Review: 2011 Moto Guzzi V7 Racer
Most countries have their associated stereotypes. Apparently Australia is full of lunatic blonde animal hunters, the U.S. is populated solely by gun-toting Christians and the UK is full of pasty people who constantly complain about the weather and finish every sentence with the word “Guv’nor”. Of course, for the most part that is all baloney. Turns out that McCartney and Wonder were right – people are the same wherever you go. But there’s one particular cliché I have found to be true. Italians do dress well – very well indeed.
Enter stage left the Moto Guzzi V7 Racer – a very dapper version of the already pretty damn suave V7 Café. If the standard model is meant to conjure long-forgotten images of the “good ol’ days” with it’s upswept pipes and obvious design cues from the original 70’s V7, the Racer looks about as subtle as the moon hitting your eye like a big pizza pie. But is it “amore”, or is it just a one-ride stand?
As I saunter up to the bike at Guzzi’s Australian headquarters I take mental notes of what parts of the bike strike me and in what order. First and foremost the racing numbers jump out at you; thanks to their positioning there’s nary an angle, save maybe from directly behind the thing, that you don’t see them screaming “I GO FAST!” into your retinas. Then you cop the chrome tank and badges, followed immediately by the two-tone leather strap holding the thing in place. Also notice the well-stitched suede leather seat for your discerning arse cakes. Check and check. Finally you peep the polished red frame and all that lovely detailing that Guzzi are known for. This isn’t a bike you’d issue to someone on the witness protection program – it’s just about as “look at me” as you can get without flashing your junk at the Pope. The pipes you see are a set of Arrow “track only” option catalogue extras – an A$1200 cost over and above the bike’s RRP of A$16,490, itself a A$2000 premium on the standard V7 model.
I sign the paperwork, get shown the very first V4 Tuono in the country, grab the keys and off I go. The first surprise is that the riding position is nigh on perfect. Despite it’s looks and pretentions, this is an all-day rider. There’s absolutely no weight on the wrists, with a very comfy upright body position and low peg height bringing some big cushions and rugs to the already “seems like I’m sitting on my favorite sofa” affair. A nice touch is that my knees seem to rest naturally on the top of the rocker covers, serving as a cool reminder of just what a unique bike it was I was riding. And although the go lump does sit rather wide, the bike is on the slim side which only adds to its chuckability. It’s wet weight is listed at 200 kgs (440 lbs.) but I would have guessed quite a bit less than that if challenged. It all adds up to an friendly, immediate familiarity that had me riding the thing like I’ve owned it for years.
The instruments are as clear and readable as they are trad; very simple white-on-black jobbies that seem nicely understated. Good to see that Guzzi added a little restraint in the mix. They do feel rather highly placed though, and I personally have never really seen the point of having an outside temperature on a vehicle where you are already freaking outside. But then again Sydney isn’t exactly known for it’s wild climate extremes. The rest of the controls are, like the dials, similarly mild with nothing that really shines or irks on or about the ‘bars with the exception of the limited edition numbers pasted there on the top triple. It’s a constant but welcome reminder that this bike is just that little bit more special than it’s other V7 stable mates.
Going, turning and stopping
Then we come to the jewel in the Italian crown; the V twin engine and pipe combination. Lorks-a-lordy, what a dream team. Ever met a stranger who suddenly feels like an old friend? I found myself distracted at traffic lights from the sheer pleasure of listening to the engine idle while the heavenly carbon burbles come out the back. “Chugga chugga chugga,” it shouts as it’s galloping down the asphalt – with an added “popple pop pop” on an over-run throttle. It struck me that this configuration was to bikes as a stonking great V8 is to a hotrod. It’s all rocking on idle and an intimidating lurch clockwise when you dump the planet juice into the carbs injectors away from a standstill. I was so impressed I began to compulsively rev the thing at any given opportunity just to hear that sublime roar again and scare passers-by. Guzzi stipulates that the Arrow pipes are for “track only”, but I found them to be more than OK for street use. After a few trips I caught myself smiling lots and ended up just having a whole wheelbarrow full of fun. Fun. That’s a word that came up on a regular basis when describing the bike. This thing is like a two-wheeled grin machine.
As with all the V7s the output is a fairly modest 49 HP at 6,800 rpm with torque spinning out at about 55 Nm once you hit 3,600 rpm. Now I know what you are going to say. No, it’s not a fire breathing bastard hell bent on ripping up the road and throwing it over the horizon. What it is, though, is a 120 mph bike with more than enough oomph to keep the average punter satisfied. Riding in and around Sydney I never once thought anything more than how perfectly suited the power, fueling, and delivery was to the overall package. Sure, it’s not going to win the TT and if you’re looking for a bike to kick your mate’s ass may I respectfully suggest you look at something other than a handmade Italian collector’s item.
