Real Classic - - Contents - Pho­tos by David Bell

If you’re still search­ing for a clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cle which is light and lively; ruggedly prac­ti­cal and rea­son­ably priced, David Bell sug­gests Moto Guzzi’s mid­dleweight V-twin…

If you’re still search­ing for a clas­sic mo­tor­cy­cle which is light and lively; ruggedly prac­ti­cal and rea­son­ably priced, David Bell sug­gests Moto Guzzi’s mid­dleweight V-twin…

It would be dif­fi­cult to claim that I re­ally needed an­other bike. I al­ready had an ex­cel­lent mod­ern Ja­panese ma­chine and an ex­cel­lent Bri­tish clas­sic. But you know how it is: ev­ery three or four years the de­sire for some­thing new to play with starts to nag away in­sid­i­ously and is very dif­fi­cult to shake off. Since both of the ex­ist­ing bikes are def­i­nitely keep­ers, a third bike it had to be.

In the years which have passed since my 1967 de­but on an Ariel Ar­row, I have owned and rid­den a lot of bikes, but never a Moto Guzzi un­til now. I have al­ways ad­mired the pur­pose­ful look and sound of that trans­verse V-twin but never got round to own­ing one. Some­how or other, it was the V50 which took my fancy rather than one of the big ones. After all, I al­ready had two big, heavy pow­er­ful bikes, and I was at­tracted by the idea of a lively light­weight.

Al­most ev­ery­thing I read about V50s was favourable. De­signed by the leg­endary Lino Tonti, they have good looks, her­itage, light weight, a rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity and first class han­dling, and the prices are still rea­son­able com­pared to Bri­tish clas­sics. And they look and sound like a proper mo­tor­bike.

I started search­ing eBay. It took sev­eral months. I missed a good one while I was still mak­ing my mind up to ac­tu­ally buy one. Oth­ers were bas­ket cases or were hundreds of miles away. Oth­ers dis­ap­peared half way through the auc­tion. Even­tu­ally one turned up in York­shire: still quite a long way from my home in Gal­loway, but pos­si­ble to do there and back in a day. It was a go­ing con­cern, with mod­er­ate mileage ( just un­der 31,000), a re­cent MoT, and looked as though it didn’t need too much work. The ask­ing price was at the top end of what I wanted to pay, but who knew when an­other one would come up within a rea­son­able dis­tance?

I sent a de­posit and set off to York­shire a few days later in my trusty van with a suitable wad of cash. The bike was a lit­tle bit scruffy, but it started eas­ily (al­ways a good sign), ticked over like a clock, sounded healthy, and ev­ery­thing worked. The tyres were new. I took the plunge, coughed up, and loaded it into the van. It was a 1979 Mk2, which seems to be the com­mon­est model in the UK.

The Mk2 has the ben­e­fit of Nikasil plated cylin­der bores and Bosch elec­tronic ig­ni­tion and pro­duces a claimed 45bhp, which is prob­a­bly a slight ex­ag­ger­a­tion. The sub­se­quent Mk3s had larger car­bu­ret­tors and a claimed 3bhp in­crease in power. The café racer Monza ver­sion had the same engine as the Mk3. Strangely, the Mk3 re­verted to points ig­ni­tion in­stead of elec­tronic, al­legedly to ad­dress a flat spot in the Mk2’s ac­cel­er­a­tion curve, of which more later.

On get­ting the bike home, I changed all the oils and took it for a cou­ple of longish runs to see what needed to be done. My plan was to sort out any prob­lems and smarten it up a bit over the win­ter. I al­ready knew that some­thing would have to be done about the horrible look­ing seat and the scruffy ex­haust. My wife had tem­po­rar­ily ‘bor­rowed’ half my work­shop space, so I would have to do the work in a rather crowded garage.

