Today, Gilera are probably best
known for their scooters – the GP800 and the very cool, very funky Fuoco 500.
But the Italian company has made some pretty hot motorcycles too, in the past.
And for those who think Ducati and MV Agusta are the only Italian manufacturers
who’ve been successful in motorcycle GP racing’s premier class, get this –
between 1950 and 1957, Gilera riders won six 500cc world championships! Umberto
Masetti (1950, 1952), Geoff Duke (1953, 1954, 1955) and Libero Liberati (1957)
brought glory to the Gilera name on the GP circuit.
The company was founded by one Giuseppe Gilera, and the first motorcycle to bear
his name – the Gilera VT317 – came out in 1909. By the 1930s, Gilera were
already producing bikes with four-stroke, side-valve 500cc engines, and their
machines were notching up race victories in Europe. The 1936 Rondine 500 even
set a top speed record of 274.181km/h, which remained unbeaten for almost 20
Gilera left the grand prix racing scene after 1957, and in 1969, the company
became a part of the Piaggio Group. From then on, Gilera have only been making
smaller bikes and scooters, though in the 1980s they made some very memorable
bikes, most notably the SP01, SP02 and the CX125, which featured an innovative
single-sided front fork.
Launched in 1988, the SP01 was fitted with a 125cc two-stroke, liquid-cooled,
single-cylinder engine that made a claimed 35bhp at 10,600rpm. This, combined
with the SP01’s aluminium beam chassis, stiff suspension, disc brakes, and
six-speed gearbox made it the perfect sportsbike for teenagers (and, well,
lightweight adults). The 132-kilo SP01 was capable of doing the quarter-mile
(400m) in 15.1 seconds, and top speed was 171km/h. Not too bad for a 125cc
buzz-bomb. And for Kevin Schwantz fans, the SP01 was even available with a 1989
Pepsi-Suzuki replica paint scheme!
The Gilera SP02 was launched in 1990...
Gilera launched the SP01’s successor, the SP02, in 1990. With a bit more power
and bit more style, the SP02 would do the standing quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds,
though top speed was still 171km/h.
Today, while manufacturers like Cagiva, Aprilia and Derbi continue to make 125cc
repli-racers, Gilera are no longer making such bikes, preferring to stick with
their stylish scooters instead. Now, while we love the Gilera ‘Mad Max’ Fuoco,
we do wish the company would get back to making some seriously high-performance
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