New experiences in motorcycling are rare. Extensions of existing qualities are common enough, such as those provided by last month’s impressions of the Editor on the Benelli “Six”; an undeniably fabulous bike, but entirely conventional in every respect and unlikely to be remembered by tomorrow’s historians, as much more than a magnificent piece of ostentation. By conforming to existing standards, unless one assumes that they have been broken by the adoption of two extra cylinders, it slots in nicely with the rest of the world’s production roadsters, even though it might well be at the head of the ever growing queue.
It could also be argued that even Honda’s “Gold Wing”, crammed full of most of motorcycling’s most beneficial requisites, such as water cooling, four horizontally opposed pistons and shaft drive, etc, etc, is also part of the ordinary scene. If it is not, then the logical conclusion must be that accommodation of a magnitude of proven genre into a corporate whole, warrants reclassification of the ultimate product. As both John McDermott and I discovered during our few hours jaunt in the Isle of Man during TT week, the Gold Wing is a machine of unparalleled performance style, but for its merits, it contributes nothing towards the real advancement of either motorcycle design or ride. It has merely improved, maybe to perfection, who knows, existing mechanics.
How very different is the Moto Guzzi V1000. Less sublte than the previously mentioned pair, its concept is unique in motorcycling, because for the first time a factory has admitted the weakness of the human partner in the vitally close relationship of the machine and its rider, and has attempted with staggering, first time success, to place greater responsibility on the motorcycle for the safety and convenience of its master.
The first hint of this arose during last month’s ride on the ‘Guzzi 750 Sport when I discovered to my chagrin that coupled brakes provided me with more secure braking under all conditions than I could reliably provide myself on the vast majority of occasions. Witness John McDermott’s concern over “his” Benelli Six’s braking power. More powerful undoubtedly than the coupled brakes of the ‘Guzzi Sport, but due to purely inadequate reactions on his — or mine or yours or anyone’s part controlling the fine balance between situation appraisal, applied power and tyre adhesion — braking became a major worry and must have in some way contributed to a partial breakdown of that vital rapport, and thus have affected other performance areas. Drop a pebble into a smooth pool and watch the ripples spread, the fish start, the reeds agitate.
Still within this fascinating circle of relationships, consider the transmission. Although hastily dabbed “automatic” in fact it is nothing of the soft, this implying an involuntary change of gear ratios, whereas power is actually transmitted hydraulically. As loading is applied to the machine, whether it be in the form of pillion passenger, hill or headwind, so the fluid coupling encourages “slip” between the engine and final drive relationship. With only a modicum of common sense required to operate the throttle control, the consequence is that a rider is virtually relieved of the entire transmission and engine speed coordination responsiblity, something normally requiring a large proportion of his riding concentration.
Until actually experienced, the freedom from constant mental application normally required when riding is difficult to envisage, but think of the implications involved, both personally for the rider and also for the rest of the manufacturers, all of whom are undoubtedly taking great interest in the success or otherwise of the V1000. In the first case, life on two wheels becomes less fraught with potential disasters caused by the inability to either absorb or react to the vast quantity of stimuli present today. And in the second, there’s no doubt that the successful (in my opinion) acceptance of the V1000 is going to force other manufacturers’ hands into following suit by one means or another, but none by ‘Guzzi’s method because I have no doubt at all of De Tomasso’s patent right over it. The new rumoured hydraulic drive Honda is doubtless along these lines though.
Construction of the bike is simple enough, running parallel to all big ‘Guzzi traditions currently in vogue. Frame is that developed by ‘Guzzi immediately after the introduction of the old 750 “Ambassador in 1970 when, for a couple of years, the factory carried out a pretty intensive production – cum – endurance racing exercise in order to prepare the ground for the planned new sportster. To the credit of the factory, instead of carrying on with the original old touring frame, good though it was, once the latest range was introduced, it came complete with all the racing pedigree of the competition machines behind it.
Accept that you might as well relax about high speed stability, or at least your concern about it, because to say that it amply covers whatever speed and power the V1000 puts out is understating the situation completely. To attempt to describe how well it held a line would be to waste space, because I could not fault it, and high speed scratching is not the job the big twin was built for anyway.
Merely sitting on the thing evokes powerful suggestions of cruising long highways under new suns with a girlfriend of long standing up behind. You licking the dust from your lips as you peer through your Polaroids for the next pub along, she lounging back comfortably into a great pile of untidily lashed, discarded riding apparel. Both of you relaxed, almost wallowing in the luxurious, undemanding ease of the last 200 non-stop miles, and without a single ache or pain between you. The best of it is that the first impression is no dream because that’s just the way it is.
