Moto Guzzi Breva V1100 - Road Test

Moto Guzzi has been waiting for the first all-new models featuring a completely reengineered version of its traditional transverse V-twin pushrod motor. At last, the Breva V1100, the most important new Moto Guzzi model in 38 years, has finally hit showrooms.

For almost four decades, Guzzi's motorcycles have powered different versions of the original 700cc air-cooled 90-degree V-twin two-valve pushrod motor conceived in 1977.

By the dawn of Y2K, Guzzi's V-twin was even more of an anachronism than a comparable Harley, which at least possessed a lifestyle image that excused its archaic engineering values. Decades of underinvestment meant Mandello-made motorcycles were left behind in terms of manufacturing quality, performance, reliability and customer allure-so when Aprilia took over in '00, it was the key objective of Guzzi's new CEO, Roberto Brovazzo, to modernize the company's product line without sacrificing its traditional values.

The first result of Brovazzo's dedicated efforts is the Breva V1100, which had already been waiting for several months ready to enter production when it was formally launched at Intermot '04. Since then it's had to wait another half-year poised in the starting blocks before the Piaggio takeover of Aprilia finally released the capital to kickstart manufacture. All this time, though, the R&D; team has kept clocking up the test kilometers. With 124,274 miles of road-testing under its wheels and 122,000 man-hours invested, the Breva V1100 is the most thoroughly developed Moto Guzzi yet built. In every way it is the equivalent of the alloy Evo-engined models that gave Harley-Davidson a new lease on life in the '80s. Piaggio hopes the Breva will herald a similar success story for its Moto Guzzi trophy marque.

It's also the most refined and contemporary-feeling Moto Guzzi, as I discovered by visiting the lakeside Mandello factory for an exclusive test ride of the 1100 Breva, as opposed to the day-long press launch ridearound a week earlier. After three decades of riding and racing Moto Guzzi V-twins, I wanted to give the new model a thorough exam. After a day of caf-racing around Lake Como, I took a ferry across it to start a 248-mile overnight trip through the tortuous, twisty Maloja Pass leading up the spring snowline to St. Moritz, Switzerland. I had the chance to ride the Breva in every kind of weather (though fortunately the snow was light) and all types of roads, from Swiss Alpine passes to flat-out freeways where I saw 133 mph on the Breva's well-designed dash-the bike's effective top speed, albeit with "just" 7250 rpm on the analog tacho and another thousand revs to go to the 8250-rpm rev limiter.

The first thing that strikes you when you settle aboard and fire up the Breva's all-new twin-spark engine (dual ignition is a Guzzi tradition dating back to its mid-'50s world-champion 350cc GP racer), which still features pushrod valve operation, is what it doesn't do rather than what it does. Thanks to its lightened internals there's no hesitant graunch as the uprated starter motor struggles to turn over the 92 x 80mm 1064cc big-twin motor, and no trace of the bike rolling to the right as it catches as the gyroscopic effects of the lengthways crank make themselves felt. Project leader Mariano Fioravanzo and company have dialled this out, and even blipping the Weber/Marelli EFI's light-action throttle in neutral at rest only produces a slight sense of sway. The new motor is also completely, well, normal in terms of its noise level and engine note, with none of the pushrod clatter and assorted rattles you got from previous Guzzi V-twins. Even before taking into account Guzzi's claim that, thanks to its new engine and the three-way catalyst exhaust, the Breva is the first European bike to be Euro 3-compliant. Two years before the tough new noise and emissions limits come into force in '07, it already seems thoroughly modern and sophisticated, producing a claimed 86 crankshaft bhp at 7800 rpm, with 64 foot-pounds of torque delivered at 6000 rpm-though at 514 pounds dry the Breva V1100 is a little overweight.

