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Bike Profile - Posted 15th March 2010

Moto Guzzi V50
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Who says classic bikes have to be costly? A little over a grand will buy you a fair example of what may be the best bike Moto Guzzi ever built...

It's hard not to like Moto Guzzi's V50 twin. We've featured its smaller sibling, the V35, before and admired the 350's poise and its ease of use. However there's no denying that the leap from 346cc to 490cc and the 12bhp power boost it brings with it make the V50 a much more engaging motorcycle to live with. While the 350 gives its all to hit 90mph, the 500 can carry on to reach the ton. In today's terms that translates to comfortable dual-carriageway cruising - and that's just the icing on the cake because the V50 may very well be one of the best bikes Moto Guzzi ever built…

Also available in colour.... Moto Guzzi V50 MkIII

Designed in the mid-70s by Lino Tonti, who earlier created the V7 Sport, the V35/V50 format went on to spawn an entire range of Guzzi middleweights, and its ancestors live on today in the shape of the current and Breva 750 and V7 Classic. The V50 was physically smaller than most 250s of its time yet packed a creditable power to weight ratio into its compact chassis, producing 45bhp to propel its 152kg. That's all the more impressive considering the Guzzi was lugging around a shaft-drive: the V50 was some 45kg lighter than the CX500 and 36kg less than Yamaha's (chain drive) DOHC XS500. When the V50 was tested by Which Bike alongside that pair and a Moto Morini 500, the magazine reported that 'the Moto Guzzi is the best of the bunch.'

As sold by Bonhams, for less than £700. Bargain... 1979 Moto Guzzi V50 MkII

Bike magazine adored it too. 'For the first time it's possible to pick up some Italian middleweight class at mass production prices. And what's more, consumer orientation is up to Japanese standards. It's a neat, cheap, sporting package at a price that won't make you cry if you do a lot of commuting.' It helped that the V50 was keenly priced at under £1300, unusual for Italian motorcycles at the time, and could deliver 70mpg into the bargain.

Swinging arm pivots off rear of crankcases. Shaft drive is on other side. 1979 Moto Guzzi V50 MkIII engine and transmission

The V50's engine was arranged with its 74mm by 57mm cylinders in a Vee across the frame, using pushrod operated overhead valves and running 10.8:1 compression. Two Dell'Orto carbs fed fuel, while power was transferred via a single plate dry clutch with a diaphragm spring to the final (mostly unobtrusive) shaft drive. The tubular frame formed a full cradle around the motor with tele front forks, twin adjustable rear shocks and swinging arm at the rear. Braking was by two 260mm cast irons disc at the front, operated using Guzzi's linked system and Brembo twin-piston calipers, with a single 235mm disc at the back.

In total it was a robust, reliable design… although not entirely immune to a few foibles. The finickity Bosch electronic ignition caused an unhappy flat spot in the mid-range. The battery needed to be kept at full charge to guarantee electric starting in bad condition.

The ignition switches, fork oil seals and final drive oil seals were all prone to failure from new and had to be fixed under warranty. Worse, the quality of the paintwork was extremely variable and could just fall off in discouraging flakes, while the mudguards grew rusticles which would've made the Titanic proud.

CX500s on Right Now......

Even so, a headline in MCN which ran 'best handling bike I've ever ridden' encouraged British riders to test the V50's mettle. Over in the USA, Cycle magazine also found it to be; 'amazingly stable, inspiring rider confidence at high speeds in a straight line or through fast sweepers'. Thus more than 2000 V50s were sold in the UK by importer Coburn and Hughes in 1979.

As the recession bit at the turn of the 1980s, so sales began to fall, and Moto Guzzi brought in a raft of fixes, creating the V35 Mk2 and the V50 Mk3. In a strange step backwards both bikes switched to contact breaker and condenser ignition, which smoothed out the mid-range as intended. The carbs were uprated from 24mm to 28mm on the 500 while tweaks to the valvegear contributed to a power hike of 2bhp and solved another nasty issue of an occasional dropped valve. The cosmetic problems were addressed (well, in an Italian kinda way, you understand), which makes the Mk3 the ideal model to aim for. More of the flawed Mk2s were sold in the UK, however, so you'll find fewer of the 1983-onward models still for sale.

Is that the tallest screen ever fitted to a motorcycle?... Police Moto Guzzi V50

All manner of offshoots followed, including the sporty-looking Monza, a Custom cruiser and a TS off-roader, followed by a four-valve variant, the Monza Mk2. You'll also find ex-Police versions of original V50s which have crept over to the UK; most of those were from the early batches of bikes but if they survived life on the streets and are still going strong today then you're probably safe to assume that most of the teething troubles have passed. (And you can fit modern electronic ignition kits to cure that particular problem if it hasn't already been addressed).

Rider's seat looks great, but I'm not sure about the pillion... Police Moto Guzzi V50

The Police example pictured here was offered for private sale recently (check the Classified Ads to see if it's still available) with MoT to the end of summer 2010, in good nick overall, for £1500. That's ballpark for a good example V50; prices range from £500 to £1800. The 1979 Mk2 also seen further up the page had been stored for some 20 years before it sold at Bonhams auction last year, but it went for under £650. Probably only needed fresh petrol and a change of spark plugs. Probably…

Its low seat height, shaft drive, superb steering, smooth gearchange, good braking and electric start continue to make the V50 a popular choice among women riders - although the bike appeals to anyone who enjoys a user-friendly but characterful classic. It has the added benefit of being an absolute blast to ride on a twisty B-road…


Moto Guzzis on Right Now...


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