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"The Guzzi’s radial caliper Brembo set-up is right on the money and offers all the stopping power you need."

Moto Guzzi’s new Stelvio 1200 enters one of the most competitive classes in modern motorcycling; adventure touring.

The class-leading BMW R1200GS is the bike to beat, with rivals like the KTM 990 Adventure, Triumph’s Tiger 1050, Morini’s Granpasso and the venerable Suzuki V-Strom 1000 all offering everyday commuting, two-up touring and rider comfort in one versatile package. Can the Guzzi Stelvio carve its own niche?

Alastair Walker rode to Staffordshire to find out.

Moto Guzzi have come back from the brink of extinction over the last few years, no doubt about it.

Once, the kindest thing you could say about their bikes was that they had a classic appeal to any V-Twin fan. In truth, Guzzi’s patchy reliability, limited dealer network, poor parts back-up and the sluggish performance of their core 1100cc engine unit all conspired to make it a brave choice for any new bike buyer. Moto Guzzi looked tired, starved of investment and out of ideas a decade ago and bankruptcy seemed just around the corner.

But fair play to Guzzi’s owners, Piaggio-Aprilia. They’ve stuck with the brand and developed a range built around its value-for-money twin cyclinder engines, brought out a new punchy 940cc unit, the brilliant novice-friendly Breva models and overhauled the big 1200cc models too. The latest of these is the Stelvio adventure tourer, featuring the new `Quattrovalvole’ version of the 1200cc transverse V-twin motor. There’s a lighter crankshaft, three ring forged pistons, plus lighter valves inside the engine, which produces a claimed 105bhp at 7500rpm. More importantly, it is supremely torquey too, which is exactly what any rider needs when faced with a line of wittering Zafira drivers on a twisty road.

The Stelvio name comes from the famous Alpine pass and you can see Guzzi’s designers have been inspired by this type of riding when putting the new model together. You sit high, getting a commanding view across the smallish - yet effective - windbreaker screen. The seat isn’t so high that you can’t get your boots on the deck, even with a mere 31in inside leg, but the riding position is sit-up-straight, very much `pay attention’ to the job in hand.

Fire up the motor and you know this is a big Vee shaped engine. It shakes your internal organs just a bit and the exhaust note drums a staccato beat inside your helmet. But that’s good, you feel that the Guzzi has retained just enough of the brand’s old school soul to keep you interested. Engage the heavy clutch and off you go, the motor making plenty of poke from just above tickover. Commuting would be perfect if not for the clutch, which requires man-sized mitts to operate, very much in the Laverda Jota mould - if you’re old enough to recall the Jota, you’ll know what I mean. If not, let’s just say you should start squeezing a tennis ball at work before you ride home on the Guzzi.

But otherwise the transmission is reasonably smooth. The Stelvio uses the CARC shaft-drive train, as seen on the existing 1200 Guzzis, which is precise and well engineered, except for the change from 1st to 2nd gear. That requires a good stir of your bike boot to accomplish, but every other change up the `box could be worked without the clutch if necessary. Guzzi have come a long way in terms of gerabox tweaks over the last five years or so.

Acceleration is good, not quite as rapid as the latest BMW R1200GS, or KTM’s big 990 motor, but close, and certainly enough to rocket you onto a motorway slip road and into a decent gap in the trafic without any drama. I would say its comparable to Suzuki’s V-Strom and just as linear in its delivery. The Stelvio lunges forwards without any hiccups or glitches from the fuel injection, in a long, rolling sweep of power - ideal for `real’ roads biking.

The Stelvio features a new Marelli injection system, with 50mm throttle bodies and the bike meets Euro 3 emissions levels. It’s in another class from older, `on-off’ accelerating fuel-injected bikes, like say the Varadero 1000. I would say that the Guzzi probably uses far less fuel than Honda’s gas-guzzler Varadero, although I didn’t get the chance to accurately log the Stelvio’s consumption over the 50-odd miles I covered. In the days of £5.50 per gallon fuel costs, mpg really matters on touring motorcycles - it’s high time manufacturers tested the consumption of their bikes and printed it in their sales brochures.

Escape the British Summer

For my money there are two reasons why adventure touring bikes are currently UK hot sellers; firstly, bikers are getting older and physically fit around a race rep about as well as Kerry Katona would fit in at a Buckingham Palace tea party, and secondly, the British summer is so utterly cold, wet, windy and depressing, that anyone with the time/money is keen to get away, chasing the sun across Europe’s mainland...or even further afield.

So is the Stelvio a born adventurer? Definitely. There’s no doubt that the Guzzi can cross the Alps in style. The chassis features a steel frame, upside down 50mm forks and a fully-adjustable monoshock, with separate gas reservoir. The ride is firm, but compliant enough for comfort, a really useful balance on bumpy backroads. Again, I think the latest GS aces it, but only just. In regard to braking, the Guzzi’s radial caliper Brembo set-up is right on the money and offers all the stopping power you need. The rear disc was especially good, never grabby, just the right amount of feedback for the rider.

