For whatever reason, the locals seem to be afflicted with a strange pathology: creating power- assisted cycles in diverse fashions and sizes: MV Agusta, Aermacchi, Cagiva and Moto-Guzzi are just a few examples of this compulsive tendency. A contagious passion for two-wheelers seems to haunt this hilly area. Hard to think, then, of a better breeding ground for yet another soulful Italian creation. With its Moto Guzzi twin, produced just a few miles down the road in Mandello dell Lario, and its hand-built frame, the Ghezzi & Brian 1100 Sport Twin embodies the region's love for anything two wheeled.
Giuseppe Ghezzi is just another head case, a young bloke that loved touring the area on his old Moto-Guzzi LeMans. As often happens, sporty road riding jaunts eventually led to the classic, "I wonder how I'd do on a race track?" and it all went downhill from there. Luckily, Italy's Super Twin championship caters to two-valved twins like Giuseppe's Guzzi, but in a field dominated by tuned-to-the-fuel-taps 900SS Ducatis and BMW's, the old Lemon had no chance. With the help of his good friend, Bruno Saturno, aka Brian, the owner of a dental equipment factory, Giuseppe started to build a proper racing machine around the LeMans engine in `93. By `96 Giuseppe's disease was in full swing and his home-made concoction conquered the Italian Sport Twin championship, winning over hordes of 900SS Ducatis and their race-bred frames.
That success brought demand for the G&B's special frame, and in `99 Ghezzi & Brian showed a road-going version at the Milan Show. Moto Guzzi agreed to sell engines to their cute neighbors, and the odd couple was suddenly deep in the motorcycle industry bizzniz. The bike I saw at their little stand was quite a sight: An anorexic fuel tank/seat unit perched atop two bold Guzzi cylinders, an almost non-existent frame, and not much else. By comparison, the official 1100 Sport at the Guzzi stand looked fat and ungainly.
With its brutal minimalism, the Ghezzi & Brian harks back to the days when sport bikes were bare-bones machines without twin fat spars or plastic panels to obstruct your view of the machine's most intimate parts. And judging from the proudly displayed championship trophy, the thing also seemed to work. Exactly two years after the show, I rang the bell at the door of the small industrial estate in Perego, just south of Lecco.
Although a few dozen Sport Twins have been sold already, the "factory" remains a 1000-square-feet space shared with the dental equipment factory (interesting that Dr. John Wittner was a dentist, too). The secretary leads me to Giuseppe, who's busy building the engine for Ghezzi's US importer entry in the Daytona Twins race. The pressure is on, two amazing titanium con-rods peek out of the engine's crankcase, waiting for pistons, but nevertheless Giuseppe finds time for a pestering journo.
The Ghezzi & Brian power unit is the latest incarnation of Guzzi's 1064cc, air-cooled twin as fitted to Guzzi's own V11 Sport. It's basically the same engine that powered the 1971 750 Sport, though it has been smartly enlarged and updated over the years and now sports a full electronic engine management system--fuel injection and ignition. The engine used by Ghezzi is mated to the old 5-speed gearbox instead of the V11's new six-cog box.
The heart of the Sport twin is its tiny frame: A healthy-sized rectangular section tube is welded at the front end to the steering head, runs diagonally between the cylinders, and splits into a huge box crossmember just above the rear of the gearbox. Some will liken it to the frame developed in the US by Dr.John Wittner and later adopted by Guzzi, and they'd be damn right in doing so, but there is a big distinction between the two. Giuseppe's frame uses the main beam and the huge rear crossmember as an air box. The engine's throttle bodies are connected to the frame by rubber bellows, and an opening in the frame's main tube just below the steering head lets the air in. Big cylinders need huge air boxes to dampen their suction pulses, and the frame's huge volume provides just that. Even if you'd be going racing with open bell mouths, Ghezzi's frame still makes sense. A common but not-so-well-known problem of air-cooled racers is that they suck warm, turbulent air that's just passed through the engine's cooling fins, thus hampering performance. By sucking air from the front of the machine, the Sport Twin gets cool and fresh air even when running with the air filter installed at the frame's air intake. Cool and smart.
Giuseppe added other fine components to his frame. A floating rear bevel case cancels out most of the dreaded drive shaft's torque reaction, a progressively linked monoshock system with a Bitubo damper controls the rear end, and up front a 41mm inverted Paioli fork supports novel, inside-out twin discs . The fiberglass fuel tank/seat unit is just a cover for the real aluminum tank underneath. Limited free real estate and mass centralization concerns brought the battery to the front of the bike, just by the steering head. A small fairing covers the battery and seems to sit too low for any real protection, though it does contribute to the bike's low and lean look. The whole plot looks extremely sporty and aggressive, even worrying. Is this going to be a classic Sporty Italian torture rack in the best tradition of the good old days too?
PAGE 2 Wrong. The handlebars might be low but the forward seating position, at least by Guzzi standards, don't put too much stress on wrists, certainly not compared to my 1982 850 Le-Mans III. After noticing the quiet exhaust note during warm-up (the thing passes Germany's stringent TUV emission and noise requirements) and noticing the high-though-not-cramped footpeg position, it's time for a spin.
