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Bike Review - Posted 17th December 2014
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Moto Morini 3 1/2: The Real Allegro

Owning Moto Morini's 350cc 'Three and a Half' v-twin always feels bright and cheerful, says Andrew Wegg as he picks gear teeth out of the sump and contemplates the bill for parts and labour....

The 70ís era is well known for hilarious style mismatches, one of the worst being the dumpy horrible atrocity that the BL publicity team decided to call 'Allegro' in a typically rubbish attempt to beguile the hapless 70ís car-buying punter. In music Ďallegroí means bright and cheerful Ė which is about as far as you can get from the reality of the BL horror that quickly became known to all and sundry as the All-Aggro. If there was a 70ís vehicle that really deserved the name Allegro, itís the Morini 3Ĺ. I defy anyone not to feel bright and cheerful behind the bars of a Morini.

When new the Morini 3Ĺ quickly established a reputation for being a great handling bike, albeit with typically Italian iffy electrics and a rather too high list price, attributes that made them something of a rarity in the UK during the production run that ended in the mid-1980s. Since then, a few more have been brought in from Europe by the few marque specialists, but they remain quite rare on UK roads and always attract attention. However, rarity did not translate into value and prices remained low for a long time, although in the last five or six years they have moved up quite strongly.

Moto Morini 350 Strada / Sport

My own bike is one of those later European imports which I acquired in 2002 on something of a whim for a surprisingly low price. Originally built in 1976 as an Italian market 3Ĺ Strada touring model (higher bars, slightly lower compression engine and a flat seat), it had arrived in the UK in 1994 and was converted into a 3Ĺ Sport (clip-ons, humped seat, rear sets, and a lumpier cam) by the late, legendary Phil Smith, Morini guru, and an awesomely good blues guitarist to boot - some people are just too talented for their own good.

On arrival in the UK, Phil rebuilt the bike and working on it over the years since has been a pleasure as there are none of the stripped threads and butchered fasteners that usually make working on 40-year old machinery so annoying. The bike was rewired and the laughable OE switch gear was also replaced, thus removing the main bug bears of 70ís Italian bikes. A loud performance 2-1 exhaust was also fitted, a period 70ís item made by a Californian tuning shop going by the unlikely name of Rickey Racer, run by racer Lance Weil who, incidentally, was one of the first Americans to race in Europe in the 60s, competing at Brands Hatch and the TT amongst others. The bike was finished off with a version of the colour scheme used by the earlier drum-braked Morini Sport, although using a much darker burgundy red than the brighter tomato red shade favoured by Morini.

Moto Morini 350 Strada / Sport

Since then Iíve been gradually upgrading components and trying to fine tune the handling and feel. A major part of this has focussed on refining the braking Ė the Morini 3Ĺ isnít known for having bad brakes, but initially my bike was desperately out of fix as pulling the front brake lever in resulted in a loud scraping noise but not much else. Changing the pads, cleaning up the caliper and bleeding the system got the brake working but at the expense of replacing the scraping noise with an even louder screeching. There was nothing for it, but to completely rebuild the front brake system with a new disk to replace the scored original. That wasnít really enough though - a bike that can be ridden with such verve cries out for a really good front brake, not just an acceptable one. I could have fitted a double disk from a later bike easily enough - this was always an option on new bikes at the time but the single disk somehow looks more in keeping with the era.

Thereís little wrong with the standard GriMeCa caliper, the main problem lies with the master cylinder / caliper ratio which is not well matched for the single disk (though its fine for twin disks!). It works, but the feel is a bit wooden and the brake tends to feel a bit overwhelmed at higher speeds, or carrying a pillion. The fix was easy though Ė the master cylinder from a Morini 250 (or an MZ ETZ) is a much better match for a single disk set up and goes a long way to getting improved lever feel. Finally, a braided line was fitted to further beef things up and at last I had good brakes which suited my riding style.

However, after a while I started to experience disk wear problems again. The pads recommended for the standard disk are quite soft and tended to break up, possibly due to the better performance and increased leverage, and the disk started to score again. The bike was always ridden quite hard (for Morini values of ďhardĒ, anyway) and the possibility of brake failure was always in the back of my mind so I finally replaced the OE chrome disk with a more modern floating disk (actually a rear disk from a Ducati) which has transformed the braking performance to almost modern standards, and completely removed the pad and disk wear problems. The only issue with it is that the standard brake pads have to be slightly modified so that the lower edge of the pad material doesnít foul the disk buttons but that will also be sorted out as Iím about to fit a Brembo caliper which will also increase the swept area on the disk.

