Serendipity, “the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for”, happens.
In the summer of 2012 I was RetroTouring with the Moving Violations: a national club of dedicated women who ride. We bivouacked on the shores of the Susquehanna River at a favorite motorcycle friendly campsite where a fellow camper was eyeballing our vintage bikes. I got to talking with this stranger over beers and it soon came out that he had an ‘unusual’ motorcycle at home that he wanted to sell. It was a 1979 Moto Guzzi V50 and I was interested.
First glimpsed in 1976 and released in 1979 this model represented Guzzi’s attempt to broaden its product line and compete with the Japanese. Production was based at the former Innocenti plant in Milan, famous for mass production of scooters, rather than at the traditional Mandello del Lario facility, in anticipation of high demand. With eyes focused on the future, boss Alejandro De Tomaso instructed chief designer Lino Tonti to design a middleweight version of the heavyweight V twin. Tonti was one of the foremost engineers of his time. Prior to Moto Guzzi he had involvement with Benelli, Aermacchi, Bianchi, and Paton, and of course he designed the enigmaticV7 Sport.
It so happened that the bike was located within 2 miles of our planned route home the next day so after parking my group at a nearby pond Peg and I visited the bike at home. I took a short test ride and was hooked. I left a deposit and returned with my friend Larry to collect the V50 a few days later. The bike performed admirably and I rode it the 80 miles to home with no major issues. The test ride proved invaluable two weeks later when the V50 completed its first tour. Fittingly that tour was “Redneck Gyro II” and the ‘baby Guzzi’ proved to be a crowd favorite among the dedicated Italophilic participants.
The market competition in 1979 included the Honda CX500; surely a great bike but every bit of 150 pounds heavier than the V50 which was listed at just 335 pounds. In motorcycling, less is often more and the light precise handling of this 90 degree V twin proves the theory. The stout frame cradles the engine from above and has removable lower rails. The all alloy swing arm pivots directly on the crankcase. The 12 spoke alloy wheels and high quality suspension components also contribute to handling excellence and the three Brembo hydraulic disc brakes work well enough, though the linked brake system does take some getting used to. The front brake handle squeezes only one of the front calipers so experienced riders must remember to use extra right foot; something that comes naturally to newer riders.
The motor is easy to like: a very user friendly broad power band, slightly anemic by modern standards perhaps but extremely smooth, pleasantly well muffled and always willing. The crankcase splits horizontally and the gearbox is integral; the basic layout is still being used on modern Moto Guzzis today. The plush seat, perfect riding position, electric starting, shaft final drive and generously proportioned fuel tank make light weight touring a practical reality. Do mind the self retracting side stand though; what were they thinking? The Heron combustion chambers and electronic ignition provide efficiency and the five speed gearbox never calls attention to itself by clunking rudely like the V50’s older, bigger siblings. Everyone is grinning when they get off this one and Motor Cycle News hailed it as the best middleweight of ’79. The V50 combines adequate power with great handling and a nimble ride that gives real pleasure.
Lightweight and simplicity: core vintage values.