My Moto Guzzi, a Love/Hate Story

[ Aaron Frank's 1972 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport, cooling off in Leland during the Fall 2012 Slimey Crud Cafe Racer Rally.

I've got a real on-again, off-again relationship with my 1972 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport. The "on" periods—when it's working properly—are brief and torrid. This is undeniably one of the most charismatic motorcycles ever made. The "off" periods—when it's broke-down and waiting for me to save enough time and/or money to fix it—are near constant, agonizingly long and wholly depressing.

This bike has been in my family since new, and in my possession since 2003. Since then I've spent roughly the cost of a new sportbike returning this Goose to running condition and trying, often in vain, to keep it there. It sickens me—literally—to say I've ridden my V7 Sport less than 2000 miles in all that time. That's all the Italian motorcycle gods will allow.

Fixing one problem only exposes the next weakest link. Step one after resurrecting the bike from 20 years in storage was rebuilding the engine. I rode maybe 250 miles on the fresh engine before the clutch ate itself. Replacing the clutch earned me another 250 miles before fork cartridges failed. I fixed that for another 200 miles and spoke nipples started popping. And drum brakes stopped stopping. And who needs a functioning tachometer, or headlight, anyways?

My Guzzi spent most of the last two years parked in the corner of my garage, sidelined by a non-charging charging system that left me stranded one too many times. Then this year's Motorcycle Cannonball Endurance Run passed through Milwaukee. If those guys can keep 90-year-old bikes running for 3000 miles straight, shouldn't I be able to do the same with this 40-year-old Italian beast?

A few weeks and $1300 later, my gorgeous Guzzi was back on the road with a completely overhauled electrical system, including a new alternator rotor, rectifier, diode board, battery, ignition switch, and countless questionable wiring connectors replaced. Greg Klassen at The Shop, Milwaukee's vintage bike specialists, has that bike absolutely singing. It fires instantly without any choke, rumbles right down to a narcoleptic, 800-rpm idle, and revs with a previously unknown ferocity. I don't think that bike ever produced sufficient voltage until now.

To celebrate its return to road-worthiness, we participated this past weekend in a sacred Midwestern tradition—the Slimey (sic) Crud Café Racer Run. Founded by some guy at that other motorcycle magazine, this vintage sportbike rally happens outside Madison on the first Sunday of May and again on the first Sunday of October, marking the traditional opening and closing of Wisconsin's riding season.

The air-cooled, dual-carb Goose was loving the crisp, 35-degree morning air, and happily hammered out the first 75-mile stretch from Milwaukee to Pine Bluff, just west of Madison. Not even a roadside chat with an eagle-eyed State Trooper who wanted to discuss equipment code as it pertains to pre-1975 motorcycles could dampen my enthusiasm. Was my Guzzi finally fixed for good? For years, Guzzisti have been telling me what reliable, rideable bikes these were. Maybe now I'd finally find out. Fresh engine, fresh clutch, new suspension, good wheels, decent brakes, and now, all-new electronics—what could possibly go wrong?

The day couldn't have turned out better. Temps rose to the mid-50s by noon, and the fast, flowing alphabet roads of Wisconsin's Driftless Area seemed tailor-made for the squid-poaching V7 Sport. On the rolling, 80-mph sweepers along Highway T south of Barneveld this felt like if not the best-handling, then at least the most-stable bike ever built. Long and skinny with those low, flat swan's-neck clip-on bars, it made me feel just like Mike Hailwood dragging my boot toes all the way up Highway F behind Brigham Park, with the thunderous V-twin exhaust note echoing off the nearby bluffs.

Everything was still going strong when we arrived at Leland's Sprecher Tap—the Crud Run's official end point. I was even feeling cocky. Last time I attempted a Crud Run on my Guzzi I didn't make it five miles out from Pine Bluff before the shift linkage broke in two. Now I was 200 miles from home and the bike was still working better than ever. I even posted a pic to Facebook with the caption "still running!" Yeah, I probably shouldn't have done that.

It's another 100 miles from Leland to Milwaukee, and I was about 30 miles from my garage when I noticed a strange vibration from the back of the bike, almost like the tire rubbing on the swingarm. I pulled over to investigate. There was no sideplay in the rear wheel, but rotating it back and forth made a sick, crunching sound. I pulled the final-drive drain plug to inspect the oil. "It's not good when the gear oil is more sparkly than your gold metal flake helmet," my friend Doug helpfully said.

Oh, well. A little over 270 trouble-free miles is better than nothing, I guess. In fact, it's a new record for this bike. I just hope it's not another two years before I can afford to fix it this time.