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At The Crossroads

Funny thing is, two years ago ('98) I wouldn't have had one if you had given it to me. At the time it was clipons or nothing. I was only interested in full on sports bikes and owned an early model Guzzi Daytona. But when I found I was riding less and less, I realised that it was the seating position that was beyond me. Curses for an ageing body!

When she who must be obeyed bought a Ducati Monster, I had a revelation. I rediscovered the upright riding position and the years melted away. I reckon I was riding her bike more that she was for several months. So in the interests of world peace, I knew I needed to look for a new bike.

But I didn't want a Cali (apologies to Cali owners), the new ones just didn't appeal to me. It was around this time that I came across a new Centauro Sport that had been kicking around a dealer's showroom for three years. It had a few kms on the clock but was in all essence new.

According to one of the best books of any kind written about a motorcycle company (MG Big Twins, by Greg Field) The Centauro's bodywork is from the mind of Luciano Marabese, an outsider hired to dress up the Daytona as a musclebike (thanks to Joe Carter for looking this up - Mike).

What was once weird looking suddenly seemed to come into focus and look right. What can you say about the styling? Er, well, it's different springs to mind. Here is a full on sports bike (by Guzzi standards anyway) wrapped in unique (or weird) cruiser bodywork. It's still got that lovely revy Daytona motor, the fab brakes and rock solid handling. The funny thing is, everything that was dated about the Daytona feels right at home on a cruiser. Sit back and relax, my god, it is possible to travel at the speed limit! - well for testing purposes only. The eighties steering geometry suits the Centauro down to the ground. Even the clunky old 5 speed gear box feels like an old friend. But that motor, yum that's why I'm still here in Guzzi land. The sound of it, the induction noise, the gears, the tappets, the timing belts and the Staintune exhaust system all come together to produce a rich symphony of sound. Ahh, and, it loves to rev.

I reckon it has more presence on the road than my old Daytona too. Whether people are staring because it is imposing or just plain weird I have yet to decide.

Below are some pictures of my 1997 Centauro Sport taken just after I bought it.


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Whilst the Centauro is based on the later model Daytona RS, they both evolved from the early model Daytona and share the same frame & four valve motor. As many of you are well aware, the whole Daytona line originates from the Dr. John Racers built by Dr. John Wittner during the eighties in the USA.

Below you will find a picture of my old 1994 early model Daytona, a Daytona prototype and a drawing of the Dr. John racer from Bike Magazine. As you can see, they all look remarkably similar. For completeness, I've included a picture of the Daytona RS, the last of the line I suspect of this unique model.

First Model
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Prototype
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Dr. John
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Daytona RS
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I wonder if any other privateer has influenced the development of a new model by such a degree as Dr. John.? I doubt it.

As we take a closer look at the powerplant you will see how similar it is to the older push rod motor dating back to the mid seventies that it is descended from. The simple reason for this is that it is the old motor, but with an overhead cam grafted onto it. The old cam shaft has become a lay shaft that drives toothed cam belts. Sure, there are better ways to do this. But in essence, what we have here is a privateer's solution to a problem and this history is part of the enjoyment of 4 valve Guzzis.

No discussion of these bikes is complete without a mention of the fuel injection system. The Daytona was the first Guzzi to be released with fuel injection and most of us appreciate the light throttle after years of feeling like Charles Atlas twisting the Le Mans. Unfortunately, the system has had a fair bit of bagging over the years because the factory cocked up the mapping. All Daytonas & Centauros respond well to a good aftermarket chip and it's the first mod. that any new owner should consider.

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The frame and rear suspension are also direct descendants of the racer and signs of this can be seen in the way the torque arm with its several castings bolt up to what is essentially, a standard rear bevel unit. This was simplified somewhat on the Daytona RS & Centauro.

For Moto Guzzi, this new frame design was quite a departure from the twin cradle design then in use across the whole range and that had originated with the V7 Sport in the early seventies. Oddly enough, the old frame lives on in the California which has a reputation for fine handling in its own right. Not surprising when you consider that there is very little difference between the Cali and the old Le Mans except that the Cali has a longer swing arm.

As you can see from the drawing below, the Daytona & Centauro use a box beam frame that uses the motor as a stressed member. I've never had any complaints with the rigidity of this frame and reckon it was a good move by the factory. However, I can't say the same for the rear suspension though. The monoshock being rather dated by today's standards as it isn't a rising rate design and this shows on poor roads.

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The bodywork on the Centauro is constructed completely from plastic, tank included. It is certainly a novel shape and never fails to grab the attention of passers by. Perhaps the design was before its time because the Centauro wasn't the success that Guzzi was hoping for.

The aim of the Centauro project was to produce a muscle bike or naked bike based on the Daytona. Guzzi owners being a conservative lot didn't take to it at the time. Personally, I think it was ahead of its time because it sits more comfortably with current naked bikes such as the Raptor. The Centauro to me combines a mix of the performance of the VMax (ok, so I'm exaggerating a bit), the laid back feel of a Harley and the solid handling of the Daytona. In all respects, totally italian.

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1998 Centauro Sport
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1998 Centauro GT
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Many have said that the Daytona came too late to revive the sporting image that Moto Guzzi held during the mid seventies. Personally, I believe that they were right. For whilst the Daytona is a fun bike to ride, it is stuck firmly in the eighties with its horsepower and handling characteristics.

As I said in the introduction, these very same characteristics, make the Centauro such a pleasure to ride. With its wider bars and more relaxed riding position, it glides around mountain corners in a confidence inspiring manner and takes lean angles that would have any other cruiser spinning into the bushes. Whilst I find that I tend to relax and ride more slowly on the Centauro, the Daytona is still there lurking underneath when you feel the urge to let it out.

Mike Wallis
mike@centauro-owners.com

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