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Two of the Same: 1983 and 1984 Laverda RGS

Freshly rebuilt carbs have brought the 1984 Laverda RGS back to life after some 10 years sitting idle.

My interest in the storied Laverda motorcycle brand is no secret. Launched in the energetic post-World War II European market when motorcycles were the personal transportation of choice owing to their affordability, Laverda went on to become one of the most famous of the many Italian motorcycle manufacturers. Initially producing small motorcycles for urban use, Laverda found its real voice playing at the top of the game with the 2-cylinder 750cc SF series and, most influentially, a line of 1,000cc triples that included the legendary Jota, in 1977 the fastest production motorcycle in the world.

I’ve been a Laverda nut since my introduction to the brand in the mid-1980s when I lived in San Francisco. I was then riding a 1974 Norton 850 Commando, and was a regular in the Sunday Morning Ride, a weekly gathering of old bike nuts that started in the parking lot of the ARCO gas station in Mill Valley north of the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, riders on everything from Triumphs, Nortons, BMWs, BSAs and Ducatis would work the coast line 39 miles north to Point Reyes Station, where we’d stop for breakfast at the Station House Cafe. Among those riders was a guy on a 1983 Laverda RGS, to my eye the most beautiful piece of two-wheeled art I’d ever seen. Enveloped in arrest-me red bodywork and producing an exhaust note that sounded more like a V12 Lamborghini car engine than a motorcycle, it was to me the pinnacle of Italian motorcycle sophistication. Somehow, someday, I had to have one.

That day came some 20 years later when I got my 1983 RGS (thanks, Scott Potter), and two years ago I managed to acquire a second RGS, a 1984 with a serial number only 630 newer than my ’83. Laverda didn’t make many of the model, perhaps 2,500 in total, and it’s estimated only around 250 were sold in the U.S., which if true means that I own just less than 1 percent of all the RGSs sold in the U.S. Not that that really means anything.

My ’83 had just two owners, both hard-core Laverda enthusiasts who endowed it with a bit of their own opinion of what makes a great bike even better. Along the way the RGS acquired factory high-performance camshafts, reworked carburetors and exhaust, and for a time full Executive livery, Laverda’s take on what a high-speed gentleman’s express should be, with extra hand protection grafted onto the fairing and integrated luggage that, while fetching, fell short of being truly useful.

Likewise, the ’84 had just two owners. The first was supposedly a Laverda dealer, and I don’t know much about the second, who passed away years before I acquired his bike, which had been sitting idle since his death. With the benefit of experience with my ’83, getting the ’84 back into running condition has been a familiar process. Yet while the two are basically identical, they’re quite different.

My ’83’s previous enthusiast ownership molded its character. Owner Number 1 loved it so much he saved all the bike’s original paperwork, passing it — along with numerous photos — to me when we happened to meet up a few years after I bought it from Owner Number 2 (the Laverda world is a small one). After I bought the bike, Owner Number 2 sent me a case of spare parts, including hard-to-find signal lenses and hydraulic rebuild kits, just because he knew I’d want to have them. I’m still occasionally in touch with both owners, which makes my ownership feel like something of a stewardship, a carrying of the torch, if you will.

What makes the ’84 so different is that it doesn’t have a clear story line, which is something I love about the ’83, its rich history of enthusiastic ownership making it much more than just an engine with two wheels. I just got the ’84 running and it’s lovely, its pipes bellowing out a healthy staccato beat for the first time in years, and with any luck it will hit the road this spring, 10 years or so since its last outing. I’m looking forward to giving it some history and a new story to see it down the road. Ride safe.

Richard Backus/Founding Editor

Published on Dec 10, 2019

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