The buildup took nearly a decade. Back in the early 1990s, speculation about the rebirth of MV Agusta's legendary 750 fours begot various provocative sketches, the obligatory soft-focus spy photos and open slobbering among bevel-booted cognoscente everywhere. And rumors that Ferrari was in on the engine fueled the fire.
Finally, it appeared. Cagiva's Claudio Castiglioni and MV Grand Prix hero Giacomo Agostini unveiled the $37,000 750 F4 Series d'Oro at the '97 Milan show. Stunning as only Italian machinery can be, Massimo Tamburini's latest fusion of art and science sent the rest of the world's designers back to the drawing board.
As an objet d'art, an icon, a talisman, the $19,000 F4 Strada we tested in September of '00 was peerless. As a modern high-end sportbike its performance was good, if less than legendary. On roads crawling with hordes of impertinent, proletarian sportbikes, exclusivity and aristocratic bloodlines only go so far. So, how does MV keep the saliva flowing after all that initial commotion? More muscle would be a good start.
MV Agusta F4 S
Type: liquid-cooled inline-four
Valve arrangement: dohc, 8v
Weight: 485 lb. (wet)
Fuel capacity: 5.5 gal.
Wheelbase: 55.0 in. (1398mm)
Seat height: 31.1 in. (790mm)
That's why MV engine maestro Andrea Goggi wrapped new combustion chambers around each cylinder's radial quartet of valves. New springs and lighter retainers let the engine rev to 13,900 rpm. Reshaped piston crowns, new cam profiles, 2.2 pounds shaved from the crankshaft, a lower (47/81) final-drive ratio and remapped fuel injection aim at building up a previously limp midrange power delivery. In theory, taller final-drive gearing (15/40 vs. 14/41) gives the new F4 more speed on top. Wet weight jumps five pounds to 485 pounds--59 heavier than the benchmark GSX-R750. The balance of Tamburini's art remains pure.
MV also offers a pillion-equipped F4 1+1 so you can listen to those pipes with a friend.
Compromise wasn't in the design brief. From the moment you part with the $18,995 admission price, this is a relationship based on commitment. Small enough to hide behind most 600s, the handlebars are lower and farther from the seat than any current sportbike we've tested. Ducati's 998 is comfortable compared with the F4 S. At 31 inches from the pavement, the predictably firm seat is nearly an inch taller than the GSX-R750s, barely enough room for our 35-inch inseam. Although MV offers the F4 S 1+1 with a sandwich-sized pillion, seating here is strictly solo. Like we said, it's all about commitment. You have to want it.
Six-pot Nissin-built calipers put smaller pistons toward the leading edge of the brake pad
Make that 31-inch stretch to the bars and you learn a few things: The massaged Weber Marelli fuel injection makes the fortified four as civil as anything from Japan. The '02 tweaks more low-end power than last year, foreshadowing a 118.7-horsepower peak at 12,500 rpm vs. 114.6. Still, opening the throttle below 6000 rpm delivers more intake honk than horsepower. While we're picking nits, slow-speed steering is heavy for a 485-pound motorcycle, and full-lock parking maneuvers can mash your thumbs faster than Don Vito Corleone. The MV gets a little cranky in traffic. The clutch gets grabby after a dozen traffic signals or so, and the exquisitely contoured muffler doubles as a seat heater. A segue to 10,000 rpm through a fast set of corners and a tenor shriek from the pipe-organ exhaust system says the F4 is happy. Keep the tach between 9000 and 13,000 rpm and it's bloody euphoric, inhaling curvy pavement in one big hurry. Perhaps the sweetest transmission yet affixed to a motorcycle turns gear changes into a game. That's a good thing, because shifting is something you do a lot of. Settle into this 4000-rpm-wide world and the F4 says this is as good as 750 cubic-centimeters can get. Unfortunately, the real world contains GSX-R750s that disagree.
A chic instrument pod puts a lot of information into very little space.
Through fast, sweeping corners, the F4's slot-car stability, grippy Pirelli Dragon Evo radials and effectively limitless cornering clearance permit as much speed and lean angle as your skill and personal sphincter calibration can tolerate. If cornering speed is the name of the game, you're looking at a major player. Still, this is a motorcycle that goes fast on its own rules, not yours. Carve your way through corners. No flicking. The F4 responds best to firm input, and not just through the bars. Weight that inside peg. Push the fuel tank with your outside knee. Relative to the average Japanese sportbike, it's like learning a new instrument. The tighter the road, the more effort it takes to make beautiful music together.
MV's patented single-sided swingarm is cast aluminum. Ride height is easily adjustable.
Having dialed up the right combination on the 49mm Showa fork and Sachs shock, the F4 delivers a firm, controlled ride. The six-pot Nissin front calipers and 310mm front rotors reward a strong squeeze with solid stopping power and admirable control, but wilt a tiny bit under merciless use. Halfway through a take-no-prisoners mountain descent, the brake lever on our bike came too close to the handlebar for our comfort.
We know what's coming next, so let's say it together: You can dang near buy two GSX-R750s for $19,000, either of which beats the MV like a gong in terms of pure performance. Nevertheless, as with most limited-production lust objects, there's more to life than brute force: A quart of Mad Dog will double your vision 3.5 times faster than a nice Brunello di Montalcino, '74. For those with the hard currency and expertise to appreciate it, the F4 S stands on its own two Pirellis as one of the most desirable sportbikes in the world.