Taking the air
Moto Guzzi Bellagio / Triumph Speedmaster / Yamaha XVS950
A look at mid-sized air-cooled cruisers with a touch of... elegance
Words: Stuart Woodbury, Rob Lovas, Peter Thoeming.
Photos: Nick Wood
John Lydgate seems to have said it first, in his debate between the horse, goose and sheep, written in about 1440: “Odyous of olde been comparisonis, And of comparisonis engendyrd is haterede.”
The thought has since been repeated in various forms by many others, including Shakespeare, Cervantes, Christopher Marlowe and John Donne. So we’re in good company when we also maintain that “comparisons are odious”. After all, who can seriously compare different motorcycles from the point of view of everyone who’s likely to want to buy them?
But, of course, you, our delightful readers, are ever clamouring for precisely that. So we’ve developed a hybrid style that compares — ideally from several points of view — but refuses to judge. Our latest outing for this style was with these three mid-sized and slightly unusual cruisers*, and here is the result.
Now I know you don’t necessarily want to read of our problems, but I thought I’d better explain why the style of this article is slightly different, with one point of view predominating. When we were preparing for the ride that forms the basis of the story, potential riders kept dropping out. The reasons were pathetic excuses like a longstanding arrangement to visit orphanages in Cambodia, the wife’s urgent hospitalisation or an appointment to have a prostate operation, but what can you do? Some people just don’t want to have fun.
Fortunately, a new contributor also came “on stream” at the time. He is Stuart Woodbury and you’ll be seeing more of him in these pages and in ARR. He contributed the bulk of the material that follows, with a bit of help from Lovas and me. Stuart is a big bloke, something you should keep in mind when you read the article.
Moto Guzzi Bellagio
On first impressions I thought this bike looks quite good and it has that muscular feel, thanks to the big cylinder heads sticking out the sides.
The handlebar is a little short for my liking and the front sides of the seat stick into your inner thighs, making it slightly uncomfortable. Apart from that and some vibration in the right footpeg, there is not much to nag about with the Bellagio.
Rob, an ex-Moto Guzzi owner, noticed the vibration, too.
“I’ve complained in the past that Moto Guzzis vibrate so much that their rearview mirrors are useless. That complaint applies to the Bellagio, but not when it matters. The mirrors are only useless while the motor’s idling. Once the revs are up and the bike is underway, the vibrations smooth themselves out,” he wrote.
He did find a potential use for the bike immediately.
“With the right-sized saddlebags (that is, not too large) this could be a comfortable day-tripper or weekender.”
The suspension is one of its strong points, as are the well-matched Metzeler tyres. It’s compliant over rough surfaces, can be pushed hard through the tight stuff and is easy to manoeuvre while riding slowly. It is pretty sure to run rings around most other cruisers of any capacity if you want it to.
One reason for that is the cornering clearance, which the Bear liked. “Leaning Guzzis always seems easy because you feel as if you can keep leaning until the cylinder touches the ground,” he says, somewhat inaccurately.
The engine has two noticeable characteristics. The first is to offer plenty of torque at low revs cruising around with it pulsating in the frame. The other is higher in the rev range when it picks up some legs, spins itself out and shows what the 940ccs really are about. If you don’t rev the engine, you will never realise that you have 940ccs under you. It feels more like maybe 650ccs. Meanwhile, the 90-degree twin pumps out a pleasant exhaust note via the twin chromed mufflers, again adding to that muscular feel.
The shaft-driven six-speed box, operated via the dry clutch, performed faultlessly and, after riding bikes with chains for a while, it was nice to have such a smooth shift into first.
Brembos are the standard brakes on the Bellagio and they include braided steel lines. While they didn’t make me think, “Wow, these things are great”, they did offer enough power and feel to keep me well in control, whatever the speed.
The overall build quality on the Guzzi was good. Some things, like the blinkers, were a letdown with a dull chrome finish, but the paintwork, engine, transmission, suspension and wheels were excellent.
