Soon spring will be sprung the grass will be ris and only total dumbos
will be wondering where the birdies is. Dry tarmac and warm, whispering breezes
will beckon even the most timid, fair weather nancy bikers out of hibernation
and a jolly good time will be had by all. Especially Laverda riders. Le Mans in
April, the TT, of course, in June, the Bol in September — Laverdas are built for
going places. And in an unmistakeably over the top manner, to boot.
At least, they used to be. Until the RGS arrived, 'Laverda triple' was
synonymous with brute power, outrageous noise and a crotch-splitting seat
height. Oh yeah, the ultimate in three-pot macho and big-men-only-need-apply
muscle. Unless you could cope with a clutch like Big Ben's mainspring and a ride
like a bad-tempered 140mph wardrobe with suicidal handling potential at the
limits you might as well stay at home squeezing zits. 'I build real fast
sporting bikes,' said Dr Massimo Laverda once, 'and if only one per cent of
riders buy them, it's OK. I am happy.'
The obvious conclusion to be drawn from that statement is that it doesn't
matter to Moto Laverda if the other 99 per cent of riders are too normal, too
skint, or too short-legged to indulge in three-and-a half grand fantasies. Which
is true, except that Laverda owners tend to look perversely normal compared to
other Italianware freaks until you get close enough to see their eyes.
When the RGS appeared, however, there were fears that the triples themselves
were becoming too sane. Even ordinary mortals could get on board without a
stepladder; folks could hold conversations next to it when the engine was
running; ten-stone weaklings could manage its handling even at full pelt.
Totally dedicated masochists known to Bike even decried the loss of the
old 180-degree crank motor, known to vibrate riders' innerds into offal mousse
on occasions. Luckily there was a compromise available by way of the Jota 120,
featuring the new, smooth mill but in the old frame and with the loud pipes.
Imagine, then, the consternation and grief at UK importers Three Cross
Motorcyles when they learned that the 120 was to be axed. Reason being that
Laverda, small family business that it is, hadn't the capacity to carry on
building old-style triples as well as the RGS (and 125cc strokers for the home
market) while also developing the upcoming watercooled fours. A mission was
mounted to Italy to restore the 120 but Laverda would have none of it. Let them
Three Cross introduced Moto Laverda to the Great British Compromise, and the result you see before you: the RGA.
Basically it's a cheap way of getting an RGS. Indeed, everything from the frame
spine tube down is RGS. All they've done is substituted a
handlebar-mounted fairing for the RGS's extremely expensive frame-mounted
Bayflex item, altered the tank and added a new seat. All this can be yours for
£3575 instead of £4250 for the RGS.
Mind you, if you've never seen a motorcycle with padded shoulders and a
double chin before, the RGA's looks may take some getting used to. Laverda
wouldn't go to a wholly new tank so the RGS's filler spout was lopped off and a
conventional hole and lockable flap inserted on the top. That left a mess of
bumps and brackets at the front where the RGS fairing should have met the tank.
Simple, run up some plastic add-ons and screw 'em on. Looks odd but it grows on
you. Necessity may be the mother of invention but I can't help feeling the
fairing is spoiled by that air scoop jutting out like a Hapsburg jaw at the
Nonetheless, the net result is rather more imposing than the RGS: perhaps
because the smaller fairing emphasises the rest of the machine. At 5701b fully
fuelled up, and with a 60in wheelbase, the RGA is a big^bike by any standards.
The flat bars add to the sensation of tallness compared with the RGS while the
high c of g endowed by the high tank and tall motor make the weight felt at
My first ride couldn't have been better. After collecting the RGA late on a
perfect sunny afternoon I headed home along a favourite route taking in a
deserted corner of Salisbury Plain and a superb section of empty, winding road
between Hungerford and Wantage. The Laverda fires up easily from cold (though
there's a knack to catching it when hot) and the throbbing power delivery from
the dohc mill and tall gearing make 70-100mph riding surprisingly relaxing.
Real power starts at around six grand 100mph in top), but there's plenty to
spare from as little as 2000 revs and it lollops along invincibly between four
and five grand. Those large and extremely effective silencers mean that the beat
of the motor is felt rather than heard and except during hard acceleration,
although even then the rich mutter won't win any prizes for high-profiling.
If you dislike even tiny amounts of vibration I'd stick to Mr Honda's V4s:
the RGA produces a constant background rumble despite its 120° crankshaft and
rubber mounted motor. It's neither a big twin's hammer or a four's high
frequency buzz, more of a gentle shudder. Probably enough to render mirrors
useless at very illegal speeds, but RGAs with mirrors look stoopid anyway.
Unlike so many CV-carburretted fours, the RGA won't charge off into the
distance merely because the revs have reached a certain level, so winding the
twistgrip steadily open won't impress the 32mm accelerator pump Dellorto carbs
one bit. The RGA just ambles up to the 8000rpm redline unless you take the
controls in both hands and wrench the throttle slides up as hard as possible.
That gets the triple shifting quickly enough to turn most people's thoughts
to questions of brakes (Brembo, fine) and suspension (I'll come to that).
Trouble is, the twistgrip and gearchange have a passion for travel rivalled only
by the Royal Family. The grip needs two grabs to get it right round and the
gearlever bobs like one of those drinking bird toys between letting go and
re-engaging. Each gear goes in with a solid thunk but making a rapid
shift is more a question of luck than skill. Tackling a stretch of twisty back
lane at speed has your elbow and knee pumping dementedly up and down like a
one-legged cyclist enjoying a quick round of self abuse.
The hydraulic clutch's eyeball-popping pull lingers as a reminder of bygone
days, too. Laverda have relented sufficiently to fit dogleg levers but you still
need a left wrist like a steeplechaser's fetlock. All is forgiven when you
caress those luvverly Brembo brakes, though. They combine superbly progressive
feel with immense stopping power and are generally so wonderful that they
encourage dangerous late application games just for the hell of it.
