Reception of the Brutale Dragster 800 came as a surprise to its manufacturer MV Augusta. The Dragster was released earlier this year as a customized offshoot of the Brutale 800 – the Italian brand’s bestseller.
According to MV chief Giovanni Castiglioni, there was no marketing research done to determine a target market for the Dragster; no focus groups were asked to provide input into its design to enhance its appeal or boost sales. They just built it because they thought it was cool and expected to sell, maybe, 500 units.
In less than a year since its introduction, the sales have blown past that 500 mark as almost 2,000 Dragsters have been sold. According to Castiglioni, if they could have built more, they would have sold those too.
The Dragster is based on the Brutale 800, sharing components like the frame, swingarm, fork, brakes, engine, engine tuning and much of the bodywork. What distinguishes the Dragster is its unique, adjustable handlebar, its blunt rear subframe that ends at the seat — there’s no tailpiece — and a fatter, 200-series rear tire mounted on a 6-inch-wide wheel.
MV Agusta has just released hotter, faster and meaner RR versions of the Brutale 800 and Dragster, and I was invited to ride both in Siena, Italy.
A lot of the standard 800s has transferred onto the RR variations, including chassis specs, bodywork and various odds and ends. Where the new bikes do split from their standard brethren is in engine and suspension tuning, along with some styling variations.
The engine in both bikes is the 798 cc inline triple, first seen in the F3 800. Changes to the engine includes using larger throttle bores (50 mm vs. 47 mm), new intake runners, a new airbox (that required reshaping the underside of the fuel tank, though fuel capacity remains at 16.6 litres), and going to twin injectors, one in the intake manifold and the second a shower type.
Whereas the engine produces 125 hp in the standard bikes, it pumps out 140 hp in the RRs, approaching the 148 hp of the F3. Peak torque has also been boosted to 62.7 lb-ft, up from 59.7 lb-ft, and the torque curve is wider. Claimed dry weight for either bike is 168 kg (370 lb), up one kilo from the standard bikes, and the folks at MV claim that this gives the RRs a power-to-weight ratio that exceeds all other naked bikes currently available.
Suspension components are mostly the same as on the standard bikes, except that there’s new 43 mm Marzocchi inverted forks on both machines that use aluminum male sliders with a DLC coating. Marzocchi has been developing these forks for six years and this is the first time to my knowledge that a fork assembly has been made entirely of aluminum. Suspension settings are firmer than on the standard bikes, with both RR models sharing spring rates but using unique damping settings from one another (the Dragster RR has the firmest settings of all).
Like on the standard bikes, there’s eight-level traction control and four selectable ride modes — Normal, Sport, Rain and Custom — the last one permitting individual settings. Ride modes are selectable while you ride, via a button on the right-hand switch assembly, and there is no need to pull the clutch or shut the throttle to confirm your selection.
Also new is an electric shift assist that allows clutchless gear changes both up and down the gearbox. These RRs – as well as the 2015 BMW S1000RR – tested here last week, are the only bikes available with this feature as standard equipment. The RRs also benefit from the addition of a slipper clutch.
The Brutale RR has forged five-spoke wheels, while the Dragster RR has unique tubeless wire wheels. Another motorcycling first, at least for a production bike, is the use of a spoke wheel on a chain-driven single-sided swingarm.
The Dragster’s wheels, whether painted black or white, look spectacular. What I’m less fond of is the Dragster’s fat rear tire, but more on that later.
Finally, both RR models get an adjustable steering damper (no damper on the standard bikes), an unusual design that has a piston rod that mounts at both ends.
There was no one to blame, really, for the language-related miscommunication. The emailed schedule read: 9:00AM departure from hotel for the first part of the track test ride and photo shooting. The email went on to explain there would be a road test after lunch, so I packed two sets of riding gear.
Turns out there was no track session after all, the word “track” being erroneously used in place of “road”. The entire test of the 2015 MV Agusta Brutale 800 RR and Dragster RR would be held on the sinuously tight and narrow roads intertwined among the hills and vineyards of Tuscany. Woe is me.
I began the morning on the Dragster RR and would swap to the Brutale RR after lunch. We turned out of the hotel parking lot onto a ridiculously narrow, winding road and within minutes were just hammering along. Well, the track time wasn’t missed because the pace set by MV Agusta’s guide riders would have easily put us in the red group of a Pro 6 Cycle track day, and I was busting a sweat keeping up with the four Brutale 800 RRs ahead of me.
The Dragster RR is an unapologetic custom bike: it looks like something that came out of a California bike-builder’s shop, and behaves like the roguish kid down the block your parents told you to stay away from. It’s brash, it’s nervous – and it’s a bad influence. So, naturally one wants to befriend it.
It has a compact riding position, its forward-biased seat nestling my family jewels snugly against the fuel tank. The bike feels tiny until you twist the throttle, when it lunges forward with enough force to strain your shoulder sockets. There’s no doubt it has big-bike power, and it just keeps pulling hard all the way to the redline. Because of the bike’s short wheelbase and light weight the front wheel lifts going into fourth gear at full throttle, and at speeds exceeding 160 km/h.
