MV Agusta Dragster: Lean, mean performance

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Photos by MV Agusta

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Leaking information about upcoming bikes often leads to speculation from the media. This happened when a couple of blurry pictures of only parts of the new MV Agusta Dragster 800 were leaked, about two weeks ahead of the bike’s official launch.

Everyone assumed the Dragster — perhaps because of its suggestive name, perhaps because of its fat rear tire — was aimed at competing with the Ducati Diavel.

 I admit, I made that assumption myself, only to be proven wrong at the bike’s press launch, which was held near Marseille, France, at the famed Circuit Paul Ricard last week. Okay, maybe the fact that the launch included track time should have been an indication of the bike’s sportier direction, but it really sank home after seeing the bike and its spec sheet. 

The Dragster is a refinement of the Brutale, not an all-new machine.
The Dragster is a refinement of the Brutale, not an all-new machine.

WHAT’S NEW

Although I’d assumed the Dragster was an entirely new bike, it’s not. It is heavily based on the Brutale 800, and that includes the frame, swingarm, fork, suspension, brakes, engine, engine tuning and much of the bodywork. What is different is the much abbreviated rear subframe and seat, the absence of a tailpiece, and a fatter, 200-series rear tire mounted on a 6-inch-wide wheel borrowed from the F4 supersport.

There’s no apparent trickery here; the bike wasn’t developed to fool people into thinking it’s a different bike than the Brutale, and in fact, it’s official name is the MV Agusta Brutale 800 Dragster, or Dragster 800 for short. According to the company’s movie-star-handsome CEO, Giovanni Castiglioni, it was designed to “just offer another choice.” Fair enough, a sort of factory custom, assembled in Italy to save you the time and effort of building it yourself.

The Dragster looks short and compact - the opposite of what you'd see on most drag strips.
The Dragster looks short and compact – the opposite of what you’d see on most drag strips.

Visually the result is quite dramatic, its stubby rear end giving the appearance that the swingarm has been lengthened when it hasn’t been, and wheelbase is unchanged at a rather stubby 1,380 mm (54.3 in.).

Those of you that notice the passenger footpegs and the sliver of a pillion seat might deduce that no one in their right mind would dare carry a passenger. However, those clever Italians designed it this way as a filter. “You have to be very selective,” said Castiglioni, suggesting with his hands that it’s a perch for small posteriors only.

There's not a lot of real estate aboard the Dragster if you're a taller rider.
There’s not a lot of real estate aboard the Dragster if you’re a taller rider.

The Dragster is propelled by the same 798 cc inline triple and shares identical engine tuning as the Brutale, which itself is actually a detuned version of the F3 800 supersport engine. In the F3, the engine produces 148 hp; in the Dragster the magic number is 125 hp. Peak torque is also down, measuring 59.7 lb.-ft. compared to 64.9 lb.-ft. on the F3. The Dragster, however, produces its peak torque at 8,600 rpm, a full 4,400 rpm lower.

Electronics include four selectable ride modes — Normal, Sport, Rain and Custom, the last one rider tuneable — and eight-level traction control. Aside from the stubby hindquarters, the dragster also has cast aluminum handlebars as opposed to the tubular aluminum item on the Brutale. The individual handlebars are adjustable in three positions, offering seven degrees or 40 mm of fore and aft movement. There are two Allen bolts on each handlebar that must be removed to make changes, and it takes but two minutes to do so.

The Dragster has electric shift assist, to help you row through the gears more furiously.
The Dragster has electric shift assist, to help you row through the gears more furiously.

Up front is a Marzocchi 43 mm inverted fork, adjustable for rebound and compression damping and spring preload, and in the rear is a single Sachs shock that has the same adjustments. The only difference in the suspension compared to the Brutale is slightly firmer rear damping. Dry weight is 167 kg (368 lb), unchanged from the Brutale. Supersport brakes come standard with ABS, which can be turned off.

 THE RIDE

Heavy rain and single-digit temperatures forced the organisers to postpone the street ride, and they condensed the schedule by combining the road ride and track sessions into one day.

In keeping with the bike's modern styling, the gauges are LCD.
In keeping with the bike’s modern styling, the gauges are LCD.

Fortunately the next day was sunny and warmer. We began at the track, where the Dragster belied its name by handling like anything but. If you’re six-foot or taller, you’ll find the Dragster’s ergos a bit cramped. Not uncomfortably so, but it is a small bike. This was emphasised most while I watched another group of journos riding on the track, where one rider with a stature not unlike ’is ’Arrisship overwhelmed the machine, sitting on the passenger seat down the straight and still hanging over the instruments up front.

As fellow moto-hack Adam Waheed so eloquently put it, he looked like “a monkey fucking a football.” Fortunately there was no primate fornicating when I got on the machine, and I felt quite at home, with just enough room all around.

