You guys have all had a girlfriend who excited you beyond belief, but was occasionally impossible to live with, right? Perhaps you ladies have had similar boyfriends … Anyway, such a relationship is an excellent introduction to Italian motorcycles.
I must confess to having had a sneaking attraction to Guzzis since about 1980, when I spent a couple of weeks with a Spada, at that time the marque’s sport-touring model. I liked it enough to conclude that it was an exotic that, unlike most, might actually make sense as a daily ride.
Then came a Canadian, and indeed North American, distributor/dealer/manufacturer collapse. Only since the huge Piaggio concern has taken over the company in the last few years has there been a revival. So the line is again available in Canada, just in time to celebrate its 90th anniversary this year.
Which is a long way of saying that I’ve finally, 30 years later – good Lord – had another couple of weeks with a Moto Guzzi. This one was the Norge GT 8V, which roughly competes with a BMW R1200RT, Honda ST1300, etc. – touring stuff like heated grips, luggage, adjustable windscreen, and a comfy seat, combined with a sporty ride and demeanour.
The Norge (Norwegian for Norway) is so-named to commemorate Giuseppe Guzzi’s ride from Mandello del Lario, Italy to the north end of Norway in 1928, so it’s definitely an appropriate handle for a Guzzi touring machine.
It all looked and sounded good. Then when the Piaggio rep delivered the bike to me and I asked how to remove the bags, he said they were fiddly, don’t bother, just put soft bags inside.
Cue slight uneasiness …
LONG HAUL HAPPINESS
I left on a day-long trip to meet Editor ‘Arris and Costa in Bristol, Vermont, to start the 2011 annual CMG fall tour. That entailed a selection of entertaining roads through the Adirondack National Forest after crossing the border (unusually easy, as the guard liked the looks of the “Guzzo,” and wanted to talk bikes before he waved me through).
The Guzzi was great in the mountains; it’s hardly light at 257 kg (565 lb) but doesn’t feel anything like that except when heaving it off the side stand. It’s stable and solid, but also feels light and precise in corners, a good trick and an absolute joy on the twisty Adirondack forest roads.
Throttle and clutch are surprisingly light and easy to use, as is the brake lever, which provides excellent stopping power through Brembo calipers. The suspension is adjustable for preload at both ends plus rebound damping on the single rear shock, but the standard settings were fine for me and my luggage (I’m maybe a bit shorter than average, no doubt at least average for weight).
You always wonder a bit about Italian electronics, but everything worked fine during the CMG New England brew-pub tour. Three-level electric grips, yes. Electrically-adjustable windscreen, yes. Fancy dash readouts, from instantaneous fuel consumption to highest top speed achieved (oops!), yes. No problems at all.
The thing that surprised me above all else (not counting the reliable electrics) was how comfortable the Norge proved to be. I had two long days on it, from my home in Napanee to Bristol, Vermont and the returning home from Stowe, VT at the end (that was close to a nine-hour day thanks to exploring some new roads), and I was comfortable the whole way.
I’d just spent several weeks riding a Honda Gold Wing and while I wouldn’t say the Norge was exactly Gold Wing plush, it’s still very comfortable and an excellent long-distance mount.
Height matters. I was quite comfortable even though I expected knee cramps from the fairly high pegs; didn’t happen, to my surprise. Costa is taller than me and he found the riding position accommodating, but giant-sized Editor ‘Arris found his knees up around his ears somewhere, and figures it would limit any long rides on the bike.
We were all delighted with the riding characteristics on the twisty and hilly roads of New England. The cool on-and-off damp conditions added to the challenge, but no matter what the road surface we all found the bike stable, comfortable, and strong as it got pitched into corners with varying speeds and amounts of brio.
The Pirelli Angel tires may well have been part of that – they certainly felt fine the whole way – and for sure the package was a treat.
Everyone was content to stay on the Guzzi as long as possible (‘Arris’ note about the footpegs aside) – it was absolutely predictable and easy to ride, plus the advantage in extremis of ABS – more Italian electronics that I’m glad to say none of us ended up needing to explore.
A big part of the attraction is the engine, which is a delight. It’s the new 1,151cc, eight-valve V-twin that pumps out 102 hp. Lots of go available at almost any rpm with a big but somehow friendly thudding vibration up to about 3,000. It gets progressively smoother after that, yet still the mirrors are remarkably clear at any speed. It’s almost like taking a big happy puppy for a run rather than riding a bike.
We had differing opinions on the fairing and dash set-up. ‘Is Editorship and Costa thought the fairing was moderately ugly, and that the dash looked old-fashioned. I on the other hand didn’t mind the fairing (loved it for the way it worked, actually; much better protection than you’d expect from a first glance) and thought the dash charmingly retro and easy to read. We’ll set that one aside for “personal preference” and move on.
One appearance thing we all agreed on was that the fairing hid too much of the engine. While admittedly the big V-twin does look a bit like a water pump, we all think that the mechanical bits of a motorcycle should be celebrated rather than hidden.
SO MUCH FOR THE EROTIC, NOW FOR THE ERRATIC
You may recall that the Piaggio rep was reluctant to show me how to remove the saddlebags from the bike, so I didn’t. Loading my soft bags into the cases, and certainly not overstuffing them, I was very careful with the latches – two per case, the over-centre kind, one lockable – but at my first gas stop I found one of the non-locking ones open. I closed it, then carefully rechecked them all before proceeding.
