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Bike of the Month
1984 Moto Guzzi LeMans III
By Matt Geddry
Looking thru past bike of the month entries it is not hard to notice that Italian motorcycles are under represented; only two, and both Ducati's. Fine motorcycles for sure, but with apologies to Jeff and Rodd, they ain’t no Moto Guzzi.
So, to end the drought of Italian entries, here is my 1984 Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans lll.
Sometime around the mid to late 2000’s I saw a late 90’s Moto Guzzi 1100 Sport and found it achingly beautiful. I toyed with the idea of selling my 2000 BMW R1100s and replacing it with an 1100 Sport. Guzzi fever had started.
After realizing that my BMW had no resale value to speak of and I still enjoyed riding it I decided to keep it and the thought of owning an 1100 Sport slowly faded away.
Enter Jim Meadows and the 1984 Moto Guzzi Le Mans lll. Shortly after I had considered selling my BMW, Jim purchased this Le Mans and let me take it for a ride near Sierraville, California. The motorcycle was striking to look at, long, low, narrow, and those two great big cylinders poking out the sides forming a 90 degree angle. How very Italian. I couldn't wait to take it for a ride.
After sitting on the bike I first noticed the long but not uncomfortable reach to the clip on bars. It was also hard not to notice how far the clutch and brake levers were from the grips. I recall thinking at the time, “Italians must have giant hands”. The seat let me know it was there, but not for the right reasons. It seemed to be made of wood and shaped for discomfort, just ask my kids.
Time to ride! I put the bike into first gear, clunk, and as I let the clutch out slowly I realize that it has a first gear that feels capable of going 100 mph before needing to shift again. Time for second gear and after a VERY long shifter throw, vroom, I have found neutral. I take another stab at the shifter and clunk. After what has seemed like an eternity I have found second gear. This process is repeated for the remaining shifts to fifth gear. The transmission seems to have four neutrals (possibly more), and gear ratios found randomly laying on the factory floor.
Once able to free my head up from shifting I notice that it is easy for my knees to make contact with those two big cylinders placed directly in front of them. Nothing horrible or painful, just not something I have ever experienced before. But that’s ok, because the engine really is very good, making nice power and wonderful sounds.
When it comes time to slow down or stop I get to experience Moto Guzzi’s early stab at ABS. Moto Guzzi were an early proponent of linked braking systems where the front brake lever only activates one front rotor and the rear brake pedal works the back rotor and the other front rotor. If you primarily use the front brake to stop, not much stopping happens. Again, not what I am familiar with, but when used as the Italian engineers intended, the bike stops well.
As for handling, this is a bike that demands my complete attention. Between the driveshaft causing the back end to rise and fall, the ‘unique’ transmission, and the slow steering, it is clear that it will take many rides and lots of concentration to ride this bike well. Riding the Guzzi is not at all like riding a contemporary motorcycle from Japan which were much more user friendly.
After the ride I realized that the Le Mans was just plain weird and different, and when ridden correctly, was a joy. I was hooked, Kool Aid consumed. It is just one of those motorcycles that is lets me know it is special even if no one else knows it.
I offered to let Jim store the Guzzi in my garage since I had room and became its caretaker of sorts. After several years and many offers to buy it and pointing out to Jim that I was putting many happy miles on it, he finally agreed to sell the Le Mans to me.