After a spin on the track, the street ride gave Costa a complete impression of the bike's capabilities.
After a spin on the track, the street ride gave Costa a complete impression of the bike’s capabilities.

Steering is exceptionally light, causing it to be borderline twitchy, but it never shook its head or weaved through the fast sweepers. The bike did have a tendency to resist tightening up its arc through a turn, especially in the high-speed, decreasing-radius Turn 11, where you had to turn in harder and lean further as the turn tightened before opening up at the exit. This was no doubt an after effect of the fat rear tire.

 I set the ride mode to Sport for the most aggressive throttle mapping, and throttle modulation was quite smooth, even at low speeds, something that MV Agusta struggled with on its earlier models. This has been rectified and owners of earlier MVs can get their bikes updated for free at the dealer. Power delivery is smooth and wide, with no peaks or valleys in acceleration throughout the rev range.

Power delivery was smooth - much better than earlier MV Agustas with EFI.
Power delivery was smooth – much better than earlier MV Agustas with EFI.

There’s no slipper clutch, and the Dragster has copious amounts of engine braking, though it never exhibited wheel hop, even when braking hard for a V-shaped hairpin strategically placed at the end of the 230-km/h front straight. Very tight turns do confuse the Dragster a bit, causing it to run a bit wide at the exit, again a by-product of the fat rear tire.

I also selected the third level of traction control before minimum intervention, and it only kicked in during a fast left-to-right turning transition, as the bike stood up while hard on the gas. No light comes on in the dashboard to tell you the TC is working to keep your butt from flipping off the seat, but you can feel a slight hesitation in the power delivery as it reacts to the spinning tire.

Much of the Dragster follows similar styling to the other 800 triples from MV Agusta.
Much of the Dragster follows similar styling to the other 800 triples from MV Agusta.

The Dragster also has an electric quick shift, which I used constantly at the track and on the road. It works flawlessly, as does the transmission, which is one of the nicer gearboxes I’ve sampled. It shifts with light lever effort, whether using the quick-shift or not, and ratios are well matched to the engine.

Track tests are very limited in what they can tell you about a machine and I expected the road ride to be more revealing. And it was.

Those fold-out mirrors are trick, but they get a bit buzzy at high rpms.
Those fold-out mirrors are trick, but they get a bit buzzy at high rpms.

The first thing I noticed was that the fold-out mirrors provided an unobstructed rear view. However, when engine speed got to about 4,000 rpm, vibration blurred the images such that items in the mirrors were indistinguishable. Fortunately the buzzing only affected the mirrors because it was otherwise unobtrusive.

The next thing I noticed is that our Italian lead rider set a pace that made our morning track time seem like a warm up. And the roads! Almost immediately out of the racetrack parking lot we turned onto a tight, winding and impeccably paved stretch of pavement wide enough for about a car and a half, and a small car at that. We maintained a tight, seven-bike formation at un-publishable speeds, and the Dragster once again proved that maybe its makers should have chosen a different name.

The Dragster handled sharply on the street, on the borderline of twitchy, going exactly where Costa pointed it.
The Dragster handled sharply on the street, on the borderline of twitchy, going exactly where Costa pointed it.

The light steering I’d noticed at the track was indeed light, and remained borderline twitchy on the road. But the Dragster went almost exactly where I wanted; the only time it required a bit of my attention was in tight, first-gear hairpins, of which there were aplenty. Here, I just needed to pay more attention to my line, pushing on the handlebar to keep it tight.

The Dragster doesn't offer much in the way of pillion comforts.
The Dragster doesn’t offer much in the way of pillion comforts.

A later ride on a Brutale 800 for comparison confirmed that this, too, was due to the fat rear tire. The Brutale’s steering was more neutral and precise, and the bike was more stable. The Dragster’s fat rear tire also dulled front end feel a bit, making feedback a touch more vague – not uncomfortably so, but something you’d notice only if you rode both bikes back to back.

Overall, the Dragster proved much more nimble than the Ducati Diavel, but the two bikes are worlds apart anyway; the Diavel is bigger, heavier, longer and has 240-series rear rubber. Pears and tangerines, if you will.

That larger rear tire does affect handling somewhat.
That larger rear tire does affect handling somewhat.

With the fuelling sorted, the inline triple is absolutely marvellous -– it’s no wonder those MV folks are putting it in almost everything they make. It pulls relentlessly to redline, making gear changes optional. At the track, I also had a chance to ride the F3 800, and its added horsepower would have made the Dragster even more fun, but really only at the track.

On the street, 125 ponies proved more than enough and its smooth, torquey power delivery proved a boon whether blasting at high speeds along winding mountain roads or at more sedate — and legal — speeds around town. And the sound coming from its triple outlets, well… it looks like there was going to be some moto-mating after all.

No slipper clutch means the Dragster has lots of engine braking. However, Costa didn't have a problem with wheel hop.
No slipper clutch means the Dragster has lots of engine braking. However, Costa didn’t have a problem with wheel hop.

