2010 MV Agusta Brutale 990R & 1090RR - Civilized Brutality

Perfecting the art of naked aggression

Back-to-back sessions on the Misano circuit had been exciting, exhausting and a great way of confirming the pace and poise of the new Brutale 990R and 1090RR. The smaller-engined 990R was enjoyably quick and sweet-handling, and the 1090RR that I rode immediately afterwards was better still.

But a street ride earlier in the day had revealed that MV's new naked bruisers had developed a softer edge. Cruising through villages and around bumpy hairpins in the hills, the Brutales performed with a sophistication and comfort that was a distinct departure from their predecessors.

Such polite behavior was not what I was accustomed to from the Brutale. From the moment Massimo Tamburini's gloriously original 749cc four bludgeoned its way onto the street six years ago, the Brutale backed up its snub-nosed, barrel-chested look with performance that was ... well, brutal.

That rev-happy, 127-horsepower original was followed two years later by the Brutale 910, which added 9 bhp and some useful flexibility. Then in 2008 came the Brutale 1078RR, claiming a rampaging 154 bhp, but MV's answer to a Mafioso's machine-gun had too much of everything to make sense.

This latest Brutale heads in a different direction. The 990R and 1090RR are the first tangible results of MV's takeover by Harley-Davidson over a year ago; 85 percent of their components have been changed. And rather than adding more brute force, MV and its new parent company have decided to make them more refined and easier to ride.

Most new components are shared by both models, beginning with the previous Brutale's signature shape, subtly revised with a new headlamp that incorporates a polyellipsoidal lens plus a string of LEDs. New mirrors hold LED turn signals in typically neat MV style. Other changes include a redesigned instrument console, larger air ducts and a tail light integrated into the tailpiece.

Paint is the quickest way to tell the two models apart. The 990R has red or black paintwork with silver sidepanels, while the 1090RR's two-tone scheme of either red/silver or black/white includes the tank and tailpiece. The 1078cc four also has a bright-red cylinder head.

The two powerplants are very similar, with the larger unit retaining the 79.0 x 55.0 mm dimensions of the previous 1078RR model, and the smaller engine using a 3mm smaller bore to give a capacity of 998cc. MV's trademark layout of 16 radial valves and central camchain is retained, but numerous parts including the generator, lubrication system and gear-change assembly are smaller and lighter. The larger motor also incorporates a slipper clutch.

A new injection system combines Mikuni throttle bodies with a Marelli control unit that gives the rider the option of a softer map for wet conditions without reducing peak power. Both Brutales come with MV's race-developed traction-control system, which adjusts ignition timing and fuel delivery when revs rise too quickly.

The frame retains its blend of steel tubes and aluminum sections, but with slightly more relaxed steering geometry, softer suspension and a 20mm longer swingarm. New wheels save weight, more so with the RR's forged rims. The RR also balances its $18,000 price with a steering damper, adjustable footrests, upgraded brakes and suspension.

So the new Brutale is less powerful, has lazier geometry and softer suspension, right? Forgive me for thinking that maybe MV's new American owners had begun a secret mission to turn the original Italian brute into a softie, better suited to the freeways back home.

But the 990 engine's deep, guttural growl says the Brutale is still plenty menacing, and one burst of throttle was enough to blow away any doubts. On the short, straight stretch of road heading out from the Misano circuit, I crouched forward, delicately rested my foot on the rear brake, wound back my right hand, and was rewarded with the sight of the front wheel rising skyward.

Not that I had seriously doubted that even this smaller-engined of the two new Brutales would live up to its name. That claimed 139 horsepower is plenty for a naked bike, and these models are both 6.5 pounds lighter than their predecessors. The 990R not only sent its tach needle ripping round the dial at the slightest provocation, it also pulled from low revs with satisfying enthusiasm.

Predictably, the 1090RR has even more low-rev grunt. The bigger engine had just a touch more vibration than the 990R, but is still very smooth thanks to the added balancer shaft. It responds from well below 3000 rpm exiting steep hairpin turns, making effortless progress with little need to shift.

That was just as well, because if the Brutales have a flaw, it's their rather snatchy midrange response. In other respects, both bikes are impressively rider-friendly. More relaxed geometry and that longer wheelbase gave calmer steering feel along with the naked four's flickable nature.

The Brutales' new-found civility was welcome on the road, but doesn't come at the expense of racetrack performance. On the contrary, the motor's smoothness helps make the bike brilliantly rev-happy and entertaining on the straights. Slightly abrupt throttle response doesn't prevent either of the big fours from storming out of the bends with a controlled savagery that is hugely addictive.

