A bit of marketing
It was a refreshing relief to sit through a product presentation and not get bombarded by contrived marketing jargon.
MV Agusta president Giovanni Castiglioni, son of the late Claudio Castiglioni, was talking off the cuff and was surprisingly frank when discussing MV Agusta’s current position in the marketplace, as well as its future.
According to the numbers provided, Castiglioni said that the small Italian bike maker is taking an increasingly bigger piece of the pie. While motorcycle sales in Europe have dropped by 36 percent since 2010, MV Agusta sales have actually risen 67 percent in the same time period.
Okay, so expected trumpet blowing there, but when asked why MV Agusta sales were going against the grain, Castiglioni said frankly that by being a low-volume manufacturer it was easy to get big percentage numbers with relatively low unit sales.
This declaration caught the ear of recently appointed VP, Giorgio Girelli, who quickly jumped in to add that it was also because MV had really ramped up its line-up with appealing, accessible and interesting inline-triple models. Good save Mr Girelli!
In fact, the company had just three models in 2009, a number that increased to 11 by 2012, with five more coming for 2014, the first of which was the F3 800, introduced earlier this year. Not bad for a small, family-run company (relatively speaking) competing in field dominated by huge, multinational conglomerates.
Next in line is the new Rivale 800, which I was invited to ride in Vence, a town 50 km north of Nice, France.
The Rivale 800 is all-new from the ground up, and not just a Brutale with different bodywork. And as with other products in MV’s portfolio, the Rivale is a looker from any angle.
It’s styling is motard-inspired, and there are some interesting and actually unintentional design cues that chief designer Adrian Morton only noticed after looking at the photographs of the bike. From the side the tailpiece looks like a stylised art-deco bird. Looking at it directly from the rear you’ll see open-mouthed snake, and using more vivid imagination, if you flip the passenger footpegs down while looking at it from behind you’ll see a leaping frog.
However, crash it and you’ll see a snake eating a frog and a dead turkey.
The only little bit of design overkill, in my eyes, is the funky, angular turn signals mounted on the rear fender/licence plate mount. There is a remedy for that, as well as the rear fender if you find its presence too offensive, in the form of an accessory, fender-less billet licence plate bracket with more conventional turn signals.
The folding bar-end mirrors are a design first used on the Ducati Hypermotard, and there are other visual similarities between the two Italian bikes, but the similarities end when you start the Rivale and hear its growling exhaust.
At the heart of the Rivale is the company’s new liquid-cooled 798 cc inline triple, which was introduced in the Brutale 800 earlier this year. As in the other MV triples, its crankshaft rotates backwards (clockwise when looking at the bike from the left), which apparently quickens turning transitions.
The Rivale uses the same engine tuning as the Brutale 800, claiming 125 hp at 12,000 rpm and 62 lb-ft of torque at 8,600 rpm, though both those bikes are toned down from the F3 800’s 148 horsepower and 65 lb-ft.
The Rivale uses a chassis that is similar to MV’s other models, with the standard steel trellis main frame and cast aluminum rear section. The bike has slightly different steering geometry than the Brutale, using a 30 mm longer wheelbase (1,410 mm), half a degree more rake at 24.5 degrees, 10 mm more trail at 105 mm, and taller suspension.
Okay, so to the ride …
Usually when we’re led on a press ride, our lead riders begin slowly on wider, flowing roads and work up to the tighter, faster stuff, thus allowing some time to get accustomed to the machines – like the warm up before the main workout. But as I mentioned earlier, MV Agusta does things a bit differently.
We turned right out of the hotel entrance, and within two more turns were hammering the bikes into switchbacks and hairpins at a pace I could best describe as expert. Apparently foreplay isn’t a thing for Italians.
The seating position is forward-biased, very much like the first-generation Hypermotard before Ducati moved the perch rearward. This invites an aggressive pace, and the Rivale responded to steering inputs with precision and poise. Steering effort is light and remains neutral through turns, yet it is surprisingly stable and free of the unintentional weaving usually attributable to wide handlebars.
MV Agustas use ride-by-wire throttle control but throttle response on previous models I’ve ridden has been quite abrupt, earning them a reputation for poor throttle modulation. Until now. MV Agusta’s test riders accumulated 250,000 kilometres developing the bike to make it as good as it could be, and that exhaustive work is evident as soon as you let the clutch out.
