Moto Guzzi V11 Sport - Road Test

Another Guzzi First: Mandello Moto Mavens Create A "Retro" By Updating A Current Model

Photography by Kevin Wing

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.

Shocking, anyway, until you hop on it and hit the starter. There's nothing else like it is there? Come to think of it, the usual sideways twitch as the engine turns over feels far less pronounced in this Guzzi, and it picks up revs easier in neutral.... Could it be the new, lighter flywheel? Perhaps the revised intake ports or the reshaped pistons and combustion chambers? Or maybe the modifications to the injection and ignition curves? Feels almost, ah, sprightly in the way it revs-an adjective never previously applied to a Moto Guzzi far as we know-and pulling in the clutch and dropping into first gear is a gnashless, painless, nearly Japanese event. Sweet.

Like all recent Guzzis, carbureted and injected, this one doesn't respond to throttle too smoothly until around 3000 rpm, which is only a problem of course for those who insist on plodding around down there. Slip the two-plate dry clutch a tad and you're right past there and blasting off with the same torquey swagger as an old muscle car. Yes, It's true, the next gear snaps in with a simple flick of the toe...can this be?

The ergos are fine, thanks, with adjustable clip-ons riding on risers that lift them a good two inches higher than the ones on the 1100i. The seat's nicely shaped; skinnyish where it meets the fuel tank, and thick, and there's enough legroom. The usual 40mm Marzocchi fork adjusts for rebound atop one fork tube, compression damping on the other, and you can reach down on the fly to adjust the WP shock's compression damping (getting to its preload collar is a major tank-removal exercise, unfortunately). Both ends, springs and dampers, combined with the bikes substantial heft, give up a nicely compliant, never harsh ride as you burble along, sighting above the classic white-faced Veglia tach and speedo.

We bitched about the Dell Orto carbs' way-too-heavy return springs and Guzzi gave us good fuel injection. Now they give us a good gearbox, what's left to complain about?

Only vibration. From about 3500 to nearly 5000 rpm-which equates to 65 to 90-ish mph in top gear-this Guzzi sends some pretty heavy vibes coursing through those new clip-on bars. The risers must be the culprit, since other Guzzis that use nearly the same engine and frame are fine, smooth cruisers. This Guzzi's bars just seem to come into some sort of resonance with the 90-degree engine's secondary imbalance at that speed, and an hour of cruising along is about all most hands can take. It's particularly tough limping home all shagged out after a few hours wrestling the bike around in the twisties.

In Europe it wouldn't be a problem; crank the bike up to 95 or so and everything gets smooth again, but you wouldn't last long in the home of the brave and the land of the free riding that way unless you're a policeman. (Or cruise along below 65-not an option for us.) Shorter final-drive gearing would help, but of course the shaft makes that a bit of a project.

Guzzi's already shoved some pretty hefty weights inside the bar ends, and we were going to strap on more weight to experiment, but couldn't find any bolts the right diameter and thread pitch. Guzzi says the vibes get better as the engine breaks in, and with 1300 miles showing it does seem to have subsided slightly-that or our nerve endings have died. In any case, that's our main complaint and it seems like a fixable flaw.

And speaking of wrestling mountains, the Sport works just all right in full curvy-road sport mode. Again, it's still a heavy motorcycle, slightly heavier than its 1100i sibling, and in fact the i works better as a sportbike.

For one thing, all Guzzis start out with a rearward weight bias thanks mostly to the shaft drive, we suppose, and the Sport's higher bars means there's even less rider weight pressing down on the front wheel. Given those things, we don't know that shortening the bike's trail to a supersporty 92mm was necessarily the way to go. Just cruising along in a straight line over bumps, the Sport's front end sort of waggles to and fro like the tongue of a dog sticking his head out a car window-never alarmingly, but just like the front tire's not exactly what you'd call planted.

Ridden sportily on a tight, curvaceous road, then, the Sport has little of the i-bike's defining stability. It turns quick, yes, and in fact the higher clip-ons give enough leverage that it feels like if you weren't careful you could steer the front wheel right out from under the heavier part of the bike that follows.

Faster, smooth corners give the Sport more confidence, but faster bumpy ones verge on hairball, and you're glad Guzzi saw fit to stick on the Bitubo steering damper under the triple clamps. Jacking up the rear end with more spring preload doesn't help much (because the fork springs are too soft to begin with), and on tighter roads, neither does the fact that a little more driveline lash than usual remains. Throw in that most bikes with 92mm trail also sport bank-vault-stiff frames, and well, this Guzzi just doesn't encourage its rider to aggressively attack corners in the way a Ducati Monster does. Or Guzzi's own 1100i, for that matter.

