Ambling Between the Walls

This slightly tatty motorcycle caught my attention recently. It’s a Moto Guzzi V-twin, labelled “Indian”.

1965-1974 Moto Guzzi V-7 

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.

Access all areas: Moto Guzzi V-7

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.

Moto Guzzi V-7

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.]

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

17 thoughts on “Ambling Between the Walls”

  1. The bike is a Guzzi V7, made from 1965 to 1974 in several variations.
    The bike was developed for the Italian police in 1965, as were several Guzzis before it.
    A civilian version was available from 1967.
    The bike started with a 700cc OHV engine, eventually enlarged to 850cc. for the V7 850 GT.
    The engine is rumoured to be based on a stationary engine designed for powering concrete mixers but that is probably not true.

    The version shown is the oldest one with car type distributor ignition and a belt driven alternator in the Vee (later versions had a crankshaft mounted alternator and camshaft driven ignition, giving them a much slimmer look). Most of the electrical system is sourced from Bosch car parts, making it one of the few Italian bikes with reliable electrics.

    The bike’s frame is clumsy and heavy with not too good handling.
    Guzzi later developed a much slimmer, lower and lighter frame that is famous to this very day. The pictured version of the bike is decidedly non-sporting, which changed immediately with the new frame. Guzzi produced some very interesting and pretty fast bikes ( with the same base engine. Compared with Ducatis they had the big advantage of still being in one piece at the end of a journey.

    Riding such an old motorcycle gives an absolutely unique experience of mechanical engineering as well as of the laws of physics involved in driving, something completely lost in the electronics jungle of modern cars and motorcycles. They are fast enough to have serious fun yet handle and stop well enough to let you enjoy the experience.

    1. Dave: you’re a star. I had the idea the “Indian” label might not be official. What makes a police bike different to a civilian one? The batteries? Brakes? Or put another way, why would a civilian not want police spec other than the paint and flashers.

    2. Thanks for the compliments.
      I just happen to be an old motorcycling fart and remember these bikes from the time they were new (oh God, now everybody knows how old I am).

      The intended police usage called for longevity and low maintenance, leading to an incredibly large and heavy car sized battery, a big and heavy starter motor and a very powerful car type alternator for a motorcycle (most of these parts were from the Fiat 128 and could be bought at any Bosch or Fiat dealer). The frame is said to be designed to carry an armed officer together with his horse. This all contributed to make the V7 a very heavy bike for the time at around 250 kilograms.
      With only around 50 hp, the Guzzi was no backroad burner, and at that time in Europe, motorcycles weren’t the fashion items they became a couple of years later, so market success was not sure.
      A Version pretty close to Police specification wa sold under the name California, with windscreen, wide ‘bars, an enormously large single seat and footboards instead of footrests.

      If you like to figure out which item does what, the V7’s predecessor should be fascinating.

      These bikes were produced like this until the mid-Sixties.
      The round thing in the centre with the red painted circle on it is the “bacon slicer” flywheel running at fresh air…

    1. Not mad at all. The Norton’s a kind of boxer engine? The layout looks very tidy to judge from Wikipedia’s photo. I’d be hard pressed to date it precisely. So: Japanese bikes killed Norton?

    2. Far Eastern motorcycle manufacturers killed Norton about as much as Japanese car manufacturers killed British Leyland.

      For further information please refer to Bert Hopwood’s excellent insider book “Whatever happened to the British motorcycle industry?” or Aabe Amidor’s “Shooting Star. The rise and fall of the British motorcycle industry”.

    1. This is a question I can’t reliably anwer because I am running a Norton Commando and therefore am definitely mad.

  2. There is unfortunately much that is technically incorrect in the rambling of this article. First and foremost, yes indeed, there is a bevel gear required. From Wikipedia:

    “The longitudinal crankshaft two-cylinder V as seen on Moto-Guzzis and some Hondas is less common. This orientation is suited to shaft drive, eliminating the need for a 90° bevel gear at the transmission end of the shaft.”

