Writing about motorcycles for a quarter century has given me incredible opportunities on and around bikes of all sorts, many of which are the kinds of behind-the-velvet-rope things available only to motojournalists. I feel truly blessed when I look back at the breadth of experiences bestowed upon me just because I can fumble out a few words describing them.

Kawasaki Japan Tour

Having ready access to the latest motorbikes is surely the most obvious benefit of carrying the motojourno card – I’ve passed the 700 mark of press bikes I’ve ridden, and I’ve appreciated the experience of each, all different in both large and subtle ways. But the jewel of the job is receiving an invitation to a bike launch. They were informally known as press intros/introductions before the tool of printing presses suddenly transformed into something as seemingly archaic as a typewriter. Similarly, the OEMs formerly supplied bikes from their “press” fleets. And had carbon-paper contracts and fax machines…

Inside Moto Guzzi

Yes, the Spanish island of Mallorca is a good place to go to ride a stellar new motorcycle American civilians can’t even buy for several months in the future. Don’t hate me…

Anyway, before I reach further in my past and tell you what is was like to walk with dinosaurs, let me get back to media introductions, the wonderful parties manufacturers host in scenic locations hand-picked as highly desirable places in which to test a fabulous new motorcycle that no one outside factory employees has yet ridden. Oh, and you can usually count on a nice slice of beef and a glass of wine to wash it down, plus a pleasant room most often with sheets of a higher thread count than the ones you have at home.

I’ve probably been to nearly 100 of these events over the years, but I had yet been to a Moto Guzzi press…, er, media launch. Guzzi has, like every Italian motorcycle manufacturer, had eras in which resources for product development have been scarce, so the historic Italian marque’s lineup hasn’t exactly been busting at the seams in the past several decades. Less product equals less bike launches, and Guzzi wasn’t offering much support to online magazines like MO anyway.

Inside Moto Guzzi

The Normale was the first production motorcycle from Moto Guzzi, debuting in 1921. Its single-cylinder 498cc engine was rated at 6.5 hp, good enough for a purported 53 mph. This display is part of the fascinating museum housed in the factory in Mandello del Lario, and it’s an incredibly diverse moto collection of amazing Guzzis that has to be seen to be believed.

But Guzzi’s eagle was brought under the wing of the Piaggio Group in 2004, adding some much-need financial stability to the brand around the same time a $45 million restoration of the Guzzi factory near the shores of Lake Como in northern Italy was completed. Aprilia, the former owner of Guzzi, also became part of Piaggio, and it received the bulk of R&D resources while Guzzi waited for its turn.

Guzzi sales began ramping up in earnest with the 2008 introduction of the retro-inspired V7 Classic. The V7 remains Guzzi’s stalwart, with sales up 44% in 2015 after a fairly extensive revamp that added the II suffix to its name. The V7 II now makes up more than 60% of the brand’s sales. The V7 is a retro-cool machine, but its lovely-looking motor won’t ever be called a powerhouse.

2016 Moto Guzzi V7 II Stone Review

Then in 2013 a new cruiser exited the gate at the Guzzi factory, a fresh California boasting an all-new 1380cc V-Twin engine. Although the Cali is no real threat to the other iconic cruiser brand with an eagle association, Harley-Davidson, the California has become Guzzi’s number-two platform. Its sales are up 36% in 2015 after the recent introductions of the Audace and Eldorado variants. This summer we’ll see the MGX-21, an audacious bat-winged bagger that just might steal some bar-and-shield customers.

2016 Moto Guzzi Audace – First Ride Review

2016 Moto Guzzi Eldorado – First Ride Review

Inside Moto Guzzi

In the 1950s, Moto Guzzi advanced the state of the art in motorcycle aerodynamics thanks to this wind tunnel housed within its facilities. Folklore says the lights in town dimmed whenever it was running. Sadly, it hasn’t been operational for several years.

