Moto Morini 500GT
Moto Morini 500GT
Air cooled, four stroke, 72° V Twin, belt driven single
cam operating pushrod 2 valve per cylinder
Bore x Stroke
69 x 64.2 mm
2x 26mm Dell'Orto carb
46 hp @ 7500 rpm
33.3 ft-lb @ 5100 rpm
5 Speed / chain
2X 260mm disc
Single 260mm disc
Only the chickens were missing. I'd been flogging
the sole Moto Morini 500 in the U.S. along winding New York State country lanes
for hours while cows and sheep and farmers stared at me curiously. If only I
could have scattered a flock of chickens or three, I would have felt just like
Giuseppe the madcap motorcyclist, terrorizing peasants who still regarded the
internal combustion engine as an invention of the devil.
It's not as if the Moto Morini transformed me
into a stereotype that the Italian Anti-defamation League wouldn't approve of.
Instead, every ride on this motorcycle recaptured for me the excitement that
accompanied my baptism in horizon-tilting. The bike itself felt as raw and vital
as if it had been delivered popping-fresh from the inventor's oven only moments
before. Moto Morini had somehow managed to reinvent the motorcycle for me.
This sensation of wild-eyed discovery is as
accessible as the nearest country lane on the Morini 500. The loping vibration
from the uneven-firing 72-degree tandem vee-twin surges through the handlebars
and into your arms. Every shift of the five-speed gearbox is accompanied by a
sharp thwack inside the cases as if some gremlin were at work with a ball peen
hammer. The pushrods rattle while the exhaust rumbles gruffly. The noises made
by the 500 aren't even orchestrated; the music of a Ducati or the jet-fighter
whine of a CBX are missing. But the 500's peculiar cacophony does have an appeal
which lies in its relentless mechanical clatter, as if all the components that
make a motorcycle had been discovered only moments before and then screwed
The 500 more than sounds like a mechanical
device, however; it operates like one as well. Like the Laverda 500 (CG, June
1978), the Moto Morini 500 responds to manual control, not automatic pilot.
Getting the bike to gallop requires a long twist of the throttle. The brakes
provide perfectly linear response according to your demand instead of through
some hydraulic whim. In every respect—acceleration, braking and cornering—the
Morini responds honestly.
The vitality built into the Morini stems from the
atmosphere in which the motorcycle is designed and built. Moto Morini has a
different way of doing things, a character its reputation reflects. People
remember it not as a tiny company formed after World War II to manufacture
delivery vehicles, but as the constructor of a 250cc four-stroke roadracer in
the early Sixties that cut a wide swath through the two-strokes racing then.
Also, volume isn't Moto Morini's marketing game. Its 115 employees produce 10 to
15 motorcycles a day, not 1000 or 1500. In addition, the firm is noted for its
reliance on empirical testing instead of slide-rule calculations. When Morini
wanted to test alloy wheels for the 500, it didn't send out for a computer.
Instead, a man was assigned to beat on various wheels with a sledgehammer and
see which ones broke.
The 500 represents Mow Morini's first venture
outside its two-bike line of 350cc motorcycles in this country, and to fulfill
its role as the company's new image-maker, the 500 displays the usual
profile-bike equipment. The new bike is distinguished from the 31/2 by a larger
gas tank and it has Morini's first electric starter—although all future 31/2s
will be so equipped. Alloy wheels, dual front disc brakes and a rear disc brake
are also part of the package, and the 500 uses a modified frame design which it
will share with all future 31/2 Morinis. The frame geometry and basic dimensions
are the same, but the redesign accommodates the larger 12-volt battery required
for the electric starter.
Superficially, the 500cc engine seems
unremarkable. But its stone-axe simplicity proves to be its main fascination.
Moto Morini builds motorcycles in such small
quantities that it must implement as much inter-model component
interchangeability as is humanly possible. Consequently, all Morinis share the
same wheels, brakes and other assorted chassis bits and pieces. And in
conjunction with that strategy, engine designers Franco Lambertini and Gino
Marchesini penciled an engine that—as 125cc and 250cc singles, and in 350cc and
500cc twin-cylinder incarnations—would share many of the same pieces.
