Some people still think of Moto Guzzi machines as being relics from the industrial dark ages; slow, clunky and constructed on old iron. But since Aprilia’s takeover of the Italian marque the pace of change has definitely quickened, with new models and a brighter, fresher look to the range.
Alastair Walker rode a special edition of the V11 sporting Guzzi, the all black Scura, complete with trick Ohlins suspension, carbon fibre bits, plus a slightly higher ride height than the V11 Le Mans. But does it all up to a genuinely sporty package?
There, I said the word that every biker – who has never ridden a Moto Guzzi – uses to describe them at a biker hang-out, or down the pub. I´ll admit that I´ve said it myself, many times, even after I rode my first Guzzi back in the mid 1990s, which was a pre-injection California.
Basically, I thought Moto Guzzis were OK, if you rode them slowly, but until they fuel injected the 1100 Sport model, I didn´t think I would ever use the words `Guzzi´ and `fast fun´ in the same sentence. Then Guzzi went bankrupt, oh dear. But, times change and against all the odds, Guzzi are on their way back.
When Guzzi finally went bust a few years ago, in many ways it was the best thing that could happen to them. Mainly because, as a small independent, it was unlikely they could ever develop a convincing alternative to their transverse V-twin engine, which has been around now since the railway boom of the late 1840s. Only joking, Guzzi fans, please put down your steam powered fountain pens!
But the thing about the Italian bike industry, is that it ultimately sticks together, merging and sharing info, designers, key workers, financial backers etc. as the fortunes of individual factories ebb and flow. This means that Aprilia, despite suffering lately with the decline in small scooter sales, have taken a long look at Guzzi´s 80 odd years of heritage, and realised that they have the Latin equivalent of Harley-Davidson on their hands – if they play their cards right.
(They also have a new water-cooled V-twin engine in the pipeline, but that´s another story – Newshound Ed)
MEN IN BLACK II
So the V11 Scura Special is a neat little twist on the original V11 Sport, and the V11 Le Mans models, which appeared in the last few years. Scura means dark in Italian and the bike is overwhelmingly black, with just a few highlights in red and gold.
The bits that do stand out, tend to be the high class cycle parts which make this machine a great bike for the open road, assuming you can find any in gridlocked UK these days. Beautiful gold anodised Ohlins suspension, plus Goldline Brembo brakes give the Scura a real precision in the twisty stuff, as well as looking good.
Non bikers are particularly impressed by the Scura, with one bystander commenting that the Guzzi looked `well mean and moody,´ as he gazed at the engineering details whilst the bike was parked outside the Nat West.
Mostly, the Guzzi is well finished, certainly way above the standards set by the old, cash-strapped Guzzi firm of old. The black plastic gas tank, and matt tailpiece sections, tended to mark a bit too easily whilst I racked up 800-odd miles with throwover panniers on board, plus the Scura lost its footrest rubber somewhere on the A5 in Staffordshire, but otherwise, it looks durable.
The bike drips with classy castings and carbon fibre touches, and so it should, since the Scura doesn´t come cheap at about £8300 OTR. That is serious sportbike money – but does the Guzzi deliver that sort of performance?
RETHINKING THE ROADSTER
The V11 Scura is very much a bike for the open road, just like its ancestors stretching back to the original Le Mans of the mid 1970s. By 21st century standards, it doesn´t make a great deal of power, but the 90-ish bhp the transverse Vee does churn out is delivered cleanly by the fuel injection system, with a nice spread of grunt in the 3,000-6,000rpm range.
There´s a six speed gearbox on the Scura, which for road use, is probably one ratio too much, but it does give you a 6th gear overdrive for outstanding fuel economy. On a motorway/dual carriageway drag across England, the Scura managed a whopping 196 miles on just £10.88 worth of unleaded, before the reserve light came on.
At the other extreme, you can empty most of the Scura´s 22 litre plastic tank in just four sessions – or less than 40 miles – at Cadwell Park, on a Guzzi owner´s track day. But obviously, that´s flat out caning the beast.
Cadwell´s long circuit is pretty much the acid test of whether any `sportbike´ deserves to be classified as such, and I have to admit the Scura performed more than OK on its series of oddly cambered bends and chicanes.