Later, on a bumpy bit of road near Lake Champlain, I stopped to put on a rain jacket because of the menacing sky and found the locked latch on the same bag open. Eek … I re-latched and locked it double-carefully, checked them all again, and tried harder to avoid road bumps.
Next day, we were heading across the Appalachian Gap on Rte 17, when I heard that distinctive scrrrrrrch! of plastic on pavement – if you’re around a race track much, you know the sound – and I frantically braked to a halt.
Costa, following me, has already stopped and found the bag by the time I parked and began walking back. The same bag that had popped the two latches has successfully escaped. Remarkably, neither latch opened, so my laptop was okay and I didn’t have to chase clothing through the damp forest.
We fiddled it back on, but noticed some rub marks on the mounts where there shouldn’t have been any – clearly the thing had been moving around a fair bit before it jumped ship. The bag seemingly hadn’t been engaged properly on the forward-most mount when delivered, or else had just popped loose on its own, because I’d never removed the case.
Our suspicions of improper initial installation were confirmed, as after we put it back on properly, it didn’t budge for the remainder of the trip. Extreme care is to be exercised, to say the least.
The other big thing on the “erratic” side: the stands are atrocious. The pivot for the centre stand is in such an odd place that I could barely heave the bike up even on a flat concrete surface; even a big guy like ’Arris had trouble
Meanwhile, from day one the side stand seemed too short, allowing the bike to lean over too far, requiring a serious yank to get it upright. It was only after getting home that I realized the bike really was leaning more than it had been – the damn stand was bending. When retracted, it now interferes with the footpeg, and the spring is fouling the bodywork.
How hard is it to make the stands right on a bike?
ONE FOR THE STABLE
The Norge is outstandingly comfortable with great wind protection, has good-sized luggage, and dynamically works as well on a twisty road as a bike half its bulk, with a great power delivery.
But the luggage and the stands left us shaking our heads. Surely after 90 years of practice Moto Guzzi can do better.
I’d love to have the Norge in my stable (as if I could afford a “stable”) – but I’d have to find some way to fix those two issues. Probably any competent welder would be able do something with the side stand, and as for the centre stand, who really needs one on a shaft-drive bike (unless the side stand snaps off, that is)?
The luggage? Have to think about that.
But if your emotions triumph over reason – which after all is a lot of what motorcycling is about – and the Norge appeals as it does to all of us, I’d say go for it.
The Guzzi Norge oozes character. The bike vibrates just enough to give it a visceral, mechanical quality – the way a real machine should feel, and it handles nicely.
I like the new eight-valve engine; it has pretty good bottom-end power and the gearbox feels, for the lack of a better term, substantial.
The only thing about this bike — and it’s uncharacteristic to boot — is that it doesn’t exude typical Italian moto-sexiness. It’s not ugly but it sure ain’t pretty, either. It looks like someone had designed the bike in the 1990s and those sketches were somehow forgotten in a factory drawer for a couple of decades.
Larry likens the bike to a girlfriend that turns you on but can sometimes be difficult; I liken it to a girl who’s hot in the sack but you don’t really want to introduce to your friends.
With the Norge, Moto Guzzi have succeeded in making a very competent and more importantly, enjoyable sport tourer.
The motor will chug along at 2,000 rpm (albeit without much power) or pull strongly all the way to redline. It’s pretty smooth too. This is all wrapped up with a very competent chassis and a good dose of character (stepping off the Super Ténéré just showed me the importance of such a trait) that reminds you of just how much fun motorcycling can be.
However, I do have two big beefs.
1) The seat is so sculpted it put my knees around my ears. It feels like you’ve just sat down on the loo only to find that you forgot to put the seat down. Well, maybe not quite so bad, but a height-adjustable seat isn’t exactly an innovation these days. Although it didn’t leave me in pain, I didn’t ride the bike for long stints and am sure this would be a limiting factor.
2) Okay, imagine if you will a truly stunning Italian lass, blessed by the god of breasts, and she’s naked (I know, I know, but go with me here). Now find the drabbest clothing from the Sally Army 1990s bin (as baggy and unflattering as possible), and cover her. This is essentially what Guzzi did with the Norge.
Sure, if you look hard enough you can still get a teaser of those gorgeous brace of 600 cc cylinders, but before Guzzi could make a competent sport tourer, they at least had style. Must the two be mutually exclusive? Even Pamela Anderson knows that if you have such assets, you don’t cover them up.
Something like a bikini fairing, AKA Suzuki’s Bandit, would offer protection and liberate those gorgeous jugs!
|2011 Moto Guzzi Norge 1200 GT|
|Air-cooled four-valve SOHC 90 degree V-twin|
|Power (crank)*||102 bhp @ 7,000 rpm|
|77 ft-lb @ 5,500 rpm|
|Electronic fuel injection|
|Six speed, shaft|
|Two 320 mm discs, four-piston Brembo calipers, ABS|
|282 mm disc, two-piston Brembo caliper, ABS|
|810 mm (31.9″)|
|1,496 mm (58.9″)|
|257 kg (566 lb)|
|Black (2011), white (2012)|
|One year, unlimited kilometres|