Sailboats must be wooden and super sport bikes from Italy must be 90 degree V-Twins with Veglia lap-counters and if they are Guzzis, they must be red. Italian red, the color of races, of wine, of volcanic dawns, of MV Agusta, or Ferrari; the color of craziness, of passion, of blood and of the Guzzi Le Mans III.
The Le Mans is the ideal Italian sports bike…red, black and with the shine of chrome and polished aluminum. It is compact, virile, low, beautiful, stable, powerful, balanced…an Italian Thoroughbred.
Maybe it lacks a little of the rigidity of the Ducati 900 SS or some of the fury of the Laverda Jota, but it is not a bike exclusively for burn-outs. It is the exaltation and final evolution of a classic concept, and the most beautiful motorcycle creation ever put on sale as a street bike. Only an Italian factory could conceive of this graceful combination of the classic and the modern.
And only an Italian factory would dare…only an Italian factory would have that soul of a poet…to mount a big Veglia lap-counter prominently in an asymmetrical control panel, an instrument that makes you remember the great record of achievements of Guzzi in the World Championships, and also that this beautiful chorus of aluminum, steel, iron and fiber glass that takes you along the road is a machine with a tight engine that was made for those who know how to respect their limits and who know how to appreciate classic qualities.
If you want a bike that is virtually immortal and without problems, there are many four-cylinder Japanese bikes that are more powerful, more robust and with much less character, but if you want to return to being a real biker, or if you have never stopped being one…
Guzzi has made for you a new version of its classic Le Mans, faster and at the same time more discrete than all the earlier ones. It’s capable of exceeding a real speed of 210 km/h (130.48 mph) and has a nobility that makes the feel of the Japanese four-cylinders seem vague and unpleasant with their high centers of gravity and their strange wobbles in quick curves. With the Le Mans you stop being the driver and return to being the rider at the controls of a bike that glides steadily and follows your command almost by instinct as if you were part of the bike and the bike were part of you.
However, it is not a sports bike only for Sunday morning rides. The big surprise of this bike has been its comfort, low fuel consumption and the qualities of a Gran Turismo bike. As BMW knows well the high handlebar is disastrous for touring. The correct position from which to control a bike is on low or flat handlebars. The strange tastes of Americans have forced the Japanese factories, who have no deep preconceived concepts about their product, to mount high handlebars that expose us to the fury of the wind at high speeds.
The Italians, just like the Germans, have another idea of the motorcycle and how to ride it, and despite rumors to the contrary, low handlebars do not tire you out once you get used to them, and it is always safer to ride a bike with short handlebars that force you into a position that is more connected to the bike. To maintain an upright position you have to resort to huge integral fairing that reduces the maximum speed, increases gas consumption and exposes us to the danger of turbulence caused by side winds. We will talk more about this later.
Despite is comfortable driving position, even during long trips, the real surprise and revelation of this test was the gas consumption.
It is the lowest consumption rate at 120 km/h (74.5 mph) that we have found for a 500 cc or more street bike. I repeated the test twice, and after that I checked the speedometer error again, but they came out the same on all the tests, 4.5 liters/100 km (52 mpg) at a constant speed of 120 km/h (74.5 mph)
I am so enthusiastic about the Le Mans that I don’t know where to start…its stability, it low gas consumption, or its impressive performance…with a maximum speed of 210 km/h (130.48 mph) with a light tail wind and with a full stop to one kilometer acceleration rate comparable to the Laverda Jota three-cylinder 1000 cc.
The streamlined fairings that are usually mounted on high-powered street bikes are there for a good reason: to protect the rider from the hurricane winds that blow at 180 km/h (112 mph). The rider that insists on maintaining an erect posture at high speed has to accept the consequences of a high fairing or put up with the beating that a wall of air will give him.
The factories want to convince us that their fairing is aerodynamic and improves the penetration of the bikes making higher speeds and low consumption possible. However, as much with the Guzzi SP 1000 Gran Turismo as with the Honda CB 1100, which was made for super sport riding, the large fairings designed in air tunnels result in a substantial increase in frontal area and a lower maximum speed and a higher gas consumption.
