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Laverda SF750 Test

Laverda SF2 750

Motorcycle Sport 1973

Who was it said, "If it looks right, it is right"? If that is indeed the criterion by which a motorcycle should be judged, then the Laverda SF is without question one of the best motorcycles in the world. It is easy to fall into the trap and proclaim all Italian motorcycles as being good looking just because they are Italian; certainly they produce more than their fair share of hand­some motorcycles. (They also produce the occasional ugly duckling: the Moto Guzzi Ambassador and the latest 350 c.c. MV "Scrambler" are two in this category.) Con­ceding, then, that the Italians know a thing or two about styling, we will content our­selves with the observation that the Laverda SF is so beautiful that it leaves one be­mused. The crowning glory of the machine is the petrol tank, holding a shade under four gallons, that must rate as having one of the best shapes ever. Oh yes, we were well on the way to being seduced by this shapely Italian lovely before we had ever reached intimate terms.

A factory policy that insists that the bulk of the machines produced are to go to the home market (and who is going to quarrel with that?) has meant that with the best will in the world, and a full order book, only a handful have reached British shores and even now barely half a dozen a month find their way to deepest Worcestershire, where is the Roger Slater establishment. (We are not complaining about that, either. We applaud anyone who has the sense to run his business from beautiful surroundings!) The result is a machine that is rare enough for . non-motorcyclists to ask what it is and for the afficionados tp cluster around. Not too many have actually heard one and fewer have had a ride on pne.

Things are chang­ing, though. At the recent Woburn Rally a demonstrator was available (our test machine, actually) and anyone who felt so inclined was invited to sample it. A bumpy field was not, perhaps, the best initiation to Laverda-ing but sufficient people liked what they found for half a dozen orders to be taken before the day was out. Another reason for the comparative absence of the Laverda is the price, of course. At £995 (including VAT) it is not cheap. Before spending that kind of money most enthu­siasts are going to have to want to know a great deal about the machine. New boy in the Roger Slater camp ex-MCS and MCI road-tester Dave Minton knows only too well the value of publicity and is determined to make, before long, the name Laverda a household word. A very persuasive fellow, Dave. He came in with a bang right from the start by ringing up and asking if we would like to try a Laverda. Asking ... If not unique, such an approach was rare enough for us to hesitate for maybe a hun­dredth of a second, in case there was a catch. There was no catch: he wanted the general public to know about Laverda.

What about Laverda? Based at Breganze in Northern Italy, they produce four models —three 750s and a 1000: the SF, which is the subject of this test, the SFC which is the production racer, and the softer GT, which sells at £900 here and seems to us to be eminently suitable for our environment, and finally the much admired three-cylinder 1000 (980 actually). One or two have been deli­vered in this country and if you have £1,350 it is confidently expected that you will be able to exchange it for a Laverda Three in the autumn. In the meantime you will have to be content with a 750. It is enough to be going on with.

The SF has been around for a couple of years and readers may recall that we took one to Cologne last year. Since then there have been a few changes. One is quite un­able to avoid some sort of comparison be­tween the engine unit and that fitted by Honda a few years back and one imagines that Laverda have had it said so ofien that they may well be a little bored by the subject. Who cares if it does look like a Honda engine; it is how it goes that counts. It is, of course, a 'twin-cylinder four-stroke with duplex chain-driven overhead camshaft valve operation. The chain is sensibly retained by a split link so that it is not necessary to remove the crankshaft to replace it. New for this year is a cylinder head developed on that used in the production racing SFC. It comes as a package designed to make the machine go faster with less effort. Larger, 36mm, carburettors are used which incor­porates a mechanical car-type injection pump for starting. Slipping the throttle results in a squirt of petrol and, if overdone, a wet plug. A new air cleaner of the paper element type is used. Compression ratio has taken a drop, from 9y to 1'to 8.9 to 1, enabling three-star petrol to be used. Another significant change is the redesigning of the exhaust system to comply with strict German silencing laws. The old ones were a. bit sporting. These pipes have a large diameter balancing pipe, uncharacteristically a little on the ugly side.

Returning to the engine layout . . . The camshaft actuating chain runs up between the cylinders, with the camshaft running on four bearings. The crankshaft, too, has four bearings, two spanning the double camshaft sprocket inside the flywheel and one at each end. Outside the right-hand main bearing is the starter motor drive-chain sprocket. The 0.95 h.p. motor is mounted behind the engine, above the gearbox, and the crankshaft is turned via a single row chain. Finally at the right-hand end of the crankshaft there is the dynamo drive pulley with the belt drive running to the forward-mounted 150w dynamo. The left-hand end is also crowded with first of all a treble sprocket to take the triplex primary drive chain, then a smaller gear, sharing the same drive spline and run­ning to the oil pump drive gear. The oil pump is of gear type delivering three litres a minute. The contact-breaker assembly, with twin contacts, is mounted outside the oil pump drive gear so it is a matter of debate whether one calls this the oil pump gear or the timing gear! All this activity at the ends of the crankshaft makes for a rather wide engine and one would imagine that there is a good case for fitting the safety bars that are available as an optional extra. A mild slide down the road could be very expensive.

