MV Agusta F4 Strada - Road Test

Is $19,000 Too Much For A Piece Of Motorcycling History? When The Bike Actually Works, The Answer Is No

By Marc Cook, Photography by Kevin Wing

On the road, the Strada indeed feels heftier than the Suzuki, but not by such a large margin. Initial impressions are of a four-cylinder Ducati 996, thanks to the aggressive riding position, with low bars and high footpegs. The pad-like seat isn't mahogany-hard but is no more plush than, say, upholstered pine. (Compared with the 996, the Strada has a slightly larger included seating angle, with a bit less handlebar rise but slightly more seat-to-peg room. But it's a rack next to the GSX-R.)

The first time you bend the Strada into a turn you're reminded of the Ducati. It's inordinately stable and predictable, giving no indication, even at triple-digit speeds, that it would like to shake its head, come unglued and spit you off into the nearest patch of CalTrans-planted brambles. But the Strada's steering response is the real surprise. You notice immediately that it dives into corners with less effort than the Ducati (although it's higher effort than the Suzuki) and that the handlebars communicate clearly what the front end is doing. Even though we'd rate the GSX-R as more accessible and easy to ride at a moderate pace, the MV is not far behind and only requires a slight recalibration of your senses and responses to start making good time. After a while you forget that you're riding a rare piece of machinery and really enjoy flogging the thing. Essentially unlimited cornering clearance means you can concentrate on your work rather than worrying about scraping up expensive bodywork or undercarriage.

Fine suspension components assist the MV in making you look and feel good. The trick, 49mm Showa inverted fork up front is adjustable for everything but stock-market price and comes with a thick, hollow axle for maximum rigidity. In back, there's a Sachs shock adjustable for preload and compression and rebound damping. (Wear your asbestos mittens if you need to adjust damping on the road, thanks to the proximity of the shock to the cool-looking but hot-running 4-into-2-into-4 exhaust system.) We were happy to note that both ends have sufficient authority in the damping adjustments to really mess up the ride; incumbent in that statement is that if you know what you're doing you can get the rates you need from the stock components.We've also marked the "yee-haw" category in our test notebooks for the Nissin brakes. Six-piston calipers up front grip 310mm discs and are as good as anything on the street. It's just so easy to drive hard into corners, feeling totally secure that the binders will keep you from creating a roadside art exhibit.

On the highway, the Strada's ride is firm but not punishing. You can feel the quality of the suspension components as they tackle the sharp edges of expansion joints and carelessly filled potholes. Engine vibration is commendably absent and the 5.8-gallon tank provides good range. A raceresque riding posture ensures that you'll be wanting off well before the low-fuel light comes on. And it's worth mentioning here that the Strada's sexy rearview mirrors (that house the front turn signals in one of the nicest implementations of this scheme we've seen) are, for all but the jockey-sized, totally and completely worthless. It's a bit of Italian style-over-substance payback, like the proverbial fly captured under the clearcoat, that either seems charming and completely in character or wholly crazy-making. Oh, and skipping through the instrument panel's odometer/clock/tripmeter display requires toggling the starter switch. When the engine is running!

We're taken with the MV's chassis/ suspension package-that much ought to be clear-but we're not quite as eager to praise the bike's engine. It's highly oversquare (73.8mm bore and 43.8mm stroke, compared with the Suzuki's 72.0mm by 46.0mm measurements) and uses four valves per cylinder arranged radially around the spark plugs. This is accomplished by cutting the cam lobes at an angle and using conventional shim-under-bucket followers. A 12.0:1 compression ratio is used. Otherwise the 749cc engine follows conventional designs closely and is notably compact.

A quartet of conventional throttle bodies supply the engine, controlled by a Weber-Marelli computer. Happily, we note that the system is largely glitchfree, with good cold-idle characteristics and a generally accommodating throttle response. We did find, however, that there's a tendency for the throttle to "hang" slightly when accelerating after closing the throttle at high rpm, as though the engine's suction was holding the butterflies closed against the rider's wishes. Once past that extra effort, the system proved linear and predictable. It's only next to Suzuki's new dual-butterfly system for the GSX-R that the Strada's seems anything less than up-to-date.

If only the MV's inline-four were a class-leader for power, too. All by itself, the Strada feels plenty powerful, with a meaningful high-rpm lunge and a scintillating emanation from the four rear-firing exhaust tips. And although the engine is responsive and clearly willing to rev, it doesn't feel as powerful or eager as the new-generation GSX-R's. The transition from midrange to top end is somewhat muted (from an engineering standpoint, that's a good thing, because it means the delivery is absent of unseemly lumps and bumps) but it makes the engine seem less thrilling. What's more, with a peak output of 114.6 horsepower, it's 13 down on the Suzuki. Riding the two bikes back to back, you're aware that the Strada lacks the Japanese bike's headlong rush to the rev limiter. For a first effort, the MV's powerplant deserves praise, but while the Italians were toiling, their counterparts across the globe were resetting the class standards.

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