Birthday bike celebrates 90 years
It's a sportsbike, Jim, but not as we currently know them, for Moto Guzzi's new 1200 Sport 8V is a sportsbike how the 1980s knew them - that is, it is totally road focused and will take to the track only under duress.
So for folk who like a slightly sporty ride, but can't fold themselves into the jockey-sized riding positions of most contemporary sportsbikes, the 1200 Sport makes a welcome alternative.
It might be decidedly old school to the point of some calling it old hat, but mark this: it can deliver short-term gratuitous riding pleasure and long-haul comfort in equal measure.
To celebrate Moto Guzzi's 90th birthday in 2011, the 1200 Sport was given a new 8-valve engine and a special paint scheme to mark the milestone. At $25,995, it costs a grand more than the previous 1200 Sport 4V, but you do get a lot of return for that extra investment.
The 8-valve 1151cc version of Guzzi's iconic big-block V-twin is arguably the finest engine in the company's entire 90-year history, and the wicked extra kick it delivers above 5500rpm is worth paying the extra $1000 for alone. However, it is the rich red-white- black paint scheme that is this bike's greatest treasure, along with the beautifully stitched red- black leather seat.
The eye-catching livery is finished with some hand-applied gold stripes, a number of brand badges that borders on the ridiculous (nine!), and a couple of tacky silver eagles with wings that threaten to fly free of the glue that secures them to the bike.
Although Guzzi did get carried away with some of the final detailing of the 90th-anniversary version of 1200 Sport, the bike remains one of the most attractive to emerge from the small factory nestled near Lake Como in the Italian Alps.
At least it does to my eye, for I'm of an age where I can recall sportbikes of more practical design than the current crop.
With their pointy, minimalist tailpieces, contemporary sportsbikes have lost the ability to carry stuff under their seats, while fuel tanks have shrunk, restricting the range between refuelling stops.
The Moto Guzzi displays none of these shortcomings. Its fat rear end allows the rider to store a waterproof oversuit or wallet, cellphone and lunch there, and its ample proportions don't look out of place, given that they're balanced by a big 22-litre fuel tank at the other end of the bike.
The 1200 Sports riding position mirrors the bike's sport-touring focus, with slightly raised handlebars, footpegs positioned to skim the tarmac just as the tyres run out of usable profile, and a deeply dished seat that places you inside the bike rather than perched on it.
It bends the arms a little, positions the ankles comfortably, and the seat won't start to feel plank-like until you've consumed three tanks of fuel in a single day's riding.
Well-positioned mirrors and instruments complete a riding interface that feels almost tailormade, although the views presented by the former are fuzzed by the lusty throb of the transverse V-twin engine and the messages conveyed by the latter can be hard to decipher. It would be nice if Moto Guzzi fitted a kmh speedo for the markets that require one, instead of running a small inner ring of numbers around a miles-per-hour clock.
Fire up the V-twin, and you're immediately aware that this is a Guzzi you're about to ride. A little throttle is required at first, before the thumping air-cooled engine warms enough to settle into a steady idle, and the bike rocks to the right with the torque reaction of its longitudinally positioned crankshaft, the ticking and clicking of the valvetrain sounding like a Swiss clock factory.
When you get under way, the real magic begins. First gear engages smoothly and silently compared with the graunch associated with most modern sportsbikes, a foretaste of an engine that becomes progressively smoother the harder it revs. The biggest Guzzi engine delivers torque right through the range, giving the 248kg bike an impression of relentless speed, but it's at 5500rpm where the planets truly align for the quattro valvole- capped 1200 (well, the cam timing and exhaust flow profiling anyway). For from 5500rpm to 8000rpm lies such a sweet zone that you'll feel tempted to ride the bike in it all day.
Not for the comparatively heavy Guzzi the surgical telepathic steering of bikes with sportier aspirations, but the bike is still an accurate steer, and enjoyable to chuck around on its grippy Metzeler Sportec M5 radials. Suspension setup is more touring-oriented than track-ready, in keeping with the sports-touring application that most owners will reserve this bike for.
Braking performance could be stronger, and some flex-resistant radial mounts for the four-piston Brembo front calipers would no doubt improve them, but the bike does come with ABS standard.
Moto Guzzi's aren't for everyone. However, those who fall under the Italian brand's spell often remain smitten for life, and a ride on the 1200 Sport 8V will give immediate insight into the reasons why.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1151cc air-cooled 8-valve 90-degree V-twin stoked by fuel injection to develop 81kW (110bhp) at 7500rpm and 108Nm of torque at 6500rpm.
Transmission: six-speed sequential gearbox, shaft final drive.
Frame: Tubular steel spine frame with single-sided swingarm, 45mm fully adjustable front forks, rear monoshock adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping.
Hot: Lighter and more agile than Guzzi tourers like the Stelvio and Norge, more comfortable to ride than the Griso.
Not: Front brake calipers could use radial mounts, no centre stand for a model from the company that invented the centre stand.