When charging through the spaghetti-strand switchbacks of the Georgia mountains, it's easy to succumb to the allure of Italian cooking - Guzzi style.
For 2004, the Moto Guzzi kitchen has revamped the menu and added some steamy new items. They're rolling out a sporting standard edition of its popular V11 Sport model and offering it in two guises. The basic model is the V11 Sport Ballabio, named for the small northern Italian town that hosts the famed Ballabio-Resinelli hill-climb competition. But for this test, Moto Guzzi North America provided us with a V11 Café Sport, the more massaged model of the sport standard. The Café Sport features Öhlins suspension pieces, steel-braided lines and stylish carbon fiber bits sprinkled about.
As far as looks go, this latest Italian marque offering elicits a first response typical of exotic machines: i.e., "Wow! This thing is drop-dead gorgeous." Bronze gold paint covers the tank, the tail section and steering-head mounted bullet fairing. The classic Moto Guzzi transverse mounted 1064cc engine thrusts out from the undersides of the fuel tank with steel exhaust pipes snaking back to a pair of brush-finish black muffler cans. A gold anodized handlebar (plucked from Mama Aprilia's Tuono parts bin) sits atop the gold upside-down Öhlins fork. Carbon fiber units cover the front wheel, starter motor and side panels.
Leaned on its quirky side stand, this bike screams road-ripping potential. Looks are great but how does it perform?
Well, the same venerable V11 motor used across most of the product line gets a bump in compression to 9.8:1 and an exhaust crossover pipe to help balance spent gasses, giving mid-range power a boost.
When you're pulling out of the parking lot of your favorite Italian bakery and into traffic, feedback from the hard-mounted engine and bars registers high on the Richter scale. Heavy vibrations are enough to shake loose the most stubborn dental fillings until the engine spins up to about 5,000rpm - that's when the whole thing seems to snap together and smooths out. From there, the claimed 91-horsepower engine revs with tree-stump pulling torque all the way up to its 8,000rpm redline where the spark inhibitor shuts the party down. Even the smoothest of throttle changes are met with severe engine braking and violent acceleration kicks.
The dry clutch and hydraulic actuation are rock solid, although ham-fisted pulls on the adjustable lever are a prerequisite. A resounding clunk reports as you drop the selector into first gear and subsequent changes demand serious kicks. Tapping the lever with your toe will be rewarded with false neutrals throughout the six-speed gearbox.
A die-cast cantilever swingarm helps isolate the suspension somewhat from the spinning torque action of the shaft final drive. If you whack the throttle while at a stoplight, the typical sideways pull is less noticeable than on some other similarly equipped mounts and it's virtually nonexistent when powering out of tight turns.
Few can argue with the Café Sport's gold-standard suspension. The fully adjustable Swedish fork absorbed the Smoky Mountain washboard switchbacks with style and grace. The trick sub-steering head mounted damper (also an Öhlins unit) kept headshake under control even under hard acceleration with the front wheel dancing over the ribbed tarmac, but it was unobtrusive in low-speed maneuvers.
The rear remote reservoir Öhlins shock (fully adjustable) kept things firmly planted in almost all situations.
As the road gets tighter and tangled with twists, the chassis on the new Guzzi positively rocks. Ground clearance allows for unbelievable lean angles with virtually no hard parts touching down. The rider's toes touch roadway before anything else. The wide tapered handlebar allows the rider great leverage for negotiating sudden decreasing-radius turns or dramatic lean transitions. Direction changes are also helped along by the Café's svelte 58-inch wheelbase.
Braking, throttle and gear changes must be made pre-turn. The nature of shaft-driven motorcycles rears its ugly head if the chassis is upset mid-turn, resulting in that oh-so familiar pogo action from the rear suspension.
The engineers at Moto Guzzi spared no expense on brakes either. Gold Series Brembos are mounted front and rear. Bronzed double-pot calipers squeeze twin 320mm floating disks up front while a single pot cinches down on a single 282mm fixed disk in the back. The Café's 500 plus pounds (fully fueled and oiled) are felt when it comes time to slow things down. Full four-finger pulls on the adjustable lever are required to haul it in. Self-modulated rear braking helps ease the task.
Rider accommodations aboard the Café Sport are adequate. Handlebar-mounted mirrors provide a good view of what's behind you but engine vibration doesn't allow for discerning much of anything that's back there. The reach to the bar is surprisingly close over the long narrow gas tank. Foot positioning beneath the seat is good, set just slightly back with legs folded comfortably, without any contortion. Our six-foot tester felt no need for chiropractors after a couple of 300-mile days in the saddle, and the passenger pillion hidden beneath the removable rear seat cowl is actually rather accommodating for a sporting bike. However, the foot-peg placement back there won't afford the same ache-free experience as the pilot's.
Soft luggage is available from Moto Guzzi. A tankbag and hard mounted, rigid nylon saddlebags, all embroidered with the company logo, are offered as options. Guzzi also offers some tasty options like titanium mufflers and anodized fasteners emblazoned with the flying eagle motif.
Plainly speaking the Café Sport works well. When the road opens up and straightens out, you can kiss your sport-bike buddies goodbye. But as long as it twists and kinks they'll be flogging their machines to keep up. This bike is an out-and-out mountain slayer.
Retail Price $ 13.990
Warranty 2 year unlimited miles/2 year road side assistance
Maintenance Schedule first 1,000 miles then every 6,000
Importer/Distributor Moto Guzzi NA Inc.
Type 90 degree V-twin 4 stroke
Cooling air cooled
Valve Arrangement 2 overhead valves with light alloy push rods
Bore & Stroke 92mm x 80mm
Displacement 1064 cc
Compression Ratio 9.8:1
Carburetion MAGNETI MARELLI IAW Multipoint phased sequential fuel injection
Exhaust Emission Control steel, 2 tubes connected to 2 steel mufflers
Gearbox 6 speed
Clutch double disc'd, dry, with hydraulic command
Final Drive shaft drive
Rake 25 degrees
Trail 1.8mm (4.05in.)
Front Suspension OHLINS USD FORK
Stanchion Diameter 43 mm (169in.)
Adjustments compression/extension adjustments
Travel 120mm (4.72in.)
Rear Suspension Cantiliver sling arm with OHLINS Mono Shock
Travel 128mm (5.03in.)
Wheels & Tires
Type brebmo spoke light alloy
Front 3.50 x 17
Rear 5.50 x 17
Front Tire 120/70-17
Rear Tire 180/55-17
Front Brake two Brebmo ORO Series Stainless Steel Floating Discs with 4 piston caliper
Diameter 320mm (12.57in.)
Rear Brake single stainless steel fixed disc with Brembo 2 piston caliper
Diameter 282mm (11.07in.)
Dimensions & Capacities
Seat Height 800mm (31.49in.)
Dry-Weight 221kg (487.22lbs)
Fuel Capacity 20.7l (5.46gal.)
Claimed Horsepower (measured at crank) 91hp @ 7800rpm
Torque 70 lbs/ft @ 6,000rpm
Top Speed 220 km/h (135mph)
Acceleration 0-100km/h (0-65mph):3.9s
Fuel Consumption 6.3l/100km (39mpg)
Fuel Range 330km (202mls.)
Soft tank bag and hard mounted saddle bags
RoadRUNNER Test Diagram
Luggage w/accessories 2/5
Bike for the buck 3/5