CONCLUSION

Overall, the bike’s designers did a very good job of managing the compromised handling a fat tire imposes on a chassis. They must, after all, meet the changing demands of riders, and fat rear tires are still in. The real issue is that this small family owned business is beginning to produce motorcycles that will be competitive against much bigger players, and the model line-up continues to grow, going from just four models in 2010 to 14 by the end of 2014 (including an as of yet unannounced model).

The Dragster retails for $15,995, which is $1,600 more than the Brutale. That’s a considerable amount, but like Castiglioni said, it offers a different choice. If you don’t want to spend the extra dough, but want exclusivity in all its Italian nakedness, go for the Brutale. It handles a bit better and shares all of its other features with its Dragster brother.

The Dragster is just another sign that MV Agusta is producing bikes that challenge the biggest players in the industry.
The Dragster is just another sign that MV Agusta is producing bikes that challenge the biggest players in the industry.

But, the Dragster looks badass, it actually handles better than it should considering its transformation, and it’ll prompt your better half to stay trim. No amount of money spent on diet programs can beat that.


GALLERY

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.


SPECIFICATIONS

Bike  2014 MV Agusta Dragster
MSRP  N/A
Displacement  798 cc
Engine type  Liquid-cooled, DOHC, three-cylinder, 12-valve
Power (crank)*  125 hp @ 11,600 rpm
Torque*  81 Nm @ 8600 rpm
Tank Capacity  16.6 L
Carburetion  EFI
Final drive  Chain
Tires, front  120/70 ZR17 M/C (58W)
Tires, rear  200/50 ZR17 M/C (75W)
Brakes, front  Dual 320 mm discs, with four-piston Brembo radial caliper, ABS
Brakes, rear  Single 220 mm disc, with Brembo two-piston caliper
Seat height  811 mm
Wheelbase  1380 mm
Wet weight*  N/A
Colours  N/A
Warranty  N/A
* claimed  

12 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t read the politically correct mass-market publications.
    I like the plain spoken wording of Costa and other CMG contributors.
    In fact, I’m a bit surprised this is even being discussed – compared to Traction E-Rag, CMG is Mary Poppins on a Sunday morning.

  2. Costa, I’m interested in an MV 800. But I’m nervous about the throttle response when I’m used to good fuel injection. You’re reports suggests this isn’t an issue. Can you compare the current MV 800 mapping to a Street\Speed Triple or a modern Duc?

  3. I’ve always avoided censorship. Profanity, if not used gratuitously and is contextually appropriate, is acceptable, and this was a quote, which I also believe should be left intact. I don’t see the difference between spelling out the complete word, or going with something like f__k, which you visualise in your mind anyway. I say keep things as they are, CMG has always been edgy, not watered down or PCed to death.

    Costa

    • As much a I might swear in person, I don’t expect to see it nor is it needed in a professional publication. I get enough of that at work thanks.

  4. As fellow moto-hack Adam Waheed so eloquently put it, he looked like “a monkey fucking a football.”

    Wow. I confess to being completely shocked to see that language in a publication that I would have thought to be suitable for a 10-year-old kid. Apparently, times have changed. Not necessarily for the better, either.

    • Hi Trane,

      It’s always a debate whether to use swearing or not and I did ponder if we should keep this line in or not but I thought that it summarized the image that Costa was trying to get across really well so I kept it in. I’d be interested to hear what other CMGers think as it helps us to formulate the best way to deliver our content.

      Thanks for the feedback.

      Cheers, Rob

      • Hey, Rob.

        I’m no saint. I grew up surrounded by musicians and mechanics, so I developed quite a potty mouth. That said, I’m aware of acceptable context when it comes to using profanity. When I’m on-site at a client, for example, nothing stronger than ‘crap’ gets uttered.

        Ultimately, it boils down to how big an audience you wish to address. A lack of profanity won’t offend anybody. Once editorial content starts being peppered with colourful metaphors that involve monkeys doing footballs, you’ve got to know you’re going to be talking to a much smaller audience. I never even bothered finishing the article.

        Just sharing my opinion. It’s not about right or wrong.

        Cheers,

        trane

    • I find it refreshing to see a motorcycle publication print how many of us speak. I have alphabet soup after my name and am in my mid-30s, I’m no 10 year old, but I use swearing as a tool of my vocabulary.

    • It does seem a bit gratuitous, especially when the common moto-phrase “looks like monkey humping a football” gets the idea across just as well without the use of profanity. Doesn’t bother me personally, but I also generally choose my words somewhat based on who may hear them, i.e. small children or older folks (especially older women) who may be somewhat shocked by the language. I know very few of my age find it shocking, but there some, due to a sheltered upbringing or whatever, who are.

      Now, back to the bike – I’d rather have the Brutale, or that other rig they recently displayed that is sort of a sport-tourer (a little ungainly looking, but probably a good ride).

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