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Prickly Pear
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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Like people, motorcycles come in a dizzying variety of shapes and sizes. Some are designed for speed, some for comfort, and some purely for show, but, to be sure, for anyone that wishes to ride there is a motorcycle that will be perfect for them. Motorcycles are like musical instruments, eventually, if one keeps looking, that perfect instrument will find you. But what draws people to motorcycles and motorcycling in the first place? I think Melissa Holbrook Pierson, in her book, The Perfect Vehicle ~ What It Is About Motorcycles, comes as close to explaining it as anyone I’ve come across:

“In the perfect and concise phrase of a friend of mine, who ought to know, given his garage is packed wall to wall with them, motorcycles are charismatic objects. People are rarely neutral on the subject, neither those for whom they act as a second heart, nor those who think them a tool of misfortune. The Greek word charisma means ‘favor, gift,’ and my dictionary adds an apt cross-reference: “see under yearn.” P. 27

In the spring of 2000 my second oldest brother had been riding since his teens and my oldest brother had purchased a bike a year or two prior. Finally my friend Al, who had ridden a little as a kid in Minnesota, decided to buy a bike too. My immediate reaction was, “you guys are nuts, you’ll never get me on one of those things, I’d kill myself.” Yet, it was only a matter of a month or two before the grins plastered to their faces after rides, and the sounds of the bikes roaring off, gave me the yearning to ride too. It was pure desire.

Five or so years, and many, many bikes and miles later, I found myself without a motorcycle. By 2005 motorcycling had become an integral part of who I was. I rode year round, rain or shine, and I’d come to actively dislike driving a car. I’d up and down the West Coast and north into Canada. Unfortunately, a youth spent making a living through labor had weakened my back to such a point that when working in my own backyard that summer I ruptured the disc between my L4 and L5 vertebras. I couldn’t work and to keep my house I had gone through my savings and sold my beloved Triumph Speed Triple, a bike, which, to this day, is my ideal ‘real roads’ motorcycle. It was a dark period during which I experienced severe physical pain along with a debilitating sense of helplessness. Fortunately, a good friend helped me find a job, I regained medical benefits, and in the summer of 2006 I underwent surgery. My recovery, both physical and mental, took some time, but my desire to ride never went away.

By the spring of 2007 I was checking the craigslist motorcycle ads on a daily basis again. I thought I would get another Speed Triple, but for several years the name Moto Guzzi had been buzzing around in the back of my mind. Several members of a motorcycle forum I participated in at the time had Guzzis and something about their bikes struck a chord in me. But, like motorcycling in general, I had dismissed Moto Guzzis. I considered them tractors, quaint anachronisms, Italian Harley Davidsons. What I hadn’t realized was how much I had changed and how those qualities that I perceived as negatives would eventually form the basis of a deep attachment.

In April or May of that year my Guzzi found me. Once again I was searching craigslist, mainly for Triumphs, but also for Guzzis, and there it was: black and green, wire rims and chrome pipes, old school, elemental. There are moments when we can see an object as it’s truly meant to be seen and the instant I saw the 850 T3 I knew it was my bike. It had charisma. It looked like a motorcycle should look, purposeful, but elegant, a beautiful melding of mechanical function and organic form. As I would discover as I got to know it, it was also not without its quirks. It was perfect.

I was lucky in a number of ways. I was the second person to call the owner about the bike, and the first to go see it. He was an older guy, in his sixties, had been riding for years but was selling off his bikes after a bad accident made him decide that maybe his reflexes weren’t up to the demands motorcycling placed on them anymore. He had beautifully maintained the bike and assured me it would start. In a precursor of things to come, it wouldn’t. As it turned out the starter motor decided to die the day I came to look at the bike. We bumped started it (something that’s blessedly easy to do), and my feelings were confirmed. The sound of the 90 degree, cross-frame, vee twin firing through the Bub pipes was a mechanical symphony to my ears. I had to have it and, fortunately, my oldest brother felt I had to have it too and lent me the money to buy the bike. My Moto Guzzi had found me.