Despite that lazier steering geometry, the Brutales navigated chicanes easily, thanks in no small part to the leverage afforded by their wide bars. But I wasn't totally happy after my first session on either model, as both were a bit soft and imprecise, despite having been set up slightly firmer than the standard settings we had used on the road. Both front ends moved around slightly going into bends, and the steering damper-less 990R, in particular, flapped its bars exiting the slow left-hander onto the back straight, as its shock compressed under my weight.

Fortunately, the solution in both bikes' cases was as simple as dialing in a bit more compression and rebound damping at each end, after which both models carved through the slower turns with infinitely more precision. The 1090RR felt so solid that I just about managed to get it through Misano's scary-fast (I saw 160 mph) kink without shutting off.

The firmed-up front end allowed full use of the front brakes, especially the RR's fierce blend of Monobloc calipers and 320mm discs (the 990R has conventional radial Brembo calipers and 310mm rotors). There was enough cornering clearance to maximize that bike's sticky Dunlop Qualifier RR rubber, as well as the Pirelli Diablo Rossos fitted to the 990R. I wasn't aware of the traction control, which MV says is effective yet less intrusive than other systems. The fact that nobody crashed in three days says they might be right.

Toward the end of the day, I pulled in after what I thought was my final session. Stepping off the 990R, I was informed that I was signed up for one more session aboard the 1090RR-right now. Er, yes please! I was hot, sweaty and aching from a day spent at speed on this high-barred hooligan of a motorcycle, but I wasn't going to miss a final blast. The Brutale is a little bit kinder to its rider than it used to be, and even more fun to ride. MV Agusta's American-led revival is off to a promising start.

An Italian-marriage creates a lighter, more refined naked that's every bit as thrilling as the original.

KTM Superduke R, Triumph Speed Triple, Ducati Streetfighter and a 1100.

Price $15,000 (990R), $18,000 (1090RR)
Engine type l-c inline-four
Valve train DOHC, 16v
Displacement 998cc (990R), 1078cc (1090RR)
Bore x stroke 76.0 x 55.0mm (990R), 79.0 x 55.0mm (1090RR)
Compression 13.0:1
Fuel system EFI
Clutch Wet, multi-plate
Transmission 6-speed
Claimed horsepower 139.0 bhp @ 10,600 rpm (990R),
144.2 bhp @ 10,600 rpm (1090RR)
Claimed torque 78.2 lb.-ft. @ 8000 rpm (990R),
84.8 lb.-ft. @ 8000 rpm (1090RR)
Frame Steel trellis with single-sided
aluminum swingarm
Front suspension 50mm Marzocchi fork with
adjustable spring preload,
compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension Sachs shock with adjustable spring pre
load, high/low-speed compression, and
rebound damping (990R: spring preload
and rebound damping only)
Front brake Dual four-piston Brembo calipers,
310mm discs (990R), Dual four-piston
Brembo Monobloc calipers, 320mm
discs (1090RR)
Rear brake Four-piston Brembo caliper, 210mm disc
Front tire 120/70ZR-17 Pirelli (990R), Dunlop (1090RR)
Rear tire 190/50ZR-17 Pirelli (990R), Dunlop (1090RR)
Rake/trail 24.5°/4.0 in.
Seat height 32.7 in.
Wheelbase 56.6 in.
Fuel capacity 6.0 gal.
Claimed dry weight 419 lbs.
**Colors ** Red, black (990R), red/silver, black/white (1090RR)
Available Now
Warranty 12 mo., unlimited mi.
Contact www.mvagustausa.com

Verdict 4.5 stars out of 5
Sleeker, more sophisticated, and as sharp and ferocious as ever.

2010 MV Agusta Brutale 990R & 1090RR

The Brutales' cockpit has been completely remodelled. The new instrument cluster, handlebar, clamp and key block are all aimed at improving the bikes' fit and feel. A steering damper resides beneath the 1090RR's bars.
Revised spring and damping rates are a welcome change. Other comfort updates include a softer seat, rubber-mounted handlebar and footrests, and a redesigned cush drive that smoothes acceleration.
The smaller Brutale is designed more for the street than the track, but its torquey 998cc engine and light handling make it a joy in either environ.
The Brutales' new swingarm is 2.2 pounds lighter and has been extended 20mm for greater high-speed stability. A forged insert is an attractive contrast and protects the swingarm in the event of a crash.