Seat height of 780mm is a good compromise for both tall and short riders. The seat-to-peg height will be perfect for most, unless you are over 183cm. Having the pegs mid-mounted, not forward the way most cruisers do, you do have the option to move yourself around on the bike easily if you start to get uncomfortable on longer rides.
The Moto Guzzi Bellagio 940 is a bike that will not suit all tastes, but if you like the brand or are thinking of buying something a little different, take the Bellagio for a run.
I had ridden a 2008 Speedmaster around Christmas time and, as soon as I jumped onto C+T’s long-termer, was excited again to ride a bike with such a silky smooth and quiet parallel twin engine.
After riding the Guzzi and the Yamaha, I was a little disappointed to notice that the Speedmaster isn’t finished to the standard I would expect. A lot of the little things, like bolt heads and some of the engine castings, are not what you’d expect to see.
The Bear wasn’t so worried about the details — he went for the overall impression. “I like the stretched, gracile look of the Speedmaster, but even more I like the fact that it looks and feels light. It doesn’t have the massive presence of most cruisers, and to me that makes it look quick and sporty.”
What he didn’t like so much was the chain. “It’s easier with both other bikes — the Guzzi has a shaft and the Yamaha a belt.” He did, however, really enjoy the cornering clearance.
The big, white-faced speedometer is up nice and high and in this day and age that’s a real blessing. The nacelle on the tank houses the tachometer. Paintwork is spot-on and a nice feature the Speedmaster offers is the handpainted pinstriping and signature of the painter hidden under the tank.
The seat is the touring version from the list of seats available for the Speedmaster and is very comfortable. The bars are set nicely and the forward-set pegs at a nice distance for the long- and short-legged among us.
The Speedmaster is equipped with Triumph’s 865cc fuel-injected parallel twin. It is silky smooth in operation, sounds like a vee twin due to its 270-degree camshaft and performs well at any speed, offering plenty of torque. It’s nice to see the fuel injection stills looks like the old carburetors, maintaining that old-school look.
The five-speed gearbox was easy to use and smooth in operation. The ratios are set nicely; this bike does not need a sixth gear, as some people seem to think.
Overall, the Speedmaster handles well, but the cruiser-style, short-travel rear suspension will bottom out on large bumps in the road. Low-speed steering is a little too sensitive and really requires steady arms to keep the bike from weaving around. A steering damper would improve this, but would most likely look out of place on this type of machine.
Braking is great and I especially like the power and high level of feel the rear brake offers on the Speedmaster. It makes tightening up corners and slow-speed riding much more flexible.
I love the sleek, flowing lines of the Yamaha. It looks like the big Yamaha Roadliner on a diet and I was keen to see what it was like out on the road. I jumped on it after being on the Guzzi. The first thing I noticed was the difference in weight and length, obvious but not a worry. I turned on the ignition and fired the V-twin into life. It has a nice, smooth grumble out of the exhaust and the engine was pretty charming throughout the rev range.
The seat (with its perfect backrest) reach to the bars and footboard position were just right and I felt like I was sitting in a lounge chair. The bars are not the normal rip-your-arms-out-of-their-sockets type of cruiser handlebars. The main problems I found with the 950 were the typical limited cornering clearance of the cruiser class and the brake master cylinder, which looks like it has been hung out to dry. I would hate to drop or crash this bike on the right-hand side because there would be no picking it up and continuing on. The master cylinder will detach and depart very quickly.
Rob was a bit more scathing about the cornering clearance. “The running boards on this bike became the laugh of the day,” he says. “It was too easy to scrape them and the sound of them scratching the tar became an expectation on every corner. Just as funny was the ease with which the running boards could be made to audibly hug the concrete of the inside kerb of a roundabout.”
The Bear didn’t like that, either. “I know cruisers tend to scrape, but this one scrapes too early,” he said. But the main problem he found was the gearbox. “It was clunky and didn’t seem exact. I couldn’t get really clean gear changes, no matter how hard I tried.”
