Mr. Sunshine: Gabe Ets-Hokin, Age :43 Years, Riding :25, Favorite Road Snack: Crispy-fried Squid
Moto Guzzi. Is it Italian for “I don’t get it” or what? If the definition for “acquired taste” needs a picture, use one of a Guzzi. This brand (I’m tired of calling brands “iconic”—isn’t every brand iconic of something?) has, for the last 30 years, been associated with unique machines, machines rich with character and owned by enthusiastic (if slightly weird) fans. A Guzzi is a motorcycle you either really like or really don’t see the point of. Mass-market, broad appeal, built to the lowest common denominator—not words you’ll see describing them. Moto Quirky is a better name.
If you’ve ridden one, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Big. High center of gravity. A noted precessional effect from the big, vertical flywheel that cants the bike to the right when you rev it and other weird phenomena from the shaft drive. But there’s good stuff, too: the lumpy, tourqey whoomp you get from a huge Italian V-Twin opening the throttle at any rpm, welded-to-the-road stability and if you Google “Long Legs” you’ll either get Moto Guzzi or some kind of soft porn.
That good stuff (porn excluded) is desirable in a ’70s cafe racer, but will it work in modern times? How about in an Adventure Tourer, the Jake Gyllenhaal of motorcycle sub-genres? Guzzi has had an Adventure bike in its lineup for a few years, the Stelvio, equipped with the stellar 1151cc four-valve motor Dirck liked so much on the Griso 8V we tested a while back. The extra-spicy motor (105 claimed crank horsepower and 83 ft.-lbs. of torque) is bolted into an impressive (and beautiful) tube-steel chassis, with Guzzi’s CARC anti-torque-ing driveshaft system in back and a stout-looking 45mm Marzocchi inverted front end. Wheels are the traditional adventure-touring sizes, a 19 incher in front and 17 inch in back, clad in Pirelli Scorpion Trail skins (which sound dirt oriented but are intended for 10 percent dirt use).
The Stelvio was finished up with a pretty standard punch list of adventure-touring stuff. Big windscreen, big faring, large-ish gas tank and a wide, comfy seat and luggage rack. For 2012, the Stelvio gets upgraded as the Stelvio 1200 NTX, with a re-worked fairing, bigger windscreen, airflow-controlling winglets, engine guards, satin-finished locking aluminum hardbags, foglamps, aluminum bash plate, ABS, traction control, hand guards, and most important for the large-bladdered rider, an expanded 8.5-gallon gas tank. If you’re into this sort of thing you’ll know it’s competitively priced at $15,990: the BMW R1200GS is a little bit more, and doesn’t include some of the goodies the Guzzi does.
Look good on paper? Wait ’till you ride one of these things. The Stelvio’s charm is that it takes the best parts of several moto-genres—cruisers, vintage bikes, adventure tourers, sportbikes—and gives you an incredibly rich, if not exactly refined, experience. That sounds like a massive load of crap, so bear with me, please.
Cruiser? Huh? Yep, the Stelvio is a cruiser cleverly shaped to resemble an adventure-tourer. That’s because it’s A) tourqey and B) heavy. Guzzi claims 598 pounds “ready to ride,” but yeah, sure, whatever. The glossies have weighed our big orange friend here in at around 650 pounds wet, understandable with that Honda Civic-sized gas tank, but even tank empty, it’s a monster, especially off road. But when you roll on the throttle at 80 mph in 6th gear and squirt through traffic like a ice cube on a Panini press, all is forgiven. It’s marvelously entertaining, what with all that grunt in every gear and its growling V-8 sound coming out of the giant muffler.
Retro Bike? Sure—if you’ve ridden a big Guzzi, the Stelvio is a pair of comfy old sweatpants. Thumping, vibey, mirror-blurring goodness. Big air-cooled Twins replicate the human heartbeat, I’m told, which results in a familiar, comforting feel that’s never boring, sort of the mechanical equivalent of good mac n’ cheese. Getting that character in a modern, sweet-handling chassis is the crispy, crumbled bacon on top.