Their clever design led to a 350cc engine that is
essentially just a bored-and-stroked two-cylinder rewrite of the one-cylinder
125cc engine. And the 500 is merely a 250 single with another cylinder stuffed
Like the 350cc engine, the Morini 500 is a
72-degree tandem vee-twin. The 72-degree angle—rather than the 45 degrees of a
Harley or 90 degrees, Ducati-style was settled upon after much experimentation
to find the most space-saving layout for these highly compact motorcycles. A
narrow-spread vee-type engine tends to make a motorcycle tall, while a wide vee
dictates a long wheelbase. The Morini design is, in the estimation of its
designers, an ideal compromise that still offers much of the low-vibration
running of a 90-degree configuration.
The engine is otherwise typical veetwin stuff.
The twin overhead valves for each cylinder are operated by pushrods that are in
turn actuated by a single cam located between the base of the cylinders. Fore
and aft cylinders and heads are identical, but located so that the exhaust exits
in opposite directions.
Morini engines have acquired a reputation for
churning out lots of torque while delivering extraordinary fuel economy.
Lamberini and Marchesini suggest that the Heron head, in which the combustion
chamber is scooped out of the piston while the cylinder head is flat, has a lot
to do with it. In typical Morini fashion, the Heron design was originally chosen
to cut production costs, but Lambertini credits extensive dynomometer time for
the design of the high-swirl intake port and the relatively small exhaust port.
The high-swirl intake insures maximum fuel aeration and thus better combustion,
resulting in good fuel mileage. The small exhaust valve contributes, to good
The patriotic execution of the 500 represents
some sort of high-water mark for unreconstructed Italian motorcycles. Other
Italian motorcycles shamelessly employ bits and pieces from Germany, Japan and
even the United States, but not the Morini 500. Nearly every component once
lived in a parts bin somewhere in Italy. The wheels and brakes come from Grimeca.
The pipes are made by LaFranconi. Pirelli provides the tires. The endless chain
is from Regina. Verlucci supplies the grips and throttle. Paioli makes the
steering damper. The suspension comes from Marzocchi. And the list continues.
This scrupulously Italian tossed salad does have
unpleasant side effects, however. The Veglia speedometer is mounted on the right
side instead of the left and ours wouldn't read past 80 mph no matter how hard I
twisted the throttle. The Veglia electronic tachometer seemed just about as
reliable. The Regina chain stretched like pasta. The CEV turn signals didn't
exactly wink—they squinted. Though rocker switches were provided for the lights
and turn signals, I found myself spastically fumbling with them because they
were located too close together and didn't operate with precision.
Still, it's difficult to take such grousing about
two-bit hardware seriously once you settle behind the low, European-style
A small aberration to the Morini's riding
position, however, is that the footpegs are located so far forward that my knees
rattled against my elbows. A 100mile ride in this awkWard posture didn't tire my
legs, but a particularly sensitive portion of my rear end ended up carrying all
my weight. And it doesn't relish the bumps transmitted through the soft but
thinly padded seat.
To ride the Morini at the speeds of which it's
capable, you should first scrawl the word "finesse" across your forehead. This
little reminder will help accustom you to a street bike that effortlessly
answers your every command. If you should keep too taut a hand on the 500's
reins, you'll find yourself turning into corners far too soon and exploring the
exciting world of mailboxes and other roadside hazards. Calm yourself. When
you're ready to lean, so is the Morini. Go as quickly as you dare. Braking is
optional, and enough cornering clearance exists to drag the gas cap if you care
for such thrills.
Given this stable but responsive behavior
pattern, the 500's steering damper would seem to be redundant. Its value lies in
an ability to keep your own oafish squirming from upsetting the Morini as you
unconsciously prepare to manhandle the 500 like a Z-1. Once you calm yourself
and learn the meaning of finesse, you can toss the damper away.
On a winding country road the 500 doesn't lunge
forward with a breathtaking explosion of speed. The engine prefers to loaf
along, and you use torque and the gearbox to gather speed. So you find yourself
instinctively putting combinations of corners together, shifting early to take
advantage of the generous torque on tap, braking deliberately and then heeling
over on the superior Pirelli tires. The suspension will swallow the bumps
without deflecting the bike from the path you've chosen.