In order to be efficient a fairing only has to have a low front cowl that softens the flow of air over the helmet of the rider crouching over with his chin almost touching the tank. With wide four and six cylinder bikes, whose aerodynamic penetration is already horrible in itself, wearing a full face helmet, even with a high cowl, is slightly favorable. Although in the case of the Honda CB 1100 R Honda, it has been found in Great Britain that longer developments without the fairing are possible, but with narrow V-Twins like the Le Mans, the old Laverda 750 SFC and the Ducati SS they were always limited to mounting a small semi-fairing on low handlebars.
Guzzi, in its most recent version of the Le Mans, has already discarded the two piece fairing, preferring that nobody remembers the statements about “improved aerodynamics” that were released when they introduced the Le Mans II to the market.
It turns out that the Le Mans III with its small and simple cowl reached higher maximum speeds than those of the II, although with a tendency to wobble when going fast. In the Le Mans III Guzzi has kept the side spoilers to load weight on the front wheel and in addition has introduced a small cowl whose lines make us think about the Suzuki Katana, just like with the BMW R-65. According to Guzzi, this semi fairing loads ten more kilos on the front wheel at speeds of over 180 km/h (111.8 mph), which eliminates the light steering.
Mounting the cowl directly onto the steering is awkward, because it goes against the idea of fairing. According to Kel Carruthers, the most important function of fairing is as a keel, like on a boat, assuring that the bike stays stable at high speeds. This only works, however, it the fairing is mounted directly onto the frame…on the steering column…as is the case witht the Ducati 900 SS or the much missed Laverda SFC.
With windshields or semi-fairing mounted directly on the fork, the side winds can become bothersome and even dangerous if move your head slightly. With a bike that is already a little skittish like the Benelli Sei or the Laverda 500, to give two examples, a cowl of this type can be problematic.
On the Le Mans, however, with its low center of gravity, rigid chassis and truncated, short-haul fork these theoretical problems didn’t come up during the test runs, although there was a little bit of wobble on the curves at high speed.
IMPROVING A CLASSIC
Guzzi is always releasing new models, changing a couple of things and trying to convince us that it is a new model. The truth is that the Guzzi Le Mans III has very few important changes, but a lot of well thought out upgrades.
More than anything they have sophisticated and civilized the rapid Le Mans, but without its losing its Thoroughbred feel and spirit. To conform with the pollution and noise regulations of the European Union and the U.S. they have had to use air filters to quiet the intake roar and to avoid messy sidewalk oil stains. They solved the breather problems that annoyed all those who habitually speed on their Guzzis.
To not cut performance with the use of air filters, Guzzi worked on the ducts of the cylinder heads and increased the diameter of the exhaust pipes from 38 mm (1.49 inches) to 40 mm (1.57 inches). The new 40 mm exhausts were not without a compensator. The mechanical sound has been reduced a lot through a complete redesign of the engine rocker arm cover. The new silencers are more bulky and emit a hoarse and discreet roaring sound, but the rider at speeds of 100 km/h (62.1 mph) doesn’t hear intake or stains.
Just like the 350 cc and 500 cc V-Twins, Guzzi has returned to contact points with centrifugal advance to eliminate a slack response at low speeds.
The other changes are esthetic and although the owners of Guzzi are by nature men of classical tastes and slightly conservative, the updates have been quite well thought out: the new fuel tank has an attractive form, the cylinder heads and fins have a square and modern profile, the new Monza style saddle, the fairing and the two nice touches of the golden eagle on the tank and the great Veglia white face gauge on the excellent asymmetric dashboard.
WE’VE GOT TO RECOGNIZE…
Why has this classic design that fundamentally hasn’t suffered any basic changes since the release of the beautiful Guzzi V-7 Sport 750 cc survived? Well, for the same reason that the Ducati 900 SS stays faithful to the original design of the Ducati 750 Sport from almost ten years ago. It is because the idea of two cylinder high capacity motor in the shape of a V is so emminently logical that three of the nine bikes that raised the most interest during 1981 were of this classical configuration: the Hesketh 1000 and the Yamaha 1000 TR-1 and the Honda CX 500 Turbo.
