WHEN Perth Italian bike enthusiast Lex McKinley decided to build himself a V7-based Moto Guzzi vintage race bike, he had no intention of riding it on the road. But half-way through the build, his wife made the observation that it looked so beautiful it really needed to be seen in public.
And so it was that a 1970s Moto Guzzi has found itself with an engine worthy of the racetrack and a street-side appeal that turns heads in the suburbs.
Lex is a long-time lover of Italian bikes, despite starting his own motorcycling story on a bike that turned out to be something of a 1970s Japanese icon — Kawasaki’s two-stroke Mach III 500. “I didn’t know much about bikes in those days,” Lex says. “It probably wasn’t a very good bike for a beginner!”
His next stop was another icon, but this time from Italy: a Ducati 750GT. It was the start of a long and enjoyable relationship.
“That first Ducati taught me lots about riding and also about Dellorto carburettors and Italian electrics, all of which you need to know if you’re going to spend much time with Italian bikes!”
With his latest project, switching from a track-only focus to road-and-track created a few challenges — but two of them turned out to be a lot more simple than Lex expected.
“That 7-inch headlight is actually from a truck,” he says. “It’s polycarbonate, so I don’t have to remove it for racing.
“And when I designed the dash, all I had in mind was the tacho and some dummy lights — no speedo. “But it turned out I could buy a little GPS unit that was perfectly legal and didn’t take up much space at all.
Lex did most of the restoration and modification work himself, including much of the engine work and detailing and, apart from the tank and side covers (Motorcycle Panel & Paint), the paintwork as well.
The Guzzi engine has been substantially upgraded from standard, with Mario Poggioli at Thunderbikes providing advice and guidance along the way.
A lightweight alloy flywheel, P3 cams, 36mm Dellorto carbs, and a modified Mistral exhaust from a modern V7 help the 850cc engine breathe in and out, Ikon rear shocks help it go up and down, and a stunning 260mm four-leading shoe front brake set-up help it stop — or at least it will, once it beds in.
“The front brake is an early 1970s Yamaha TZ replica unit, built by a guy in the Phillipines,” Lex says.
“He was recommended to me by a local Perth wheel-builder. The brake looks awesome, but I’m still working to get it set up right. It faded very quickly down at Collie, and I think the shoes need to bed-in for a while.”
But while the front brake is a work in progress, Lex is delighted at how the rest of the bike is working. “It really is quick and it handles beautifully,” he says.
“It’s very light, and it tips into corners better than my 1198 Ducati.”
Ah yes, the 1198. Lex’s garage is home to his Guzzi racer, an 1198, and a nicely restored (and tastefully modified) 1978 MkII Moto Guzzi LeMans 850.
Lex is an enthusiastic advocate of tuitioned race-track training. “I don’t like free-for-all track days, but I would encourage anyone to do as many tuitioned track days as they can,” he says. “I’ve learned more in the past few years getting tuition on a race track — here in Western Australia and also in pouring rain at Phillip Island a couple of years ago — than I learned in more than 20 years on the road before that,” he says. “It makes you a much safer rider.”
Lex was appreciative of the help he received in pulling his Guzzi racer together. “Mario at Thunderbikes, European bike restorer Steve Hills, Andrew at Andrew Graham Engineering, Vaughan Graham — they were all generous with their time, expertise and encouragement,” Lex said.