If you discount the discolored exhaust headers with pitted plating you can admire the level of finish and undoubted presence the new Italian model has, with clean, imposing styling by Marabese Design's Rodolfo Frascoli of what is actually quite a big motorcycle in spite of the 2.75-inch shorter transverse V-twin motor. The engine is positioned 41.6 inches farther forward as well as higher in the all-new tubular steel cradle frame to load up the front wheel. But the wide, well-padded seat is spacious and comfortable, allowing you to sink snugly into it. Well-positioned, adjustable footrests now thankfully allow your knees to avoid making friends with the protruding cylinders (which still make great hand-warmers in chilly conditions) and tuck tightly into the sculpted flanks of the broad 6.3-gallon fuel tank-good enough for 250 miles of, er, spirited riding.

There's no choke on the Breva, just a car-type stepper motor valve to cope with cold starts, which it didn't do especially enthusiastically a couple of times, even when the Guzzi fired up on the first go after spending the night in freezing temperatures. Climb aboard and turn the ignition key, wait about three seconds while the Marelli ECU activates its launch system (it's quite frustrating if you want to make a quick getaway), select bottom gear-and here comes another surprise. Instead of the crude clunk every single shaft-drive Guzzi ever made has always inflicted on your hearing at the outset of a ride, the all-new six-speed transmission incorporating the company's patented compact reactive shaft drive, or CA.R.C., is smooth and silent. The clean, precise, light-action gearchange means you can actually shift up without the clutch. That was previously a Guzzi no-no, and it's still impossible to do without a slight jerk when you get back on the throttle because of the gyroscopic forces of the engine-but I didn't miss a single shift in all my time aboard the Breva, nor did it once jump out of gear. Although very light in operation (both the clutch and brake levers are adjustable), the clutch only takes up right at the end of the lever's travel, which is rather disconcerting. Still, the new transmission is a quantum leap into the 21st century.

What's more, the CA.R.C shaft drive, running inside a new and good-looking single-sided aluminum swingarm, eliminates any significant trace of a shaftie's traditional handling foibles. For a big bike the Breva is surprisingly nimble, though it's not an outright streetfighter. You do need to give the individual handlebars mounted on tall risers on each 45mm Marzocchi fork leg a good tug to turn into a hairpin mountain bend. Although reasonably well pulled back, these 1071mm-high grips are too tall to allow you to feel what the 120/70-17 Metzeler RoadTec Z6 tire is doing-feedback is not great.

The Breva's steering feels well balanced. You only notice the weight at rest. It's acceptably agile in tighter turns, and impressively stable around flat-out sweepers, even over bumps. There's no steering damper, and none needed, even though the suspension is set up quite softly, but you can alter spring preload at both ends-in the case of the Sachs rear shock, via a readily accessible knob. There's lots of space for a passanger, plus a pair of excellent grab-handles that help lift the bike onto the centerstand easily; there's also a sidestand. The shock is adjustable for rebound damping.

On my way back to Italy, descending the Maloja Pass in a downpour emphasized not only the excellent rain grip of the Metzeler rubber but also the controllable braking offered in the wet by the Breva's Brembo package. While sportbike riders may wish for a stronger response from the 320mm front discs, these give acceptable stopping power on their own in the dry via the non-radial four-pot calipers-as I found out for myself when a Polish tour bus took up all the road. Add in the strong extra bite from the 282mm rear disc, and even with its slightly porky weight, you can stop the Breva very hard from high speed. But I had no crossed-up moments even going downhill on glassy Swiss tarmac. Nice.

But the main event on the Breva V1100 is the completely revamped V-twin engine, in which 80 out of the 170 components are all-new, according to Fioravanzo. Designed by Guzzi engineer Antonio Zocchi, the new motor is positioned horizontally in the chassis, rather than tilted to compensate for the drive shaft, and is rubber-mounted, so even if the muffled single silencer never lets you forget what you're riding, there's no undue vibration of any kind. It pulls cleanly away on part-throttle from a 1200-rpm walking-pace trickle, and you can gas it wide open from 3000 rpm upward with zero transmission snatch, making this an easy bike to ride in traffic. However, you do have to change gears quite a bit more on the Breva V1100 than on any previous Guzzi V-twin. Gone is the tractorlike torque of all previous transverse V-twins, whose stump-pulling grunt made using the gearbox an option. Instead, while the Breva pulls cleanly off at just more than idle, it has a flaccid midrange that asks you to work the gearbox hard to keep the engine running at 4500 revs or higher-any lower than that and acceleration is leisurely rather than irresistible, relaxed rather than purposeful. Up high, however, the engine delivers, encouraging you to flirt with the 8250-rpm rev limiter to really make some motion-an alien concept on other two-valve Guzzis, more a four-valve thing.