There are a lot of advantages, but the most convincing argument for the V configuration is that by having two connecting rods in the same crankshaft axis the bike can have narrow crank cases, and this narrowness permits placing the motor very low in the chassis, which drops the center of gravity and reduces the height of the bike in general and makes the frontal area much smaller. While Ducati, Yamaha, Morini and Harley Davidson have their motors in line with one cylinder behind the other to get an idea aerodynamic penetration, Guzzi and Honda, whose bikes have secondary transmission by U-Joint, have opted to place the crankshaft longitudinally in the frame.
This allows the delivery of power to the shaft through a car clutch that in the Honda is mounted in the front of the crankcases running in the opposite direction to the crankshaft to eliminate the tendency to tilt to one side while accelerating from idle. Guzzi motorbikes used by BMW and mounted dry clutches behind the engine.
Theoretically placing the motors like that would impair the aerodynamic penetration, but in practice the cylinder heads stick out very little…only a little more than the knees of the rider. With the BMW with horizontal cylinders there is definitely an increase in the frontal area and also the necessity of lifting the motor (and the center of gravity) to permit deep leaning without scraping the cylinder heads on the ground. Given the perfect primary balance of the 90 degree V-Twin engine, I have always wondered why BMW doesn't tip the cylinders up and convert its engine 180 degrees two cylinder motor into a V-Twin at 90 degrees. The argument of the cooling of the cylinders is unconvincing. I believe that BMW prefers the continuation of their traditions and single line to the theoretical advantages of a V-Twin motor belt retainer.
Admittedly, Guzzi has squeezed all the juice out of a classic and successful design, and that the latter model is both a more civilized and quicker version than the one they made of the Le Mans. Its line is beautiful and proves that those who said that the Le Mans II was less beautiful than the more "pure" Le Mans I were right. The expert knows that ultimately the Le Mans III is based on a veteran engine, originally designed for a propeller of a military three-cycle, and with a distribution system of rods and rocker arms that endangers the mechanical life of the engine at high speeds.
Those who race in the Series with the Le Mans know that repeated spins inevitably results in twisted valves; twisted valves that could bump into each other or the piston during a flotation of more than 8000 r.p.m. The American magazine testers that are habitually testing Japanese four cylinder bikes have broken the Le Mans (and the Laverda Jota) with great regularity in acceleration tests because the current technique is to shift roughly without toughing the clutch and without cutting, that is to say, with the petal to the floor the tester shifts to the next gear with a brutal "kick."
The Japanese bikes can stand up to this treatment and come off the quarter mile with brillant times under 12 seconds while on the Guzzis and the Laverdas usually cross and smash into each other and the bike ends up being towed back to the dealer.
The most important mechanical difference, from my point of view, between a Guzzi Le Mans and a Honda CB 900 F is that the Honda can survive being abused which means that the product passes the idiot test. In other words, any fool despite not being able to distinguish between the most importance mechanical differences, can mistreat the bike savagely, from my point of view, without breaking it. The Guzzi, in contrast, requires a precise touch in shifting and using the clutch during sport riding and doesn’t tolerate abuse at high speed. To use the English word, it is not “foolproof.”
The Honda CB 900F, the Suzuki GX 1100, the Kawasake KZ 1100 and the Yamaha XS 1100 are virtually foolproof, while the Guzzi, the Laverda 1000 and 1200 and even the Ducati 900SS are bikes that can give great satisfaction to intelligent riders who know how to respect the red line on the dials. With the Guzzi and the Laverda the problem is with the float valves, while the Ducati with its desmodromic motor, can take speeds so high without valve problems that the idiot who does not respect the limit of the 8,200 (20.3 meters/second linear piston speed) ends up breaking the connecting rod bearings;
So you won't see times of less than 12 seconds on the 400 meter trial from full stop with the Italian bikes. Both Guzzi and Ducati have gotten official times of less than 12 seconds on the quarter mile, but the California journalists, who are masters at acceleration tests, have gotten tired of breaking bikes while trying to confirm phantasmagorical offical times. In the hands of an expert, and by really pushing the motor, it is possible to get 13 seconds on the 400 meters with the Ducati 900 SS, but it is quite difficult to do so with the Guzzi.
