Once again this year, RoadRUNNER experienced the Italian hospitality of the folks at Piaggio group, who hosted a motorcycle press open house at their US headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA. All day we had an opportunity to ride Piaggio's lineup, including Aprilias and Moto Guzzis. Later in the afternoon, Mr. Paulo Timoni, Piaggio USA's CEO, met with the press for a state-of-the-company address and candid discussion of the industry and market conditions.
Following victories in Salt Lake City, Monza, and Portimão, and with Aprilia leading the World Superbike Championship, there was lots of excitement and optimism among the staff. We took Aprilia's hot new RSV Factory model out for a ride, and, in a word, Wow! It feels like a wild stallion. The compact 999cc 65-degree V-4 engine in this new Italian superbike is rated 180 crankshaft horsepower at 12,500 revs and redlines at 14,100 rpm. It employs electronically controlled variable-length intake ducts, so that at low rpm, the duct extends to boost torque. As more revs are called for, the upper portion of the intake ducts raise, shortening them for better high-rpm breathing. A butterfly valve in the exhaust is also used to vary backpressure.
The RSV4 Factory has three rider-selectable power modes that are chosen with the starter button five seconds after the engine is started: Track (T), Sport (S), and Road (R). Engine sound is sultry, with a deep bass and a staccato note that sounds more like a MotoGP bike than a street machine. The throttle-by-wire is very responsive and full power is incredible, yet transitions are smooth. "Factory" models also get premium Öhlins fully adjustable 43mm forks, rear shocks with ride height adjustment, and adjustable steering dampers. This model is a serious sportbike for riders with advanced skills. We also rode a regular RSV4R - a leading model for the brand that's considerably less expensive than the factory version. It shares the same basic engine, aggressive riding position, great brakes and chassis, and if money is tight, the RSV4R may be the way to go.
Tuono 1000 R
Aprilia's naked Tuono 1000 R is a liter sportbike based on the previous-generation RSV model, only with the fairing removed and the handlebars raised for comfort and control. It's also an exciting ride, with a spirited 60-degree V-twin rated 139 crankshaft horsepower at 9,500 rpm, and maximum torque of 78.9 lb-ft of torque at 8,500 rpm. Believe me, it takes a lot of willpower to ride this bike conservatively! If you like sport riding and power, but don't enjoy the pretzel riding position of full-on sportbikes, the Tuono could be the bike for you.
If you're the least bit nostalgic, you'll like Moto Guzzi's V7 Classic models. In 1967 the first Guzzi V7 appeared on the market, the brainchild of Giulio Carcano. It debuted with a 90-degree V-twin displacing 703cc, a record for the time. More than four decades later, the success of the original inspires the new V7 Classic. The 2010 V7 is powered by Guzzi's traditional air-cooled, pushrod V-twin; this one displaces 744cc and the model replaces the 750 Breva.
The V7 Classic is a comfortable, solid motorcycle that's easy to control even for newer riders, and it offers a nice smooth ride with respectable handling. The engine, rated at 48.8 horsepower at 6,800 rpm and 40.3 lb-ft of peak torque at 3,600 rpm, is torquey yet mild-mannered, so it shouldn't be intimidating even for newbies. With a vintage look and feel and styling based on the original V7, it should also appeal to many returning riders, and folks who fall in love with its retro appearance and personality.
V7 Café Classic
To understand how Moto Guzzi's V7 Sport evolved into today's V7 Café Classic, we need to step back to 1969. That's when the Guzzi's crew increased the displacement of their V-twin engine from 703 to 757cc, creating the V7 Sport. The 2010 V7 Café Classic's design takes much of its style from the original V7 Sport, maintaining the basic form and size of the tank and side covers.
The 2010 Moto Guzzi V7 Café Classic comes with the same engine as the regular V7 Classic model. Additionally, it features clip-on handlebars, upswept exhaust pipes, a solo seat with integrated tail, revised suspension geometry, and 40mm Marzocchi fork tubes to distinguish itself from the regular V7 model. We found both versions to be loads of fun to ride, but if all-day comfort trumps the added coolness factor of the Café version, you'll be happier on the Classic.
Piaggio's Vision for the Future
When the test rides were over, Mr. Paulo Timoni confided that 2006 was Piaggio Group's sales peak and volume has nearly halved since then. With that said, he added that while year-to-date sales are still down, April was the first positive sales month with a 2% gain. He reassured the press that Piaggio has diversified through global markets, some of which aren't as impacted as the US, and that the company will continue to service customers and sell bikes here.
Timoni noted that industry sales have relied on the aging baby boomers, and that companies must begin to look to different groups to sustain growth: "We need to go beyond our comfort zones and introduce younger buyers to two wheels as alternative transportation. I challenge the media to give more coverage to commuting riders and scooters."
Timoni also alluded to a hybrid MP3 scooter that's coming to America later this year. It should have a 300cc engine along with an electric motor, and it will get exceptional mileage. We appreciate Timoni's forward thinking, and it will be interesting to see where the industry is heading.