The Guzzi isn’t just a superb Alpine pass blaster however. The 6th gear effectively acts as an overdrive, making motorway riding feel relaxed. At 70mph the Stelvio was ticking along at around 3500rpm in top gear, with enough urge to nip past a slow-moving vehicle in hand. The riding position is good for a steady 75mph-ish, with the screen set on the highest position the windblast is minimised. Incidentally, adjusting the screen is easy; just undo two screw-in knobs on the side runners, set the screen height, then tighten it up - takes about ten seconds.

The Guzzi would also make a great commuter, apart from its stiff clutch action, but in every other way, it is a winner in urban traffic. Key traits like predictable brakes, ultra smooth power delivery and a commanding view of the road conditions ahead all combine to help the Stelvio thread the bike through busy jams. When you park it, the sidestand flicks out with a really positive action, and the centre-stand is fairly easy to use as well, despite the bike being quite tall overall. Good, practical touches.

Switchgear is straightforward; a digital screen gives you various options and readouts, all controlled by a button on the left handlebar. You can see your average fuel consumption, your most recent max speed, average speed etc. plus the time of day, fuel gauge, warning lights and so on. The fuel gauge is the `bar’ type graphic, similar to the BMW, but slightly bigger, so easier to read in bright sunlight. There’s a back-up, orange `low fuel’ warning light as well. The only thing I didn’t like was the dip switch, which was hidden away on the forward side of the right-hand button cluster - totally impossible to see whilst riding, and difficult to feel your way to it in the dark I would guess.

Speaking of lighting, what do you reckon to the odd-shaped headlights? My impression is they look like a pair of silicone breast implants, with the sci-fi red rings of light at the tail-light section adding another slightly oddball touch to the Guzzi. To be fair, it’s hard for bike designers to make machines stand out, but I reckon that the Stelvio could be a more coherent, less gimmicky-looking machine overall. Still looks better than the Morini Gran Passo in my book however...

Fact is, the class-winning BMW GS is no oil painting either, so maybe in this segment of the market looks are not that important? For me, the issue is the blend of adventure styling and everyday practicality - that’s what I want from a KTM Adventure. Triumph Tiger or Guzzi Stelvio.

The Guzzi comes in as a credible rival to the BMW, at some £3000 less than the GS Adventure, so it has to be a contender. The only downside is Guzzi’s relatively scattered UK dealer network, the perennial question mark over spares supply ( especially during August ) for any Italian bike and the long term warranty work that a Stelvio owner can expect from Moto Guzzi dealers. For now, I would place the Stelvio just behind the BMW GS and the KTM 990. As much as I love the Stelvio I really wonder if parts will be as readily available for it as they should, and the Guzzi lacks the urban warrior bite of the KTM or BMW Adventure models in terms of styling.

I haven’t ridden the latest Triumph Tiger so I can’t judge that one, or the Morini Gran Passo, but the Morini’s looks turn me off. The new Yamaha 660 Tenere looks great, but it’s a single - too feeble for two-up trips to Eastern Europe, you need at least two cylinders to cover 300 miles a day, fully kitted up. The Buell Ulysses is in the same ballpark as the Guzzi, similar V-Twin punch, old school technology, sharp handling too - that cooling fan whirring away does my head in though...

So, the choice is getting broader in the adventure tourer market and that can only be good news all round. Bring on more models I say - an Africa Twin 850 would be ace, or perhaps a Yamaha Super Tenere 1200?

See you at the ferry terminal next summer.

Get Moto Guzzi motorcycle insurance for the Stelvio 1200 2008.



Vital Statistics
Engine
Engine 90 degree V-Twin, four stroke, 8 valve, oil/air cooled.
Fuelling Digital fuel injection, 50mm throttle bodies
Peak power 105bhp @ 7500rpm
Gears 6 speed
Chassis
Frame Steel tubular type, using engine as stressed member
Forks 50mm diameter USD Marzocchi
Rear suspension Mullti-adjustable Marzoccho monoshock
Brakes Twin 320mm Brembo front discs, 4 piston radial calipers. Single 282mm rear disc, twin piston radial caliper.
Wheels/Tyres 110/80 19 in front, 180/55 17 in rear
Fuel capacity 18 litres
Dry weight 251kgs
Buying Info
Price £8670 OTR - base model.
Colours White/Black/Red
Accessories Engine bars, spotlights, tank pad and clip-on bag, panniers, top case, bash plate etc.


Test bike supplied by; Ross Verdon Motorcycles, Hixon, Staffordshire. Tel. 01889 270 177.

960 x 200