This is a feeling I did not expect to experience again for a long time; maybe ever. I'm carving through a series of immaculately surfaced bends in the hills near Lecco in northern Italy, aboard a stunning new V-twin whose jutting cylinders, grunty power and off-beat exhaust could only come from Moto Guzzi.
The Guzzi factory at Mandello del Lario is only a short ride from here, but this bike isn't the first dramatic result of Guzzi's recent acquisition by Aprilia. This is the Supertwin 1100, now being hand-built in small numbers by Ghezzi & Brian, a specialist firm from the nearby village of Perego.
One glance at the Supertwin, let alone a blast up that hillside road, leaves no doubt that this is a very different machine than the cruisers and retro-bikes now being produced at Mandello. It is slim, elegant and sporty, highlighted by a pair of huge front brake discs, and a curvaceous fairing/tank/seat unit from which twin silencers emerge at the rear.
The driving force behind Ghezzi & Brian is 32-year-old Giuseppe Ghezzi, who runs the firm with business partner Brian (real name Bruno Saturno) and assistant Riccardo Teruzzi. Ghezzi is a long-time Guzzi fan who toured Europe on his Le Mans years ago, then donated its engine to power a racebike whose chassis he'd designed and built himself. The resultant bike won the Italian Supertwins Championship in 1996.
Now, four years later, this roadgoing replica is being produced at the rate of about one bike per week. Like Guzzi's original, Ghezzi's frame is based on a steel spine and uses the motor as a stressed member, but that's where the similarities end. The Supertwin spine doubles not as the oil tank but as the airbox, taking in air under the tank to feed the intakes that run back from those jutting cylinders. (A separate oil tank sits near the steering head.)
There's plenty of clever engineering rearward, too, where a multiadjustable Bitubo shock lies horizontally and is worked by a rising-rate linkage. In Guzzi fashion the Supertwin's box-section steel swingarm incorporates a parallelogram arrangement to cancel torque reaction.
But this bike's real innovation is up front, where its multiadjustable, inverted Paioli fork holds a 17-inch wheel whose twin discs are a massive 420mm in diameter, and are fixed to the rim rather than the hub. The entire system, incorporating four-piston calipers biting on thin discs that are fully floating to allow for heat expansion, has been developed by local firm Braking, in conjunction with Marchesini, manufacturer of the wheel.
The Supertwin's power comes from the 1064cc, two-valve-per-cylinder motor of the naked V11 Sport, supplied directly by Guzzi. (The slightly more powerful eight-valve motor has not been produced by Guzzi for some months.) The motor is essentially standard, although Ghezzi & Brian's airbox, plus tweaking of the Weber-Marelli fuel-injection system, adds a bit of low-rev power. The bike also wears a less restrictive exhaust that helps lift peak output.
Ghezzi also balances the flywheel to reduce vibration, and is forced to make one less welcome change. The Supertwin uses the five-speed gearbox from the California instead of the V11's more modern six-speed box because Guzzi originally refused to supply the new unit. Mandello bosses recently had a change of heart, Giuseppe says, but by then it was too late because the reshaped six-speed transmission would not fit in the Supertwin's frame.
Such a packaging problem is no surprise given Ghezzi's efforts to make the Supertwin compact and light. Its wheelbase is 55.3 inches, more than two inches shorter than the V11 and 1100 Sport. At 427 pounds the Supertwin weighs 55 pounds less than those bikes, too, which gives it a notably lighter, more manageable feel as I throw a leg over the thinly padded seat, reach forward to the low-set clip-ons and thumb the button to get the big pistons moving.
I don't have to ride far from Ghezzi & Brian's workshop to understand the firm's incentive for building a better class of Guzzi-powered sportbike. The road from Perego toward the Monza circuit, only 15 miles away, begins in magnificent fashion, snaking up a picturesque hillside in a series of bends of varying radii and a uniformly smooth surface, with a series of short straights in between.
Given the Supertwin's specification and competition record-this bike's chassis is almost identical to that of the championship-winning racer apart from the brakes-it is no surprise that the bike devours the road as though it knows the way by itself. The Supertwin flicks into the tightest of bends with all the agility its racy dimensions (23 degrees of rake; 90mm of trail) suggest it would, and allows me to make adjustments to my line with the lightest of nudges on the bars.
