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- Written by Carole Nash Editor
- Created: 24 June 2008
There are some who regard the big trailbike class as a strange anomaly in motorcycling culture, but mostly, they have never ridden a bike like the Gran Canyon.
True, 66-ish bhp in an off-road style chassis doesn´t sound fun, but it is perhaps the most useful combination of power, comfort and easy handling you can ask for in a roadbike.
With the engine lifted from the Ducati 900SS, the Cagiva Gran Canyon is also one of the best sounding trailie style machines you can ride too.
Now superseded by the TL1000 powered Navigator model, this big Cagiva remains a cult classic with urban trailie fans across Europe.
Thrashing the new Gran Canyon on the roads near Cagiva’s base in Varese in northern Italy had been a crack, but riding through the factory gate to return the bike at the end of the day sparked a sudden thought: I hadn’t taken it off-road. This successor to the Elefant 900, a bike whose roots are in ruff-tuff rallies like the Paris-Dakar and its tyres hadn’t touched any dirt all day!
A terrible omission? Cobblers to that. Riding Cagiva’s new V-twin off-road just hadn’t occurred to me, for the simple reason that the Gran Canyon, like its kid brother the Canyon 600, is basically a road going motorcycle. In designing this bike, Cagiva has decided that, as most big trailies tackle nothing more adventurous than the occasional gravel drive, a roadster is what they’re gonna build.
Unlike the obviously dirt-derived Elefant, the Gran Canyon makes almost no attempt at off-road ability at all. Its nose is sharp and sporty, giving a slightly insect-like look thanks to angled twin headlamps and slots in the small fairing. The wheels have wire spokes, but they wear road going Pirellis rather than knobblies. And you wouldn’t want to scrape any rocks on this bike because the plastic that covers the bottom of its engine is a belly-pan, not a bash-plate.
It’s no coincidence that the Gran Canyon looks very similar to the single-pot Canyon 600. That bike was created by Pierre Terblanche, now Ducati’s chief designer, when he was working at the Cagiva Research Centre. This one was shaped at CR’s San Marino base after Terblanch’s departure, but it keeps much the same silhouette although its engine has two pots rather than one.
Although Ducati is no longer part of the Cagiva Group, Cagiva still owns 49 per cent of the Bologna firm, and links between the two remain strong. Ducati’s latest V-twin, the 904cc air/oilcooled unit from the new 900SS, arrived at just the right time for Cagiva. The revamped sohc, two-valve desmo lump complete with injection system was the obvious choice to power the Gran Canyon.
The original Elefant 900 was among the first Italian bikes to use fuel-injection (recent models had carbs to save money) and the new motor’s Weber system gave Cagiva the chance to soften its power delivery without need for mechanical mods. Changes to ignition timing and injection, along with a new exhaust ending in twin high-level silencers, fatten up the midrange power delivery while reducing peak output from the 900SS’s 80bhp to a claimed 66.5bhp at 7500rpm.
The Gran Canyon’s chassis is a modified version of the Elefant’s, retaining the basic frame layout of round and square-section steel tubes, but differing in bodywork and cycle parts. The lower front engine mount and aluminium swing-arm are new, and the Canyon’s shock is an Italian-made Sachs operated by a modified rising-rate linkage.
New 45mm leading-axle Marzocchi forks give 170mm of wheel travel, same as the rear end and less than the 210mm front/190mm rear travel of the Elefant 900. Despite that and the fact that the wheelbase is 25mm shorter at 1530mm, this is still a pretty hefty bike. At 850mm the Gran Canyon’s seat is 15mm taller than the Elefant’s, and at 218kg dry the Canyon weighs 18kg more than its predecessor (and a substantial 30kg more than the fully-faired 900SS). The tall seat and slightly raised bars give a typical trail-bike upright riding position, but in touring-bike fashion there’s an analogue clock alongside the speedo and tacho. Twin side-by-side filler caps in the fuel tank are a stylish touch although having to unlock both caps to top up ain’t so clever. (The big 20-litre tank’s sides are linked, but the gas takes some time to find its way across.)