Despite its modern line, we must always remember that the Guzzi engine is robust if we respect the red line, fragile if we don’t. Japanese factories protect the mechanics by limiting the air intake of their engines at high speed. They know that there is a high percentage of idiots that will always force the motors to the maximum. The three Italian factories, however, that still make high quality sport bikes, Guzzi, Ducati and Laverda, manufacture motorcycles that are capable of suicide... in other words, ones that have crossed camshaft trees, large valves and intakes so effective that they easily reach speed that put their mechanical life in jeopardy.
The red line of 7700 r.p.m. corresponds to the speed at which maximum rated power output occurs with 8000 being the ceiling for valve springs. It is advisable to respect the line of 7700 in order to have some safety margin in case of a failure while changing gear. If you have the self-discipline to respect the r.p.m. limits, the Le Mans III will provide you with the pleasant experiences that only one Italian sport bike can offer.
With a faster speed than the Le Mans II on our shakedown test…and 7km/h (4.3 mph) faster than 200 km/h (124.2 mph) is a significant improvement, and with an average speed of 208 km/h (129.2 mph) on the round trip flying kilometer the Le Mans III was 7 km/h faster on this test.
With 4,500 kilometers on it and after a comprehensive check up in the workshops of Lezauto in Madrid, the Guzzi surprised me by easily reaching the 211 km/h (131.1 mph) (at nearly 7600 r.p.m) with favorable wind and 213.6 km/h (132.7 mph) on the gauge to 7700 r.p.m on a slight slope. The downhill speeds don’t count, but with a little more launch (and with a wide and safe test track) I think the Le Mans III would hit 7700 with favorable conditions.
However, the number doesn’t impress me as much as how safe this bike is at high speeds. In spite of having a damaged air system on the front fork of the the test bike which made the suspension soft, the Guzzi at over 200 km/h (124.7 mph) was rigid and very stable.
A great part of this sense of security comes from the low center of gravity and the excellent (and low) rider triangle. Crouched over the large 23 liter (6 gallon) fuel tank, (a liter (a quart) more than that of the LeMans II), the rider feels in complete control of the situation. A Suzuki GS 1000 has a lightness of steering that can become a shimmy with any unevenness of the asphalt, while the GS 1000 S cowl with spoiler puts more weight on the back wheel, its semi-fairing is connected to the steering and this exagerates the riders tendency to move his head.
The acceleration of the Guzzi has also been improved. This time I was able to run a round trip average of 25.4 seconds per kilometer against an average of 25.9 with the Guzzi Le Mans III. If I had been permitted to pop the clutch a little more on starting and shift through the other gears without it, I think I could have taken 25.9 seconds of the time, equaling the Laverda Jota, until now the fastest bike in acceleration over the kilometer for general sale in Spain.
More important that these speeds and acceleration is the ability of the Guzzi to respond without hesitation from 3000 r.p.m. The Guzzi Le Mans has always been a problematic bike at low speeds due to his camshaft designed to give maximum torque at 6200 r.p.m. The new Le Mans III is no locomotive either. You still have to pull the clutch to leave a stoplight quickly. You still have to keep it around 4500 r.p.m. for a clean acceleration at full throttle. However, the finishing touches to the ducts and the change of silencers, along with the addition of filters that have achieved dramatic improvements in consumption, also seem to have improved the response from low speed.
The truth is that with this performance and consumption rate, with its excellent stability and braking, it is difficult to imagine a Le Mans IV. Maybe the evolution of Guzzi will be toward a Heron parallel valve cylinder head…although given the 83 mm (3.2 inch) diameter of the piston maybe it will be necessary to resort to a Heron parallel four valve combustion chamber. The big advantage of the Heron combustion chamber is that the valves cannot collide with each other because they are parallel, while in case of collision between the piston and valve the contact occurs between flat surfaces, thus reducing the possibility of twisting a valve.
In any case the Le Mans III 844 cc listed with 76 horsepower, according to the catalogue, has enough power to satisfy all but the biggest addicts of exploding acceleration. Its classic desmodromic engine allows a cruising speed of 180 km/h (111.8 mph). That’s quite a bit above what the law tolerates and even faster than the vast majority of drivers want to go.
