RUMI SPORT 125



1952 Rumi Sport 125
Years produced: 1950-1952
Claimed power: 10hp @ 7,400rpm
Top speed: 65mph (est.)
Engine type: 124.68cc air-cooled 2-stroke parallel twin
Top speed: 65mph (est.)
Weight (dry): 202lb (92kg)
Price then: $375 (est.)
Price now: $8,500-$14,000
MPG: 45-65 (est.)

If someone told you they were introducing a 10hp, 125cc 2-stroke
twin-cylinder machine like the 1952 Rumi Sport 125, would you be
even remotely impressed? Probably not. These days, we’re spoiled
by speed, power and efficiency. But 50 years ago, it was a different
world.

Today, we can choose from an unbelievable assortment of
motorcycles made to do anything we want. Up the road or around
the world, it’s all so easily available to us. So try to imagine how it
must have been back in the late Forties and early Fifties in an Italy
still devastated by war. There were few decent roads, little
infrastructure, not a lot to eat and not much to be had in the way of
pleasure. Shoots of optimism were appearing though, and Italians
were getting around again on two wheels. Following the lead of
Piaggio with the Vespa and Moto Guzzi with its “Guzzino” 65, most
of the major manufacturers like Ducati, MV and Mondial had a
small-bore bike on offer; but frankly, these basic commuter
machines were staid, slow and no fun.

And then there was Rumi. Like a bright torch in the gloom of post-
war Italian motorcycle manufacture, the Bergamo-based factory led
the way for others with daring and innovative designs, giving Italian
teenagers something to aspire to by offering what was, for the
period, an extraordinary looking motorcycle — the Rumi Sport 125.

High art
When Donnino Rumi joined his father in the family bronze foundry
business, Fonderie Officine Rumi, he decided Rumi had to
diversify. Donnino was a shy but extravagant artist, with a visual
bent not unlike that of Salvador Dali. He painted, sculpted, drew
and designed, and joined his father in business after an education
at the prestigious Carrara art academy in his hometown of
Bergamo. Combine high art and metal making with a strong cultural
desire for something bright and new, and it’s no wonder the
products coming from the Rumi factory were so aesthetically
original, technically well-designed and — most importantly — so
appealing to the senses and emotions.

The Rumi Sport 125 was introduced in 1950, following the 125
Turismo, Rumi’s first production model. Unique in design and good
looking, they went well, too, and both were instant sales
successes. The 125 Sport engine boasted higher compression
than the Turismo, and had slightly wider fins on the cylinder head
to aid cooling. The 125 engine split horizontally (for quick and easy
access), with a tiny one-piece crankshaft supporting double
connecting rods and pistons with unusually shaped deflector
heads. These were technical ideas that, while different, worked
successfully in the Rumi engine. The Turismo engine was
designed by Pietro Vassena, and then revised in 1951 by
Giuseppe Salmaggi, who also designed the iconic Gilera Saturno.
Salmaggi introduced the 4-speed gearbox for the Sport and twin-
carbureted Super Sport by 1953.

Baffo’s Rumi Sport 125
My friend Fillipo d’Annibale, or “Baffo” for short (baffo is Italian for
mustache), was one of those youngsters mesmerized by the Rumi
Sport 125 way back when. “Nothing else makes a sound like a
Rumi,” Baffo explains. “The noise from the exhausts is just special,
and I remember hearing them pass by when I was a kid.” These
days, after a long career in construction, he spends his spare cash
and time finding and restoring the motorcycles he couldn’t afford
as a lad, hence the Rumi Sport 125 now sitting in his shed, nestled
amongst beautiful Parillas, Mondials and MV Agustas. “I have
looked for a Rumi Sport for years,” says Baffo, “and as they’re rare
nowadays, it took a lot of patience. Then I heard of someone
selling a 1952 model not far from me. It had been restored well
about 10 years ago, so I couldn’t resist, as there was no work to be
done on it.”

The Rumi Sport is an unusual machine however you look at it. In
an era when most small motorcycles had 4-stroke, single-cylinder
engines, the Rumi has a 2-stroke parallel-twin engine sitting
horizontally in the frame. The single Dell’Orto MB22A carburetor is
attached to a sculpted two-branch manifold that carves a vertical
arch before attaching to the cylinders. Polished aluminum
crankcases incorporate strengthening yet aesthetically pleasing
webbing, and the left-hand, one-piece casing also incorporates the
chain guard, an unusual but beautiful approach, all cast in-house
at the Rumi foundry.

