2010 MV Agusta Brutale 990R & 1090RR - Civilized Brutality

Perfecting the art of naked aggression

By Roland Brown, Photography by Milagro

Back-to-back sessions on the Misano circuit had been exciting, exhausting and a great way of confirming the pace and poise of the new Brutale 990R and 1090RR. The smaller-engined 990R was enjoyably quick and sweet-handling, and the 1090RR that I rode immediately afterwards was better still.

But a street ride earlier in the day had revealed that MV's new naked bruisers had developed a softer edge. Cruising through villages and around bumpy hairpins in the hills, the Brutales performed with a sophistication and comfort that was a distinct departure from their predecessors.

Such polite behavior was not what I was accustomed to from the Brutale. From the moment Massimo Tamburini's gloriously original 749cc four bludgeoned its way onto the street six years ago, the Brutale backed up its snub-nosed, barrel-chested look with performance that was ... well, brutal.

That rev-happy, 127-horsepower original was followed two years later by the Brutale 910, which added 9 bhp and some useful flexibility. Then in 2008 came the Brutale 1078RR, claiming a rampaging 154 bhp, but MV's answer to a Mafioso's machine-gun had too much of everything to make sense.

This latest Brutale heads in a different direction. The 990R and 1090RR are the first tangible results of MV's takeover by Harley-Davidson over a year ago; 85 percent of their components have been changed. And rather than adding more brute force, MV and its new parent company have decided to make them more refined and easier to ride.

Most new components are shared by both models, beginning with the previous Brutale's signature shape, subtly revised with a new headlamp that incorporates a polyellipsoidal lens plus a string of LEDs. New mirrors hold LED turn signals in typically neat MV style. Other changes include a redesigned instrument console, larger air ducts and a tail light integrated into the tailpiece.

Paint is the quickest way to tell the two models apart. The 990R has red or black paintwork with silver sidepanels, while the 1090RR's two-tone scheme of either red/silver or black/white includes the tank and tailpiece. The 1078cc four also has a bright-red cylinder head.

The two powerplants are very similar, with the larger unit retaining the 79.0 x 55.0 mm dimensions of the previous 1078RR model, and the smaller engine using a 3mm smaller bore to give a capacity of 998cc. MV's trademark layout of 16 radial valves and central camchain is retained, but numerous parts including the generator, lubrication system and gear-change assembly are smaller and lighter. The larger motor also incorporates a slipper clutch.

A new injection system combines Mikuni throttle bodies with a Marelli control unit that gives the rider the option of a softer map for wet conditions without reducing peak power. Both Brutales come with MV's race-developed traction-control system, which adjusts ignition timing and fuel delivery when revs rise too quickly.

The frame retains its blend of steel tubes and aluminum sections, but with slightly more relaxed steering geometry, softer suspension and a 20mm longer swingarm. New wheels save weight, more so with the RR's forged rims. The RR also balances its $18,000 price with a steering damper, adjustable footrests, upgraded brakes and suspension.

So the new Brutale is less powerful, has lazier geometry and softer suspension, right? Forgive me for thinking that maybe MV's new American owners had begun a secret mission to turn the original Italian brute into a softie, better suited to the freeways back home.

But the 990 engine's deep, guttural growl says the Brutale is still plenty menacing, and one burst of throttle was enough to blow away any doubts. On the short, straight stretch of road heading out from the Misano circuit, I crouched forward, delicately rested my foot on the rear brake, wound back my right hand, and was rewarded with the sight of the front wheel rising skyward.

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