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Moto Morini 350 Strada Road Test - 1975

Moto Morini Strada

It happens every time we get a good 350: once more we rediscover the "ideal" package, where the virtues of small and large machines meet in one gutty, handleable package. Yet it is never quite the same on each occasion: slowly the performance offered by the really usable 350s has been rising - and the speed limits dropping. The Morini Strada is the milder of the two Morinis currently imported by Harglo (the Batayus people). The Sport was the subject of a road test some months ago, and really the differences between the Strada and the Sport are hardly 'enough to discuss at any length. The Sport has clip on handlebars, a humped rear to the seat, and one or two minor styling changes. The front brake is a double-sided unit, and the pistons give a slightly higher compression ratio than that accorded the Strada: a camshaft to suit completes the "Sport" variations. The Strada has a neat twin leading shoe, single-sided front brake and a rear set of straight bars. The seat is flat and squashy, and proves just sufficient for two people. The front forks are by Marzocchi, and have a firm and effective action.

The front wheel has a steel 18" wheel rim fitted with a 3.25 section Pirelli. The front mudguard is chromed, but the test bike was already beginning to see it flaking away. The single-sided 180 m.m. front brake had had the leading edges of the shoes chamfered, and gave a delightfully progressive and powerful action which remained thankfully invariant through rain and hail - unlike a disc unit. The speedometer drive is taken from the front wheel, and actuates a tremendously inaccurate instrument visible to the driver, who should deflate its strident claims by a healthy margin if he really wants to know how fast he is travelling. The headlamp is mounted on a pair of those neat cenami rubber-isolated mountings. The test machine has pretty poor lights which are roughly on a par with those of a Zl Kawasaki (i.e. quite inadequate): current models on sale have a revised and uprated set of lighting equipment. The control panel is mounted on the top fork yokes, and the twin dials of revmeter and speedometer are mounted on rubber bellows which absorb much of the vibration. The revmeter is an electronic unit, which did not stop the needle dancing a tango on many occasions. Below the dials are three warning lights, all far too bright for night use. A red ignition warning light, a mainbeam warning, and a warning that any lights are on.

The throttle grip has a twinpull chain action with an ideal total angle of twist: a friction adjuster is included. Both clutch and brake lever assemblies are excellent, with adjusters that really can be adjusted by gloved hands and rubber bellows to stop water ingress.

A steering lock is fitted, but as no key was supplied with the test machine we cannot comment further. The horrid Italian version of a "switch" is supplied to give a hit-and-miss actuation of the indicators, and a thoroughly confusing set of buttons with which to attempt to control the lights and horn. The horn itself has a nice note, and although it sounds unimpressive seemed to be heard by those whom I was trying to to warn by its use. One piece of electrical equipment which attracts no more than praise is the solenoid actuation for the fuel flow. Once the ignition is switched off this solenoid clicks shut and foils any of that infuriating petrol leakage that can so mar one's relationship with a machine if parked overnight in an integral garage!

The fuel tank claims to hold well over 3 gallons of fuel. Well it might, but when I ran it from overflow - full to bone dry, it only accepted 3.05 gallons of fourstar petrol. Be warned: the reserve was only 2 miles! The Strada doesn't have the steering damper fitted to the Sport, and simply doesn't need it. The fuel tank cap is the same as that on most Ducatis (not the only point of correspondance between the breeds), and was starting to corrode. It did not seal as well as it might, but only once misbehaved: an isolated occurence no doubt. The tank is nicely sculpted, but the neatly chiselled lines have now been superseded by the smooth contours of the Sport for both models. The seat is extremely confortable, and - although very short for two people, provides a quite un-Italian degree of comfort and resilience.

The frame includes a lifting handle on the left hand side of the top rear rail (Surprising isn't it? It's the correct side for our country, but the offside for the home market and almost all the export markets for Morini: yet — like most motorcycles - the stand foot engagement bars and the lifting handle are both on "our" side, I wonder why?). The rear suspension units are — like the front forks - by Marchozzi, and give a firm, damped ride.

