When I first got into motorcycles, half my lifetime ago (I was 17), Moto Guzzi were the bike's of the enthusiast. The same guy that had an old Triumph Bonnie. The same guy that spent half the weekend tinkering on the bike, before donning his sheepskin bomber jacket, half helmet and goggles, and thumping off down the road in quest of that twisty English country lane and a good pub for lunch. I never quite got my head around why somebody would opt to spend more, for something less reliable, when they could just pick up a Japanese bike for considerably cheaper and ride for both days of the weekend.
But then I'd never ridden one either. So when Pat Doyle of Bavarian Motosports (Woodbridge, Ontario) offered to loan us one of their 2001 V11 Sports, images of sheepskin jackets, half helmets and silly goggles came flooding back, and my chance to prod into the Guzzi mystique had finally arrived.
Moto Guzzi have been producing their earmark 90 degree, across-the-frame v-twin since Mussolini was a boy and it hasn't really changed much since. The 1064 cc motor uses push-rods, has only 2 valves per cylinder and is air-cooled, albeit with a bit of help from a small oil cooler up front. With a maximum claimed output of 91 hp (at 7,800 rpm), it's more of BMW/Buell level performance than Honda RC51. But that's more of an accurate description of where the V11 is, literally somewhere between the two.
Styling wise, it's reminiscent of an old cafe-racer, with a single headlight up front, simplistic and stylish white faced clocks, exposed motor in a bright red frame, and all finished off with sparkly lime-green bodywork. The exhaust pipes are a bright blue where they emerge from the cylinders, and then turn into brushed aluminum as they sweep back under the motorcycle, emerging once more as two upswept baffles at the rear.
There's also some excellent attention to detail. The clutch and brake holders are simply beautiful (and adjustable by the way). A minimilistic approach has been taken with the assembly treated to an anodised gold finish. Granted, not something alone that would convince someone to buy the bike, but it's little touches like this that make you think your on something more than just a motorcycle.
This is not the kind of bike a recluse would buy, and indeed I was approached at many stops by admirers (of the bike, not me).
Although at first glance the riding position looks as if you'll be lucky to ever stand up straight again after a day in the saddle, it's actually very amenable. The clip-ons are quite high, leaving weight off the wrists and giving a more sports-touring than pure-sports stance. The seat is relatively comfortable (initially), but you have to slide your arse far back in order to make contact with the hump behind and thus the benefit of its support.
Unfortunately I think I was a bit bigger (6'4") than the designers had intended, and my knees didn't so much as fit into the tank cut outs, as over them. This inevitably resulted in the edge rubbing away at my inner legs, which in turn were splayed out rather than tucked in, and the occasional burning smell as my knees came to rest on the cylinder heads (I was wearing armoured leathers in case you were wondering).
Pulling on the fuel injection fast idle lever and prodding the starter button normally doesn't work immediately. The motor coughs and splutters but insists you try a couple more times before co-operating with a thumpety-thump of life. Pull in the (dry) clutch and there's an alarmingly loud rattle - loud enough to grab the attention of passing pedestrians, dogs and other assorted wildlife.
The new six speed gearbox is the start of an agricultural theme. Although Guzzi claim that it " ... not only gives smoother and far more silent gear engagement, but also provides shifter feel that sports style riding demands", in reality it's a tad on the notchy side with a gaping false neutral between 3rd and 4th and a slightly less cavernous one between 4th and 5th. The situation is further complicated by the fact that once in a falsie, you can't get back out without some firm stamping on the gear lever and associated crunching of gears.
Once you've gotten used to oddities that the V11 presents, you get to see its charm. Yes, it's agricultural and makes the kind of noises that most bikes reserve for their death cry, but on the open road it becomes part of the experience. Heading north-east from the GTA I found the glorious Hwy 507 - a sweeping, well paved road, that follows the dips and crests of the Canadian Shield with gleeful abandon.
After some experimentation on this road I found that the Guzzi was most comfortable around a steady 120 km/h, for two reasons:
1) The motor really develops its power from 5000 rpm, before dropping off at around 7500 rpm. It's quite a fierce surge and is really quite addictive. However, doing this in 6th gear and you're into the 4000 to 5000 rpm range and that's where the vibes start. Even though these are of quite low a frequency, they're rather harsh and can be likened to someone tapping lightly on the bars with a hammer. By keeping it in 5th, you stay in the higher power band, and without too much speed to boot.
Too much speed (can that be possible)? That leads me nicely into ...
2) The Guzzi is a rider's bike. No doubt about it. That may sound like an overly obvious and simplistic statement, but modern motorcycle technology is so advanced that you don't so much as ride a bike anymore, rather just think about where you want to go, and the bike does the rest. Not so simple with the V11, slouch-boy.