As an adventure-tourer, I’d give it a very lukewarm endorsement, though it’d be a killer sport-tourer. That’s because, in my opinion (and take that with a grain of salt, as my dirt-riding ability is on par with my Irish Clog Dancing), you have to be a very large, muscular and skilled dirt rider to get your Stelvio and all its expensive Italian prettiness back in the garage in one piece if you like to keep riding when the pavement ends. Sure, it has plush, long-travel suspension and 8 inches of ground clearance, but if you can keep this whale upright in the dirt you’ll probably do even better with a standard motorcycle that’s 100 pounds lighter. But it looks the part, and that may be enough for many adventure-riding guys. Plus, the wind protection is great and it’s got one of the best stock saddles around (it’s even adjustable, with two positions: 32 or 33 inches). Multi-state days are do-able, and you’ll have fun doing them, even with a passenger.
Sportbike? Really? Sure. It handles sweetly, steering much better than that poundage and 60-inch wheelbase would have you expect. The suspension works well (if a bit divey on the brakes) and is multi-adjustable. The wide bars and 19-inch front tire make steering faster than I expected, but it’s very balanced and takes some pretty ill-advised riding technique to drag stuff in the corners. Brakes are good too—four-piston radial-mount Brembos that feel like they lack power, but that’s probably because (yes, you guessed it) the bike is so lardy.
As a daily rider, I personally would want something smaller and lighter in my garage. I found that hustling it through traffic with my usual level of aggression felt a little more risky than I like, so I had to slow it down…maybe not such a bad thing. A larger, more confident rider would have no problem, but be careful with those hard bags—they tend to bump into things. Oops.
So I don’t know if you should buy one of these, but I can say for sure you should at least go ride one of the new Guzzis with the 8-valve motor (there’s the standard Griso and the sport-touring Norge beside the Stelvio). The new geese are entertaining, have soul and can go fast if you need them to. After years of getting rough edges smoothed by Piaggio’s technical-development expertise, Moto Guzzis aren’t just for weirdoes anymore. Check it out.
The Voice of Experience: John Joss Age: 77 Years, Riding: 81, Favorite Road Snack: Chocolate Milkshake
Legend and logic mix in the mind. What is it? Icon or imitator? Technical advance or more of the same? True, original competitor in the big-bore adventure-bike category fought over by BMW’s GS, Triumph’s Tiger Explorer, Yamaha’s Super Tenere and Ducati’s Multistrada?
Or is it just a rework of a basic other? How does it handle the riding task? What are its strengths and weaknesses? Who would buy one and why? And why ‘Stelvio?’
Why not throw in the lesser (in engine capacity and cost) BMWs, Triumphs and KTMs, while we’re up? They belong on potential adventure-bike purchasers’ lists. You might even build your own from a naked, given the time, skills and money.
These questions, and more, confront the Stelvio rider stepping up to this brute from the EU’s largest two-wheel manufacturer, Piaggio, of which Moto Guzzi is a division. It has the iconic features for which Moto Guzzi is renowned: big V-Twin motor steeped in history and mid-range torque, low-maintenance shaft drive.
The Stelvio is an original design, task oriented, not a reworked machine from other Moto Guzzis. It’s big and heavy. High seat, wide bars. Big screen. Upright seating. With bags, too wide for lane splitting. Fit and finish are excellent, the ancillaries—including lockable aluminum bags—robust and well made.
Piaggio’s designers know that no inferior machine wins in today’s competitive marketplace. It’s priced competitively with Triumph and Yamaha at $15,960 before tax, title and license.
On the road, again
The 500-mile route exercises all its paces except on the dirt: from Piaggio’s site in Costa Mesa through L.A. on 405, to 5, off at Frazier Park across the rutted, bumpy pass to Taft via 166-33, west to Atascadero on 58, up 101 to San Miguel, onto difficult Indian Valley → Peachtree, then 25 to Hollister, 101 and home. A long, hot day? Over 100 degrees for 2-3 hours, topping 106, 90-plus mostly.
