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Bike Review - Posted 17th May 2013
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Laverda Alpino

Most Laverda twin enthusiasts dismiss the Alpino for being bland and short on performance and tend to recommend its rip-snorting sibling, the Montjuic. Yet the original 500 twin has its followers...

Laverda's middleweight twin was launched in 1977. The ground-breaking DOHC 497cc air-cooled parallel twin was the first Italian production motorcycle of its type to utilise four-valve heads, with the spark plugs located centrally (great for combustion: less wonderful for routine maintenance). The 72mm by 61mm engine featured Laverda's typical 180-degree crank arrangement, with the motor tilted forward by 20-degrees in the frame to give that pleasing 'urgent' aspect to its appearance.

The Alpino was also the first non-Japanese production model to use a six-speed gearbox, and its spec also included a wet multiplate clutch (typically heavy in use); two 32mm Dell'Orto carbs; 8.6:1 pistons; electronic ignition (which caused problems as you'll see); Bosch 12V 150W alternator (let down by the compact battery which tended to flatten quickly); an immensely rigid welded loop steel frame with duplex engine cradle; stiff Marzocchi suspension front and back (35mm forks and 5-way adjustable twin shocks), and three dual-piston 260mm Brembo discs all round. Dry weight was just 170kg.

Laverda riders do it in the frost... 1977 Laverda Alpino

The Alpino was light, slim and nimble and blessed with a willing, free-revving engine. It steered and stopped superbly but offered little more ultimate performance than a Honda 400 twin - yet the Laverda was as expensive as most litre-class fours. Its performance also varied from bike to bike; in roadtests when new various top speeds were achieved and ranged from 95mph to 113mph. Yet a good Alpino could run rings around most Japanese 750-fours, and inspired the UK Laverda importers, Slater Brothers, to dream up the sporty Montjuic for more spirited riding. Roger Slater still has fond memories of the original Alpino, and says; 'these were always a favourite with me, built like a Swiss watch, light and nimble.'

Some 2750 Laverda 500 twins were built, wearing various model names in different markets. The Alpino started life as the Alpina; was marketed in America as the Zeta, and spawned a 350 twin offshoot.

American Laverda riders do it in black and white... Laverda Zeta

RC reader Gert Rask also has experience of an Alpino, seen here, which he restored a few years ago. The Laverda belongs to Gert's son who originally bought it in 1983, rode it for a while and then stored it for some time. The Alpino was dismantled for an intended restoration which never happened... so Gert finally took on the project.

'When looking into all the bags and boxes I asked myself what I'd promised to do. I had no experience with working on a Laverda!'

Equipped with a workshop manual and a parts list (and a phone number for Richard Slater who supplied some vital spares), Gert got to work. 'During the restoration I had thoughts about the dreadful Bosch electronic ignition system. Richard reckoned the Bosch system was rubbish. It only worked on two levels. Below about 3000 revs it was at full retard, above 3000rpm it was at full advance. I chatted with Richard and he tracked down a modern electronic ignition system, from Germany. It wasnīt cheap, but it was worth every penny. When it finally ran again, the ignition was spot-on at all revs.

Classic black and gold colour scheme...
Long Distance Bantams on

'The restoration progressed slowly as I did everything by myself except chrome plating and upholstery of the saddle. In the early spring 2007 it fired up again after more than 20 years.'

Then at last Gert got to ride the Laverda on the road. The first thing he noticed was the vibration - because the 1977 model didn't come with a balance shaft. The later Alpino S came with the balance shaft and high-compression pistons which boosted output to around 44bhp at 9500rpm. But both versions provide similarly high-class handling.

'The steering and handling is over par,' confirms Gert. 'The Brembo brakes front and rear are outstanding. The riding position is perfect for me. The clutch is very hard, so if you ride on a bendy road and have to change gear often then you will certainly feel it in your hand. I usually change gear without using the clutch, except for start and stop.'

Classy matching overalls. Nice... 1977 Laverda Alpino and proud owner Gert

The Alpino certainly isn't a touring machine, says Gert, who finds it tiring to ride for more than an hour or so 'but on my 1963 Matchless G12 CSR I can ride for hours.' The engine is very rev-happy 'but below 3500rpm nothing will happen.' You also shouldn't expect to get many miles to the tankful. 'Itīs impossible to go more than 40 miles to the gallon, even though the factory spec says 44mpg. And if you use the twist grip hard and activate the acceleration pump in the carburettor, then it's easy to push fuel economy down to 30mpg...

'Overall, the Alpino is a real sports bike. It's huge fun to ride on short runs of up to 100km. Above all, it's a real eye-catcher.'

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Words Rowena Hoseason
Photos Gert Rask / RC RChive

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