Moto Morini 500 Sport


Make Model

Moto Morini 500 Sport


1978 - 80


Four stroke, 72° V Twin, belt driven single cam operating pushrod 2 valve per cylinder


478 cc / 29.1 cu-in
Bore x Stroke 69 x 64.2 mm
Cooling System Air cooled
Compression Ratio 11.2:1


2x 26mm Dell'Orto carburetors


Starting Kick

Max Power

46 hp / 34.3 kW @ 7500 rpm

Max Torque

45 hp / 33.3 lb-ft @ 5100 rpm


5 Speed 
Final Drive Chain

Front Suspension

35mm Marzocchi forks, 140mm wheel travel.

Rear Suspension

Marzocchi shocks, 63.5mm wheel travel

Front Brakes

2x 260mm discs

Rear Brakes

Single 260mm disc

Front Tyre


Rear Tyre


Dry Weight

167 kg / 368 lbs

Wet Weight

184 kg / 405.7 lbs

Fuel Capacity 

16 Litres / 4.2 US gal 

Standing ¼ Mile  

15.3 sec / 83 mph

Only the chickens were missing. I'd been flogging the sole Moto Morini 500 in the U.S. along winding New York State country lanes for hours while cows and sheep and farmers stared at me curiously. If only I could have scattered a flock of chickens or three, I would have felt just like Giuseppe the madcap motorcyclist, terrorizing peasants who still regarded the internal combustion engine as an invention of the devil.

It's not as if the Moto Morini transformed me into a stereotype that the Italian Anti-defamation League wouldn't approve of. Instead, every ride on this motorcycle recaptured for me the excitement that accompanied my baptism in horizon-tilting. The bike itself felt as raw and vital as if it had been delivered popping-fresh from the inventor's oven only moments before. Moto Morini had somehow managed to reinvent the motorcycle for me.

This sensation of wild-eyed discovery is as accessible as the nearest country lane on the Morini 500. The loping vibration from the uneven-firing 72-degree tandem vee-twin surges through the handlebars and into your arms. Every shift of the five-speed gearbox is accompanied by a sharp thwack inside the cases as if some gremlin were at work with a ball peen hammer. The pushrods rattle while the exhaust rumbles gruffly. The noises made by the 500 aren't even orchestrated; the music of a Ducati or the jet-fighter whine of a CBX are missing. But the 500's peculiar cacophony does have an appeal which lies in its relentless mechanical clatter, as if all the components that make a motorcycle had been discovered only moments before and then screwed together.

The 500 more than sounds like a mechanical device, however; it operates like one as well. Like the Laverda 500 (CG, June 1978), the Moto Morini 500 responds to manual control, not automatic pilot. Getting the bike to gallop requires a long twist of the throttle. The brakes provide perfectly linear response according to your demand instead of through some hydraulic whim. In every respect—acceleration, braking and cornering—the Morini responds honestly.

The vitality built into the Morini stems from the atmosphere in which the motorcycle is designed and built. Moto Morini has a different way of doing things, a character its reputation reflects. People remember it not as a tiny company formed after World War II to manufacture delivery vehicles, but as the constructor of a 250cc four-stroke roadracer in the early Sixties that cut a wide swath through the two-strokes racing then. Also, volume isn't Moto Morini's marketing game. Its 115 employees produce 10 to 15 motorcycles a day, not 1000 or 1500. In addition, the firm is noted for its reliance on empirical testing instead of slide-rule calculations. When Morini wanted to test alloy wheels for the 500, it didn't send out for a computer. Instead, a man was assigned to beat on various wheels with a sledgehammer and see which ones broke.

The 500 represents Mow Morini's first venture outside its two-bike line of 350cc motorcycles in this country, and to fulfill its role as the company's new image-maker, the 500 displays the usual profile-bike equipment. The new bike is distinguished from the 31/2 by a larger gas tank and it has Morini's first electric starter—although all future 31/2s will be so equipped. Alloy wheels, dual front disc brakes and a rear disc brake are also part of the package, and the 500 uses a modified frame design which it will share with all future 31/2 Morinis. The frame geometry and basic dimensions are the same, but the redesign accommodates the larger 12-volt battery required for the electric starter.