Much of the credit for that, and the Supertwin's impressive stability and poise in faster bends later on, must go to the suspension, freshly fine-tuned following a recent day at the Misano circuit that had left the sticky Dunlop Sportmax radials scuffed to their edges. The 41mm fork is excellent, and the rear Bitubo-which Giuseppe said had been slightly too soft at the track-is equally outstanding, giving a superbly taut feel without the harshness I'd expected from such an obviously race-bred bike.
Guzzi's shaft-drive sportsters are a bit of an acquired taste, needing careful down-shifting to avoid chirping the back tire or overloading the heavy wheel assembly. The Supertwin copes very well despite its relatively narrow 4.5-inch rear wheel and 160-section tire. Giuseppe aims to offer lighter magnesium Marchesinis as an option in the future, along with some engine-tuning parts.
Inevitably the Supertwin's straight-line performance is hardly cutting-edge, but the near-standard Guzzi engine provides plenty of power to make life interesting. The V-twin's punch out of slower turns makes the bike easy to ride quickly on those winding and unfamiliar roads, as a twist of the light-action throttle sends the Supertwin storming from one bend to the next with pleasing force and a tuneful throbba-throbba from the louder than stock-but still restrained-twin pipes, which are built by Ferrari supplier, Tubi Style.
When I reach a main road and turn north toward Lecco, the Supertwin storms to a top speed of about 140 mph, feeling notably smoother than the V11, presumably due to that balanced flywheel. Having only five instead of six speeds doesn't worry me, as there is so much acceleration on tap everywhere from about 4000 rpm to the 8000-rpm redline. Still, the shorter, slicker shifting of the newer box would be welcome.
The neat footrests are quite high and rearset. At higher speeds the Supertwin's low screen takes the edge off the wind blast, even if it doesn't allow me to get right out of the breeze (or allow much of a rear view in the narrow mirrors). But on a scorchingly hot day I will not complain about that, and the compliant suspension helps make the bike reasonably comfortable.
By chance I'd saved the best 'til last, because it was only when I turned round and headed back toward Perego down that same winding road that I realized just how good the Supertwin's front-brake system is. In normal use I'd barely been conscious of it. The front stopper is very powerful, with a light action and plenty of feel at the lever, but apart from a tuneful racerlike whistling sound when used hard, the perimeter system feels much like a conventional set-up.
After storming down the hillside, though (then going back up for another go, just to make sure), the Supertwin's nonchalant stability and neutral feel when having to slow harder or change line while braking really seem outstandingly good. Ghezzi's-and Braking's-claims for the perimeter system are that it is lighter than a normal set-up and reduces a bike's tendency to run straight when the brakes are applied in corners. I'd need to make a back-to-back test to be sure, but first impressions are that they might well be right.
Whether perimeter discs are the way of the future remains to be seen. But there's no doubt that the innovation adds a fitting final touch to a bike which, despite its relatively low-tech motor, provides plenty of performance in a superbly agile and distinctive package. What's more, the Supertwin is reasonably priced for a hand-built machine, costing roughly $15,000, in either our test bike's red with silver frame, or blue with purple frame.
Ghezzi & Brian's Supertwin is more than just a great special, it is proof that the days of exciting new V-twin sports bikes from the Lake District of northern Italy are not over. If the Aprilia bosses now in charge of Moto Guzzi need any convincing that the famous old firm's future should include sports bikes as well as cruisers and naked standards, they need only imagine what this bike would be like if powered by a new-generation transverse V-twin with chain drive, plus an extra 30 hp.
|GHEZZI & BRIAN SUPERTWIN 1100 |
|MSRP ||$15,000 (approx.) |
|Type ||air-cooled 90-degree transverse V-twin |
|Valve arrangement ||ohv pushrod, 4v |
|Displacement ||1064cc |
|Transmission ||5-speed |
|Weight ||427 lb. (dry) |
|Fuel capacity ||4.7 gal. (18L) |
|Wheelbase ||55.3 in. (1405mm) |
|Seat height ||31.1 in. (790mm) |