2008 Moto Guzzi Stelvio - Reborn Identity

Moto Guzzi Stelvio

By Roland Brown, Photography by Milagro

Moto Guzzi is revamping its image. To illustrate this, the Italian company has been showing photos of a traditional older Guzzi owner with a bushy mustache and open-face helmet and a new owner: a younger, clean-cut, Jason Bourne look-alike.

The ideal bike for a tough action hero like Mr. Bourne would be a big adventure-sport. So, it's no coincidence that the first new Guzzi since this change of direction is the Stelvio, named after the famously twisty Alpine pass.

If you've seen the movies, you know Bourne is a secret agent unsure of his identity. The Stelvio seems unsure of that, too. Like the class-leading BMW R1200GS, it combines rugged looks with off-road features such as long-travel suspension and wire-spoked wheels, but its Pirelli Scorpion Sync tires are distinctly road-biased and there's little room for mud beneath its front fender.

The Stelvio is a handsome devil, though, much of its appeal based on that hunky, air-cooled, longitudinal V-twin. The half-fairing contains an analog tach and digital speed display, plus a small glove box that pops open at the press of a button. Out back there's a solid-looking luggage rack with mounts for the accessory luggage.

Chassis specification is high, too. The tubular-steel frame holds a 50mm leading-axle Marzocchi fork, with compression damping in one leg and rebound in the other. The single Boge shock has a remote hydraulic preload adjuster, and the front brakes are a blend of Brembo 320mm discs and radial-mount four-pot calipers.

Like most adventure-sport bikes, the Stelvio is tall, with a wide bar and long wheelbase. Its broad, height-adjustable seat felt like a good place to be at the press launch in Tuscany, the roomy, upright riding position giving a commanding view of the scenery. Although I'm over 6 feet tall, the height-adjustable windscreen did a good job of keeping the wind off my chest without too much turbulence.

Mechanically, the 1151cc, high-cam V-twin is identical to that of the Griso 8v, and is respectably quick. Revised EFI settings and a new 2-into-1 exhaust with a large, angular silencer on the left side combine to boost midrange torque. Peak output is down by 5 bhp to a claimed 105 at 7500 rpm, matching the GS.

The new-generation, four-valve-per-cylinder lump is quieter and more sophisticated than the old two-valver, but still rustled away with traditional Guzzi character. The clutch is light, throttle response immediate without being snatchy, and the big twin vibrated in a fairly amiable way at low speeds and when revved toward its 8000-rpm redline.

One of Guzzi's traditional assets has always been generous low-down grunt, but I found myself using the slick-shifting, six-speed gearbox to maximize the performance of an engine that felt disappointingly weak below 5500 rpm. Ironically, the Stelvio might be better off with the less powerful but more flexible two-valve motor.

At least the Stelvio kicked out a good amount of smooth power when it got into its stride-enough to cruise at 90 mph, up to a likely top speed of about 130 mph. And the shaft drive was unobtrusive, although aggressive acceleration and gear changes sometimes got the bike moving around on its suspension.

In general, the Stelvio handled very well given the constraints of its size and long-travel suspension. At speed, the bike was quite stable, and changed direction quickly in response to a light nudge of those wide bars. Part of the reason for that were the powerful front brakes, which made the fork dive enough to noticeably reduce rake and trail. Using up that much suspension travel inevitably reduced cornering clearance, but the Guzzi could be cranked over a fair ways before its footpegs scraped. At least the suspension gave a luxurious ride.

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