Moto Guzzi V7 & Triumph Bonneville | Retro Touring for Barn Finds
So, you think there are no more classic or vintage motorcycles tucked away in the dusty corners of the neighborhood sheds. Really? Wouldn’t you have found about them by now. As your are the go-to motorcycle guy your neighbors know you to be?If there were a motorcycle or frame, tank or wheel rim of aged interest, they certainly would let you know. Maybe.
How is it then that some out o’ towner from Lost Hubcap City, Washington State, can come into your town and pin down someone you’ve never heard of, and he throws his barn doors (yes, more than one) open for a quick, dusty photo op?
The Internet is a curse, as well as a wonder. Cursed when it falls short of expectations, and praised when it delivers beyond anticipation. It was used extensively to plan this trip to include arranging transportation, accommodations, and entertainment, and to that point the Internet delivered as expected. However, it really came through for us when we needed to find some situation of motorcycle interest that Joe Kickstart would take a second look at.
It takes a while to cull through so many hits from our searches to find the real good stuff. In our case, we ran all variations on the subject of vintage motorcycles—collectible, parts, pre-1965, nostalgic, museum, and classic. You get the idea.
After much investigation, one site caught our attention, as it spoke of a vehicle collection of old cars and trucks. Rather than dismiss it, checking closer when scrolling down on the main page, we came upon the magic word—motorcycles. Contact with the owner was made by telephone, and a meeting was set up.
We had planned to visit the fellow and his collection around noon, take a few pictures, and be on our way within the hour to ride on over to Pacific Coast Highway east of Los Angeles, and get in some winter beach time in Malibu. Our mounts—the Triumph Bonneville and Moto Guzzi V7 with basic OEM touring accessories — each with their own unmistakable retro vibe, were not out of place at all as we drove up to the big old buildings housing what we hoped would be a nice find behind the barn doors.
Three hours later, we were still admiring the collection of motorcycles and scooters represented in part by BSA, Honda, Ariel, Triumph, Cushman, Whizzer, and Nimbus, some of which dated back to the 1950s and one from WWII. Parts and memorabilia were found throughout the several sheds we toured.
Some of our time was spent viewing the extensive auto- mobile collection dating back to 1909, and display cases full of items of interest related to motorcycles and automobiles alike. There were so many things to see, that it could have filled a decent sized vehicle museum. In fact, the owner disclosed that was exactly what he had planned to do, mostly to honor his father and grandfather who had given him the collector bug. Many of the contents had been passed down through the family, and it seemed everything we spied had a story behind it.
At the time of this writing the owner requested we do not dis- close details of the location or family involved, even though they have a small business interest that involves some of the vehicles as evident from their website. We were promised an invite back once the establishment of the museum draws near.
We said our goodbyes and rode back to the Best Western Posada Royale in Simi Valley, arriving just as the last light of day was replaced by the contrast of business, home and vehicle lights against the black of night. It is an enjoyable moment to ride after dark with the temperature at about 62 degrees, knowing that back home it would be closer to 35 degrees and overcast or misting fog. Dang, it is good to get out of town now and then.
Riding the Moto Guzzi V7, I came to appreciate it a little more than the Triumph Bonneville. We did a lot of twisty road riding that changed thousands of feet in elevation throughout most every daily ride taken. It felt as if the distribution of the weight of the 744cc V-twin gave the bike better control of balance when maneuvering through turns or even simply changing lanes in traffic. My best comparison would be of a tightrope walker holding a long pole in the middle rather than a bowling ball to help keep his balance on the rope.
The V7 had enough grunt to pull it quickly out of the turns and sprint to the next turn without reaching top gear before set- ting up to go into the turn. Fourth gear easily takes the Moto Guzzi V7 over 70 mph and it will run beyond the speed limit as long as you click it one more time into fifth. Even heading up the imposing hill on Interstate 5 south of Grapevine at the base of the San Joaquin Valley, fifth gear worked just fine, allowing me to accelerate as needed without downshifting on the steep grade.
The factory accessory windshield is a big help in reducing rider fatigue. The wind force is not totally blocked, but disrupted enough that as it clipped the top of my helmet it was hardly noticeable.
I also give points for the cushioning in the seat, as it is fine for all-day excursions and helps absorb the harsh bumps encountered at higher elevations caused by cracks in the asphalt that have puckered up from water intrusion then freezing, lifting the asphalt as much as two inches.
At 55 mph, it would be quite a punch to the lower spine if proper seat cushioning was absent, even with properly adjusted shocks—next time I’ll have to try the remote-reservoir Moto Guzzi V7 Racer shocks, which are available as an upgrade to the standard V7.
The only other problem encountered was when I let my guard down for a moment going into one turn as I squeezed the front brake lever and applied the rear brake a little late and the rear tire tried to come around on me. I recovered by riding out to the fog line while bringing the speed down just enough to make the turn. At the next stop I checked the Pirelli Sport Demon tires and the air pressure was correct. It is possible there was a bit of sand or some other villainous material that had found its way onto the roadway waiting to test my skills.
