A V10 cylinder engined motorcycle – now that would be radical. Sadly, Guzzi simply squeezed another variation from their V-twin theme with the oddly styled Centauro cruiser.
With its upturned canoe looks the Centauro never really caught on with most bikers, despite it having a pleasantly fast, fuel injected 1100cc engine, White Power suspension and Guzzi’s linked braked system to make life easygoing, but fun.
Another Italian bike to file under `interesting,’ along with the Bimota Mantra and Aprilia Moto 6.5.
A naked V-twin with a distinctly aggressive personality was Roland Brown’s verdict in 1996 after taking the V10 Centauro for a mightily entertaining ride around the Manx TT circuit.
At first the V10 Centauro had me fooled. The rounded roadster styling and high handlebars suggested a bike built for city streets rather than high speeds. After picking up the bike in the Isle of Man (where Guzzi had come to celebrate the firm’s 75th anniversary), the lazy beat of its big V-twin engine encouraged me to spend the first few miles sitting bolt upright in the broad seat, short-shifting through the gearbox and cruising in relaxed fashion through the picturesque Manx country roads.
But the Centauro didn’t take long to show that it could hold its own on the Island at TT time. When the road opened out, I wound back the throttle at about 50mph in third gear and the Guzzi leapt forward with a force that tried to rip those raised bars from my hands. The tacho needle swept towards the 8000rpm redline, I flicked into fourth and then top as the acceleration just kept on coming. Seconds later I backed-off from well over a ton, having discovered the hard edge beneath the Centauro’s soft curves.
That straight-line performance should not have come as such a surprise, given the Centauro’s background. This bike may be a naked roadster, but its heart is the eight-valve, high-cam V-twin motor from Guzzi’s fully-faired Daytona flagship and its chassis, too, is almost identical to that of the Italian firm’s latest sportsters. Like the Ducati Monster and Bimota Mantra, this is a naked V-twin with a distinctly aggressive personality.
The Centauro, whose name comes from the centaur, a half-man, half-horse of Greek mythology, certainly has the looks to compete with that pair. Guzzi followed the lead set by Aprilia (with the Moto 6.5) and Bimota (the Mantra) in commissioning a designer from outside the factory, in this case Italian Luciano Marabese, who previously penned scooters including Piaggio’s Sfera. The result is a bike that’s less radical than the Mantra but is still very eye-catching, thanks largely to bodywork that sweeps back from the fuel tank to the bulbous tailpiece with its neatly integrated rear light.
This prototype Centauro’s bodywork was made from glass-fibre rather than the plastic that will be used for production models. The fuel tank’s shape necessitated a new airbox, but it is of similar size to that of the Daytona. And the motor itself is essentially the aircooled, 992cc, high-cam unit of the Daytona RS, detuned slightly with a softer camshaft but still producing a Monster-munching claimed 90bhp at 8200rpm. Like the RS, the Centauro benefits from an oil cooler placed rather vulnerably just behind the front wheel.
The V10’s rectangular-section chrome-molybdenum steel spine frame is identical to that of the RS and 1100 Sport Injection, and the same is true of the cycle parts. Forks are 40mm upside-down units from WP of Holland, complete with adjustment for compression damping at the top of the right leg and rebound at the top of the left. WP also provides the rear shock, which is basically the same as the sportster models’ unit but, like the forks, has been retuned slightly to suit the Centauro.
One thing that has been changed is the position of the footrests, which are set slightly forward and lower thanks to small brackets bolted to the frame. There’s a distinct feel of Harley-Davidson as you settle into the low, broad seat and reach up to the chromed, large-diameter bars (which narrow at their tips to allow conventional switchgear and hand-grips). But this rumbling, aircooled V-twin motor’s torque-reaction roll from side to side when you fire up is definitely a trademark of Mandello rather than Milwaukee.
The riding position, low seat height and generous steering lock combined to make the V10 manoeuvrable at low speed. In the outskirts of Douglas (where it turned plenty of heads) the Guzzi showed the makings of a good town bike. Its slightly heavy clutch was offset by the clunk-free drive-shaft assembly introduced on the Daytona RS. The Centauro has slightly lower gear ratios, too, and this bike’s prototype box shifted more cleanly and reliably than that of any previous Guzzi I’ve ridden. At speed the prototype also made a slight high-pitched whine, which the factory says won’t occur with production boxes but hopefully the slicker shifting will remain.