Test rid­ing didn’t re­veal any ma­jor hor­rors. The worst dis­cov­ery was leak­ing fork oil seals due to pit­ted stan­chions hid­den by the fork gaiters (how had it passed the MoT?), and the di­rec­tional sta­bil­ity, which was OK at lower speeds, but be­came dis­tinctly vague at any­thing over 65mph. The steer­ing head bear­ings were fine, as were the swing­ing arm and wheel bear­ings, but a fork strip was ob­vi­ously re­quired.

In fact, the oil in V50 forks is only there to

lu­bri­cate the slid­ers: the damp­ing is pro­vided by sealed car­tridge dampers. The fork legs came out eas­ily, but the dampers and springs are an­chored to the bot­tom of the slid­ers by an allen bolt deeply re­cessed into the bot­tom of the slider. Th­ese bolts had prob­a­bly never been un­done since they left the fac­tory in 1979, and they were tight. They ob­vi­ously needed the at­ten­tions of an im­pact wrench, which I didn’t have, so I took the slid­ers in to my friendly lo­cal bike shop, A&G Mo­tor­cy­cles of Dum­fries, who had the bolts out in sec­onds. This re­vealed that the dampers didn’t damp, that one of them was half seized, and that the springs had com­pressed to nearly an inch shorter than they should be.

Thanks par­tic­u­larly to Gut­si­bits, the spares sup­ply for old Guzzis is ex­cel­lent. So I was able to re­build the forks with new dampers, new pro­gres­sive springs, new stan­chions, new seals and new gaiters. Gaiters aren’t a stan­dard fit­ting, as V50s fol­lowed the nor­mal 1970s fash­ion of ex­posed stan­chions, but they pro­tect the stan­chions and in my opin­ion have a more clas­sic ap­pear­ance while do­ing away with the spindly look. The only orig­i­nal bits left were the al­loy slid­ers, which I rubbed down and sprayed with acid etch primer. This was fol­lowed by sev­eral sprayed coats of smooth sil­ver Ham­merite and topped with a cou­ple of coats of clear lac­quer, leav­ing them look­ing as good as new.

I didn’t ex­pect any prob­lems in putting the front wheel back in, but I was wrong, of course. On the port side, there is a longish steel spacer be­tween the fork and the wheel. On the star­board side are the speedo drive and a thick spacer washer. The draw­ings in both the Guzzi work­shop manual and the Guzzi parts list show this spacer to be be­tween the wheel and the speedo drive. I soon found that if you as­sem­ble it this way, the wheel has a quar­ter of an inch side play and the speedo drive won’t work. After some head scratching and two more un­suc­cess­ful re-as­sem­blies, I re­alised that the Guzzi draw­ings were rub­bish, and that the spacer ac­tu­ally goes be­tween the fork and the speedo drive.

Two lessons learned: pay more at­ten­tion when you take things apart, and don’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing you see in print!

Given the state of the front sus­pen­sion, I thought that I had bet­ter check the back as well. Rightly, as it turned out. On re­mov­ing the springs from the two old Mon­roe units, I found that one of the dampers was half seized, so a pair of new shocks was re­quired. I don’t think that ex­pen­sive multi-ad­justable gas shocks are re­ally nec­es­sary on a light­weight bike of mod­er­ate per­for­mance like the V50. A bit of Googling found that NJB shocks were gen­er­ally well thought of, and their Clas­sic model, based on pe­riod Gir­lings, are rea­son­ably priced and look the part on a 1979 bike, so on they went.

I fit­ted new sin­tered brake pads, al­though the old pads weren’t bad. V50s, like many Guzzis, have a linked brak­ing sys­tem, where the foot pedal op­er­ates the front left and rear Brembo disc brakes, with the front right be­ing operated by the han­dle­bar lever. The brake discs are cast iron. On Mk2s, the front brake mas­ter cylin­der nor­mally lives un­der the petrol tank and is operated by a short ca­ble from the han­dle­bar lever. The Mk3 has a han­dle­bar-mounted mas­ter cylin­der operated di­rectly by the brake lever, and my bike has one of th­ese, fit­ted by the last owner.

