Moto Guzzi T5 850 versus BMW R100RS

The last couple of old road tests that have appeared on the website have been from the 90’s, so this week I dived to the back of the archive and found a more obscure test from July 1987. The BMW R100RS versus the Moto Guzzi T5 850cc. I normally post some links to Ebay auctions for these bikes, but… er.. there aren’t any for the Moto Guzzi and only a few for the GS. If you fancy one of these machines you will have to get searching in some old barns. In the mean time, here is what Tony Middlehurst made of them in 1987.


Is there a place for the traditional big twin in today’s high pressure, high horsepower market? Apart from the breaker’s yard, that is? Tony Middlehurst thinks so


Not so very long ago, SuperBike hacks were nailing various colours to various masts on the subject of BMW and Moto Guzzi twins.

For example, we — oh, all right, / — said that the German flat twin had reached the end of its road, on the grounds that there was no more development potential left in the 60-year-old motor. And at the end of a cruel (but well deserved) slagging I gave Moto Guzzi’s first T5 850 in 1984,1 vouchsafed the view that there wouldn’t be much future for the Italian firm if they didn’t extra eta re the old digitalis bit pronto, by improving just about everything on that particular bag of ordure.

Well, you’ll be pleased to hear that I won’t be giving up my day job to become another Doris Stokes, because both of these predictions have been confounded by events.

The ’87 T5 is a vastly improved motorcycle; and the ’87 R100RS has matured in a most pleasing way, thanks in large part to that very same engine which I wrote off as a dead duck.

I think I can be permitted a wry grin though, because, in both instances, the major improvements that have been made are the result of backward, rather than forward, steps. In the case of the Guzzi, sense has finally prevailed over the fickle dictates of fashion with the welcome return of the 18-inch wheel. Only at the back end, mind you; the front still stands to benefit from the junking of its 16-inch rim. But it’s a start. And as for the BMW, a somewhat unusual about-turn by the men from Munich has seen the rebirth (as oposed to the simple re-manufacture) of the discontinued 1000cc boxer twin, in a soft tune format which is superior in almost every way to the old engine’s.

Both the Guzzi and the BMW belong to that dying breed of motorcycle in which the engine is more than just a power source. It is the main reason for choosing the bike. Both these motors still command respect and admiration, and (in the BMW’s case) recognition among even the dimmest proles. But the halycon days were in the mid-to-late ’70s, when big slow-revving twins were still winning races — most notably in the Isle of Man — and powering such charismatic bolides as the Le Mans or the R90S/R100RS.

Now, the RIOORS has been relaunched, not as the donner und blitzen superbike of ten years ago, but as a limited edition sports tourer for the well-heeled traditionalist. Its engine is actually a bored out R80, with 2mm smaller inlet valves than the old 100RS, 32mm Bing carbs (down from 40mm), and a reduced compression ratio to allow the bike to meet next year’s emission regs (and incidentally to allow it to burn unleaded petrol). The T5’s 844cc transverse vee is yet to acquire the four-valve heads which have been in use for some time now in the smaller Guzzi motors, but the longevity and sales success of the ‘cooking’ 850 speak for themselves. It’s a friendly engine, being torquey, light, and very simple. Like the BMW unit, at low revs it shudders like a sweaty racehorse, but quickly smooths out in the midrange; the boxer lump, on the other hand, exhibits an extra vibration period at around 4000rpm until fully warmed up. Neither machine starts in first prod Japanese style. The BM demands a fair bit of cranking, even with the choke fully on. The Guzzi starts fairly easily on the choke, but then it will quite often need the choke again for restarts, even though it might still be warm from an earlier ride.


Once running, the Three Cross demonstrator T5 showed every sign of being considerably better set up than our ’84 T5, which came from the old M-G concessionaires Coburn & Hughes. Most obviously, the throttle control on 3X’s bike was much lighter. In actual fact, the ’87 bike produced slightly less power on Motad’s dyno than did the earlier bike, 59bhp at just over 6100rpm compared to 61.6bhp at 6477rpm. This discrepancy could possibly be due to the lower mileage of the later T5, the odometer reading between 900 and 1600 miles for the duration of our test, as against the older T5’s 2500 miles. Since 3X’s bossman Keith Davies is letting us keep the T5 for a few months, it will be interesting to find out just how true this theory about ‘Guzzis improving with age’ really is.

guzzi 1

Both bikes acquitted themselves well on the dyno, a particularly impressive curve being generated by the BMW, with no sign of the noise regulation dip in the midrange which occurs on the Guzzi’s graph. At 61.6bhp, the BMW produced more power at the rear wheel than the 60bhp claimed by the factory. Despite having 5141b to push around (fully gassed), these are honest horses, sufficient for a genuine 120mph. This top speed is easily and quickly attainable, and is also a perfectly practicable cruising velocity.


