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Laverda RGA Test

Laverda RGA

Have you ever been bitten by a motorcycle? It's a bit like being bitten by a dog. You think you've made friends with it, gained its confidence, that kind of thing, when suddenly it gives you a little reminder not to take too many liber­ties. Just a nip to bring you back to your senses and force you to reappraise your opinion.

The Laverda RGA bit me, once. Once was enough, though. Enough to bring back a few unpleasant memories of Laverdas gone by; enough to detune most riders for a little while at least.

But not enough to prejudice me against the motorcycle. The RGA embodies too many good points for anything short of mechanical meltdown to spoil its image. It's a great handsome beast, a magnificent bristling charger powered by a jewel of an engine and cloaked in a fine raiment of exotic (and expensive) materials. Like its fellow Italian the Ducati, it is capable of charming your pants off one minute and rocking you to your core the next.

The RGA rocked this rider on the A22, east of Caterham. We'd been taking photographs of the Lav just by the giant Godstone/M25 roundabout, and the weather was right for a bit of scratching. The local constabulary were pleasantly absent for a change; presumably there was an inter-nickine snooker match going on or something.

Anyhow, there we were, JC on a VT500 Honda and yours truly on the RGA. We peeled off the roundabout and set sail for the office. There's a neat bit of dual carriageway between Caterham and Whyteleafe, less than two miles long but incor­porating a handful of taxing bends. That's to say, they can be taxing, given the right (wrong) conditions.

The big Laverdas have always been tall machines, and heavy with it. They ask a lot of the suspension components, and the RGA is no exception. In fact, the RGA and the RGS benefit greatly from the redesigned frame with which they have been bless­ed, so much so that the limitations of the standard forks and rear shocks (both Marzocchi items) seem somehow much less prominent on the new one-twenties. The RGA's seat is around one inch lower than the quicker, high-compression Jota 120, which also helps to allay that top-heavy feel. But it's still a motorcycle with, um, presence.

Looking back on it now, I suppose I allowed myself to get carried away with the joys of spring. Lagging behind on the straining Honda, John reckoned later that I was overdoing it, but the fact remains that modern motorcycles shouldn't really weave at two-figure speeds in the way that that RGA did. For a minute there I was on the edge of oblivion, stomach a-churn with sickly realisation of impending doom as the central reservation rushed up to greet me, the big Lav ploughing remorselessly on instead of round the corner as the pilot was wishing it to. Twirling back the throttle in the usual time-honoured, panic-reaction way had the for­tunate effect of lessening the weave and increasing the degree of control available at the handlebars; just in time, like an insanely laughing gunman pulling the trigger on an empty pistol, the RGA relented and pulled back onto the more commonly traversed sec­tion of blacktop. I was reprieved. Sitting up in the saddle, I turned in relief to JC behind, and then up in gratitude to JC above, a phoney grin signalling a comic relief I didn't really feel. Relief I felt, sure, but comic? No. No way.

That was one sour incident, lasting less than five seconds, in a fortnight of biking bliss, but it's funny how the mind places false emphasis on certain events. I still remember that moment, and I doubt that I'll forget it for a long while. A fork brace is rank­ed favourite on the list of desirable extras for any new Laverda, closely followed by a large shareholding in a petrol company, for the 120 triple is a heavy drinker.

The reason for its thirst can be traced back to the engine's torquey characteristics. With good power on hand from 2000rpm right through to more than SOOOrpm, the tendency is to power the bike out of corners with the interminably long-winded throttle cranked as far open as a normal human wrist can crank it (when are they going to fit a decent throttle, we ask ourselves). The Pirelli Phantoms will slide and squirm under this kind of provocation, leading one to wonder at their life expectancy, but what the hell, it's fun.

But the price of three accelerator pumps is high. Using the whack-it-open-at-all-times approach I recorded 31.1 mpg in mixed riding, but mainly round town and in the leafy Surrey lanes which are our patch. On the Silverstone run, using much the same technique but with a lightweight passenger on the back, the consumption dipped to a princely 28.7mpg. I am ashamed to admit that on no occa­sion did I travel more than 35 miles on one gall, sur­prising really considering the RGA's tall gear ratios. So tall is the gearing that I once found myself in fourth gear on the M1, assuming it to be fifth. Top gear provides 18mph for every thousand revs, mak­ing motorway cruising an extremely relaxed affair.

Another surprise on the RGA was the continued presence of the ignition-related surge at 2750rpm, caused by the Bosch unit's leap from full retard to full advance at that engine speed. This feature has the effect of exaggerating the slight sloppiness in the transmission; it's hard to ride smoothly in town without accompanying granglings down below. Gearchanges take place with the solid finality of a steamhammer blow, and are only slightly quicker. But at least it's practically impossible to miss a gear, once the proper caution has been exercised. The end of the gearlever is plastic, and snaps off on im­pact (with the road, that is, not your toe-end). The hydraulic clutch still needs a strong grip, but the reward is beautifully progressive power engagement and no slippage. Brakes are up to the usual Brembo standard, which means they're almost too good for the RGA's front end.