It never quite reassures you that it's going to play along with you. Coming into a gnarly corner at a high rate of knots and it'll say "sure, no problem mihster, we cahn do thees" (it's Italian don't forget), but then half way round it blurts back "you know, I'm someteems ... how you say ... too optomeestic?".
Not that I ever ended up in a ditch, just that if I intended on taking a corner like a hero, the task ahead was immediately given my full attention and riding abilities.
Pushing matters, let's say for argument sake, to around 190 km/h, and the V11 doesn't quite feel firmly planted anymore. Again, not in a crash-and-burn kind of way, but more of a kind of warning to let you know that you're effectively trying to kiss its sister, and if you push it anymore (for example, by trying to slip a tongue into the equation) then be prepared to die.
With that in mind I didn't try for the claimed 220 Km/h top speed.
Actually, talking of death, during a 150 km/h blast down CMG's private test track, I felt a sudden thwack in my chest. Looking down to see if there was a shot gun sized hole, where once my chest had been, instead there lay a dead sparrow on my lap. Quite sad really, but nothing to do with this write up. I digress. Okay, where were we?
After a full day in the saddle my arse was in a lot of pain. However, oddly, by the next morning I was fine again, and managed to do another full day before entering the land o' extreme arse pain once more.
The suspension consists of Marzocchi USDs up front (with compression and rebound adjustment) and a single shock at the rear. I never adjusted it out of standard trim as it (for most of the time) proved to be a good compromise of not too hard and not too soft. There's also a steering damper up front to keep any wobbles at bay - which it appeared to do.
The dual 4-piston Brembos up front do an excellent job at stopping and even allow for a stoppie if you're brave enough to grab full on. However, they do lack some feedback and tended to be a bit grabby, thus making slow speed manoeuvrability a tad difficult. The rear has found a good balance too - having enough force to be useful, but not too much that it locks up too easily.
As if to remind me of my early years watching biker-boy fixing his Le Mans, the V11 showed its heritage by a drip-drip fuel leak out of the fuel injection system on the lhs. Although this probably affected fuel consumption, we managed to get 12.5 Km/l, equating to a range of 275 Km from its 22 litre tank. With the fuel light coming on as early as the 195 km mark, this would suggest that you've got a good 80 km before it's time to start pushing.
The tach also failed to fully co-operate, getting stuck on the way up at 7500 rpm and then suddenly leaping to the the 9000 mark. Even with the engine turned off, it tried to convince me that it was doing a steady 500 rpm.
Talking of the fuel injection system, its glitch free but a tad sharp, requiring careful application of the throttle in order to avoid anything like .. oh ... dumping the passenger off the back. Taking her for a romantic birthday getaway on the back of the Guzzi maybe wasn't the best of plans. It simply doesn't accommodate anything more than one.
For starters there's nothing to hold onto, the footpegs are comically high and the baffles so close that they're left with no option but to rest their heels on the hot pipe. Try and put some saddlebags into that equation and you're not in for a perfect getaway, which is a shame because with a bit more thought the V11 could make an excellent sports touring machine (pure sports it ain't).
But I think I'm painting an unfair picture here. Although there were plenty of reasons that made the V11 somewhat suspect as a modern bike, it didn't fail to put a smile on my face. The rough spots are somewhat made up for with character and that motor carries you along on a lovely wave of thump-thump-thump, accentuated by the drone from the pipes. Ultimately it needs a good going over with a competent designer.
Now that Aprilia have bought out Moto Guzzi there will no doubt be a large injection of much needed cash. They've already had a stab at the V11 (now known as the V11 Sport Naked) and have a faired variant which they've seen fit to honour with the mighty Le Mans badge once more.
Apparently some of the handling "vaugeties" have been addressed by extending the wheelbase by 19 mm. There's also a wider wheel and fatter tire at the back, so the changes do seem to be relatively minor. However, it's merit for now is in its character, and although it's mechanically competent, a few minor changes could (hopefully) make it an excellent sports tourer.
There are some aftermarket options available, of which the quarter fairing (at a rather expensive $528.39) was already fitted to our test bike. It actually does a respectable job at deflecting the wind blast off the majority of the rider and looks the part to boot, However, there is an awful lot of wind noise generated and so it's compulsory to use earplugs unless you want to be like grandpa 40 years too early. There are also a pair of shaped saddlebags ($368.99) (standard ones are just a pain to use) and the 'competition only' (read loud) mufflers in aluminum ($867.87) or carbon fibre ($1446.47) finishes.
Thanks to: Pat Doyle at Bavarian Motosports (57 Ashbridge Circle, Unit #1, Woodbridge, On. L4L 3R5, Ph 905-851-1666) for the loaner of the V11.