MOTO GUZZI CON­VERT

A heavy­weight Guzzi V-twin with au­to­matic trans­mis­sion wouldn’t be the con­ven­tional choice for a high-mileage ride on some of Canada’s rough­est roads. But then, Nick Adams is not ex­actly a con­ven­tional clas­sic rider…

Real Classic - - What Lies Within - Pho­tos by Nick Adams

A heavy­weight Guzzi V-twin with au­to­matic trans­mis­sion wouldn’t be the con­ven­tional choice for a high-mileage ride on some of Canada’s rough­est roads. But then, Nick Adams is not ex­actly a con­ven­tional clas­sic rider…

Back in RC161 I’d sworn that if I had to choose be­tween the Con­vert and my beloved 1972 Guzzi El­do­rado for a long dis­tance tour to re­mote places, I’d prob­a­bly es­chew logic and take the El­do­rado, even though the Con­vert has all the ad­van­tages of bet­ter han­dling, bet­ter brakes, and a far more com­fort­able seat. But logic doesn’t al­ways play much of a part in mo­tor­cy­cling. If it did I’d have left the Con­vert in the garage and taken my Guzzi Quota, my Suzuki Burgman 650 scooter… or have sold the lot of them and bought some new ‘ad­ven­ture’ bike from one of those re­li­able Ja­panese com­pa­nies. But where’s the fun in that?

The El­do­rado re­cently dis­graced it­self. At a mere 96,000 miles, some­thing in the gear­box had de­cided it’d had enough. In use, it made nasty com­plain­ing noises. When I checked the gear oil, out poured a dis­gust­ing slurry, shiny with metal bits. Sooner or later I’ll get around to fixing it, but I wanted to ride. So the Con­vert it would be.

For those of you not quite up to speed with your Guzzi­ol­ogy, the V1000 Con­vert was Moto Guzzi’s mid-1970s foray into the world of au­to­matic mo­tor­cy­cles. It was aimed squarely at the US po­lice ser­vices mar­ket al­though was also avail­able as a civil­ian model like mine. Un­like many bikes which strug­gle to per­form smoothly dur­ing low speed pa­rade du­ties, with its Sachs fluid torque con­verter, the Con­vert is happy to idle along at walk­ing speed or less with no need to be play­ing tunes on the clutch.

It does have a clutch, mounted be­tween the torque con­verter and a two-speed gear­box, but most rid­ers soon learn just to leave the bike in ‘high’, for­get about gears, and only hold the clutch while start­ing the en­gine. Once the en­gine is run­ning, you can let go of the clutch and the bike will just sit there ready to move for­wards as soon as you twist the ac­cel­er­a­tor. There’s some­thing rather de­light­ful about mov­ing smoothly and de­cep­tively quickly off the line with only one hand on the bars.

At al­most a full litre (948cc) the Con­vert was con­sid­ered a big, heavy bike in its day, al­though like so many ‘big bikes’ from ear­lier decades, it’s dwarfed by the road couches we see now. At around 575lb, it’s no light­weight but, as with all big Guzzis, it car­ries its weight low and once mov­ing feels pos­i­tively bal­letic. It is true that the torque con­verter robs a lit­tle power from the cross-the-frame V-twin (lon­gi­tu­di­nal crank, trans­verse cylin­ders) but it’s a torquey en­gine, with a claimed 71 horse­power, so it doesn’t mat­ter much, and any­way, horse­power and per­for­mance freaks are not likely to find much to ap­peal to them in the Con­vert. Make no mis­take though, it will hus­tle along very nicely. More than a few peo­ple have been sur­prised by the Con­vert’s ath­leti­cism in the stop-light sprints.

For months, ev­ery time I took my Con­vert for a lengthy spin I re­turned home with an oil soaked right shin. I had tried ev­ery­thing: new valve cover gas­ket, new breather pipe, new crush-wash­ers on the oil line, but the mys­te­ri­ous leak per­sisted. Hav­ing ru­ined a cou­ple of pairs of jeans, I started to al­ways wear my leather chaps while rid­ing it as the oil would just wipe off. I had been do­ing any­thing to avoid what I was knew was the

real fix: to pull off the cylin­der head and bar­rel and re­place the two lit­tle O-rings which fit on the studs be­low the cylin­der base.

I don’t know why I waited so long. To re­move valve cov­ers, head and cylin­der you just un­buckle the carb then pull the en­gine to pieces. There’s no need to re­move the tank or any of that non­sense. The job I had been avoid­ing for months took no more than a cou­ple of hours – and that in­cludes the time I spent faffing around be­cause who­ever had as­sem­bled the fly­wheel last hadn’t lined it up prop­erly (no, it wasn’t me). The help­ful fac­tory marks on the fly­wheel (D for ‘Des­tra’ – Left, S for ‘Sin­is­tra’ – Right) no longer cor­re­lated with top-dead-cen­tre on ei­ther cylin­der. Once I’d fig­ured that out and found TDC the old­fash­ioned way, I was off to the races.

I’d been pe­rus­ing Google maps and no­ticed a thin faint line wind­ing north through north­ern On­tario to­wards the tiny ham­let of Shin­ing Tree. A lit­tle bit of googling in­formed me that this log­ging ac­cess road had been in­cor­po­rated into the Trans Canada Ad­ven­ture Trail – a loosely strung to­gether cross-Canada route of un­paved log­ging roads, mine ac­cess trails and old bush tracks compiled by peo­ple who love soli­tude, gravel dust, bear poop, knob­bly tyres and ADV stick­ers. It looked the right kind of ad­ven­ture for me and the Con­vert: mid­dle of nowhere, bumpy un­paved roads, po­ten­tial for disas­ter – just my cup-of-tea.

But first I had to pack the bike and get there. I’d re­cently bought some Nel­son-Rigg wa­ter­proof ‘ad­ven­ture’ bags to use on a forth­com­ing mega-trip on the Burgman (stop laugh­ing now), and soon found that they fit nicely above the Con­vert’s hard pan­niers that con­tain my tools, spares and sundry bits and pieces. The wa­ter­proof bags held my clothes, sleep­ing bag and ham­mock, with the heav­ier stuff in the pan­niers keep­ing the weight low. I was ea­ger to get started, but we were in the mid­dle of a heat wave. I don’t mind the cold but the heat re­ally both­ers me and, since it was steadily above 30 de­grees and hu­mid, I stayed home hug­ging the air con­di­tioner for a few days, hop­ing for a break in the heat. Even­tu­ally I could stand it no longer and had to get rolling.

My Fe­bru­ary rid­ing trip to the UK ear­lier this year had re­minded me just how dif­fer­ent mo­tor­cy­cling is in the part of Canada I in­habit. Dis­tances be­tween places are huge, and sit­ting at a steady speed for hours on end,

unim­peded by the ir­ri­ta­tions of set­tle­ment or traf­fic, is com­pletely nor­mal. As I rolled along the Trans-Canada high­way, the big nee­dle on the speedo dial point­ing straight up, I reached down and placed my naked hand on the left side rocker box. De­spite the road speed and the 30 de­grees Cel­sius air tem­per­a­ture, I could leave my palm there for a full five sec­onds be­fore a lit­tle voice in my head said, ‘It might be wise to re­move it now’. The Con­vert was run­ning nicely cool, show­ing no signs of dis­tress, un­like its rider who, by mid-af­ter­noon was be­gin­ning to wilt.

My route took me along fa­mil­iar roads through the Madawaska High­lands, past Khar­tum – a place with two prom­i­nent road signs but no build­ings – and, skirt­ing Al­go­nquin Park, on to the Trans-Canada High­way. If that name con­jures images of a mas­sive four-lane mo­tor­way snaking across the coun­try, think again. While it is a ma­jor artery, for most of its length in On­tario it is just a broad two-lane road with big, sweep­ing bends, which rises and falls with the roll of the coun­try. The posted speed is 90kph, but no­body pays much at­ten­tion to that.

The Ot­tawa River, which I was fol­low­ing up­stream, was once a ma­jor ca­noe route into the in­te­rior of the con­ti­nent for fur-trade ca­noe con­voys and, for thou­sands of years be­fore that, an im­por­tant in­tra­con­ti­nen­tal trade route for First Na­tions peo­ple. Af­ter 100 miles, the Ot­tawa River val­ley turns abruptly north, while both the road and the old ca­noe route con­tinue west, the ca­noe route now head­ing up­stream on the Mat­tawa River while the road fol­lows its val­ley for an­other 40 miles to the city of North Bay. Be­yond North Bay the road con­tin­ues west, much of it built along a 10,000 year-old post-glacial shore­line, from when the Great Lakes were just one mas­sive body of water. None of this stuff is read­ily vis­i­ble or ob­vi­ous to the ca­sual trav­eller, es­pe­cially since the whole land­scape is cov­ered with trees, but it’s the kind of stuff that oc­cu­pies my mind through those long miles. But be­fore I bore you with more ir­rel­e­vant de­tails, I’d bet­ter get back to the bike.

