The last time we spoke of the Moto Guzzi Norge GT 8V was three years ago, in 2011, during our then-annual trek to Laguna Seca for the MotoGP races. We had seasoned touring rider, and friend of MO’s, Glenn Giardinelli, take the controls to offer an opinion that possibly varied from the similar voices of the usual MO staff. What we learned was essentially what we already knew: the Norge is quirky yet capable, slightly outdated, and it endears itself to all who ride it if given enough time.
Three years on and the Sport-Touring landscape has changed dramatically. Electronics have become the class-defining feature, and with the Norge already lacking in this department in 2011, we had our doubts about our identical, largely analog, 2014 test bike. Add in competition from the updated Yamaha FJR1300ES and the all-new BMW R1200RT, and there’s a very valid question being posed: has the Moto Guzzi Norge become obsolete?
Yes and no.
Remember that bit about the Norge endearing itself? Apparently three years isn’t enough time for that to fade away. Hop on the bike, and you’ll find the saddle is very well padded, without being too soft. Its location, 31.9 inches from the ground isn’t too offending for most average-sized riders. Then again, with its six-gallon fuel tank filled to the brim, it’ll take every muscle in you to lift the 646-lb tourer off the sidestand. She’s a big girl, but that’s the price you pay for 200-mile range.
Speaking of price, at $16,290, the Norge is a hard sell against the $16,890 FJR1300ES and $17,705 (base) R12RT, both of which present considerably more tech. Then again, lowest price is lowest price, and if you’re the type of tourer who prefers simplicity and functionality over the latest gizmos, the Norge has you covered.
When it comes to Sport-Touring, the Norge embraces the “Touring” side of the category. The aforementioned seat is a supremely comfortable item, though it’d be nice if the pegs were placed slightly lower and a little more forward. Bars are placed nicely in a neutral position, making them a natural reach for most riders – only those with T-Rex arms would find trouble grabbing them.
The cushy seat isn’t the only thing that’s soft. A 45mm conventional fork and single shock are both tuned for comfort rather than performance. Both are equipped with preload adjustability, while the shock also features adjustable rebound. Fiddling with the shock’s preload is made easier thanks to a large knob one can turn even with a gloved hand, but access to it requires taking off the left-side saddlebag to do so, which is a process in itself.
The saddlebags are spacious enough, each with room to fit a full-face helmet. Though we complain about the removal of the bags, if one were to own the bike, the process would become second nature in no time. Elastic bands with a center snap are located within the main compartment of each bag and within the lids, making it a little easier to partition the items within the bags if you want. The bags add some width to the rear of the Norge, so lane-splitters should remember them when filtering through traffic.
Understand the Norge is meant for touring comfort, and it rewards with a pleasing ride. Only the most extreme of road irregularities are transmitted to the rider, and the electronically adjustable windscreen performs admirably at diverting air over the rider’s helmet. Another complaint, however, are the separate buttons required to move the screen up or down. Placed adjacent to each switchgear, unless you have alien fingers, they are impossible to reach without taking a hand off the bar. Why can’t a single button be placed within reach to control both motions? Further, the screen is slightly optically distorted at its tip, and when fully extended the eye strains a little to see through it.
All in all, those are small quibbles, easily forgotten once you twist the throttle. While not neck-snapping power, the Norge’s 86.4 hp and 69.8 lb-ft is better described as “neck-tugging.” Twisting the right wrist is met with a pleasing intake growl, followed by an equally nice exhaust note from the distinct, air-cooled, 1151cc longitudinal eight-valve V-Twin. There’s plenty of power on tap to ditch most cagers, and the Guzzi shaft drive delivers power to the wheel incredibly smoothly, though we’d prefer less free play from the throttle on our particular tester.
Brembo four-pot calipers are not radially mounted, but they still bite the 320mm front discs with the stopping power we’ve become accustomed to from the Italian company. That is to say, they work great, providing powerful speed retardation with plenty of feel. ABS comes standard, and we were pleased they require a considerable squeeze before either end activates while riding on dry pavement.
Alas, while there is lots to like about the Norge, it receives demerit points for its limited ground clearance. Either side of the centerstand (a feature we generally favor) makes contact with the pavement at moderate lean angles, and if leaned over on bumpy surfaces, the stand will again touch down once the soft suspension compresses. This only emphasizes the Norge’s desire to be ridden smoothly; wide, arcing lines are preferred over aggressive Vee angles, gentle inputs win out over rough man-handling. Play to these strengths and the Norge is a pleasant, even enjoyable companion.
Considering the Moto Guzzi Norge has remained unchanged since we last rode one in 2011, save for bold new graphics, the test of time hasn’t diminished the qualities we like about the bike. However, the advance of technology has increasingly made the Norge an outlier in the Sport-Touring landscape. Where seemingly every one of its competitors are making a name for itself with features like cruise control, traction control, electronic suspension, quick shifters (in both directions!), ride modes, and sound systems, the Norge, and its dearth of electronics, is quickly becoming passe.
Recently, MO’s resident curmudgeon, John Burns, described the Norge as “a great touring bike … 10 years ago,” and while it may sound harsh, Burns isn’t entirely wrong. The Norge is showing its age, yes, but its endearing qualities – comfort, a long fuel range and a uniquely fun engine – make it a great choice if your touring needs are equally as simple as the Norge.