Moto Guzzi’s Norge 1200 is a modern day take on the old Spada concept from days gone by. Featuring a Breva 1100 based chassis, plus a bored out 1151cc V-twin engine.
Plus a range of luggage and accessories to make life on the road more comfortable, the Norge certainly looks the part.
Alastair Walker rode the big Guzzi for 600 miles to the Beaulieu show to find out if the Guzzi is a real alternative to Pan-European, FJR1300 or a BMW R1200 ST.
The first time I set eyes on the Norge 1200 I liked the look of it. I reckon this is one of the best looking touring bikes on the market, with its handsome lines, metallic silver paintwork and an overall balance between rider comfort and the ponderous bulkiness that machines like say the BMW R1200ST project to the world. The Guzzi looks a bit slimmer than the Pan-Euro or the average BMW, more like the FJR1300 or a VFR800, which is a good thing in my book.
First impressions when sitting on the bike, and watching as Ross Verdon (friendly Guzzi dealer in Stafford) warmed up the bike and showed me how the Meta alarm worked on it. You notice the weight as soon as you are astride the Norge, it tips the scales at some 246kgs dry, which is about 540lbs. Add on a large dollop of fuel – the Norge carries 23 litres – and some engine/fork oil and you really begin to feel that this one shire horse of a motorcycle. But rivals like the Pan-Euro and the BMW R1200ST/RT range are fairly beefy too and the average touring motorcycle rider shouldn’t worry too much, as the Norge soon loses its heavyweight feel once the clutch is home and the wheels are rolling.
The clutch by the way is excellent on the Norge, very light in its operation, although it made an almighty racket when it was pulled in. No problem apparently, just a dry clutch, but if I’d paid £8600 for this bike, I don’t think I’d be that impressed.
Meanwhile, what about the famously clunky Guzzi gearbox you ask? Well, it’s getting better, slowly, but still has a tendency to resist selecting first gear at standstill, yet working well on most other changes. Regular Guzz-isti won’t be fazed by the transmission, but it does lack the relative finesse of say a BMW or Honda `box, being about as clunky as any Harley.
The Norge 1200 engine itself is impressive however, and needs no excuses made on its behalf. The V-twin has plenty of lowdown grunt and revs freely through the 3,000-7,000rpm range, which is where most touring riders want a great lunging surge of power to propel two people, plus luggage, past a line of cars. It’s an 1151cc engine, up from 1064cc on the Breva 1100, and compression rises slightly too. There must be some other tweaks, as the claimed peak power jumps from 86bhp on the Breva to 95bhp on the Norge. It doesn’t feel any faster however, mainly because the Norge is carrying another 15kgs of dry weight, much of it `top heavy´ type weight too.
The Norge isn’t a particularly fast touring bike, but it is certainly fast enough – you can cruise at 90-100mph all day long, where legal. It hasn’t got the sheer oomph of a VFR800 say, and although I haven’t ridden the 1300 Pan-European, I would guess from the old ST1100’s performance that the later Pan-Euro would see off the Guzzi in a straight line. But the Guzzi has enough pull to make life interesting, and more importantly, safe. I can’t say I’m always happy to try overtaking lorries on say, a big Harley-Davidson, as the engine simply runs out of steam to easily. The Norge pulls quick and clean, the fuel injection was faultless, much better than many BMWs I have tested to be honest.
On real world roads, the Norge shuffles along nicely in top gear between 60-90mph and it also sounds lovely, emitting a healthy V-twin growl as you accelerate, with just enough vibes through the handlebars to let you know that this is no bland four cylinder motorbike. It’s true, character matters, the feel of a bike is a big part of experience. It handles well enough, but there’s limited ground clearance and the centrestan is the first thing to touch down, which has no `give’ in it. The bike needs skill to hustle through really twisty bumpy roads and it lacks the precision that say the R1200ST offers.
Unlike the BMW ST the Guzzi twin isn’t especially economical on fuel, returning around 35-40mpg on a mix of A roads and motorways, riding two-up, not much better than a Varadero 1000 basically. The Norge 1200 I tested had about 1200 miles on the clock, so it wasn’t fully run-in by the way. Fuel consumption might improve, slightly. On the upside, the 23 litre gas tank gives the Norge 1200 a range of around 200-220 miles, but the fuel gauge is one of those things that indicates full up for 50 miles, then half full for another 100 clicks, before diving towards the empty marker and flicking on its yellow warning light. You get used to it, but this isn’t a bike you’d be pushing more than 20 yards to a nearby gas station.
GO YOUR OWN WAY?
For your touring comfort the Norge is available in two options, with the de luxe GTL model boasting heated handlebar grips, an electrically adjustable screen, ABS braking and a few other knick-knacks. You can buy the base camp model and add whatever accessories you feel you really need – it’s almost certainly going to be cheaper to order the 10,200 quid GTL model and have as much luxury as you can get. Likely to hold its resale value much better for one thing…
The model we rode to Beaulieu had colour matched panniers, plus ABS braking on it, but no electric screen. The manual screen needs a spanner to be adjusted, so you can’t do it on the move – not a brilliant idea, even if it is very health `n’ safety conscious. The ABS brakes came in handy during the weekend monsoon we rode through, plus the tricky ride across gravel tracks and wet fields to park at the Beaulieu show. No problems, in fact the bike only really got a bit lively when the slow puncture in the front tyre began to make itself felt and the handling went a bit AWOL. The 320mm front discs were superb, in all weathers and easily enough to stop the bike, fully loaded with kit, from speeds above 100mph.