Firing up gives the first hint of what’s to come, even on a cold morning, by the manner with which the twin Dwell Orto carbs (but I would much have preferred a single, constant vacuum instrument for its vastly superior smooth operation) are equipped with starter jets which do not increase engine speed.
As the twist grip is eased open, the reason for the use of such a cold start device is obvious, for a normal fast running choke would cause the hydraulic drive to engage unless the standard flywheel clutch is disengaged by the entirely ordinary system of left ‘bar lever and cable.
Anticipating some sort of positive drive engagement somewhere along the line, my exploratory pull-offs were pretty guarded, but I quickly discovered that regardless of how brutally the twistgrip was wound open, take-up was smoother and more progressive than any lockable type of drive could ever be.
Once familiarity had given me a measure of confidence, my next discovery was the tremendous accelerative powers of the machine. Even in the normal ratio the manner in which the 7561b (gross weight including rider) two wheeler leapt ahead was indicative of just how much time is wasted by the average rider during clutch dropping and gear changing. Wheelspin was practically impossible no matter how quickly the twistgrip was whacked open, so despite the obviously slower acceleration of the V1000 compared to a conventional bike, with its power train fully engaged, there was no loss of impetus, a factor which virtually counterbalanced the one apparent weakness of the fluid drive.
As the engine responded to the widening throttle opening, so it naturally enough increased its speed, and thanks to the fluid coupling, did so without directly affecting the rear wheel. As the fluid between the front and rear drive units was activated so the transmission began to operate in ever increasing sympathy to engine speed. All the while road speed increased, but with the engine already spinning freely initially, the revs remained more-or-less constant as the fluid drive compensated automatically to allow for necessary ratio changes between the engine and the rear wheel on applied loads.
Until I became used to it, the whole system felt uncanny, rather as did the effect of using the coupled brakes at first. I felt I was ancillary to the machine, less of a vital component and more of a passenger, which in a manner of speaking I thankfully was, but then I began to appreciate the advantages of my re-organised riding life.Mind you, there were a few slight disadvantages. Engine braking under 50 mph was considerably less effective than is usual, although above that speed it was no less apparent This ratio is some 20.76 per cent lower than the normal one. Stating exactly what either of them are is impossible, due to their operational nature, so a percentage drop will have to suffice, I think it is principally because it utilises the characteristics of all fluids to take on the nature of a solid constitutent under progressive speed/pressure increases. Consequently, the “soft” response of the drive medium at low engine speeds in high ratio, gives way to something considerably more positive and resembling a conventional coupling, in the lower one. With this engaged during a trans-London crossing both ways during morning and evening rush hours one day, I enjoyed a performance very similar indeed to the type of thing I might have expected from the 850, for instance.
For an identical reason, deceleration on engine braking alone is improved at high engine speeds. In my opinion it is for this that ‘Guzzi have incorporated the low ratio, rather than for any inherent inability of the system to cope with low speed emergencies. I discovered this during a trip to a pal with a hill farm in South Wales, just on the edge of the
Brecons. He lives one mile down a track so severe he requires a Land Rover to cover it. It isn’t that he prefers a Land Rover so much as the dire necessity for one. Mud, shale and rocks; sheep and tree roots. It’s tough. With my wife aboard, plus a little luggage our all up weight was 9031b (eight cwt). Going down I hit low and left it there, barely requiring the brakes. During the journey up, which includes some inclines of a measured 1:4,1 experimented. Satisfied that the low ratio could cope with whatever was thrown at it, I stopped and engaged high. The bike pulled away as though it was a main road incline. A few more revs than usual perhaps, and a deeper bark to the induction roar, but with no more appreciable effort than was displayed by the low drive.
We crawled on the bad bits and speeded up on the smooth ones, yet all without me doing a thing to help. I sat there, behind the windscreen, in the fat dual seat with my feet flat on the footboard, my wife snuggling comfortably behind and let the big tourer extract itself from a situation that has brought an R90/6 and a CB500 to their knees solo!
It would seem apparent that this time the tractive efficiency of the bike is owed entirely to the fluid drive, which refuses to transmit the traction breaking power impulses of each combustion stroke. As you might imagine, this led to experiments on greasy roads afterwards, and with the same happy result.
As a journalist, I am constantly having to revise my opinions, hence the reason for my continually changing list of preferable machinery, which confuses so many readers, I gather, but which should indicate a flexible attitude, I hope. Once again, I have been forced to change them. Without having to worry overmuch about dangers from rear wheel skidding due to applied engine power, wet road riding lost much of its nerve racking associations, just that. Now then, couple it to the amazing stability afforded by the coupled brakes and you might, I hope, begin to appreciate my claim about ‘Guzzi’s powerful contribution to safety because they have removed much of the skill required to master a big bike by a rider and handed it over to the machine itself to cope with.
