Piaggio Presents...

Piaggio Presents...

Piaggio  -  parent company of Aprilia and Moto Guzzi motorcycles and Vespa and Piaggio motorscooters  -  wants to be your motorcycle and scooter supplier. To demonstrate its commitment to the U.S. market, the company recently opened the new Piaggio Group Americas (PGA) technical center in Costa Mesa, California. The 12,000 square-foot facility houses the company's press fleet, product testing and training, and provides the space and equipment needed for technical instruction of service technicians from all U.S. and Canadian dealerships and Latin American importers. Positioned near the heart of Southern California's motorcycle import and customizing industry, this location in Orange County will bring training and factory support closer to many of the company's top dealers and a large part of the customer base.

PGA's CEO Paolo Timoni was on hand to offer insight about its current business in America and the plans they have looking forward. Aprilia USA, the U.S. importer and distributor of Aprilia products, had its biggest year ever, with a 66 percent annual gain in sales for 2008. Despite a tough market, Aprilia's U.S. motorcycle sales were up more than 19 percent, while scooter sales doubled during the 12 months. PGA credits the introduction of four new motorcycles, three scooters and improvements in its dealer network for the gains. For 2009 Timoni expects to see continued sales growth, due to the new RSV4 superbike, and with over 500 dealers serving customers in North America, he said development of dealers will continue to be a focus.

The company intends to grow its business by increasing the percentage of Americans who ride scooters and motorcycles. Scooters have become a strong growth area here, and Piaggio plans to be the dominant player in this market. Their goals aren't as grandiose for motorcycles, but they have seen a tripling of market share, from about 1 to 3 percent, and hope to continue this progress.

In addition, we were able to sample some of Piaggio's current U.S. product line, which included a first ride on the new Vespa GTS 300 Super.

2009 Griso 1200 8V - $ 14,290

Griso, Moto Guzzi's stout version of a naked bike, has been upgraded from 1100cc with two valves per cylinder to a 1200cc Quattrovalvole motore with four valves per side. Fed by Weber injection, the redesigned SOHC powerplant is now rated 110 horsepower at 7,500 rpm with 79.7 lb-ft at 6,400-rpm torque. This engine upgrade was long overdue, but we're glad it's here now. Easy to ride, with a 31.5-inch seat height, the Griso 1200 8V retains the mid-range torque the previous version was known for, and adds a wonderful top-end pull. Truly a win-win situation.

2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 4V - $ 14,990

Guzzi's Stelvio 1200 4 Valve is obviously designed to compete with BMW's R1200 GS. Despite its confusing 4 Valve nomenclature, the Stelvio is powered by a slightly detuned version of the same new four-valve-per-cylinder engine used in the Griso 8V. Here it's rated 90.5 hp at 7,000 rpm and 69 lb-ft at 6700 rpm. This adventure-touring machine comes with an adjustable windscreen and 32.3/33.1-inch adjustable saddle height. At first the Stelvio feels top-heavy and bulky, but after a few minutes that sensation goes away and the torquey and powerful motor, comfortable riding position and good wind protection become more noticeable. I look forward to spending more time on this bike soon.

2009 Aprilia SL Shiver 750 - $ 8,999

Aprilia introduced a brand new DOHC 90-degree V-twin engine for the Shiver that's rated 95 horsepower at 9,000 rpm, with peak torque of 60 lb-ft at 7,000 rpm. Combining an innovative hybrid trellis frame, premium suspension and brake components and high-tech throttle-by-wire, the new mid-size naked SL 750 Shiver is an agile and powerful contender.

Three performance modes (Sport, Touring and Rain), which can be selected from a handlebar switch, radically change the bike's character. Sport gives instant power; Touring provides smoother throttle action and mileage; and Rain mode reduces power for slippery roads. On my short ride I found the bike to be deliciously exciting, with light, quick handling and plenty of power. Now I want one to ride longer!

Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 - $ 9,599

Aprilia's Dorsoduro 750 combines a supermoto chassis with a slightly retuned version of the Shiver engine (92 horses at 8,750 rpm and 60.5 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm) that trades three horsepower for peak torque arriving 2,500 rpm sooner. Tri-Map throttle-by-wire and an in-dash computer are included and four-piston, radial calipers, wave rotors and long-travel suspension make this machine incredibly agile. Just give me a canyon road!

2009 Vespa 300 GTS Super - $ 6,199

Vespa's new flagship model, with a seat height of 31.1 inches and a single cylinder 278cc engine, is said to be the fastest and most technologically advanced scooter Vespa has ever sold in America. It feels light and nimble and accelerates quickly up to 50 mph, but with a top speed rated at 80mph, where's the windscreen? Still, at $ 6,199, it is $ 700 less than Vespa's GTV250.