With slightly more weight to carry in the fully wet mode (in which it carries five litres more fuel than the BMW), and a marginally inferior power output, the T5 is between 3 and 5mph slower than the German machine, depending on conditions. Although it looks pretty ineffectual, the T5’s bikini fairing is actually more comfortable to ride behind than the BM’s, which provides much better body protection but only at the cost of an intensely annoying Jetstream of air right in the rider’s face.


The beauty of this new boxer engine is in its torque delivery. Thanks in large measure to a cunningly designed exhaust system, peak torque, which is just 1ft lb down on the old RS, now occurs at 3500rpm as opposed to 6OO0rpm. You can really feel the benefit of this on the road. There is no longer any need to wring the RS’s neck; short shifts drop the engine straight back onto the top of the torque band, making for surprisingly rapid are of the single-plate variety, and both suffer from rather sudden engagement, but the Guzzi’s lever is hard work in town (as is the gearlever). On the positive side though, clutchless changes are unexpectedly easy on the T5; it’s a brave man who’ll try too many of those on a boxer BMW. Gear selection is as light on the BMW as it is, erm, solid on the T5, but that isn’t to say that it’s as positive. I only scored one false neutral on the Guzzi, and that was as a direct result of my own laziness; gearshifting was considerably easier on this bike than it was on the C&H T5, which I described then as like a ‘knife through plywood’. On the BMW, the fourth to fifth change was almost always disappointingly slow, requiring two separate movements at the lever in most cases.

For smoothness, there is little to choose between these two; normally, the T5 would edge it, but the German bike’s new 1000cc engine is streets ahead of its predecessor in this regard. I thought it every bit as refined as the 800cc version, previously reckoned to be the paragon. Perhaps too refined for the enthusiast is its exhaust note. The Guzzi’s mini-V8 rumble on the overrun is still present, even with standard, restrictive silencers. On the post-Le Mans ferry from Dieppe, I was waiting to get off behind a Brit on an Italian registered Le Mans 1. This bike had completely open ‘silencers’, and the racket from that, amplified by the ship’s hull, was quite incredible. Unfortunately, three old fogeys in a Morry Marina didn’t appear to be revelling in it in quite the same way —three more enemies of motorcycling, I suppose. Ah well.

Another area of improvement on the BMW is its fuel consumption. When Neil Murray took our last R100RS on a long and quick trip around Scandinavia in ’84, he came back with horror reports of its thirstiness, mpg figures in the low thirties being the norm. I didn’t manage to get less than 41.5mpg on the ’87 bike, with a best of 46.2mpg to highlight the fact that it just isn’t necessary to screw the nuts off it any more in order to make really good progress. The T5 was better yet, with 47 to 48mpg averages rising to well over 50mpg with a light hand on the throttle. Matched to a truly excellent — and actually attainable —tank range of more than 240 miles (225 from full to reserve), the Guzzi is indeed a rare visitor to garage forecourts.

The major complaint I had about the first T5 was concerning its handling. With 16in wheels front and rear, that first effort was a complete disaster; its sensitivity to sidewinds and general twitchiness at high speed made it a nightmare on main roads. Thankfully, that’s gone now, with the reintroduction of an 18in back wheel and (I believe) revised frame geometry. There’s a friction steering damper, which does have a marked effect on the bike’s demeanour; fully off, there is a certain nerviness at three-figure speeds; fully on (there doesn’t seem to be much adjustment in between these two settings), the high speed lightness is reduced, but at the penalty of totally piggish handling — amounting more or less to no self-centring of the steering. On balance it’s best to leave it off.

