2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

Editor Score: 84.25%
Engine 17.25/20
Suspension/Handling 11.5/15
Transmission/Clutch 8.25/10
Brakes 9.0/10
Instruments/Controls4.25/5
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score84.25/100

Way back in 2013, Moto Guzzi said that the revamped California 1400 was the platform for a line of models, and we watched it grow from the initial pair of the California 1400 Custom and the hard-bagged California 1400 Touring to include in the 2016 model year the Audace and the El Dorado – though both fail to mention their California roots in their names. Into this family, Moto Guzzi lands the formidable MGX-21 Flying Fortress.

2013 Moto Guzzi California Review: Emissary Of The New Guzzi – Video

2015 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring – First Ride Review + Video

2016 Moto Guzzi Audace – First Ride Review

2016 Moto Guzzi Eldorado – First Ride Review

2014 EICMA: Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Concept

Since the American cruiser market is the largest in the world and Sturgis is one of the largest motorcycle rallies in the world, setting an attendance record of 739,000 last year on its 75th anniversary, Moto Guzzi has waded into the belly of the beast by releasing the MGX at a booth on Main St. in downtown Sturgis.

Is it madness, confidence, or Jedi marketing? Probably a little of all three. As we’ve said many times, the bagger market is hot, with the Harley Davidson Street Glide being the best-selling motorcycle in the country. Consequently, you can’t throw a beanie helmet in this South Dakota hamlet this time of year without hitting a bagger.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

The Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress gets its name from CEO Roberto Colannino who said that it reminded him of World War II B-17 Flying Fortress bombers he saw as a child.

When Moto Guzzi says that the MGX-21 is based on the California platform, it isn’t kidding. For example, the double cradle tubular frame is built to the same dimensions – headstock and all – with additional gusseting applied to the rear subframe to handle the additional weight of the bags and frequent passengers. The pegs are even mounted, despite their more rearward location, on the same frame location as the floorboards on the Custom and LT models. With this in mind, we weren’t surprised to learn that the pegs are in the same location as on the Audace. A quick glance at the spec sheets reveals that all of the California models share the same 29.1-inch seat height. So, there is another similarity.

The changes made to the California platform when creating the MGX-21 are both painfully obvious and hidden away. In the obvious column, we have the big, 21-inch front wheel (while keeping the 16-incher out back), the fork-mounted fairing, the swoopy saddlebags, and a liberal application of carbon fiber.

When Miguel Galluzzi, Piaggio Advanced Design Director and creator of the MGX, is asked about his inspiration for the design, he answers with one word, “Bonneville.” No, he’s not referring to the motorcycle but rather the machinery that traverses the famous salt flats at speed. Although many of us envision spindly, earth-bound rocketships when thinking of Bonneville, I believe the style that Galluzzi is looking towards is the era when people were making land-speed racers out of old airplane external fuel pods or, perhaps, purpose-built vehicles, like the Stutz Black Hawk Special. These machines tapered back to a point much like the prototype model of the MGX shown at EICMA in 2014. Regardless, with Moto Guzzi being the first manufacturer to have a wind tunnel built exclusively for motorcycles, slippery design is part of the company’s heritage.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

We can think of no better place to introduce the MGX-21 than the bagger heaven that is Sturgis and its surrounding countryside.

The fork-mounted fairing is a combination of sharp angles and curves with a central projector-beam headlight. Aside from being really cool looking, the fairing flows a decent amount of air between itself and the tank to the rider. While this was much appreciated during the warm weather of my rides in the Black Hills, I might prefer more wind protection during cooler seasons. I’m also curious as to how this would perform in the rain. The top of the fairing with its curved windscreen gave my 5-foot 11-inch frame a turbulence-free path through the atmosphere. This is particularly impressive since the direct airflow hits right at the base of my helmet, which, in theory, should create lots of noise and head bobbling but doesn’t.

To further the rearward-sloping look, the big front wheel, a solid disc wheel on the prototype but now a spoked unit with slotted carbon fiber covers mounted. If you’re wondering about the reasoning for the change, just ask the owner of any first-generation V-Rod or simply consider the words crosswind and disaster. Additionally, the production wheel design is more finished looking, in my opinion.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

The fairing protects the rider from the wind while still providing plenty of airflow.