My brother and I loaded the Goose, as it came to be known, into my clapped out old Dodge van and brought it home. That’s when I started to learn the lessons of owning and loving a vintage motorcycle, a vintage European, and Italian, motorcycle at that. There is a certain commitment that is required, and maybe a certain commitableness, if you will. Old bikes require looking after. Like people, parts wear out and have to be replaced and regular maintenance has to be performed. In that the Goose and I were well matched.

As I said, I was lucky in a number of ways. Seattle’s Moto International is arguably the best Moto Guzzi dealer on the west coast, and, perhaps, in the country. My first order of business was to source a new starter motor and Moto I had one in stock. While it was a minor piece of work, I had never, ever, worked on a machine before outside of oil and filter and brake pad changes. I was terrified of frying the electrical system so I got on the Guzzi forums and asked any number of idiotic, nervous nelly, questions. I can only imagine what the other members must have thought, but they were good sports and I learned what I needed to do.

My first ride on the Guzzi was a mixture of triumphant joy and disappointment. It’s hard enough to describe riding to someone who has never piloted a motorcycle, let alone a specific bike. The Goose was a whirring, clicking, clacking, thrumming, thumping, roaring, metallic symphony. There was no doubt that I was riding a machine. There was a primitiveness to it, a raw, unrefined, quality. Guzzis have been described as agricultural in nature, and it’s an apt descriptor, not the least because Moto Guzzi made and still makes tractor engines. It was wonderful, here was motorcycling at its most elemental.

It wasn’t perfect though. The throttle and clutch pulls were Herculean and I was going to need to eat my spinach and get my forearms in shape. The previous owner had also neglected to mention that the transmission wasn’t in the best shape. Getting the bike into and out of neutral, and finding third gear, was a variable affair. But, for a time, I didn’t care, the bike worked and I was back on two wheels. Eventually, however, the Goose would need to see the professionals.

In October of 2007 I took the Goose to Moto International and prepared myself for the worst: new clutch, new rear main seal, new timing cover gasket, new distributor cover seal, and a host of other things. It was the equivalent of hip replacement surgery and it was only the beginning. At the time I wasn’t ready to tackle working on the bike myself but in time necessity would prove me capable of all sorts of things I felt I had no business doing.

The bike ran well, aside from a period of frequent clutch adjustment, for another six months. In the summer of 2008, however, it developed a leak at the final drive seal. Ever since my back injury and surgery I had been on a razor thin margin financially. I was constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul, and there was just no way I could afford, much as I wished I could, to pay Moto I to fix the bike this time around. So I just dug in, not really knowing what I was doing.

I was full of optimism, everyone I’d ever spoken to said the same thing, “Oh, Guzzis are incredibly easy to work on.” At first, this held true. I had the rear wheel and final drive side of the swing arm off in a couple of hours and was thoroughly enjoying rooting around and getting filthy on the floor of my garage, but when it came to getting the seal itself off everything came to a cursing halt. I knew the metal was soft and damaging it would probably cause a catastrophically expensive repair. I tried to gently pry the seal out, I heated it up, I used fish hooks, I used nails, being ever so careful of the surrounding metal, but nothing I did would make it budge. Some on the Guzzi forums said I should be able to get it out without removing the gear box, others said I would need to pull the entire engine. I was beside myself. Pull the entire engine? I hadn’t the first clue how to do something like that. Summer in Seattle passes by so quickly and the Goose was down.

Enter a gentleman named Neil. I was, and am, in a band that at that time practiced in a building down by the railroad tracks along Elliot, between Ballard and downtown Seattle. The caretaker lived on site and one day, when the bike was still running, his friend saw me pull up. As it turned out he used to ride and wrench on Guzzis, amongst other bikes of his period, the sixties and seventies. We would occasionally chat about the Goose and bikes in general when the band was taking a break and he’d offered to help me out if I ever had problems with the bike.

