A Reimagined 1970 Moto Guzzi V7 Special And The Art Of Crafting Custom Motorcycles
Photography by Rosario Liberti
Story by Davide Caforio
One of my earliest memories about motorcycles dates back to when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I can’t be sure of my exact age, but I do know it happened on a Sunday, in the afternoon. My parents and I were in a café at the time, which was typical for our weekends, as they would often meet up with friends around a cup and a bite, but this time was a bit different. It was not every weekend that the arrival of these friends was accompanied by a pair of Ducati 851s! Both bright red, fitted with Termignoni exhausts and modified suspension pieces, these were muscular and raw bikes that just sucked up all of my attention. I was drawn in by the smells, the sounds, the riding suits and helmets and gloves and boots. It was a style that instantly compelled me to chase it.
Around the same time, I was also very much into skateboarding and the culture around the sport in California in particular. The board artwork and graphics, the colors, the punk and hard core lifestyles that surrounded it, all of this to a young kid in Italy in the ‘70s was at once foreign but understandable too. And it was through this culture that I was introduced to customizing cars and vans, so when I was able to start buying mopeds, I tried my hand at building a machine that suited my particular tastes as well, changing and altering it to get it closer to the ideals in my head. I was interested in performance of course, but the my appreciation for design was paramount. I had a few scooters that I customized a bit, but then life took me into the contemporary art world.
I dedicated many years to it, and worked in a gallery during that time. That’s another story though, and it wasn’t until 2005 that I dove into motorcycles. It was a few years later, when I bought my first bike (an ’81 Moto Guzzi SP 1000cc), that I decided to try my hand at making changes to the stock styling. Achieving a slightly cafe-racer feel with a bit more of a muscular presence, I realized this was something I wouldn’t mind turning into a job. Years later, my company, Ruote Fiere, was born.
With every bike I’ve worked on since, every custom product has to be unique, it has to be technically adept, and it has to be coherent in its design—no messy lines or necessary additions to create something that looks different just for the sake of it. The end result of my work is a new bike in many ways, but I’ve always been inspired by the history of endurance moto racing—especially from the ‘70s and ‘80s when competing with a Guzzi wasn’t an absurd notion—and so I like to have a sense of history in each project as well. For instance, some privateer teams from decades passed had produced special parts for their racing bikes, and I like to use these creations as inspiration for my own pieces. I like to look to the past to guide what I will do in the future; anything from one-off exhaust systems, magnesium wheels, different suspension geometries, whatever I can find that people before me did to modify and enhance their bikes, I study. Finding old photographs and other records of past eras of motorcycle competition has served me well, but I also look to contemporary racing, as the techniques have certainly come a long way, and I am still interested in pairing performance with presence.
After finding something that sparks the next project—often a special piece from a vintage bike that I like to construct a design around—the actual process of creation begins with pencil sketches. Lots of pencil sketches. I then take the physical bike and take away everything it doesn’t need before adding anything of my own to it. Mock-ups and more sketches on top of photographs follow, and it more or less continues in this manner until I am finally happy with how each piece fits together into the whole.
For the bike shown here, what I call Lama Nera (“black blade”), the process began with a Moto Guzzi V7 750 Special. I chose this for the base because while the V7 Special is a big bike, it has a straight, elegant frame that would suit the slim and streamlined look I wanted to achieve. I had Tonti frames on Moto Guzzis before, and wanted to draw from that linear form when customizing this one.
I wanted to highlight the inherent elegance in the underlying shape, so I started by removing anything superfluous in pursuit of emphasizing the lines. Aside from a pared-down and clean look, I also wanted to have the best components from a performance standpoint. All this meant stripping the bike all the way down to its basic pieces. I cleaned up the chassis and removed any unnecessary brackets from it, I dissembled the motor and rebuilt it with a lighter flywheel and clutch, rebalanced the crank, swapped in hotter carbs, and attached a five-speed to it in place of the four, as well as a handmade two-into-one exhaust system.
The front wheel now has a very large brake mounted to it—a rare 250mm Fontana full magnesium drum—Ceriani GP35 forks, Ceriani GP35 triple clamps, special pins, a hydraulic steering damper, and racing handlebars from an MV500. In the back, I used Koni rear shocks and the rear hub was modified to accommodate a magnesium rare Fontana disc and caliper setup.
The result of this process of targeted removal and addition of certain parts is a bike that I am proud to have built; the original Guzzi was a great machine, but as we all know, there is always something “more” to be done to make them particularly special to their owners.