Large-sized front wheels can also create handling issues that need to be addressed. If all things remain constant, mounting a larger-diameter wheel increases rake and trail, slowing steering. Since the MGX-21 would be using the same frame, the geometry needed to be adjusted via the triple-clamp offset, settling on 27.8° rake and 4.7 in. of trail. The end result is a motorcycle that steers with a level of effort that belies the diameter of the wheel.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

The stereo has AM/FM, Bluetooth, and USB connection options. The 50W speakers deliver good sound at low speeds, but most, if not all, motorcycle stereos must overpower the ambient noise at highway speeds, which is not an ideal listening environment. In those situations, we prefer in-helmet sound systems.

At low speeds, another potential problem of a large front wheel is its tendency to flop to one side or the other during turns. Moto Guzzi took a unique approach to preventing this. On the bottom triple clamp, a device that looks a bit like a steering damper connects the triple clamp to the frame below the frame’s neck. Since the device hasn’t yet been officially named, I’m going to call it Larry for simplicity’s sake. Based on the Larry’s mounts, it gets compressed as the fork is turned from center to its stop. Unlike a steering damper, which only controls the speed of the movement, the Larry’s job is to prevent fork flop through the use of an internal spring that makes it progressively more difficult for the fork to reach its stop.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

The large front wheel’s tendency to flop to one side at low speeds is ameliorated with this clever device, though it delivers an odd sensation during full-lock turns.

While the Larry does prevent the problem it was meant to solve, it returns a strange feeling when making full-lock turns. Rather than have the grips reach full-lock and stay there, as with all other motorcycles, the Larry pushes back, requiring additional force to hold the fork in place. This can be disconcerting in parking lot maneuvers or when making U-turns. It doesn’t affect steering at any other time, though.

Another characteristic of the MGX at low speeds is that it seems to gain weight as the speed transitions down from road speed to a walking pace, feeling unbalanced at times. Although, at a claimed 701 pounds, the MGX is approximately 110 lb. and 160 lb. lighter than either the Street Glide and the Chieftain, respectively, the MGX feels heavier when paddled backwards out of a parking space. Those who are short in the inseam may find this maneuver particularly difficult.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

The rider sits in position for maximum maneuverability while still having the space to spread out on long highway stints.

Out on the road, the weight issue disappears, and the part of the credit goes to the riding position. The grips reach back to the rider, placing the upper body in a relaxed, slightly leaned forward position with the hands wide enough apart to give good leverage. The seat is on the firm side of comfortable and offers plenty of room to move around as the miles roll by. I was surprised that, since the pegs are in the same location as on the Audace to give maximal ground clearance, I found myself wishing they were slightly lower. I chalk this up to the fact that I sat in the saddle for many more miles at a time – often with extended sections of fairly straight road – instead of the shorter, more circuitous routes I traveled on the Audace. This quibble aside, the MGX is a good mount for chasing horizons.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

The cockpit offers most of what we expect from a bagger.

This long-distance saddle offers plenty of time to consider other aspects of the Guzzi’s ride. The rear suspension feels well-matched for the bike. The only suspension adjustment offered is rear preload via a knob on the right side near the rear of the engine. The front suspension felt about right to me, but a couple heavier riders said that, for them, it was undersprung. The suspenders did a good job of being supple yet firm both on the interstate and the winding back roads I traveled. One caveat, though: The roads in the Black Hills are impeccably maintained, extremely smooth, and can mask suspension issues. I had to seek out the infrequent broken pavement in an attempt to test the high-speed compression damping.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

The carbon fiber wheel covers look cool and don’t suffer from the problems of solid wheels. The 320mm discs are the same as the ones on the other California models, as are the four-piston Brembo calipers – only redder.