I have to take a moment to talk about Neil. Neil is an amazing human being. As a kid growing up in Hollywood he worked for and with some of the best hot rodders of the late fifties and early sixties and ‘learned how to spin metal.’ He’s a third or fourth generation Marine who served four tours of duty in Viet Nam in recon. Between his third and fourth tours he earned a masters in engineering at Berkely, but went back to war because, as he put it, he was good at his job. He received every medal short of the Medal of Honor and retired as a master gunny. He raced two-stroke motorcycles all over the US and briefly in europe. He lost his wife and daughter to a drunk driver and spent two years in jail for shooting the man to death. When I met him he was essentially homeless, living with his friend, Terry the caretaker, who ‘used to drive him to work’ in Viet Nam (Terry was in the navy on a patrol boat in the Mekong Delta), in an unfinished back room of the practice building. He has pancreatitis, begins his day at ‘oh-dark-thirty’ with a beer, and is essentially on his way out. He reads voraciously, can tie any knot known to man, and is one of the scariest, and most wonderful, human beings I’ve ever met. There is a lot more I could say about Neil but he’s a tale of his own.

So in the summer of 2008 Neil helped me take the Guzzi completely apart. During bouts of consuming way more beer than even I was accustomed and listening to Neil spin yarns equally fascinating, terrifying, hilarious, and devastating, we pulled the rest of the swing arm off, removed the tank, the carbs, split the frame, removed the engine, and detached the gear box from the block. It sounds simple, at least to an experienced mechanic, but to me it was if I was performing neurosurgery. All that was left intact was the Goose’s spine and front end. I took the gearbox to Moto International for a rebuild and to replace the leaking seal. In a couple of days Neal and I were back at work reassembling the Guzzi.

Needless to say, after several months being again without a bike, I was over the moon when I installed the last bolt on the rear sets and was ready to ride again. Unfortunately, the bike wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t even turn over. I began tearing out what was left of my hair. What did we miss? Was I going to have to pull it all apart again? I was experiencing what everyone who has ever owned and loved a vintage motorcycle experiences. You put a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money into the machine, the moment of truth comes, and… nothing happens. The machine just sits in mute silence, a five hundred pound monument to your ineptness.

Enter Greg Field. Greg is the parts manager at Moto International and one of them most knowledgeable folks around when it comes to older Moto Guzzis. He agreed to have me bring the bike over to his own garage and take a look at it. Sixty dollars, two Bridgeport Pale Ales, and an hour later, he found a ground wire that we had inadvertently ripped off when pulling the engine and subsequently missed on the reinstallation. THRUMMMM, the Goose lived again! In the course of his inspection Greg pointed a few things that were likely to be a problem down the road, including the coils, which would turn out to be, unfortunately, dead correct. When you think you’ve found everything on an old bike, that it’s completely sorted, it will prove to you how wrong you are.

Not more than a month later the bike died again. The port cylinder refused to fire. By this time I’d managed to purchase a second bike, a KLX 400, both because I wanted to learn how to ride in the dirt, but more importantly, because I didn’t want to be without two wheels when the Goose was down. With a new, to me, bike to get to know and ride, the Guzzi was covered up and stuffed into a back corner of the garage. I had to walk away from it for a little while. I was in dire straights financially again and just didn’t want to think about it, it was too depressing. Had I simply bought a lemon? Was the bike cursed? Should I even own something that required so much knowledge and know-how when I really didn’t have much in the way of mechanical skills to begin with? What was I thinking?

The Goose sat, covered in blankets, being used as a shelf for my brother’s race plastic, for five months. I couldn’t leave it like that, though. For some people, mechanical things take on a life of their own, and become linked with the mental status of their owners. When the Guzzi is down, I’m down. No machine before the T3 ever effected me in this way, not even the Speed Triple. I suppose it’s because I’d never owned a motorcycle into which I’d poured as much concentration and effort, time, money, and well, passion. The Goose has charisma and I got to a point to where it didn’t matter, I had to get it running again. Spring was coming, and, soon after, summer, and I wanted to ride the Guzzi.