My bad for not testing out the tire break-loose point before starting on this ride with a motorcycle I had not ridden before, but I was surprised at how easily the rear tire broke from controlled pavement contact on this middleweight cruiser.
Compared to the rumbling V-twin of the Moto Guzzi, the Triumph Bonneville seems absolutely civilized. Like the V7, the Bonnie is air-cooled and fuel-injected, though Triumph gives its bike a 121cc advantage in this retro battle. This provides the ver-tical twin mill an advantage in horsepower and torque all along the rpm range, yet raw power is not what these two motorcycles are about.
Whereas the Moto Guzzi V7 delivers the rumble and vibration you expect from a V-twin, the Bonneville is much smoother with the consistent 360-degree crank. This translates to less fatigue on longer rides, and the additional power means reduced engine strain on rural Interstates. If straight-line touring is your focus, the Bonneville is an easy choice.
As you take to the mountain roads as we did for the most part, the gap narrows considerably. Per manufacturers specs, and sans the touring accoutrements, the Moto Guzzi V7 is about 100 pounds lighter than the Bonneville (the additional pieces should weigh close to the same), and that is a great equalizer in the canyons.
The Bonneville’s power makes it feel lighter than it is, as twists of the throttle are rewarded with good acceleration. The Metzeler Lasertec tires are certainly capable, given the limited demands of a retro-tourer. Handling is predictable, and that is the most important feature to enjoying a long ride at a moderate pace.
The suspension has its limits, but we did not have a desire to test those limits. Touring is touring, and we weren’t racing. Most importantly, the Bonneville’s suspension sucked up the road irregularities capably, so there is no issue with riding the bike all day—which is exactly what you want to do when you’re vacationing away from the Washington winter gloom.
Riding these two retro-style motorcycles earned more than a few looks over the three days of riding we did, especially when parked at the world-famous Rock Store in the Santa Monica Mountains for lunch on day one, the Sunset Restaurant on Zuma Beach in Malibu on day two, and then at the Historic Rock Inn at Lake Hughes in the Angeles National Forest on day three.
The two motorcycles announced their approach nicely when downshifting to pull over, as both Triumph and Moto Guzzi did a good job emulating the exhaust tone of motorcycles of past years. The same said for when accelerating, especially when both bikes were pulling out and their muffler tones produced great sounding concert tones when upshifting to reach road speed. Surprisingly, the roads we were guided to lacked the traffic prob- lems we were told to expect by our friends up north when we told them why we were coming to the Los Angeles area.
Approaching riders often do their own “cool wave”, as we did back to them. I have a theory that we do it to express how much fun we are having as our helmets often hide the smiles behind the visor. Of course, alerting fellow riders to the presence of police is a bit of a bonus, not that we were speeding all that much on the Guzzi and Bonnie.
Speaking of law enforcement, the California Highway Motor- cycle Patrol riders are pretty much all business as they approach, as I have yet to get a cool wave from any of them. Praise for all police and emergency personnel for what they have to face in doing their job, but if I were in that motorcycle saddle, a hel- met nod at the least would indicate riding around California on a BMW R 1200 RT is a pretty sweet way to make a living. Ride on, badged brothers!
When selecting mounts for touring, there is always the temptation to go big, whether it be a Gold Wing, an Electra Glide, a Concours 14, Multistrada, or a K 1600 LT. Certainly, there is something to be said about a large under-stressed motor taking you along for the ride.
At the same time, the pairing of the Moto Guzzi V7 and Triumph Bonneville is one that a time-traveler from 1968 would instantly recognize. The rider from 47 years ago would appreciate the simple addition of windshields and compact sidebags as a way to turn a couple of urban-focused bikes into touring bikes that you could ride across the country, if you were not in a rush.
Many thousands of riders did just that on bikes very much like these, though we have the advantages of fuel injection, far superior rubber, improved suspension, disc brakes, and, most importantly, a level of reliability that completely eliminates anxiety about finishing the trip.
We still get the air-cooling and the style, and that makes these two nostalgia-inducing touring motorcycles the perfect tools for setting the mood to search for barns yet to be discovered.
Moto Guzzi V7
- Helmet: HJC RPHA ST
- Jacket: Tour Master Element Cooling
- Gloves: Tour Master Custom Midweight
- Pants; Tour Master Element Cooling
- Boots: Tour Master Solution 2.0 WP
- Helmet: HJC FG-17
- Jacket: Cortech GX Sport 3
- Gloves: Tour Master Deerskin
- Pants: Cortech GX-Sport
- Boots Tour Master Solution 2.0 WP
Photos by Don Williams
Story from Ultimate MotorCycling Magazine; for subscription services, click here.