The MGX’s handling manners are exactly the same as all of the other California-based bikes I’ve sampled, with one notable exception. Like all the Californias, the MGX prefers smooth steering inputs to abrupt ones, which give a slight delay as the chassis flexes before fully settling into a turn. Where this model differs is that the front wheel occasionally interacts with pavement on high-speed sweepers to cause a slight wobble that feels very similar to the chassis flex from sharp steering inputs. The wobble is minor and gives the bike a hinge-in-the-middle sensation nor makes it stray from the rider’s intended line. Similarly, at high speeds, like on the interstate, the MGX can interact with winds or turbulence coming off a tractor-trailer to give the front end a feeling of hunting on the pavement similar to the way some tires tend to wander on rain grooves. Again, this doesn’t alter the MGX’s path but, rather, gives the rider something to noodle on while blasting down the open highway.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

While we appreciate the USB port, we don’t understand the requirement of an accessory part to hold your device while charging it.

By now, some of you may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the engine. I’ve been concentrating on the things that have changed from the rest of the California platform in the development of the MGX. Aside from the sexy red valve covers (which are sure to add a few horsepower), the four-valve-per-cylinder, 90° transverse V-Twin is unchanged, save for the EFI tuning and the exhaust system – both of which were necessary to achieve Euro 4 emissions certification. So, all of the features of the ride-by-wire throttle system are available here. Of the ride modes, I preferred Veloce (Sport) for carving up a winding section of road, but the rest of the time, particularly when putting along in the rally traffic, I left it in Tourismo since it offered slightly smoother throttle response. Overall, the fuel metering was spot-on.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

The engine is mechanically the same as the other Californias, but the EFI tuning and exhaust are new for Euro 4 compliance.

The engine’s claimed 95 hp (at the crank) is exactly the same as its siblings – only it has a 42 lbs. more to push down the road. When one considers how much was added to the MGX (the fairing, bags, subframe gusseting), this number seems surprisingly small. While the engine has plenty of torque to motivate the Guzzi, it can’t surmount the 300–400cc deficit it has to the likes of the Indian Chieftain and the Harley Davidson Street Glide (though this is blunted by the additional weight they carry). Of course, that only matters if out-and-out performance is all you base your bagger preference on. From the saddle, the Guzzi’s mill has more than enough power to get the job done. The only time I wished for more poop was running at 85 mph into a headwind blowing across the Great Plains (an estimated 20 mph). Add a long uphill climb, and I was tempted to downshift. Remember though, the MGX was essentially pushing 105 mph of air before encountering the hill.

We’ve finally worked our way to the part of the MGX from which this motorcycle category takes its name. The saddlebags are sexy with their tapered lines and carbon fiber lids. One unique feature is the locking mechanism. Rather than just having one or two latching pins, the MGX has four located around the top and sides of the opening. As the latches are closed, they uniformly snug the lid closed to maintain a secure, weatherproof seal. While some riders may find having to use the key to access the bags a hassle, I never felt like it was an issue. One area that surprised me, though, is the available carrying capacity. With a volume of only 7.6 gallons (29 liters) each, they hold less than half than the Chieftain’s and Street Glide’s bags. Additionally, the interior is shallowest at the widest point of its opening – a shape necessary to accommodate the dual shocks. Although many baggers rarely hit the highway for an extended tour, the MGX’s limited bag capacity is a bummer for a bike intended for traveling.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

The four rectangular slots on the rim of the bag house the latches which give a positive lock to the lid. Note how much space is eaten up by the shock on the left.

The Moto Guzzi MGX-21’s styling, fit, and finish impressed most of the riders I encountered in Sturgis, at my hotel, at gas stops, or at restaurants. A couple riders actually came to a stop, blocking traffic, to ask me about the bike. The entire time I had the Guzzi, I felt like a rock star. They all commented on the MGX’s lines. Most liked the carbon fiber gracing the fenders, gas tank, and saddlebags. The engine and its red valve covers were big hits, though some were clearly puzzled by the orientation of the Vee. One couple asked if they could sit on it to see how it would feel two-up.

However, I’m still stunned at how many riders had never heard of Moto Guzzi or thought it had stopped producing motorcycles. (An issue that Galluzzi said was at the top of the list for the company to resolve. Its attendance at Sturgis for the first time was a planned step in that direction.)

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

During my four days and over 500 miles (so far) with the MGX, I’ve found it to be a supremely fun motorcycle over a variety of riding conditions. The biggest issue I have is its heaviness at low speeds. Out on the road, I’ve gotten an average of 38.5 mpg, giving a calculated range of over 200 miles. I can see myself happily draining a tank in a single sitting.

