IT HAD BEEN A RELAXED RIDE on Moto Guzzi's latest roadster. This morning we'd headed north from our hotel base in northern Italy and halted briefly to take photos before crossing Lake Lecco on a ferry. Then we'd cruised back south along the road on the Lake's eastern side before stopping for lunch, finally continuing on to the old Guzzi factory in Mandello del Lario.
The Breva had been everything I'd expected and more. The 48-horsepower V-twin is not particularly powerful, but it felt torquey and refined, and it had handled and stopped well. Moto Guzzi's recovery was off to a promising start, it seemed, with an efficient and smooth-running new bike that felt notably sweeter and better engineered than its predecessors of recent years.
And it was only after we'd ridden through the factory gates, parked and been shown into the main building that I realized the Breva's feeling of sophistication was no coincidence -- because this is a bike from a new era at Moto Guzzi. Where recently there was a scruffy, outdated factory that seemed to have changed little in half a century, there's now a bright, busy plant full of modern machinery, building bikes at twice the rate of just two years ago.
The original Breva is a warm wind that blows over Lake Lecco from the south. It makes a good name for the V750 IE model that confirms that Aprilia's takeover has brought a breath of fresh air to Italy's oldest motorcycle manufacturer. Production has been increased to an expected total of 11,000 bikes this year, and the Breva is the first of a series of new models that will form three distinct families of bikes.
"First is standard and touring machines, such as this Breva 750 and the larger sister which will be launched in Milan this September," says Aprilia Group boss Ivano Beggio, who finally bought Guzzi in September 2000, after several unsuccessful attempts over the years. "Then there will be sportbikes, such as the MGS/01 [whose prototype was unveiled to rave reviews at last year's Munich Show]. And thirdly classic bikes such as the California, which is still very much alive, plus the Griso that was shown in Munich.
"We are introducing an entry-level model first because this was something missing from our range," says Beggio. "The key concept is simplicity. We wanted an upright riding position, a low seat partly to make the bike good for women riders as well as men, and good performance in the city, mixed roads and motorways."
Beneath a clean, modern styling package that incorporates a small headlamp fairing, the Breva's basic technical layout is little changed from Guzzis of three decades ago. The air-cooled, transverse V-twin engine is held in a twin-downtube steel frame, with a non-adjustable front fork, twin rear shocks and a single disc brake at each end. Yet the chassis is new, and although the 744cc powerplant is based on Guzzi's previous V75 unit, recently seen in the Nevada and little changed since the 1980s, this time there are substantial improvements.
First of these is the adoption of a Weber-Marelli fuel-injection system in place of carbs, along with a larger and more efficient airbox designed to allow easy filter replacement. The pushrod engine's 80 x 74mm dimensions and Heron head (combustion chamber in piston top) layout remain, but the pistons have a new anti-wear coating and revised ring design. Camshaft profile is revised, the lubrication system updated, and the new twin-silencer exhaust incorporates a catalytic converter.
Final drive is still by shaft, but the transmission is comprehensively uprated. The five-speed gearbox has been redesigned to give smoother and more precise shifting, its production tolerances are tighter, and a tougher grade of steel combines with improved lubrication to increase reliability. The single-plate dry clutch gains new friction material, more precise alignment, and is balanced to reduce vibration.
The twin-downtube steel frame holds a 40mm Marzocchi fork and a pair of angled-forward Bitubo shocks. Braking is conventional, if not by Guzzi standards because the handlebar lever operates just the single front four-piston Brembo caliper, with no sign of an old-style linked system. In fact the Breva felt improbably normal as I threw a leg over the low seat (an even lower version is available as an accessory), and the freshly balanced engine fired up with less of the old side-to-side rocking as I blipped the throttle.
Another change was obvious even before I pulled away. First gear went in without a sound, and I then flicked back into neutral and up into second, finding each ratio without any trouble. Lever travel was still quite long, and some riders later reported finding the odd false neutral, but this box was notably better than its slow and noisy predecessor. And although the lack of lever span adjustment revealed a bit of cost-cutting, the cable clutch operation was reasonably light.
The Breva felt pleasantly responsive when I accelerated away, too, although its performance is modest. Ironically that peak output of 48 bhp is exactly what Guzzi claimed for the 500cc V50 Monza back in 1981. What's more relevant though is that the maximum torque figure of 41 foot-pounds is produced at just 3600 rpm, giving the Breva an effortless, low-revving flexibility that's just right for an entry-level model such as this.
The injection system worked well, combining a light throttle action, precise control and none of the snatchiness that I remember from the larger V11 Sport. The Breva pulled from as low as 1500 rpm, with little of the low-rev juddering of most previous Guzzis. And it stayed smooth through the midrange, keeping vibration to reasonable levels even near an 8000rpm redline that most riders will rarely approach.
There was certainly little point in thrashing the pushrod V-twin, which started running out of breath with about 90 mph showing on the speedo in its simple analog instrument console, as it headed for a top speed of about 105 mph. But if speed is not its strength, the Breva should be capable of respectable averages, due to its ability to sit at a smooth, economical 70-mph plus, with the headlamp fairing helping make the upright riding position reasonably comfortable.
For such a simple, twin-shock bike there was very little to complain about with the Breva's chassis. At TKK pounds fry [182kg] the bike is respectably light, and it steered effortlessly due to a combination of wide handlebars, narrow tires on 17-inch wheels, a reasonably short 1449mm wheelbase and typical middleweight steering geometry. It felt happy attacking first-gear hairpins, thanks to plenty of cornering clearance and reasonable grip from its Bridgestone BT45 tyres.
The suspension worked well, firm and well damped. When ridden hard the Guzzi gave a few minor twitches over mid-bend bumps, but it was quick to recover. The front brake set-up of single 320mm Brembo disc and four-pot caliper is only half that of some bikes of similar weight. But there was adequate stopping power plus plenty of feel at the lever, and for relatively inexperienced riders that's probably about right. The rear disc worked well enough to be useful too, and I didn't miss the old linked system.
By the time I rode through the big gate of the old Mandello del Lario factory to end an enjoyably relaxed day's ride, I was impressed by the Breva. As well as being competitively priced, it is quick, smooth, agile, comfortable and refined enough to attract plenty of new riders to Moto Guzzi's distinctive brand of V-twin motorcycling. Just as importantly, the Breva's general air of quality suggests that the revitalised factory will be producing plenty of more exciting and equally well made bikes in the future.