Throttle response is very linear and easily manageable, even in the most aggressive of the three preset ride modes. There are four ride modes in all — Rain, Normal, Sport and Custom — and selecting them has been made easier than on previous models I’ve ridden. All you have to do is hit the starter button with the engine running to scroll through the different modes in the digital dash display. Stop at the one you want to select, and that’s it, the bike will assume that mode without any further button pushing, clutch pulling or throttle closing.
There are also eight levels of traction control, easily set via a rocker switch mounted on the left handlebar switchpod. The only thing missing is the ABS (though it is coming because all motorcycles in Europe will be ABS equipped by 2016).
The engine has a super-wide, flat powerband, and it can accelerate smoothly and with surprising grunt from as low as 50 km/h in top gear. The powerband is so wide that you can’t really select a wrong gear – it’s just a matter of how fast you want to pull away from corners.
Select a higher gear or two for more progressive acceleration, or leave it in a lower gear to blast out, letting the engine scream in its upper rev range. And it seems to rev forever. I tried on a couple of occasions to get the engine to bump off the rev limiter, but it just kept pulling – at least until the next corner, which in the Cote d’Azur comes rather quickly. The traction control was set to level four of eight, and I found no reason to change it.
Engine vibration is minimal, and at normal highway speeds it is almost imperceptible. It’s only in the upper revs that you’ll feel some (thankfully unobtrusive) buzzing. The seat is really more of a styling exercise, and it is firm, narrow and forward sloping. It was good for about one hour of squirm-free riding, so regular breaks are in order.
Clutch effort is light, though first gear is tall and it needs a bit of slipping to get going. The transmission works well, with a relatively light touch and short lever throw, and there’s a standard electric shifter that lets you upshift without closing the throttle or using the clutch. It worked better with lots of throttle; using it at low to moderate throttle made shifting a bit jerky. At our elevated pace I used it all the time except when riding through towns.
I sampled each ride mode except Custom, and settled on Sport mode, which isn’t something I’d do on other MVs because of their abrupt throttle. Do not fret if you do own a current or older MV though. MV Agusta engineers said they will apply what they’ve learned and update the throttle maps of previous models – making them available for free at your dealer. You can check the MV Agusta website to see if your bike is up to date. The folks at MV are also working on a system where owners will be able to update the ECU software online from home, much like you can with an iPhone.
The suspension is one of the factors contributing to why this bike should appeal to a wide variety of riders. Unlike sporty naked bikes, MV Agusta refrained from equipping the Rivale with supersport-stiff suspension. It’s nonetheless a more sophisticated setup than on the new Yamaha FZ-9 and features full adjustability front and rear. Up front is Marzocchi 43 mm inverted fork and Sachs provides the single shock.
I initially found the rear suspension too soft on the rebound, as the bike bobbed a bit through turning transitions. I’d planned to crank it up during a photo shoot, but was disheartened to find only two Allen wrenches under the seat. Fortunately one of the photographers had a multi-tool, and three-quarters of a turn on the rear rebound adjuster did the trick.
The folding mirrors worked very well, providing a clear, elbow-free rear view. If you don’t like them you can order a set of conventionally mounted billet mirrors, though we were told all you’d see with those is your elbows.
MV Agusta seems intent on remaining an exclusive maker of low-volume, premium products. And the Rivale 800 is a premium bike, which is reflected in its $16,995 price tag.
According to Castiglioni, the brand now outsells Aprilia in Europe, and demand is increasing steadily.
I have no doubt that MV Agusta sales will continue their upward trend; the bikes are getting better with each model launched, and they are among the best looking machines on the market. Their company’s only limiting factor is a limited distribution network. Numbers presented in the morning presentation revealed that sales increases were directly linked to European countries where the distribution network was broadened. That trend would surely follow in this country.
It was refreshing to see how passionate the people behind the scenes at MV Agusta are about their products and about motorcycles in general. Castiglioni believes the Rivale 800 is as significant a model for the company as the F4 was when it was introduced. I think it’s the best MV Agusta has produced to date. I can’t wait to see what the next three bikes will be like.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Bike||2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled triple, three valves per cylinder|
|Power (crank)*||125 hp @ 12,000 rpm|
|Torque*||62 ft-lb @ 8,600 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||12.9 litres|
|Tires, front||120/70 ZR17|
|Tires, rear||180/55 ZR17|
|Brakes, front||Twin 320 mm floating discs, radial four-piston caliper|
|Brakes, rear||Single 220 mm disc, two-piston caliper|
|Seat height||881 mm|
|Colours||Black, grey, red|