Moto Morini 350 Strada / Sport Disk and master-cylinder swap transforms braking

While on the subject of brakes, a cautionary tale: the piston in the front master cylinder on the Morini is held in the bore purely by the limit to the travel of the front brake lever. Normally this isn't a problem, but if the lever pivot wears out of round or the tension on the lever is slack, the master cylinder piston can move out of position and potentially jam the front brake in the off position. Donít ask me how I know, I just doÖ

The Morini 3Ĺ is justifiably noted for its great handling, but the standard suspension is very crude which stops you having as much fun on the bike as you should be able to, if the suspension was really up to scratch. Having the suspension settings set accurately and using a good quality medium weight fork oil helps a lot but the forks will never damp particularly well due to their single-stage damping. The stanchions are machined alloy, typical of the era, and work directly on the fork tubes which means the fork oil quickly becomes contaminated by metal particles as the hard chrome fork tubes wear the softer alloy of the stanchions.

Moto Morini 350 Strada / Sport

This shows up as horrible gritty, grey fork oil which then becomes something of a feedback loop as the contaminated oil increases wear still further. Thereís not a lot you can do about it, other than changing the fork oil regularly as part of the servicing schedule. Fitting a set of Hagon progressive fork springs was a relatively cheap and easy improvement mod which goes someway to improvement which made the damping more predictable and removed the tendency to pogo on rough road surfaces. A certain Real Classic Morini 3Ĺ is due to get a set of cartridge emulators in its forks, and Iíll be watching progress on that carefully!

Replacing the rather harsh original Marzocchi rear shocks with a set of Ikon Dial-A-Rides was probably the most effective single suspension mod. While not cheap, they give a dramatically better ride and make an enormous difference, again improving damping and rebound exponentially over the standard parts.

Moto Morini 350 Strada / Sport

As standard, the Morini 3Ĺ Sport has a steering damper - although the bike really doesnít need one - and mine came without one fitted. However I had a spare White Power unit on a shelf in the garage from an old track day bike. Morini used a common frame for both the Sport and Strada models, so this is an easy addition. It looks trick, even though itís largely cosmetic as I always leave it on the least stiff setting.

Over several years hard use the bike gave largely trouble free riding with the exception of a saga with a leaking fuel tank. The engine needed little more than regular servicing and replacement of clutch plates and cam belts and over ten years of back road scratching and inner city commuting, the 3Ĺ had proved a very easy classic bike to live with, being very reliable and largely fuss free compared with my other classics. This was no doubt due to the quality of the work done by Phil Smith and the removal of the typical problem areas such as 70s Italian electrics, but it is a very easy bike to work on. It almost has the feel of a hand built race bike, very pared down and well production engineered such that it belies its vintage. Other than the work on the brakes, the only major job needed was to fit new DellíOrto carburettors to replace the originals which were worn and becoming hard to balance. At a surprisingly cheap £95 the pair, replacement was cheaper than refurbishment.

It had always been a quick feeling engine and one that rewarded a hard riding style. The (largely straight through) 2-1 exhaust sounded fantastic whether at idle or flat out and enhanced the feeling of speed and power - even though riding it flat out tends to mean the bike is really doing about 75 mph. But thatís not the point; Morini riding is all about having as much fun on a bike as you possibly can, feeling as if you are chasing Hailwood down at the Creg, even if the average spotty teenagerís scooter is probably quicker. On a typically spirited ride out to the Pioneer Run, I came close to near disaster when the rear wheel locked up as I accelerated out of a fast roundabout. Fortunately, Iíd just got the bike straight and upright and I managed to stay on as the bike screeched to a halt, but the rear wheel was locked solid indicating that something was seriously amiss in the gearbox.

Moto Morini 350 Strada / Sport All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth. And the rest too
Morinis on Now...

Dismantling the engine has shown the cause was a gear selector locater pin that had detached and lodged in the gears, stripping the teeth off a couple of the gears and wrecking a bearing. Stripping the engine further also revealed wear from contaminated oil, apparently those old carbs had let fuel leak down into the crankcase. Work is underway to fix the damage and while itís apart the engine will get a boost to 400cc, some mild tuning work and hopefully I should be ready to finish that abortive Pioneer Run in 2015.

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