What were you doing in 1978? I pondered that question recently after reading it in a motorcycle magazine and it made me think. What was I doing 25 years ago, and more interesting, what was I riding?
Well, the answer was I was living and working in Austin, Texas, only 23 years old, single, and just had my first ever motorcycle stolen from my apartment complex! It was my brand new, black, 1978 Yamaha XS-750 Triple, with less than 5000 miles on it! It was a major bummer for at the time and to date, the only motorcycle I ever had stolen from me! Well, with insurance money in hand, I thought about buying a new bike. For the last seven years, I had ridden 400, 500, and 750 Yamahas and 500 Kawasakis of the period. They were fast, reliable, had reasonable brakes, and were cost effective to own and operate.
This time, I thought, maybe it was time to buy something that was not so mainstream, maybe even something European. I still remember walking into the Moto Guzzi dealer in Austin, Texas, and seeing a 1978 850 LeMans MKI on the floor. This was clearly one of the coolest, most exotic bikes I had ever laid eyes on. It was red and black and just looked fast sitting on the center stand. I talked with the salesman, sat on the bike, thought about the money I had just received from the insurance company, and made a decision shortly thereafter. This was my very first Moto Guzzi and the first European motorcycle I had ever owned.
I remember three things very distinctly about that bike. One, the 850 was very fast with a lot of low-end torque. Two, it was one of the best handling and best braking motorcycles I had owned. Three, the stock seat was "hard as a board!"
I rode that bike all around the Hill Country of central Texas with its rolling hills, lakes, and great roads.
Within a year, I moved to Mountain View, California, for work, and again, I have fond memories of riding the Guzzi around Northern California and down to Santa Cruz and up to San Francisco. All total between Texas and California, I put about 5000 miles on the LeMans before selling it to a young equipment engineer in late 1979 for a mere $3800. It was in "mint" condition. In 1980, because of another job opportunity, I moved to Arizona and have lived in the Phoenix area ever since.
Well, now it is 2003, twenty five years later. Lots of water under the bridge since my old LeMans moved on to another caretaker. In between, I owned several more European bikes - a 1974 Laverda 750 SF2, two BMWs - a 1976 R75/6 750 and a new 1983 R80RT. I put over 50,000 miles on each one of those bikes. During this time, I was married, bought a house, settled down, etc. But all through this time, and in the back of my mind, I have always "pined" for another Guzzi, and especially, another LeMans.
Also during this period, and for twelve years, I went through my "Harley-phase" and rode three Big Twin Harleys, two Electra Glide Sports (FLH-S) and one Road King. But even while riding Harleys, I still wanted something European again. I restored a 1975 Norton Commando 850 Interstate MK III, which I picked up 100% complete at a garage sale for $300! This filled my European niche for awhile, and it was fun, but I sold it to a collector for top dollar back in 2001. To replace the Norton, I purchased a new 2002 Triumph Bonneville, which is a great little bike for the money and superb to ride around town.
I also sold the Road King and I purchased a demo 1999 BMW R1100S - which is a bike very similar to the LeMans. It was a great bike, but not made for two up long distance touring. I wanted to have something for when my wife and I go on long trips, so I traded it for a 2002 BMW R1150RT. Now I was all set in the comfort department for two up riding, but I missed the sport-touring solo scene and the ride of the R1100S.
At a local motorcycle event, there was a local European dealer with a new, 2002 Grigio Titanium, (Champagne-colored) Moto Guzzi V11 LeMans with "special pricing." LeMans fever finally caught up to me - twenty five years later - and I was bit by Guzzi bug again, very hard. I negotiated with the dealer to sell my Bonneville and wrote the check for the balance owed on the Guzzi.
As of this writing, I am just breaking the bike in. The bike is great! It roars and rumbles like my old LeMans, only now with a silky smooth clutch, six-gears, fuel-injection, and Guzzi's legendary braking and handling. I love it!
I purchased the Guzzi tank bag, changed the OEM "hard as rocks" hand grips, and I am researching on replacing the bar-end weights for something heavier to minimize vibration. I may do a few other minor modifications, but mostly, I like my bikes stock. The big test, of course, will be its first 1000 mile or 1500 mile road trip. I truly believe an overnight, long ride is where all motorcycles bond with their owners. Through the MGNOC, I am also hoping to meet new friends and other Guzzi and LeMans owners and enthusiasts and attend a few rallies.
In closing, someone asked me recently, why I chose the LeMans, and why not a Ducati or Aprilia, or something else? I smiled and simply stated: "I wanted to remember my youth, and my old 850 LeMans. Besides, when I ride this new LeMans fast, it makes me feel like Giaccomo Agostini, and that's worth a smile all day long!"