The big deal about the Moto-Guzzi Stelvio 1200 4V is how it feels to ride. You can read all about how it is named for the famous Stelvio Pass cut into the Ortles Massif, and how there are 84 hairpin bends in it, and write that off as romantic piffle. You can check out the gladiatorial looks of the bike and put that down to the usual European fascination with adventure-tourers.
But once the big Goose is rolling along under you, the accumulated engineering experience associated with a long and storied heritage are made real by the beat of the venerable V-twin, the precision of the big chassis, and the sheer organic conversation the Stelvio has with its rider. Even if you aren’t a fan of this genre, or of big V-twins with shaft drive, this bike will charm you into seeing things differently.
The Stelvio’s engine comes from the Moto-Guzzi Griso, and although its output is very slightly different-105-horsepower versus the Griso’s 110, due mainly to exhaust packaging-you can tell that the state of tune is more appropriate to that bike. Most of the serious power is bunched near the top of the 8000-rpm range, where the 1200cc four-valve (per cylinder) twin produces copious thrust.
That sounds all wrong somehow, for a bike with dual-sport pretensions, but the twin makes pretty good power lower down its operating-range too. Enough to allow short-shifting in traffic, where it drops the revs to a relaxed and economical burble. The tallest of its six gears is very high, for relaxed touring, and a big handful of throttle at almost any speed in sixth produces more thudding vibration and intake tract drone than meaningful acceleration.
You soon get used to keeping it in fifth if you think a passing opportunity is about to come your way soon. But more important than all this talk of power is the way this bike gets around. Despite it size and macho styling, it’s terribly easy to ride, and it infuses its rider with a sense of calm purpose. There’s no point scratching around frantically when you can swoop through a pass in a series of graceful arcs instead.
Maybe it’s that eagle on the tank badge, but the Stelvio does indeed swoop and bank. It tips easily into corners, partly due to the tremendous leverage provided by its wide bars, partly because of the good mass centralization lent by its across-the-frame Vee-engine and its longitudinal crank. Once banked into a long bend, the Stelvio takes a steady set and just carves its way onward.
Someone once said you can feel the gyroscopic stability of tall wheels, and this may be true of the Stelvio, whose 19-inch spoked front wheel tracks effortlessly on the path your eye has chosen for it. Certainly, the bike feels reassuringly stable, and if it doesn’t exactly flick from one direction to another, it certainly changes directions as willingly as one would hope of a bike with a 60.4-inch wheelbase.
Considering that the Stelvio’s engineers had ride comfort as one of their priorities, the bike’s suspension strikes a decent balance between compliance and control. The inverted front fork is multi-adjustable, and boasts 6.7-inches of travel, while the rear shock (adjustable in rebound and preload) has over six inches. As one might expect, there’s some dive under hard braking, and a little squat during hard acceleration, but these pitch motions are mostly well damped.
Equipped with radial-mount Brembo calipers on big front rotors, and braided-steel lines everywhere, the Stelvio’s brakes felt well up to the job of slowing this 500-plus pound machine when called upon. All in all, the beast proved a lot more agile than its dramatic appearance and size might have suggested.
There’s much to be said for bikes laid out like this. The riding position is comfortable for long journeys, with a spacious seat and adequate padding. Some care was taken with the design of the aerodynamic parts, and the manually adjustable windscreen and nosecone moldings chop a good sized hole in the atmosphere. There’s some buffeting off the top edge of the windscreen, but I soon found a setting that put my helmet into a more-or-less constant wind flow.
With mirrors one can actually see out of, and a command seating position, the Stelvio proved an adroit traffic runner. When a rider senses that the machine he’s on steers precisely, it adds hugely to the confidence he feels when zig-zagging through columns of traffic. It’s certainly true of the Stelvio. Its ability in the steel slalom totally belies its size and mass.
To all the somewhat unexpected dynamic virtuosity, you can add character. Or quirkiness, if you’d prefer. The big Guzzi idles with a mild side-to-side shimmy, then tilts hard up against your thigh when you blip the throttle at rest. That would be the big pistons trying to spin the whole bike around the crank. You hardly notice it at all when on the move, but veteran Guzzi racers will tell you that crankshaft gyroscopic forces can be felt either holding the bike down in a lean or resisting a lean when you’re riding fast enough.
I can’t say that was a problem for me. Nor did I really notice the shaft drive, whose inherent jacking tendencies have been cancelled out by the Guzzi CARC (compact reactive shaft drive) system. Mostly you just get on and go. The various idiosyncrasies of a transverse V-twin layout simply become part of the bike’s appealing character.
Adventure-tourers are expected to offer various long-distance additions, and this the Stelvio does. Side cases, engine protection guards, GPS navigation, heated hand grips, hand guards, fog lights, tank bags and an anti-theft system are all available as accessories. The bike comes standard with a small storage space in the tank shell that opens with a switch.
At $14,990, the Stelvio is priced very close to its obvious rival, the BMW R1200 GS. For those who prefer the Italian flavor of motorcycling to the German, the Stelvio 1200 4V promises an expressive relationship.