As with the 750 Sport, braking on the footbrake alone, with my hands braced against the tank filler cap and, in this case also the pillion strap, was wholly safe for 100mph. The right disc I used only for low speed manoeuvring when foot paddling was required, although because of the greater weight of the V1000, I was conscious of the heavier foot pressure required to provide similar braking distances.
The stability of the luxury express broke new ground for me. Exactly why still leaves me a little puzzled, principally I think because it emanated from so many sources, defying simple explanation. It was present when I braked, when I cornered at high speed, when I forced on through strong cross winds, or when I cut through rat packs of city traffic.
I was reminded of the delightful low speed characteristics of an Electra-Glide on occasions; when weight, although present, is so well distributed that it does not intrude, and even affords a certain measure of confidence due to its solid assurity. What its contribution was to out of town riding was, I’m not able to pin-point accurately because a good many heavy bikes feel rock sure as well, but most of them are unable to cope with much more than a cat’s eye before lurching into protest, terrifying their unsuspecting rider.
Soft suspension maybe, even, judging by the static compression of the front and rear units, overloaded suspension that could be improved with variable rate springs and a hydraulic damping action which successfully disciplined any chance of wallowing. But I was, and am, still slightly mystified. Together the various contributions present a very ordinary list race developed frame, steering geometry and suspension. A low centre of gravity. Good, if high, weight distribution. Hydraulic steering damper. A good set of tyres. Just one chance possibility remains.
But at the top of the front crash bars were, on each side, small downward inclined flaps, maybe eight inches long and four inches deep with an almost still air trap to sit in behind it regardless of weather or wind direction “outside”, forever giving me the impression I was riding at a leisurely pace ahead of a strong tail wind.
Without it, the rest of the luxury riding style would fail dismally, for then relaxing with feet forward on the floorboards, with hands loosely resting on the very comfortable handlebar bends would be impossible. Eileen, my wife, a pillion passenger and sidecar passenger critic par excellence in the manner of most riding journalists’ wives, considered it to be the most comfortable bike she had ever passengered, pronouncing it more comfortable than our Fiat 127, a comment including trips over local unmade farm tracks, and one enr couraged no doubt by the six to eight inch deep and 14 inch wide dual seat. As the thing was 31 inches long from tip to tail the amount of room available for long journey position changing was unbeatable.
All these characteristics and items contributed to a machine which, despite having a top speed of no more than 110 mph, enabled extremely high average speeds to be enjoyed in utmost luxury, a word I used quite deliberately. Personally I found something around 85mph to be about best, because at that speed economy was still good, it was slow enough to enjoy the physical cosseting afforded of the big beast, and wind noise did not spoil the otherwise quiet ride, although I’m afraid the old bogey of induction roar spoiled the overall effect completely, especially as it was echoed back by the ‘screen. It really is about time the factory cured that completely unnecessary problem, especially on a bike of this calibre.
All was not perfect though, and much as I admire what must be De Tomasso’s determination the meet and beat the Japanese in a head on clash, such as Wilkinson did with razor blades in the USA against all advice a few years back, he has a lot to learn about the finer points of motorcycle engineering, something which has always been the Achilles heeUof the Italians.
Firstly, the footboards must be either rubber mounted or the, long frame tubes they are attached to must be anchored at a central point to stop them resonating, because while low speed shakes are not worrying, high frequency vibration is, and is wrongly indicative of a vibratory power unit, the last thing this bike deserves as a reputation.
Secondly, the complete electrical switchgear system must be improved, especially the diminutive turn signal button and the so called “safety” ignition cut outs on the hand clutch and prop stand which deny starting until the stand is correctly returned up and the clutch lever is pulled. In my case the clutch cut out switch failed, leaving me stranded with an otherwise perfect motorcycle.
The prop stand mounting, which incorporates a very useful parking brake applied as the bike leans onto it by mechanically closing the rear disc brake pads via a simple lever, requires strengthening. It was the partial collapse of this that caused the stand switch to fail.
Thirdly, improved information warning lights are vital. None of them were visible during daylight hours, and a quartz halogen headlamp is necessary.
In other words, Guzzi’s most important task, now that they have proved their ability to lead motorcycle progress, is to tidy up around the edges. It will cost very little but it means so much to the kind of people who will be buying the machine.
The V1000 is a motorcycle of memorable performance and significant concept. Others can only follow it.