Biker column: Commuting on a classic

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IOL mot pic sep5 Dave's Column Loose Goose Steve Leech Jenni Peters in action on the Loose Goose in 1996.

I've recently been labelled a snob because I choose to commute every day on a 30-year-old classic race bike rather than a cheap, convenient and, basically, disposable Chinese scooter. But the reasons are a lot more practical than that.

The bike in question is the celebrated, all-white Loose Goose, the 1981 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans successfully campaigned by Jenni Peters during the 1990s.

Ms Peters is now Mrs Abrahams, and one of the many perks of that arrangement is that I get to ride the Goose, now adorned with lights and mirrors but otherwise still in full racing trim.

The first reason is that it's extraordinarily sure-footed on wet roads. The Guzzi weighs close to 240kg with a full tank and runs a (very narrow by today's standards) 110mm rear tyre. My current-model 650cc sports bike weighs 165kg and sports a low-profile 180mm gumball.

Thus the Guzzi will push its way through streaming water on to the read surface and retain traction under conditions where more modern bikes would slide uncontrollably - which is very comforting in heavy rain, before dawn on a Cape winter's morning. It's worth noting that World Rally teams use the same logic, fitting very narrow studded tyres for snow stages, tyres that push through the snow to the hard surface below.

The Guzzi also has phenomenal brakes. A decade of ongoing development for the track has resulted in an interesting mix of Japanese Nissin and Italian Brembo components, fed throughout by braided stainless-steel hoses. The brakes are no longer linked, so their response is instant, with absolutely no play at the lever, enough initial bite to make your nose bleed and enough feel to use it without going up the road on your ear.

The brakes on modern sports bikes are every bit as powerful but often lack the feel necessary to use them very hard on the road, while the less said about the brakes on the average Chinese scooter (many of which have a built-in "sponginess cylinder" masquerading as an antilock device!) the better.

The Goose has a perfect reliability record: in 30 years it has never made either of its owners or myself walk home, other than after a serious fall - which is more than can be claimed for any of the younger bikes in the Abrahams family.

Certainly, it requires more maintenance, more often, than do modern machines, but it will start and run reliably even when appallingly out of tune (my fault, not the bike's).

And that's the crux of the matter: Give it a big handful of choke, and the Guzzi will start, first push on the button, every time - cold or hot, rain or shine. None of our newer bikes can be relied on to start, first time, from cold, even when perfectly tuned, which is not an issue on a sunny Sunday morning (you just haul out the Goose and enjoy your ride anyway!) but can be a problem late at night in pouring rain when all you want to do is get home.

And that's why I ride to work every day on an old race bike - it's weatherproof, waterproof and, above all, idiot proof - which says more about the rider than it does about the bike.


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Simon Pickering-Copley, wrote

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10:47am on 5 September 2011
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Great commentary....I agree ....Older Guzzi`s especially the small block versions are increasingly popular as general day to day hands on bikes.With the result that they hold their value well.If you have an example that is well looked after... hang onto it and ENJOY.

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colinA, wrote

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08:08am on 5 September 2011
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great bike.wish i hadnt sold mine. i had the le mans mark 2.

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