De­spite the heat and a 10am start, I ended the first day 300 miles later in Stur­geon Falls. Through­out that first day the Con­vert be­haved it­self beau­ti­fully. My right shin stayed to­tally oil-splat­ter free as the bike hummed along at a steady 60mph for mile af­ter mile. I re­set the odome­ter at ev­ery fuel stop and was pleas­antly sur­prised to find I was rid­ing roughly 10 miles for ev­ery litre of fuel con­sumed. Be­cause of the drag caused by the fluid torque con­verter, Con­verts have a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing less fuel ef­fi­cient than their 5-speed coun­ter­parts, but with its 23 litre tank, this still promised me a range of well over 200 miles with each fill-up. Not that I was too wor­ried: I had an ex­tra 5 litres in a can on the rear rack and an­other 2.5 litres in a small jug in one of the pan­niers. I may like to travel to re­mote places and ac­cept

the oc­ca­sional break-down, but I’d feel a com­plete clown if I ran out of fuel.

The seat may be comfy, but for any­thing more than a cou­ple of hours in the sad­dle it’s a lit­tle on the soft and soggy side. On long trips it’s not un­usual for me to spend at least a dozen hours a day in the sad­dle, so I coun­tered my ten­dency to sag by adding a sheep­skin and beads. These dis­trib­ute my weight across a broader area, so I sink less and gain a few valu­able cen­time­tres of leg room. I sup­pose it is a mea­sure of the suc­cess of this ap­proach that when I stopped for the day my back­side had yet to start com­plain­ing. Af­ter a quick trip to the LCBO (Liquor Con­trol Board of On­tario – govern­ment run booze shops) for a six-pack, I was done for the day.

Like a good cow­boy I like to see to my horse first so, af­ter un­load­ing the things I needed for the night and crack­ing a beer, I checked the oil level and made sure noth­ing was com­ing loose. So far, so good. I pulled a chair out in front of my room and spent a happy hour drink­ing my beer and ad­mir­ing my steed as the even­ing cooled.

At 6 the next morn­ing it was chilly enough for me to need a few ex­tra lay­ers, but it didn’t take long for the sun to start throw­ing some heat my way and for me to start shed­ding cloth­ing. By the time I’d rid­den 90 miles it was warm enough that the air-con­di­tioned Tim Hor­ton’s cof­fee shop was a wel­come break.

Google maps shows the road to Shin­ing Tree as a clean white line, which might sug­gest to the in­no­cent that it would be a nice short­cut, shav­ing 30 miles off the more well-trav­elled, paved route. The first few miles could lull you into a false sense of se­cu­rity as the well-graded gravel road threw up noth­ing that would chal­lenge the av­er­age fam­ily car and lit­tle that both­ered me on the Con­vert. How­ever be­fore too long the road nar­rowed con­sid­er­ably, started to hug the bank of the Wah­nap­i­tae River, and be­came a mix of loose gravel, soft sand, and river cob­bles lib­er­ally sprin­kled with large, sump de­stroy­ing rocks. On the bike I was able to avoid most of them by weav­ing around: in your fam­ily car you would have been less lucky.

I stopped for a breather, and when I went to start the bike was greeted with clicks and

no ac­tion. This has hap­pened be­fore, so I turned off the lights, pushed the but­ton a few more times and, even­tu­ally, the starter en­gaged and the bike started. Usu­ally this oc­curred be­cause road vi­bra­tion had loos­ened a bat­tery ter­mi­nal, but I knew the lawn-trac­tor bat­tery I was us­ing was weak. I had packed a fresh new spare in my pan­niers so gave it lit­tle fur­ther thought.

Al­though progress was slow the miles were grad­u­ally tick­ing by. At one point I al­most dropped the bike as the front wheel slewed side­ways in a deep patch of pea-sized river gravel, and I of­ten had to brake hard to avoid sump-crush­ing rocks.

You might think that the linked brak­ing would be a hand­i­cap on the un­paved roads I favour, es­pe­cially when com­bined with the lim­ited en­gine brak­ing the torque con­verter al­lows, but I haven’t found it a prob­lem. Ini­tially I thought that with­out di­rect con­trol of the brak­ing force to the front, I would be in danger of lock­ing the front wheel if I braked hard on the loose stuff. It has never hap­pened. Even when I’ve had to shed speed quickly, the bike has slowed un­der per­fect con­trol with no signs of ei­ther wheel skid­ding. Ad­mit­tedly I ride like a granny, but I’m sold on linked brakes.

