As time marches by and bikes become more and more efficient, the chances of finding a machine with some old world virtues are getting slimmer.
Excuse Chris Moss for sounding like some sentimental old fool, but the fact is most of the stuff on the market these days is so refined, so quiet, so clean, and so near damned perfect, that Mossy reckons they can leave you a bit cold..
Luckily `mature´ riders like Mossy have been given a chance to re-live the old days a bit. As Moto Guzzi has relaunched its classic Le Mans sportsbike – ten years after the Italian firm stopped production.
Actually, to say that Guzzi is producing the new Le Mans isn’t strictly true. It might say Moto Guzzi on the tank, but the real deal is the big V-twin is effectively being made by Aprilia. I say effectively because though the Le Mans is put together at the Guzzi factory in Mandello de Lario in Italy, and assembled by the same staff who have worked there for some years, the firm is now owned by Aprilia, after a recent takeover by the sportsbike and scooter manufacturer.
It’s a smart move that will benefit both Aprilia, and Guzzi fans. It allows Aprilia to expand its range without affecting the reputation of its own brand. And it gives the Guzzi marque a much needed financial boost, a chance to improve existing models, and expand with the launch new ones. The Le Mans is one of the first Aprilia-influenced models to leave the gates at Mandello.
At a glance it just looks like a V11 Sport with a fairing. But though in essence that’s the case, you only have to get up a bit closer to see that there’s a bit more to it than that.
It´s obvious the injection of Aprilia money into the factory and its production lines (about £20 million so far, with a lot more in the pipeline) has made a difference to the finished product. The quality of the paintwork and cycle parts of the Le Mans shows it’s been built to a higher standard. And that’s just the story on the outside. A quick ride on it reveals internal improvements too.
Thankfully the upgrades haven’t diluted the personality and charm of the Guzzi, and firing it up proves that. By modern standards the booming blast of sound from the twin pipes is positively unusual, but very welcome all the same. And the way the bike lurches to the right when you blip the throttle, because of the torque reaction from the in-line crank of the V-twin proves the bike hasn´t been refined to death.
Charging away from the line underlines the Guzzi´s typical and torquey power characteristics. There´s plenty of stomp to launch the Le Mans forward at a respectable rate, and its lazy low-revving nature makes a welcome change from the behaviour of some of the more frantic multi-cylinder bikes on the market.
The wide-ratio gearbox makes for an impressive speed range in each gear, so together with the broadly spread power, there’s little need to meddle with its six-speed box. Surprisingly, the gearbox is quite slick to use – a welcome contrast to the heavy, slow and agricultural boxes that typified Guzzis until recently. And thankfully the significant and irritating transmission backlash, which blighted the V11 Sport, has been fixed on the new bike.
Aprilia has also remapped the Le Mans´ fuel-injection system and helped it to provide smooth and consistent response to the throttle throughout the rev range. This range is quite narrow if you´re used to modern motors – even twins. The redline is set at just 8000rpm, and ignoring that will bring the penalty of hitting the rev limiter less than a thousand rpm later.
This feels a bit restrictive until you´re used to the motor´s lazy and laid-back style. But once you are it´s a pleasant change to be in charge of such a relaxed powerplant.
The 1064cc V-twin boasts a claimed 91bhp and has some respectable if not radical performance. Although it´s not really the way to ride it, thrashing it through the gears soon registers 130-odd mph on the traditionally style white-faced speedo. Both the acceleration and top speed aren´t much to write home about, but not bad considering the basic spec, and heritage, of the motor. Air-cooling, two valves per cylinder, and pushrods seem distant engineering memories these days. But they do combine well to give a motor with plenty of character and usability, and it´s blessed with a bit of vibration just to prove it´s alive.
You´ll feel the light buzzing through the bars and footrests if you hammer the Guzzi a bit, and the mirrors will reflect a slightly out of focus landscape as you travel through it too. But hell, that’s hardly the end of the world is it ? Basically, the thing has more than enough grunt for our Gatso infested roads.
There are some quirks / character-building idiosyncrasies (depending on your viewpoint) with the Le Mans´ handling too. It´s quite a heavy bike, with a lengthy wheelbase. But the sharp 25 head angle means the steering itself is quite quick. Until you´re familiar with it, it seems as though the front end gets through the corners, and the rest of the bike follows some time later, but all you need is a slightly new riding technique to master it.
Howling down back roads is particularly satisfying and aided by another Aprilia modification, this time to the suspension. Recalibration of the fork and shock internals has left the Guzzi with a firm, but not harsh ride. And the suspension´s control of the bike has to be judged as perfect for faster riding. If you consider the set up to be a bit too firm, then a quick adjustment to the damping gives a more supple ride. Most won´t need to resort to such tampering, and will be more than happy with the way the Le Mans scythes through corners.
Confidence in attacking twister sections of road is helped by the excellent grip and stability given by the Bridgestone BT020 sports-touring tyres, which should also wear well due to their dual-compound which effectively makes the rubber grippier on the edges of the tyre profile and more durable in the middle.
They´re tested strongly by the Brembo braking arrangement which, in line with the rest of the bike´s nature, is a very user-friendly set up. There´s plenty of power and progression from the brakes and they can be used hard without front wheel lock up.
The pleasure of riding the Le Mans is not in doubt, and doing it for hour after hour, mile after mile, isn’t restricted by any discomfort. The Guzzi is in essence a sportsbike, but the relaxed riding position, comfortable seat and very effective, if not entirely attractive, fairing give it plenty of long distance potential.
The style criticism of the wind-cheater is more than justified considering the very handsome, classic build and shape of the rest of the bike. It looks like an aftermarket add-on, and really could have benefited from a bit more time in the design studio.
However if the aesthetic appeal of the plastic is the only real point of disapproval about the Le Mans, then it´s a reflection of just how well it looks and performs overall.
One of the real strengths of the Le Mans is its blend of the virtues and old and new machinery. It has a model badge of some significance and heritage, has oodles of character and individuality. And also has the bonus of being refined by Aprilia in all the necessary areas. All without losing any of that classic charm.
Not everyone will be drawn to the new Le Mans, and my guess is that it will only be truly appreciated by a limited number of more individualistic bikers. But they´ll undoubtedly love the badge, the look, the sound and remember the good old days when the Le Mans was one of the most sought after bikes on the street.
Nostalgia isn´t a bad thing sometimes, and when there´s so much to look back on and appreciate, there´s no harm in sampling a bit of it today. The Le Mans is a very entertaining way of doing just that.
Get Moto Guzzi motorcycle insurance for the Le Mans.
Engine Air-cooled 900 V-twin, 4 valve, four stroke
Claimed power (bhp) 91bhp @ 7,800rpm
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Transmission Six speed
Frame; Box section steel spine
Front suspension; 40mm Marzocchi inverted forks, adjustable for compression and rebound damping
Steering head angle; 25 degrees
Rear suspension; WP monoshock, adjustable for pre-load, compression and rebound damping
Front brakes; Twin 320mm discs, four piston calipers
Rear brake; Single 270mm disc, twin piston caliper
Wheelbase; 1490 mm
Top speed 130 mph (est)
Fuel capacity 22 litres
Current price £7,950 (otr)