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We ride: Moto Guzzi’s V7 Café Racer

By: Dave Abrahams

In 1967 Moto Guzzi chief engineer Giulio Cesare Carcano, designer of the insanely complex DOHC V8 Grand Prix racer of the 1950s, developed a road-bike engine which was in every way the opposite, in answer to a request from the Italian police for a patrol bike.

The 34kW V7 was a straightforward 700cc air-cooled transverse V-twin with a chain-driven camshaft in the V, short, stiff pushrods and an enormously heavy flywheel connecting it to a four-speed rocker-lever gearbox and shaft final drive, with a huge generator between the cylinders.

It was big, clumsy and very comfortable and, most importantly, it was indestructible, as witness the number still rumbling around today. But it was not a sports bike.

So in 1971 a young Guzzi engineer named Lino Tonti put a BMW alternator on the nose of the crankshaft (that alternator is still the engine’s only weak point) and designed a new, very low, very sporty frame with its triple backbone tubes in the V where the generator had been, added bigger carburettors, decent suspension and brakes, and very clever adjustable clip-on style handlebars to create the unimaginatively named V7 Sport.

CULT BIKE

Coming as it did at the height of the café racer craze, the V7 Sport became an instant cult bike and, five years later, gave birth to the iconic Le Mans. Not only that, the original Carcano architecture is still in production in Moto Guzzi’s ‘big block’ engines - notably the attitudinous Griso. Not bad for an engine designed nearly 60 years ago.

Tonti, however, went on to design an entirely new engine which had nothing whatsoever to do with the V7, except that it was also a transverse V-twin.

The 1979 V50 was a dinky little 500cc streetbike with very little power but extraordinary agility. It had horizontally-split crankcases like a Japanese bike, flat Heron heads like a performance car and a one-piece cast-alloy swing-arm that was - and is - a work of art.

MUCH NEWER TECHNOLOGY

The V50 soon gave birth to the incredibly pretty Monza, the V65 and the short-lived eight-valve Lario, and the ‘small-block’ engine is still in production in the Nevada and the subject of this review.

So you see Cyril, the V7 Racer is not derived from the original V7 Sport, but from the V50; it’s much newer technology - from the 1970s rather than the 1960s!

It also has a single 38mm throttle body on a Y-shaped manifold in place of the former twin carburettors, which does wonders for fuel economy and mid-range torque but very little for top-end power.

EXQUISITELY CRAFTED

At R109 500 it is also by far the most expensive of the three V7 models, but for the extra money you get a frame and swing-arm powder-coated in candy-apple red, a chrome-plated fuel tank held on by café racer-style leather straps, clip-ons, a fly-screen (you really can’t call it a fairing!), with a huge ‘7’ on it, in front of the traditional round-faced analogue instruments, suede upholstery and a cowl (also emblazoned with a loud ‘7’ on either side) over where the pillion seat would be if this bike had pillion footpegs.

It also comes with exquisitely crafted billet footpegs and brackets that are worth the extra money all by themselves, stainless-steel spokes and alloy rims.

It’s smaller than it looks, with a cobby 1449mm wheelbase and seat height of only 805mm, and weighs just 179kg with a full (22-litre) tank of fuel. The seating position is also very 1960s - tucked in and short-coupled, with most of the rider’s weight over the front wheel. It’s very sporty but nowhere near as uncomfortable as the Japanese sports bikes of the era with their monkey-on-a-stick ergonomics.

RAZOR-SHARP STEERING

The V7 Racer starts on the first touch of the button from cold, but the long inlet tracts make it a little cold-blooded until it has had a chance to warm through. Add to that a clutch that takes close to the handlebars and you have a recipe for embarrassing stalls when the engine is cold.

Let it rumble quietly to itself for a minute or so, while you put on your helmet and gloves, before you take off, and all is well. The controls are light and positive, the steering is razor-sharp, the brakes are smooth-acting and firm, while the single throttle butterfly does its job precisely and progressively, without a trace of the dreaded spritzer snatch.

The engine pulls strongly from 2500rpm (peak torque is 60Nm at 2800rpm), and gets serious around 4000, pushing the bike hard through the gears with the instant response that makes the Gridlock Games real fun and gets you home with a bad-boy grin on your face every night.