Superficially, the 500cc engine seems unremarkable. But its stone-axe simplicity proves to be its main fascination.

Moto Morini builds motorcycles in such small quantities that it must implement as much inter-model component interchangeability as is humanly possible. Consequently, all Morinis share the same wheels, brakes and other assorted chassis bits and pieces. And in conjunction with that strategy, engine designers Franco Lambertini and Gino Marchesini penciled an engine that—as 125cc and 250cc singles, and in 350cc and 500cc twin-cylinder incarnations—would share many of the same pieces.

Their clever design led to a 350cc engine that is essentially just a bored-and-stroked two-cylinder rewrite of the one-cylinder 125cc engine. And the 500 is merely a 250 single with another cylinder stuffed behind it.

Like the 350cc engine, the Morini 500 is a 72-degree tandem vee-twin. The 72-degree angle—rather than the 45 degrees of a Harley or 90 degrees, Ducati-style was settled upon after much experimentation to find the most space-saving layout for these highly compact motorcycles. A narrow-spread vee-type engine tends to make a motorcycle tall, while a wide vee dictates a long wheelbase. The Morini design is, in the estimation of its designers, an ideal compromise that still offers much of the low-vibration running of a 90-degree configuration.

The engine is otherwise typical veetwin stuff. The twin overhead valves for each cylinder are operated by pushrods that are in turn actuated by a single cam located between the base of the cylinders. Fore and aft cylinders and heads are identical, but located so that the exhaust exits in opposite directions.

Morini engines have acquired a reputation for churning out lots of torque while delivering extraordinary fuel economy. Lamberini and Marchesini suggest that the Heron head, in which the combustion chamber is scooped out of the piston while the cylinder head is flat, has a lot to do with it. In typical Morini fashion, the Heron design was originally chosen to cut production costs, but Lambertini credits extensive dynomometer time for the design of the high-swirl intake port and the relatively small exhaust port. The high-swirl intake insures maximum fuel aeration and thus better combustion, resulting in good fuel mileage. The small exhaust valve contributes, to good engine torque.

The patriotic execution of the 500 represents some sort of high-water mark for unreconstructed Italian motorcycles. Other Italian motorcycles shamelessly employ bits and pieces from Germany, Japan and even the United States, but not the Morini 500. Nearly every component once lived in a parts bin somewhere in Italy. The wheels and brakes come from Grimeca. The pipes are made by LaFranconi. Pirelli provides the tires. The endless chain is from Regina. Verlucci supplies the grips and throttle. Paioli makes the steering damper. The suspension comes from Marzocchi. And the list continues.

This scrupulously Italian tossed salad does have unpleasant side effects, however. The Veglia speedometer is mounted on the right side instead of the left and ours wouldn't read past 80 mph no matter how hard I twisted the throttle. The Veglia electronic tachometer seemed just about as reliable. The Regina chain stretched like pasta. The CEV turn signals didn't exactly wink—they squinted. Though rocker switches were provided for the lights and turn signals, I found myself spastically fumbling with them because they were located too close together and didn't operate with precision.

Still, it's difficult to take such grousing about two-bit hardware seriously once you settle behind the low, European-style touring bars.

A small aberration to the Morini's riding position, however, is that the footpegs are located so far forward that my knees rattled against my elbows. A 100mile ride in this awkWard posture didn't tire my legs, but a particularly sensitive portion of my rear end ended up carrying all my weight. And it doesn't relish the bumps transmitted through the soft but thinly padded seat.

To ride the Morini at the speeds of which it's capable, you should first scrawl the word "finesse" across your forehead. This little reminder will help accustom you to a street bike that effortlessly answers your every command. If you should keep too taut a hand on the 500's reins, you'll find yourself turning into corners far too soon and exploring the exciting world of mailboxes and other roadside hazards. Calm yourself. When you're ready to lean, so is the Morini. Go as quickly as you dare. Braking is optional, and enough cornering clearance exists to drag the gas cap if you care for such thrills.

Given this stable but responsive behavior pattern, the 500's steering damper would seem to be redundant. Its value lies in an ability to keep your own oafish squirming from upsetting the Morini as you unconsciously prepare to manhandle the 500 like a Z-1. Once you calm yourself and learn the meaning of finesse, you can toss the damper away.