Unfortunately, the fat rear tire extracts a toll on handling, and the Dragster needs a fair amount of steering effort to maintain a lean, the effort increasing the further you lean. It also feels nervous and twitchy over bumps, causing me to crank the steering damper up a couple of clicks. Although I never felt headshake, the front end felt light and not too assured over bumps.
I don’t recall the standard Dragster I rode earlier this year to exhibit such twitchiness, so I attribute it to the RR’s firmer suspension, though a number of the roads we travelled were very bumpy. As in Quebec bumpy. Our MV Agusta hosts were apologetic about the rough roads, but I thanked them for providing riding conditions I can relate to back home.
The bike was set to Sport mode, which provides the most aggressive engine mapping and defaults the traction control to level 3, though I set it to level 5 (more intrusive) just to see how it works. Throttle action, though instantaneous when in Sport mode, is not abrupt, and easy to modulate, even at low speeds. Twist the right grip over small crests in the road and the front wheel goes skyward; this hooligan machine is a bad influence and should be ridden accordingly hard, though bear in mind that Italian authorities are more lenient than our draconian law enforcement officials.
Throttle control gets softer in Normal mode, which makes puttering about town easier, and if you’re down to your last couple of points on your driver’s licence, you might want to keep it in Rain mode, which limits output to 100 hp and provides the softest throttle setting. I found Sport well-suited to most situations and it became my default ride mode.
Sport mode also allows clutchless down shifting (as does Custom mode, but not Rain or Normal), and the system works very well, though it’s not flawless. The system blips the throttle automatically when downshifting to smooth out the gear changes, but on a couple of occasions it provided an extra blip after the shift was completed, jerking the driveline. This seemed to be isolated to the Dragster I rode, as the Brutale RR I rode later in the day did not do this, and no one else reported any issues. Regardless, I resorted to using the shift assist on down-shifts for most of the day.
The Dragster’s bar-end mirrors offer an unobstructed rear view, but they couldn’t be adjusted for my height; the hand guards onto which they are mounted would have needed to be rotated a bit to accommodate me.
Hopping onto the Brutale RR after lunch I immediately noticed its more neutral steering. Aside from its appearance, the biggest difference between the two bikes is their handling characteristics. The chassis was originally designed around the narrower 180-series rear tire, and although steering remains ultra-light, the Dragster’s twitchiness is absent on the Brutale. It also takes less effort to keep the bike leaned, and it follows a tighter, more precise line through corners.
As on the Dragster, suspension is on the firm side, though the bike is more forgiving, barely deviating from its line over bumps. The biggest caveat is that both bikes have embarrassingly little steering lock – U-turns during photo sessions included a lot of backward tippy-toeing.
Engine characteristics are the same between the two machines, so to get an impression of the Brutale’s engine performance, just reread the paragraphs above relating to throttle action, shifting – and the tendency for the front wheel to lift.
Brakes on both bikes include switchable ABS. The system includes wheel-lift mitigation, so if stoppies are your cup of tea you’ll have to shut off the ABS.
MV Agusta, with the help of Giovanni Castiglioni and his bike-enthusiast engineering team, has come a long way in the last couple of years. It went from being a niche bike maker with just three models in the line up in 2009, to a forecasted 19 models by the end of 2015 (one all-new bike will be revealed at EICMA), though it remains a maker of exotic, upscale motorcycles.
“MV Agusta is a builder of premium motorcycles,” Castiglioni tells me over dinner, “we do not know how to build cheap motorcycles.”
The Brutale RR and Dragster RR are focused bikes, and they are beautiful bikes (the company in its latest form has yet to design a styling dud), but they are not cheap bikes. Fit and finish are impeccable, and they look astounding.
Canadian pricing for this new pair will be released in early November during EICMA (Editor ‘Arris will be there to bring us live update) and the added performance and features will surely bump up the sticker prices from the current $14,395 of the Brutale 800 and $15,995 of the Dragster.
The Dragster RR is a wildly stylish bike, and is the kind of bike you’d expect to see if you gave a Brutale 800 to a renowned bike builder and let them loose on it. But it’s no backyard build. Its handling is somewhat flawed, but those flaws only become apparent once you get on the Brutale.
The Brutale RR is the more versatile of the two, and it is by no means ugly. I just prefer the stubby tailpiece of the Dragster, and those mad, mad wheels. My personal preference would be for a Dragster RR with a narrower rear rim. Now there’s a brute I could live with.
|Bike||MV Agusta Brutale 800RR (Dragster)|
|Engine type||Inline triple, liquid-cooled, DOHC|
|Power (crank)*||140 hp @13,100 rpm|
|Torque*||62.7 lb.-ft @ 10,100 rpm|
|Tank Capacity||16.6 litres|
|Final drive||Chain, six speed|
|Tires, front||120/70 – ZR 17 M/C|
|Tires, rear||180/55 – ZR 17 M/C (200/50 – ZR 17)|
|Brakes, front||Double floating 320 mm disc with 4 piston Brembo radial calipers|
|Brakes, rear||Single 220 mm disc with 2 piston Brembo caliper|
|Seat height||810 mm|
|Dry weight*||168 kg|