This slightly tatty motorcycle caught my attention recently. It’s a Moto Guzzi V-twin, labelled “Indian”.
For anyone who’s ever enjoyed looking at an engine and trying to find out which bit does what, such a device is a pleasure to behold. The V-2 is arranged longitudinally to the body, presumably for better balance and cooling. The engine rests in a tubular frame which is also clearly visible. Pretty much every important part is easy to find which means that you can get at it if it needs repair and, plus, it’s pretty. That there are additional elements appended to the bike is not necessarily a demerit.
While I quite like originality on a car, on a bike like this the extra bits tell a story and imbue the machine with a personality. There are two storage boxes in chromed metal and what I think is an aftermarket eagle figure head on the front mudguard. The petrol tank has a pleasing weathered look, as indeed does much of the rest of the bike.
V-2 motors first appeared in 1903, built by Indian in the US. Harley-Davidson followed up a few years later though without initial success. The simple principle behind a V-2 is to double the power output without necessarily doubling the components or weight. The power to displacement is satisfactory and the engine can be arranged to deliver low end torque. They are suited especially to cruisers like the bike shown: able to run at low rpms, unstressed but ready to provide good pick-up.
A good few firms make V-twins: Harley, Ducati and Yamaha, for example. Moto Guzzi’s engine is unusual in that it’s not transverse. The orientation refers to the crankshaft arrangement not the axis of the cylinders. A further difference is that the crankshaft doesn’t need a bevel gear at the front end to change the direction. One is required at the other end though. A potential disadvantage is the effects of torque reaction which makes the motorcycle lean to one side during acceleration or sharp deceleration.
Engineering being what it is, the merits of V-twins now boil down to aesthetics as other configurations have been developed that package better, use fewer parts and have smoother firing. That might be one reason the V-2 is often associated with, but not exclusive to, cruisers. It does occur on other classes of bikes. I am not enough of an expert to be able to judge this; the engine simply looks good attached to a motorcycle (which I don’t myself have to ride). This is very much a matter of vicarious pleasures.
The other appeal of the bike is simply in the name itself: Moto Guzzi. Without even trying, the name summons up a whole and probably impossible life-style of easy riding in that mythical version of Italy that exists in non-Italian minds. So, where in Italy would one use a bike like this? The land is rather mountainous and the drivers unpredictable: is it a land for steady medium speed cruising? Will you take the bike a few kilometers to the local café? Or does, in fact, the low-end torque make it quite useful in the Alpine-ish areas and the mountainous spine of the place?
If anyone knows a bit more about this model, don’t be shy about enlightening us. In the meantime, I can reflect on the fact that it has been quite some time since I enjoyed the technical aspects of a vehicle, albeit one I would, under no circumstances use myself. I will leave that to others.
[Article amended Sept 28, 2017, 9:48 CET in response to comments.]