The gearbox: five speeds with overall gearing of 12.0, 8.6, 6.3,.5.,6. and 4.6 to 1. The crankcase splits horizontally to reveal both the innards of the gearbox and the crankshaft. The seven-plate dry clutch is housed at the left-hand end of the gearbox. The gearchange lever, as is common on many Italian machines, is on the British side, the right. Laverda, oF'course, like everyone else, are going to have to change it to the left by 1975 if they"wish to sell their machi­nery in the United States of America.

The electrics include a Bosch 12v dynamo and starter motor; It is not all Bosch, though, for the headlamp is Laverda's own design, a shell identical to that on the BMW. Electrical controls are by Lucas. Most road-testers (including ourselves) have been luke­warm about the latest Lucas dipswitch assem­blies, claiming that they look as though they are likely to snap off if given abrupt treat­ment. The fact is they have been out for a couple of years now and we cannot recall seeing any that have suffered this fate. Left and right controls are the same, the left hav­ing dipswitch, horn and cut-out button and the right flashers, starter and headlamp flasher. The flashing indicators fly in the face of convention by being wired so that "up" is for right and "down" is for left. Most other manufacturers seem to opt for the opposite, surely more logical, arrange­ment. The headlamp beam was just about on a par with most of its rivals, which is to say that it was acceptable but not special. The horn was special. A magnificent bellow escaped from the twin horns, a rare treat for the road-tester used to the pathetic bleat of most motorcycle horns. If any other enterprising manufacturer wants to use them they are made by Fiamm, of Italy. Showing that they are willing to go anywhere in the world to find the right part for the job Laverda have this year introduced Japanese tachometers and speedometers similar to those used until recently on the big Hondas. (They used to fit Smiths.)

The frame: how do we describe it? Using the engine as part of the "chassis", the actual frame consists of two robust top tubes run­ning from the head to the rear of the dual-seat. Another two tubes loop up from the rear swinging-arm bottom pivot point, meet­ing the two top tubes for about 12in and then curving down to join the bottom of the steering head. We have never seen anything quite like it before but the question is, "does it work". The answer is yes. A tendency ll at high speed, evident in last year's models, has been, at least under the condi­tions that we tried the machine, eliminated. The importers felt that this wandering may have been due to the Metzler tyres fitted and uiey recommend TTlOOs. Future production models will have TTlOOs, made by Pirelli in Italy. Not surprisingly, front and rear sus­pension units are made by Ceriani. Brakes are Laverda's own, beautifully made, each of 230mm and having 21s actuation. They were outstanding. We were not too happy with the choice of seat on the last Laverda we had, feeling that single seats were limited in scope. What we did not realize was that one had the option of racing seat or dualseat. We were told that many buyers take both. Our test machine had a dualseat. In most respects it was very good but it did conspire with two other of the machine's virtues to create a problem. It sloped forward and the petrol tank was quite deep at the rear. If a pillion passenger was carried and the brakes were applied with much enthusiasm, in cer­tain circumstances the passenger would slide forward and the unwary pilot would risk ruin on the petrol tank.

Just to sit astride the Laverda SF was a pleasure. The machine felt just about as perfect as a good motorcycle can . . . the riding position, the controls and the whole feel of the machine were just right for this tester. If one had to form an opinion with­out riding anywhere it would be that this had to be one of the best motorcycles made. The suspicious might well be wondering if we are not building up to put the boot in. It is not quite as serious as that but, in spite of our wanting to praise every aspect of the machine and making every allowance for our prejudices, one was still forced to the conclusion that, when the chips are down, it has this built-in problem. It is still a vertical twin! Naturally this has virtues as well but it has one big almost insurmountable vice: a vertical twin by its very definition vibrates and even Laverda, with what must rate as one of the most robust, carefully designed and assembled engines made, have been un­able completely to cure the problem.

It is a strange kind of vibration that one experiences on the Laverda. Certainly it is not difficult or tiring to live with and, if one is trying to categorize the situation, "low frequency" would be the nearest one could get—but it is not that really. It is just that one is aware, all the time, of the power of the motor. It comes up to the rider in heavy throbs. Not unpleasant ones, it is just there. Perhaps that is why some people who ride Laverdas are so enthusiastic? They like the feeling of power this machine transmits. We can understand it.