The electronic ignition trigger nestles between the bases of the two cylinders, and is once again a Ducati component.

The engine is of course the centre-piece of this machine, but I would like to draw attention to the remainder of the Morini for a little longer. The well gusseted double loop cradle frame, the Marchozzi suspension, the comfortable seat, splendid riding position, and excellent front brake all add up to a singularly attractive rolling chassis in its own right The Vee twin or a centred single are surely the only eligible power plants for this slim and robust chassis. The Ducati has (until very recently) gone for the single, the Morini has chosen the Vee twin.

The ISDT Morinis of a couple of years ago looked very similar to the present 3y Vee twin. The similarity is no coincidence, as the 3y is the first of what is undoubtedly an expanding range of Morinis, all based on common tooling. The Vee layout and the other dimensions provide for a 175, a 250, 500 and even further variants without much new tooling. The 350 size is ideally matched to the chassis currently in use. The overall weight is roughly 3301b (damp), which, with a claimed 38.6 b.h.p. and 261b.ft gives a very strong performance that is totally usuable. The bore x stroke of 62 x 57m.m. suggests high rpm. -correctly: the peak power of the Strada is at 8,200 (200 rpm. beyond the marked red line), and peak torque at 5,900. Peak torque is top gear is almost exactly 70 mph., and although the speedometer tries to tell you that this corresponds to about 130-40 kph., the sweetness of the running of the engine confirms the tachometer indication. The combustion chamber is of the Heron type, with a flat head and a heavily machined piston within which combustion occurs. The Rover and Audi Heron heads differ in that the Rover is greedy for high octane ratings at a fairly modest compression ratio, while the Audi requires only low ratings for a very high ratio. The Strada Morini uses 10:1 ratio, but can be run on 3-star fuel without pinking, although four star certainly seemed to suit it better. Starting this engine would be far easier with a better designed kickstart. The lever is on the left hand side, with a short throw. Although I find no difficulty in using a left foot kickstart, almost all the others who tried to use it found it awkward in the extreme, providing a fair measure of amusement to onlookers in the process. This should not be taken as a necessary evil associated with ownership of a 3|: the plug caps are very fiddly to locate and check, and it was found later that the rear cylinder was making only a poor plug top contact which, once located, fixed the problem.

You may have begun to think that I did not like the Morini. In matters of detail you would be perfectly correct: these details show up with considerable clarity against the delightful, spare, and balanced handling and performance which raises one's standards for every other aspect.

When we picked up the Morini from Les Mason's shop in Tamworth, there was a stripped motor on view in the workshop. The quality of the castings and the robust run of the gearbox were both clearly evident. The Ducati magneto pick-up rotor and the alternator are in different locations. The camshaft drive by an inverted toothed belt was the only unusual component on view, barring the complex pistons themselves. Obviously the 3-j has a bottom end designed for reliable functioning as a 500, and will soon wear larger barrels. One does not over-design to this extent without good reason. The gearbox ratios are 19.74, 12.34, 9.07, 7.47, 6.46 and 5.89:1, giving a top gear road speed of 30 mph. at 2,300 rpm. As the Morini was perfectly capable of winding up to 8,100 rpm. in top gear, the claims for a 95 m.p.h. top speed are amply reaffirmed. The operation of the gearbox is rather stiff when compared to the better modern Japanese gearboxes, exemplified by the racing TZ Yahamas, but does no more than dent one's shoe while providing a totally reliable gearchange action.

As I have emphasised, the Morini delivers the goods on the move, and well over 1,000 km of fairly demanding driving proved how brilliantly the Strada works. It would hardly be fair to make close comparison with the other V-twin in my garage (a 750 Desmo Ducati of stunning character and impeccable handling) on all points, but on two the Morini scores heavily. The steering lock is excellent on the Strada and impractically restricted on the Ducati, and - sadly - the Ducati is too heavy for comfort when put against the trim balance of the Strada. Do not run away with the rosy thoughts of a 'featherweight 350 Vee twin!; it broke our backs heaving it into the van, but it does get the positioning and gross total of the weight into a deceptively light-handling balance.

