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Bike Profile - Posted 27th August 2010

Not the Perfect Road - Moto Morini 350K Sport
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If I were you, I wouldn't start from here. It begins badly and goes rapidly downhill when Martin Gelder takes his Morini three and a half down the motorway to London. Not the perfect road, then...

There's a perfect road for every bike. It might an American Interstate for a Honda Goldwing, a Wiltshire country lane for a Panther single or the TT circuit for a Ducati v-twin. Horses for course, and all that. For my Moto Morini Three and a Half Sport, the perfect road is a snaking A or B road; not too twisty, just open enough that I can use the high speed handling without having to wait for the next corner to appear. Fast but interesting, ideally with a good cafe at one end and an inexpensive chiropractor at the other.

The perfect road for my Morini would not include the M11 motorway, the City of London, or any parts of Brixton or Stockwell. Which is why I mentioned to Rowena that I was having second thoughts about riding it to a friend's fiftieth birthday party in south east London.

"Do it," she said. "It'd make a great teatime tale."

If only I'd known how right she would prove.

Looks quite clean here. It's not... 1982 Moto Morini 350K Sport

Let's start with the M11. It's not so bad in a car, as long as there's something good on the radio. On a big bike, it's generally just a slightly dull interlude between the M25 and home. On the Morini, the M11 is a pain. It's got hills, you see, and last Saturday it also had a headwind stiff enough to have the windsock at North Weald proudly outstretched and pointing back the way I'd come.

On the uphill stretches and into the wind I was having to change down a gear to hold 70 mph. And if my speed dropped to 60mph while I waited to get into the outside lane on an uphill section, it meant going down two gears to get back into the flow of traffic in the fast lane. I'd never noticed before but there's a distinct flat spot in the carburetion between 5,000 and 6,000rpm, or between 60 and 75mph.

So what should have been a simple if boring cruise became an irritating flurry of gear changes, until I eventually settled in the slipstream of a chocolate brown Winnebago type motorhome that was holding a steady seventy-ish. Perfect. Except when something more streamlined - like the latest Honda Civic, for example - got between us and I'd have to stamp down into fifth again.

And if that wasn't enough, much of the M11 is surfaced with hard concrete cast in a series of small ripples, each one of which was slamming the barely-padded Morini seat into my (somewhat over-padded) rear end. Ow. Ow. Ow. Just to round things out, there was an occasional heavy rain shower, too. Gah.

From the end of the M11 I joined the A12 towards the Blackwall Tunnel. Another road that couldn't be described as ideal Morini territory, but at least it's got some corners, and trying to guess the speed limit at any given point keeps your mind active. And now that they're building the Olympic stadia next to it, it's even got added sightseeing.

Which set me thinking. Rather than follow my usual South Circular route, why didn't I head into town through The City and the West End and take some snaps of the bike in front of various land marks?

The Gherkin, the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square; all on the way if I turned off the A12 before the tunnel. Perhaps there would be enough for a teatime tale after all?

Morinis on Right Now......

The City at four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon is a strange place. I share empty streets with pigeons and the odd security guard shuffling home, while the buildings form dark canyons, a thousand lifeless windows staring down as I pass. A set of lights turns red for no reason, stopping me in my tracks, and first an old Honda Bros and then a new GSX-R Suzuki pull up alongside me. The lights go green and we pull away a bit more briskly than is necessary, our mechanical soundtrack echoing off the canyon walls. It's the same again at the next lights, and I'm chasing up through the gears to stay with the others bikes.

Pulling away from the next stop, I hit a false neutral between second and third and the GSX-R and Bros stretch away. The gear pedal feels odd as I knock it properly up into third and then as I snick back into second for yet another set of lights, the pedal drops limply away from my foot. I pull up at the side of road and allow the bike to stall so that I can get off and see what's happened.

What's happened is that the rod linking the rear set gear change pedal to the arm on the gear change shaft has snapped, leaving the bike stuck in gear. Not good. The arm is little more than a stump and I can't get enough purchase to move it in either direction, although I'm not sure how that would help.

Yellow arrows indicate gap that shouldn't exist...

Time to review my options. I've broken down opposite a pavement cafe - complete with customers who are managing to stare at me with open mouthed wonder while completely avoiding eye contact - so if the worst comes to the worst I can phone the RAC and sip a frappe-latte-skinny-knokka-mocca-chino while I wait for recovery. But if I did that, I'd miss the party tonight and - worse - have to endure endless ribbing about my unreliable Morini. I have a selection of tools with me, but nothing that will fix a broken gear linkage rod, although I briefly consider swapping in the brake linkage rod - until I realise that it's too short - or rigging up a pair of finger operated loops made out of cable ties.

