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Bike Profile - Posted 7th July 2009

1989 Moto Morini Dart 350 and 1993 Gilera CX
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The Dart and CX were very much of their time; late eighties / early nineties Italian styling given a unique twist with a bigger engine for the Morini and a funny-front-end for the Gilera. Are they RealClassics? Martin Gelder finds out....

1989 Moto Morini Dart 350

The Dart is (basically) a modified Cagiva Freccia 125 rolling chassis with an air-cooled Moto Morini 350cc, 72 degree vee-twin shoehorned between the frame spars. Early models were 350cc, later ones were 400cc, and all differed from the original 350s by using KoKusan ignition and a conventionally mounted Bosch starter motor that could actually be relied on to start the, well, motor.

The model was developed perhaps 'cobbled together' would be a better term - when Gabriella Morini (daughter of founder Alfonso Morini) sold the failing Morini company to Cagiva, who at the time were producing 125cc lightweights and Ducati Pantah derived bigger bikes but had no middleweights in their range.

Nice lines, but a mudguard like no other... 1989 Moto Morini Dart 350

The marriage of eighties all-enclosing bodywork with a seventies air-cooled pushrod engine shouldn't work, but it does.

The bodywork is very much of its time think Ducati Paso, the first Honda CBR600s or BMW's K1 with a vast mudguard covering much of the front wheel, no visible sign of engine, frame or other inner-workings, and a solid 'screen' extending up towards the rider. The bars are 'above the yoke' clip-ons, the switchgear includes a twistgrip mounted choke and the ignition switch nestles between the analogue clocks, just where you'd expect to find it.

Paint is pearlescent, mirrors are blue. 1989 Moto Morini Dart 350

The Dart fires up on the button and settles into a chuffing vee-twin idle. It responds briskly to the throttle, like a Morini should, but with none of the raucousness of my own 350K; no tappet rattle, no induction roar, just nice... chuffingness. It feels civilised. It feels modern, even though it's 20 years old.

The only strangeness comes from the riding position. The seat is plush but holds you precisely in one position, cupping your nether regions in a slightly too intimate manner and holding you exactly where it wants you. This wouldn't be so bad but the footpegs aren't quite where you expect them to be I found them to be slightly too far forward and a little a high and not being able to shift even an inch along the saddle leaves you unable to compensate. Having said that, once I'd adjusted to the riding position it didn't trouble me again.

Opaque screen works... 1989 Moto Morini Dart 350

The bike handles with the sure-footed confidence that you'd expect from an Italian middleweight, creating the impression it could handle all the rider or the road could throw at it. The Dart is fitted with the 16 front wheel which was all the rage at the time, but the steering is accurate and predictable.

The brakes single disc, front and rear work with no drama, the gear shift is precise and the only reminder of the old-tech motor is the slightly grabby dry clutch. There's no mistaking the engine for anything other than a medium capacity vee-twin, but this is a good thing; it pulls cleanly from low down but likes to rev as well. Throttle response is good too; this really is a civilised motorcycle.

The controls fell easily to photographer... 1989 Moto Morini Dart 350

The Dart would be a perfect introduction to the world of modern classics. Practical enough to live with, easy enough to get along with, yet interesting enough to stand out from the crowd.

1993 Gilera CX 125

The Gilera CX would be a fairly unremarkable early nineties Italian learner bike but for one thing; its single sided front and rear suspension. Is that two things? Whichever, the CX has looks that turn heads and stop people in their tracks. We had this Gilera in the line up of bikes next to the RealClassic stand at last year's Festival of 1000 Bikes, and it probably drew more double-takes and inquisitive stares than any other individual bike.

No visible means of support... 1993 Gilera CX 125

Single sided rear suspension isn't that uncommon, from exotica like Honda's RC30 and Ducati's 916, through to Triumph's Speed Triples and Sprints and any number of modern scooters. Single sided front suspension is another matter, and that's what marks the Gilera CX as unusual. From the right-hand side there appears to be nothing holding the CX's distinctive disc wheels to the bike, and the unusually nose-heavy fairing adds to the Manga / Bloodrunners / downright wrong (depending on your age) looks.

Not so tidy on the other side... 1993 Gilera CX 125

The front wheel is attached by a single telescopic strut. The lower part of this is an aluminium casting that curves out from the centre of the wheel, holding the front brake calliper in place on the way, before attaching firmly and solidly to the sliding part of the strut. This polished steel slider is free to move up and down through a larger cast steel tube clamped between the Cyclops like upper and lower yokes which pivot around a conventional steering head. Would Americans call these double-trees rather than triple-trees, I wonder?

