Many people have asked us if we fear that the petroleum shortage and emergency 55-mph speed limit would kill off exotic machinery like Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis. It is true that most such machines seem a bit much for present conditions, but there are always those enterprising vehicle manufacturers who seem able to rise to any occasion. We didn’t really expect it of Maserati, though, most of whose recent car models—the Ghibli and Indy, for instance—have been somewhat truck-like. However, this respected old name in fine Italian cars is producing a line of vehicles perfectly suited to a world of limited parking space, scarce petroleum and ever more strained pocketbooks. They are far lighter and more compact than the more familiar Maseratis, though at least as well made, and much less expensive too. And—gel this—every one of them, from the most unpretentious junior model to the most exotic racing machine has at least a 10-speed gearbox. Try that on your friend who just decided 4-speeds are passe and got his first 5-speed.
This story originally appeared in the April 1974 issue of Road & Track, a traditional April Fools road test from the archives. Enjoy!
Maserati bicycles are being sold in the U.S. by the ElscoCorp, of Jacksonville, Fla.—appropriately owned by Ed Hugus, a former driver of Maserati and OSCA racing cars who has competed at Le Mans 13 times and is a friend of the Maserati family. It is Alfieri Maserati who heads the bicycle company, an operation entirely separate from the Modena car factory. The line of bikes sold here is far more extensive than the limited selection of Maserati cars we get: 13 models in all (although the designation MT-13 is superstitiously avoided), ranging from a 24-in. junior model (the MT-14) at a mere $115 to the exotic MT-1 racing bike, available only on special order for $800. The MT-3 we tested, third most expensive in the line at $545, is a pretty exotic thing itself, exuding quality in all its fitting in a way that certainly reminds us of the excellent Maserati Bora. MT, by the way, means simply Maserati Tipo, tipo being Italian for “type.”
As we said, the MT-3 exudes quality. Its frame is of the strong double-butted, lugged Columbus tubing; this is thicker at the ends near the joints than along the main portion of its length, for maximum strength with lightness. Lightness, by the way, is something one pays dearly for in a 2-wheeler, and the MT-3 weighed in at a mere 20.5 lb on Cycle World’s scales (the ones we normally use at Orange County Raceway aren’t quite precise enough for such a machine)—showing that one had indeed got something for his $545, in an inverse sort of way.
One gets considerably more. Nearly all the running gear on the MT-3 is by Campagnolo, a name we all know from the beautiful wheels seen on beautiful Italian cars, and to quote Eugene A. Sloane’s book The Complete Book of Bicycling, “Campagnolo hubs are generally considered the highest quality . . .” and, of derailleurs (about which more later), "Campagnolo is the best quality and the most expensive . . . " one beef here, though: the Campagnolo name appears over 40 times on this machine and one is reminded a bit of the over-badgery of certain Japanese cars. By contrast, however, the name Maserati appears only twice.
Despite excellent finish and leather upholstery, however, there are certain areas where the MT-3 is decidedly austere. For instance, there are no instruments, not even a speedometer, nor is there a kickstand. All in the interests of lightness, of course, as with any racing machine; but one would be well advised to consider that any of these 2-wheel vehicles lack many of the comforts of the machines we normally drive: heaters, windows, tops, radios, adjustable seatbacks and so forth. On the other hand, there is little to go wrong, and one just has to hand it to a vehicle that consumes no petroleum—at least directly—in its operation.
The arrival of the MT-3 at the R&T offices was certainly unusual. Normally we have to go somewhere and get a test vehicle, drive it back and put our insurance into effect on it, put a logbook in it, etc. Not so with this Maserati: it arrived in a box—not a very big or heavy box at that—and all we had to do was unpack it and do a little assembling. Some components—like the front wheel, handlebars, pedals and seat—are detached so it will fit into the box.
On the other hand, it did arrive as most racing machines do—by truck. We do not test many racing machines; after all, few readers will ever be able to buy or drive one. But the MT-3 was different. Here is a racing machine that many can buy, and one whose speed is perfectly within the range of use on public roads (or bikeways). Further, it makes no undue noise nor any more pollution than your ordinary street bike, so it seemed to make considerable sense to test it. In one way, however, it is quite typical of racing machinery: somewhat fragile. You wouldn’t, for instance, want to jump a curb with the MT-3 any more than you’d drive a Porsche 917 on a dirt road.
The most striking thing one first notices about the MT-3 is the utter silence of its powerplant, although we did note that after an extended run, or especially after a run uphill, the powerplant does tend to huff and puff a bit. By the standards of racing cars—or even road cars—the MT-3 might also be considered a bit underpowered. One brake manpower (or womanpower, or whatever) may seem a lot for a curb weight of only 20.5 lb (this increases drastically with the operator aboard), and indeed the acceleration in the lower gears is quite brisk; but you will note in the data panel that the acceleration tails off rather rapidly at higher speeds and that, at least with our tester, the MT-3 was able to reach a 2-way average top speed of only 25.5 mph. On the other hand, it was refreshing to test a vehicle whose speed capability was such that driving under the new 55-mph limit was not utterly frustrating, as we found it even with a Mercedes Diesel on a long trip recently. For more speed-conscious buyers (and, we might add, stronger ones) taller gearing is available.
