Moto Guzzi Griso - Not Just Another Stallion

After a series of fits and starts, Moto Guzzi's storied design works have at last spat out a production version of the much-ballyhooed 1100cc Griso. We flew out to Italy's Lake Como for a spin on the new machine to see if the long wait was worth it.

The interminable delay (the Griso was first concepted in 2001, revealed at Intermot in 2002, and initially scheduled for production in late 2003) has a lot to do with the business end of the equation. The recent takeover of Aprilia (Moto Guzzi's parent company) by Italian two-wheel giant Piaggio has resulted in warm and fuzzy relaunches of both the Guzzi and Aprilia brands, and with the new company line clearly focused on the future, the firm's latest designs now tout technological improvements as well as an aesthetic refreshening. It looks like the company is finally showing signs of real progress rather than continuing in its role as a sentimental favorite with a dusty inventory.

In true Italian fashion, however, the debut of the latest Moto Guzzi comes with a side order of confusion; the Griso is being billed as a "Techno-custom," but what that means in English is anybody's guess. It's part streetfighter and part naked cruiser, yes, but it's no wonder the marketing wonks at Mandello del Lario had a hard time positioning this thing. The Griso's not power-cruisery enough to compete with the V-Rod, and the claimed 88 horsepower isn't stout enough to grant entry into the muscle-bike club (unless there's a "well-toned" companion membership available).

In any case, Guzzi certainly has a looker on its hands with the Griso (when it will show up in dealerships, however, is another matter).

The Eye Of The Beholder
To my mind, the Griso's got the best curb appeal of any streetbike Moto Guzzi has produced in recent years. An urban design slant is unmistakable, but when walking around the Griso, your first impression is of size. Low and classic from some angles, muscular and modern from others, this bike is long-legged yet squat, too. That trademark Guzzi V-twin sports closely packed fins and pokes belligerently from beneath a set of substantial, exterior steel frame tubes (a big design element of the Griso) that execute a series of subtle kinks as they wrap around a generous fuel tank and airbox. Not only does this look good, it creates a super-rigid assembly when combined with the engine.

Up top, the oversized racing fuel cap takes command of the visuals. From the rear, a huge stainless steel muffler and aluminum end plate joining two header pipes resembles the business end of a booster rocket. A stylized tail section with a high-intensity LED light cluster nestles above it all. From the right side a more refined, mechanical tone holds sway, with a massive single-sided swingarm integrating the engine and gearbox to create an imposing metallic block. It's all enhanced by a side-mounted oil radiator at the bottom-the lack of any fairing dictates this sump-side positioning, and Guzzi manages to make it look refined. A blend of matte satin and high-gloss chrome adds to the classy feeling.

The Griso isn't a parts bin bike, either-there are 70 new components (out of 180) on this machine. With nicely drawn lines and well-designed details, the build quality and finish are excellent, even several steps up from previous Mandello del Lario products. What's more impressive is that Guzzi makes all its own components or uses local Italian companies without turning to Asian outsourcing.

Under The Hood
The new engine is, as you'd expect, a 90-degree V-twin, but it's lighter, smoother and cleaner than previous incarnations. This 1100cc version of Guzzi's familiar 90-degree transverse arrangement is said to produce around 88 hp, but the ingegnere of Mandello del Lario have imbued it with other improvements as well. For one, the alternator is no longer in front of the crankshaft-it's now nestled in the groove between the cylinders, making the engine shorter and more compact and improving weight distribution. In fact the whole engine bay has gone on a diet; the connecting rods are lighter to reduce mass, the piston rings are thinner and the pistons have shorter skirts and improved profiles. The metal cylinder head gaskets are new too, designed to improve heat transmission and to ensure that pressure from cylinder head studs remains even. Finally, the rocker covers are fresh, and play a big part in the visual appeal of the Griso's profile. All this is married to Guzzi's new single-sided swingarm (first seen on the Breva 1100) via a rejiggered six-speed gearbox.

Seat Of The Pants
On paper, the Griso's specs offer little to suggest it can compete with true hooligans like Yamaha's V-Max. Still, the pulses that issue forth after you thumb the starter are more appealing without all the agricultural rattling that accompanied older Guzzi models. You can thank a stepper-motor control and electronic fuel injection for damping some of the previous quirks.

