Monday, June 15


With several threads regarding retro bikes around, it's time to put some thoughts on Old Skoolers online. Here's some lifted from the May edition.

First the tone.

Words & Slideshow: BD. Mag Pics: Ospics.

‘Are you feeling OK?’ Quizzed the Co-pilot.

She couldn’t quite get over the shock of me fizzing about a Moto Guzzi and fired me that look that couples that have been together for 30 years give each other.

‘Yes’, I assured her as I was dancing around like a late 70’s disco demon. ‘I rate the Moto Guzzi V7 as a very highly desirable motorcycle and have described the 2009 Bonneville SE as ‘I want to have its babies’’.

Her surprise was that I still had the ‘KC’ moves, but more that I’d been carrying baggage about the models that both of these classic reproductions pay homage to for most of those 30 years….and now I’m all ‘Get down on it’?

In 1979 I just didn’t fit on a Guzzi. My pal Kim had one that he used to ride home from Perth to Adelaide for the weekend. 2,692km of mostly dead straight line each way - shortest route.

It was a ‘bitser’. Part Le Mans, part Sport and part something else that he used to keep pinned pretty much all the way across the Nullarbor Plain.

On our numerous rides around the Golden West he bespoke it with that religious zealot sort of manner that hard-core Guzzists affect.

It was no doubt much better specified than the original V7’s 42 Horsepower and 240kg dry weight but my knees hit the middle of the cylinder heads and with no desire to suffer roast kneecap syndrome the marque fell off my radar. Friend’s and Brother-in-law’s bikes.

At the time, the ‘79 Bonneville SE seemed like the death knell of Triumph factory V2. Union lockouts, strikes and re-badged Heskeths dotted the Meriden headline.

That Black and Gold Special Edition Bonneville was a pretty good road bike in its own right. Air-cooled, four stroke, parallel twin cylinder, 54 ponies, 200kg in a frame and geometry that was developed over nearly 20 years of dominance on road and track.

But as any student of bike history knows, the 80’s dawned and the quality and performance of the product from Japan against the Bonne’s reputation for Lucasian nightmares and porous casting, meant the market had passed them by.

‘I mean, what would you choose back then, A Kawasaki Z1 or a Diana?’ mused the Ed.

The problem for us die-hards was that the ‘79 Bonneville SE appeared to take its styling cues directly from a Yamaha XS650 Special, which was altogether too cruel an irony, so it also slipped off the Radar.

30 years later and I’ve gone all ‘Sunshine Band.’

Whilst Guzzi claims that the styling for the V7 Classic borrows the tank from the 70’s Sport model and the bling from a similar vintage Special, to us non-officiandos it’s just a great looking Italian Retro bike.

Guzzi’s site claims the bike was produced as ‘a 40 year celebration of Giulio Cesare Carcano’s original V7, the bike which marked the debut of the transverse V90, twin-cylinder, 703cc engine and the first Italian maxi-cycle’. It actually turns out to be a really cool, good fun, 2009-style bike to ride.

The new incarnation of the push-rod, 2 valve per cylinder Vee-Twin is only slightly wider than its ALS steel tubular twin cradle frame.

In fact the whole bike is slender and rather compact, but the upright riding position and wide, flat seat make it quite comfortable for a larger rider or even an occasional 2-up jaunt.

30 years on and the new Bonneville SE will be on my short list the just-damn-sweetest looking bikes ever. A far cry from the inward ‘nooooooooooo’ of anguish that greeted the original concept.

The lines and demeanour of the ‘09 incarnation are far less soft-chopper and much more ‘standard’ than the original and it comes with a reputation of being unstressed and bulletproof in the way of the Hinckley twins. Reliable and easy going and gone full circle.

The Air-cooled, DOHC, parallel-twin, 360 degree crank, measures 865cc and pumps out Maximum Power of 68PS / 67bhp / 50kW @ 7,500 rpm and produces Maximum Torque of 69Nm / 51ft.lbf @ 5,800rpm.

It tips the scales at 200kg dry and the switch to EFI has improved the smoothness of the Bonne even further.

The slightly smaller ‘09 Guzzi is also somewhat lighter at 182kg dry and has a 35.5kw / 48 horsepower output.

The one thing common to both engines is that they like to rev and both have a very rewarding pulse about doing it.

Opening the throttle on either is a whole load of fun. Whether it was dropping it to the freeway flow on the Bonneville or hammering the V7 over Woodcocks Hill I found real joy in RIDING both of these vehicles.

You can actually keep the throttle pinned through the first several gears and not worry about losing your licence.

On a modern sportsbike it’s wham bam thank you mama and the fun is all over before you shift to second, if you have pretensions of keeping a licence long term.

These mid-power retros are great ‘rider’s’ bikes on the Queen’s highways.

They don’t lack overtaking power or the chutzpah to power out of a sweeping corner, but they do require judicious use of the gearbox and throttle to keep them spooled up.

I find them more rewarding and more fun that the current crop of hypersports bikes on the open road.

I spend a lot of my time on the 160 plus horsepower jobs going ‘sh*t! How fast!?!? Every time I look down at the speedometer.

On the retros I was in that world of my own, you know when you have a bike in its sweet spot and are just enjoying the ride, tuned, zoned and focused on the machine and the road? I was there when Mr Plod in his mufti rig appeared un-announced on SH16.

There was that moment when you look down immediately at the speedo with hand and foot poised to wash off speed as surreptitiously as possible. 95kph. Smile. Wave. Imagine disappointment in his eye.

I just dig ‘em for that. I was really into the ride, feeling the engine, zoning, grinning, and it was all quite legal.

Both vehicles will happily leave most of the tin-tops behind at the traffic lights and do all the other things that were expected of a ‘Superbike’ in 1979 - better than the originals.

To stop, the Guzzi has a Floating 320 mm stainless steel disc with 4 opposed calipers of differing diameters up front and 260mm rear.

The Bonne has a Single 310mm disc, Nissin 2 piston floating calliper front and Single 255mm disc at rear.

Both sets of brakes work well within the performance parameters of the bikes and their overall handling and suspension is also in line with their power outputs.

Both have a smattering of hi-tech under the old school skin, both bike’s fuel injection was stumble free and easy to live with but mostly they are unadorned, basic, essence de-motorcycles.

Who are they for?

There are more and more retros appearing in the market. Offerings from Ducati, Harley-Davidson and Honda are on the showroom floors or the drawing board.

Triumph have dined out on the retro rage and offer seven different variants of the 865cc parallel twin – most of which are decidedly old school.

These bikes are ideal for someone coming off their restricted licence and looking to move up to very cool bike. They are great looking, quite beautiful modern machines. Their compact nature and low saddle heights – the Bonne now has a 17” front wheel and lower, sculpted saddle – mean they work well for both male and female riders.

They are also fabulous for more experienced riders looking to put some joy de vive back into their riding and not have to just ‘idle’ around everywhere, but rather to have to put some effort into the task of making brisk transit.

Both bikes are a lot of fun to ride nonetheless and don’t require the self-control that a litre monster or super-sports needs these days.

They are also excellent commuters suited to narrow work but will happily perform as a pleasure ride or very cool weekend recreational vehicle.

They suit someone not interested in high tech doohickeys unless it’s for making the bike perform better and more reliable than the ‘originals’. The instruments are simple and there are no countdown computers, GPS or headphone sockets. These are about you, a motor and two wheels.

‘And…..That’s the way uh ha ah ha I like it uh ha ah ha that’s the way uh ha ah ha……’

Here's some snaps of a few other Retro Styled favourites: