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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 08 August 2008
The V11 was a welcome return to form for the styling crew at Moto Guzzi, who took their old V7 sport model as inspiration for this lovely looking retro machine.
With a blend of traditional red and green paintwork on its stubby body parts, the V11 looks like a proper motorbike from the 1970s.
Underneath, the V11 has the modern variant of Guzzi’s 1100cc, fuel injected, 8 valve motor slotted into its massive frame. Twin Brembos upfront provide excellent stopping power and the suspension is set up much sportier than most retro class bikes. In a word, the V11 is cool.
Hopefully, new owners Aprilia will capitalise on this aspect of Guzzi’s heritage.
Moto Guzzi’s factory has changed so little in three decades that the scene could have been straight out of the early Seventies. A group of unfaired bikes with big, transverse V-twin engines and lurid lime-green paintwork throbbed out of the car-park opposite the yellow-walled factory, trickled through the village of Mandello del Lario, then barrelled down the dual-carriageway that runs alongside Lake Lecco in northern Italy.
Twenty-eight years ago the bikes would have been the V7 Sport one of the fastest and most exotic machines on the road, and the original sporty Guzzi from which V-twins from the Le Mans to the current 1100 Sport have been developed. This time round it’s different. The green bikes are the V11 Sport, the new naked roadster whose style is unashamedly borrowed from the old model.
The V11’s look is uniquely Guzzi, centred on the unmistakable shape of its 1064cc aircooled, transverse 90-degree V-twin engine. Along with its traditional paint scheme (options are silver and black), the V11 even has the red frame that was used only for the first 150 units of the V7 Sport to be built after production had begun in 1971.
Although the new Sport is far from being one of the world’s fastest and most exotic roadburners like its famous forbear, it does incorporate a number of technical changes. Its two-valve pushrod engine gets revised intake ports, squish chamber and piston shape. There are also tweaks to the exhaust geometry, fuel-injection and ignition mapping, although the peak power output of 91bhp at 7800rpm is only one horsepower up on the 1100 Sport’s figure.
Biggest news in the power train is the adoption of a new six-speed gearbox. By using a more compact layout with four shafts instead of the normal three, the new box manages to be 70mm shorter than the old, despite its extra ratio. The final drive-shaft is slightly longer, and its assembly has been redesigned to have reduced loadings on the teeth, for better durability. And Guzzi’s traditional twin-disc dry clutch is hydraulically operated for the first time.
The V11’s chassis is based on a traditional Guzzi-style steel frame, with a box-section main spine, that is updated at front and rear. Steering angle is reduced from 26 to 25 degrees, shortening wheelbase by 4mm to 1471mm. And the cantilever swing-arm system has been redesigned to suit the longer drive shaft, with the aim of reducing the traditional adverse effect on handling.
Marzocchi’s 40mm upside-down forks are adjustable for compression and rebound damping. The near-horizontal rear shock comes from WP of Holland, and is fully adjustable although it has no rising-rate linkage. The new transmission system allows fitment of a reasonably wide rear tyre, and the Sport’s 17-inch rear rim carries a 170/60-section Pirelli Dragon, with a familiar 120/70 17-incher up front.
Mandello del Lario’s scenic location on the banks of Lake Lecco means the surrounding roads are crowded with tourist traffic in summer, but for a ride on a retro-bike like this the old factory seemed the appropriate place to start. From the moment the transverse-mounted motor fired-up with that age-old lurch to the right, the V11 felt very much a traditional Guzzi.
There’s a gentle lean forward to the clip-on bars, which can be adjusted for height and angle (although much less so than the V7’s clip-ons, due to modern homologation demands). The seat is low enough to allow most riders to get both feet flat on the ground; footrests are fairly high. Luciano Marabese, the V11’s designer, based the bike’s streamlined tailpiece on an even older Mandello model, the Gambalunga single of the Fifties.
Despite the traditional look and setting, my first impression was of a distinctly more up-to-date Guzzi. The revised fuel-injection system gave a light throttle action and crisp power delivery, even from very low revs. The clutch was so light, and the six-speed gearbox sufficiently slick that if I had not been consciously evaluating them I wouldn’t have given them a second thought. And the V11’s sharper chassis geometry gave an impressively light steering feel as the road climbed and twisted into the mountains above Lake Lecco.
Guzzi’s engine changes have not altered its emphasis on low- and medium-rev torque, and the big motor has plenty of grunt. Peak torque of 94Nm is produced at 6000rpm but unless you were in a real rush you’d barely ever rev it that hard, let alone to the eight-grand redline. The Sport chugged forward obediently, with a mechanical rustling and a restrained chuffing from its twin pipes, even from below 2000rpm in top gear.
For a naked bike there’s a reasonable amount of power up top, too, and on the dual-carriageway that runs along the Lake the Sport didn’t need much space to charge to well over 100mph, heading for a top speed of about 135mph. More usefully on a naked bike, there was enough power that I didn’t need a downchange when cruising at between 60 and 90mph and looking for instant extra urge for overtaking just gas it and go.
Ironically the motor’s flexibility meant it barely needed six gears, but the new box was very welcome all the same. Although the change was a bit more deliberate than a good Japanese box, it was very quiet and positive, and I didn’t miss a change all day. The only real criticism was a certain amount of transmission snatch on opening the throttle. Top gear is tall enough that at 75mph the motor is turning over at just 4000rpm, which helps give that long-legged feel that Guzzis have been famous for over the years.
If that’s the good news, then the bad news is that as tested the Sport vibrated enough to become annoying at times. There was a slight tingle through the otherwise comfortable seat at some engine speeds, but more importantly the handlebars buzzed noticeably at higher revs more so when the throttle was open, and the engine working hard, than when cruising at a steady speed. Guzzi plans to rubber-mount the bars before production begins, which should help.
The reduced effort at the handlebars required to make the Guzzi change direction was certainly welcome, and helped make the bike feel lighter than its dry weight of 219kg. Like many big naked machines, the Sport sometimes felt a bit vague at higher speeds, despite the steering damper beneath its steering head. At least the slight light-headed feel in fast curves never got worrying, even if the V11 couldn’t quite match the high-speed stability that has generated so many cliches about railway lines in tests of big Guzzis over the years.
Despite a fair bit of fiddling with the suspension, I was never totally convinced by the Sport’s handling in slower bends, where the bike’s extra agility was offset by a slightly imprecise feel that was almost certainly related to the drive-shaft. Firming up the Marzocchi forks, which have adjusters for compression damping on the top of the left leg and rebound damping on the right, gave a distinct improvement. The Guzzi could then be cornered hard, helped by its sticky Dragon rubber and a reasonable amount of ground-clearance before the sidestand or the right silencer touched down.
Reducing the rear shock’s compression damping seemed to help, too, and in smooth corners, where I could be precise and steady with the throttle, the Sport was great fun. Throw in a change of direction or a series of bumps in mid-bend, though both of which were very common on the tight, blind hairpins in the mountains above Lecco and the V11 was less precise and harder to ride fast than most rivals.
One chassis part that couldn’t be faulted, despite having to work very hard on the never-ending downhill hairpins on the way back, was the Brembo front brake, which gave the same very impressive blend of power and lever feel at the bottom of the mountain as at the top. (How the old V7 Sport’s front drum would have coped with such an ordeal I wouldn’t like to guess).
Most other parts of the bike did their jobs pretty efficiently, too. The white-faced instruments looked good, although typically the warning lights between them were slightly weak in bright sunlight. Riders with short legs had a stretch to use the sidestand, which thankfully has an ignition cut-out instead of a suicide spring. There’s no centrestand, but Guzzi is preparing accessories including a choice of fairing, carbon-fibre and anodised parts, panniers and a tank bag.
The Sport is also being priced fairly aggressively, at £6999 on the road, as it needs to be in a competitive market sector, lined up against Harley’s Sportster, Triumph’s Speed Triple, Ducati’s Monster and various Buells. If you’re looking for a handsome naked roadster with good performance, heaps of character and great brakes, the V11 Sport is worth considering. Especially if you were dazzled by its exotic V7 Sport predecessor all those years ago.
The V7 Sport: inspiration for Guzzi’s new star.
The distinctive lime-green V7 Sport of the early Seventies was not just the first sporty Guzzi to be built using the Mandello firm’s now-traditional transverse V-twin engine, it was also one of the fastest and best superbikes of its day.