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress
+ Highs

  • Crowd-gathering good looks!
  • Fairing allows plenty of air-flow (hot weather)
  • Likes to go around corners
– Sighs

  • Feels heavy at low speeds
  • Slight front-end wobble
  • Small saddlebags

With the MGX-21, Moto Guzzi has shown that it wants to run with the bulls, yet it still manages to maintain the the character – the quirkiness, if you will – that has endeared the marque to so many for so long. The MGX-21 Flying Fortress will begin arriving in U.S. showrooms at the end of the week. Available only black/carbon fiber at a $21,990 MSRP, the MGX slots in at approximately $1,000 more than the base Street Glide and $2,000 less than the Chieftain. Given the similarity in prices, the MGX and Street Glide’s equipment lists are comparable. The Chieftain’s higher MSRP includes features such as keyless ignition and tire pressure monitors.

If you’re at Sturgis this week, stop by the Moto Guzzi booth and sign up for a test ride. With the public response I’ve observed, I wonder if Guzzi has a stealth hit on its hands.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Specifications
MSRP $21,990
Engine Type 90° V-Twin
Cooling Air and oil with an independent cooling pump; oil radiator with thermostat controlled fan
Displacement 1380 cc
Bore and Stroke 104 x 81.2 mm
Compression Ratio 10.5 : 1
Valve Train 4 valves per cylinder, DOHC
Fuel System Phased electronic Multipoint sequential injection, Magneti Marelli IAW7SM, “ride by wire”, 52 mm throttle body, IWP 243 Magneti Marelli injectors, double oxygen sensor, integrated management of 3 engine mappings, traction control, cruise control
Claimed hp 95 hp @ 6500 rpm
Claimed torque 89.2 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Gearbox 6-speed
Final Drive Double cardan joint and fixed bevel gear seat
Clutch Dry single plate with flexible couplings
Exhaust System Three-way catalyser with lambda probe
Emissions Compliance Euro 4
Frame Double cradle tubular frame in ALS steel with detachable rear subframe
Wheelbase 66.7 in.
Rake 27.8°
Trail 4.9 in.
Front Suspension Standard fork , 46 mm
Rear Suspension Double shock absorber with adjustable rebound and remote spring preload
Front Brake Dual 320 mm stainless steel floating discs, Brembo radial callipers with 4 horizontally opposed pistons: ABS as standard equipment
Rear Brake 282 mm stainless steel fixed disc, Brembo floating calliper with 2 parallel pistons: ABS as standard
Wheels Cast Aluminum
Front Wheel 3.50” x 21”
Rear Wheel 5.5″ x 16″
Front Tire 120/70-R21 62V
Rear Tire 180/60-R16 80H
Saddlebag Capacity 7.6 gal. each
Seat Height 29.1 in. (28.3 in. option)
Claimed  Curb Weight 701 lb.
Fuel Capacity 5.4 gal.
Reserve 0.7 gal.
Available Colors Black
Warranty Two years, unlimited mileage

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  • Starmag

    Holy enduro wheeled Italian, Batman!

    Maybe a 21″ bagger is what MV Augusta needs to “wing it” in America. Because we don’t have enough cruiser options already. Call it the F4 Fat Man Extremo 21ZTXDB R. Standard equipment includes grip,seat and cappuccino heaters.

    On a less sarcastic note, there’s nothing like a a fiery red head.

  • Robs

    It’s a looker, that’s for sure. But “Flying Fortress”? “Flying Effin Fortress”???

    • Ser Samsquamsh

      It doesn’t fly and isn’t a fortress. It’s perfect!

  • spiff

    Wasn’t Guzzi supposed to give us a water cooled Lamans in 2017? This is a nice enough bike, but it is a California. I hope they have something good in the pipeline.

  • Douglas

    They shoulda just called it a B-17….or since it’s stealthy, an F-117….or a B-2. That said, I personally think baggers are silly, with their bicycle front wheels and dragging bags (every time a RR track is crossed)….it’s a fad I see fading, much like go-cart wheels on Honda Civics, Mistubeeshy Talons, etc, and tractor wheels and 300watt 18″ whoofers on old rattly 80’s Chivvys & Buicks. It’ll pass (‘course something else will come along that’s even more useless, so…..)

