The first the world saw of the new Gilera four-stroke during the 1980s was at
the biennial Milan Show in November 1985. Not only did the famous old Arcore
factory have one of the biggest and most impressive stands at the exhibition,
but also an exciting new thumper in the shape of the 350 Dakota trailster, with
the added promise of a larger version in the pipeline.
And Gilera's first new four-stroke in over a decade showed that it wasn't
just two-stroke models which were receiving the
modern treatment in the Arcore R&D shop.
Designed by Ing. Lucio Masut, the newcomer employed every trick in the book -
including liquid cooling, four-valve cylinder head, twin exhaust ports, twin 25
Dell'Orto carbs, double overhead camshafts driven by toothed belt, a balancer
shaft (gear driven directly off the crankshaft) multi-plate hydraulically
wet clutch, five-speed gearbox and Japanese electronic ignition and electric
starter. There was also a forged piston and a one-piece crankshaft which ran on
anti-vibration ring bearings. The pity was that all this hi-tech only produced
33bhp at 7,500rpm from the 348.8cc (80 x 69mm) mill. But at least the 500 (which
took another eighteen months) promised a 25 per cent power increase with no
additional weight to speak of.
Gilera had opted to build a dual-purpose, on-off-roader rather than a pure
street bike because, at the time, sales of machines like Yamaha's Tenere were
riding high. The Paris-Dakar style was all the rage both in Italy and around
Europe; in fact everywhere except Great Britain! Even though the Dakota's power
output was disappointing in view of its technical gizmos, the in-house Gilera
styling job was generally accepted as being superb. As proof of this, author
Alan Cathcart picked the Dakota to feature as only one of two machines with
engines of less than 750-class in his 1988 book, Dream Bikes.
But besides the lack of power, the wide 5imp. gal (231tr) fuel tank and
sculpted bodywork was slammed by serious off-road riders for its enforced
'knees-out' riding stance which, unless the rider adopted a more rearward
seating position, (which then altered the weight distribution) was extremely
THE ER VARIANT
Gilera responded in a positive fashion by introducing the ER variant in 1987,
just as the 500 model 492cc (92 x 74mm) came into production. The ER was
targeted firmly at the committed green lane rider, with its smaller 3.3imp. gal
(151tr) tank and the twin coolant radiators now shrouded by abbreviated plastic
panels. These two changes enabled the driver to sit further forward in a more
comfortable position. The original model was also retained and, with both
versions available in 350 and 500 form, this meant that there were actually four
different Dakota models to choose from.
With a dry weight of no less than 3241b (147kg) in both engine capacities,
the Dakota was one of the heaviest machines in its class. This showed up most
under heavy braking when the single 260mm disc and its Grimeca four-piston
caliper was stretched to its limit to cope. The Gilera engine was the most
sophisticated in the on-off-road sector of the market, but with its great weight
and power-sapping ultra efficient (quiet!) exhaust system it was not really
suitable for pure competition, even in its 500 form.
However, the engine was very strong and the square-tube enduro-type chassis
was fully capable of taking more power. The result was that at the Milan Show in
1987 Gilera launched the XRT.