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