    Unfortunately, it does however require one at the rear axle, requiring a casting to hold all the bearings. Oh dear.

    The reason to use a 9o degree V2 is to obtain perfect primary mechanical balance, if not even firing intervals. A read up on the V2 engine configuration in its various flavours would help with the understanding.

    There is no inherent reason that a V2 has great bottom end torque. No configuration has inherent abilities like that. Torque is provided by the piston acting through the connecting rod turning the crank, and the intake and exhaust arrangements along with cam timing and lift plus the all-important combustion chamber are what gives certain torque characteristics. Nothing whatsoever to do with the cylinder arrangement. That is a most common misperception that has nothing to do with engineering.

    There’s more, but I’ll forbear to discuss it. This article is a cumulation of old wives’ tales, what I ‘eard down the pub, and just general lack of knowledge, I’m afraid. Nice old bike though, even with the dangling wires. Surprised that a degreaser and a hose hasn’t been used on it if the owner really likes it. Apparently just can’t be bothered.

    1. Thanks for the insight. I’m not an engineer so it’s great to learn a bit more. All I can say is that the material I read (which included what RP calls Liepedia) implied the V-2 had certain torque characteristics when I suppose they meant *this* V-2 had them. I needed to be more precise about the bevel thingy: one isn’t needed at the front but needed at the rear. Is that a gain or just the requirement swapping places?

  3. When you look at an average chain driven bike you have everything in the same direction. Crankshaft, gearbox shafts and rear axle are all sitting transversely in the frame and therefore can easily be connected by chains or gears.
    If you look at a shaft driven bike, the drive shaft invariably has to be longitudinally in the frame and power somwhow has to be transferred to the rear wheel, whose spindle again is mounted in transverse orientation. Hence you need a bevel drive at the rear wheel (like in most cars’ differential).
    If you put the gearbox and crankshaft in the same direction as the drive shaft, power is directed to the drive shaft in one direction. If you mount the engine transversely like in Yamaha’s XS 750/850 models or in old MV Agusta designs, you need another bevel drive to change the direction from the transverse gearbox to the longitudinal drive shaft.
    On BMWs and Guzzis you dont’s need that because engine and gearbox are mounted longitudinally.
    The price you pay is that on those bikes the gearbox is running at engine speed which makes for a very crunchy and slow gearchange. Old BMWs were famous for their acoustic gearchange feedback because every shift operation was accompanied by a lound “crrrrunch-clonk”.

  4. Guzzi is the 2nd oldest, continually operating motorcycle company in the world. They are still in production and make some remarkable machines. Their lack of popularity in the US is due mostly to Guzzi’s lack of US promotion. Guzzi America does not do a good job of supporting it’s dealers. They are easy machines to work on, and especially in the era of the one you’ve pictured. Newer ones have all the electric computer components that all machines seem to use today, making it harder to work on oneself. The eagle you mentioned was original. Carlos Guzzi loved them and his partners added them in his honor when he died in WW2. The company today is owned by Aprilia.

    1. Thanks for clarifying the
      bit about the eagle. Aprilia took over MG about ten years ago. The MG customer, I imagine, is not a potential Harley customer: would I be right in saying that? The bikes have a different vibe. I would be challenged about saying where the difference lay, though. It might only be in that MG summons up images of a bike used to hop about the countryside (instead of a Panda or 2CV) while the Harley summons images of concrete freeways and cross-continent trips.

    2. There are quite a few Guzzi owners that ride other marquees, including Harley. I just own my ’81 Guzzi with 95,000 miles on it so far. Still going strong!

    3. Actually, Guzzi is known for its touring characteristics, the Norge and the California especially.

    4. Dan: so if you were spending a summer in a small Alpine town, would you pack the Harley or the Moto Guzzi? You’re only allowed one.

    5. Not even a debate on that! Guzzi. It’s made for those kinds of roads. It would take more guts than I have to scrape the pegs in corners!

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