In the intervening time the garage had filled up with my brothers race bike project, the KLX, and my friend Tov’s KTM. There was no room to work on the bike in the garage, so Tov, Iain, a former coworker of mine when I was still employed, and I moved the bike into my dining room. Thanks to Neil’s help over the previous summer and the encouragement of friends and family, I had the confidence to dig back into it. I pulled the tank, seat, and coils. I was certain that was the issue, and certainly hoped that was the issue. My brother came over with his multimeter and, hallelujah, the port coil was indeed fried. I scraped together enough money and purchased new coils along with new air filters for the carbs and new plugs and the parts for new plug wires. The project didn’t take long at all and when the moment of truth came, the bike fired up immediately and completely. The Goose lives again!

Of course, there is more to do, there is always more to do. My next project is upgrading the brakes, probably new throttle and clutch cables, and, at some point, probably sooner than later, the valves are going to need to be looked after. Never having taken the case covers off and measured to be sure, it’s likely the bike isn’t actually 850ccs, it may be a 900 or a 1000. At some point in its life it was raced, the fill and drain plugs for the engine oil and final drive have all been drilled for safety wire. Someone installed wonderful Marzocchi forks and, of course, the Bub exhaust pipes. The battery may be dying, or it may have a charging problem. I don’t think the carburetors are set quite right. It’s an ongoing project and always will be, but it’s my project.

So, charisma. That’s one part of why people love motorcycles. Then there is riding them. Riding a motorcycle is to put geometry and physics into action and to be a part of them. Unlike in a car, the geometry of gravity and momentum in a turn course through a rider, you’re not just a bee bee strapped into a tin can, being forced by centrifugal motion to the outside of the curve. You lean into the turn. For me, at least, this is the essence and defining feature of riding a motorcycle. There is, of course, being exposed to the elements, being free of the confines and safety of an automobile, being able to smell the rain, or the grass, being able to feel the change in air temperature when you descend into a mountain valley. There is also the aspect of concentration. When riding one concentrates so fully on the task at hand that one lives between two and twelve seconds at a time, just as far as you can see. There is no room for extraneous thought, the ugly realities of life are pushed completely aside. In the end, however, I think it all boils down to taking a corner at speed, hitting an apex perfectly and feeling the suspension settle into the turn, rolling on the throttle as you exit, powering into whatever the road brings next. Nothing else feels like that, on earth, anyway. It’s as close to flying as you can get.

The Goose has given me a deeper appreciation for riding. It’s a little bit, for me, what cabinet making, or gardening, or knitting, or painting, is to other people. It’s more than just a motorcycle, it’s an activity, something to tinker with, and unlike people, when it’s broken, I can make it work again with nothing more than my hands, some tools, and determination. When I ride it I know that I had a hand in making it work and that makes the experience that much more satisfying. The Guzzi, like me, is a little broken down, it has its quirks, and there are certain ways of dealing with it that work, and certain ways that don’t.








*I'm unemployed and reeeeeeeally bored.*
 

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A guy on a scruffy bike
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15,367 Posts
Very cool. Thanks. I have not yet owned a Guzzi, but I've always liked them and probably will at some point. I liked the Centauro, but I understand that first generation of 4V/cyl design had some weaknesses. I really enjoyed the test ride I took on the new 8V Griso.

Keep after it. I've had a lot of experience with well-used Italian stuff -- high mileage Alfa Romeos, the Duc, Vespas, etc. Eventually you do get to the point where it's all been through and sorted and if you use it regularly it'll do for you just fine.

PhilB
 

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Another day lived!
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2,288 Posts
Great read. I really enjoyed that.