Wheel is dished, with disc roughly on its centre line... 1993 Gilera CX 125 steering system, bottom end

The upper yoke holds a pair of cast in handlebars, while the lower yoke connects by a pivoting linkage to the top of the casting which holds the wheel. This linkage transfers the steering movement from yokes to wheel but doesn't not interfere with the suspension movement. It looks not unlike the arrangement you'd get on the nose-wheel of an aircraft.

No visible means of support... 1993 Gilera CX 125 steering system, top end

It has none of the advantages over conventional forks that other alternative suspension systems such as BMW's Telelever or the Saxon / Hossack system offer, but it looks really cool. Really, really cool.

The riding position is pure Italian sports bike, with a narrow seat, rear set footpegs and low, quite steeply sloping clip-ons. The clocks are only visible when you sit on the bike, and the ignition switch can only be reached by sitting on the bike and turning the bars to one side of their limited steering movement. Turn on the fuel using the washing machine temperature dial below your left thigh, thumb the starter, and somewhere within the bowels of the vast bodywork an engine starts.

The engine four-strokes, eight-strokes, hunts and misfires as it warms, more reminiscent of a 1960's Vespa than Bradley Smith's 125 GP bike, and it needs a lot of revs to pull away. Once out on the open road and warmed through, it's fairly tractable, with sufficient mid-range power that gets crisper as the revs rise. The riding position is sporty but not particularly uncomfortable, with weight well distributed through seat pegs and bars.

Fairing is very effective... 1993 Gilera CX 125

The handling, which should define a bike with such unique suspension, is actually quite conservative. The steering is light but the bike is not a quick turner; it needs a fair amount of effort to steer into a curve. It's stable once on a chosen line, and accurate in response to inputs through the clip-ons. I suspect the designers went for a safe combination of rake and trail to balance out the weirdness of the suspension and steering arrangement, and then combined this with stiff, well damped but limited travel for the front strut.

And then you hit 8,000rpm.

The solenoid operated power valve flips open at exactly those revs, the exhaust note triples in volume to become a manic howling scream, and the bike surges forward in a way that renders every impression you have just formed totally meaningless. From civilised sports bike to manic axe-wielding turbo-nutter in the blink of an eye.

Between 8,000rpm and the redline at 12,000rpm the bike revs with an addictive urgency that has you feeding it gear after gear, hunkered down over the bars, revelling in the purity of a tuned two-stroke doing what it does best.

The engine is what defines this bike, not the suspension. Below the magic 8k it's a nice, crisp, fairly modern Italian two-stroke with quite interesting suspension. Above 8k it's a Class A drug: It's dangerous, it's illegal, it's antisocial and it's most definitely addictive. Drop below the magic number and all you can think about is getting the next hit from pushing the needle round the dial. Soar above there and it's nirvana, a rush of pure speed that leaves the rest of life and most traffic - in its wake.

Manic cackling not shown... 1993 Gilera CX 125

And it's only a 125. It'll cruise comfortably at 80, hit 90 with ease and with a slender and suitably demented Italian teenager on board I've no doubt it'd reach the claimed 170km/h top speed.

Would it be practical and reliable to own? Who cares; when a bike is this much fun, this intense, it'd be worth whatever it took.

Conclusion

Two Italian Real Classics, then. One a fully faired 125 with a charming and flexible 350cc vee-twin engine, the other a fully faired 125 with weird suspension and an utterly bonkers engine. One a practical alternative to more mainstream motorcycling, the other an intensely addictive experience.

Both are involving and enjoyable to ride, but in utterly different ways. The only thing that these bikes really have in common is useless mirrors. The Dart's are useless and blue tinted, the Gilera's are useless apart from providing a place to mount the indicators.

The weird and the wonderful... 1993 Gilera CX 125, 1989 Moto Morini Dart 350

I expected the Dart to be sportier, or at least less civilised, than it turned out to be. More of a compromise than the competent all rounder it actually is. And I certainly didn't expect the CX to be quite so demented.

For Sale:

RealClassic Message Board regular Paul Compton, who owns both of the bikes featured here, is thinking of selling the Morini Dart.

Make him an offer (morini@compton.vispa.com) before he changes his mind...


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