Why describe the route? Check the map. Ride it. It encompasses riding typical Stelvio owners will encounter—freeways, rough surfaces, narrow twisties—at speeds from crawling to a buck plus.
Why no dirt? Would you take such a big boat into places where, riding alone, you might have to walk home if you drop it? In Death Valley, or comparable explorer areas, you could . . . die. An estimated 95 percent of riding is done on paved roads. Doubtless Editor Edge could wrangle it on the loose stuff.
Road verdict: an over-all winner
Mounting the beast is challenging, lacking ballet lessons. With the bags (42 inches wide) and towering seat height, you stand back, offer your right boot over the seat, and slide across. Erik Larson, Piaggio’s tech-support manager, says “put the left foot on the peg.” The tank is pleasantly narrow at the knees. The manually adjustable screen can be positioned to order.
What’s to like? Great ergos. The powerful and torquey V-Twin, lolloping along midrange, encouraging smooth, unaggressive riding, delivering 130 mph and a charming, throaty burble. Despite its mass, it’s a sweet-handling machine you could take across the country in comfort and style. It features an orderly instrument cluster and decent switchology. Suspension setup, plush to swallow bad going, needed harder settings for corner-carving (Marzocchi, front; Sachs, rear).
The screen protects well. The instant-on/-off ABS is handy —the brakes are competent. About that huge (8.5-gallon) fuel tank: 300-mile range, riding medium-hard at 34-35 mpg. Despite weight and high CG that demands care at slow speeds and when stopped on tiptoe (I’m 5-9)—no other ‘adventure’ can compare.
Negatives? Weight and bulk, mostly. Lack of bleeding-edge revs (8000 max.) and power when you want to get along faster. Don’t rush this monster—the dowager queen of adventure bikes with that typical 60-inch wheelbase. A loose-ish throttle, maybe specific to this unit, made smooth acceleration from low speeds difficult and induced drive-line lash. The mirrors/turn-signals flutter in the breeze like demented tree limbs or a shaky drunk, never vibration-free (mirrors are often the downfall of Italian motorcycles): ‘Objects in the mirror are unclear.’
Would you buy one?
Choosing the Stelvio will depend on your riding preferences. Sport-bike enthusiasts won’t get it. Cruisers won’t need its luggage and range. Beginners? Stay away until you’ve accrued mileage. In its category, the Stelvio is a contendah.
The Final Word: Alan Lapp Age :47, Years Riding: 35, Favorite Road Snack: Roadside Barbecue
I’ve only ridden one other Moto Guzzi, an early-2000s V11 Sport, and the 2013 Stelvio is a direct (if distant!—ed.) descendent of that bike. And it feels like it. In fact, nothing else feels quite like a Moto Guzzi. They march to the beat of their own drummer, and even little things like the switch housings are subtly unique.
On the road, the Stelvio suspension is refined and smooth, handling is stable, the ergos are quite comfortable if slightly odd: your feet are almost directly under your butt, and the handlebars are so wide they hamper lane splitting. The motor has big torque that is most generous right where you use it most for squirting around cars without a downshift. It feels quick—it has nice lunge when you roll on the throttle—but it’s not exactly fast. The clutch will complain if you try to launch it hard (audibly if cold). While it’s not built for top speed, it feels like it would be happy cruising at 100 all day. The brakes are nice, too: powerful and so predictable that they fade from conscious thought, and that’s a real compliment.
It’s a fun bike to ride, but it’s not without unique characteristics. At a stoplight, blipping the throttle results in the bike leaning to the right. It’s not bad, but it never lets you forget that you’re riding an icon. Our test model had nice luggage: hard bags, locking lids and mounting hardware. They are easy to mount and remove, but they lack a handle, so you must carry them one at a time, cradled in your arms like a big aluminum infant. Another annoyance were the buzzing parts in the fairing, windscreen and mirrors. If you like bikes with character, and understand that character in a machine is defined as having significant flaws that don’t ruin the usefulness of the machine, you’ll like it.