TWIN GUZZIS ..............................................

Real Classic - - News - Pho­tos by Nick Adams and Norm

Take two V-twins of the same en­gine ca­pac­ity, built by the same man­u­fac­turer, in the same decade. Surely the rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence will be sim­i­larly con­sis­tent? Nick Adams ex­per­i­ments with an au­to­matic Con­vert along­side his old faith­ful El­do­rado…

If I had an ounce of com­mon sense I would prob­a­bly have realised that set­ting off on a multi-day, many mile ad­ven­ture on a new-to-me 1976 Moto Guzzi Con­vert with a leaky drive box was a recipe for dis­as­ter. A few days ear­lier, one of the Guzzi rid­ers I was lead­ing on a 200 mile spin around east­ern On­tario pointed out an ugly coat­ing of who-knows-what cov­er­ing the lower half of the case.

‘ That’s just ex­cess spline lube,’ said I, ever the op­ti­mist. ‘Smells like gear oil,’ said Peter. Peter was right. By the time I was well into the east­ern town­ships of Que­bec, head­ing to­wards the At­lantic coast, the side of my rear tyre was soaked and there was no over­look­ing the grue­some mess coat­ing the rear of the bike. There was lit­tle I could do but drain out the old stuff, re­fill with new, and beat a hasty re­treat home.

While the Con­vert had gen­er­ally been per­form­ing ad­mirably, there had al­ready been a cou­ple of hic­cups. Head­ing in to Sal­aberry-deVal­ley­field I’d stood up to stretch my knees then sat down hard. What I didn’t re­alise, un­til I tried to start the bike af­ter a cof­fee stop, was I had crushed a fuse holder be­neath the seat. While

my weight was hold­ing it to­gether, the bike would run. Re­lieved of my con­sid­er­able bulk, the bike was dead. It took me a few mo­ments to trou­ble-shoot that one, re­move the fuse and its holder en­tirely, and carry on.

Most of the time the Con­vert ran beau­ti­fully. I was get­ting used to for­get­ting all about gears, rather en­joy­ing the way the bike ac­cel­er­ated smoothly from a stand­still to what­ever speed you chose. Al­though the 71 horse­power V-twin loses quite a bit of power through the trans­mis­sion, it’s still de­cep­tively quick off the line. There is no wasted mo­men­tum while you shift gears and it is more than a match for mod­ern traf­fic.

Start­ing is its own, unique game. You have to take it off the ex­cel­lent, Harley- style side­stand first oth­er­wise the bike won’t start. Pull in the clutch – yes, it has a clutch, al­though once you’re mov­ing you never use it – turn on the ig­ni­tion, then hit the starter but­ton on the right han­dle­bar. As­sum­ing you haven’t ac­ci­den­tally nudged the kill switch with your knuckle (as I did dur­ing one road­side stop to check the map, al­most flat­ten­ing the bat­tery un­til I clued in), the bike will start and set­tle in to a nice steady idle.

Now let go of the clutch. Yes, re­ally! It seems daft, but the bike con­tin­ues to sit there, idling nicely, with the clutch fully out. You may feel a slight, for­ward surg­ing from the torque con­verter, but no more than you might no­tice from an au­to­matic car. What­ever else you do at this point, don’t blip the throt­tle or you’ll bury your­self into the back of the ve­hi­cle ahead of you. There is no neu­tral. Like it or not, you are al­ways in first or se­cond. First is best for around town or for snappy starts, al­though it’s good for up to 80mph, but I leave mine in se­cond and just for­get about the gears al­to­gether. Ac­cord­ing to the col­lec­tive wis­dom of Con­vert cognoscenti, chang­ing gears on-the-fly is a no-no any­way.