Most things on a V50 are easy to get at. One ex­cep­tion is the bulky air cleaner hous­ing, which also acts as a col­lec­tor for the rocker box breathers, re­turn­ing the oil to the sump. It lives be­tween the cylin­ders, un­der the petrol tank, and is a pig to get at, in­volv­ing re­mov­ing one of the car­bu­ret­tors. Un­for­tu­nately I needed to know what state the fil­ter was in. When I even­tu­ally got at it, I found the fil­ter to be in as-new con­di­tion, so I had wasted my time, but at least it gave me peace of mind.

Checking the valve clear­ances was re­ally easy, with the rocker boxes stuck out there in the breeze. The clear­ances were a bit tight, so I opened them up to the rec­om­mended gap. Nice to deal with a good old pushrod engine again!

Open­ing and clos­ing the throt­tle produced a tell-tale dou­ble click when the throt­tle slides hit their stops. In­ves­ti­ga­tion showed that one ca­ble had about 1/8” more play than the other one. This was eas­ily adjusted out, and now the slides rise and fall as one.

All the re­main­ing jobs were largely cos­metic. I took great plea­sure in bin­ning the rusty ex­haust pipes and the non-stan­dard short, fat re­verse cone meg­gas, which made a nice deep fruity sound but looked clumsy. I re­placed them with a pol­ished stain­less Kei­han sys­tem which repli­cated the chrome stan­dard pipes and looked great, al­though it was the most ex­pen­sive part of the whole job. I also binned the wob­bly mir­rors and fit­ted a much neater and stead­ier bar-end mir­ror.

The seat was com­fort­able but looked like an over­sized two-tone plas­tic sofa. It was packed up and sent to Les Wood at Sad­dle­craft in South Shields. Les was friendly and knowl­edge­able. A cou­ple of long tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions and an ex­change of pho­tos by email soon sorted out what to do. On strip­ping off the old cover, he found that some­one had cov­ered the orig­i­nal foam with a wrap­around ex­tra layer, so it was no won­der that it had looked a bit fat. He also found that the steel seat pan was rot­ten with rust at the sides, where rain­wa­ter had been trapped by the cover. This was re­paired ef­fec­tively with lay­ers of glass fi­bre and re­painted. The ex­tra foam was re­moved, and the orig­i­nal foam, which was in good con­di­tion, was re­shaped to take out the step in the mid­dle and give a flat­ter pro­file. (Some V50 seats are flat and oth­ers are stepped – I’m not sure why this is, but I like them flat so that I have room to move about).

As for the new seat cover, Les can do pretty much what­ever you want. I chose a fairly grainy ma­te­rial, with a ribbed top, coloured stitch­ing to match the bike’s paint­work (I thought that coloured pip­ing would be OTT),

and ‘Moto Guzzi’ im­pressed into the back. I was de­lighted with the re­sults when I got the seat back. The qual­ity of work­man­ship is ex­cel­lent and the price was very rea­son­able: I would cer­tainly use Sad­dle­craft again.

Next on the tidy-up list was re­plac­ing the horns. The twin Fi­amm horns worked fine and sounded good, but looked too bulky and ob­tru­sive on this com­pact and el­e­gant bike. The stan­dard horn for th­ese bikes is a Vox­bell with a chrome front grille. Th­ese are quite ex­pen­sive to buy, and look a bit blingy for my taste. My mod­ern bike, a Yamaha TDM900, has a small but very ef­fec­tive sin­gle horn, so I looked for an­other one on eBay. The TDM and the R1, as well as shar­ing their front brakes, also use the same horn. I found an un­used ex­am­ple, re­moved from a brand new R1, and it fits very neatly and un­ob­tru­sively into the V50. And be­ing from an R1, I con­fi­dently ex­pect it to give me at least an ex­tra 10mph on the top speed.

