MV Agusta Brutale S

Naked, Exotic and Expensive...

I'm half-way through my final ride aboard the Brutale when the black clouds that have been gathering over the Swiss hills suddenly decide it's time to let go. Moments later I'm making a futile attempt to crouch behind the MV Agusta's instrument panel as the rain falls, and wishing for the first time today that the bike had some sort of fairing.

Why have I left my waterproof oversuit in the photographer's car, following far behind me, when I knew it might rain? Perhaps for the same reason I left my wallet and cellphone in the same place this morning, before tearing off and getting lost. Basically the Brutale is such a barking mad, hugely entertaining bike that I've been disappearing for a thrash at every possible opportunity all day long, without pausing to worry about the consequences. MV Agusta's first naked superbike has that effect on a man (or woman).

Fortunately the rain turned out to be only a brief downpour, and by the time I'd reached my destination the sun was out and I was almost dry. MV Agusta will be hoping that my ride is a metaphor for the firm's fortunes. The Varese marque has seen stormy times in the past couple of years, coming close to disaster following the abortive merger talks with Piaggio, but looks to have come through the other side. Production has restarted, and finally the Brutale, unveiled three years ago, is about to be let loose on the streets.

When MV boss Claudio Castiglioni hatched the plot more than a decade ago to revive MV Agusta with a range of four-cylinder superbikes, he always intended to follow the initial super-sports model with a naked bike using many of the same components. Most of the Brutale's major engine and chassis components are shared, but you only have to take one glance at the Brutale to realize that Massimo Tamburini's creation is far more than an fairing-less F4.

The Brutale is one of those rare bikes where not just the complete machine, but every tiny component has been lovingly shaped and formed into something that looks interesting and stylish. From the uniquely shaped headlight to the slash-cut exhaust silencers, every part has been designed with remarkable attention to detail.

The motor is the same EV03 or Evolution version of the radial 16-valve engine that is fitted to the latest F4. That means it's modified from MV's original 749cc unit with Mahle cylinders (which are painted grey here) and forged pistons, plus under-piston oil spray. Other EV03 mods include reshaped combustion chambers, new exhaust valves and inlet valve springs, a lighter crankshaft and a strengthened clutch hub. For the Brutale, a revised fuel-injection and that twin-pipe exhaust system combine to boost midrange power slightly while reducing peak output by 10bhp to a claimed 127bhp at 12,500rpm.

Chassis layout is also identical to the F4's, which means the Brutale frame combines chrome-molybdenum steel tubes with cast aluminium sections at the pivot for the sculpted aluminium single-sided swing-arm. (The similarly styled Brutale Serie Oro, of which just 300 units are being built and which costs more than twice as much as the S, uses magnesium instead of aluminium in both areas.) Suspension consists of a 49mm upside-down Showa fork and a Sachs rising-rate monoshock, both fully adjustable. Six-piston Nissin calipers bite 310mm discs, which are bolted to polished aluminium five-spoke wheels.

There's a night-club bouncer-type menace about the Brutale. Perhaps the only slight disappointment on such an exotic bike is that a few parts, such as the front fender and instrument cover, are black plastic rather than carbon-fibre (which is used for the Serie Oro).

The aggressive feel continues when you climb aboard, and reach forward to the flattish one-piece handlebar which is slightly pulled back but promotes an upright riding position that seems reasonably sporty because the footrests, although fairly well forward, are set quite high. The bike felt compact and purposeful as I cast my eyes over the asymmetrical instrument console, which is similar to the F4's except that the analogue tach alongside the digital speedo is white-faced instead of yellow.

On firing up the engine I couldn't help grinning at the way MV has managed to make the Brutale sound improbably throaty in these emissions-obsessed times. This helps give the Brutale character to go with its unique look, and more importantly this bike goes and handles like an MV Agusta should. Ironically, given the bike's name and image, my first impression was that it felt not wild and raw, but sophisticated and easy to ride. Trickling through Lugano traffic after borrowing the bike from MV's Swiss importer, I was impressed with the Brutale's smoothness and flexibility.

A 750cc motor borrowed from a super-sports bike might have been expected to feel peaky in a naked machine, despite the minor detuning, but the Brutale didn't give that impression. There wasn't much power available at very low revs, but the throttle and hydraulic clutch were light and the fuel-injection's response precise. And there's plenty of grunt available above 5000rpm, from which point a tweak of the throttle was enough to send the bike snapping forward, and in first gear the front wheel lifts with ease.

