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Agent Orange

Laverda Jota

(Travels with Guido series #262, by Guy ‘Guido’ Allen, December 2020)

Getting a bad case of the Jotas

It started off harmlessly. Young Mr S sent an email to invite me on a ride on some of New South Wales' better roads, which I was going to struggle to get to. Mostly because just days before I would have blown my annual leave with a ride in north Vietnam. Sod and bugger it. I really wanted to go, and probably couldn’t.

Along the way he casually mentioned that a mate had a good Laverda Jota for sale. A 1981 version like the one shown here – the last of the 180-degree-crank models. Would I be interested, before matey put it on the market? It wasn’t a gift – it was an expensive motorcycle. But he felt this sort of thing should be kept in the family.

Damn. I can’t help wondering if Mr S has access to a part of my brain that even I don’t. A Jota is on my liability list of must-own-once and I don’t think, until now, I’ve ever revealed why.

So here we go.

It was 1977 and I was somewhere north of Noosa in Queensland on my Kawasaki Z400 twin. By this time the bike and I were a bit over each other, but were covering a lot of miles. I’d just filled up at the servo and watched this bright orange vision rumble in as I guzzled a cola. It was a hot mid-Summer day. A naked Laverda Jota triple, which were as rare as hen’s teeth at the time, appeared stage centre. Had never seen one before, but I’d read about them.

At risk of being a gormless pain in the arse, I wandered up to the owner and said hello. How long have you owned it, and is it good (or god), were the key questions. Less than a day and hell yes, were the answers.

I could only stand there and gawp, wondering by what miracle anyone could own anything so orange, tough and beautiful.

Laverdas, by the way, had by now developed a reputation for being big, a little gothic, fast and ultra-tough. They were a serious alternative to Ducati, if you wanted an Italian flagship in your shed.

Just as I was turning away, a car rolled in and the driver miscalculated. He gently tapped the bike, which fell over.

To this day, I’m unsure who was more horrified, the owner, me, or the dingbat in the tintop. Even in that remote little town, with its single fuel pump, with the mercury hitting 40 degrees, it was as if someone had just strolled along and thrown a dart into the Mona Lisa. There was an awful silence for a few seconds.

Then Mister Jota exploded. There was shouting, arm-waving, while everyone in a ten mile radius (which included the servo owner – so four blokes) rushed to pick up this fallen work of motorcycle art.

As it turned out, the bike was okay. But a formerly flawless object now had a few scratches. By this time I didn’t know who to feel most sorry for: Mister Jota, or the poor clown in the car. They were both grief-stricken for different reasons.

Jota eventually paid for his petrol and left in an angry haze of half-burned fuel.

Meanwhile, years later in the shed, as those memories come flooding back, I’m tossing up buying the monster you see here.

I’d have to do a bit of a fleet rationalisation – sell a couple of bikes to pay for this one. It’s an exercise that’s truly awful, and I just can’t bring myself to do it.

I’m hoping the lucky sod who does end up with the keys has a less dramatic first day of Jota ownership than the one witnessed all those years ago…

See more Travels with Guido columns here



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