If my right arm had been a foot longer that one might have been a goer, but as it is it seems that the best course of action is to limp onwards and attempt to reach my destination, which will feature, as well as a birthday party with booze and cake and everything, a garage with a selection of tools and another Morini from which parts might be purloined. I mean borrowed. Anyway, there'll definitely be cake.

Which just leaves the problem of getting going again, and then getting across London. The Morini 'features' a kickstart that requires the bike to be in neutral before it can be used; try and use it in gear with the clutch pulled in and you just shuffle forwards very slowly. So it's bump start or nothing, and I'm facing up a slight hill. On a one way street.

Ignition on, helmet and gloves on, jacket done up tight, clutch in, into gear and start pushing until I can't run any faster. I leap onto the bike, drop the clutch.... and the engine fires. Whoo-hoo! I'd like to think the audience of cafe customers are applauding at this point, but somehow I doubt it. I open the throttle and head off in the direction of Holborn and the West End.

And then I remember I can't change gear. I now know I'm stuck in second, which is better than being stuck in first, but not by much. At 5,000rpm the bike is barely cracking 30mph, despite sounding as though it's doing three times that. I could theoretically go faster, but mechanical sympathy gets the better of me and I settle on a 25mph cruise. This is, of course, just slow enough to really annoy all the other traffic which has materialised now that I'm leaving the financial district and entering 'theatreland'.

Every traffic light in sight turns red as I approach it, and pedestrians step out onto every zebra crossing in front of me. Every stop means a clutch-slipping, engine revving restart followed by a lurch and then an embarrassingly slow - yet still noisy - departure. And everything is starting to get hot. The engine, the clutch, the rider. Particularly the rider; I'm dressed to stay dry during M11 rain showers, but I'm now making very slow progress through a hot and muggy city, all the while sitting above an over-revving air cooled engine with an overheating dry clutch. A clutch I can't let go of when I stop, because I can't get into neutral. So I can't loosen my jacket.

I scream my way along Shaftesbury Avenue, down Charing Cross Road, round Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall. I don't stop to take photos because I'm worried that with the engine this hot, it won't restart. Tourists stare. Taxi drivers star. Policemen stare. Policemen with machine guns stare, policemen who might want to stop me and ask why I'm riding so slowly at such high revs. Gulp.

And do you know how many traffic lights in London are uphill? All of them, that's how many. I've come this way a thousand times before and never noticed how steep some of them are. Particularly the one leading onto Vauxhall Bridge, where I nearly stall. I finally manage to unzip the top of my jacket as I cross the river, and the breeze cools me slightly. I relax until I realise the route I've chosen will take me through the middle of Brixton and then the middle Streatham. On Saturday afternoon. When they're at their busiest.

Thank heavens for Red Route bus lanes, that's all I can say. Although the traffic is heavy I can trundle along without using too many revs, and I'm getting better at timing my filtering so that I don't have to do too many second gear starts. I start to realise that I'm going to make it.

Now pass me that champagne... 1982 Moto Morini 350K Sport - Destination Reached

Never has Moldovan champagne tasted so good, or been so appreciated, as the glass presented to me when I arrive at the party. The second glass was equally appreciated, as was the third, and so on, right through to the Kosovan brandy at the end of the evening. I think I'm going to go to sleep now.

***** ^ *****

Next morning, suitably fortified with coffee and bacon sandwiches, those of us who'd stayed overnight ventured out to the garage to inspect the damage. Brief thoughts of press-ganging the other Morini's gear change evaporated once it became obvious that its rearsets were significantly different to mine.

So off we headed to B&Q. Three hungover motorcyclists in a Fiat 500; what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, surprisingly; we not only resisted buying any power tools but we also avoided gassing each other. And we returned clutching enough varieties of metal bar and studding to cover any eventuality.

There's a Triumph Daytona under that blanket. We had to move it before applying heat... A bit of cutting, a bit of threading, a bit of heating and a bit of bending

A bit of cutting, a bit of threading, a bit of heating and a bit of bending - followed by some more heating and bending, and a little swearing - we had something that would fit, and would do the job. Not as elegant as the original, but then the original broke, so it can't have been that elegant to start with.

A bent rod, yesterday... It's probably a bit too bent, but it does the job

A spin up the road to test that the gears are changing, a blat round the block to compare Morinis (one is louder and feels heavier, the other quieter but firmer feeling), more coffee and then it's time to head for home.

I expected the clutch to have suffered from its abuse the previous day but it was fine. The replacement linkage worked wonderfully well for a Sunday morning bodge, and the Morini even consented to cruise the length of the M11 at a steady 6,500rpm, regardless of hills or headwinds. A perfect end to the weekend, if not a perfect choice of roads...

Ready for off... Words: Martin Gelder
Pictures: Andrew Wegg, Martin Gelder, Tim Crowther
Moldovan Champagne: Don Bridge
Cake: Maggie Kenney.

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