A lot of people looking for their first Moto Guzzi have mailed me about what to look for when buying a used bike, which parts to check, models to avoid, reliability, price, and many other questions.
The text below contains most of the issues discussed, I hope it can form some kind of help to other people in the same situation.
The Danish version of this page explains in details how to cope with the paperwork when buying a used bike in Denmark, or how to perform a do-it-yourself import. I don't find this information very useful in the English version, so I'll be much more general regarding the paperwork.
First thing you should do when looking at a bike for sale, is to check the frame number:
- It must be a complete match with the registration papers.
- There should be no sign of tampering with the frame number.
- Moto Guzzi's frame number series are public knowledge. Check that the frame number fits the bike.
I received a call from a Guzzi-fan that went to Berlin, Germany to look at a Le Mans for sale. The frame number matched the papers, but it didn't start with "VF" as is should on a LM3. I could only confirm that something was "fishy", and advised the guy to check very carefully before buying the bike. He called me back later and told me that the story was that the bike was once involved in a crash in Italy, and was therefore equipped with a new frame. He decided not to buy the bike. I have no idea if a non-standard frame number would cause trouble with local authorities, but I would probably not take the chance myself.
Let's start with what I'm not going to tell you:
- I'll not advice you which model to buy, what counts here is your personal preferences. In stead I'll explain in general terms what to check when you have found the bike of your dreams.
- I'll not tell you the most basic stuff about checking the lights and sufficient tire pressure. You're allowed to use common sense - I'm not a lawyer writing instruction books to avoid lawsuits.
- I simply refuse to discuss prices, the differences in maintenance and mileage on older bikes is too big to state a correct price.
It's sooo cool to be the web-master - It's for me to decide what's important, and what's not :-)
Lots of owners customize their Guzzi's. Changes are made to correct three decades of Italian sloppiness, to improve the road holding, or to increase engine power. Or of course to personalize the looks of the bike.
It's usually not advisable to customize a Japanese motorcycle, because the bikes value might actually decrease by not being in standard trim, but on a Moto Guzzi customization is common praxis and fully acceptable. With a single exception - if you should find a LM1 in its original condition, keep it like that. They are very sought after and will decrease their value if customized.
But if you are one of the fundamentalists that want every bolt and nut original, customization is naturally not your thing. I wont judge which way is the right one, but you have to decide what road to take.
- A Guzzi do rattle from the cylinder heads ! Its absolutely unavoidable when the valves are adjusted at 0,22mm and the cylinder heads are pointing right up in the sky. actually you should be suspicious if its not noisy, because it could well be a sign of the valves being adjusted too tight. The older round-fin engines are the most noisy because the rocker support bracket on these engines are made of cast iron, that doesn't expand at the same rate as the as the other engine parts of aluminum. This is not a reliability problem, its purely (sound) cosmetics.
- A Moto Guzzi shouldn't leak from the top end, and if it does there basically to opportunities: Either its because it was thrown together by a jackass or because the cylinder heads wasn't retightened after a while. There's a lot of gasket surface available and the heads don't tend to warp, so is shouldn't be that hard.
- A compression gauge will tell you if the valves are seating properly, but it won't give you any indication on the condition of the piston rings, You can well have totally worn out piston rings and a nice compression test at the same time.
- If your bike is equipped with K&N's or Velocity Stacks you have the opportunity to check if the piston rings are worn or not. Check for oil drops at the open end of the tube from the crankcase breather box (originally this tube ends right in front of the rear tire - really bright). Oil from this tube is caused from one of two reasons; either the one-way valve in the breather box is clogged with dirt (not unusual and easy to fix), or the piston rings are worn out. On bikes equipped with the original air filter box you can not perform this test as the breather tube is led into the air filter box.
- If it leaks from the small square hole under the dry clutch one of the seals to engine or gearbox is damaged. If you smell the oil that leaks out here you can tell if its engine oil or gearbox oil, not that it matter much - you still have to take the engine out to change either seal.
- The engine should have a stable idle and pull smoothly through the revs, no shooting or misfiring. Note, that if its your first ride on a Moto Guzzi and the bike is equipped with the original (heavy) clutch/flywheel, it will feel rather sluggish. You'll get used to it after a while or you can choose to lighten the flywheel or install a lighter clutch.
- The clutch must be able to disengage totally and to engage in a smooth movement without suddenly making a total engagement and making the bike jump forward. If not, chances are that the spines in the clutch or the gearbox input wheel are worn out.
- Check the gearbox for weird noises, there should be no whining or rumbling, and the box should be able to hold any gear selected without jumping to neutral. Its not unusual that the gear change is a bit heavy at lower revs, especially if the original and heavy flywheel is still installed in the bike. Particularly the change from second to 3rd can be tricky if the shifting drum isn't shimmed correctly. The factory didn't pay much attention to this in the 80'ies.
- There shouldn't be any noise from the driveline when rolling the throttle on and off. A "knocking" noise indicates a worn unijunction in the driveshaft.
- Push the bike forward and back and listen for noises from the bevel box (there shouldn't be any).
- Check that the charging light is on when you turn the ignition key and that the light goes off when you start the engine. Both are important.
- Measure the brake discs to make sure they are above minimum width. On the 300mm discs minimum width are 5,8mm, and new ones are approx. 6,3mm, so you only
have about 0,5mm of wear. I'm not aware of the minimum width of the other disc sizes, but normally the min. value is cast into the adapter that's holding the disc.
I guess that's the important points.
If you, at this point, is getting nervous about all the things that can go wrong with a Moto Guzzi, go straight to the fridge, open a bottle of beer (not a can) and lighten up: Guzzi's are immensely strong and can take the strain of being ridden hard on a daily basis (not a common thing on a flashbike). But because these machines are actually being used as intended they are also exposed to a certain wear, so chances are that you will have to fix a couple of the points mentioned above during the first years of ownership, no matter how careful you check the bike before buying.
Spare parts supply is excellent and I don't count on getting trouble keeping the bike on the road for the next 30 years! Cylinder heads and certain plastic parts are not available as new parts anymore, but can be easily be found used and overhauled to as-new condition.
So stop worrying - buy yourself a Guzzi, pour petrol in it, and get out on the open roads!!!