There were many things we liked, too. Ease of starting. A short stab of the starter button and the engine boomed to life, a Paul Robeson throaty sound rather than the screechings of a number of two-strokes we could mention. They say the silencers have been redesigned and we do not argue with that. It is quieter than last year's model but the fact that it now satisfies the rigorous German standards surprises us a little for even its best friends would not call it a quiet machine. It is the same old story, of course, of the deeper voice recording lower decibel readings than an apparently less noisy, high pitched one. All this must not be taken as a criticism. Far from it, it was a delightful exhaust note and we doubt if anyone was offended by it.

One of the assets of an electric starter is that one can afford to let the tickover slow to a fine tick-tock secure in the knowledge that if it does stop a caress of the button will bring it to life again. Naturally, being perverse, because one doesn't mind too much if it does stop, it never does! Only machines that are an agony for us to start do that regularly! The Laverda's tickover was at a steady 600/700 r.p.m. Mechanical noise at that and almost any other speed was just about nil. Quite an achievement bearing in mind all those chains whizzing around.

We have commented upon the disadvan­ the other side of the coin. Threes, fours and" flat-twins may be smooth, vee-twins have bags of torque and big singles the pulling power. What has the vertical twin got going for it? Power, certainly, but it is more than that. Casting around for the right word to describe how we feel about a good vertical twin, the nearest we can get is "gutsiness". A good one, and the Laverda is a good one, has a snappiness about it that few other cylinder layouts have. The power is there right from the word go, the tachometer needle needs no encouragement to go flying upwards and all the time from below comes this deep roar from the exhaust. It is not a town bike, the Laverda. It copes well enough but it is straining at the leash, almost pleading to be let free.

Let it free and see what happens. There are 65 horses on tap (at 7,000 r.p.m.), every one of them willing, and if there is a better high-speed point-to-point machine than this when one is able to use all of those horses we have yet to meet it. The secret of fast point-to-point riding is not only the ability to go quickly but to stop just as quickly and to get around tight corners just that bit quicker than the next man. The Laverda does all this without frightening its pilot and without tiring him. Its weight (480 Ib) is a little higher than it should be for a compara­tively uncluttered twin but when riding it it feels no heavier than most of its rivals and it is very comfortable, the handlebar/seat/ footrest relationship suiting the tester to perfection.

The Laverda is really too good for this country. It is, supremely, a high-speed tourer, able to cruise for hundreds of miles at very high speed, looking as cool, calm and collected at the end as at the start. During the course of the test not a drop of oil soiled the machine and, naturally, noth­ing went wrong. Perhaps that is not quite true. Right from the start the green neutral warning light stayed on all the time and the various warning lights seemed to have be­come crossed so that one had to do a cer­tain amount of relearning to know what the message was. A crossed wire somewhere, we imagine.

Laverda also market a slightly de-tuned version, also available in this country, known as the GT. It has a b.h.p. rating of 52 and sells at £900, a fair saving. If we were in the market for a Laverda it is that one that would appeal to us. The benefits of a machine that can reach a claimed 120 plus m.p.h. are marginal in this country and we would have thought that the GT would provide a number of bonuses, more flexi­bility (which is not to imply that the SF is inflexible, it isn't), less wear and tear, better economy, lower initial cost and, we imagine, it would be even easier to ride.

All the modifications to this year's SF have had one unfortunate repercussion. It is not as economical as the one we tried last year. That returned a consistent 50 plus m.p.g. This one, with larger carbs, lower compression ratio and redesigned camshaft to make best use of these alterations, struggled to get above 45 and we would say that 40 is a more likely figure. The benefit of using three star fuel hardly balances that kind of difference.

Finished in a green/gold colour with black frame, the Laverda, as we have said, is a most attractive motorcycle. Liberal use has been made of matt-finished alloy, and the machine looks exactly what it is. A classic motorcycle. Unfortunately we only had the Laverda in our possession for a short time and it is not one of those machines that one can learn all about in a short time. The longer we had it the more we liked it but, because we have been more critical than we wanted to be, we have the feeling that, given a nice long ride, say to Italy and back, the virtues of the Laverda would drive those few criticisms we have out of our minds. The Laverda is the kind of machine that almost everyone falls in love with at first sight, and we have been promised a longer, less formal look at it as soon as possible. It is the kind of machine that makes us look forward to that day eagerly. As we bring this piece to a close we are left with one lingering question in our minds. We wonder what the 1000 Three is like? If, as its specification suggests, it is even better than the 750 then it really must be quite a machine.

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