Guzzi says that they have found 3 horsepower more and that this increase in power along with the aerodinamic improvement explains the increase in the maximum speed and acceleration. Le Mans I and Le Mans II owners would say that their bikes with the same final design wouldn’t reach 240 km/h (149.1 mph) on the speedometer at 7700 r.p.m., and they are right. There is a glaring error on the Le Mans III speedometer, more glaring than the quite deceitful instruments of the other Le Mans bikes.
I was able to reach almost 214 km/h on the clock at 7700 and I remember that on the other Le Mans bikes that I tried didn’t reach more than 7400 r.p.m. in fifth. There are always little differences between theoretically identical bikes, and I recognize that I got my hand on the Le Mans III of this test after a tune up by the “Doctor” (Pérez Rubio) In the next issue of Motociclismo we will see if our German colleague testing another bike reached similar speeds. Until now we have spoken about the Le Mans in general and technical terms; looking for the advantages and disadvantages of the V-Twin in comparison to Japanese four-cylinder motors and highlighting the mechanical limits of a long distance sports bike and distribution by pushrod and rocker arm. In the next issue of Motocyclisme we will orrder a comparative test that contrasts the Le Mans III with its two closest rivals, the fantastic Ducati 900 SS and the quiet Yamaha TR-1. In this test, carried out by our German colleague Ulrich Burbach, we'll see how the Guzzi compares with the most popular V-2 bikes in the European market.
However, now we are going to savor the experience of bringing the Le Mans III to the circuit of Jarama and the winding roads of the Guadarrama, perhaps the most appropriate forum for this civilized sport stage.
The unanimous reactioon of the article of Motociclismo was that Guzzi had been successful with the change in the profile. The Le Mans I in its day was the most beautiful bike on the Spanish highways, but it was a little difficult for us to get used to the somewhat SP 1000 line of the Le Mans II. In the end and with time we accepted the Le Mans II and recognized that it gave the rider better protection from the wind, but we continued to miss the pure and agressive siluette of the Le Mans I, although we had to admit that for the 80s the Le Mans wouldn’t have a visual impact.
The III surprised us because after seeing the Imola and the Monza it was logical to suppose that the Le Mans would be similar in its line. The semi-fairing offered protection to the rider. It is aggressive and beautiful and loads enough weight onto the read wheel. It may be that some people don’t like the lines of the Le Man III as much as the II. We also missed the flat black exhausts with its dry growl of a racing bike…and the strong roar of its intake, but Guzzi didn’t fufill the very demanding anti-noise and anti-pollution requirements of the U.S. of 1983. If the exhausts had lost their growl it would not be logical for them to continue to be flat black, the color of the noise of the megaphones.
Seeing the chrome air filters and exhausts chrome with bulky mufflers we were willing to accept somewhat less power, because it is rare to get improvements in sound-reduction and power at the same time. This time, however, they did.
When you get off the Guzzi saddle you notice two things: that the bike is very low and that it weighs a lot. According to the scales its weight in working order and with a full tank is 243 kg (535.7 lbs), 16 kg (35.2 lb) “lighter” than the Suzuki GSX 1100 , 7 kg (15.4) more than the BMW R 100 S, 5 kg (11lb) less than the Yamaha TR 1, but 20 kg (44 lb) heavier than the Ducati 900 SS.
You notice the Guzzi’s weight when you are pushing it and when you have to lift it back onto the stand it takes a considerable amount of effort. Guzzi still hasn’t solved the problem of the central stand and the 243 kg (535.7 lbs) persuades us sometimes to trust the kick stand, even though this stand is still as precarious as on the first Le Mans.
You notice the weight less when you are seated. The center of gravity is very low and maybe the exact word to characterize the Guzzi would be compact.
The air control valve is under the left cylinder and the disadvantage is that it is difficult to reach. If we take off with the throttle open and later have to close the starter because the motor is overheating it forces us to take our eyes off the road. The valve should be on the instrument panel, like on the Suzuki Katana, for reasons of safety, comfort and common sense. The powerful car starter motor guarantees that you will not have to try to push start this monster, which is difficult to do cold…without a hill.
