There’s nothing quite like bombing through the fall colours on a winding country road with the crisp air rushing around you. Even better if you have a spritely Italian motorcycle for the ride, like I do. Only, it’s not what you think; forget the brapping V-twin of a Ducati or a Moto Guzzi, I’m riding that other famous Italian marque: an SWM.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing the brand. It originally specialized in trials and enduro bikes in the 1970s but folded in 1984; the name came back in 2014 with backing from a Chinese company, and it’s now building a range of smaller bikes near Milan. And this one is the Gran Milano Outlaw, a stylish little urban scrambler powered by an oil-and-air-cooled 445 cc single cylinder engine.
First of all, let’s get one thing out of the way. This bike, with taxes and freight included, costs $9,000 from any of the three dealers in Canada: Old Vintage Cranks in Acton, Ontario, Powersports 125 in Montreal, and Moto Italia in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. It’s a good deal for a brand new ride, but you also know there are going to be tradeoffs in quality and performance. Maybe not as many as you might think.
What is it?
On first inspection, it appears to be an inline twin, with two exhaust pipes coming out of the head. Actually, the cylinder has four valves, so each exhaust valve has its own outlet. The engine comes from China (don’t forget, pasta was originally from China, too), and puts out 30 horsepower. That doesn’t seem like much, but because the bike only weighs 145 kilograms dry, it’s more spirited than you’d think.
For such a low price, there is some surprisingly advanced kit to be found. The front brakes feature a 320-mm ventilated single disc with a floating, radially mounted Brembo four-piston caliper; ABS is standard for both the front and the single-pot rear disc. The front suspension is an inverted, fully adjustable fork, while the two rear shocks are adjustable for both preload and rebound. The whole thing rides on a set of Pirelli Rally STR tires, 120/70-17” front and 150/60-17” rear. And all the lights – including the headlight – are LED. These are features you’d expect to see on more expensive bikes.
But you’ve got to rob Peter to pay Paul. The overall fit and finish isn’t perfect: I already noticed some tank paint and decal degradation around the fuel cap, which locks but isn’t attached to the tank. The switchgear feels decidedly cheap (signaling a right turn required some occasional jiggling of the switch) and while I appreciate the simplicity of the digital gauge cluster, I wish it had just a bit more information, though I will give it marks for including a low fuel warning light.
How does it ride?
But it’s on the road where this little bike shines – and I do mean little. With a seat height of 805 mm, my six-foot frame may have been a bit tall for it, especially on longer rides. But highway travel isn’t the Outlaw’s purpose, even though it can handily get up past 120 km/h. It’s in the city and out on country roads where this bike feels more expensive than it really is.
Top marks have to go to its ride and handling. Never getting upset over potholes or bumps, the suspension and frame work together to make the Outlaw stable and settled in the corners. I didn’t make adjustments to the suspension, but I never had to – it was dialed in well for spirited curve diving, and it kept an even keel under both hard braking (which the Brembos excel at here) and acceleration. Cornering is sharp and, with such a light weight, no problem to throw back and forth, especially with those wide, motocross-style handlebars.
In fact, the handling far surpassed the capabilities of the motor, though that’s not by any means a disappointment. There are no numbers supplied by SWM for torque, but a short-ratio second gear helps find its footing early; it needs that, as any higher gears (five in all) will have the bike chugging under 3,500rpm. But it revs easily and, while keeping in mind it is only 30 hp, there’s plenty of oomph for quick acceleration and zippy performance below 100 km/h. It’s only as the revs climb near its redline of around 7,500 that it starts to get breathless, and after 6,000rpm, expect plenty of vibration under the seat.
Is it worth it?
Overall, riding faults are few: a protruding exhaust shield on the right side makes resting the ball of your foot on the peg near impossible, and more than a few times I was stuck in neutral when searching for first gear. But I found the Outlaw a blast in kicking around town or on paved countryside roads. It’s a simple, basic bike with a surprising mix of fun, value and style, comparably priced (though slightly under in power) with bikes such as the Honda Rebel 500 and BMW G310R. Newer riders, those of smaller stature, or even just someone who wants a cheap and cheerful city bike, would do well to check out SWM.