by Shawn Downey
During a recent session with MiMi, my representative from the Psychic Friends Network, she finally answered a question that has plagued me for most of my adult life. No, the question answered was not, “What would chairs look like if your legs bent the other way?” The wisdom doled to me concerned the making of a “classic” motorcycle. There are plenty of motorcycles that have reached the technical requirement of being at least 20 years old, but only a handful of these aging relics are revered as “classic” by the motorcycling community, and these “classic” motorcycles are typically universally accepted by all bikers from all classes.
Witness a typical conversational interlude between two enthusiasts. Enthusiast A approaches Enthusiast B, they shake hands, kick dirt on each other’s boots, insult each other’s mother, then turn their attention to the bikes and note recent damage and modifications. The lucky ones are able to disguise the damage as a high performance modification.
At this stage in the ritual, the conversation turns towards “classic” motorcycles such as the Triumph Bonneville, Ducati SuperSports, Norton Fastbacks, Vincent Black Shadows, BSA Goldstars, and the Laverda SF’s to name a few. These motorcycles are typically accepted by all bikers as “classics.” In other words, everybody would (blank) on it if it were on fire. I have often pondered what common characteristic do these bikes share to gain them universal acceptance. Is it the year of production, the color, the style, the number of cylinders, or the number of Spice Girls that can fit on it at one time?
MiMi, from the Psychotic Friends Network, assured me that none of the above was responsible for propelling a motorcycle into the “classic” status. She concluded a motorcycle was surely destined to become a classic if it was designed for the few, the proud, and the twisted. Feeling as though Merlin himself had come down from the Druid castle and doinked me on the head with a scepter, I realized she was right.
The Laverda SF is a perfect example. In 1968, Massimo and Pedro (which sounds like a fruity champagne drink served with brunches) had been churning out stable commuter machines for twenty years at a substantial profit, before they decided to embark on an adventure considered to be high risk by the financial community. This was right about the time that Gilera was no longer garnishing standing ovations on the starting grid and MV Augusta was thankful to be making helicopters. Italian motorcycle manufacturers had been sliding downhill like a wet noodle down a drainpipe when the Laverda boys announced their plans to build a “motorcycle based on passion rather than practicality”. The target market was defined as the few who could truly appreciate the high performance of a sporting motorcycle and were willing to pay for the added value.
The introduction of the Laverda 650cc twin was met with jeers from the critics who cited its uncanny resemblance to the Honda CB77. Massimo and Pedro responded with confident smiles knowing that the true enthusiast would be able to pinpoint the obvious differences, such as the massive engine, the masterful finish on the engine cases and the extraordinary paint quality.
The Laverda boys began using the Alps and the Autostrada as their testing ground and incorporating the wishes of the everyday cafe racers. A 750cc model soon materialized. It had phenomenal brakes and an adrenaline producing engine, which demonstrated torque curves not attained by any other manufacturer. The critics had come around by the time the boys turned their small motorcycle producing villa into an enterprise employing 300 people and shipping 7,000 cafe racing motorcycles per year. Every production machine had an owner impatiently awaiting delivery, but the boys still took gleeful pride in rejecting any components that did not fall within their slim margins of error.
The machines were lavish by any standard and bespoke the boys’ passion for producing the ultimate cafe racer. Each motorcycle left the factory sporting the finish and feel of a custom machine and the reliability of a production machine. Two-throw crankshafts ran in a total of five bearings, and the overhead camshaft ran in four. Logic would have dictated that these machines vibrate like a standard vertical twin, but the Laverdas would not stand for an uncomfortable ride. Standard equipment consisted of two seats: a social seat with room for two and a solo seat complete with a racing backstop to keep your derriere from falling off when experiencing the fantastic g-forces during rapid acceleration. Applying the state-of-the-art brakes in a rapid fashion had a tendency to catapult the rider into the gas tank, so the boys designed the first seat to slope up the large contoured tank in hopes that this would avoid castration&emdash;rather thoughtful, if you ask me.
Laverda reached the optimum combination of frame engineering and steering characteristics to ensure amazing agility for a 500+ pound machine at speeds ranging from 10 mph to 140 mph. Reports that the motorcycle felt languid at speeds under 10 mph were abundant, but who rides a performance cafe racer under 10 mph.? Not the few, the proud, and the twisted. The Laverda brothers exhibited a fantastic passion during the design of this model and were proud to labeling it with their name They hoped the high standards of the Laverda would become their legacy.
I happened to glance at an article regarding the resurrected Laverdas until the guy at the magazine counter started shouting, “Hey, this ain’t no library! You gonna buy that or what?” I yelled back, “Why would I buy it? I just finished reading it.” The article happened to be boasting about the quality of the new Laverdas and displayed a guy leaning one over so that his elbow was dragging. Looks like the Laverda boys are destined for another “classic.”