Laverda Jota 180
The ‘first superbike’ question has been around for years, starting roughly when the Z-1 reached vintage status. The main contenders are household names, with a darkhorse or two. I used to know the name of the journalist who coined the term, but remembering that will be easier than finding an answer everyone agrees with…( read more)
If you’re asking what inspired this month’s Laverda lovefest, I’m not sure what the answer is. Best guess says that Laverda -along with a host of other brands- is in my regular saved searches and just recently I noticed a whole slew of them popping up for auction on eBay.uk. Spotting a few that drew me in, one thing led to another and soon, books, notes and saved papers were scattered about the office as I studied and recalled long forgotten Laverda lore. Computer and desktop all glowing in agreement, I soon was up to speed on the Slater’s heroic Jota, Laverda’s varied steering-head angle game, alternator shame, and of course, the 180 vs 120 debate.
With a start dating back to the late 1800s, the names that shaped Laverda include Pietro Laverda, founder of the agricultural-related business in rural Breganze, grandson Francesco, who started the motorcycle division, lead engineer Luciano Zen and Francesco’s two sons: Massimo and Piero. This info is well known so there’s little reason to cover it again, but the point serves to remind us that Moto Laverda wasn’t a mega-corp spitting out bikes like M&Ms (those didn’t exist in Italy) but instead a small, personalized workforce. The maker’s fingerprints were spotted on every Laverda motorcycle, and that rendered various degrees of brilliance. Just the same, a big part of what a proper Laverda is mixes flesh and blood with all those metric nuts and bolts.
You’ll excuse my omitting of the SF-twin, but there’s a reason…not the least of which being I have little experience with them. I should know more after attending the Laverda national rally/ride back in two-thousand-something, where younger brother Piero Laverda shared an inside look at the Laverda family’s history. As the mastermind behind the big-bore models I expected Massimo’s name to be brought up early and often, but I was more than surprised the ninety-minute video didn’t mention the triple once. Piero’s son Giovanni had traveled with the family to California that week, and I was thrilled that he was thrilled to talk about the three. It was Gio who explained the latest SFC 1000 was not a factory bike but built by Laverda’s German importer. I learned much more that evening. Throw rocks at your screen if you wish, but the 3C and all following triples is what gets me to redline so that’s what I’m showing.
The reports of high-effort operation are true. At least, on the ones I’ve tried. The 180 is a tall, surly beast but with the right exhaust it’s a visceral smorgasbord. Heavy until it’s rolling, the inline 180 thuds as it pulls to the desired speed. The vibration, muted but ever-present is more experienced than felt; nothing like the tingle of say, a Benelli 250. I’m certain the Jota’s top-clamp z-bar gives more leverage than normal clip-ons, but the part few testers seem to talk about is the bike’s roomy seat to peg measurements. The week I spent on a borrowed Slater/RGS Jota 120 was an enjoyable one, despite a sick electronic ignition and the engine’s habit of fouling the center plug. Like most of them, the RGA’s handsome lines and quality materials impressed but the road holding was a revelation…even if the big Lav demands a firm hand at the till. Above all else, riding a Laverda triple is fun; when you’re on the move the whole lot feels unbreakable as the raspy, willing Italian double cam encourages you to explore the triple’s wide powerband. Once there, that uncanny Laverda chassis takes over and you’re seduced. The steering is heavy, and even heavier with the wide-section front tire fitted to the late 180. The really slow stuff isn’t its game, instead, the Lav triple was made for those who live for sweepers and the machine’s ability to remain absolutely composed when leaned hard is addicting. A fast bike for fast riders.
Like I said at the beginning, there’s much to like about Laverda and because of that, passion for the brand remains strong. The Laverda Internation Owners Club hosts events, posts information and allows owners to interact. Those dealing in parts will continue until someone else takes over, and I’m confident they will. Passing the same torch that’s allowed other long defunct brands (Vincent, BSA, Ariel, MV Agusta, etc) to remain viable and on the road as intended, the big triple’s straightforward design and application means many parts can be cross-matched. Other than making frames and pouring engine castings, it’s amazing and encouraging what is available. You’ll need to apply a little extra dedication but for the Laverda enthusiast, this isn’t an issue.
As a 70s vintage icon the Laverda will be remembered, but so will a host of other models from the era. I need not explain again the virtues of the Guzzi twin, Ducati’s Desmo, Aermacchi, Moto Morini or even the Benelli six, because all are unique and possess great individual personality. Like Moto Guzzi and Ducati, Laverda torn a chunk from Japan’s high performance armor but only the Jota 1000 took the crown as the fastest production motorcycle in 1976. Much like the Kawasaki Z-1, the Laverda triple carries a bit of attitude but is more than capable of backing it up. For these reasons and more, Laverda’s mighty inline will be celebrated for years to come. Nolan Woodbury