Laverda RGA Test
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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
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.