As you slowly open the throt­tle the bike moves for­wards. Lift your feet onto the flat floor­boards and you are away. Want to go faster? Twist the grip some more. The en­gine will bel­low a bit at first, but as the road speed grad­u­ally catches up with the en­gine noise, things set­tle down to a con­tented hum. Like all big-block Guzzis, the en­gine is a bit grumbly be­low 3500rpm, but in to­tal con­trast to Bri­tish par­al­lel twins, the Guzzi V-twins be­come smoother the faster you go. By 60mph, vir­tu­ally all vi­bra­tion has dis­ap­peared. You can feel a lit­tle through the floor­boards, but it is never in­tru­sive. It’s one of the char­ac­ter­is­tics that makes big Guzzis so

suit­able for big dis­tances and long hours in the sad­dle. One of the beau­ties of the Con­vert is you are al­ways in the right gear. Stuck be­hind a pan­tech­ni­con and see a gap in the traf­fic? No need to waste time fid­dling with clutch and gears, just open the throt­tle and roar by. Brake hard for an un­ex­pect­edly tight bend? No need to drop down through the gears – just open the throt­tle and power around. It’s odd, mag­i­cal and sur­pris­ingly ful­fill­ing.

As you glide to a stop there’s no need to pull in the clutch; just con­trol your speed with the brakes and come to a halt. As the road speed slows, the torque con­verter stops trans­fer­ring power to the rear wheel. It’s all so smooth and un­usual that the big­gest dan­ger is for­get­ting to put a foot down at all. Did I men­tion – don’t blip the throt­tle?

My aban­doned trip ‘out-east’ gave me a chance to com­pare the Con­vert and my El­do­rado as long dis­tance tour­ers. While the Con­vert sat in the garage await­ing rear-end surgery, I jumped on my 1972 Guzzi El­do­rado for a 475 mile, day-long loop into Que­bec while the ex­pe­ri­ence of rid­ing the Con­vert was still fresh in my mind.

Su­per­fi­cially, the two bikes are rather sim­i­lar. They share the same ba­sic ar­chi­tec­ture of across-the-frame V-twin, shaft drive and 4.00 x 18-inch wheels, front and rear. They even share the same dis­place­ment. The pre­vi­ous owner of the El­do­rado had su­per-sized its 850cc en­gine to 949cc by re­plac­ing the orig­i­nal chrome bore cylin­ders with larger, iron bore units.

From the sad­dle you’d swear that the Con­vert was the big­ger bike. The high, wide han­dle­bars tend to push you back to­wards the mid­dle of the seat, leav­ing acres of bike ahead of you. Be­cause I have low bars and cur­rently have that ugly 1970s King & Queen seat on the El­do­rado, I sit much closer to the front wheel. It feels chunky, but smaller. In fact, parked side-by-side they look to be of re­mark­ably sim­i­lar size – an im­pres­sion borne out by the stats. The loop-framed El­do­rado has a wheel­base of 58 inches, ex­actly the same as the Tonti-framed Con­vert. The frames are of to­tally dif­fer­ent de­sign, but Moto Guzzi ob­vi­ously de­cided that 58 inches was a magic num­ber for their bikes and re­tained it.

I have rid­den some long days on the El­do­rado and know what to ex­pect. When rid­ing with­out a fair­ing, the low bars give me just enough for­ward lean to coun­ter­act the wind, and, with my feet po­si­tioned just be­hind and be­low my knees, it’s a po­si­tion I can tol­er­ate for many hours. I say tol­er­ate be­cause the cur­rent seat locks me into a sin­gle po­si­tion which starts to be­come weari­some af­ter a while. Some­times you just have to tough it out, ig­nore the fact that your back­side is aching and your knees are cramped and just get on with it.

You sit bolt up­right on the Con­vert, well back on the seat, with feet di­rectly be­neath the knees. The bar ends are at el­bow height which feels strange at first. I toyed with the idea of chang­ing the bars, even go­ing so far as to dig out a cou­ple of other bends from my pile of junk to see if I liked the look and feel. In the end lazi­ness pre­vailed and I left them alone – and I’m glad I did.

