At a recent track school, the 40-something advertising executive looked out over the collection of student motorcycles-a Ducati 748 here, a handful of modified Honda Super Hawks there-and coyly admitted that he was happy to be thrashing a school bike rather than his Ducati 916. "But the Duck's not long for the stable," he opined. "I'll get rid of that when my Aprilia Mille comes in." Such difficult decisions. "But," he said, stubbing out his cigarette and idly polishing his Phil Read-replica Arai, "when my MV comes in..." he looked around to make sure he had our attention, "the 'Priller will be right out the door."
For this rabid, Euro-biased enthusiast, the fact that the MV Agusta F4 Strada will be roundly whipped by your average, off-the-linoleum 2000 GSX-R750 is of absolutely no consequence. That the Suzuki will likely run for years with little more than a passing glance to maintenance while the MV will surely require more tender loving care than an Italian mistress, is also of small importance. And while this man is starkly aware that a track-day miscue on the MV will result in the immediate need of much cash and plenty of patience, he's blithely unconcerned. If you have to ask (or be worried about such things) you simply can't afford it.
Won't our ad man be surprised to learn that, against all odds, the MV Agusta is a very good motorcycle? It is not the absolute cutting edge in 750 supersports but it admirably steps up to the standards set in this category some four years ago when the bike was initially developed. (Unfortunately, Suzuki had unexpected plans for a class most industry watchers have left for dead.) The MV deigns to commit such mundanities as being untemperamental. It starts well when cold and the fuel injection is far less glitchy than some mass-produced bikes we could name. The electrics always worked and the level of fit and finish beats the already commendable Japanese sportbikes with a 10-pound sledgehammer. (Was it totally reliable? Well, no...more on that shortly.)
Plunk down $18,895 and you'll get a truly beautiful motorcycle assembled with obvious loving care. That price tag is right in there between the garden-variety Ducati 996 ($16,495) and the limited-edition 996S ($20,995) and maybe a nice set of Dainese leathers dearer than an Aprilia RSV Mille R. Certainly for a brand so revered, the Strada's ticket is perfectly justifiable, an almost rational entre to the penthouse of motorcycling. MV will be giving the United States only 300 Stradas this year, delivered through the well-oiled warehouses of Cagiva USA. There are no plans for increasing production at the risk of "flooding" the market with such a collectable.
MV Agusta has created a hybrid chassis, its main parts consisting of a steel-tube trellis primary frame and an aluminum auxiliary casting that joins the rear of the engine and the aft legs of the tube frame with the swingarm and aluminum-tube subframe. Wispy light footpeg carriers mount to this hunk of cast artwork and the steel main tubes do a hide-and-seek through the voluptuous bodywork, which teases you with a view of a fuel-injector body here and an engine case there. Race-spec quarter-turn fasteners hold the fairing in place and make for surprisingly easy access to the underpinnings. (Just because you can see the engine doesn't mean you can work on it; the compact four's surroundings are densely packed, like canned fruit.)
Some numbers, then: It rides on a fashionable 55.6-inch wheelbase-2mm longer than the GSX-R750's and 17mm shorter than an R1's. Steering-head angle is set at 24.5 degrees (a bit more staid than the Suzuki's) and trail measures 4.1 inches. So much like the others that you'd think there was some kind of sportbike orthodoxy going on. The only number that raised an eyebrow was the bike's weight-at 445 pounds with an empty fuel tank, the F4 would have been the porkiest of the bikes we tested in Superbikes 2000 (see "Superbikes 2000," July '00), outweighing even the comparatively lardy ZX-9R by nine pounds. Suzuki's 750 is nearly 50 pounds lighter. Exotica must be more dense than plasticization.