I inherited a 73 Triumph Tiger 750 from the father-n-law in december. The frame is a 69. And I already have had to put some work into "The Beast" so I am starting to know how much maintenance is required to keep these things running. I'm an aircraft mechanic so working on it is a piece of cake to me. The money for parts is another thing. It's been converted to a ridgid so rides any longer than 30 minuets are uncomfortable. But it really tuns heads when I take it out of the barn.











The grease under the chili can is from an auto chain oiler... what a mess it makes!
 

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A guy on a scruffy bike
Joined
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15,367 Posts
Great read. I really enjoyed that.

I inherited a 73 Triumph Tiger 750 from the father-n-law in december. The frame is a 69. And I already have had to put some work into "The Beast" so I am starting to know how much maintenance is required to keep these things running. I'm an aircraft mechanic so working on it is a piece of cake to me. The money for parts is another thing. It's been converted to a ridgid so rides any longer than 30 minuets are uncomfortable. But it really tuns heads when I take it out of the barn.

The grease under the chili can is from an auto chain oiler... what a mess it makes!
Wowsers. That's old-school cool. Freaking death trap -- I wouldn't ride it within a mile of any other traffic. But cool.

PhilB
 

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A guy on a scruffy bike
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15,367 Posts
Interesting Triumph, is that one brake rotor on the entire bike? Lets see some pics of the goose!
Single disc on the front, drum brake on the rear. In 1973 that was pretty much state of the art.

PhilB
 

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Another day lived!
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2,288 Posts
Wowsers. That's old-school cool. Freaking death trap -- I wouldn't ride it within a mile of any other traffic. But cool.

PhilB
Riding it in traffic is definitely out of the question. I have no confidence that I would be able to get out of a situation if it arose.

I really have to make time to ride it. You think it would be fun to ride, but it takes some mental effort. It's easy to jump on the FZ and ride, but I have to remember to ride the Triumph once in awhile so it won't sit and atrophy.

Goose: That bike looks fantastic. I really like the color scheme as well, it really sets it apart. Good job!
 

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A guy on a scruffy bike
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15,367 Posts
Riding it in traffic is definitely out of the question. I have no confidence that I would be able to get out of a situation if it arose.

I really have to make time to ride it. You think it would be fun to ride, but it takes some mental effort. It's easy to jump on the FZ and ride, but I have to remember to ride the Triumph once in awhile so it won't sit and atrophy.
atrophy? i thought you said it was atiger? :eek:nfloor (Oh dear, no one else is going to find that funny. Oh well.)

Goose: That bike looks fantastic. I really like the color scheme as well, it really sets it apart. Good job!
+1 here. That's a sweet bike, SlowGoose. Any chance you and some of your cohorts might make it down to Laguna Seca in July for the MotoGP? I plan to go and camp there. It would be cool to see you.

PhilB
 

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Prickly Pear
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7,619 Posts
Discussion Starter #12
+1 here. That's a sweet bike, SlowGoose. Any chance you and some of your cohorts might make it down to Laguna Seca in July for the MotoGP? I plan to go and camp there. It would be cool to see you.

PhilB
Not likely. I'm still looking for a job and scrambling to make the mortgage every month. I couldn't afford the price of entry let alone getting there and back. I'll make it some day, though.
 

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A guy on a scruffy bike
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15,367 Posts
Not likely. I'm still looking for a job and scrambling to make the mortgage every month. I couldn't afford the price of entry let alone getting there and back. I'll make it some day, though.
OK. Good luck with it all. If your fortunes should turn, it's doesn't have to be very expensive. Last year I spent $200 for the ticket and camping pass, maybe $100 for food, and another $100 for gas there and back, and that was it.

PhilB
 

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Another day lived!
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2,288 Posts
atrophy? i thought you said it was atiger? :eek:nfloor (Oh dear, no one else is going to find that funny. Oh well.)PhilB
:lao Got it. But a tiger needs to run once in awhile.
 
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