As the pic­tures no doubt show, I added my sheep­skin and beads to stiffen and raise the seat a lit­tle. The soft foam on the Con­vert’s seat was let­ting me set­tle in just a bit too much for com­fort. As I’m new to the bike, I had been ex­pect­ing my body to com­plain about the un­usual rid­ing po­si­tion. To my sur­prise, even af­ter a long day, I was still com­fort­able. My back­side had no com­plaints, my shoul­ders didn’t have that knife-in-the­neck feel­ing that some­times ac­com­pa­nies a long ride and my knees were un­af­fected. Be­ing able to shift around on the floor­boards and the seat may have helped, al­though I’m fairly sure I stuck to one po­si­tion most of the time. Most as­ton­ish­ingly, the seat gave me no trou­ble at all over al­most 600 miles. It has been de­scribed by some as the best seat in mo­tor­cy­cling. I now see why.

Al­though only sep­a­rated by four man­u­fac­ture years, the two bikes are a gen­er­a­tion apart. The El­do­rado looks and feels to be from an ear­lier time. Any time I stop, I in­vari­ably get asked ‘What year is it?’, be­fore the in­evitable ‘Moto Guzzi? Who makes them?’ con­ver­sa­tions. It is in­stantly

recog­nis­able as an old bike. The big, heavy front hub looks ar­chaic: the deep metal mud­guards ac­tu­ally live up to their name.

The El­do­rado’s brakes work well enough. The front four-lead­ing shoe (which I grafted on from a 1974 model) has an un­usual feel. When you squeeze the lever, at first very lit­tle hap­pens. Squeeze a bit more and it quickly be­comes very ef­fec­tive, hav­ing no trou­ble haul­ing the heavy bike to a halt. I should prob­a­bly ad­just it for a bit more feel but, well, you get used to th­ese things af­ter a while. The rear brake has al­ways been ex­cel­lent, pro­vid­ing pro­gres­sive power, di­rectly cor­re­spond­ing to the amount of pres­sure ap­plied to the pedal.

The Con­vert has Guzzi’s much praised linked brakes. The foot pedal op­er­ates the rear brake and one of the front discs while the right-side han­dle­bar lever op­er­ates the other front disc. It’s a sys­tem that works very well. The discs are cast iron and sub­ject to flashrust­ing if left to sit in a damp en­vi­ron­ment. On my bike I can feel a low speed pul­sa­tion em­a­nat­ing from the rear disc where a patch of cor­ro­sion has pit­ted the oth­er­wise smooth sur­face. It’s a bit ir­ri­tat­ing, and one of th­ese days I’ll do some­thing about it. The discs are read­ily avail­able, but they’re ex­pen­sive – and I’m cheap.

The evo­lu­tion of the big-block Guzzis shows most clearly in the frame. The El­do­rado’s loop frame is mas­sively built and im­mensely strong. Peo­ple have stuffed many dif­fer­ent en­gines into it in a search for the ul­ti­mate bike, or just to sat­isfy their peculiar ex­per­i­men­ta­tion quirks. Over the years I’ve seen pic­tures of Subaru and VW flat four en­gined spe­cials, as well as one rather nicely con­structed bike us­ing a marine Yan­mar 3GM30 diesel en­gine. Ba­si­cally, what­ever you choose to hang in there, it seems the frame can han­dle it.

No­body could ever ac­cuse loop frame Guzzis of hav­ing sharp han­dling, but it is steady, sta­ble and pre­dictable. In many miles of travel, I have yet to ex­pe­ri­ence a sit­u­a­tion where the bike got me into trou­ble. I’ve had a few ‘whoops’ mo­ments, but they have all oc­curred be­cause of my own mis­judge­ment and noth­ing that could be at­trib­uted to the bike. In­deed, dur­ing the bless­edly few times that I have to­tally mis­judged a cor­ner, I’ve been able to lean in hard and make it round with­out the slight­est com­plaint from the bike. Be­cause I of­ten ride on gravel roads, I have a

ten­dency to run with soft tyres which, when the bike is heav­ily loaded, cause it to wal­low. It’s a trib­ute to the frame de­sign that even un­der th­ese con­di­tions the El­do­rado han­dles safely and con­sis­tently.

