The bike is beautiful. Can it save the factory?
Let’s start by bemoaning the fact that Moto Guzzi, the oldest European factory with continuous motorcycle production, the most venerable, I suppose, Italian motorcycle brand is on the way to becoming a hollow shell, a mockery of the self-determining and self-reliant marque it once was.
This is the factory that built the very first wind tunnel dedicated to motorcycle aerodynamic research, so we’re not talking about a bunch of old fogies. We are considering a brand that has deep and strong roots. Sadly, it has not had competent management for so long that even the toughest roots are now in danger of atrophy.
It is staggering, really, that any brand could survive the depredations Moto Guzzi has suffered. The almost biblical plagues visited upon the British motorcycle industry – which killed it, until John Bloor did a Lazarus with Triumph – only ever managed to damage the factory on Lake Como when they descended on it as well.
The list included a lack of investment in new products and machinery, risible quality control both internally and externally, marketing decisions that didn’t even make sense to marketers and – a constant thread – management that didn’t understand the brand or even the motorcycle industry.
If you had run, say, a car marque into the ground you stood a very good chance of scoring an opportunity to do the same with Moto Guzzi. Alessandro de Tomaso wasn’t the only person who simply didn’t “get” what Guzzi was about, although he was probably the worst.
Ivano Beggio of Aprilia at least understood what he was getting when he bought Moto Guzzi. You’d have to wonder whether Piaggio’s Roberto Colaninno does. The factory has only 150 workers left, one-third of whom Colaninno is trying to sack. It looks as though Piaggio wants to build Moto Guzzis at its other factories.
“It is a simple fact that no production machinery remains at the factory,” writes our man on the spot in Mandello, Peter Bradley. “Much of what remained when Piaggio took control was already obsolete and in bad condition. A good part of the machinery was simply scrapped and the rest sold. The facilities at the factory are now reduced to assembly lines and most of the factory buildings are now empty shells.”
The Moto Guzzi brand is in no danger, it seems, but its heart – the Mandello factory – may be on its last, well, whatever the factory equivalent of legs is unless sales and therefore production numbers pick up significantly.
And yet, the most remarkable motorcycles continue to come out of all this.
Moto Guzzi’s latest entry in the growing “nouveau classique” club, which includes such bikes as Ducati’s GT 1000 and Triumph’s Bonneville, is the V7 Café Classic.
Styling is just about perfect, with clip-ons, fastback seat and smart reverse-cone exhausts. These are also the styling cues that distinguish the Café from the plain V7 Classic, by the way. This bike is meant to be a modern interpretation of one of the most seminal bikes of all times, the 1972 V7 Sport and it surely looks the part.
Seminal? Well, the Sport was, at least according to Moto Guzzi, the first mass-produced bike in the world to be capable of more than 200km/h straight out of the box. It also offered handling that the Japanese factories could only dream of.
The Sport came about when Moto Guzzi increased the capacity of the transverse 90 degree V-twin engine from 703cc to 757cc, in 1969. A faired prototype with the new engine proceeded to set numerous records, running for 1000 kilometres at an average of 205.932km/h. Moto Guzzi took advantage of that to produce and promote the V7 Sport.
How does the Café Classic compare with its inspiration? It’s been a long time since I rode a Sport but despite the fact that I loved the bike, I’m pretty sure that neither the dynamics nor the braking were up to the present-day machine. The ergonomics of the Sport were not bad for the time either, but the Classic is definitely better. Oddly, it’s a different matter with performance. Where the Sport brought 62 horses to the table, the Classic can only manage 48 from a very similar capacity.
Blame the anti-pollution gear? Probably. How does the new bike comport itself in the real world?
Fire it up and be delighted. The bike has a more resonant note than the all-too-quiet Classic, without being in the least loud or offensive. There is still quite a bit of mechanical noise as well but that’s to be expected from an air-cooled engine.
Effort at the clutch is less than you’d probably expect from an Italian dry clutch and the bike pulls away cleanly with just a hint of the familiar Moto Guzzi crankshaft effect that tips you to the right and then left a little as you take off. This is only a 750, after all.
Bottom-end torque is pleasantly strong and despite the overall mild power output, the Café doesn’t take long to get up to speed. No doubt the relatively lightness of the bike helps.
The riding position is very good and it manages to put weight on the front end of the bike without requiring the rider to rest too much of his or her weight on the clip-ons. Some classic-style bikes, especially Ducati’s Sports, go for an uncompromising position for the rider that is not really suitable for, err, mature chaps like myself.
I would not like to carry a pillion on the fastback seat; if you’re looking for two-up transport you might have to substitute the seat from the plain Classic. I presume it will fit.
Gear changes are still a little doughy. Other European motorcycle brands have suffered from the same problem but most of them have fixed it. The build quality is a little behind the times as well.
Suspension is comfortably compliant for city work, which is mostly what I did with the Café and which I think is what most owners will do. If you pushed the bike hard I think you might exceed the suspension’s capabilities but this is not really that kind of machine. It certainly won’t do 200km/h like the original, although I suspect it could do a little better than Moto Guzzi’s claimed 155km/h. Suspect only, of course.
I wasn’t really impressed with the standard Metzeler Lasertec tyres. Braking on the other hand was impressive, at least from the four-piston front stopper supplied by Brembo. This was unexpected because I had found the same brake less convincing on the V7 Classic. Maybe I just didn’t work it hard enough on that bike – the roads were very slippery when I was aboard the Classic.
Handling is sheer joy. The lightness and short wheelbase combine with the unfashionable but effective narrow tyres to provide a lesson in responsive, yet safe behaviour. Change the OEM tyres and it would be so close to perfect I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.
And then there’s the look – classic, but even better because modern materials and technology allow the bike to be more delicate and uncompromising. It’s a heartbreaker.
Let’s just hope that it and Moto Guzzi’s other new models are successful enough to stop the hearts of the Mandello workers from being broken.
Model: Moto Guzzi V7 Café Classic
Price: $15,390 (plus on-road charges)
Warranty: Two years, unlimited distance
Service intervals: 7500km
Power: 35.5kW @ 6800rpm
Torque: 55 Nm @ 3600rpm
Engine: Air-cooled 90 degree V-twin, two valves per cylinder actuated by pushrods, Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection and digital ignition
Bore x stroke: 80 x 74mm
Displacement: 744 cc
Transmission: Five-speed, single plate dry clutch, final drive by shaft
Suspension: Front, 401mm telescopic fork, travel 130mm. Rear, twin shocks, preload and rebound adjustable, 118mm travel.
Dimensions: Seat height 805mm, weight 198kg (curb weight, wet), fuel capacity 17 litres, wheelbase 1449mm
Tyres: Front, 100/90 18. Rear, 130/80 17
Frame: Tubular steel twin cradle with removable lower section
Brakes: Front, 320mm floating disc with four-piston caliper. Rear, 260mm disc
Top speed: 155km/h
0-100km/h: 6 sec
60-100km/h: 5.7 sec
Fuel consumption: Four litres per 100km, unleaded
Theoretical range: 425km
Colour: Legnano green
Verdict: Café express-o