A V-twin pushrod engine, which can trace its roots back to the Italian armed forces vehicles of WW11, might not be your choice of motive power for a sports motorcycle.
But Guzzi had little choice for the last 30 years, than to work with what they know.
The 1100 Sport and its later, fuel injected version, are both surprisingly competent sports-tourers, with shaft drive, loping 140mph performance and – considering the factory’s constant financial headaches – respectable build quality.
You’ll never outbrake an R1 into a corner on an 1100 Sport, but this odd handling old brute still has a strange kind of charm about it.
Despite it’s keen price and undeniably fast open road performance, Roland Brown still found Moto Guzzi’s 1100 Sport wanting as this 1994 road test reveals.
The bike is new, the feelings are familiar. On the fast dual-carriageway that sweeps along the lakeside from Lecco to Guzzi’s base at Mandello del Lario in northern Italy, the 1100 Sport makes rapid progress with the loping V-twin gait that has characterised Guzzis for years. Some of the curves are damp but the Sport barely needs to slow, tracking so securely that it almost seems to know the way back to the factory by itself.
Ride the 1100 Sport on these local roads, and it’s easy to visualise the dozens of hairy-chested Guzzi sportsters that have been this way before and whose layout and performance the Sport echoes. This may be a hot new 1994 motorcycle, a combination of uprated V-twin powerplant and a chassis borrowed from the Daytona 1000 flagship. More to the point, it’s the latest in a long line of roadburners fitted with the Mandello firm’s trademark blend of big pushrod motor and Dell’Orto carbs.
Guzzi’s aim is to provide a cheaper version of the eight-valve Daytona, dispensing with that bike’s costly fuel-injection system and using an enlarged version of the old two-valves-per-cylinder lump from the Le Mans. Increasing the 949cc Le Mans motor’s bore and stroke from 88 x 78mm to 92 x 80mm raises capacity to 1064cc, and the larger pistons also give a reshaped combustion chamber.
Numerous other changes include a new camshaft design, and crankshaft and conrods that are lighter and stiffer than their Le Mans equivalents. The flywheel is also lighter; the Marelli ignition system is new; oil pump gearing is higher and filter capacity is increased. In addition the Sport’s airbox is pressurised slightly in Kawasaki fashion, giving a claimed three per cent power and torque boost at high speeds. It all adds up to Guzzi’s most potent two-valve motor yet, its claimed peak output of 90bhp being five horses lower than the Daytona’s figure.
This new engine sits in a steel spine frame, similar to the Daytona’s unit and claimed to be slightly lighter without loss of rigidity. Geometry is unchanged, which means a lazy (by sports bike standards) 26 degrees of rake, with 90mm of trail and a lengthy 1480mm wheelbase. Like the Dr John Wittner designed Daytona, the Sport has a steel cantilever swing-arm and a drive-shaft incorporating a U-joint system designed to combat torque-reaction.
Suspension is also borrowed from the Daytona, consisting of a pair of conventional 41mm Marzocchi forks up front, and a remote-reservoir shock from Dutch firm WP at the back. Wheel sizes remain 17 inch front and 18 rear, the Sport’s only cycle-part change being that its four-piston Brembo front brake calipers bite on 320mm discs from the same firm, instead of the fuel-injected model’s smaller 300mm rotors.
The Sport’s subtle restyle incorporates a new seat unit with room for an occasional and presumably brave, because there’s no grab-rail pillion. This bike was slightly scruffy around the edges, understandably so because it was a well-used factory prototype. But with neat paintwork in a combination of silver and deep red, and with the aircooled motor’s huge finned pots jutting out on either side, the 1100 was still a very handsome motorcycle.
Predictably the Sport felt every bit a Moto Guzzi as its V-twin lump churned into life with a characteristic lurch from its longitudinal crank. The bike’s aggressive, Daytona-replica riding position pulled me forward to the low bars, with seat and footrests set fairly high. The view was of neat white-faced clocks and competent switchgear, though being tall I found the warning lights obscured by the lip of the screen.
It was not just the sporty riding position that made this bike ill suited to pottering around town. Apart from the inevitable race-replica discomfort, the Sport’s rather clunky transmission was often noticeable on pulling away. The motor was also hesitant at very low revs, its power coming in with a surge at just below 3000rpm. (For urban use the inaccessible and unreliable spring-loaded sidestand would be equally annoying.)