The Tonti-framed Con­vert is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent an­i­mal. Com­pared to the El­do­rado, it is feels lithe and ath­letic. Now don’t laugh. I know some of you will be won­der­ing how an al­most 600lb, au­to­matic, low revving tour­ing bike with high bars and floor­boards can be con­sid­ered ath­letic, but it has to be rid­den to be be­lieved. The race-bred Tonti frame is es­sen­tially iden­ti­cal to the frames used on Guzzi’s 1970s fac­tory sports bikes – the V7 Sport, the 750s, the 750S3, etc – and it shows, even when used on a bloated tourer. Lean the Con­vert hard into a cor­ner and it just goes around; no drama, no fuss. Noth­ing scrapes or grinds, noth­ing wob­bles, just safe, se­cure han­dling. Com­pared to the El­do­rado, the steer­ing feels light, es­pe­cially at low speeds, but this is prob­a­bly be­cause my weight is cen­tred well back from the steer­ing head and the wide bars give im­mense lever­age. On the move though, the front wheel feels well planted, the bike eas­ily fol­low­ing wher­ever it points.

Ei­ther bike is an ideal long dis­tance tour­ing mount and I can imag­ine them vy­ing for my at­ten­tion in the garage once I’ve trou­ble-shot and ef­fec­tively fixed the Con­vert’s ir­ri­tat­ing rear drive in­con­ti­nence. They both have the legs for dis­tance; a ca­pac­ity to churn out 500plus mile rides, day af­ter day un­til their rider can stand it no longer.

The El­do­rado is clos­ing in on 100,000 miles, yet still feels fresh, crisp and tire­less af­ter a long ride, even if the ab­sence of a wind­screen, the bark from the Mis­tral ex­hausts, and the ‘locked in one po­si­tion seat’ (I re­ally must change that again) leaves its rider a tri­fle weary. There are al­ways lit­tle things to do; it’s a work in con­stant progress. Af­ter the most re­cent long day ride my right leg was wear­ing a taste­ful ve­neer of oil spray from the cylin­der base. I re­ally should have re­mem­bered to torque those bolts again af­ter re­plac­ing some O-rings, and I sim­ply must re­mem­ber to ad­just that front brake one of th­ese days.

At a mere (in­di­cated) 33,000 miles, the Con­vert is only just start­ing its life. The en­gine is tight and quiet, the seat is

won­der­ful and the re­laxed rid­ing po­si­tion suits me. I am par­tic­u­larly en­am­oured with the floor boards which po­si­tion my feet in a near per­fect po­si­tion – so dif­fer­ent to mod­ern cruisers, with their silly ‘feet for­ward, weight on the tail­bone’ pos­ture. And then there is that torque con­verter, which changes the whole dy­namic of rid­ing. Some may not warm to it, but I have to ad­mit, I’m hooked. Once I have all the lit­tle nig­gles with the Con­vert sorted out, I can see that it will make a fine, com­fort­able, friendly long dis­tance mount.

So which bike will I choose next time I’m gath­er­ing my gear to­gether and pack­ing my bags for an­other multi-day trip to some re­mote cor­ner of Canada? Logic might dic­tate choos­ing the more re­cent bike; the one with the least miles, the best han­dling, the most com­fort­able seat, the best wind pro­tec­tion, and the most ef­fec­tive brakes.

But since when has logic had any­thing to do with mo­tor­cy­cling? I’d take the El­do­rado!

It re­ally is re­mark­able just how much lug­gage can be carted around on a big Guzzi. With con­sid­er­able sta­bil­ity and safety, too

Left & be­low: A ca­sual glance sug­gests that the two bikes are al­most iden­ti­cal, but they’re not, least of all in the gear­box depart­ment

Above: Two re­mark­ably sim­i­lar twins. Can you tell them apart?

Forced to choose be­tween the two twins, Nick would take … the El­do­rado. In­ter­est­ing de­ci­sion, that…

One man and one of his twin Guzzis. Is Nick Adams con­verted to the Con­vert?

Brakes are by Brembo, and work as well as you’d ex­pect

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