As a riding proposition I found the RGA well to my liking. Maybe the slightly raised handlebars could do with being a touch flatter, but the seat is firm and nicely supportive (although there was a quiet winge about vibration on the back perch from my pillion). Engine vibrations do make their presence felt in the midrange, but not so much that it becomes a problem. Compared to the old 180s, the 120s are like double thick cream. The position of the front footrests is adjustable thanks to a clever rotating boss arrangement; on the debit ide, access to the battery is still very difficult.

The centrestand is easy to use, mainly because it isn't high enough to lift the front tyre clear of the ground, so you have to watch where you're parking the bike. The sidestand is a little too long, as well. But the rest of the machine exudes an air of quality; the metallic blue paint on our tester aroused a lot of favourable comment, and was set off nicely by the neutral grey cast wheels. There's a conventional filler cap in place of the RGS's somewhat radical teapot-spout effort, and the titchy fairing will offer some wind protection to the tank-hugging types among you.

The RGA came about as a result of pressure from the British importers Three Cross for a cheaper RGS. By ringing the changes in this way, a new lease of fife has been given to the venerable three-pot Lavs. Although the latest generation of Laverdas leans more toward grand touring than sports motor­cycling, the basic character remains amazingly un-diminished. If there is any criticism to be made, it is that the cycle parts are falling behind the standard of the powerplant; high-speed weaves are still not a thing of the past, whereas by rights they should be. All the RGA needs is better suspension (easily cured) and a lower centre of gravity (not so easy).

As it stands, the RGA is a John Wayne among motorcycles, big and tall with a heavy punch, a mean thirst and a knack of getting the gals. Only the legs are a bit wobbly.


  • Top Speed — 136mph
  • Standing quarter mile — 12.4sec
  • Fuel Consumption — Hard cruising, 31 mpg — Hard riding, 29mpg


  • Air-cooled DOHC six-valve in-line 120-degree triple.
  • Capacity - 981 cc.
  • Power & torque - n/a.
  • Bore x stroke - 75 x 74mm.
  • Compression ratio - 8.8:1.
  • Induction by 3 x 32i Dellorto carbs with accelerator pumps.
  • Three-into-two exhaust.
  • Wet sump lubrication.
  • Bosch electronic ignition.
  • Wet multiplate hydraulic clutch.
  • Primary drive by duplex chain.
  • Final drive Izumi chain.
  • Five-speed gearbox.


  • Duplex cradle, Marzocchi forks and rear shocks (air/gas, 5-way preload), triple Brembo cast iron 1 lin disc brakes.
  • 59.5in wheelbase.
  • 31.5in seat height.
  • 5in ground clearance.
  • 29m width.
  • 86in length.
  • 4.4gal fuel tank.
  • 550Ibs with 1 gal petrol.
  • Tyres - Pirelli Phantoms, WO/90V18 front. J20/90V18 rear.

We asked Slater Bros of Bromyard in Herefordshire (the official Laverda parts suppliers) to give us the retail prices for a representative selection of RGA bits. Items of note: much of the bodywork is made of the amazing new material Bayflex, which is virtually indestructible and which allows parts such as the front mudguard to be bent double without damage. So although the prices for these items may seem high, in practice there should never be any need to replace them. All prices include VAT.

Fairing £50 £70 approx (not yet available). Indicator assembly £23.72, Indicator lens £4.60, Front forks (complete), £224.25, Front mudguard (Bayflex) £55.89, Front wheel £146.97, Fuel tank £264.50, Seat unit £135.70, Solo seat hump (Bayflex) £74.52, Silencer (each) £87.63, Gearlever £27.52 (snap-off toepiece £2.87), Brake pedal £27.52, Footpeg £11.38, Headlight assembly £61.46, Sidepanel (Bayflex) £96.60 (each). Alternator cover £40.04, Piston (no rings) £56.92, Conrod £51.75, Crankshaft £172.50 (exchange). Head gasket £10.71, Clutch (complete) £43.70, Ignition unit £52.90, Drive chain (Izumi) £55.20, Gearbox sprocket £26.45, Rear sprocket £27.60, Battery £43.12.

Much unrealised performance can be extracted from the new 120 degree motors simply by carefully setting them up when new. Laverda specialists such as Cropredy in Banbury, Slater Bras in Bromyard, Windy Corner in Leicester and Motodds of Croydon can all undertake tuning work after that. For the sake of convenience we asked Phil Todd of Motodds (01-648 56211 to give us a quick potted guide as to what's available.

Stage 1: Fit a fork brace (around £30) and Jota

silencers mounted upside-down using suitable bracketry. Jet up carbs and modify airbox intake. About £100 including labour.

Stage 2: Fit Jota 120 cams and pistons for higher compression (up to around 10:1, although each Laverda is different). Take 25 thou off head. About £400 including labour.

Stage 3: Clean up head, reshape inlet ports, 1mm

larger inlet valves, open up carbs to 36mm, "smoothbore" carb inlet tracts, junk air filter element. About £200 including labour.

Stage 4: Forget about Stages 1-3. Instead go for full 1116cc conversion, with bigger valves, bored-out crankcases and special Motodd exhaust-Price on application, but in the four-figure bracket.

General tuning hints would include blueprinting of cam timing, lightened cams and camwheels, lightened and balanced rods etc.