Once it’s started it is a little slow to warm up and in the morning in autumn in Miraflores it takes 4 km (2.4 miles) to do it, although after two minutes you can open the throttle.
It shifts into first silently and the clutch is progressive enough to allow a clean take off without the jumps that formerly were common with bikes with a cardan drive shaft. There is very little mechanical noise and a great silence and air intake and exhausts…very different from the Le Mans II.
Once the bike is heated up the motor responded very well from 4000 r.p.m. and with a continuous pull from 4500 until 7700. The power delivery is not as spectacular as it is with a four cylinder, but the mighty pistons of the Le Mans are very efficient and at a quiet 5000 r.p.m. the Guzzi reaches almost 140 km/h (86.9 mph)–138.7 km/h (86.1 mph) on the clock and almost 160 km/h (99.4 mph) on the “lie-o-meter.”
The sensation of heaviness that you notice when the bike isn’t moving disappears completely at moderate speeds and when the time comes to put the Le Mans through curves the bike proves itself to be very obedient. It’s a bike that is driven with the waist instead of the shoulders, and the weight only become obvious when halfway through a curve you hit a bump that causes a bit of wobbling and shaking, but without causing worry, or the bike to veer from its course.
The feel of the clutch (dry two disc) is positive, but a little stiff as is the handle grip. The switches are not very precise, and at night it was quite difficult for me to find the headlight dimmer. The kill switch on the right handlebar cuts the spark, but lets the starter motor engage. Just like kids can never resist playing with the switches, I found myself a couple of times engaging the starter without a spark.
Another curious thing is that on the test bike the flashing lights work even without the key in the ignition. I came down several times from writing and found the lights on.
The new instrument panel is very attractive with a little voltometer on the left, a normal size speedometer on the right and an enormous r.p.m. gauge located towards the left side of the panel.
For the highway the Guzzi is stable and comfortable at all speeds and the only wobbling that occurs is in fast turns, and even when it begins to wobble you always find yourself completely relaxed and in control; the lower the center of gravity and position of the driver, the more confidence the bike gives you.
When the bike reaches more than 180 real km/h (111.8 mph) the wind forces you to crouch behind the semi-fairing, but I prefer a thousand times over the Guzzi Le Mans at 200 km/h (124.2 mph) than the SP 1000 at 160 km/h (99.4 mph). The fairing on the Guzzi Gran Turismo creates turbulance that will whip the pens out of your pocket and shakes you, while on the Le Mans, the semi-fairing offers excellent protection for the driver who crouches down.
As a touring bike, a Le Mans III with a set of Krauser saddle bags would be perfect. You don’t hear any noise other than the wind, and the seating position is ideal for chewing up 1000 kilometers (621.3 miles) per day.
If you have traveled on the autobahns of Germany, you will have seen gangs of Germans with their big low handle-bar Café-racers passing in the interior lane at incredible speeds. The myth that the low handlebar forces you to support your weight on your arms is only this, a myth, because at cruising speeds the wind itself cancels the weight. For me, the ideal posture for high speed trips of over eight hours (for example) is that of the Le Mans III with a bag under the fuel tank. At a 120 km/h a Guzzi can make a Madrid to Valencia trip without refueling.
The bike isn’t uncomfortable to run around the city either. In fact, its narrow width makes it easy to get through the lines of traffic. Its principle problem as a city bike is the badly designed stand, as we have observed before. It does require you to be Tarzan every time you want to leave it on the sidewalk. It takes off easily from traffic lights without the jumps and bucking of the older Guzzis, and the low fuel consumption makes it as economic on city streets as a 250 cc. At the stoplights you feel the dry vibrations as it idles, but these vibration disappear past 1200 r.p.m. and which shake the entire bike at 900 r.p.m.
A regular and slow idle at less than 1000 r.p.m., shakes the great Guzzi like a Norton Commando, impressing the drivers of cars that are invariably delighted by the beauty of the machine.
