The Cagiva Alazzurra

Under the Radar
By Richard Backus
January/February 2008
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1986 Cagiva Alazzurra
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Cagiva Alazzurra
Years produced:
1985-1987
Claimed power: 55hp @ 8,500rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 107mph (period test)
Engine type: 650cc SOHC, air-cooled V-twin
Transmission: 5-speed
Weight (wet): 197kg (435lb)
MPG: 41-47
Price then: $3,750
Price now: $1,500-$3,500

What’s an Alazzurra? Or a Cagiva for that matter? In this case, consider it a Ducati motorcycle rebadged.

"Badge engineering" is a familiar term in the automobile industry, loosely defined as the rebadging of one make and model to create another. Think of a Chrysler sedan from the Eighties, and it will undoubtedly have one or two nearly identical siblings. And while this is the kind of marketing one might expect from decades past in Detroit, it wasn’t common in Bologna, even during their toughest times.

In 1985, Ducati had just been purchased by Cagiva Motorcycles. Cagiva, then the largest Italian motorcycle manufacturer, was primarily making mopeds and small street bikes at the time, and many of them were two-strokes. To expand into the middle- and heavyweight street bike market, it needed four-stroke engines. As the March 1985 issue of Rider magazine said, "There were several reasons why Ducati’s engine manufacturing facility was the logical candidate to supply Cagiva with motors: The physical plant was already there, the product was good, and it was the only segment of Ducati’s operation that had been profitable."

Cagiva's owners, the Castiglioni brothers, had a new direction in mind for the company, and it included widening the scope of the company’s products beyond that of just sport bikes for enthusiasts. Two years before Cagiva purchased Ducati, Ducati had agreed to supply engines to Cagiva motorcycles for two models, the Elefant dual-sport bike and the Alazzurra, a bike very similar to the earlier Ducati Pantah. It was 1985 before the two bikes hit the production line.

The 650cc Alazzurra was essentially the latest version of the Ducati Pantah when it debuted. The Pantah began life as a 500cc, grew to a 600cc and then stopped being produced altogether when Ducati’s troubles truly hit the fan in 1984.

The frame was similar to the Ducati Pantah, but the majority of the parts of the cycle were different. In 1986, a fully-faired Alazzurra was added. Called the GT 650, it also came to be known as the SS 650 due to the SS decals on the side covers of the bike.

As a package, period testers seemed impressed with the bike. The March 1985 issue of Rider magazine noted that "The new Cagiva 650 Alazzurra is better and less expensive than either of its Ducati predecessors."

hat said, testers found faults with the bike, including lean jetting from the factory, attendant cold-bloodedness and a cam-type on/off enrichening lever that had no in-between positions. Set at "on," the ‘Zzura would drown in its own gas shortly after the engine caught. But once turned off, the bike required a good five minutes of blipping the throttle before the engine reached regular operating temperature.

By 1987, jetting had been fattened from the factory, which resulted in problems on the other end, as it was now rich enough to cause the engine to bog if given full throttle below 4,000rpm.

Riders weren’t particularly impressed with the brakes, either. Though twin 260mm cast-iron Brembos up front and a single, identical unit in the back should have been plenty to bring this 435lb bike to a screeching halt, they were not impressive, and both front and rear suffered from a vague feeling right out of the box, requiring more lever pressure than riders liked.

And while the stock seat was fine for sport riding, testers complained of its plank-like qualities when it came time for touring. The transmission was one of the high points of the motorcycle, with smooth throws and a silky "Japanese" feeling.

The suspension was defined as about what you’d expect from a bike of this type: definitely on the firm side, but not harsh. The rear is home to twin Marzocchi units, adjustable for preload and damping, while the front has non-adjustable 35mm forks, which, while nothing fancy, do their job just fine.

"Gone are the swoopy paint, flashy lines and radical seating position of the Pantah," Rider said in its March 1985 review. "Instead, the Alazzurra has been designed to appeal to a far broader spectrum of riders … Whereas the Pantah was an outrageous Italian flashbike, a mini machomobile, the Alazzurra is a sensuous rolling sculpture of tasteful and graceful proportions."

It wasn’t long before the Castiglioni brothers realized that the Ducati name had far more draw in the world of sport riding, and soon dropped the Cagiva name (except for on the Elefant).

Today, the Alazzurra is one of the most affordable ways to ride and enjoy what is, despite the name on the tank, very much a Ducati motorcycle.

Two-cylinder alternatives to the Cagiva Alazzurra
Yamaha Vision 550
- 64hp @ 9,500rpm (claimed)/113mph
- Air-cooled, four-stroke, V-twin, double overhead cams
- 5-speed
- Single-disc front (1982), drum rear
- 374lb (dry)
- 45-55mpg
- $800-$2,000

Made only for 1982 and 1983, the Yamaha Vision 500 was truly a bike before its time, as Yamaha clearly hoped to suggest through its model name. Though a great all-around bike, it was, unfortunately, "misunderstood, underestimated, demeaned, discounted and eventually discontinued. Thus 1982 led to 1983, which led to nowhere beyond," opined testers in the April 1985 issue of Cycle magazine.

Designed and received as a technological tour de force, the Vision was home to a 72-degree, liquid-cooled, DOHC, eight-valve V-twin engine that was smooth, torquey and powerful. Unfortunately, it also had skinny tires, a mushy front brake and a lousy suspension at both the front and rear.

While not as sporty as the Cagiva Alazzurra, the Yamaha, with some upgrades, can be turned into a respectable motorcycle. Braided-steel brake lines, new pads, new, wider tires, progressive springs and a fork brace for the front forks, and a new or reworked rear damper turn this bike into an entirely different beast (one that you’ll actually want to ride, even!). But unless your sporting pretensions are few and far between, don’t buy a stock one in hopes of canyon carving.

Though they were only made for two years, a fair number of them are still out there. Shown here is the 1982 model. For 1983 the bike was the proud recipient of a fairing somewhat like the one found on the Yamaha 650 Turbo, along with a second front disc and slightly better suspension.

BMW R65LS
- 45hp @ 7,250rpm/108mph
- Air-cooled, four-stroke, horizontally-opposed twin
- 5-speed
- Dual-disc front, drum rear
- 417lb (dry)
- 45-60mpg
- $2,500-$5,500

The "sporty" version of the BMW R65, the 1983-1985 BMW R65LS was hopped-up in appearance only over the base R65. Frame, engine, suspension and shaft drive are identical between the two models, although the LS got dual disc brakes on the front to go with it’s "I’m fast" styling.

Despite the fact it was no tire-smoker, testers of the day found it to be light, simple, agile and well finished. We had the chance to sample a well-preserved version two years ago, and found the bike to be great for commuting and running around town, if a little boring for riding our favorite twisties. The small "fairing" is for looks only and provides little to no protection, so high speeds and long distances aren’t its forte.

Only 6,500 were sold worldwide, so they’re not the easiest bike to find. But, like most BMWs, they do hold up well to the test of time and high mileage. And, though we’re actually fans of some bad Eighties’ styling (editor Hall's daily hack is a first-year, triangle-with-wheels Toyota MR2, for Pete’s sake), we think it's still a cool-looking piece today. Just don’t ride one wearing period leathers, and no one will make fun of you. MC 

 

 

 


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