Motorcycle marques are a bit like football teams. If your dad was an Arsenal supporter and you went to the matches as a kid there’s a jolly good chance you’ll grow up supporting the same team. But what if Tottenham Hotspur spunk a load of cash on some players with unpronounceable names and start scoring lots of trys? Would you turncoat and start wearing different colours? Unlikely.
I hate football but I am rather partial to a Moto Guzzi. I’ve made a rainy pilgrimage to the factory and museum on the banks of Lake Como, spent many an hour lusting after a MK1 Le Mans and even have a brace of Guzzis in my bike collection. I wouldn’t say that they’re a Marmite motorcycle but those who get them are fans for life and will gladly accept shortcomings, using words like character and authentic as the glitter to brighten up a wrongun in their shed.
Nowadays though the guys and gals in the Mandello de Lario factory don’t make wronguns, in fact they haven’t for a long time, their range of bikes is pretty accomplished. So when the man from Moto Guzzi suggested a trip to Como to test the all-new V9 I chewed his arm off, shoulder an all. Don’t worry, we haven’t gone all mainstream but what better way to get under the skin of the next generation of custom Guzzis than to have a poke around the workshop and quiz the engineers.
Because the crooks in cheap suits, also known as politicians, receive huge backhanders from the agricultural industry they’ve failed to share data that shows pig farts are more polluting than all the world’s motorcycles put together, including two-strokes. So while they enjoy proscuito wrapped sausages with their Sunday roast the motorcycle industry is being forced to meet the EU4 emissions standard.
The technically-minded of you will be aware of why these regs mean the death knell for air cooled engines but for those in the dark this is roughly, very roughly, why water-cooling is due to completely take over engine production. Using fuel is bad, for every litre burnt a polar bear sheds one whole tear. So leaning-out the fuel/air mixture that enters an engine’s combustion chamber helps to keep the polar bear happy. Unfortunately this makes the chamber too hot, sounds wrong with all that air but you need fuel to cool and slow the burn, without enough of it the lean mixture pre-ignites, or detonates. This is also bad. Detonating means melted pistons and exhaust valves resulting in a big bill from the mechanic thus forcing your children to go without food, they will become malnourished and do badly at school, your wife will then take custody and you’ll be left alone in a pool of your own tears. Smaller than polar bear tears admittedly but closer to home so they count for more.
Water-cooling is fairly self explanatory and that’s what most manufacturers have adopted in order to save you from crying in public whilst ensuring pigs-in-blankets remain on the plates of the fat cats and bureaucrats. A Guzzi rider doesn’t want a radiator any more than a Man U fan wants to wear a baby blue t-shirt. Luckily in 1967 Giulio Cesare Carcano preempted this problem by designing an engine with cylinders poking out-the-side where they can be cooled by the breeze. Euro 4 though is even too stringent for this ingenious layout so the engineers back at Mandello spent the last three years redesigning their mid-size motor and came up with an 850cc, 90 degree v-twin as seen here in the new V9 – phew, got there in the end.
I’ll keep going with the engine as it’s the thumping heart that creates the soul of all Guzzis. The lump looks very similar to the one fitted to its smaller sister, the V7, but there are a number of notable differences. It’s still pushrod and 2-valver but with re-profiled cams for reduced noise (The polar bear isn’t fussed about noise but the head of the Rambler’s Association at number 72 certainly is). The combustion chamber though is completely different. In the V7 the piston is dished, like a pub ashtray and the valves are completely perpendicular bouncing up and down in a relatively flat cylinder head. The all-new engine has a flatter piston meaning less material, therefore lightness and lower inertia whilst friction is reduced thanks to shallower skirts – basically that’s good. The combustion chamber in the head is now hemispherical with valves opposed at an angle. During a demonstration of the new valve train configuration a couple of us drew a Minion with pointy ears and showed it to the boss of engine design, he was impressed at our engineering knowhow and offered us jobs on the spot. At least I think that’s what his half-smile translated as.
The burn is now much more efficient and fewer naughty things come out of the exhaust. In addition, two tubes feed fresh air into the exhaust to dilute the badness and therefore the catalytic convertor in the silencer has an easier time of keeping emissions somewhere close to pig guffs. Big tick, we can all ride through central London in 2020 on a V9 when the Ultra LEZ kicks-in and stick two fingers up at the big, yellow, Dick Turpin cameras.
The really clever innovation are the holes that run right through the cylinder head. Cool air rushes in either side of the exhaust port drawing heat from around the combustion chamber and channeling it out of matching holes at the rear. It’s a bit like water cooling but without the faff. The cumulative of all this means that buying a Guzzi V9 breezes through EU4 and the polar bear can get back to chasing seals and making baby bears. Your kids will see this on the David Attenborough’s Snapchat and think it’s amazing and therefore try harder at school, they’ll get well paid jobs and you can retire early to enjoy touring the Italian Lakes with your hot wife. Engineers makes the world a better place – fact.