Not having any reason to squeeze the brake lever, counting only on the comprehensive system controlled by the foot, you will find that the Guzzi does not tire you even in the heavy traffic of rush hour. What is annoying is searching for the elusive neutral, which is hard enough to find when the bike is stationary. The best way is to shift from second to neutral before stopping. The neutral signal light didn’t work on the test bike.
Being a sport bike it was expected to shine in the mountains and at Jarama. In the mountains on winding roads with curve after curve, the Guzzi performed very well, but in the euforia of long sessions of sport driving I bumped my knee against the left cylinder (which is closer to the rider) with enough force to say inside the full helmet some very strong things about the mother of the person who removed the knee guards from the Guzzi. I’m 1.78 m (5 feet 10) tall and I hit my knee on the cylinder several times. A taller rider could come to have serious problems with it.
It is in the mountains or at Jarama when you come to understand completely the reason behind the enormous Veglia r.p.m. gauge. Without dropping your eyes from the road you can see when the needle with an orange tip passes the “red” line that is actually orange as well. That way you can squeeze all the energy possible out of the motor without pushing it too hard.
In the mountains, and hanging on for dear life on the curves, I only touched the foot pedals lightly, but at Jarama, I ended up lifting the foot pedals and the exhausts to avoid scraping the ground.
Integral braking no longer has to be explained or justified. It works and it works very well both in dry and in water. I continued to notice twists in the fork when I braked only with the lever (always a mistake with the Guzzi), but there was no torque in braking only with the pedal.
The bike came into my hands with the shock absorbers in a pretty sorry state, dry banging on the bumps. I found that they had no air. I got the pressure back to 2.4 kg, but when I tried to test it a jet of oil shot out indicating that something was going wrong inside the Paioli. The front fork didn't accept any air at all even with the hand pump, nor (and being very careful not to burst the seals) with the air from the gas station.
I remember my Le Mans II test. I tried to tune up the suspensions in order to raise and lower the air pressure, but I didn’t noticed any improvements or deteriorations, and ended up convinced that the Guzzi hydraulic system is a commercial gimmick which really doesn’t provide any tangible advantages to stability.
My experience with air/oil Paioli shocks has not been very positive, after trying several shock absorbers I put on a humble Girling Gas set in the Montjuïc Laverda. They last longer than the Marzocchi series and perform better than the more complicated and much heavier and expensive Paioli with its impressive air pressure gauge.
ONCE ROUND THE JARAMA
And at Jarama... end of the straight way with 220 km/h (136.7 mph) on the “liar” clock. Between the signs marking 100 and 200 meters you have to release and step on the pedal while squeezing the handle at the same time. The fork sinks and the speed drops dramatically. If you calculated things well, you go into the first curve just as you let up on the brakes, giving it a little gas while passing through the apex of the first part of this heavily banked double curve.
When the bike is already among the two apexes and hugging the white line (without actually touching it since it is "ice") on the outside of the circuit, it is time to open up, but progressively, hitting it as you break out of the curve. If you've done it right you will find yourself shifting into fourth gear just before the apex of the very fast right hand curve before the Le Mans s turns. You'll have the temptation to cut a little, especially when the front part of the bike begins shimmy slightly, but if you’re able to run this curve open throttle you'll find yourself coming out of the turn with some shimmying and bouncing that will rattle your teeth. Get ready to brake and downshift two gears. If all has gone well you get to the braking so quickly that you'll need to overcome the temptation to stop early. If there are no other motorbikes running the curve you can enter strong braking even while the motorcycle is leaning and open up as soon as you lift your foot, but be careful. The important thing about the first part of the s turn is the exit. If you attack too early you will have to cut the exit in order no to come out open. It is important not to stay off the stripes with the Phantom because paint is pore-free and more than one has had a nasty scare leaving the curve open with the bike in a steep lean.
With the development of the series you will come to the second part of the s-turn at maximum speed in second, although if you exit real well from the first part you’ll have to cut early to keep the motor from over-reving. You have to open up early before hitting the apex in order to arrive at the Ramp of Pegasus at high speed. Be careful with the asphalt: there is a lot of rubber there from the car races. If you find that you are stalling lightly on the exit, then you are doing it right…with the Phantom.