The Eldorado and Audace launches were held near Mandello del Lario, the birthplace of all Guzzis since 1921, and I had a bit of remorse when I passed along the invite to our cruiser expert, Evans Brasfield, as it’s not often that journalists get invited to historic old factories near George Clooney’s summer home. Happily, I was given a second chance when Guzzi tossed out the invite to the launch of the new V9 series consisting of Bobber and Roamer variants.

And so there I was in Mandello at the historic factory that was born in the years following World War I when three members of the Italian air force (Carlo Guzzi, mechanic Giovanni Ravelli and pilot/racer Giorgio Parodi) joined forces. I walked within the history-steeped walls almost exactly 95 years after the company pushed out its first motorcycle, and this alone was enough to make my visit special.

What stood out as a journalist was Guzzi’s presentation being completely in Italian; a headset with translation was necessary for me to understand words that weren’t grazie and pizza. Meanwhile, down the road in Bologna, Ducati makes all its presentations in English.

“We are deeply Italian,” said Davide Zanolini, head of Guzzi’s marketing and communication, during the presentation. “Not German, not American, not Chinese… We’re Italian.”

Inside Moto Guzzi

At least the Powerpoint presentation was in English.

The full story of the V9 can be found in the link below, but here’s the short one. This is the newest “small-block” Guzzi V-Twin, stretching the V7’s 744cc to 853cc. The switch from the V7’s old-school Heron head to a more modern hemispherical combustion chamber is the biggest change, and it opens up tuning options for more power. Guzzi claims 90% of the engine parts are new.

2016 Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber And V9 Roamer First Ride Review

Rather than a bigger V7 retro roadster, the Italians are angling the pair of V9s as pseudo cruisers. Both models are likeable in many ways, but they are slightly handicapped in performance terms by their cruiser-oriented front tires: the Bobber uses a fat 16-incher, while the Roamer uses a skinny 19-inch hoop. For my tastes in motorcycles, I’d be especially interested in a V9 with a sportier intent. Not super-sporty, just something a little closer to a retro/traditional roadster. A Moto Guzzi Bonneville R of sorts.

I’d call it the V9 Sport, and the main modification I’d make would be to simply bolt on a pair of lightweight wheels that could fit some reasonably grippy radial tires: maybe an 18/17-inch combo instead of a pair of ubiquitous 17s. I could imagine about 15% more power with a set of lumpier cams, a lighter flywheel and a freer-flowing, higher-mounted exhaust system. Fit a radial-mount Brembo monoblock brake caliper to slow it down. Ergonomically, I’d push the footpegs back a bit for additional cornering clearance and fit a tapered aluminum handlebar just a skosh lower than the Bobber’s. A three-way adjustable suspension would supply finer control whether circumnavigating Lake Como or Yosemite. If this could be accomplished for a $1,500 premium over the Roamer, I’d call it highly desirable and a relative bargain at $11.5k.

Inside Moto Guzzi

Here’s the V9 Bobber. It wouldn’t take terribly much to turn it into the little hotrod I’d really like to ride.

And this was one of the topics I brought up with a couple of Guzzi reps after our ride on the V9s. Engineers and media-relations folks are loathe to reveal any plans for future product, and of course, that was the case here, too, despite conversing over a tasty dinner and a couple bottles of wine. But I learned through our multifarious conversation that these Piaggio Group employees are major-league moto enthusiasts, and I could sense excitement behind their eyes when talking about anything involving high-performance motorcycles. The concept of a V9 Sport was appreciated if not admitted.

So, do I have evidence we’ll see a V9 Sport? No, none whatsoever. However, I’ve been around the block a time or two and have a fairly good understanding of which kinds of motorcycles sell and the relative costs of developing them. I believe a V9 Sport would appeal to a different audience that the one which likes the tame V7 or the cruiserish V9s, and it could be brought to life without significant investment in R&D efforts. Heck, I’d give it whirl if they’d let me!

“Piaggio is investing massively in (Moto Guzzi),” said Leo Mercanti, head of two-wheel product marketing for the Piaggio Group, during the V9’s presentation. Unfortunately, I didn’t sit with him over chianti to find out what he thought of my V9 Sport idea.