The ignition key, with its awkward positioning goes on: the carburettor flip-richener levers are raised, and the solenoid controlled fuel tap lets petrol through. A couple of good swings on the starter lever sets the small twin rifle barrels of silencers resonating. Once warm the tickover was fine, which was fortunate as the .3J- does not boast either an electric starter or a primary gear engagement for the starting lever. Very annoying at traffic lights in the wet, but as the lowspeed torque is exemplary, and the width pared to a minimum, the trickle to the front of the line is usually straight forward. There are, however, limits to this flexibility: when they are reached the high compression ratio causes a sudden dead stop as the rear wheel locks on compression. Sad.

The off beat of the 72° twin produces a smoothish ride. Do not believe those who tell you it is 'utterly smooth'. The 3y does have vibration periods - several in fact - and even blew tail light bulbs with an intangible high frequency component. The shakes are very easy to ignore — and even to forget - and are rather like a big BMW in their rough and ready robustness. You rapidly attune to and subsequently not notice the shakes on both machines. Oddly, the 750 SS Ducati really is smooth by comparison, not only with the BMW and the 3^ - but also the CB750 and Z1 fours. Vee twins can do it.

The instruments have a degree of creative imagination, the kph./speedometer being merely ornamental. The illumination of the speedometer failed early on in the test, but as the revmeter was the .only useful instrument anyway, this caused no inconvenience. The headlights are not impressive, and the switches are typically Italian (i.e. almost as bad as Lucas units) and best forgotten. The warning lights cannot be forgotten at night as they are far too bright and require dimmer bulbs. The rear light is of minimal size and gave little source of visibility in M4 fog. You have lots of time to appreciate all this as the motor throbs, pushing along at 80 mph. without any complaint. Even the seat fails to distract you, as it is comfortable and well set: a most unusual Italian achievement. Even my British Standard Passenger only found fault with the skimpy length of the dual seat- ..

The ride is not quite up to the handling. The rear units (Marzocchi suspension is fitted to both front and rear) are too hard for everyday use, and jolt the spine on large bumps. The front forks are better and could well be left with the standard oil in place. The riding position can be adjusted, as the foot rests are on serrated locking stubs out on the frame. I found no need to alter them.

The staccato bark of the exhaust requires a rapid getaway from rest when cold, as the non-adjustable chokes cause the Morini to "tickover" at 3,000 rpm. Once warm, the tickover is quiet enough, however. The clutch is sweet: dry clutches are always a good feature on any bike, and I wish more road machines shared this design with the Morini. The levers and adjusters really can be used by fumble fingered frozen hands in heavy gloves, and are typical of the precise and well thought out riding aspects of this machine. Six speeds are a bit of a nuisance most of the time. My foot got a little sore from high speed multiple gear changing, as the Strada only needs three, or perhaps four, gears. The front and rear brakes are really excellent, and gave me far more confidence in wet 80 m.p.h. motorway bunches than the disc of my Z1 could ever justify. The horn works well too, if you are lucky enough to hit the button just right.

The indicators are a real pain, and are best ignored until a decent switch is fitted. Mudguarding is surprisingly effective. I did several hundred miles in really wet conditions and observed the mudguard in actual operation: something that is not always achieved by those fitted to other modern machines. It is difficult to appreciate how well the Morini steers and handles, as it all happens with such a lack of histrionics. The toe of my boot hitting the road provided a regular reminder that it might, on occasion, be worth slowing down for some corners, or at least dropping a gear or two. The torque of this surprising 350 is very good, and there is little need to rev the motor hard. If one does press it, there is no complaint. A hundred miles or so at 7-8,000 in top gear proved that the Morini was certainly up to it.