Once spinning properly, though, the big V-twin thudded along with all the grunt and charm that have traditionally made Guzzis so much fun to ride. More of it, in fact, because this was one very tractable powerplant. Redline is at 8000rpm, but the Sport’s midrange muscle meant there was rarely any need to get the needle that far round the dial. The motor pulled strongly from anywhere above four grand, its flexibility encouraging short-shifting through the slow but precise five-speed gearbox.
Given more revs, the Sport’s lightened engine internals helped it accelerate with very respectable enthusiasm. At 200kg dry this bike is 5kg lighter than the Daytona, and it felt just as quick as it headed towards a similar top speed of 140mph plus. Perhaps the larger motor was slightly less smooth than the eight-valver, but in Guzzi style the V-twin’s low-pitched vibration didn’t spoil the ride. On the fast road back from Lecco, the Sport cruised at an indicated ton with five grand on the clock, feeling relaxed and pleasantly unstressed.
For high-speed use the motor’s only real flaw was its response when asked to increase that pace in a hurry, for the use of carburettors is not without its drawbacks. That old Guzzi bugbear the stiff throttle has been avoided, at the expense of a long action. But when I took a big handful and wound the twistgrip wide open at less than that 5000rpm figure, the Sport’s pair of 40mm Dell’Orto carbs couldn’t cope.
Instead of an instant kick, the motor spluttered and complained as though a plug cap had come loose as, despite their accelerator pumps, the Dell’Ortos failed to deliver the required amount of gas to the 1100’s big cylinders. Backing off and using the throttle more gently sent the Sport surging forward once again. But for sudden full-bore acceleration, the carbs couldn’t match the more efficient response of the Daytona’s injection system. (The factory is rumored to be developing an injected Sport for next year, and it’s easy to see why.)
Predictably the 1100’s handling was very similar to that of the eight-valve bike, combining slow but neutral steering, firm suspension and a good dose of high-speed stability. The Sport was not best suited to narrow country roads, feeling rather long and unwieldy, and requiring a fair bit of effort from the rider to make it change direction in a hurry. Once into a turn the bike felt reassuringly precise, though, and it cranked through faster curves with ease.
Front suspension has scope for fine-tuning via three-position knobs at the top of each leg (left leg for compression, right for rebound), though the benefit was hard to discern. The WP shock is multi-adjustable, and on the standard settings gave a taut and fairly well-controlled ride. Like the Daytona, though, the Sport didn’t care much for rider indecision in mid-corner, responding much better to a relatively slow entry followed by a steady drive through and out of the bend.
On a tight, bumpy or unfamiliar road you’d struggle to go really rapidly on the 1100 Sport. On wider, smoother and better-known surfaces, its stability, ground-clearance and the grip of its Michelin Hi-Sport radials would make the Guzzi a tough act to follow. It was impressive on the brakes, too, thanks to the uprated Brembo set-up that brought stopping power up to typical Italian sports bike standards.
Hence the Sport’s enjoyable performance on the open road back to the factory, when despite the often-damp tarmac it felt fast, well-balanced and as full of V-twin charm as any of the factory’s bikes. Another attraction is that the Sport, due to go on sale in June, will be very competitively priced. At an expected £7000 it will be about £1300 cheaper than the Daytona (which has the advantage of a two-year warranty), with a similar edge over Ducati’s 900SS, to name one obvious rival.
That keen price should ensure that the Sport finds plenty of buyers, and most of them will no doubt be content. Despite that, I walked away from the 1100 feeling a little disappointed. It’s quick, torquey, good-looking and handles as well as any Guzzi. But if the Daytona was a big stride forward for the factory two years ago, then the charismatic but relatively crude 1100 Sport is, perhaps inevitably, a step in the opposite direction.
Get Moto Guzzi motorcycle insurance for the 1100 Sport Injection.
|Engine||Air-cooled 90-degree transverse V-twin|
|Claimed power (bhp)||68hp @ 5400rpm|
|Front tyre||120/70 x 17in Michelin Hi-Sport radial|
|Rear tyre||160/60 x 18in Michelin Hi-Sport radial|
|Front wheel||3.50 x 17in; cast aluminum|
|Rear wheel||4.50 x 18in; cast aluminum|
|Front suspension||41mm telescopic Marzocchi, 130mm (5.1in) travel, adjustments for compression and rebound damping|
|Rear suspension||One WP damper, 130mm (5.1in) wheel travel, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping|
|Front brake||2, four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm discs|
|Rear brake||Double-action Brembo caliper, 260mm disc|
|Top speed||140 mph|
|Fuel capacity||20 litres|