Inside Moto Guzzi

I couldn’t do a Guzzi-themed editorial and have a picture of the V-8 Grand Prix bike and not show it! Its 499cc otto cilindri is purported to crank out 72 horsepower at 12,500 rpm when measured at the wheel in 1957. Top speed: 177 mph!

All Things Guzzi on Motorcycle.com

  • TheMarvelous1310

    First, for no reason. That V9 Sport idea is gold.

  • kenneth_moore

    Mr. Duke, I know this question is outside the gist of your article, but I couldn’t help wondering as I read the intro if you could look back across those hundreds of bikes you’ve ridden and name one as the mist memorable. Setting aside categories, price, etc., is there one bike that will always stand out?

    It’s great to read how well MG is doing. They had a pretty classy setup at Daytona last year, I didn’t see them this year though.

    • Kevin Duke

      Publishing on the web makes answering a question like this easy: http://www.motorcycle.com/features/dukes-den-memorable-motorcycles.html

      • kenneth_moore

        I guess that’s impossible question to answer without considering the job the bike is designed to do. A nice review though; it got me thinking about the various bikes I’ve owned over the years. Every one of them was great; from the Yamaha 350 R5 twin I started with to today’s FJ09. The R5 has to be the most memorable if only because it was the first and it started me riding.

        • 12er

          the CB is Elvis?

          • kenneth_moore

            Yes. It’s a great bike, but the 2-3 hundred mile club rides (www.sfrc.org) I’m doing every weekend just weren’t it’s forte. I should have kept it…but I say that about every bike that’s come and gone.

  • JMDonald

    It is in my nature to try and maintain a certainty level of emotional distance when it comes to things like sporting events,automobiles, motorcycles and houses among other things. My decisions and mental well being are much better when I do. Moto Guzzi has an appeal inherent to their product offering that stirs up the motorcycle emotions (if there are such things) that I remember feeling as a kid. It goes beyond desire. I want to own one true enough. These bikes somehow offer more than just the pleasure of ownership. Not sure exactly how to define it. I’m sure other bikes do the same for other guys. Whatever it is, Moto Guzzi does it for me. If I ever make it to Italy a visit to the Moto Guzzi is on the list. The experience you had when there was made better by your appreciation of the brand and its heritage. Lucky bastard. Good for you.

  • Sentinel

    Until they but some decently powered engines in their bikes I’ll pass on them.

    • Ser Samsquamsh

      Did you know a Fokker triplane had 110hp? https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fokker_Dr.I

      Are you saying you can’t get down the road with out more power than Richtoven had to shoot down 80 fighters?

      You Sir are a victim of marketing.

      • Sentinel

        Stop being a silly little tool. I’ve got decades of serious riding under my belt, and my desire for more power than what’s being offered there comes from that experience, and knowing that more power than what they have is very “usable” and can be very needed indeed. I’d love to own one of those bikes if and when they offer more in this regard. You don’t like that? It “offends” you somehow?

        • Ser Samsquamsh

          Me thinks thou dost protest too much.

    • steve5656546346

      Moto Guzzi’s have very descent power for virtually all Moto Guzzi owners. It it only non-owners that judge by the spec sheet rather than the reality on the road…or sports bike enthusiasts who cannot bring themselves to believe that everybody in the world is not like them.

      • Sentinel

        See my reply to the kunt above for your answer sweetheart.

  • Buzz

    I’m enjoying the heck out of my 1400. I get questioned nearly every ride on what is it and comments on how great looking it is. An open air box and Power Commander to cure the lean condition and she pulls like a mutha.

    I’ve only got about 2500 miles on it (compared to 20,000) on my BMW, and haven’t had any mechanical issues.

    • Kevin Duke

      Cool! Curious to know how much power those mods delivered? And what do you think of the MGX-21?