Speaking of gearing, our MT-3 was set up as a sprint machine, with quite short-legged gearing compared with what is available. Its chain sprockets have 42 and 52 teeth for low and high range respectively, and on our bike the 5-speed derailleur (Anglicized in the U.S. to “derailer”) at the rear wheel had close-ratio sprockets of 13, 15, 17, 19 and 21 teeth. The MT-3 catalog also lists much wider-ratio sets of 14/28 or 13/28, the latter being a 6-speed setup, which with appropriately toothed chain sprockets could give more relaxed cruising as well as higher top speed. We had the distinct feeling of being undergeared at anything over 20 mph if the wind was at our backs.
As would be expected, however, the MT-3 with this gearing did quite well in the quarter-mile. And it probably would have done even better had we been more practiced at operating the derailleur mechanism. We tried various combinations of gears—and, particularly in running the Speeds in Gears test, found that there is a certain overlapping of ratios with this set of sprockets. Note in the Data Panel, for instance, that 7th gear is actually numerically higher than 4th, 8th higher than 5th, and 6th and 3rd virtually identical. We find this rather strange, but we adapted to it and used 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th, shifting at maximum ppm (pedals per minute) in each gear and then shifting likewise into high range for 10th for the remainder of the 1/4-mi. It seemed to work very well—except for one thing.
That one thing is the shift linkage itself. From time to time we make derogatory remarks about vague shift linkage or some such thing, but in this mechanism (arranged in the normal I-pattern) there are actually no detents for the five speeds of the derailleur mechanism, which “derails” the chain from one sprocket and brings it into line with the next. So, until you have plenty of practice, you will (as we did) have trouble going from one speed to the next. We could also fault the positions of the shift levers: they most definitely do not fall readily to hand. In fact, one has to divert a disturbing amount of attention from the road to operate them, and it is well-nigh impossible to downshift while braking.
If the drivetrain seemed a bit perplexing compared to our usual automotive fare, the chassis is simplicity itself. In the Data Panel, you will not find any reference to coil springs, anti-roll bars and the like; only “forks.” But the forks do have something to do with how a bike rides. That curve at the lower end of the front fork is short and to the point in this racing machine; on a more sedate touring model it is likely to start higher and arc farther forward, obviously giving a softer ride at the expense of road feel. The MT-3 is naturally biased toward handling, not ride, so it should come as no surprise that it rides rather harshly and has ultra-responsive steering. Of course, that 1:1 overall steering ratio is typical of all bikes—but the response wouldn’t always be as impressive as in the MT-3. Until we got the feel of the machine we had a distinct tendency to oversteer it—which is not to imply that the MT-3 oversteers at all. Its characteristics are quite neutral if the operator will let them be.
Tires are always a matter of interest on a high-performance vehicle, and on the MT-3 as on most racing machines they are strictly special-purpose tires. Called “sew-up,” they are tubeless and sewn together into a cross-sectional tube. They are tiny, extremely light and fragile. The tread is shallow, meaning they would have little rain traction (but then who rides in the rain?), and they leak steadily. That’s why the MT-3 has a tire pump as standard equipment.
Braking is another area where the MT-3 departs radically from our experience. As we have pointed out from time to time, Detroit engineers refer mistakenly to “manual” brakes on their cars; but the MT-3 truly does have manual brakes. Furthermore, front and rear brakes are operated separately and thus—at long last—one actually has control over the front-rear proportioning and can decide whether the fronts or rears will lock first. Perhaps the 30-ft stopping distance from 20 mph is not terribly impressive, but you have to realize that the MT-3 has not gone along with the current trend to ever-wider tires, so there is a definite limit to its tractive capability in braking. Even so, we were able to maintain good directional control in all-out braking, and you will note that we recorded no fade at all in the fade test. The MT-3’s brakes, by the way, are of the side-pull caliper type, working rather like swinging-caliper disc brakes on cars. This may seem strange on a high-class machine, as the center-pull type are reputed to work more evenly; but the side-pulls are lighter and hence were chosen for the MT-3.Again we might complain a little about the positions of the brake controls. On our test vehicle they did not fall readily to hand either; but one can remove the tape from the handlebars and reposition them easily enough. Speaking of handlebars, not being accustomed to racing bikes we at first objected to the dropped bars, finding them uncomfortable. But bicycle experts defend them staunchly, maintain that one gets used to them quickly and call up considerable medical evidence in their favor. As a parallel, we are reminded that most little old ladies don’t like our arms-out driving position either.
In the matter of comfort, we again could pick nits with the MT-3. The seat is leather; but it is also very hard and very narrow. There is no backrest, hence no adjustment for same; but the seat itself is adjustable for height over a wide range and one can quickly find the position that suits one best for pedaling and reaching the handlebars. On long runs, however, until one is properly acclimated one may get a case of sore posterior.
Whatever its eccentricities compared with the usual 4-wheel machines we drive, we certainly enjoyed the MT-3. There are several sore legs and bottoms among the R&T staff now, but also several healthier-feeling people. In fact, among the staff some have decided to add similar machines to their stables, both to save certain sophisticated overhead-camshaft machines from the indignities of about-town work and to improve their own bodily machinery.