With all this hard work having gone into a new engine design Moto Guzzi will attempt to make hay while the sun shines and have created two variations of the V9, the Bobber and the Roamer. If you’re familiar with the V65C from a few decades ago, that’s what the Roamer reminds me of, tall wheel up front and short chubby one out back. Cruiser conjures images of chrome and tassels but the Roamer is aimed at the rider looking for a retro tourer with a legs slightly forwards and back straight position. A European alternative to the Harley 883 perhaps? There are loads of accessories to either snazz-up the stock bike or improve it’s practicality and load lugging credentials.
Perhaps only separated by wheel size and handlebars but I’m going to concentrate on talking about the Bobber as this model is more directly aligned with the custom bikes we report on here in the ‘Shed and I’ll wager the one bought by most of you lot. I say this partly due to the reaction we saw when Dutch had his Bonneville delivered, complete with wide triple clamps and 16 inch rims. Unlike Dim Kardashian’s preposterous posterior his bike didn’t quite break the internet but stats showed it was a close run thing. It would appear that stance is now more important than performance and handling on planet custom.
The design team at Moto Guzzi have been keeping an eye on the custom scene for a few years and it shows with this leap straight into the new wave pond as they’ve negated the need for an expensive wheel upgrade. The V9 Bobber rolls out of the factory on a brace of 16 inchers sporting 130/90/16 Continentals, specifically designed for this model. The wheels are cast aluminium rather than spoked but I like their slender appearance and the drilled hubs look beefy whilst remaining lightweight.If you’re dead-set on old school spokes I’m sure a bit of jiggery pokery on a lathe would see a pair of Harley wheels slotting in but frankly, save your custom coins and spend them elsewhere.
Our lap around Lago di Como was curtailed by winter not yet having loosened its grip so tentative was the name of the game as we headed up to towards the snowline. The head angle felt relatively steep and combined with balloon tyres took a bit of getting used to in the wet but once in its stride the Bobber was perfectly stable. At city filtering speeds the geometry and riding position came into its own. With the pegs mounted so far forward the rear brake is operated in more of a car driving style you barely need to need to put your feet down at all in town. A morning commute could become a trials challenge, rewarding yourself for the lowest number of dabs.
I did try moving my feet back to a more familiar position, somewhere under my hips, which got me thinking about what sort of simple custom work could be carried out. Which allows me to rejoice somewhat. Another manufacturer taking the time to think about what a customer might want to alter, bolting structures and components on, rather than welding. Moving the footpegs is easy, there are two bosses welded to the frame rails that would accept even the most rudimentary of brackets. Want more of a flattracker setup? Move the pegs four inches rearward, stick some wide bars on and swap the tyres for a set of Coker Becks and bingo, you’ve spent a few hundred quid and you’ve got a completely different looking bike. And yes, the pillion peg hangers are a two bolt job to remove. Want to go a bit further with rearsets and clipons…I reckon Moto Guzzi have that covered later in the year.
But it says Bobber on the side panels. Which are aluminium by the way, the V9 brief expressed contempt for cheap-feeling plastics. The airbox and number plate contain more plastic than the rest of the bike entirely. You know what that means, yup, happy polar bear as the men with big drills won’t need to extract oil form under his back yard, Coke cans and iMacs can instead be recycled into mudguards and side panels for a V9. So it would appear that Moto Guzzi are in effect saving the planet.
But Bobbers are supposed to look a certain way according to the invisible custom rulebook and here I am babbling on about trackers. Well, it is bobbed at the rear and there’s minimal clutter with most of the wiring and gubbins neatly hidden, well they needed to call it something. The V9Neo Retro New Wave doesn’t exactly sound sexy does it. I’m sure the abacus operators at Mandello would love customers to get carried away with the options list and pick loads of accessories from the catalogue and the cynics will suggest that this is why the V9 appears so easy to work on but I’m going to remain positive and suggest that the lineage of the frame design is to thank.
Along with that iconic engine layout Lino Tonti’s frame is perhaps one of the most structurally economical designs to grace a motorcycle. A naked Guzzi looks woefully under-supported but Tonti’s triangulations are just as strong and light now as they were when he penned the concept in 1967. The V9 benefits from that arrow straight and perfectly horizontal boneline making it a customiser’s dream to work on. Like the boney shoulders of a catwalk model, whatever you drape over a Tonti frame is likely to look divine.