On a winding country road the 500 doesn't lunge forward with a breathtaking explosion of speed. The engine prefers to loaf along, and you use torque and the gearbox to gather speed. So you find yourself instinctively putting combinations of corners together, shifting early to take advantage of the generous torque on tap, braking deliberately and then heeling over on the superior Pirelli tires. The suspension will swallow the bumps without deflecting the bike from the path you've chosen.

The only flaw in the Morini 500's performance can be traced to the gearbox. For this model, Morini has created a new linkage to transfer shifting from the right side of the engine to your left foot. A complicated system of links and Heim joints that goes around the back of the engine replaces a simpler linkage that passed around the front of the motor on the 31/2. The shift linkage went out of adjustment early on, however, and the long lever throws made positive shifting difficult. And even at its best, neutral-finding in the five-speed transmission can be a chore.

If you're in a hurry to evaluate the Morini 500 in world-class terms, look no further than the Marzocchi suspension to be rewarded. The same units appear on the Laverda 500, and are resilient without being mushy and well-damped without being stiff. This suspension isn't designed to be used only at a motorcycle's limits. Instead it provides full travel and full damping under normal conditions, operating at its best within the sane range of speeds most riders prefer. Under braking, the front end may seem to dive too much and the stroking of the suspension in the bumps may feel strange, but this behavior is disconcerting only in comparison to motorcycles that ride like logging trucks at less than 100 mph or wobble like drunken sailors when cornered at more than 40 mph.

The Morini is one of those all-too-rare motorcycles that delivers classic two-wheeled sensations to its rider without any pretensions of sophistication. It is a cast-alloy reminder that multiple cylinders, anti-vibration mounts and swollen power curves have, slowly but surely, isolated us from the raw vitality of bicycles with engines in them. And the vitality of the 500 lies in more than just interesting noises and light weight. It lies in a motorcycle so agile and so responsive that it feels connected to your nervous system by a thousand tiny wires.

The Moto Morini 500 stands apart in its ability to baptize you anew into a world of giddy sensation where the horizon hovers at a crazy angle, a flock of chickens looms dead ahead and farmers believe you must be the work of Satan himself

About 20 miles outside Reading, Pennsylvania, just about in the middle of nowhere, a large red Moto Morini sign glows proudly every night. This is the corporate headquarters of Moto Morini in the United States. Somehow it doesn't fit in with the surrounding farms and villages.

Moto Morini headquarters is actually Hermy's Motorcycle Shop. Herman Bayer sells BMW, Triumph, KTM and Hercules from a postage-stamp size showroom floor. He and his wife and son live above the shop. Bayer is the chief of Port Clinton's volunteer fire department and sells McCreary tires on the side.

Like so many other motorcycle dealers in the East, Bayer is far more interested in being around bikes everyday than in selling them. His interest in Moto Morini was sparked by a desire to sell his own motorcycle and in 1973 he acquired the distribution rights from another fellow like himself in New England. And from a cold, bare room behind the motorcycle shop's parts counter, Hermy arranges things with assorted banks and foreign shipping companies while his wife keeps track of the paperwork.

Bayer's commitment to Moto Morini hardly seems commensurate with his yearly sales total of 200 units through 35 dealers. But he has more than his wallet at stake. He has pride. Moto Morini has become his motorcycle. When he heard that Harley-Davidson was attempting to buy Morini out and sell the little vee-twins as scaled-down Harleys, Bayer flew to Italy immediately. There, Mrs. Bartolini, the daughter of company founder Alfonso Morini and now the owner, assured Bayer that she would never give up the company's name.

This commitment to the firm's identity works both ways. Bayer's twice-yearly visits to the factory and his enthusiasm for the product convinced Moto Morini to embark on the complicated task of certifying its bikes with the EPA for continued sale in the U.S. In fact, the sign over Bayer's modest Morini warehouse was a personal gift from Mrs. Bartolini.

It could be that the motorcycle business really is different from other sorts of businesses. Where else could a manufacturer like Moto Morini survive on the production of 4000 motorcycles per year? Where else could Herman Bayer not only become a national distributor but hang his shingle out in a Pennsylvania backWater and still make money? Only in the bike biz.

Source Cycle Guide