Morini’s 3½ Sport tends to get the bear’s share of the attention. Mark Holyoake offers an argument in favour of the underdog, the Sport’s touring counterpart. Rowena Hoseason fills in the background…
After their launch in 1971, the Morini Sport and Strada 350s were largely lauded by the press and largely ignored by the public. A high initial price tag and unfounded fears about Italian mechanical fragility meant that sales outside of their homeland were steady but hardly high sky while the bikes were in production. When Yamaha’s RD350 was selling for £530 new and the Suzi GT380 cost £579, you had to pay £877 for a Morini 350. Too rich for most fast lads, as it happened.
Since then and especially with plenty of recent favourable press coverage (not least on this site), the 3½ Vees have been recognised by the cognoscenti as miniature masterpieces. Even so, most people still favour the Sport over the Strada. RealClassic reader Mark argues otherwise; ‘The Morini 350 Strada still lacks the kudos and bite of its illustrious partner, the 350 Sport,’ he says. ‘But it’s reliable, easy to maintain, boasts a broad spread of power and has its own character. If you’re looking for a first classic then it could be the bike for you. And in today’s austerity times, the mpg from the Morini has got be a great asset too.
‘Why have I plumped for a Strada? Well old age wreaks a terrible vengeance on youth! Joints cease working, bones creak and bending to the Sport’s riding position is something I could do years ago but not now – or rather, not now for long!
‘There is probably one word you don’t see used too often in magazine articles to describe the Strada, but it does rather sum up this version of the 350 to me. The word is “nice.” In fact, it’s not just nice – it’s VERY nice. It’s not diabolically bad at anything, apart from perhaps the original snuffbox switchgear could be a challenge… mine has the Series 2 type switches. It’s also not brilliant at any one thing, although the fuel consumption is amazing. Yet overall it is better than average, very capable and FUN. A 1970s classic. I think so, and at the moment the Strada is sensibly priced, too.
‘The Morini 350s and in particular the Strada seem to me to be the type of bike that can be ridden every day, whenever the fancy or opportunity arises. You can manage a few thousand trouble-free miles with ease. The Strada is a bike to be ridden, rather than one to be trailered and polished at shows and such-like. If you were looking for that sort of bike – affordable but with prices gradually escalating – then I highly recommend the wee Vee. It’s been really popular with motorcycling journos, too, including Dave Minton, Mark Williams, Julian Ryder and even Martin Gelder of RealClassic, and if all the professionals actually spend their own dosh on something, you have to assume it can’t be all bad!’
There are a few subtle differences between the two 350s. Both use Morini’s air-cooled OHV 344cc engine with its cylinders arranged in a 72-degree Vee. If you wonder why we mention the angle of the Vee, that’s because it has an important effect upon the overall length of the Morini. Ducati spread their cylinders further apart at 90 degrees which is one of the things which contributes to the extended wheelbase of their bikes. By contrast, the narrower angle of the Morini V-twins aids their agile handling.
The Sport output 39bhp at 8500rpm from new, while the Strada was rated at 35bhp at 8250; enough for both bikes to have a top speed of over 95mph. Differences between the two models were limited to the compression ratio (10:1 on the Strada) and camshaft (lumpy on the Sport), front brake (200mm single-sided 2LS stopper on the Strada) and rear hub, plus the obvious higher handlebars and cosmetic tweaks for the touring machine. With regular maintenance the motor proved robust enough to see 60 or 70,000 miles without a major overhaul. A six-speed gearbox helped to extract perky performance from either variant, and both bikes are blessed with low mass and sprightly steering.
So what’s a Strada like to own and ride, compared to its Sport sibling? Mark has owned both, and explains.
‘OK, obviously the Strada isn’t quite as fast at the top end as the Sport. It’s a few mph down and maybe a little less charismatic, but I’ll let you into a little secret – it’s rather fun and considerably more comfy than its sparkly brother. Let’s face it, while top speed is important in a few riding situations, I am sure a strong mid-range is more useful in nine out of ten situations. The Strada pulls well from lowish revs, 2000rpm right up to the 8500 area, and has great flexibility. It’s no Fireblade but it is fun and has a performance that’s useable every day.
‘And don’t forget the fuel economy. Typically on a Strada I see mid-60s to mid-70s mpg. I also remember reading one test from back in the day by Mr Minton when he reckoned 92mpg was quite feasible without trick riding. So maybe that’s this bike’s secret weapon – amazing economy, which means a lot these days.’
If those are the positive aspects of owning a Strada, then what’s the downside?
‘The twin leading shoes on the drum brake models need careful setting up, but the brake is nice once it has bedded-in and has a look that appeals in a classic way. The later disc doesn’t offer much in the way of feel and isn’t particularly outstanding – there’s a common upgrade using the 250’s smaller master cylinder, or else people fit twin discs if they’re really concerned.
‘As the Morinis got older so they were overtaken by all the small capacity performance bikes of the 1980s – they lost out to the 350LC and VFR400s that came along. But apart from that, all the news is good!
‘The Sport got the plaudits in the 1970s for handling, so here’s another secret. The Strada is very, very good too. On my current bike the fit and finish seem good, although some restoration has taken place, and the electrics appear reliable. So far! The cost of replacing components isn’t too awful because the Morini has only got two of everything unlike four-cylinder bikes of the same era, like the CB400F. The Strada is wonderfully torquey and generally vibe-free. Parts aren’t too difficult to find, partly because the marque and model had a long lifespan in various guises all the way to the late 1980s. Even if at the end Morini slotted the V-twin engine into a 125 Cagiva chassis!
‘In the past I have owned a Sport, which was lovely, but my back can’t take the strain anymore. Then a Dart, the 350 in the Ducati Paso style – very nice again but I found my shape (too many pies…) meant I couldn’t fit the riding position. Now I own the Strada. It gets my vote over the others because of my failings to be able to adapt to them – it’s not a vote against the other types, but a very big vote for the Strada.
‘For now this 350 twin scratches my classic itch. It’s a well thought-out package that oozes with Italian style. If you’re considering this model then you should go and get one before they have all gone – or before their prices join the likes of the bevel Dukes and Le Mans and Jotas of this world. Those big bike might be ‘superbikes’, but here’s another little secret. The ‘super’ bike label shouldn’t be dictated by cubic capacity alone, but it should include overall style and presence and capability. The Strada has all of them in abundance!’
Indeed. Back in the 1970s, Bike magazine were of the opinion that you should ‘forget that the Morini Strada is “only” a 350.’ They reckoned the Strada would give its owner ‘more than many 750s.’ Turns out they were right!