The spine arrangement allows you to drop-on pretty much any tank of your choosing, apologies Guzzi designers but I’d do exactly that. For the Roamer version the stock tank is perfect. The shape is lovely, the paint finish looks great in the matt colours and the angular sides allow room for knees and offers the handsome engine centre stage. The average punter isn’t likely to take such drastic custom measures but it’s good to know the option is there. If it were me I’d mount a fuel pump under the gearbox, just behind the sump, there’s room – I checked, and then mount the stock tank on the garage wall as it still warrants admiration as a shape. Then the world’s your oyster. Fit something from another bike or get your arms beach-ready by forcing aluminium sheet through an English Wheel.
The seat is pretty much bang-on and you wouldn’t get a much better shape by employing the skills of a master upholsterer. But if you don’t like it just pop it off and have said craftsperson stitch a new cover. If you can’t be bothered with that turn to page 476 in your parts catalogue. Flexibility continues with the dash. The stock clock is simple and wouldn’t be out of place being left in place on a full-on custom build but it too has been deigned to be easily removed. A rev counter is absent but Guzzis now come with a Multimedia Platform that links to your smartphone, not only showing engine speed but also lean angles, power output, thrust and host of other data. Might seem like a gimmick but it does mean for the customiser that an expensive order from the man at Motogadget can be avoided. But if you’re insistent the Bobber’s top fork clamp has plenty of meat on it and machining a rebate for a microscopic all-in-one gauge is feasible.
If you were really letting the creative juices loose and wanted to open up the rear triangle there’s potential for major alterations under the seat. A lead acid battery, ABS pump and airbox reside beneath and take up a fair bit of space. It’d probably take a bit of fettling to get the thing to run well without the airbox but a smaller battery is an easy win and there’s probably enough space under the gearbox for that as well as a fuel pump. The ABS unit isn’t huge and appeared relocatable. Doing any of this will of course render your warranty useless but custom bikes didn’t proliferate by following the rules.
Yes, yes but what about the handling, power output and engine characteristics? As mentioned our ride wasn’t the longest thanks to crap conditions and a bunch of journos turning up to a launch in the mountains, in March, wearing jeans and summer gloves so a comprehensive opinion is hard to reach.
The engine though is 100% Guzzi. Thumb the starter and you’d think you were sitting on a printing press such is the pedestrian pace of the starter motor. Once the twin fires the reactive torque lurches the whole bike sideways and for those not used to transverse bike engines this novelty might take a while to wear off. Doing away with water pumps, radiators and extra cylinder material goes a long way to helping the V9 meet its strict design brief of a wet weight of sub 200kgs. The scales are tipped at 199kg, including oils and fluids, except fuel. The lack of heft is noticeable straight away.
Power and torque are linear and delivered from way down the rev range and thanks to a single throttle body shared by the two cylinders it all arrives pretty smoothly, for a Guzzi. If you’re after the boring silky buzz of a Japanese four-banger try a different bike but if mechanical soul is what you’re after the V9 is the bike for you. BHP and NM figures I think are largely irrelevant when it comes to this type of bike, for customising at least. If you buy one of these, have it delivered to your favourite custom shop and drop a load of cash on upgrades you’re unlikely to then thrash it to within an inch of its life. That said, there is plenty of oomph and I dare say the shackles of the Euro 4 mods could be loosened ever so slightly.
If you like the looks and plan to add a few parts from the catalogue and leave the rest as is you won’t be disappointed. The V9 didn’t feel underpowered like the V7 (pictured above with red tank) yet isn’t remotely intimidating. Only the biggest handfuls of throttle on cold tyres, on wet roads caused the rear to step out and the tractional control dealt with that in a calm manner. An 850 as a first bike? Might sound ridiculous but with a light clutch, accurate feeling, TC, ABS and both feet on the floor reassurance the V9 might tempt some folk out of their cars or away from their scooters. There’s an A2 version on the way too so new riders can avoid buying something with obsolescence built in.
The gearbox isn’t one of those over-slick experiences that makes you wonder why manufacturers don’t all follow Honda and put a button on the bars, the V9 has a sturdy lever that smashes ratios together. On the way up the box gears connect with that satisfying clunk of a pound coin dropping into a fruit machine and on the way down it’s more like standing on the pedal of a metal guillotine, slicing through 1mm ally though, not steel – there is some refinement.
Looks wise this bike ticks a lot of boxes and there are some well thought out features that’ll hopefully appeal to customers and custom builders resulting in a torrent of V9s appearing on these pages and on other blogs sometime soon. But as Moto Guzzi is still a small company with all manufacturing and assembly taking place on site in Mandello don’t expect to see a huge programme of factory backed projects. That said the V9 is affordable and so easy to work on that perhaps folk will take things into their own hands and plump for a V9 knowing that it’ll offer the go to match the show. My completely unsubstantiated guess is that a Café Racer version will be on offer before too long and we’ve already seen a few fantastic renders from some European custom shops so this year could be quite an interesting one for fans of evocative Italian twins.
So if you’re after an alternative to the Man U shirt that everyone else is wearing the V9 is definitely a viable option.