Road TestDon't know why we like Moto Guzzis so much, really, as there hasn't been all that much reason to for about a quarter century now. Must be all those years drawing Hot Rod-inspired bikes in the back row of class. This is how a motorcycle should be laid out, according to the eyes of a motorhead weaned on heavy American metal: a bank of cylinders (OK, a cylinder) jutting out at 45 degrees from either side, a big heavy engine block, a thick shaft driving the rear wheel(s). When you hit the starter, you know you've set something in motion. Buh-boom.
Big is what this Guzzi remains. If the nakedness of the new V11 Sport led you to expect something light and nimble along the lines of a Ducati Monster or Triumph Speed Triple, your eyes have let you down again. As a matter of fact, our scales say losing the half-fairing resulted in the Sport gaining a few pounds over the 1100i with which it shares an engine: 546 pounds full of fuel makes this Sport a Hayabusa-class cruiser. A Ducati Monster weighs 100 pounds less.
Looked at from a different perspective, if you think of Guzzi as "the Harley-Davidson of Italy," which it more properly is, the V11 Sport is downright svelte. It's 100 pounds lighter than a Dyna Glide Sport, and Guzzi's hoary old pushrod twin makes a bit more power than Harley's cutting-edge Twin Cam 88 in spite of spotting the Hog 386cc. Interesting.
Using that drivetrain made it impossible for Guzzi to make the bike light, so instead the attempt was made to make it feel light. The skeleton remains the same, with a rectangular steel spine tying steering head to engine cases to rear swingarm plates. In this case, the head's raked at 25 degrees instead of Guzzi's usual 26, resulting in a very sporty trail figure of 92mm.
The bike's wheelbase didn't tighten up as much as you'd expect because, in an alarming display of progress, Guzzi engineers came up with a new gearbox that's 70mm shorter, lengthwise, and then used the opportunity to outfit the bike with a 50mm longer driveshaft/swingarm compared with the 1100i. That longer shaft reduces even further the dread "driveshaft jacking" which used to be the scourge of shaft bikes, but hasn't really been a problem on Guzzis since Dr. John Wittner introduced the torque arm to the Guzzi Daytona a decade ago. (Wittner retains his Guzzi connections from his home in Pennsylvania.)
Heck, there's even a new ring and pinion back at the end of the driveshaft: an 11-tooth pinion driving a 32-tooth ring gear increases contact area, for greater reliability, and lets the shaft turn fewer rpm, which is easier on its universal joints.
One thing we've counted on throughout these turbulent times has been the Guzzi gearbox. Shifting through it has given motojournalists the world over a reason to go on living. Box of rocks, more false neutrals than Switzerland, throwing railroad switches... all these seemed-clever-at-the-time descriptors have been used to describe the bike's dysfunctional old five-speed.
My God, man. This V11 Sport has an all-new six-speed gearbox that allows it to be shifted like a normal motorcycle-sometimes without the clutch! Instead of the usual input and output shafts, this one has four shafts-based on "Formula One concept technology," Guzzi says.
And when you do use the clutch, it's no longer like prying open a bear trap or docking the Queen Mary by hand. It's hydraulically actuated now, and light. Overall, this Guzzi is shocking in its modernity.