As it turns out, Giuseppe doesn't have to ride far for a shakedown. The factory is located next to a typical northern lakes mountain road, and within thirty seconds I'm attacking its first bends. Even with the huge piece of lead that is a Guzzi twin engine, the Sport Twin feels pretty light. A quick glance at the data sheet helps to explain: 1405mm wheelbase mated to 23-degrees rake with 51-percent of the bike's weight on the front tire are up-to-date sport bike figures. Well, it's no 600 in the twisties, but on the other hand the high front wheel load does give exceptional feedback at the bars.
Gaining more and more confidence on the Sport Twin I can't help but notice how the lazy Guzzi engine drives me out of turns without much caring which gear it's in. Trying to milk horses in the upper rev range is pretty useless. Although the red line is marked at 8000 rpm, the 1064 pushrod twin gives it best in the mid-range, with a totally flat torque curve from 3000 to 7000 rpm. Revving the engine hard also induces a known big-twin problem; downshifting at high revs unsettles the bike unless revs and road speed are in total harmony. Best to leave the engine in third and enjoy the bends with that excellent race-bred frame.
On slow to medium-speed mountain roads, the Sport Twin is light years away from any other Guzzi, and feels well put-together, mature, and like somebody really did his homework in setting it up. Suspension is nicely dialed-in--sporty firm yet plush--and even the thinly padded seat is quite comforting. My only reservations concern braking issues. The novelty of the brakes soon wears off and I find them lacking in bite and power. Also while braking, my too-long legs tend to kiss the rear edges of the fairing. Blame my 6'4" frame if you want.
With such a track record, I am curious to see what she'll do at a faster pace. The Lecco-Milan highway has some nice high-speed sweepers, and the Italian police total lack of interest in issuing speeding tickets make it a fine testing ground. Pressing on the Sport Twin has the needle showing 220 KPH (about 130MPH) on the clock, with the rev- counter showing only 6500 rpm, hinting at too high a top gear. (As Giuseppe later explains to me, the gearbox supplied at the moment has Moto-Guzzi California model gearing with overdrive 5th gear.)
Anyway, the 80 or so horses at the rear wheel allow maintaining a relaxed high cruising speed and when the time comes for those 100-plus-mph sweepers the Sport Twin supplies high stability and plenty of lean without a hint of shake or wave. Tucking behind the low screen gets me into a speedy mood, but another 20 horses would be nice--something your local Guzzi tuner should happily oblige.
An old 500cc Fiat that pulls into my path changes my opinion on the brakes: At higher speed, the outboard discs supply a much stronger anchoring force and better feel. By the end of the day, my fear that this home-brewed thing will show plenty of nagging problems is dispelled. A few years ago, a ride on a poorly performing Bimota YB6 test bike left me wondering what the fuss was all about. Ghezzi & Brian's creation, on the other hand, feels really sorted.
Many will ponder the point of an 1100 twin with just 80 hp. But think about those loyal, happy-as-clams Ducati 900SS owners and you'll reach the conclusion that power does not equal happiness, at least for some. And in hardcore Guzzi countries like Germany, Switzerland and France, the Sport Twin is enjoying discreet success, at least by a tiny manufacturer's standard. And Guzzi owners are strange fellows. The slow and heavy pumping of those across-the-frame cylinders gets them into a trance state; the marriage of that immortal engine to a race-bred frame is enough to bring tears to their eyes. Ghezzi & Brian don't plan to break any sales records. They're satisfied to produce the ultimate Guzzi fantasy for the loyal few. It's definitely not a road burner, but as an amazing combination of a thirty-year-old engine and a totally up-to-date frame with road manners to match, it's hard to beat.
Engine Type: V-twin, 4-stroke, air/oil cooled, Nikasil cylinder lining, 2 valves per cylinder. Displacement: 1064 cc Bore and Stroke: 92 x 80mm Compression Ratio: 9.5:1, Max Output: 94 hp @ 8000 rpm, max torque 72 lb ft at 6000 rpm. Fuel Delivery: Weber Marelli digital electronic injection system, Fuel Tank: 16 lt (4.2 gal) Electrical system: battery 12V - 12Ah, alternator 25A Clutch: double disc, dry type. Gearbox: 5 speeds. Ratios: 1.81 - 1.25 - 1.00 - 0.83 - 0.73 Rear drive gear box: helical tooth gears, ratio 1.35 (17/23) final drive by shaft with two separate cardan joints and floating crown wheel and pinion box, ratio 4.12 (8/33). Frame: steel single beam, rectangular section with the engine as a stressed part; TIG welded Suspension: Front: Paioli upside-down hydraulic telescopic fork adjustable in compression, rebound and spring pre-load 4.7 in. travel Rear: progressive working steel swingarm; hydraulic Bitubo monoshock adjustable in rebound and spring pre-load, wheel travel 4.7 in. Wheels: 3 hollow spoke wheels Front: 3.5"x17, Rear: 4.5"x17; Tires: Front: 120/60 x 17; Rear: 160/60 x17 Brakes: Front: dual perimeter 420 mm stainless steel discs, 4 piston calipers; Rear: single drilled 240 mm, 4 piston caliper. Dimensions and weight: Length: 2030 mm (79.9") Width: 700 mm (27.5") Wheelbase: 1405 mm (55.3") Height: 1090 mm (42.9") Seat Height: 790 mm (31.1") Weight: (wet) 194 kg(426.8 pounds)