First Impressions of a New Bike: The Breva

Jan 18, 2015 View Comments by

20141207_161317*Editor’s note: The opinions reflected in the following piece are those of the author only.

Think of her as an easygoing, Italian grandmother in a vivid red dress. She’s the one who makes you cakes, takes you to the park, and holds your hand when you’re sick in bed. As a machine, she has the red roundness and unimpressive performance of an Alfa Romeo 177 and the useful ugliness of a Breda B.A 65 airplane. When I first saw her at the dealer, she was parked alongside an Aprilia Caponord that was so beautiful, so red, and so Italian! It was the first Aprilia I considered buying; next to her the poor Breva looked like the box the Caponord came in.

But I’m a Guzzisti. For some strange reason that I can’t explain, I like Guzzis, so I concentrated on this 2008 Breva 1100 red, which is possibly the ugliest Guzzi made in modern times, and I forgot the Caponord. So why, you ask, would I want to buy this thing? Well I was searching for a new bike, and after a month of sleepless nights, I decided on something Italian and red. As my friend Mark said once, “There’s nothing like having something red and Italian in the garage,” and it’s true; I’ve been there before.

Ducatis are too expensive or too radical, same for the Moto Morini Granpasso. MVs are the stuff of dreams, and Benellis are made in China these days so it would have to be a Guzzi.

My favorite is the Griso. I tested one, also in red, with an aftermarket muffler—some kind of sick reverse megaphone—the thing sounded great, but like my ‘96 1100 Sport, it was rough below 3,000 rpm and did not have ideal passenger accommodations. In fact, if you examine the tail end, it looks odd; the seat flips up while the fender goes down, not very Pininfarina-esque.

20141207_140739A favorite historic flying machine of mine is the Norge airship; I actually made a model of this Italian zeppelin when I was a kid. It was built with American money, Italian know-how, and German engines. The ship was credited with flying over the North Pole around 1926. And the Caponord is just like that blimp, a comfy zeppelin to go see the world in, but it’s too big, too much plastic for me, and I can’t see the engine.

The V7s are a joke, an insult to the old V7s of the 70s—that’s just my opinion of course.

The Stelvio is nice, but I’m not in “trail mode” and don’t have that much money. So a Breva it is.

The French press said it’s a smooth bike, easy to ride … they have a term I like: “Prise en main,” which means “Take in your hands” referring to the feeling you have when you get on it. They said it was very good—they didn’t lie. I also chose it because it has the last of the big two-valve engines coming out of Mandello.

So what is the Breva like? The first thing you see is the bulbous “Camel Back” style. Once you get past that, next is the aluminum cast ape hanger that goes way down there to meet the triple clamp. It’s well made, but non-adjustable; luckily it fits me just right. Then there’s the little black funnel they put around the key switch, to make sure rain water gets into the switch, but don’t worry, said the salesman, the internals are in stainless steel, and the electrics are around the switch, so the water passes right through.(!) And what are those gray protuberances around the front of the gas tank? Air deflectors? Bumpers? They are plenty ugly.

On the good side, the instrument panel looks great with a fuel level indicator the size of a submarine depth gauge. If you run out of gas, it’s your own fault, and while my Sport 1100 felt like it was “hand built with passion,” the finish on this one looks as solid as a Honda. It does not have heated grips or ABS, and that’s okay with me. What it does have is my first on-board computer, which gives me a ton of useless info.

The seat is comfy—for both rider and a passenger; on top of that you can remove it and access the fuses, toolkit, and a little box for papers, a rain jacket, and a Fix-a-Flat.

Farther back there are two expensive, well-built, and huge handles that my first passenger loved.

At front the headlight is mostly round, with a complicated optic that works well, but the plastic housing looks kind of cheesy, and you have to remove the light to adjust the elevation. The front fender doesn’t look like it belongs on this bike and is over designed, like putting an F-1 wing on a tractor.

A small blip of the throttle and the bike immediately pulls to the side—the Guzzi tradition is alive and well. I detect a slight unevenness in the cylinders, the throttle bodies have to be synchronized, and the valves click, a little like a /7 Beemer. The salesman assures me that they will do the 10,000-mile tune up if I buy it. It only has around 7,500 miles on it now, the first owner didn’t ride it much, and then sold it to get a new California.

20141207_135921Other oddities I found: The oil is checked by a dipstick on the left side. The manual recommends holding the bike straight up sitting on both wheels, (no centerstand) and with one hand dipping the stick. Easier said than done. Then, they insist on using 98-octane fuel (the most expensive here) even though it has a push rod engine rated at 85hp My old XJ 900 had the same power and would run on kerosene. These are the same engineers that put traction control on a 40hp V7.

Two weeks after purchasing, I go and pick it up. I ride it home in the dark (it gets dark here at 6 p.m.). There’s a cold rain falling, and I get stuck in the middle of a traffic jam with a fogging helmet and cold hands—it’s a fearsome experience. I park it and don’t touch it for five days, until Sunday, when, under gray skies a small group of friends ride to a nice cafe in a medieval village to celebrate my new toy.

The bike felt odd, heavy, and unsure, like the front tire was in the next state. We checked tire pressure and it was okay at 2.5 bars; maybe the front tire is cheap. I will check with the experts to see what works well there.

The cylinders were still a bit off too; this was confirmed by my friend, Rick, who rides a well-used, but well-tuned V11. Also, my bike made more valve tick noises than his at idle, and the throttle play is a bit too much. Ah, Guzzi dealer service, some things never change.

All in all, the bike is fun to ride. The gearbox has to be from a Honda; it’s faultless with a dry clutch that makes a noise like a Ducati when I pull on the hydraulic clutch lever. Fuelling is spot on, no flats or hiccups. The bike makes a bit of Guzzi noise coming down on closed throttle, if not it sounds like a Buick.

I have a factory windshield that is of high quality and looks like it can’t be scratched with a diamond cutter, but it does what most windshields do, reduce turbulence. So I promptly took it off. The bike looks better now, to me at least.

On the way back I felt better on it. Slowly she was coming around to me, or me to her—then Rick ruined the day. On the last stop, he proposed we switch bikes; he wanted to know how the Breva handled. Now, his V11 has Agostini reversed megaphones, custom engine management done by a specialist shop in France, most electrics are done, and the seat has been repaired with black duct tape. It is like getting into a well used F-104 and smells of grease, hot fuel, and old books. The controls show signs of wear where the leather gloves rub. Yes, it’s old and out of date, but careful—it can kill you in an instant. He fires it up for me, and I hold 1,000 rpm for a minute or two, then we’re off to the pizzeria.

Man, this is nice! Instead of sitting on top of the bike here I’m hunched over, at one with the machine, it steers precisely, and the sound, man what a sound! This is what Vittorio Brambilla must have felt when driving the Alfa 177—pure joy. The noise is deep, like a partially muffled V8; it’s not in your face—it’s just right. This is the first time I’ve really enjoyed riding a motorcycle in a long while.

I knew then I had made a mistake; I should have bought the V11 Corsa that was at the dealer and had it painted red with Alfa Romeo paint. But you can’t go discover Europe in a souped-up V11. Back to the Breva—Rick said the bike felt great and was very easy to ride.

By Jorge Picabea


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