He did, on the other hand, also like the seating position. The seat is low at just 675mm. It is easy to get on and off and super-easy, regardless of your height, to have one or both feet on the ground while stopped.
The engine feels like it has more power than either the Guzzi or the Triumph, making it effortless in any conditions. I could tour on this bike one or two up and be more than happy and refreshed when getting off at the end of the day. Potential riders might overlook this bike for the numbers in its name, but have no fear: it will easily perform as well or better than some cruisers with much bigger capacity.
Despite the limited ground clearance on offer, the handling of the 950 is still very good. It’s just a matter of scraping the hero knobs and getting on with lounging on such a comfortable cruiser and enjoying the ride. On the technical side, the 950 has progressive suspension, which offers a nice plush ride and firms up when necessary. I expected it to bottom out on occasions, but it never did.
The brakes felt good and were nice and progressive, despite the bike weighing in at 278kg wet. Switch-gear is well placed and well built, as is the rest of the bike. The tank-mounted speedometer was hard to read with my full-face helmet, but that wouldn’t be a problem with an open-faced helmet. The speedometer face also holds the fuel level warning light, oil level warning light and odometer with two trip-meter functions — fuel trip meter, and clock display.
The Yamaha accessory list for the 950 offers a good choice to customise the bike. First choice for me would be some slant saddlebags and the billet wire harness guides. The standard plastic ones look out of place.
Moto Guzzi Bellagio
$18,690 (plus on-road charges)
Two years, unlimited distance
55kW @ 7200rpm
78Nm @ 6000rpm
Air-cooled 90-degree vee twin, four-stroke, two valves per cylinder, multipoint sequential fuel injection and digital ignition
Bore x stroke:
95mm x 66mm
Six-speed, dry twin-plate clutch, final drive by shaft
Front, 45mm telescopic fork, adjustable, travel 140mm. Rear, progressive link-type monoshock, preload and rebound damping adjustable, 120mm travel
Seat height 780mm, dry weight 224kg, fuel capacity 19 litres, wheelbase 1570mm
Front, 120/70 ZR 18. Rear, 180/55 ZR 17
High-tensile steel twin loop tube cradle
Front, twin floating 320mm discs with floating two-piston calipers. Rear, 282mm disc with floating two-piston caliper
$14,990 (plus on-road charges)
Two years, unlimited distance
46kW @ 6800rpm
74Nm @ 3300rpm
Air-cooled vertical twin, four-stroke, DOHC, multipoint sequential fuel injection and digital ignition
Bore x stroke:
90mm x 68mm
Five-speed, wet multi-plate clutch, final drive by chain
Front, 41mm telescopic fork, travel 130mm. Rear, twin shocks, preload adjustable, 96mm travel
Seat height 720mm, dry weight 229kg, fuel capacity 19.3 litres, wheelbase 1655mm
Front, 110/80R 18. Rear, 170/80 B15
Tubular steel cradle
Front, twin 310mm discs with floating two-piston calipers. Rear, 285mm disc with floating two-piston caliper
$13,999 (plus on-road charges)
Two years, unlimited distance
39.4kW @ 6000rpm
76.8Nm @ 3000rpm
Air-cooled vee twin, four-stroke, four valves per cylinder SOHC, fuel injection and digital ignition
Bore x stroke:
85mm x 83mm
Five-speed, wet multi-plate clutch, final drive by belt
Front, 41mm telescopic fork, travel 135mm. Rear, link-type monoshock, preload adjustable, 110mm travel
Seat height 675mm, kerb weight 278kg, fuel capacity 17 litres, wheelbase 1685mm
Front, 130/70 18. Rear, 170/70 B16
Twin loop steel tubing
Front, 320mm disc with floating two-piston calipers. Rear, 298mm disc with floating single-piston caliper
The Yamaha is the best cruiser, the Triumph is the best bike and the Moto Guzzi is the best compromise. Howzat! Three winners!