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Captain Practical

(from the Travels with Guido series, Motorcycle Trader mag #223, circa Aug 2009)

by Guy 'Guido' Allen

Guido and guest brave doubtful cooking in their search for the ultimate all-rounder…

One of our regular live-in visitors at Chateau Guido used to be Pete (Mr) Smith – think of it as a cultural exchange between magazine columnists. Though if the truth be told it was more of a grog and bullshit fest.

One night, over some slightly bizarre pasta dish I’d whipped up, we were discussing practical motorcycles. This is like Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and General Kim Jong-il discussing democracy. After all we’re talking about a bloke with two crook legs who just bought himself a kick-start XL500 and a dingbat whose idea of a good commuter is a Hayabusa.

Of course we have our reasons. Smith in fact started by buying a Honda CB250RS on his last trip down here. Then, just to prove the motorcycle gland is firmly implanted in his bonce, he began thinking about hotting it up. The logical choice was an XL500 as the motor goes more or less straight in. Both engines are kick-start only. Is this a good time to mention the two crook legs thing, again?

My excuse is that the Hayabusa was a perfectly valid choice at the time – a motorcycle with lovely road manners that can turn a wheel to most things. It’s just that plans got a little out of control when Don Stafford waved a lovely Over Racing exhaust system under my snout, and it then seemed a shame to waste all that titanium on a stock powerplant. Hannibal, now with 220-ish horses, is still a great commuter, so long as you have no interest in keeping your licence.

What brought the subject up was I’d spotted a tall lanky fella around the traps that day who was, at first glance, riding the typical daily runner. Have you ever noticed how motorcycles in daily use develop a dull grey centimeter-thick patina?

This one was a great example. Judging by the clothing, I’m guessing the young chap was an apprentice builder/electrician/plumber, and the device he was mounting up on at first just looked like another somewhat clagged ex-sports bike whose dreams of winning superbike races had, over time, been worn down to just making it home in one piece. Closer inspection revealed that, yes, it really was an MV Agusta 750 F4. You can’t help wondering if seeing the machine in that state would have designer Massimo Tamburini crying into his claret. Lovely bike, but an all-rounder? Nup.

As Smith and I tried to analyse what the hell had been tossed into the pasta, we also chewed over the subject of great all-rounder motorcycles. All sorts of obvious things came up on the list and you would think, logically, that an adventure tourer of some breed would end up winning. But no, we both agreed there was only one true candidate worthy of the honour: the humble MZ ETZ250.

Some of you may now suspect that the secret pasta ingredient was magic mushrooms. I’ll admit that the styling looked like a hat full of rectums but the little East German two-stroke had bags of charm backed up by pretty decent performance. The mighty single pumped out a believable 21 horses for a top speed of 130km/h.

It was light, with long travel suspension and so handled our roads well, while having enough performance to make life interesting. Braking was okay and reliability was good. So long as a bit of two-stroke vibration didn’t bother you, it was remarkably comfortable. In fact it was on a giant 250 comparo when I was running Australian Motorcycle News in the late 1980s and was, particularly given its price, a serious competitor. It’s only achilles heel was a lousy headlight.

That isn't, by the way, a universal view. Former AMCN colleague Mark Reed, who was on the same comparo, will deny all this and hates them with a passion.

The maker recommended a Velorex sidecar for the family and of course offered a hot-up kit to make hauling the chair easier. This consisted of a bigger piston with all the trimmings, for a couple of hundred bucks. Perfect for the powerhound looking to upgrade their solo.

In the face of the much sexier Japanese competition, they didn’t sell all that well locally, though Smith suggested there was still a hive of second hand ones being traded by a dealer in Lismore. The more I think about it, the more I’d like one in the shed – though it’s uncertain how Hannibal would cope with the competition…


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