UNFULFILLED PROMISE

If that sounds like I am describing the ideal commuter bike, I am, with the sole exception that the mirrors, in the true Italian tradition, show you nothing more than a detailed view of your own forearms.

But when you get out on the open road, the mid-range promise seems unfulfilled. Just when mid-sized twins such as the Ducati Monster and Suzuki SV650 are getting into their stride, the V7 Racer signs off.

The factory quotes 37kW at 6200rpm and there’s very little urge above 6400; pushing the bike any further will net you nothing but rather unpleasant noises. This is, after all, a pushrod engine.

STATELY PROGRESS

The test bike had less than 80km on its liquid-crystal odometer when we got it, so we didn’t do any formal performance testing at all, other than a brief burst in top gear on the last day we had it, 250km later.

It shot up to 140km/h like a drag racer thanks to the engine’s stonking midrange and superbly slick and crisp gearshift; even though the linkage goes round six corners, aircraft-quality spherical joints keep play down to a negligible minimum.

After that progress was much more stately, up to an indicated 170 at 6400rpm in top gear, which the GPS later confirmed as a true 164. That’s a speedometer error of only 3.6 percent - much better than the old Vague-lia Borletti clocks, which varied between 12 percent over and 12 percent under – sometimes on the same bike!

And at that speed the bike was dead steady on our notorious Six-Kay Straight. The steering was accurate and predictable at an average 134m/h through our ride and handling section, albeit with a slight tendency to mild headshake that we ascribed to new, unscrubbed, crossply Pirellis - the V7 would benefit from a decent set of modern radial tyres.

NO SURPRISES

The suspension, adjustable only for rear preload, was firm but not harsh, giving us no surprises on our bumpy test section, and the bike was still comfortable after a long morning in the saddle.

My only reservation remains the brakes; the single front disc has a thoroughly modern four-piston calliper and takes up with satisfying initial bite, but seems to lack real power when squeeze comes to shove. Calling the simple 260mm rear disc into play delivers very satisfactory retardation but, although having only one front stopper rules out Guzzi’s signature linked brakes (hooray!), a second front disc would still be welcome.

Fuel consumption for the week we had the V7 Racer worked out to a very creditable 5.64 litres per 100km, which we would expect to improve further as the painfully new engine loosens up.

VERDICT

The overall impression is of a simple, honest machine with solid, robust engineering. It may not be quite the ball of fire its name implies but it will carry on carving up the canyons for the next several decades, if Guzzi history is to be believed.

The V7 Racer boasts superlative finishes and eye-popping build quality. Like a Harley, it’s old technology, superbly executed and, like a Harley, it has memorable mid-range and a wussy top-end but unlike a Harley, it goes round corners.

For any rider who’s done hooning but still likes slicing through corners with millimetric precision, it has all the retro attitude and Italian purity of line you could ask for. Bellisima!

Price: R109 500.

Bike from: Moto Guzzi South, Cape Town.

SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 744 air-cooled transverse V-twin.

Bore x stroke: 80 x 74mm.

Compression ratio: 9.6:1.

Valvegear: Pushrod with two overhead valves per cylinder.

Power: 37kW at 6200rpm.

Torque: 60Nm at 2800rpm.

Induction: Weber-Marelli electronic fuel-injection with Y manifold and one 38mm Magneti Marelli throttle body.

Ignition: Digital electronic.

Starting: Electric.

Clutch: Cable-operated single-plate dry clutch.

Transmission: Five-speed constant-mesh gearbox with final drive by shaft.

Front Suspension: 40mm Marzocchi conventional cartridge forks, non-adjustable.

Rear Suspension: Dual Bitubo coil-over piggyback remote reservoir shock absorbers adjustable for preload.

Front brake: 320mm disc with Brembo four-pot opposed-piston calliper.

Rear brake: 260mm disc with Brembo dual-piston floating calliper.

Front tyre: 100/90 - 18 tubeless.

Rear tyre: 130/80 - 17 tubeless.

Wheelbase: 1449mm.

Seat height: 805mm.

Kerb weight: 179kg.

Fuel tank: 22 litres.

Fuel consumption (measured): 5.64 litres per 100km.

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