times, like when the lights failed on the Cat and Fiddle Pass. The charging system doesn’t cope with all the electrics running for a long time. First the indicators come on but don’t flash, then the rev counter stops if the brake light is on, then the fuel solenoid stops so you have to use reserve, next the lights go, and the rev counter stops completely. Switch it all off, run the engine for a while and it all comes back.
I think we might have had the coils re-magnetised a long time ago, but I’ve had no real mechanical issues. The bike’s commuted, production raced, done rallies, competed at the TT, and we’ve never had to do anything major. The 47,000 miles showing isn’t far out – there was a short period without a speedo cable, plus the racing miles, but it’s near enough. A couple of years after the TT we took it to Wales where Gazelle made new pipes, and Trevor made the heat shields. I’ve fitted fork gaiters, and had new rear shocks as and when they got tired. I had a rack from new but this is the second one, as the first was ruined in the snow crash. It’s got tank stickers as the badges kept lifting off, but it’s the original 40-year-old seat. It was replaced after the lorry hit me with a wider one from a later model, but I was never comfy paddling around so the original was repaired.
Sometimes there’s extra neutrals; this year’s ride to the International Morini Riders Rally in Kent involved not having all the gears all the time, and sometimes more neutrals than required. You can sit at lights with it ticking over, thinking you’re in true neutral, and it’s only when you pull away you realise you’re between third and fourth. It can pull off in third two-up, so it’s not an issue; it’s a Morini letting you know she’s still a Morini.
Trevor was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease a few years ago, and as he’s no longer able to ride the Morini stood for a while. We rebuilt it last year, with help from our eldest son, just because it had stood, but didn’t find anything wrong. We’re now back putting miles on. We always ride two-up so have rear shocks to suit, allowing the Morini to still handle as it should. We planned to visit Ongar in March to celebrate our first two-up ride 40 years ago, but snow put paid to that. I’m too old for riding in the snow now. We are celebrating our Ruby Wedding Anniversary this year with a return to the hotel we honeymooned in, on the Morini.
Who could have predicted the life my Strada would lead over the four decades? Who knows what adventures lie ahead? But she’ll always be pretty...
‘THE EXTRA NEUTRALS ARE JUST A MORINI LETTING YOU KNOW SHE’S STILL A MORINI’
BELOW: Chasing two-strokes at Mallory Park
ABOVE: Who needs a white Rolls? This is far more fun
Extensive history file includes quotes for repairs after the Morini hit a car
BELOW: Always well used, it had a rack fitted from new Hagon shocks are specific for two-up duties
ABOVE: Trevor and Christine, summer 2018. Note satnav mount on the ’bars Evidence of past exploits worn with pride
Tucked in and wide open during the F3 TT back in 1979
Trevor and loaded Morini ready for a run down to Kent