The V7 Sport was introduced in 1971, after Guzzi engineer Lino Tonti had produced a new frame to house the firm’s 90-degree transverse V-twin motor. The engine had originally been designed in the late Fifties to power the 3x3, a tractor-like device produced for the Italian ministry of defence. Guzzi then uprated the V-twin to power police bikes and the 703cc V7 tourer of 1967.
For the V7 Sport, the touring engine was uprated with lightened internals, new crankcases, five-speed gearbox, 30mm Dell’Orto carbs, and an alternator on the front of the crank, replacing the previous large dynamo between the cylinders. The new motor produced 52bhp at 6400rpm. Its capacity of 748cc, reduced from the 757cc of the touring V7 Special, allowed entry in 750cc races.
Tonti’s frame was lower than its predecessors due to its top rails running between the cylinders. The resultant V7 Sport, with its tank and sidepanels in striking lime green, featured numerous neat touches including adjustable ’swan-necked’ clip-on handlebars and a big 220mm double sided twin-leading-shoe front drum brake.
Riding a good V7 Sport today confirms what an great bike it must have been almost 30 years ago. The compact and charismatic Guzzi cruises smoothly and effortlessly at 100mph, well short of its 120mph top speed. It also accelerates hard, provided the rev-hungry motor is kept between 4500rpm and the 7250rpm redline. Handling is typically stable, though the rather soft forks dive when the powerful front drum brake is used hard.
The V7 Sport’s blend of speed and stability made it a hugely desirable machine in the early Seventies, when the Italian bike cost far more than Kawasaki’s four-cylinder Z1 in most markets. Guzzi built fewer than 4000 examples of the Sport before late 1973, when it was replaced by the disc-braked 750 S, which in turn led to the 750 S3 and 850 Le Mans. The basically similar layout of current models including the 1100 Sport confirm the V7 Sport’s status as the bike from which all Guzzi’s big roadburners are derived.
Instruments Speedometer, tachometer, lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, oil pressure, charging, low fuel level.
Guzzi Back on Track at Last
The belated launch of the V11 Sport which will finally reach showrooms in September, two years after being unveiled at the Milan Show is a sign that Moto Guzzi’s recovery is back on course after a difficult time in the last year. The uncertainly at Guzzi of late was typified by the ill-conceived plan to move production from the old factory at Mandello to a new, former Philips TV plant in Monza, which was proudly presented to the world’s bike press a year ago.
However Guzzi workers and their union rebelled at the prospect of either relocating or spending four hours each day commuting to Monza, near Milan. Meanwhile the Mandello local council listed the old factory as a historic site, preventing its sale for development. The result: Guzzi will remain in Mandello, and Oscar Cecchinato, the former Aprilia manager who had planned the move, was dismissed last September.
New Managing Director Mario Scandellari, formerly a senior manager at both Ducati and Cagiva, plans to implement the same increases in efficiency at Mandello, with union cooperation, that were being planned for Monza. The old firm has been restructured financially, and in May was listed on the NASDAQ, the American stock market service, for the first time. "There have been so many changes that you can consider Guzzi a new company," says Scandellari.
Guzzi’s aim remains to increase production from this year’s total of 7000 bikes to about 20,000, although the original plan to achieve this by 2001 will not be met. "There has been a lot of uncertainty at Guzzi recently, as you have seen with the delay of the V11, but now we have much more confidence in the future," says sales and marketing chief Nicola Poggio, recently recruited from Belgarda Yamaha.
Future production will centre on the V11 Sport, a touring V11 GT likely to debut next year, plus long-standing models including the California and its new stripped-down derivative the Jackal. Guzzi also intends to continue with plans to produce 650cc singles and a 250cc commuter bike powered by engines from Piaggio.
Meanwhile, factory insiders insist that development is also continuing of the dohc, eight-valve 75-degree transverse V-twin engine, with chain final drive, that is due to power new-generation Guzzis for road and World Superbike racing. But there’s no word on when it will reach production.
Get Moto Guzzi motorcycle insurance for the V11 Sport.
|Engine||Air-cooled 90-degree transverse V-twin|
|Claimed power (bhp)||91 @ 7,800 rpm|
|Front suspension||40mm inverted telescopic Marzocchi, 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.|
|Front wheel||3.50 x 17in; cast aluminum Rear wheel 4.50 x 17in; cast aluminium.|
|Current price||New £6,999|