2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress: A Cruiser That Out-Corners the Competition

Text: Ken Freund • Photography: Moto Guzzi

The name begs explanation, and the PR folks explained the rather unusual MGX-21 moniker as Moto Guzzi Experimental, with 21 referring to the front wheel diameter and the year the company was started (1921). The nickname Flying Fortress came from early viewers’ comments about the hulking appearance of the big machine.

The styling is unique, with flowing art deco curves, and it carries over the look of the 2015 prototype essentially unchanged. Everything that looks like carbon fiber actually is—no faux plastic here.

Moto Guzzi chose to introduce its new model in Sturgis, SD, at the beginning of the annual motorcycle rally. This provided a lot of exposure to the riding public in general, and to potential bagger buyers in particular, with free introductory rides offered after the press launch. I put roughly 800 miles on my test bike in two days, including sightseeing in both South Dakota and Wyoming.

Powertrain and Performance

The hefty 90-degree V-twin uses a conventional (for Moto Guzzi) longitudinal crankshaft layout with the big red cylinder tops sticking out in the wind, just below the gas tank. The engine is shared with the previous California model and is one of the motorcycle’s strong points.

Displacement is 1,380cc, or 84 cubic inches, for those of you who don’t speak metric. Although that’s significantly smaller than the engine sizes of many competing cruisers, Guzzi’s four-valve per cylinder design makes more horsepower than most of its rivals, with 96.6 horses at full gallop. When most of the other models are hitting their redlines, the MGX-21’s engine is just hitting its stride, from about 5,000 rpm to the 7,500-rpm redline.

Lever effort on the hydraulically actuated clutch is moderate, and engagement smooth. A conventional six-speed transmission provides a nice selection of ratios, and shifts much faster and quieter than typical cruiser gearboxes. The bike and engine feel comfortable and relaxed at 80 mph on the interstate, and the miles melt away effortlessly, especially with cruise control on.

The engine rumbles to life immediately, quickly settles into a slightly loping idle, and if you rev it up the bike rocks to the side in torquey response. A 90-degree V-twin is in perfect primary balance, and therefore no balance shafts or devices are needed to quell the vibes. A modest amount of vibration reaches the rider, but it’s never annoying or tiring. Some of the bikes had Moto Guzzi accessories on them, including optional louder mufflers. The engine sounds nice with the stock pipes, but it sounds great with the slightly louder slip-ons.

There are three electronic throttle-by-wire modes to choose from in Italian: Veloce (Fast), Turismo (Touring), and Pioggia (Rain). Throttle response in Veloce is quick and strong. Touring slows response and smoothes it out, while Rain reduces maximum power to keep you safer in the wet. I unintentionally tested the traction control while trying to pull back on the road after stopping on a gravel shoulder. Instead of being able to merge ahead of oncoming traffic, I had to abort the takeoff after power was cut so much that I couldn’t accelerate. Manufacturers usually tune traction control to be unnoticeable, so this is something Moto Guzzi will have to address. Although I doubt many riders will take the MGX-21 off pavement.

Chassis and Handling

The stout steel double-cradle frame makes the bike feel like it’s hewn from solid billet, and the MGX-21 carries its weight up high. With its 752 pounds (claimed dry weight) it requires plenty of grunt just to bring it up off the sidestand, particularly if the ground is sloped down on that side. I like 21-incher wheels on the front of dirt bikes, but I’m not a big fan of them on street bikes. Steering effort is quite high and the bike has a wide turning radius. Guzzi’s engineers have installed a patented spring-loaded steering damper, which seems to provide some resistance to steering head drop when you turn the fork, but it imparts a strange feel; as if the steering is fighting your inputs.

Our bike was fitted with Dunlop Elite 3 radial tires, front 120/70R21 and a 180/60R16 at the rear. They seem to be well matched to the machine and provide good road feel, stability, along with cornering and braking grip. Dual Brembo four-piston radial front calipers grab stainless-steel floating discs, with a two-pot caliper out back, fed by braided stainless lines. Front brake performance is powerful, with low lever effort, yet the rear stopper takes a lot of boot to make it work. The standard ABS is unobtrusive, yet works when needed. One gripe: in strong crosswinds the “lenticular” wheel centers catch a lot of wind and try to steer the bike.

A lot of the backroads we took had significant bumps and frost heaves, and the MGX-21 handled them without losing its composure. The suspension felt firm, not wallowing like many cruisers. The rear suspension has adjustable preload, with a convenient remote adjuster on the right side near the starter, but no other adjustments.

Ride quality is better than average for cruisers, but where this bike really shines compared to its competition is in the corners. Lean angle is pretty impressive; Moto Guzzi claims 37 degrees, and I believe it. It can lean into a turn farther without dragging parts, tracks confidently through long sweepers, and will out-corner most of its rivals. During hundreds of miles of spirited riding on twisty backroads, nothing ever scraped, save for a peg feeler in really steep turns. This is what happens when you design and build and test a motorcycle near the Alps!

Features and Ergonomics

That batwing fairing is much smaller than the one on an Electra Glide, and the low windscreen directs the wind at the shoulders and base of the helmet, which adds to the wind blast and noise. The optional accessory windscreen is a must. There’s an optional carbon-fiber cover for the pillion seat too. Both the clutch and brake levers are adjustable. The riding position is comfortable and fairly upright. Both the rider’s seat and pillion saddle are quite comfy as well. 

An FM radio is standard equipment, and you’ll find a USB connector hidden under a flap in the center dash which allows riders to input their favorite music. Out on the road, it was hard to hear the radio speakers over other sounds, but there’s Bluetooth if you want to listen through a headset. Cruise control is also standard. Hold the button and a green light starts blinking. Tap that button again, and it locks in the speed you’re going at the moment. The swoopy standard hard saddlebags are narrow and won’t hold a full-face helmet.

Final Thoughts

Among the things that set this bike apart from the mainstream cruisers include the Guzzi’s unique V-twin layout and performance, along with a decent handling chassis, competent suspension, and strong brakes. Fit and finish are both good, and for a suggested retail price (in the U.S.) of $ 21,995, you can have any color, as long as it’s black.