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A Little Moto Guzzi Bicilindrica History

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A crowd gathers around Omobono Tenni (in the Moto Guzzi sweater) after winning the 1934 Italian GP at Rome.
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Stanley Woods (left) with teammate Raffaelle Alberti at the 1935 Isle of Man TT.

In the early 1930s, Moto Guzzi badly needed a new design to
replace its team’s elderly 500cc 4-valve singles. Guzzi’s 250cc single was
dominating the 250 GP class, and it had a compact unit-construction engine with
a horizontal cylinder, leaving lots of room in the middle of the frame. Carlo
Guzzi hit on the idea of filling this space with a second cylinder to produce a
light, compact but unconventional engine. The ensuing engine had the cylinders
spaced at 120 degrees, a rangy build completely at odds with all previous
V-twin trends, and never since emulated.
 

The new Moto Guzzi Bicilindrica made its racing debut in
October 1933 in the Italian GP at Rome’s
Autodromo del Littorio. During the mid-1930s, the Moto Guzzi Bicilindrica swept
all before it on the race tracks of Europe,
winning the Italian GP on three occasions in 1934-1936. But the race that
established the Bicilindrica as the leading 500cc bike of its era was Stanley
Woods’ remarkable victory in the 1935 Isle of Man Senior TT, giving Moto Guzzi
its first of several victories in the Isle of Man TT. Woods also won the
Lightweight TT the same week on a Guzzi single to complete a unique double.

Strangely, Woods’ TT victory didn’t lead to widespread
adoption by its British rivals of the advanced design features of the Guzzi
Bicilindrica. An emphasis on power outputs rather than handling improvements
characterized the second half of the 1930s, as more and more supercharged
machines appeared on the scene. Against the 80 horsepower-plus blown bikes from
BMW and Gilera in the 500cc class alone, the Bicilindrica’s hard-earned 50
horsepower at slightly increased revs of 7,500rpm by 1935 was insufficient to
keep the bike in contention — except on twisty circuits, where its lighter
weight and easier handling ensured a steady run of successes. Ombono Tenni and
teammate Giordano Aldrighetti defeated the new supercharged BMW Kompressor
twins to finish 1-2 in the 1936 Italian GP at Monza, and by the end of 1937 the
factory had produced a prototype water-cooled and supercharged Bicilindrica,
though it never debuted in competition.

Instead, Carlo Guzzi focused on gradually improving the
Bicilindrica’s cycle parts and engine, aiming to reduce weight and improve
handling. A new frame was produced, with uprated versions of the Brampton girder forks and
the rear section made from light alloy pressings.

It was the 1949 version of the Bicilindrica that represented
the ultimate iteration of the Moto Guzzi 120-degree V-twin. A comprehensive
redesign saw increased use of light alloy, which lowered the weight to 319
pounds, while the rather massive construction of the steel frame cradle was
lightened and the suspension units exposed. The ungainly looking fuel tank
perched on top of the spine frame was replaced by an elegant combined tank and
front number plate cowl, with the later-to-be-typical Moto Guzzi steering column
sprouting above it, with narrow handlebars and a friction steering damper. MC

For more on the Bicilindrica from Alan Cathcart read Moto Guzzi Bicilindrica: The Methuselah of Motorcycle Racing.
 

Order the September/October 2013 issue of Motorcycle Classics
to read more about the Moto Guzzi 500 Bicilindrica. Contact Customer Service at
(800) 880-7567 or contact us by email.

 

Published on Aug 5, 2013

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