The Ohlins suspension copes with Cadwell´s worst bumps pretty well, although the front of the Scura twitched a little, when hitting the ripples at the end of the start/finish straight – slightly unnerving at about 90-ish miles an hour. Talking later with Ashley Law, who raced the Le Mans Tenni around the TT in 2002, he reckoned that you can´t apply the same rules to something so long and heavy, as you would to a Yamaha R6 for example;
“You´re asking a big, heavy bike to brake as hard, or change direction late into a corner, as rapidly as something that might be 30 kilos lighter – the physics don´t add up, something has to give inside the bike´s chassis, and that´s what it´s trying to tell you. The trick is learning to ride around those demands, up to a point.”
He´s right of course, which made me feel slightly better about finishing next to last in the fast group every time I went out. The Scura seemed to need acres of space to brake from 120mph at the end of the back straight, plus huge amounts of body shifting to hustle it through the tight Woodland section. If every corner was a long, long rolling curve like Charlies, I wouldn´t have had too many problems – apart from the Guzzi chewing its Battlax tyres up – but sub 70mph turns were very hard work for me, and after a couple of laps, I simply relaxed, stopped trying so hard, and enjoyed the bike more.
So the answer to the question, `Is this a serious sportbike?´ is probably “No, you´ll not beat GSXR750s on trackdays, unless you´re a far quicker rider.”
But trackdays aren´t like open roads. No diesel spills, U-turning UPS vans, grids, loose gravel, or mobile phone chattering sales reps block the way around Cadwell. So, you take things slower, and then suddenly, the big Guzzi becomes a perfect bike for a long, lazy run along your favourite A road, early one weekend morning.
The engine prods you along nicely, using the top three gears, in the 60-100mph range, letting you dart past traffic with just a growl of power. The wide saddle lets you hang off in the bends, using your body weight to drag that 220kg bike low to the tarmac, with the twin Brembos always ready to save you from the unexpected idiot, lurking around the next blind corner.
You can cover ground really fast on the Scura, and more to the point, in a very fun, booming, bike-shaking kind of way. It´s a raw, rough-edged experience that´s definitely an acquired taste, but it´s addictive nonetheless. There´s no denying that you get more from the big Guzzi, after making the extra effort as a rider.
In that respect, it´s similar to an early 90s Ducati, or something like a Buell. A little bit antiquated in some ways, but undeniably different, unique, and classy. The thing looks good parked up, and that seems to matter these days, because a great many bikers I see tend to be parked up at weekends, not riding.
BEING JOHN MALKOVICH
Owning a Guzzi is like joining a cult. You can tell that from the owners club trackday; these people absolutely love them, warts and all, and relish their quirky charm – they don´t want Guzzi to modernise too much.
That´s fine for diehard enthusiasts, but in the long run, Aprilia will have to make sure that the Guzzi twins evolve gradually, keeping their character, but getting slicker, more polished, easier to ride. The Scura needs a few more bhp to justify its price, a deeper coating of lacquer on its bodywork to keep it pristine and perhaps a green/red paint option, for true Italian fans everywhere.
It´s so close now to being a truly great bike, yet still comes across as being a machine that needs much more rider input than something rev-hungry like the Aprilia Falco for instance, or grunty good fun, like the Triumph Speed Triple 955.
It´s a good thing to be different, with a distinct brand image that´s slightly offbeat, a bit John Malkovich. But Guzzi are surrounded by manufacturers who can build unique imagery into a modern, capable, all-rounder on two wheels – at a cheaper price too.
It´s a tough world out there for one of the last bespoke V-twin roadsters.
Get Moto Guzzi motorcycle insurance for the V11 Scura.
Engine V-twin, 90 degree, four stroke, SOHC
Bore and stroke 92 x 80mm
Gears 6 speed
Claimed power 90bhp @ 7800rpm
Carbs None, Weber-Marelli fuel injection
Chassis Spine steel type, using engine as stressed member
Front suspension 43mm upside down Ohlins forks, multi adjustable
Rear suspension Single Ohlins gas reservoir shock, multi adjustable
Front brakes Brembo 320mm discs, four piston callipers
Rear brakes Single Brembo 282mm disc, twin piston calliper
Wheels/Tyres 120/70 ZR17 front, 180/55 ZR17 rear, Bridgestone Battlax tyres OE
Dry weight 170kgs
Fuel capacity 22 litres
Dry weight 221kg
Colours Black only
Top speed 130mph (estimated)
2 year warranty
Price Approx £8300 OTR