Motorcycle Road Test: Moto Guzzi Breva 750

Alive, awake and feeling chipper, Moto Guzzi levers the Breva into its future motorcycle plans.

Moto Guzzi's eyelids didn't flutter and close because of adult-onset narcolepsy, or even impending death. It was a nap, a brief timeout from the hectic and relentless world of motodevelopment. Now the proud old company is awake and ready to take on the world. Or, for starters, the rest of Italy.

Brash predictions, perhaps, but all enthusiastically supported by this unassuming, 2004-spec Breva 750. OK, this is not truly a new motorcycle. Its roots reach back to the V50 Monza and, most recently, the Nevada 750 cruiser. But it is a significant model in that it embodies new production techniques—most importantly, improved quality control—and a fresh face. It's a handsome streetbike modestly positioned as a basic Euro-flavored standard with a side order of entry-level aspiration.

The Breva joins an expanding and revitalized product line that will include the 1100cc Breva, the stunning MGS-01, the outlandish Griso and a host of updated V11 models. Among these, it would be easy for a 445-pound, 41-horsepower standard to get lost. And let's not allow the hyperbole to get the best of us: The Breva, all said, is not a stunning, set-the-world-afire motorcycle. It's a competent, fun, modern bike with good real-world performance and thoughtful touches.

These no-nonsense impressions start with a comfortable, upright riding position that just borders on too-compact for larger riders. That plush stance is bolstered by well-placed pegs and a superb seat. Riders up to and including the average-sized will find the Breva immediately comfortable. Shorties will have no trouble lifting the bike from the stand or two-footing at stoplights. And yet the bike doesn't feel quite as waiflike or insubstantial as, say, a GS500E or a Ninja 500R. Our ergonomic measurements place the Breva in close company with these bikes, albeit with a shorter reach to the tubular bar.

If the mission statement reads "around-towner," the Breva accommodates. Short gearing, good low-speed grunt, a light clutch and well-sorted fuel injection all make for easy city and suburban performance. Chained to our SuperFlow dyno, the Breva thrummed down 41.1 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 41.2 foot-pounds of torque at a low 2750 rpm. These numbers put the Breva roughly in the neighborhood of the newer, more efficient 650 thumper from BMW and just clear of the anemic GS500E twin. Yes, that's like beating up on the smallest pup at the pound, but the Breva's across-the-frame, 90-degree V-twin purrs contentedly and acts as if it's getting with the program, even if the dyno suggests otherwise.

Five ratios in the transmission sandwiched between a cable-actuated dry clutch and a shaft final drive are, in fact, on the short side, no doubt to make best use of the air-cooled engine's modest power. One result is that you'll get lots of practice shifting. The good news is that it's a lot of fun.

Chuck the Breva at the highway and all is no longer so swell. That same short gearing causes the little twin to howl away at highway speeds—at 80 mph, for example, the motor is spinning 5300 rpm, only 2200 rpm short of the actual redline, though the rev limiter kicks in at 8100 rpm on the tach. We've ridden the bike in Italy near the factory, where the roads seldom permit blasts past 120 kph, but on American (and, particularly, Los Angeles) highways the bike feels frantic and dramatically undergeared. This deserves a rethink, we think.

If you're lucky, there's a nice stretch of twisty road between you and your job so you can better enjoy the Breva. Despite limited cornering clearance and soft suspension, the Guzzi is good fun to toss around. Light and accurate steering—in spite of the chopperesque 28-degree-rake/109mm-trail geometry—makes placing the bike on your chosen line no trouble at all. The single Brembo front brake is strong enough—just—and has a slightly numb onset that is probably better for novices than the instant-on binders on popular current supersports. The rear drum is also just persuasive enough for hooligan antics. Plus, because the Breva is comparatively underpowered, you get the thrill of maintaining momentum through skill and cunning—not merely by exercising your right wrist.

Moto Guzzi doesn't hide the fact that the Breva is its primary entry-level bike—it may well be joined by an updated Nevada 750 cruiser in 2004&151but it doesn't want it pigeonholed there. It probably will be, though, mainly because at $7790 the Breva comes dangerously close to Japanese alternatives with considerably more power and performance; there are simply too many bikes with more alluring ability for the same money or less to make the Breva appeal to the experienced enthusiast. Against European competition the Breva fares better, with performance comparable to BMW's more costly F650CS and Ducati's Monster 620. Triumph's Bonneville provides sidelong competition and offers more performance for roughly the same price, though Moto Guzzi doesn't expect the two to be frequently cross-shopped.

Still, the Breva is significant more for what it portends than what it is. Moto Guzzi is serious about regaining market share and opening its ranks to new riders—not just new-to-Guzzi riders. The Breva is an intelligent, well-built thrust into markets heretofore ignored, and with the Breva 1100 coming soon, it becomes a clever two-prong approach. With the Breva 750, this fine old firm is looking toward its future, broadening the ranks and offering much more than parts-bin engineering.

It's proof that Moto Guzzi wasn't dying—just having a quick snooze.

OFF THE RECORD

Cook
Age: 40
Height: 5 ft. 10 in.
Weight: 190 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.

Allow me to apologize in advance. This is one of those "I was meandering through Italy on someone else's nickel" stories that make everyone suspect a motojournalist's life is nothing but expense accounts and nonstop chianti. Really sorry. Anyway, there we were, at the Moto Guzzi factory in Mandello del Lario, northern Italy, adjacent to the spirit-raising Lake Como. Through a series of miscues—getting lost on the Autostrada, concocting a schedule that at once had too much free time and not enough—we needed another rental car. The solution was to have one of the factory test riders carry a factory race mechanic on the back of a V11 Sport to the next town, Lecco, to fetch the car. As it was my expense account, I followed on the Breva. Let's just say that Moto Guzzi and the local polizia have an understanding. We hauled ashes to the next town, with me twisting the Breva's poor little guts out. At some stage, the V11 pulled away and I found myself topped out in fourth, with the 750 not quite pulling fifth. For a couple of kilometers, I chased the V11 with the Breva edging into and out of the rev limiter. We arrived in Lecco and deposited the mechanic. My guide smiled, stubbed out his cigarette for the trip back to the factory and said, "Now we go."

—Marc Cook

Sexton
Age: 40
Height: 5 ft. 1 in.
Weight: 120 lb.
Inseam: 27 in.

I'm certain I've spent more time riding Guzzis than Boehm or Cook. Heck, I'll bet I've had more seat time on Guzzis than the entire staff put together. After all, my personal streetbike for nearly 15 years has been a 197Os vintage Moto Guzzi LeMans. OK, I'm a Guzzi weirdo. So what? I was drawn to Guzzis because they're small, light and, in my opinion, styled to look like fast red insects. Can't beat the Italians for style, and the Breva is no exception.

Still, this is not your grandpa's Guzzi. The clutch and brake levers are actually easy to pull, and they fit my small hands just fine. Gone are those super-heavy throttle springs. Once you get used to the Guzzi's two-step shift between first and second, just whack open the throttle and blast right up to redline in every gear. It's Italian—so ride it like you mean it. And though it's molto sporty, the upright seating position and long reach to the pegs—combined with the optional hard bags—make it a viable high-mileage contender.

The Breva might not be for everyone, but beware...a Moto Guzzi can begin to grow on you when you least expect it.

—Alice Sexton

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