Moto Guzzi have been making rugged V-twins for decades and their smaller 500cc and 750cc models have always offered the relative novice, or born again biker, a way onto two wheels with decent all round performance, unique Latin styling and excellent rider comfort.
Alastair Walker took a Breva 750ie out and about for a week, commuting and touring, to see if the latest Guzzi makes a refreshing Italian alternative to the Hornets, Bandits and ZR750s on the market.
Like a Triumph Speed Triple, a Harley-Davidson or a Ducati 999, the Moto Guzzi V-Twin makes a sweet, soulful kinda music. There’s something infinitely addictive about blipping the throttle on a twin cylinder machine in particular, which is an engine format that’s been around for as long as anybody has been making motorcycles. It sounds good and it feels good – which is what biking is all about sometimes.
This latest Guzzi also looks pretty good, with a compact chassis wrapped around that antique engine and some lovely three spoke alloy wheels. The bike has a kind of `two-tone’ styling theme, which might be termed retro, or just plain oddball, depending on your point of view. Overall, the bike appeared to be well made, with some good quality components used, on what is the ’entry level’ Moto Guzzi model.
Although the bike looks physically big, it is the lightest, most easy-to-handle Guzzi I have ever ridden. The dry weight is 182kgs according to the factory, which may seem too much for many a novice biker, but the Breva has a commendably low seat height, plus it carries the bike’s weight very low, which makes it easy to `paddle’about at petrol stations, or squeeze into your garage etc. You immediately feel at home on the Breva, confident that you can execute U-turns, low speed filtering through town traffic, or similar commuting challenges. All good stuff.
The Breva also proved to be very frugal with the unleaded too, which is a refreshing change from V-Twins which like to guzzle fuel like it’s still 65p a litre ( the good old days eh? ). Overall, the Breva returned around 50mpg and although it has an average sized 17 litre tank, it can easily cover 140-160 miles before the fuel warning light comes on, depending on how hard you ride.
The bike cruises along at its happiest in the 60mph-85mph range. It will eventually crack 100mph in 5th gear, but it isn’t a high revving sports twin by any means and thrashing it only makes the Breva vibrate harshly. A small flyscreen breaks some of the windblast from your body at speed, but not much – this bike is more fun on A roads, or city streets.
THANK CRUNCHIE IT’S FRIDAY?
Many people reckon that Guzzi have improved their gearboxes lately, and although that is true as far as the 1100cc models I’ve tested go, I have to say I found this bike still had a tendency to find neutral too easily. The gap between 1st and 2nd gears was still too far and you needed to positively ’boot’ the bike into 2nd gear to make sure it actually selected it.
That’s not too irritating, but the Breva also had a `grabby’ clutch, which didn’t engage fully until the clutch lever was almost all the way `home.’ It was something I got used to within minutes of being aboard, but then, I have been riding motorcycles for nearly 30 years. My feeling is that a novice will probably find the Breva’s transmission is too much like hard work in town traffic and buy a Honda Hornet instead…
It is possible that the bike I tested was a `Friday afternoon’ model, as another bike journo told me his Breva was really quite slick in the gearbox department, but even so, it’s not something you generally get with basic machines like the SV650 Suzuki, 600 Bandit, or the Yamaha Fazer 600. As the Guzzi Breva costs nearly £1000 on the road than the typical Japanese 600 retro, it’s not a quirk that Guzzi can go on making excuses for indefinitely – the Italians have to start getting every detail right, or they’re going to find themselves little more than niche market manufacturers in a decade’s time.
On the positive side, the Breva handled very well, at all speeds, and the single front disc brake was easily powerful enough for general road use. It also had plenty of `feel’ at the lever and wasn’t too grabby for a novice, which is possibly why many new bikers fall off – they react to an emergency, brake hard and are plonked onto their noses by the fearsome stopping power of twin discs and 4 pad calipers. Just a theory everybody… no need to contact Claims Direct.
BASIC HONEST BIKING
There’s just 48bhp available from the Breva’s chunky cylinders, but you don’t need much power to have fun, contrary to popular belief at biker hang-outs. A long, lazy ride around the lanes of Hope mountain, near Wrexham in Wales, allowed me to gaze at the scenery a little bit, slow down for horses, flick the bike gracefully through twisty bends and totally relax, sitting upright on a proper, old fashioned motorbike. I was still capable of safely overtaking the average bumbling fool in his Rover 400 series, so I was happy as Larry on the Breva…
In some ways, the Guzzi Breva is the successor to classic bikes like the Triumph Tiger 650 twin, or the Suzuki GT750 `Kettle’ from the 70s. It isn’t perfect, but it is fundamentally fun to ride, albeit relatively slowly. This isn’t a cutting edge bike and Guzzi aren’t trying to convince anyone otherwise.
There are optional accessories available, including luggage, even lower seat, windscreen and centre-stand. The bike has a two year, unlimited mileage warranty – plus 2 years roadside assistance breakdown cover. All part of a decent package, although I feel a centre-stand should never be an extra on a bike like this – it’s just penny-pinching.
But as ever, the bottom line is this; would I buy one if I were coming back to biking after a 10-12 year gap spent bringing up kids/paying huge mortgage?
The answer is sadly `No.’
Now if the Breva cost just £4000, plus OTR charges, then it would be a viable alternative to the generally capable, but sometimes bland Japanese machines. But some of those bikes, like the SV650 Suzuki are really great fun, sound fantastic with end cans on, plus you can tweak the suspension and make it a bit of a pocket sportbike after a year or so back on two wheels. You would be wasting your money trying to convert the Guzzi into anything else – it is simply a basic retro motorbike, funky, but flawed – and expensive.
As Piaggio have now taken control of Guzzi and have yet to fundamentally resolve the inherent problems of manufacturing anything within the high wage areas of the EU zone, it’s hard to see the situation changing – if anything, Italian bikes will become more expensive, not cheaper, as time goes on – unless they outsource the making of key components, like engines, to mainland China.
The Guzzi Breva is a good bike, but at £5,300 you have to say that there’s better value deals out there for the first timer.
Get Moto Guzzi motorcycle insurance for the Breva 750ie 2004.
Engine V-Twin, air-cooled, four stroke, four valves per cylinder
Gears 5 speed
Carbs None digital fuel injection
Peak Power 48bhp @ 6800rpm
Frame Steel tubular duplex cradle type, detachable front section
Forks Marzocchi 40mm diameter, non adjustable
Rear suspension Monoshock, adjustable for pre-load and rebound
Front Brake Single steel 320mm disc
Rear Brake Single steel 260mm disc
Wheels/Tyres Front; 110/70 17 inch diameter
Rear; 130/80 17 inch diameter
Dry Weight 182kgs
Fuel capacity 17 litres
Colours Red, black or silver
Price £5000 plus OTR charges. August 2004
2 year warranty, no mileage limit, 2 years roadside assistance. Range of accessories available too