    So, feel free to put me in my place for these vituperative comments….

  • Buzz

    I’ve been really impressed with how easily a nice bump in power can be reached on this motor.

    My Custom has a cut airbox lid, Power Commander with Auto Tune and some specific restrictive parts removed from the stock mufflers.

    She pulls like a mutha and no damn potato potato can keep up with me.

    • Kevin Duke

      Curious what you think of this model, Buzz. Would you have been tempted if it was available when you bought your Custom?

      • Buzz

        I like it. I think MG did a good job adding to the Street Glide genre without totally mimicking it.

        Not sure I would be a buyer. I bought my custom to replace my H-D deuce. I was looking for simplicity and didn’t buy the Touring model partly because I still have my K1600GTL in the garage.

        I’m really more into functional touring bike rather than “rad” touring bike. It seems like a bit of an oxymoron to me.

        That being said, I love the powertrain of this bike. The engine has a cruiser feel with a 7000 RPM redline. It kind of splits the difference between a Ducati and a Harley. Plus the transmission is one of the smoothest of any bike I’ve owned.

        Maybe we should toss my lightly modded model on the MO dyno and see what she’s putting out.

        • Born to Ride

          The new California Custom was the first full sized cruiser I have ever lusted after. I even secured me a test ride on one and came away with a smile on my face. This bike is officially the first bagger that has appealed to me, but I am with you 100%. A tourer needs to be far more practical and capable than “friggin badass”. To me a cruiser is the ultimate luxury bike, as they lack the form and function of say a multistrada, the performance of a sport bike, or any combination of the two. However, I will still find room for one in my garage. One day…

        • Gabriel Owens

          Please do I am extremely curious with the numbers

  • schizuki

    “Flying Fortress” is completely inappropriate. They should have called it a “P.108”. Piaggio Group, right?

    • Gabriel Owens

      Ftmfw

  • john phyyt

    I’m not in this market at all. But I’m really curious ;now that Harley has improved so much and there are other US competitors which are also excellent. Why buy this.?
    Sort of; a little bit; you know.

    • Born to Ride

      Personal preference. I like this Guzzi far more than the other baggers on the market.

  • Auphliam

    Just an editing note. In the text you call it a two-valve-per-cylinder engine. In the table you say 4 valves per cylinder w/DOHC.
    And what gives with the repeated references to the Glide and Chieftain, and no love for the Cross Country? $19.499 base msrp and over 21 gallons of storage. Sounds like another shootout is needed :)

    • Evans Brasfield

      Right on both counts. Thanks for spotting my error. It will be corrected.

      We absolutely need to do a bagger shootout! Would it surprise you to know that we’re already planning something?

      • Gabriel Owens

        Please include Yamaha’s 1300 deluxe. They don’t sale worth a crap and can be had for several grand off msrp.

        • Pablo

          I’m with you. I have a ’12 and love it

          • Gabriel Owens

            Yeah I had a 12 as well. And bought it for a steal. People passing over these deals on holdovers are silly.

  • SRMark

    Come on Guzzi. How’s about a V7 Sport Griso? Only dump the Griso name. This thing is Batman with a little scrotum. If you’re gonna put bags on the thing at least let them hold something.

    • Campisi

      Rumor has it the V7 III debuting this fall will have sixty five to seventy horsepower. Not bad.

  • JMDonald

    I like the Griso.

  • TheMarvelous1310

    Aargh! I never know which big Guzzi I want, and it bothers me! I thought this would solve my problems, but now I think I want an Eldorado with that front wheel… Or do I want an Audace with the red heads? AAAAAARGH!

    • Gabriel Owens

      I like them all

  • http://www.tanshanomi.com Tanshanomi

    Seriously? You find a recurrent high-speed wobble on a factory-stock bike acceptable? The 20th century called, they want their yardstick back.

    • Gabriel Owens

      My 2016 1290 Super A had one from factory. But ktm fixed it. It’s a known issue under warranty on a few of their adventure models.