September 9, 2011
Here’s the good news about Moto Guzzi’s V7 Cafe Classic: it’s equipped with the same charming small-block, pushrod V-Twin and simple chassis you may remember from the 1980’s. And here’s the bad news: it’s equipped with the same charming small-block, pushrod V-Twin and simple chassis you may remember from the 1980’s.
It’s good because the cute little bike has loads of character, is newbie-friendly, looks good and is priced right at just $9990. But then again, some buyers might feel 10 Large is a lot to pay for 30-year-old pushrod technology (and there are those who would rightly point out the fact that V-Twin pushrod motors are America’s best-selling motorcycle powerplants), never mind the old-fashioned suspension, bias-ply tires and simple braking system. Oh, and the 37 horsepower the bike makes stock would probably only impress owners of riding mowers.
Luckily, there are enthusiasts out there who like to make weird old stuff go fast. Meet Ed Milich. Racer, writer, mechanic, machinist, poet and raconteur, Ed specializes in Moto Guzzis and early post-bevel-drive Ducati Twins , and he knows how to make them go fast; over the last five years, he’s racked up an impressive 13 race wins on his annual pilgrimage to the AHRMA vintage races in Daytona Beach. One of those bikes is a venerable V65—so who better to help Moto Guzzi get some real power out of the V7?
Ed tells me this project is still in progress, so he didn’t want to reveal too many details. “You can say I did top end work to it—heads and pistons—and gained 25 percent more power and torque across the board.” In addition to the engine mods, he’s fitted a full Arrow exhaust system and worked some fuel-injection voodoo. Ed didn’t have a dyno chart to show me, but he’s confident it’s around 50 hp at the wheel, and since he claims his V65 racer makes 54 horses, another five or 10 seems attainable.
Ed bought my MD Project: Ducati Supersport Streetfighter Ducati Supersport streetfighter project bike, and when I dropped the bike off at his headquarters at Die Werkstat in San Francisco, I asked if I could take the V7 Cafe home for some evaluation. I had ridden the V7 previously, and was not impressed by that bike’s handling, motor or…anything, really. But I do love how the Cafe Special looks, and was eager to see how much “lettin’ ‘er breathe” would improve the bike.
Even our riding-mower enthusiast friends would have to agree—boosting anything’s power 25 percent is going to make it a lot more interesting. And they are right. The V7’s short gearing and new-found 50-ish horsepower (pushing somewhere around 450 pounds) get it to flow-of-traffic speeds quickly and easily, and rocketing to 90 mph is easy enough, too. Over that and the motor starts feeling strained and buzzy, although it’s willing enough to rev and I’m guessing 110 mph or more is achievable.
The aged chassis and running gear are a liability, but also charming. The single four-piston Brembo front caliper and 320mm disc deliver just enough stopping power to keep things safe, the non-adjustable 40mm fork is squishy but does the job, and the seating position is a lot more humane than a real ’70s cafe racer. Plus, the seat is low and the tank is narrow, making the bike very appealing to smaller, less-experienced riders. After a while you won’t even mind the clunky gearbox.
The sound from those open Arrow cans is as sweet as you’d imagine, and combined with the “Legnano” Green paint, that may be all you need—a cool old bike with all the right visual and aural cues. And thanks to Ed’s evil genius, it’s fast enough to hold its own in modern, fast-flowing traffic situations. You don’t need 150 hp to have a good time, and this little Cafe Classic is proof.