1984-1987 Moto Guzzi V65TT
Years produced: 1984-1987
Claimed power: 48hp @ 7,400rpm
Top speed: 106mph (claimed)
Engine: 643cc air-cooled OHV, 90-degree V-twin
Transmission: 5-speed, shaft final drive
Weight/MPG: 405lb (curb)/45mpg (approx.)
Price then/now: NA/$2,000-$5,000
Guzzisti everywhere revere Lino Tonti for the light, rigid frame he designed around Giulio Cesare Carcano’s 1967 V-twin engine to create the iconic 1971 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport. They’re sometimes less generous in recognizing his other main contribution to Guzziology: The V35, V50 and V65 “small block” engines. Nevertheless, it was the 650cc V65 transverse V-twin engine that powered Guzzi’s first foray into dual-sport motorcycles, the V65TT Tutto Terreno, or all terrain.
The V65TT story really starts when French Guzzi importer SEUDEM converted five V50 Monza street bikes with bigger gas tanks, 21-inch front wheels (retaining the crack-prone cast rear wheel as no suitable spoked wheel was available) and entered them in the 1979 Paris-Dakar race. One even finished, in 48th place. So when Guzzi decided to build a dual-sport bike to compete with BMW’s all-conquering R80G/S, the fragile rear wheel was pretty much the only thing they really had to reinvent.
The company’s notoriously cost-conscious owner, Alejandro de Tomaso, would have required the use of as many stock parts as possible, so the TT inherited the V65 2-valve engine rather than the troublesome 4-valve Lario version. A pair of 30mm Dell’Orto PHB carburetors fed the Heron-head engine, which was slotted into an essentially stock V65 frame (although it was the stronger Lario design using tapered steering head bearings), with a detachable cradle section to facilitate engine removal. The suspension used a Marzocchi 42mm “enduro” front fork and dual rear shocks, and the bike wore wire-spoked wheels with 3 x 21-inch front and 4 x 18-inch rear tires.
The 643cc V65 engine produced 48 horsepower and drove an engine speed clutch, with a 5-speed transmission and shaft final drive delivering power to the rear wheel. The 18-inch swingarm, borrowed from the V65 Custom, was almost 2 inches longer than the standard V65’s. Brakes were Brembo single-disc front and rear.
The result was a light, nimble and reasonably fast dual sport that Which Bike? magazine in 1985 said “handled light and steered very quickly,” while having “an overriding impression of leanness and compactness … that makes BMW’s 80 G/S feel unwieldy by comparison.” The same magazine found that the engine was the TT’s “finest revelation … feels so crisp, free and responsive, you’d think it’d collected at least another four valves.” They put these characteristics down to “the shrunken all-up weight (compared with the V65 Spada) and the improved torque characteristics of the exhaust,” giving it “an urge which feels almost Oriental.” They concluded by comparing the V65TT to BMW’s R80G/S, calling the V65TT “cheaper … and frankly every bit as competent.”
But the TT wasn’t without issues: First, its gas tank held just 3.4 gallons, not really suitable for adventure riding; the final drive and transmission cases were notoriously fragile, both being prone to fracturing; rear suspension travel was inadequate and the forks stiff, though the testers from Which Bike? preferred the “hard, but never rough” ride to the “over generous compliance” of the G/S; and the front brake was “utterly useless,” wrote Jason Cormier on odd-bike.com, saying it “might have been suitable for a featherweight off roader.” Finally, there were the familiar quality-control issues of Italian bikes of that era, as well as electrical gremlins and the “bad old-fashioned” contact breaker ignition.
In spite of this, odd-bike.com opined that the V65TT performed reasonably well, and that it was “easier to handle than the porky G/S, offering smooth, tractable power from its little V-twin and a lot less weight to muscle around.”
TT owner Scott McWilliams reports that while the footpegs and the first gear are both too high for serious offroad work and the brakes and the fuel range “terrible,” he yet calls it “an absolute joy” to ride on the street. “It handles amazingly well in the twisties,” he continues, “and is incredibly smooth and revvy. It’s a stretch to use this on serious dirt road rides, but it certainly is a lot of fun trying.”
The factory actually built a version of the V65TT for amateur Claudio Torri to enter in the 1985 Paris-Dakar race. Predictably, it failed to finish. In 1987 the TT was superseded by the more purposeful “Nuevo Tipo Cross” 650 (later 750) NTX, which addressed many of the issues of the TT and remained in limited production until 1995. MC
Contenders: Dual-sport rivals to Moto Guzzi’s V65TT
1989-1991 Honda XL600V Transalp
Years produced: 1989-1991
Claimed power: 55hp @ 8,000rpm (claimed)/110mph
Engine: 583cc liquid-cooled SOHC V-twin
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Weight/MPG: 441.5lb (wet)/46mpg
Price then/now: $4,498/$2,000-$4,000
In spite of making Cycle World magazine’s list of 10 best motorcycles of 1989, the Transalp was imported into the U.S. only between 1989-1991.
While Kawasaki’s KLR650 veered to the dirt end of the adventure bike scale, the Transalp definitely leaned to the street. Using a retuned version of the NTV600 powerplant fitted in new cycle parts with Honda’s Pro-Link rear end, it boasted nearly 8 inches of suspension travel and over 12 inches of ground clearance.
The rest of the Transalp paid only lip-service to offroad riding. The belly pan/bash plate was thin plastic, and the rest of the bodywork was vulnerable and expensive to replace. Suspension adjustment was limited to rear preload: Gravel and fast fire roads were fine, rocks and single-track much less so.
Contemporary motorcycle journalists weren’t quite sure what to make of the Transalp. Perhaps like its bigger brother, the XRV750 Africa Twin, it was just ahead of its time. Road Rider concluded that it wasn’t the best dirt bike, nor the most comfortable tourer, nor the best canyon racer, although it did all these things well enough that “90 percent of us looking for such a machine will be more than happy with it.”
1984-1987 Cagiva Elefant 650
Years produced: 1984-1987
Claimed power: 58hp @ 7,500rpm (claimed)/115mph
Engine: 650cc air cooled, SOHC V-twin
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Weight/MPG: 454lb (wet)/38mpg
Price then/now: $4,632 (1986)/$1,600-$3,500
The Elefant used Ducati’s desmo 2-valve, air-cooled V-twin engine breathing through two Dell’Orto PHF36 pumpers. Ignition was Bosch electronic. A full cradle frame of square-section tubes hung from a tubular spine that formed a plenum for the carbs, fed from an air box under the seat. A box-section alloy swingarm worked a three-way adjustable Öhlins shock with Cagiva’s “Soft Damp” rising-rate linkage, with a Marzocchi 41.7mm front fork, giving 8 and 9 inches of travel, respectively. Wheels were Akront alloy, 17-inch rear and 21-inch front, and brakes were Brembo discs front and rear. “The Elefant loves to run in wide-open spaces,” wrote Cycle, “across the desert, down fast sweeping fire roads. The desmo engine is a powerhouse offroad — smooth, torquey — and the rigid long-wheelbase chassis provides unshakeable high-speed stability.” It had “powerful brakes, excellent steering, near-perfect suspension calibration,” all of which made it “a formidable fire-road flyer.” That said, compromises became apparent in tighter off-road conditions: “When 454 pounds of motorcycle gets away from you, the chances of snatching it back are slim,” wrote Cycle.
But the Elefant’s main problem was its price, as much as the gold-standard BMW R80G/S. When the versatile and capable KLR650 arrived in 1987 at $2,999, the Elefant looked far too rich.