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Bike of the Month
October 2023
1981 Laverda 3C
By Yoram Bronicki

I have a list and I am working through it. The Laverda 3C made the list in the summer of ’85.

I just finished a high school that made a military school seem like kindergarten, and lived the next three months in Paris, spending my mornings in French school for adults, playing tennis in the afternoon and doing some BASIC programming for a retired French electrical engineer in between. With a draft date in Nov of 85, there were some clouds on the horizon, but they were a few months away and I did my best to enjoy life in the vibrant metropolis called Paris. I also fell in love, twice, once in school and once on the way to school.

As a friend commented a few years later, Paris was the “city of motorcycles”, they were everywhere, in all sizes and from all brands and were used daily, certainly compared to where I came from. Being a densely built city, many people didn’t have access to a garage, so motorcycles were parked in the streets and very visible.

On my walk from my grandfather’s condo, just past the bakery where I would buy my baguette or croissant, was parked a 3-cylinder Laverda. It has been so long ago that the image that was etched in my mind was still in B&W, but every morning I would stop for a few minutes and admire the bike with its muscular cylinder barrels and the low  handlebars that to me just meant business. Sometimes I would even see the owner in shorts and open-heeled sandals (it was summer in Paris, after all) get on his bike and, I think, fire it up.

I have never seen such a bike, and it will be many years before I saw one again but there was something about it, a certain presence, that I found irresistible. Some vehicles seem to “shrink” over time and look smaller today, yet to me the Laverda retained its captivating, almost intimidating, stance throughout the years.

I decided to try and rekindle that love in the fall of 2016 but it took me another three years to buy one. My concerns were mostly around spare part availability and finding someone who is able and willing to work within a reasonable radius of Reno. In the end desire took hold and despite all the potential red flags and advice from other riders who told me that the bike isn’t that great, I went ahead and bought one off eBay.

To the best of my knowledge the bike started life as a 1981 3C which was the standard model but has been converted to Jota (the high-performance version) specs mostly through the all-important 4C cams that alter the character of the engine. It had one owner for 18 years who made most of the modifications and rode it for 69,000 miles but then it changed hands twice between owners who only rode only  a few hundred miles between them.


My Laverda is one of the last 180-degree engines which means that two of the three pistons fire together and the third fires at 180 degree rotation. Those who can hear it (not me), say that at idle the engine sounds like an out of tune inline four, as you rev it up there is nothing wrong with its howl. The 180-degree models, started as right foot shifter but were later converted using a factory crossover kit to left foot shifting to allow them to be sold in the US.  Many owners, including one of the previous owners of my bike, converted them back to right foot shift. I prefer a left foot shift and sourced a factory kit from Wolfgang Haerter whose shop was visited by our president a few years ago. Other than that the ignition system was changed to a more modern version and basic maintenance (fluids, valve clearance and tires) was made.

With the travel restrictions of 2020 and 2021 it took me a year and a half to take my first ride on it.  First rides are often exciting and not always in a good way, as sometimes I am the test rider that finds items yet to be completed and sometimes, I am the one that causes additional work to be done. As I was riding to get my customary photograph at the Geiger Summit I noticed that the gear change was occasionally binding especially between 1st and 2nd gear. Not having ridden one before, I ascribed it to yet another Italian idiosyncrasy and decided to soldier on. I made it home alright, but fiddled with it some and took it on another test ride. Downshifting before the last light I managed to break the end of the linkage, fortunately, while sill stuck in second gear and on a descending slope to my house. Once home it became clearer to me why it was binding, and the repair wasn’t too difficult. It shifts well now.


Since that first ride, I have done a few hundred miles on it (an embarrassment, I know) and found a few more things that had to be addressed.

What is it like? It is a big bike, both heavy and top heavy so at very low speed the rider needs to be very focused.    I am not always that rider! and sometimes I go slow when I need to go fast, like when I was backing off the U-Haul trailer after the DMV’s VIN inspection. I got off balance coming down the ramp and cracked the nose fairing on the trailer’s railing. Another comical moment was pushing it up a slope in my street shoes, I lost momentum trying to push it uphill and as I was trying to “put some mustard on it” my foot came out of my shoe. Fortunately, John saw me and came to my help.

The bike came without a side stand which is an accident waiting to happen. I sourced an aftermarket side stand that works with the right shifting bike but with Jerry Liggett’s help I was able to modify it to work with the crossover mechanism as well.

But when it gets going… maybe you can’t tell that this was once the fastest bike in serial production, and I probably don’t want to take it there, but it is a pleasure to ride. It is a joy to ride it on the VC highway or coming down from the Yuba Pass on CA 49, the brakes are reasonable (for that period), the clutch pull is manageable, the travel on left foot shift may be on the long side, but the gearbox is precise and smooth. I am a relatively tall rider, so the riding position is very comfortable for me.

As with other classic Italian sport bikes, the design brief called for the riders to adjust themselves to the bike, and not the other way around (see the Cycle World review of the Moto Guzzi Le Mans) but other than the size issue, I find the Laverda an easier and more enjoyable ride than the Moto Guzzi Le Mans 3 and to me it exudes design and build quality. The fact that it was loved and cared for by its long-term owner helps as well, and I hope to do the same.

p.s. The 180-degree 3C was replaced in 1982 by the 120-degree 3C that after a very short production run  was replaced by the RGS.  I rode about 2000 miles on an RGS in the past few months and I am anxious to get reacquainted with my 3C and see how the two compare. My money is on the 3C.

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