There are other handling problems with the Guzzi, associated almost exclusively with the awful front forks, which are so stiff as to be practically redundant. Bumpy roads are to be avoided. More than once I was hurled bodily from the seat as the shock of the front wheel hitting a lump was passed straight through the frame to the rear Koni shocks. Although the chassis itself is still a good ‘un, rescuing me twice from otherwise certain falls after the front wheel had tucked in, it shouldn’t be asked to act as the main bump absorption medium.

I also feel that I wouldn’t have had the front wheel tuck in on me if the factory would only see reason and refit the proper sized rim for this chassis. The only advantage is quick steering, which is a nice bonus to be sure, but not really high up on the shopping list of a typical Guzzi owner. As it is, through twisty sections you can sense the rest of the bike struggling to match the front end’s speed. One more winge; the bike whitelines something awful.

By contrast, the BMW’s handling shortcomings stem from the softness of its forks. Though the R80/K75 front end is loudly trumpeted as ‘reinforced with stabiliser’, it is still much too limp. Smooth Euro-roads are sheer bliss, of course, once you’ve become accustomed to the ‘tall in the saddle’ feel of the RS (seat height has been reduced half an inch, but is still a lofty 31 Jin), but put it on some chaussee deformee or on a typical British road and it’s all too easy to set up an underdamped, out of phase lurching which can quickly get out of hand. The T5 suffers not at all from fore and aft pitching, as you’d expect with seized up forks, but both machines are shaft driven. As such, they must be driven positively through bends, so as to keep the back wheel loaded up. Knock off the power mid-corner and neither bike is as forgiving as a conventional chain-driven machine.

Where the Guzzi tips readily into corners, the BMW’s 18in front wheel makes it a slow ‘n’ easy steerer. In fact, it’s a bit of an effort holding a constant line, since the bike constantly wants to run to the outside kerb. Ground clearance on the BM has been slashed by over 1 !/2in to less than 5in, but the stodginess of the steering means that you need to be fairly determined (or excessively loaded) to force anything down into contact with the road. The T5 on the other hand is still restricted by its footpegs (though not as badly as on the 16in-wheeled model); these ground out well before you’ve reached the edge of the Pirellis’ treads.



moto guzzu t5


For general rider comfort, both these Europeans show every single Japanese bike ever made the way home. Both seats are superb in different ways: the T5’s, deep and soft, cushioning one’s botfor hours on end; the RS, flatter and wider, but still exemplary, and with the added benefit of what is, without question, the world’s finest pillion arrangements. The only small blot in the ointment (eh) is the unfortunate proximity of the pillion footrests to the driver’s. This is a pain in town, but fades into insignificance on the open road.

The T5 pilot’s feet are perhaps a shade too far forward for very fast riding, but otherwise the bar/seat/ peg relationship is terrific. The RS’s bars are strangely narrow for first time riders, but familiarity soon breeds contentment. Not so good though is the fact that you are obliged to ride with straight arms. This position puts a heavy strain on wrists, forearms and elbows, both in town and out. I found I needed to rest my left arm on the petrol tank at regular intervals during longish rides because of this. The T5 is the most user-friendly ‘big’ Guzzi, with a gratifyingly light throttle control that will be a revelation to 40mm Dellorto men.

Pity that they still haven’t got the minor controls and instrumentation right. It’s definitely better than the first T5, but then again that was an ergonomic disaster on which it would be impossible not to improve. The indicator switch has been moved to the correct side, and it’s now impossible to switch all the lights off when all you wanted was main beam. But the indicator switch still operates in a totally illogical up-down plane, while the flasher and horn buttons are much too difficult to operate. All the warning lights, but particularly those for the indicators, are practically invisible in anything approaching sunlight. The BMW is not blameless in this respect, as its indicator warning light is both too far out of the line of sight and much too bright at night.

Looking at these two bikes, you’d say that the BMW fairing was better, right? Well, nearly. The classic RS shroud keeps everything off your body, but the screen is too low, accelerating a lovely Jetstream of air straight at your visor at any speed over40mph. Luckily, the buffeting doesn’t get much worse, unless you need to travel at speeds in excess of 110mph and are either possessed of an abnormally long body or simply unwilling to crouch down a bit, in which case your head will be made to bob about from side to side in a curious slow-motion manner. The Italian’s sexy little bikini job is actually preferable in some ways, in that it occasions no eye-watering draughts. Obviously, weather protection is nowhere near as good as the BM’s.

guzzi 2

Both these bikes are deceptively fast on the road, able to reach and maintain high cruising rates for mile after mile. Quite often you can find yourself coming to a roundabout after a longish blast, and suddenly, slowing down becomes a matter of some importance. Again, forks play a big part in braking efficiency, so the T5 should have been much better than the soggily suspended BMW, especially when its linked braking system is taken into account.