After that comes the test of nerves and suspension, the feared Rampa de Pegas (Ramp of Pegasus). Forget what you have read about street bikes “that go like they were on rails,” and get ready for some violent wobbling. The important thing is to remember one thing…the giroscopes don’t go down and despite shimmies and wobbling that make your eyes bounce, the two giroscopes that the Le Mans has for wheels will always stay on course.
If you get scared and cut, it’s the same as braking with the back wheel, and the bike will shimmy violently. If you get scared and straighten the bike up a little, reducing the angle, it is possible that you will leave yourself open while exiting with an excellent view of the guardrail.
With the Le Mans series III you most probably won’t be able to reach the speed needed to exit from the Rampa de Pegas (Ramp of Pegasus) with the superb stability of the Guzzi motorbikes used by the Motorcycling Series. Pérez Rubio has done hundreds of shock absorber and tire tests.
Now comes the most technical part of the Jarama…starting with the hairpin curve, very quick, where you almost always cut a little more than you should. The few times that you feel brave, you exit from it very fast with the bike wobbling deliciously almost on the brink of disaster. Now is the moment to lift anchor on this treacherous turn that invites you to attack and then closes up on you.
Now for the drop with its frightening and bumpier and bumpier left hand curve. I usually exit from the Redonda accelerating and repeating to myself, “Open throttle, don’t cut, open throttle.” The right wrist, however, has a tendency to lift up just a bit when the track turns to the left and descends spectacularly towards the Horquilla de Bugatti (The Pitchfork of Bugatti)
If you make this left hand curve correctly with the Guzzi, there will be a moment when you fear for the cohesion of the real wheel, and if you get scared in this curve, it will take you a long time to forget it.
Integral braking lets you hit the Horquilla very hard, and you almost always find that you have braked too soon.
Now for the incline, you change 7700 r.p.m. in second and third and down shift for the double right hand and second to the last of the track curves. It’s another of those tricky Jarama curves that invite you to go in hard and then close on you dramatically. After that is the important little stretch before the terrible Túnel (Tunnel) curve that has more hidden dangers than a night in Tangier.
If you try to enter early you find yourself exiting wide open in fourth gear. If you try to leave a margin of error by cutting the apex, you have to tread on the evil painted culprit. In the best case scenario, this will scare you enough that you won’t soon forget it.
Only a second into the next turn, and in the worst of cases, especially if there if the track is very wet, you will find yourself going 160 km/h (99.4). (Like what happened to me on my Guzzi 500 three years ago.)
If you’ve done your calculation correctly, you will exit in fourth and be shifting into fifth as you cross the finish line. The boxes will fly by and even if the board shows a time that you don’t like, you will always know that it is the time of the last run and while you try once again to do everything right, you hope you have beaten it by five decimals.
The Le Mans III at the Jarama proved itself to be an excellent street bike, sufficiently noble to take on daring, stressful trips full of valient use of the brakes, but with suspension and tires that can give you frights, shimmying, skids and unforgetable moments.
With good preparation, slicks and many hours of practice, a Le Mans III could be a satisfactory bike for Formula 1 of the Motorcycling Series.
However, it is not a racing bike, and the great majority of clients have no intention of pushing it to the limit on a race track. They like knowing that it is a bike that can defend itself on a track, it is more important for them to know that as a street bike, it is quick, comfortable, economic and really outstanding for sports riding.
You can travel on it; you can go really fast on it; you can pretend that you are racing in the mountains and even put Formula 1 numbers on it and cast it into the wars of the Motorcycling Series.
If you park it on the sidewalk while you have a coffee, you can be sure that you will find it surrounded by admirers when you come out and you can be proud when you put the key in the ignition.
I can't think of another 1981 sport bike that can give so much satisfaction to its owner as Le Mans III, except for its old rival Ducati 900 SS. You can't keep up with the Japanese in acceleration and top speed, but it has details, finishes and an aesthetic that the Ducati has never achieved, and manageability, stability and braking that the Japanese still have to envy.
It is not only the most beautiful, but the most complete sports bikes on the market today. And if you happen to have money that do you not need for anything more important than the best "Café racer" of all time..., you have it here.