The Norge was very comfortable for both rider and pillion for about 90 minutes, before `numb bum’ syndrome set in. Anne on the back reported that Guzzi’s vibration was `quite pleasant,’ which may be of some interest to lady readers. She also found there was plenty of legroom around the panniers to the rear footpegs, a feature which bugged her slightly when touring on the 1250 Bandit recently, although the panniers on the Bandit were soft throwover bags, not hard plastic cases. There is one big problem with the Guzzi panniers however; they leak water because they don’t close properly.
The basic problem is that the panniers need another catch on the front end of the case. Shutting the central, top-mounted lock, and the snap-on catch on the rear of the cases, still allows a small gap between lid and pannier base, right at the front of the case, where all the rainspray from the road comes splashing up from the road. The result is that your kit gets wet inside, unless you wrap everything in bin liners, carrier bags etc. When you look at the rest of the Norge and see how beautifully designed the lighting and indicator clusters are, the svelte curves of the bodywork and the seductive lustre of the paint, you really wonder why Guzzi allowed such slipshod manufacturing to spoil their Norge tourer. Another £2.50p plastic catch would have solved it.
We didn’t bother adjusting the screen on the trip, even though it was set in the low position. The wind was quite well deflected in any case, much like the R1150GS bats away the windblast with a cleverly designed small screen in fact. The fairing on the Norge isn’t quite wide enough to keep wind and rain off your gloves however, just two inches too narrow to make a real difference.
Compared to tours I’ve done on the Harley Electra Glide, Guzzi California, Pan-European ST1100, BMW R1200ST and the VFR800 the Guzzi falls in the middle ground in terms of overall usefulness. It has a nice meaty engine, matched to a decent sized fairing, screen and a comfortable saddle to make the miles tick effortlessly by. It lacks the economy of the BMW R1200ST or the Harley, and hasn’t the speed of the Pan-Euro, or the VFR800. But the Norge outhandles the California, and it has more feedback than the R1200ST when pressing on a bit – the rider feels more involved, more rewarded. The Guzzi is also more comfortable for two people plus luggage than the VFR800 or any other sports-tourer.
At £8600 for the base model, it’s also very competitive when stacked against a BMW R1200RT/ST, Pan-European 1300, or even the VFR800, which is now an expensive option when kitted up with panniers. There’s also the debatable pillion comfort and the long term question mark over the VFR’s camchain problems – will the V-TEC VFR engines rack up trouble-free 100K mileages like the older non V-TEC models?
VIP LOUNGE OR ECONOMY CLASS?
The Norge is a stunning looking bike, with a comfortable riding position, shaft drive, excellent brakes and decent sized – albeit leaky – panniers. I so, so wanted to love it, mainly because I want to see Guzzi succeed in carving out a niche for themselves just below BMW, Harley and Honda. For me, Guzzi are making bikes that are better suited to the complicated business of two-person, long distance, motorcycle touring than anything Triumph, KTM, Kawasaki, Suzuki or Ducati are offering.
When you try to fix a whole stack of luggage to a cruiser bike it can often be hard for two adults to fit comfortably on board as well, which is why I really rate purpose-built touring bikes for long trips. No two ways about it, you cannot beat a Gold Wing, Pan European or a K1200LT on a three week tour of Eastern Europe. The same journey wouldn’t be as comfortable on the Guzzi, but it would still be much more practical and fun than on a VFR800, ST3, or Honda Varadero 1000 – an impractical thirst for fuel makes the Varadero a pain in the neck – and wallet – on long journeys. The old Triumph Trophy 900/1200 isn’t in the same ballgame as Guzzi – the Triumph feels like a bike from the 1980s by comparison, crude, chain-driven and too powerful for its antiquated chassis.
Bottom line is this; `The big easy’ is what middle-aged people want, not a TT race to the Alps – and that laidback lifestyle is what Guzzi can offer, if they also make the bikes feel safe, nimble, lively enough to be interesting on bendy roads and well equipped for the money.
The Guzzi needs waterproof panniers and ABS braking as standard, with maybe an optional top case, on-board iPod connection/two person intecom and an electric screen – all for around ten grand OTR. Then it will be truly on par with the class-leading bikes in the touring sector. Right now, as pleasant and as handsome as it undeniably is, the Norge isn´t quite the luxury tourer that it appears.
Get Moto Guzzi motorcycle insurance for the Norge 1200.
|ENGINE||Transverse V-Twin, four stroke, air/oil cooled|
|BORE AND STROKE||53.5mm X 55.2mm|
|FUELLING||Fuel injection system|
|FRAME; FRONT FORKS||45mm, adjustable for preload|
|RAKE/TRAIL||25 degrees, 120mm|
|REAR SUSPENSION||Monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound|
|FRONT BRAKES||Twin 320mm, four piston calipers, optional ABS|
|REAR BRAKES||Single 282mm disc, 2 piston caliper|
|WHEELS/TYRES||120/70 ZR17 front, 180/55 ZR17 rear|
|ESTIMATED TOP SPEED||130mph|
|FUEL CAPACITY||23 litres|
|PRICE||£8600-£10,200 (GTL version) June 2007|
Test bike supplied by: Ross Verdon Motorcycles, St Patrick Street, Stafford