This bike’s looks are a big improvement, but you don’t have to ride the Gran Canyon far to discover that its power delivery is its best feature. The new 900SS has plenty of grunt, but in this slightly detuned form the big two-valve V-twin felt even more responsive. With peak power being produced at 7500rpm and max torque arriving at just five gran, all you’ve got to do is twist the throttle and go.
Despite the fairly large and efficient high-level silencers the oil/aircooled motor still rustled and roared enough to be a proper Ducati unit. Like most of its predecessors it was lumpy at very low revs, juddering below 3500rpm in top. But that storming midrange delivery made keeping the front wheel on the ground in the lower gears a serious test of self-control. The only minor flaw was a very occasional slight hiccup at about 4000rpm. It wasn’t a big problem but some fine-tuning was in order.
Top speed is about 120mph, but more to the point the big Canyon was happy to cruise at an easy 90mph with a clear view in its wide-spaced mirrors. For some reason the Cagiva felt slightly smoother than the 900SS towards its nine-grand redline, even if it took a bit longer to get there. The stubby screen didn’t give much protection from the wind but provided the seat was comfortable enough and I’d need a longer ride to be sure this would be a handy long-haul bike.
Inevitably the relatively tall and softly suspended Gran Canyon didn’t handle with the precision of its 900SS cousin, but it did a pretty good job on both fast roads and winding country lanes. Although the bike’s 19-inch front wheel and long-travel forks gave a slightly remote front-end feel, the Cagiva was well-balanced and seemed reasonably light, and its wide bars gave enough leverage to allow pretty quick changes of direction.
That generous suspension travel let the Canyon glide over most bumps, yet the bike stayed stable at ton-plus speeds in a straight line, and was firm enough to feel well planted at the footrest-scraping angles encouraged by the reasonably grippy Pirelli MT80 tyres. Braking was drama-free, too, thanks to the pair of 296mm discs and twin-piston Nissin front calipers, along with a 240mm disk and single-pot caliper at the rear.
Okay, so grabbing a big fistful of front anchor and pitching the Canyon into a turn got the non-adjustable front end diving and twitching a bit. And under hard use the rear end (the shock can be tuned for preload and rebound damping) started moving around as the 150-section rear Pirelli put down the power. But on a twisty road it would take a well-ridden sports bike to leave the Cagiva far behind.
Most of the time the Gran Canyon is likely to be ridden much less aggressively than that, as befits a bike designed for everything from commuting to touring. For the former it combines the advantages of road-biased tyres and brakes with traditional trail-bike assets including slow-speed manoeuvrability and the visibility that its height gives in
traffic. Although the clutch is heavy, the new six-speed gearbox is much more precise than its predecessor.
The Cagiva is reasonably practical too. There’s no centre-stand, and the high-level exhaust system would make fitting panniers difficult. But there’s a small aluminium luggage rack as standard fitment, and detailing (including a sidestand cut-out instead of the normal Italian spring-up stand) is generally good.
Although some riders will nevertheless be disappointed by the way Cagiva’s big hard trail bruiser has evolved into a road going softie, the advantages are clear. This new 900ie is good-looking, quick, smooth and torquey. It handles and stops pretty well, and at £6999 all-in it’s competitively priced. The Gran Canyon might not be as truly versatile as a big trailie but for most people it’s a much more useful motorbike.
Get Cagiva motorbike insurance for the Gran Canyo.
Engine Air/oil-cooled SOHC 2-valve V-twin
Claimed power (bhp) 66.5bhp @ 7500rpm
Compression ratio 8.5:1
Transmission 6 speed
Chassis Tubular steel frame
Suspension, front 45mm Marzocchi fork
Rear Sachs monoshock, adjustable for preload and rebound damping
Brakes, front Twin 296mm discs, twin-piston Nissin calipers
Rear Single 240mm disc, twin-piston Nissin caliper
Tyres, front 100/90 ZR 19 Pirelli MT80
Rear 150/70 ZR 17 Pirelli MT80
Dry weight 218kg
Fuel capacity 20 litres (3.1 gal)
Current price £6999