The Centauro’s Weber-Marelli fuel-injection system, a remapped version of the Daytona set-up, gave a crisp low-rev response. There were no Daytona RS-style flat-spots, and the big V-twin pulled cleanly even when its throttle was cracked open at 35mph and only 2000rpm in top gear. But although the V10 chugged forward obediently, its low-rev power pulses quickly smoothing out in typical Guzzi style, the bike didn’t stretch my arms through the lower midrange in quite the way I’d hoped from an unfaired big-bore twin.
The reason for that became clear when the white-faced Veglia tacho’s needle reached 4500rpm: this motor is still very much a rev-happy sportster powerplant. Suddenly, the big V-twin hit its sweet spot and the Centauro came alive. The Daytona-style surge of acceleration, made even more vivid by the wind tearing at the pilot’s chest, transformed the Guzzi from a docile old nag into a charging stallion.
An indicated 120mph arrived rapidly and with considerably more to come, though you’d need a strong neck and arms to hold ton-plus speeds for long. Given this bike’s similar power output to the Daytona, it should be capable of a genuine 135mph top speed despite its poor aerodynamics. More importantly the Centauro cruised smoothly at a fairly bearable 80 to 90mph, and felt as though it would do so for ever.
Stability at speed was excellent, due partly to a Bitubo steering damper set below the headstock. On a couple of occasions the Centauro shook its head briefly under hard acceleration on a bumpy back-road, but the bike never felt likely to get out of shape even with the damper on its lightest setting. The rest of the time it felt as solid as a shire-horse, showing no sign of the wobbles that many unfaired bikes are prone to.
That was also due to a chassis that combined Guzzi’s less-than-radical steering geometry with sport-bike rigidity and suspension control. Steering was neutral although at 444lb dry the V10 is no lightweight, and quick direction changes required a firm tug on the bars. The well-damped WP forks and shock gave the naked Guzzi a handling poise that meant it could show up more than a few race-replicas on the TT course.
The only real drawback was that the V10’s ride was a bit too firm for comfort. The Centauro’s upright riding position concentrates the pilot’s weight through the seat, and the fairly stiff shock couldn’t prevent the bigger Manx bumps of which there were plenty from being transmitted to my back with enough force to please an eager osteopath. A slightly softer shock with more travel would be an improvement, provided it didn’t spoil the handling.
Advantages of retaining the sportsters’ cycle parts included the fact that the Centauro could be braked hard and late with the combination of Brembo’s 320mm semi-floating discs and four-pot calipers, plumbed with braided lines (and identical to the Sport Injection set-up). The 17-inch Marchesini three-spoke wheels held wide and grippy Pirelli Dragon GT tyres; ample ground clearance meant that only the toes of my boots ever touched down in the bends.
Guzzi’s new management team is still working to finalise the Centauro’s specification, and a few details will change before the bike goes into production in September. This prototype’s annoying forward-set, spring-loaded sidestand will be replaced by a relocated, conventional item with an engine cut-out; and the seat will be moved forward slightly to make the bars easier to reach for the short-armed. There is also likely to be further fine-tuning of the suspension.
The result will be a stylish, distinctive roadster with the speed and handling of a sport bike; further proof that Moto Guzzi is in good hands and heading for an exciting future. The V10 Centauro’s fuel-injection and high spec mean that it won’t be cheap, costing roughly as much as the 1100 Sport Injection. Plenty of rivals offer more comfort for less money, and maybe a slightly softer motor would suit the roadster better. But as it is the Centauro matches the physique of a body-builder with the performance of a racehorse and that unlikely combination makes for a mighty entertaining ride.
Get Moto Guzzi motorcycle insurance for the Centauro V10.
Engine Air-cooled 90-degree transverse V-twin
Claimed power (bhp) 90bhp at 8200rpm
Compression ratio 10:1
Transmission Five speed
Front tyre 120/70 x 17in Pirelli Dragon GT radial
Rear tyre 160/60 x 17in Pirelli Dragon GT radial
Front wheel 3.50 x 17in; cast aluminum
Rear wheel 5.00 x 17in; cast aluminum
Front suspension 40mm inverted telescopic WP, adjustments for compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension One WP damper, adjustments for preload, compression and rebound damping
Front brake 2, four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm semi-floating discs
Rear brake Double-action Brembo caliper, 282mm disc
Top speed 120 mph
Fuel capacity 18 litres