The Guzzi was better, but not by as much as it should have been, because a warped front disc (?) on our test machine would induce a nasty jackhammering effect under severe braking. The factory appear to have modified the hand lever action on this latest model, so that you can now use this lever as you might on an ordinary bike and still get acceptable stopping power without using the foot pedal. This is a good move.

The RS needs every braking control the hard rider can gain access to. The bar lever is small and beautifully shaped for a real good handful, but by God you need it. By 1987 standards I think the RS stoppers are only just adequate, hampered as the front ones are by the limiting influence of the too-soft teles. They’ve gone to a drum on the back; I found it necessary to bring this into play on a regular basis, if only to level the bike up in an attempt to gain more retardation at the front. Apropos of not a lot, I thought you might like to read this quote from ‘Scoop’ Murrays’s 1984 RS test:”unofficially I can tell you that linked brakes are in the pipeline, but don’t expect them for a year or so”. Hey, so what’s a year or three anyway, eh Neil? Titter.

On the vexed question of finish, broken pinlines on the BMW’s otherwise gorgeous mother of pearl bodywork indicate that all is still not quite well at the factory. Rust was starting to appear in the unplated lettering that has to be stamped into the exhaust’s collector box, whereas the Guzzi seemed reasonably unaffected at roughly the same mileage — apart from the ludicrous rust trap built into the top of the fuel tank for the filler cap lock, that is.

When I started writing this, I was determined to pick a winner. In the event, I can’t do it, because both machines are fatally flawed in the suspension department. Nevertheless, the BMW impressed me immediately for the refinement of its rejuvenated engine, which really has transformed the bike and made it much more rideable than before, its superb comfort, and its sheer presence on the road. The more I rode it, however, the less I liked its bad points, mainly the poorish braking performance, and — inextricably linked in to that — its sloppy suspension.

The Guzzi is one of those bikes which grow on you. As the days run into weeks, you learn to value its honest simplicity, the feel and sound of the engine, and its serene ability to eat up the miles. It also has presence, its appeal being more robust than refined. But the forks are truly nasty, and almost all of the T5’s shortcomings take their lead from this bad start. Underneath, there’s a good bike struggling to get out (much like our staff Ducati TL); that pleases me, because the first T5 was absolutely appalling, and it’s a hopeful sign that Moto Guzzi are not too proud to recognise their mistakes. God knows how that first one ever saw the light of day though. TM



guzzi 3



£5040 including all taxes


Max Speed —119mph Fuel Consumption

HardRiding 41.5mpg Cruising — 46.2mpg


Aircooied OHVflat twin, 980cc. Bore x stroke 94×70.$mm. Comp ratio 8A5:1 Max claimed power SObhp at 6500rmp, max claimed torque 55ft/lb at3500rpm, 2 x32mm Bing carbs. Two into two exhaust. Five speed gearbox, single plate clutch. Final drive by shaft.


Duplex cradle frame, single monoshock rear suspension, tele forks (non adjustable). Wheelbase S7in. Ground clearance 4.9in. Seat height 3L7in. Dry weight 4801b. Fuel capacity 4.8gal. Twin 285mm discs front, single 200mm drum rear. Michelin tyres, 90/90H18 both ends.



£4149 including all taxes


Max Speed —117mph Fuel Consumption

Hard Riding — 46.5mpg Cruising — 52mpg


Aircooied OHV 90 degree V-twin, 844cc. Comp ratio 9.5:1 Max claimed power and torque — n/a. 30mm Dellorto carbs with accelerator pumps. Two into two exhaust. Five speed gearbox, single plate clutch, final drive by shaft.


Duplex cradle frame, twin Koni rear shocks, tele forks {non adjustable}. Dry weight 4941b. Fuelcapacity5J gal. Triple Brembo discs. Pirelli tyres, 110/9OV16 front, 120/90V18rear.