Is it ironic that the East Coast had an earthquake the same day as the Moto Guzzi Cafe Racer Rumble? And did I, as my fellow attendees suggested, somehow bring it with me? Unlikely, consider-ing I was talking to Billy Joel at the time and neither of us noticed it.
What was I doing with The Piano Man? Good question. The short answer is, Piaggio USA invited me to attend an event at his shop, 20th Century Cycles, to promote the new Moto Guzzi V7 Racer. While I was there, they promised I could borrow a bike and go for a ride with Billy. No native Long Islander could turn down an invitation like that!
The V7 Racer may be a new model, but it's far from a new motorcycle. Let's start with the engine: an air-cooled, fuel-injected, 90-degree transverse (longitudinal-crank) V-twin which traces its roots to the Lino Tonti-designed V35 and V50 of the mid-'70s. This features cost-saving Heron heads, wherein the intake and exhaust valves are parallel and the combustion chambers are machined into the tops of the pistons. The valves are opened via pushrods and rocker arms-old-school and low-tech, but it gets the job done.
This long-running engine got a makeover in 2003 when Moto Guzzi released the fuel-injected Nevada 750 cruiser. And the following year a new chassis appeared on the Breva 750. Since then, they've added Classic,
Cafe and, now, Racer variants.
Offered as a limited edition with a numbered plaque on the top triple clamp, the V7 Racer pays homage to another '70s Guzzi, the celebrated V7 Sport. Fittingly, it's a gorgeous thing to behold, with black bodywork, red frame, swingarm and wheel hubs, and drilled, brushed-aluminum accents.
Seating accommodations are Spartan, in best cafe racer tradition, with a narrow, suede-covered solo seat and rearset billet-aluminum footpegs (a tandem saddle and passenger pegs are available as optional accessories). The handlebars aren't quite clip-ons, but they are fairly low, and set behind a tiny flyscreen. That and the tailpiece are both adorned with racing-style numberplates bearing the #7, for obvious reasons.
Thumb the starter button and you discover how cold-blooded the air-cooled V-twin is, requiring use of the cold-start enrichener and a fair amount of warm-up before it can be ridden away without stalling. Once warm, the engine is fantastically smooth and flexible, with crisp throttle response and plenty of torque. The fuel mixture is a tad lean (blame the EPA), but that helped contribute to a solid 50-mpg average during my two-day test. The five-speed transmission packs the first four cogs close together, while fifth feels like an overdrive. Peak power arrives just north of 6000 rpm, so there's no need to rev it until the limiter cuts in just south of 8000 rpm.
With a claimed 51 horsepower on tap, the V7 Racer is relatively slow, but it's got plenty of power for riding in urban or suburban environs. If Long Island were a state, it would rank 13th in population (after Virginia) and first in population density, so it's no place to be zipping along at triple-digit speeds. Better to admire the North Shore's scenic beauty, as tree-lined Route 25A rolls back and forth, up and down over hills near the water. And listen to the V-twin's glorious exhaust note-which sounds even better with the accessory Arrow pipes Billy had on his V7 Cafe!
At a claimed 437 lbs. full of gas, the V7 Racer isn't ungainly heavy-a fact that, having had double hip-replacement surgery at age 62, Billy said he appreciates. It also handles quite well-stable and reasonably neutral, though the decision to fit narrow 18-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels shod with bias-ply Pirelli Demon Sport tires is odd. Given that the wheels are wire-spoked, chalk it up to appearances.
Suspension is good given the price-point Marzocchi fork, Bitubo gas shocks and shaft drive, but it's obviously sprung for a skinny jeans-wearing hipster. Likewise, the Brembo brakes work well, the single four-piston front caliper and 320mm rotor doing a respectable job of slowing forward motion. It would stop even better with stiffer fork springs, though.
By now you've likely surmised, as did we, that the V7 Racer is no racer. That's okay-it's not supposed to be. It's an homage to the classic Moto Guzzis of yore, and a nod to the current popularity of cafe racers. Those drawn in by its looks would do well to consider purchasing one-especially if they lack the mechanical skills to roll their own.
My visit to Long Island ended as Hurricane Irene arrived, bringing 100-mph winds. As I returned the V7 Racer to 20th Century Cycles, foreman Alex Puls was getting ready to tape up the windows, while Billy Joel was scrambling to pull his boats out of the water.
Maybe earthquakes aren't so bad after all?