Such hooliganism is of course to be condemned, but sometimes a guy just can't help himself... Especially when the Brutale makes such a gorgeous noise, its burbling low-rev grumble turning into a spine-tingling howl as the radial 16-valve motor starts breathing hard. There's also plenty of power up top, with a slight kick at about 8000rpm that sends the Brutale into warp speed while significantly upping the rider's adrenaline level.

There exist plenty of revs to play with, too, though given the Brutale's exposed riding position and the sweetness of its six-speed gearbox, it's generally more fun to short-shift rather than provoke the high-rev warning light, which illuminates shortly before the 13,100rpm rev-limit. When I found a reasonably straight road and opened it up, the Brutale howled very rapidly up to an indicated 231km/h, or 144mph. There was enough speed to come, when I had to back off, to suggest it should manage a genuine, and very wind-blown, 150mph.

The naked MV was rock solid during that high-speed blast, which was no surprise given its chassis's origins in the fine-handling F4. Steering angle is shifted back by half a degree from the F4's figure, to 24.5 degrees. That also increases the wheelbase slightly, to 1414mm, but this and the Brutale's 408 pound dry weight figure are still in sports bike territory, and the Brutale handles with plenty of poise.

The slightly lazier geometry inevitably meant the bike needed a little more effort to make it change direction, and the fat, 190-section Michelin Pilot Sport on a six-inch rim out back probably doesn't help quick direction changes, either, but its grip helps make good use of the Brutale's abundant ground clearance. And the wide bars offer plenty of leverage, so handling's still impressively agile.

Suspension action is also excellent. The fat 49mm Showa fork doesn't dive too much under the powerful bite of the six-pot Nissin calipers. And the Sachs shock is soft enough for reasonable comfort, despite the fairly thin seat, yet provides enough damping to afford good control when the MV's ridden hard over bumpy roads. This however, does not seem like a bike that would be fun two-up, despite the pillion hand-grips below the seat.

Having spent a hugely enjoyable day on the Brutale, I screamed off to return the bike, and ended with that last, damp ride back in Lugano traffic. Here the upright riding position and reasonably generous turning circle were welcome, and the Brutale would make a handy town bike if you didn't mind the attention. The bar-mounted mirrors are disappointingly blurry at most speeds, although the motor's slight high-pitched four-cylinder buzz isn't otherwise a problem.

What will be a problem for some riders who like the look of the Brutale is the price which, although roughly 15 percent below the cost of the F4, is still high by naked bike standards. The second difficulty will be finding one to buy, at least in the near future. Brutales were coming off the production line at a rate of over 100 per week during July, and the majority will be exported although Claudio Castiglioni says he could sell the complete year's production in Italy. Either way, availability will be very limited this year.

Still, those who do finally get to ride a Brutale, some of whom will have ordered one almost three years ago, are not likely to be disappointed by a bike that looks mean, lean and thoroughly crazy (in red paint or the alternative black), and which performs in exactly the same way. The Brutale is many things: two-wheeled art, naked street warrior and stripped-down sports machine. Perhaps most important of all, it's the bike whose arrival proves that MV Agusta is back in business at last.

MV Agusta Brutale S

Engine type Liquid-cooled in-line four

Valve arrangement DOHC, 16 radial valves

Displacement 749cc

Bore x stroke 73.8 x 43.8mm

Compression ratio 12:1

Carburation Weber-Marelli fuel-injection

Maximum power 127bhp (93.4kW) @ 12,500rpm

Maximum torque 77N.m (7.9kg.m) @ 10,500rpm

Clutch Wet multiplate

Transmission 6-speed, cassette type

Front suspension 49mm inverted telescopic Showa; 118mm (4.6in) travel; adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping

Rear suspension One Sachs damper, 120mm (4.7in) travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping

Front brake 2, six-piston Nissin calipers, 310mm discs

Rear brake Four-piston caliper, 210mm disc

Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminium

Rear wheel 6.00 x 17in; cast aluminium

Front tyre 120/65 x 17in Michelin Pilot Sport radial

Rear tyre 190/50 x 17in Michelin Pilot Sport radial

Rake/trail 24.5 degrees/101.5mm (4in)

Wheelbase 1414mm (55.7in)

Seat height 810mm (31.9in)

Fuel capacity 19 litres (5 US gal)

Dry weight 185kg (407lb)

Instruments Tachometer, Digital display with speedometer, water temperature, clock; lights for turn signals, neutral, headlight on, high beam, low oil pressure, generator, low fuel level, sidestand down, rev-limit