This wouldn't matter so much, except that the Breva is geared so 4000 rpm on the tacho equals 70 mph/110 kph-so top-gear roll-ons at any speeds lower than this are a letdown. Need to pull out and pass a truck? Notch it down not one but two gears before you can expect the Breva to fly like the wind it's named after. I got tired of working the gearbox climbing the Maloja Pass in the twilight, where a Guzzi motor would have done the whole stretch in the same gear-fourth (out of five), probably. Basically, what Moto Guzzi has done here is the equivalent of Harley fitting a six-speed gearbox to a 1200 Sportster and tuning it for horsepower numbers with a peakier delivery. Can't imagine Milwaukee ever doing that, can you? So why did they do it on Mandello?

There are two likely reasons. One is the Euro 3 compliance-so take this as an early warning of what other manufacturers are going to have to contend with-and the other is Guzzi management's misplaced defensiveness about the power output of its two-valve twin against rivals of comparable price with four valves per cylinder (e.g. BMW, Suzuki, Ducati, etc.). This has resulted in Guzzi tuning the new motor to give the horsepower numbers the company deems necessary to win the crossover customers vital to grow the business to the minimum annual sales level Piaggio's CEO Rocco Sabelli regards as Moto Guzzi's break-even point-but it has done so at the expense of Guzzi's famed bottom-end grunt and midrange torque. And the six-speed gearbox helps mask this deficiency. Breva customers who want to revel in the traditional Guzzi waves of torque are going to be disappointed. That's not to say the Breva is a slug out of turns; you just have to ride it in a completely different way from any previous V-twin Moto Guzzi-and I won't be alone in thinking that's a pity.

Yet much about the Breva V1100 is so good. That stylish headlamp isn't just good-looking, it's effective as well, giving a good throw for high-speed night riding, and the red lights of the so-cool dashboard instruments are restfully illuminating. The on-board computer sets new standards in the motorcycle world, with its square digital screen integrated into the triple-dial dash and central speedo flanked on the left by a rev counter and on the right by an accurate fuel gauge. The time and ambient temp (including a little snowflake to warn of ice) are permanently displayed in the top left corner of the computer screen that's contained within the speedo, while the main screen features mileage, twin trips, a stopwatch with splits, average speed, journey time, fuel consumption, miles till empty, adjustable shifter light, battery charger, etc. All this is readily accessed on the move via a button on the left handlebar you operate with your forefinger, plus a separate thumb switch for trips. This is the most practical and user-friendly on-board computer yet fitted to a motorcycle.

It's no exaggeration to apply the make-or-break tag to the Brevona-or big Breva in Italian slang, as distinct from the worthy but modest 750 model launched two years ago. After my real-world ride into Switzerland aboard it, I have to say this is a very good bike by any standards, and a brilliant one by Guzzi standards. Available in red, black or gunmetal gray at a price of $14,897, around 2000-2500 examples of the Breva V1100 will be made in '05. It's a multipurpose mile-eater in Guzzi's traditional mold, combining enjoyable functionality with modern engineering, especially fitted with any of the wide range of dedicated accessories developed for it, headed by an adjustable windscreen and hard luggage. Brovazzo has left a fine legacy from his four years heading up Moto Guzzi for his Piaggio-appointed successor, ex-Alfa Romeo/ Fiat automotive executive Daniele Bandiera. With the Griso muscle-rod on course for production this fall, and Piaggio boss Roberto Colaninno announcing a massive 25 million euro further investment in Moto Guzzi, over and above the money already spent by Aprilia since acquiring the company in '00, the historic Italian marque is finally poised for success in the marketplace-at long last.