Linked brakes are noth­ing new. RudgeWhit­worth had them as early as 1925, but Moto Guzzi was one of the first com­pa­nies to widely use them across a range of mo­tor­cy­cles. Sadly many of Moto Guzzi’s finest bikes from the pe­riod have been abused by peo­ple de-link­ing the brakes, pre­sum­ably to make it more nor­mal. Even worse, some un­men­tion­ables have ripped out the torque con­verter, clutch and 2-speed gear­box and re­placed them with a con­ven­tional clutch and 5-speed from one of the other bikes from the same pe­riod – usu­ally to make some ghastly café racer. If you want nor­mal, don’t buy a Con­vert!

Per­son­ally, I find the linked brakes pow­er­ful (for the time), se­cure and ef­fec­tive. The hy­draulic pro­por­tion­ing valve, ly­ing just be­hind the right-side cover, does a great job of send­ing the right bal­ance of brak­ing force to the left side front disc and the rear disc, ac­ti­vated by the size­able pedal above the right floor­board. The front right disc is con­trolled as nor­mal through a right-side han­dle­bar lever. When I’m rid­ing solo I sit well back on the soft seat with my knees bent at 90 de­grees and my feet flat on the floor­boards. And no – de­spite my 34-inch in­seam, my knees don’t bang into the cylin­der heads. From this po­si­tion the brake pedal falls nat­u­rally to foot. If I’m rid­ing with a pas­sen­ger I shift for­ward slightly and the pedal is less ac­ces­si­ble, but Guzzi clev­erly pro­vided a spe­cial peg for your heel so that the pedal is still easy to use.

A sec­ond caliper op­er­ates a park­ing brake to the rear disc, ac­ti­vated when the bike is parked on the ‘Har­ley-style’ side­stand. Be­fore I got it, the bike had been left parked on the side stand for a long time, al­low­ing a shal­low area of cor­ro­sion to de­velop on part of the disc sur­face. It is vir­tu­ally un­de­tectable un­der

nor­mal road-speed brak­ing, but it causes a no­tice­able puls­ing dur­ing the fi­nal few yards of com­ing to a stop. If I was any kind of owner I’d have swapped in a new disc ages ago, but you learn to live with these idio­syn­cra­sies and I no longer find it dis­con­cert­ing. It didn’t even cause me any is­sues as I trick­led along be­side the river.

On these north­ern roads I in­vari­ably reach a point where I think to my­self, ‘I’m a long way in if any­thing hap­pens’. By this time I’d trav­elled fifty miles, with fifty more miles to Shin­ing Tree and had yet to see an­other ve­hi­cle, per­son, build­ing or any other sign of hu­man ac­tiv­ity other than the strip of gravel I was rid­ing. The road was rough but man­age­able, al­though I was be­gin­ning to bounce across a few shal­low gul­lies where storm water had washed part of the road-bed away. I had barely made my way around one large ex­posed boul­der when I put the brakes on and came to a full stop. The road bed had gone AWOL.

When the log­ging com­pa­nies build these roads across a creek or stream, if it’s large enough they build a steel and log bai­ley bridge. For smaller or sea­sonal wa­ter­courses they lay a large metal cul­vert in the bed of the flow, then bury it in gravel. Usu­ally this works well, but from time to time a sud­den in­flux of storm water ex­ceeds the vol­ume the cul­vert can han­dle and the water finds an­other path down­stream, wash­ing out the sur­round­ing gravel in the process. Ahead of me, the full length of the cul­vert was ex­posed with a me­tre-wide gulch of miss­ing road bed on ei­ther side. I’m no Evel Knievel. There was no jump­ing this one.

NEXT TIME: can Nick bridge that gap? And how does the Con­vert per­form as the miles mount up?

Choos­ing the right roads – al­ways the best way to start a jour­ney

Road con­di­tions may vary a lit­tle. This by the Wah­nap­i­tae river

Lakes and forests, ev­ery­where there are lakes and forests

It’s all a ques­tion of bal­ance … and of con­fi­dence. The big Guzzi can tackle al­most any­thing

Rivers need bridges. Here’s one now…

Signs of an ex­pe­ri­enced trav­eller: a com­fort­able seat, well-packed bag­gage … and spare fuel

Al­though it’s not easy to see in a photo, the sign re­veals that the road is closed. Does this stop Nick and the Guzzi?

The even­ing rests need to be calm­ing, be­cause…

…be­cause to­mor­row brings the cul­vert!

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