In the fairly plush saddle, the bike's 88 horses were more impressive than expected, feeling like the most usable power I've encountered in a long time. The engine is closely patterned after that of the Breva 1100, which we liked a lot when it came out earlier this year (see Motorcycle Cruiser, August 2005), but the Griso adds a few percentage points of power and torque, and 8 percent shorter gearing.

As a result, the merely willing engine is transformed into a punchy, responsive one, and along with a light-action throttle, allows the Griso to drive hard out of the corners and shoulder its way past traffic handily. In the mountains, the bike sashayed through the hairpins with that familiar big twin throb in full howl. The updated engine, with twin spark ignition and fuel injectors in the inlet manifolds, produced smooth power delivery with nary a hiccup, and Guzzi claims emissions and consumption are reduced to fully meet the Euro 3 standards.

The lighter, redesigned six-speed gearbox made gear selection a much smoother (and easier) affair, which is worth a mention because on older Guzzis it isn't. On the downside, there was a bit too much lash in the transmission, which makes riding at low speeds jerky unless you're content with constantly feathering the clutch to compensate. Along with a slightly grabby clutch, it made tight urban maneuvers awkward. Still, shortening the primary drive has allowed Guzzi to up the torque a bit on the Griso, and it suits the bike well.

Otherwise, the mechanics are well-sorted and the new CARC shaft-drive system was downright sumptuous. That classic Guzzi design has been modernized and now integrates the final drive inside a single-sided aluminum alloy swingarm, leaving the bevel gear and shaft free to oscillate. The drive shaft also incorporates two universal joints with torsional shock absorbers, and the result was surprisingly jerk-free, with almost none of the anti-shaft effect associated with conventional shaft drives.

As for the long, power-cruiser profile, don't be fooled; the super-rigid steel frame delivered surprising agility. The Italians laid out a brilliant trek for us journalists around Lake Como and up to Passo dello Spluga, a region not unknown for its tight kinks of asphalt unrolling between stony peaks. Even through this long series of bends the Griso brought some unexpected grins and an increasingly confident ride. I did achieve full lock of the handlebar several times while negotiating the more aggressive hairpins, however, and the handling was odd initially because of the unusually wide bar. It all made for a super-light steering feel, although the riding position was fairly comfortable, in an upright way. After a few turns, you learn to compensate, at which point the bike handles well, with good ground clearance from the mid-mounted pegs and a fast enough turning speed to make back roads fun.

For those back-road romps, it helped that the Griso is fitted with good-quality, fully adjustable suspension bits. Showa springs in the 43mm upside-down front fork are adjustable for spring preload, and compression and rebound damping, and a likewise changeable Boge monoshock damper with separate gas reservoir resides out back. Alas, the weight of the shaft was felt at speed on bumpy asphalt (but it's nothing to lose your latte over).

And while the twin 320mm floating discs up front were amply equipped to haul the bike down from speed with four-piston dual calipers, we would have liked a little more feel in the process.

And So
For all its high-end bits and sleek sensibilities, the Griso also works as a commuter bike. It seems more reliable than Guzzis of yore, and the Griso also offers amenable long-distance ergos and a reasonable 4.5-gallon tank capacity. Guzzi is also offering accessories like panniers, fairings and a luggage rack, so you can make it more practical or sex it up, as you choose.

In fact, it's not unfair to say this sexed-up standard does have buckets of charisma and a singular style.

More importantly, though, the Griso proves that, despite a troubled past, once-sputtering Moto Guzzi may be at the beginning of a renaissance. And yes, the wait was worth it.

Moto Guzzi Griso
Suggested base price: $12,990
Standard colors: Black, Red
Standard warranty: Two years
Engine type: 90 degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: 2 overhead valves per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1064cc, 92 x 80mm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Carburetion: Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection
Transmission: dry clutch, 6 speeds
Final drive: shaft
Dry weight: 500.4 lbs
Wheelbase: 61.18 inches
Rake/trail: 34 degrees/108mm
Front tire: 120/70, 17 inches
Rear tire: 180/55, 17 inches
Brakes: dual discs front, single disc rear
Front suspension: 43 mm upside down fork, adjustable for spring preload and compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Monoshock with gas reservoir, adjustable for spring preload and compression and rebound damping
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gals.
Available in the U.S. February 2006