The front di­rec­tion in­di­ca­tors on a V50 are nor­mally mounted on a bar bolted to the back of the front forks. On my bike, a pre­vi­ous owner has moved them to a home­made alu­minium bracket bolted to the horn-mount­ing plate be­tween the frame down­tubes. I painted this bracket black, and the ar­range­ment now looks as if it could be an orig­i­nal fit­ment. In fact, I think that I pre­fer it to the stan­dard set-up, and I have no plans to change it.

The next job was the paint­work. The petrol tank, side pan­els and rear mud­guard had ev­i­dently been re­sprayed al­ready, in an or­angey red quite close to the orig­i­nal colour, but slightly more or­ange than the orig­i­nal. The head­lamp brack­ets had been brush painted in a slightly dif­fer­ent shade, and the front mud­guard was black, so they needed to be sprayed to match the rest of the bike. I took one of the side pan­els into the lo­cal Hal­fords to see if I could match the colour. Ford Car­ni­val Red looked right, and it proved to be a per­fect match. Once you get the hang of them, you can get quite a de­cent re­sult with rat­tle cans and T-cut, and the mud­guard and head­lamp brack­ets were soon trans­formed.

This just left the frame and the head­lamp shell, both of which had mi­nor patches of rust here and there. The head­lamp was soon rubbed down, treated, primed and sprayed satin black to match its orig­i­nal fin­ish. I wasn’t go­ing to strip the whole bike down to get the frame pow­der coated, so I just rubbed it down, treated and primed the rusty bits, and brush painted it with Hal­fords black gloss enamel, us­ing a very soft brush, and get­ting a pretty good fin­ish.

In the course of the var­i­ous jobs, I also spent a few pounds on new stain­less steel fas­ten­ers. V50s use a lot of socket headed bolts rather than the usual hexagon heads, and th­ese look good in stain­less. It’s a cheap way of smarten­ing a ma­chine up.

An­other lit­tle task was fit­ting a stem nut clock, as I like to have a clock on my bikes. I couldn’t find one to fit over the V50’s rather large stem nut. How­ever, I had one left over from a Hinck­ley Bon­neville I once owned. The in­ter­nal di­am­e­ter of the clock hous­ing was

about a mil­lime­tre too small to fit over the nut, so I marked out where the points of the nut touched it and ground some shal­low grooves with a Dremel, after which it fit­ted a treat.

I fi­nally wheeled the bike out on Easter Mon­day for its first post-over­haul run. It be­haved it­self per­fectly, and has done so ever since. So what is it like to ride?

The starter mo­tor feels pow­er­ful and kicks the trans­verse engine into in­stant life with a slight twitch sideways. First gear goes in qui­etly, and sub­se­quent changes are light and ac­cu­rate. Ac­cel­er­a­tion is pretty lively for a 500, as it is so light and there­fore has a good power to weight ra­tio.

Gearing is quite low, show­ing 6000rpm at an in­di­cated 70mph. The engine is smooth when bur­bling along at 30 to 40mph, then there is a mild vi­bra­tion pe­riod when ac­cel­er­at­ing from 40 to 50, then it smooths out again. Back in the day, road tests claimed that they would cruise at 80mph. Maybe they will, but I can’t help feel­ing that it would be cruel to old ma­chin­ery. Per­haps I am too used to my other two bikes, both of which are high geared and re­laxed at speed. The V50 feels happy and un­stressed at 50-60. 70mph is still smooth, but feels a lit­tle busy to me. Top speed is claimed to be 105, but I wouldn’t like to rev the engine so hard. The ex­haust note sounds great at all engine speeds.