On the positive side, the new freer-revving engine and truly functional gearbox provide a huge gulp of fresh air. It's easy enough to keep the engine spinning along with the new gearbox, and there's a big burst of delicious twin-cylinder power once the needle clears 5000 rpm; from there, it revs surprisingly hard up to where the limiter cuts in at 8250. Nope, 80 horsepower's not a lot, but on a bike like the Guzzi it feels like more. And this being an Italian Harley, you know there are a few aftermarket items out there to make more power. Heck, adding a tad more racket is nearly mandatory in the case of any 90-degree twin, particularly one complemented by just the right amount of tappet noise. Those are pushrods, son, and none of them half-ass hydraulic lifters either. (The V11's solid lifters want adjustment every 6000 miles, according to the manual. Do it yourself; it's easy. Scratch that. It looks easy. And now you can even change your Guzzi's oil filter without dropping the whole oil pan.)

If the Sport's not as good a sportbike as the 1100i, it turns around and kicks its brother's behind when it comes to the sort of prowling around-town duty it's more focused upon. If your early morning sojourns are more casual amble for coffee than they are frantic adrenaline rush to the top of the mountain, then this Guzzi is a nearly ideal machine. Bikes like this one are as enjoyable to burble along on as they are at ten-tenths-unlike a 996 Ducati or R1 Yamaha, for Instance-and it's a nice bike to park in front of your local pub and contemplate.

Is it really ugly or really cool? Who knows? But people do notice it, and most of the nouveau gauche Harley crowd don't know what the hell it is. Their women seem envious. Then you get to drop that it's a lot cheaper than their Harley. It's a bike that makes you feel almost mature, for God's sake, and seems to give you a little historical perspective on the world of motorcycles.

Progress is sometimes a while in coming at Moto Guzzi, and sometimes Guzzi progress has a slightly regressive quality to it-but overall this is a fine piece of work in need of a little owner involvement or maybe just tolerance. Expect to hear more from Mandello in the next few years: As of 30 August, if all goes well, Moto Guzzi will be owned by Aprilia, there will be a large cash infusion, and Moto Guzzi will be back in a big way. This V11 Sport, though, wants you to know Guzzi's never really been away.

Cheers & Jeers
Moto Guzzi V11 Sport
Engine 8 Sweet Italian pushrod twin, dodgy at low rpm
Drivetrain 8 Amazingly good; slight driveline lash
Handling 6 OK if you're not in a big hurry
Braking 9 Big Brembos need 111/42 fingers
Ride 9 Nice and compliant; almost an old guy's bike
Ergonomics 9 Better the older we get
Features 7 Veglia gauges, hydraulic clutch, real gearbox!
Refinement 7 Still a little rough after all these years
Value 8 Seems reasonable by H-D standards
Fun Factor 7 Entirely dependent on the length of the ride

Verdict: A huge step forward for Guzzi, followed by a couple of large minces rearward in the form of handlebar vibration and (a slight dearth of) sporting prowess.

Moto Guzzi V11 Sport

MSRP $11,900
Warranty 36 months,unlimited miles
Colors green, silver, black

ENGINE
Type air-cooled 90-deg. V-twin
Valve arrangement pushrod, 4v
Bore x stroke 92.0 x 80.0mm
Displacement 1064cc
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Carburetion Weber-Marelli injection
Transmission 6-speed
Final drive shaft
Chassis
Frame rectangular box-section steel
Weight 546 lb. (wet) 511 lb. (fuel tank empty)
Fuel capacity 5.8 gal. (22L)
Suspension, front 40mm cartridgefork adjustable forcompression andrebound damping
Suspension, rear single shock adjustablefor spring preload, compression and rebound damping
Brake,front dual four-piston calipers,320mm discs
Brake, rear two-piston caliper, 282mm disc
Tire, front 120/70ZR17Pirelli Dragon
Tire, rear 170/60ZR17 Pirelli Dragon

Details, Details
Hooo! It's got a centerstand!
Taller knees may disagree with the cylinders
What toolkit?
All metal except the plastic bits
Don't often pass yourself
Beats your Harley, and cheaper

Performance
Corrected 1/4-mile* 12.18 sec. @ 110.9 mph
0-60 mph 4.00 sec.
0-100 mph 10.37 sec.
Top-gear roll-on, 60-80 mph 5.14 sec.
Power to weight ratio** 8.95 lb/hp
Fuel mileage (low/high/average) 37/45/40
Cruising range (exc. reserve) 192 miles

Test Notes
Speedo error:60 mph, actual 56

Yes, indeed: a traditional, two-valve V-twin power curve. There's more than 50 foot-pounds of torque from 2000 to 8000 rpm, with no large peaks or valleys between.

Performance with test-session weather conditions corrected to sea-level standard conditions (59 degrees F, 29.92 in. of mercury)

**Wet weight plus 170 lb. rider divided by measured horsepower

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