Sunday, August 2, 2015

Retro Twin Shootout

As recounted in the following post, last weekend I went on a Retro Tour, riding five different twin cylinder motorcycles from the '70s.  I've decided to do a separate post on the bikes.
How to categorize them?  A '72 Laverda SF 750, a '73 Norton Commando Combat Fastback, a '75 Ducati 860 GT, a '76 Yamaha RD 400, and a '78 Moto Morini 500.  The only thing they all have in common is that they are twins.  Three are Italian, one Brit, one Japanese.  Four are four-stroke (two OHC, two pushrod), one two-stroke.  Three are parallel twins, two are V-twins.  Three are 5 speed, one four speed and one 6 speed.  Two are disc brake front and rear; two are disc front, drum rear; and one is drum front and rear. Two are electric start, three kick only.  Two are 750s, one 400, one 500 and one 860.  Yet, they were all perfectly compatible for a tour together.

I started on the Yamaha, a bike I had only briefly ridden on the street in the '70s, after having roadraced RD 350s and an R5C and TD-3 Yamaha.  The bike was immediately comfortable, with the best seat of the bunch and soft, supple suspension.  I was very much a 'sit up and beg' riding position that was quite comfortable, though I found the footrest too far forward, a trait I found true of all of the bikes to a greater  or less or extent.  With it's rubber mounted motor, it was very smooth and quite quiet.  There was a slight surge at steady, light throttle, and I wondered if it would have benefited from dropping the needles a notch.  The clutch and shift were flawless.  It kick started very easily.  It was too softly sprung and dampened to be ideal scratching on the back roads, but steered very well and must have been the lightest of the bunch, so it was very agile.  The brakes were excellent.  It smoked very moderately and oil consumption may not have been much more than the Norton or Laverda.  But, the fuel consumption was much greater than the four strokes and would go on reserve at about 75 miles and we always gassed up before 100 miles.  It started the tour with 42,219 miles on the clock.

Next I rode the Laverda, and it was probably the greatest contrast to the RD 400 I had just gotten off of.    It's a big, heavy bike and that weight is up high.  Everything was stiff and heavy.  Heavy clutch pull, stiff notchy shifting, hard seat, stiff springing, the most vibration on any of these bikes, a stiff, awkward ignition switch in the aftermarket headlight, and easily the loudest of the bikes, with it's aftermarket mufflers.

The drum front brake took the most effort, but actually work quite well.

But, on the other hand, the Laverda was solid.  It started instantly with the button.  The motor had excellent power with no flat spots.  It may have had the best handlebars of the bunch, but again, the footrest were too far forward.  Oddly, it had Lucas switch gear, which is not exactly intuitive, but worked well.  And, oddly, it had ND instruments which worked well.  It did have a problem with downshifting and I consistently would get a false neutral shifting down from 5th to 4th and 4th to 3rd, though sometime it undershifted and sometimes overshifted.  I warmed up to the Laverda on my second go on it, on the fast, smooth, flowing Rt. 144 south out of Renovo, and was glad I wasn't on it for the dirt roads.  It started the tour with 41,017 miles and no one was aware of the motor every being apart.

Next up was the newest of the bikes, the '78 ('79?  I.D. plate said 10/78) 500 Moto Morini.  This was also electric start, which was handy as perhaps the idle was set on the low side and it stalled at lights a couple of times.  It was quite light and agile with decent suspension.  The brakes were very good.  The handlebars were too wide and footrest too far forward for me, the seat decent.  Vibration was moderate, though with a 72 degree V-twin, it wasn't as smooth as the 90 degree Ducati.  The dry clutch was extremely grabby and very hard to be smooth with.  Apparently, the 500s sold in this country were converted to left side shift that didn't work too well.  This one was converted back to right side and was  OK, but had quite a long throw.  It also had an aftermarket 2 into 1 exhaust.  While most of the time it ran fine and had no trouble keeping up, on long, uphill climbs it would hesitate some and I wondered if the carburetion was off.  The Veglia instruments were useless.  The Morini started the tour with 20,924 miles on it.

I rode the '75 Ducati 860 GT next.  I raced George Vincensi' several times in the '70s and probably rode my brother's briefly in the late '70s.  I've always felt that if one is going to put up with twin cylinders, it should be 90 degree and this bike did nothing to shake that belief.  It has a magnificent motor--very smooth and torquey.  The clutch and shift are excellent, though it was hard to find neutral.  The brakes were the best of the bunch.  When I mentioned to Joel that the light dampening in the rear ruined the otherwise excellent handling, he cranked up the dampening in the Ikon shocks and it was much better.  It's a big, heavy, long bike.  It had the best riding position and though the bars are too wide, they're in the right place, as are the footrests.  The seat is O.K.  The turn signal switch was awkward.  This was the hardest bike to start.  I found it best to put it on the center stand, which was remarkably easy to use for a bike this big and heavy.  Once or twice Joel had to start it for me as he was the master, but I got it most of the time.  It was quite quiet, but with a great sound when opened up.  It started the tour with 32,239 miles.

Finally, the '73 Norton Commando Combat Fastback.  It least we think it's '73 as it had no date stamped on the I.D. plate.  I bought a '74 MK2A 850 Commando Interstate new at Lloyd Bros. in Hamilton Scotland and put about 40K miles on it before I got rid of it in '83, but I guess I hadn't ridden one since, and I had forgotten what nice bike they are.  For the most ancient design (and a bit of a lash-up) of the group, it works remarkably well.  It's kickstart only, but starts quite easily.  It's only four speed, but shifts very nicely with a very nice clutch and, with it's torquey motor, it's not a problem.  It had good power and sound.  The ergonomics were pretty good with good bars but, again, the footrest too far forward.  With the Isolastic engine mounting, the bike shakes like crazy from about 1500 to 2500 rpm, then becomes totally smooth.  However, sometimes it's not practical to avoid that 1500-2500 rpms.  The brakes were decent.  It had a slight 'hinge in the middle' feel to it but really steered and handled very well, with Hagon shocks replacing the original Girlings.  It started the tour with 45,937 miles.
So, may we have the envelope, please?
In 5th place, I'm going to put the Laverda.  Hard, stiff, top heavy and loud.  But, I have to say it felt very solid and was utterly reliable.  And, it was quite fast.
4th place goes to the Moto Morini.  Agile and pretty convenient, but not as refined as the rest with balky clutch, some vibes, and useless instruments.
3rd goes to the Norton.  Not so sophisticated and convenient with kick start and only 4 speed, but really a very nice bike with a nice balance between comfort, handling and speed. 
May we have a drum roll, Please?
I'm going to give a tie between the Yamaha and Ducati.  They are very different bikes, but both great fun.  They both have great motors, though for different reasons.  They're both very smooth.  The RD has that two stroke 'hit', but with a good power band due to the reed valve induction.  The 
Ducati has effortless, bottomless torque, but is moving a much heavier package.  They both handle well, though the Yamaha trades off it agility with squishy suspension to the Ducati's slightly ponderous stability.  Both have excellent brakes, shift and clutch.  They're both very comfortable.  The Yamaha's black mark is it fuel consumption; the Ducati, it's starting.
But, none of these are bad bikes and what a treat to be able to sample them back to back on some magnificent roads with great companions.

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