The kickstarter is mounted high on the right-hand case, and has to
be kicked forward, not back. It’s strange at first, and hard to kick
while straddling the bike. The choke lever is mounted on top of the
Dell’Orto, and once it’s set the Rumi starts first time from cold.
Once fired a unique WAP-wap-thrap-WAP-thrap-wap emanates
from the long chromed silencers, and of silencing they do little: the
sound is deep and insistent, with none of the tinny ring-ding and
like no other 2-stroke you will ever hear. It’s no wonder that the
Rumi’s voice got under people’s skin.

What also makes this Rumi Sport 125 so different is the complete
lack of toolboxes, side panels or other extra pieces of steel. The
ignition works directly off the Dansi flywheel magneto, so there’s no
battery, and the engine hangs off the open cradle, leaving only
fresh air to be seen through the triangular frame. The only
concession to any real clothing is the nacelle that covers the
headlamp, incorporating the horn and supporting the speedo, and
the valanced rear fender. The rounded and compact 3.7-gallon
gas tank has depressions for the rider’s knees.

The seat is simply startling, and must be the single most bizarre-
looking element of this motorcycle. Seemingly hanging off the back
of the tank in mid air with no visible means of support, the bright
red leather and chrome-studded saddle could have come off a
child’s show pony. It flows neatly, connected by a flap to the tiny
pillion pad, and complemented at the joint with the fuel tank by a
padded parapalle; in Italian, it means a catcher or a wall to keep
balls from going outside a playing area — enough said.

Looking under the gas tank, I can see the seat is firmly attached to
a cantilevered and adjustable spring, a little like a monoshock
suspension system. The only tiny concession to storage is found
under the seat, where there is a little compartment with room for a
spare spark plug and perhaps a small salami. A large friction
damper dominates the rider’s view of the front end of the Rumi
Sport 125, with the Rumi logo featured on the small, 120kmh
speedometer.

Though the “cockpit” area is nicely thought out, with the top of the
forks dressed with chrome caps, cool domed nuts and neatly
routed cables, the bars are almost dead straight across and the
non-adjustable levers have a span that can only be described as
ridiculous. Strange, seeing as the rest of the Sport is obviously so
well considered and the attention to detail is so remarkable.

On the road
Riding the Rumi Sport 125 is just as remarkable, and it sounds like
it looks — very different and hard to describe, but it could almost
be mistaken for a loud 4-stroke twin. There’s none of that high-
pitched 2-stroke buzziness, just a persistent drone that gets louder
as speed increases.

The Sport does compare to a normal 2-stroke in that it has to be
revved hard, giving good handfuls of gas to get the best from it.
Taking into account the fact this is a 57-year-old motorcycle with
57-year-old technology, the Rumi flies for a 125, especially with a
180-pound tester on it rather than the intended trim Italian. First
gear is tall, and I use the beautifully designed and cranked heel-
and-toe gear lever to get up into third as fast as I can, and then
accelerate hard. Response from the engine is precise and smooth.

The Rumi Sport handles very well on its skinny forks and plunger
rear end. It corners admirably and the drum brakes front and rear
are adequate for the performance offered, but just. Helping out is
engine braking, which is considerable for a 2-stroke. I’m comfy on
the sprung saddle, which soaks up bumps well, and while the
levers and handlebars are annoying mainly because it wouldn’t
have taken much to improve them, they don’t detract from the
overall riding experience.

The speedo is typically Italian; inaccurate and a bit pointless. On a
couple of straights, in fourth gear and attempting a crouch (not
easy on something so small), I must have reached a good 50mph
or 55mph, fast for an old and highly-strung machine. As they say, it’
s not how fast you go but how you go fast, and on a machine that
offers as much charisma, period charm and exclusivity as the
Rumi, as well as great aural pleasure, that certainly counts for
everything.

Sadly, the Rumi story was short, and the factory only continued
producing motorcycles for another few years before shutting its
doors forever in 1962. A general economic malaise combined with
dwindling motorcycle sales made it impossible to go on, though I
wonder whether Donnino Rumi’s ideas, originality and artistry all
came a decade too early. The Rumi Sport 125 survives as rare
and very enjoyable testimony to his left-field vision.


This article appeared in - Motorcycle Classics - James Adam
Bolton - November / December 2009 -