The only flaw in the Morini 500's performance can
be traced to the gearbox. For this model, Morini has created a new linkage to
transfer shifting from the right side of the engine to your left foot. A
complicated system of links and Heim joints that goes around the back of the
engine replaces a simpler linkage that passed around the front of the motor on
the 31/2. The shift linkage went out of adjustment early on, however, and the
long lever throws made positive shifting difficult. And even at its best,
neutral-finding in the five-speed transmission can be a chore.
If you're in a hurry to evaluate the Morini 500
in world-class terms, look no further than the Marzocchi suspension to be
rewarded. The same units appear on the Laverda 500, and are resilient without
being mushy and well-damped without being stiff. This suspension isn't designed
to be used only at a motorcycle's limits. Instead it provides full travel and
full damping under normal conditions, operating at its best within the sane
range of speeds most riders prefer. Under braking, the front end may seem to
dive too much and the stroking of the suspension in the bumps may feel strange,
but this behavior is disconcerting only in comparison to motorcycles that ride
like logging trucks at less than 100 mph or wobble like drunken sailors when
cornered at more than 40 mph.
The Morini is one of those all-too-rare
motorcycles that delivers classic two-wheeled sensations to its rider without
any pretensions of sophistication. It is a cast-alloy reminder that multiple
cylinders, anti-vibration mounts and swollen power curves have, slowly but
surely, isolated us from the raw vitality of bicycles with engines in them. And
the vitality of the 500 lies in more than just interesting noises and light
weight. It lies in a motorcycle so agile and so responsive that it feels
connected to your nervous system by a thousand tiny wires.
The Moto Morini 500 stands apart in its ability
to baptize you anew into a world of giddy sensation where the horizon hovers at
a crazy angle, a flock of chickens looms dead ahead and farmers believe you must
be the work of Satan himself.
About 20 miles outside Reading, Pennsylvania,
just about in the middle of nowhere, a large red Moto Morini sign glows proudly
every night. This is the corporate headquarters of Moto Morini in the United
States. Somehow it doesn't fit in with the surrounding farms and villages.
Moto Morini headquarters is actually Hermy's
Motorcycle Shop. Herman Bayer sells BMW, Triumph, KTM and Hercules from a
postage-stamp size showroom floor. He and his wife and son live above the shop.
Bayer is the chief of Port Clinton's volunteer fire department and sells
McCreary tires on the side.
Like so many other motorcycle dealers in the
East, Bayer is far more interested in being around bikes everyday than in
selling them. His interest in Moto Morini was sparked by a desire to sell his
own motorcycle and in 1973 he acquired the distribution rights from another
fellow like himself in New England. And from a cold, bare room behind the
motorcycle shop's parts counter, Hermy arranges things with assorted banks and
foreign shipping companies while his wife keeps track of the paperwork.
Bayer's commitment to Moto Morini hardly seems
commensurate with his yearly sales total of 200 units through 35 dealers. But he
has more than his wallet at stake. He has pride. Moto Morini has become his
motorcycle. When he heard that Harley-Davidson was attempting to buy Morini out
and sell the little vee-twins as scaled-down Harleys, Bayer flew to Italy
immediately. There, Mrs. Bartolini, the daughter of company founder Alfonso
Morini and now the owner, assured Bayer that she would never give up the
This commitment to the firm's identity works both
ways. Bayer's twice-yearly visits to the factory and his enthusiasm for the
product convinced Moto Morini to embark on the complicated task of certifying
its bikes with the EPA for continued sale in the U.S. In fact, the sign over
Bayer's modest Morini warehouse was a personal gift from Mrs. Bartolini.
It could be that the motorcycle business really
is different from other sorts of businesses. Where else could a manufacturer
like Moto Morini survive on the production of 4000 motorcycles per year? Where
else could Herman Bayer not only become a national distributor but hang his
shingle out in a Pennsylvania backWater and still make money? Only in the bike
Source Cycle Guide 1978