A dose of heavy rain had them lagging badly, making riding in traffic
difficult 'cos the bike simply carried on regardless for a few yards until the
pads suddenly bit hard enough to slide the front Phantom. At higher speeds the
problem is less acute because harder pressure can be applied without fear of
locking up, but wet lag was a problem on the RGS we tested in January '83. When
is something going to be done about this? It'd probably only be a question of finding the right pad material.
Luckily the rain held off for most of the test and urgent appointments with
free lunches at places as diverse as Silverstone and Goodwood meant clocking up
plenty of mileage. The Silverstone trip was made two-up but my pillion's glowing
praise for the comfort quotient of the new seat was matched by my own black
thoughts about Laverda's failure to provide that most basic of two up
requirements, a grab rail. Even three-and-a-half-grand motorcycles can become
merely tedious when passengers have only you to hang on to.
In the interests of comfort and getting a foot down, I left the remote
reservoir Marzocchi Strada shocks on minimum preload even when two up. There's
no adjustment on the same firm's forks, fitted up front. In spite of their
fearsome reputation for stiffness, the Marzocchi units give a controlled yet
comfortable ride. Under a 12 stone (sorry, 76kg) rider, the shocks really needed a couple of turns of the preload ring for fast going.
The RCA's long wheelbase and pushed-out steering head angle make for
tremendous straight line stability and steady tracking through bends. Trouble is
the suspension doesn't always match, and hard acceleration over
bumps provokes a fair amount of wriggling and handlebar waving. It's never bad
enough to instill fears of losing control and it stops as soon as acceleration
ceases and some weight transfers back to the front. Still, it helps if
you like that sort of thing every now and then ...
The improved straight line handling made setting the thing up for MIRA
testing easy — it didn't need any. Trouble is, it wouldn't top 125mph under any
kind of inducement or provocation. We tried running up through the gears until
the little hand was pointing straight down, we tried crouching, lying flat, even
speaking Italian. We even committed ourselves to the banked circuit, where the
triple took so long to pick itself up after the curve before the lights that we
twice nearly lost it.
Without an RCS's streamlined frontage, we weren't expecting a similar,
134mph, best one way but the RGA should surely manage 130mph. Some days nothing
The return date was, for once, awaited with glee - not because we couldn't
wait to get rid of the RCA but because Sarf London Italianware freak Richard
Avent of Moto Vecchia had bagged Goodwood circuit for the day - Goodwood being
halfway between here and Three Ctoss if one goes the wrong way.
Goodwood is an unpretentious little track on the perimiter of a private
airfield. No armco, no marker posts, mostly flat and mostly flat-out. The double
apex after the 'pits' features a heavy bump right on the fast exit route but the
RGA took that with no more than a quick wriggle. After that it's full pelt round
to a tight right at the back where the RGA usually broke into a violent waggle
thanks to the drivetrain staying unloaded way too long during the slow
Apart from that, and my inability to grind any flats on the silencers, the
day was great and the triple romped round tirelessly. Handing it over to Big
Phil Todd of Motodd fame cured the scratching credibility failure: Phil returned
it with a satisfying scrape on the right muffler. Thus equipped with scratches
and shredded Phantoms (preserving the rubber scrolls during the leg to Ringwood
was tricky), the RGA was handed back.
The trip home was a lot slower on my LC than on the RGA, mainly because the
poor thing really struggled under the weight of all the petrol receipts I'd piled
up during the test. The Laverda needed filling twice at Goodwood, the second time
after only 87 miles. That's a whole 23mpg. Only once did the triple spread a
gallon over more than 35 miles and average consumption over two weeks of
commuting and fast (but not that fast) touring was 31.2mpg. Fill ups are needed
every 100-200 miles.
Anyone who finds that kind of consumption alarming is probably too sensible
to want a Laverda anyway. As it stands, the RGA is one of only two ways of
getting a new Breganze triple for less than 4000 notes. The other's the RGA Jota
which comes with clip on bars, black pipes and a traditional Laverda orange
paintjob for around £200 more than the RGA.
Of course you could save a bundle and buy a Japanese 750 which will match the
RGA on everything 'cept class but although the Japanese understand the appeal of
huge power outputs, they still haven't sussed the secret of building in the
rich, meaty feel of an Italian twin or triple's delivery. Until they do, bikes
like the RGA will continue to enjoy membership of that small circle of
motorcycles which are demanding yet very rewarding; frequently annoying yet
ultimately hugely satisfying; and above all, pretty damn exclusive. Apart from a
weekend of non-stop group sex in a stately home, few other things offer all that
On a more practical level, there's no need to throw yourself on the mercy of
a dealer or the Sale of Goods Act when seeking a guarantee on a Laverda. Three
Cross offer a full 12 months/12,000 miles warranty on all triples. Spares are
easy to get hold of, though they can be prohibitively expensive. Like, er,
nearly £100 for a sidepanel (except they're Bayflex and therefore almost
unbreakable) and £15 for a brake or clutch lever. Just the cost of tyres and
chains will probably set an RGA owner back more in six months than the entire
annual cost of running an Alternative Brit Rustheap. Exclusivity can be bad for
If you view the RGA as a kind of second-class RGS, there doesn't seem any
point in saving £600 just to get the same bike without the stunning looks and
excellent wind protection. On the other hand, the money you save by going for
the RGA will be gratefully received by Slater Brothers Ltd in return for enough
in the way of high-comp pistons, warmer cams and three-into-one exhaust plumbing
to radically alter its character. If you're lucky enough to possess the readies
to do that, there's only one thing I can say. I hate you.