Handling is managed by two tasty and adjustable Biturbo shocks (Italy’s answer to Öhlins) out back and a Marzocchi partnership at the windy end. They strike a really decent mix of firm intentions and comfort without ever being too crashy over crap roads or driveway entrances. Holding a decent speed through corners proves that the bike tracks well and a healthy dollop of revs thereafter doesn’t seem to upset any delicate balancing act despite what you’ve probably heard about boxers and horizontal vees being cornering recalcitrants. The brakes were up to the job without ever standing out as special or particularly talented.
Find yourself a nice open road and the bike really shows you just what its raison d’etre is. At 100 km/h (60 mph) it sits in 5th at about 4000 rpm and just basks in it’s own torquish sunshine, as do you. A twist of the throttle and you’re gone with a clean set of Pirelli Sport Demon heels. It’s moments like these that the bike feels perfectly right, perhaps giving away more than a little bit of it’s cruiser gene pool. Not in a bad way, though. Stop off for a refreshing fizzinated beverage on your day-tripping shenanigans and you are quickly reminded that the Guzzi doesn’t look like most other bikes on the road. Of course, most of us would be used to the inquisitive eyes of onlooker to varying degrees, but the Racer screams “look at me” from all of it’s red terracotta-tiled rooftops – especially to those virginal, non-city eyes.
The not-so-good bits
So far so good, but then I turn my attentions to the gearbox. On paper it’s a standard 5-speed unit, which you’d hope would be up to the job of dunking the cogs in their oily pool without too much trouble, but in use things proved to be a little less elegant than that. “Agricultural” was the word that stuck in my head after a few days of left footwork on the bike. As always, there’s much to be said for getting used to a particular bike’s set-up, but it doesn’t take many false neutrals and “what damn gear am I in“ confusions to allow a ‘box to fall out of favor. This could have come down to a simple case of “thrashed press bike” syndrome but I’d want to be sure that if I were buying one, the Racer’s gearbox would be liveable-with on a long-term basis.
The good news is that the gearbox stands out as one of the few things about the bike that we didn’t like. A few slightly difficult morning starts was the only other real complaint I could level at the bike, and that seemed like something that you’d be able to rectify fairly easily. I’d have to also call out the bike’s key, which seemed a little low rent for such a special ride. As with the recently reviewed Zero electric bike, it seemed more “cheap filing cabinet” than “expensive Italian motorbike”.
Putting it all together
But there are a few bigger questions that must be asked. Firstly, is it worth the extra two grand o’ clams on top of the asking price for the standard V7? I’d have to say that the plush ride from the fancy springs, chrome tank, and that tasty leather tank strap pushes the issues firmly towards the “yes” side of things. The rear shocks alone are worth a cool grand, and if the chrome tank rocks your world I can’t see how you’d get out of doing it yourself for less than about $500. So even if the racing numbers get relegated to a shelf in your garage, you’d still have a cooler and better handling bike than the standard one.
But the bigger question here is a specific Pipeburn-related one, which goes just like this. Would you customise a limited edition Moto Guzzi? God knows it’s no Ducati Desmo, but is there any real reason to customise something that’s not stock to start with? Some of us may be satisfied with it’s looks to just enjoy riding it as stocker knowing full well that it’s been designed by some of the best eyes in the business. Others will holler that “café racers are meant to be customised by their owners, not by large multinational corporations.” And they’d be right to a degree; a true custom isn’t made in a batch of 500 units and should be by definition be bespoke.
But consider things for a moment. This isn’t a custom bike, it’s a limited edition run done in a café style and I reckon that it’s important to keep that in mind when thinking about where you stand. You’re either going to naturally drift into the “I love it and I’d buy it” camp, or you’d rather pick yourself up a clean base model and go to town via your own unique, winding route. Speaking from a position of experience, I’d also like to remind you all that some of us aren’t free-wheeling singletons with a whole heap of spare time on our hands to spend elbow-deep in oily crank cases. It’s these riders who want a trick look without the associated divorce and/or estranged offspring that I think the bike would really appeal to.
So, did we love it? Hell yes! Haven’t you been paying attention? The gearbox tried a little to spoil things for us but when it came time to hand it back to the Aussie Guzzies we were more than a little sorry to see her off. If this Italian is anything to go by, they not only dress well but they make us feel bloody happy to be alive. Seems like Mr Guzzi had a thing or two in life figured out. Who needs amore, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll when there are bikes like this to ride. Well OK, maybe we’ll keep the amore. Pipeburn recommended.
Many thanks to Bruce Allan for the additional photography.