Apart from a high com­pres­sion ra­tio, it is in a gen­er­ally mild state of tune and pulls well from low revs. On my bike at least, there is no trace of the al­leged ‘Mk2 flat spot.’ It is in­ter­est­ing to note that Dave Richardson sug­gests in his Moto Guzzi bi­ble ‘ Guzzi­ol­ogy’ that the re­ver­sion from elec­tronic to points ig­ni­tion on the Mk3 may ac­tu­ally have been to save money, and that, in his ex­pe­ri­ence, it is the Mk3 that is more likely to have the prob­lem.

The linked brak­ing sys­tem is ex­cel­lent. Un­like mod­ern brakes, which slow you down dra­mat­i­cally with sin­gle-fin­ger pres­sure, 1970s brakes need a bit more pres­sure to be ap­plied, but a mod­er­ate press on the brake pedal brings you to a rapid and con­trolled halt, with no ap­pre­cia­ble fork dive. Use of the han­dle­bar lever brings the other front disc into play if re­ally hard brak­ing is re­quired.

Now that I have sorted out the sus­pen­sion at both ends, the ride is com­fort­able and the han­dling is sub­lime: prob­a­bly the best I have ex­pe­ri­enced. Sta­ble, but light, flick­able and ac­cu­rate. Bril­liant.

The bike’s other strik­ing fea­tures are its small size and light weight. Its dry weight is only 152kg, so it is like a 250 with a 500 engine. For com­par­i­son, the V50’s con­tem­po­rary ri­val, the Honda CX500, weighed 217kg dry. The cur­rent ultra-light Yamaha R1 sports bike weighs 179kg dry. Al­though the V50 is quite com­pact, I am 6ft tall and find it per­fectly com­fort­able. As we progress through our mo­tor­cy­cling ca­reers, most of us tend to buy ever more pow­er­ful and cor­re­spond­ingly big­ger and heav­ier bikes. More power is al­ways nice to have, but ev­ery sil­ver lin­ing has a cloud, and ex­tra power is nearly al­ways ac­com­pa­nied by ex­tra weight. In rid­ing the V50, I have re­dis­cov­ered the special plea­sure of chuck­ing a small, light, eas­ily con­trol­lable ma­chine around the back roads.

It is not the bike I would choose for re­laxed long dis­tance motorway work, but for zap­ping around coun­try roads it would be hard to beat. My TDM can do the motorway stuff. For a to­tal out­lay of less than three grand, I now have a very char­ac­ter­ful lit­tle clas­sic that is easy to han­dle, looks and sounds great, and is al­ready giv­ing me a lot of en­joy­ment.

David’s Guzzi as orig­i­nally bought. Re­mark­able seat, that. Cu­ri­ous si­lencers, also

Job done

Work in progress, then. A gen­tle cos­metic job?

The new seat from Sad­dle­craft is some­thing of an im­prove­ment, and is also com­fort­able, which is a god thing in a seat

More suitable stain­less si­lencers re­placed the ear­lier items, while a pair of NJB shocks pro­vide rear end com­fort and con­trol

Not en­tirely orig­i­nal, but neat and ef­fec­tive, so per­fectly great!

Above far right: New stain­less ex­hausts show off the high qual­ity al­loy of the engine, with the sump be­low and an easy-ac­cess oil filler

Right: Ital­ian style!

Above right: Moto Guzzi’s small-block en­gines are com­pact as they come, dis­tinc­tive and smooth. The pedal op­er­ates the linked brakes

Above: Guzzi forks of this pe­riod were a lit­tle un­usual in that the damp­ing is pro­vided by sealed car­tridge dampers – the oil in­side the legs only lu­bri­cates

Pi­lot’s view. Tempt­ing, no?

Brembo calipers pro­vide the stop­ping. One of them is operated by the rear brake pedal, while the other is more con­ven­tional, with a hand squeeze do­ing the usual thing

Typ­i­cal stylish Guzzi clocks of the pe­riod – a view en­hanced by the ad­di­tion of a neat pre-dig­i­tal time­piece

Fi­nal drive is by shaft, log­i­cally enough, while the rear disc is tucked away in­side a home of its own

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