My morning (and my evening) drive is 43 miles: the Morini tempted me on numerous occasions to take a rambling 55 mile route through back county Berkshire lanes -just for the fun of it. The time lost was swiftly made up in heavy London traffic by the notable slimness of the Morini, which allowed confident and very narrow gaps. The torque and the slick gearbox provided the rest needed to make full use of gaps as they appeared, and 50 mph. (rush hour) averages were achieved regularly for the overall run. To play such games and still fail to push the fuel consumption below 60 mpg. is astounding. Admittedly the 750 Ducati can deliver similar economy, but it is hardly working as hard as this light and hardy 350.

The exhaust pipes turned their inevitable blue, and under the gimcrack chromed cover over the near pipe, the tube turned black and blue where the tortured gases battered their way from sharp bend to sharp bend. The finish elsewhere on this year-old test machine was beginning to show the strain, and although it is perfectly clear that recent deliveries have improved in both electrical equipment and standard of finish, there is, as ever with Italian motorcycles, room for more durable improvement. The present standard can be compared with that so far reached by Ducati and MV: i.e. adequate, but room for a great deal of detailed improvement. Morini seems to be getting on with such improvements, and I look forward to 125 or 500 versions of the design to see how far they move on down this path.

Who would buy a 350 at £700 and more? Especially one without an electric starter, slower than an RD350, far less refined than a 360 Honda, and heavier than a Ducati 450? Oddly enough, I can see the Morini satisfying owners of all three types of machine. The torque gives a really usuable motor, with ample power for 80 m.p.h. continuous running, the handling gives nothing away to the Ducati, and the braking is better in the wet than any of the disc braked competition (although the Yahama is definitely better in the dry), the fuel consumption is miserly, and the comfort eclipses the Ducati. The stamina and lack of fussiness outclasses the Yahama, and the roadholding is equally good — and is provided with less pitching and fuss that the RD350 dampers allow the Yahama to deliver.

The Morini Strada is really the 'other bike' to purchasing a Honda CB500: consequently the price can be made to look less horrendous, and in fact the very size of this 4-stroke/middleweight market assures the 3{ a solid, steady sale. Sadly, only a minority of owners will look beyond phenomenal fuel economy to the outstanding agility of this delightful motorcycle. Please don't buy one and not use the full fine handling - if you don't you could well end up unhappy with your "uninspired™ machine - ride it really hard a few times and you simply won't care about the niggles. But for some confusion at Devimeads' I might have slotted a Strada into my garage, but as things turned out, a different Halren 350 is there instead (an Aermacchi). The Morini joins my short list of thoroughly satisfying bikes to ride -but still needs a bit more refinement to keep everyone happy. Perhaps I could put it another way: if you really feel that a standard Honda 360 or a Zl handles well - don't buy a Morini: if you wished you could afford a Ducati 750, don't hesitate. Harglo has done motorcycling a real service in persuading Morini to let the UK have a few 3ys.

Specification

  • Tyres: (F) 3.25 x 18 Pirelli (23 j p.s.i.) (R) 4.10H x 18 Pirelli (25 p.s.i.) (QD rear wheel).
  • Suspension: Marzocchi front forks (200 c.c. Donax TT) and rear damper units.
  • Electrics: 100 watt alternator, 35/35 watt headlamp bulb, 12V 9AH battery.
  • Frame: Wheelbase 55", seat height 31", ground clearance 7j" unladen.
  • Weight: 317 Ib. dry.
  • Engine: 344 c.c. (2 x 62 x 57 m.m.) 72° Vee twin: 10:1 cm., 2 x 25 m.m. Dellarto carbs. Claimed power torque: 35 bhp./8,250, 23.7 lb./ft./5,900 (DIN).
  • Capacity: 3.05 gallons of petrol (measured), 5y pints of oil in sump.
  • Gearing: 14/38 sprockets, 109 chain pitches.

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