      • Buzz

        I’ve attached a Dyno run from the Guzzi tech site. His house 1400 had a full exhaust system in addition to the air box and fueling mods. As you can see, the results are impressive. I’m somewhere in between because I’m still running the stock exhaust.

        I think the MGX 21 will pull some new riders who hadn’t considered MG before. The faithful hate it. I’m ok with it but it’s not something I would buy.

    • battlesnail

      I’m seriously considering an Audace….do they make aftermarket headers to get rid of the cat crap?

  • Old MOron

    “Folklore says the lights in town dimmed whenever [Guzzi’s wind tunnel] was running.”
    Awesome! I’m going to tell that to anyone who’ll listen.

  • Craig L.

    I want to know what model is featured in the second pic overlooking the mountainside. There doesn’t appear to be a transverse V-Twin mounted in that bike…

    • Kevin Duke

      KTM Super Duke GT, a V-Twin turned the wrong way. 😉

  • notfishing

    V9 Lemans — the time has come….

  • SRMark

    I’d settle for a V-9 standard. Roamer is close, Bobber not so much.

  • Old MOron

    You know, Duke, since I visit MO quite frequently, I’ve seen your lead photo on the home page quite a bit. It’s just my opinion, but I’ve decided that it’s quite a good shot.

    It’s a selfie, right? Selfies can have kind of a shallow and self-absorbed quality, but yours tells of thoughtful appreciation. Also, selfies are a very modern thing, but that darned Guzzi gateway is just dripping with history. Finally, I think your grin might rival the enigma of the Mona Lisa’s. It’s really a great shot.

    • Kevin Duke

      I’m lucky to have had a few things roll my way that blessed me with moto experiences I couldn’t even have dreamed of back in journalism school. It gives me added pleasure when a loyal reader of my team’s work recognizes thoughtful appreciation in a simple smile in an impromptu selfie. I’ve done more than I could’ve imagined on bikes, but I’m still a 16-year-old moto geek inside! Grateful to have an audience with which to share my adventures.


    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your behinds the scenes article “Inside Moto Guzzi”. I especially liked your comment that the presentation was in Italian, and that the marketing director was indeed a very proud Italian. Moto Guzzi has always been a fiercely proud marque that insists on doing things their way, and not following the Germans, Americans or the Chinese (or the British decades ago). It’s a testament to that proud heritage that Moto Guzzi has survived all these years.

    I was born and bred in a small university town in California where the bike of choice wore a British nameplate of the side of the tank (I cut my teeth on a BSA B40, then a BSA B44VS). This was the early sixty’s, before the Japanese motorcycle invasion was in full swing. Because this was a university town, with students and professors from around the world, I would occasionally spy unusual and intriguing bikes from other manufacturers. One such bike was the Moto Guzzi V7 Sport that I saw in the early seventy’s. I was fascinated by the sight of those two big jugs sticking out the sides, and that beautiful Italian styling. I recall thinking I would like to own one of those bikes someday. The years passed, then the decades passed, and it was time to finally retire and spend my golden years enjoying motorcycling seven days a week. I bought a 2015 Triumph Scrambler and really enjoy the retro-look without all the oil leaks and questionable reliability of those original British bikes (do you remember Lucas the prince of darkness). I also bought a 2015 Scrambler Ducati because of that sweet desmo motor and that Italian design that merges form with function. It is such a sweet bike to ride; I threw a duffle bag across the seat and took a 10 day ride to the Colorado Rockies. (That Ducati loved those twisty mountain roads, especially Hiway 82 south out of Aspen.) One would think that owning two new motorcycles would be plenty, but I had room in my garage for another. So, I did my usual research of the available bikes, and decided it was indeed time for 2015 Moto Guzzi V7 Special. I knew it was down on power, and it still used old technology (push rods, really?) but I wanted a true Moto Guzzi built in that same old-world factory where they began. What a colossal mistake that was. Apparently the fierce pride held by upper management is not held by the employees who actually assembly the bikes. My new Moto Guzzi was delivered to me with numerous defects in workmanship, seemingly no quality control of any kind except for a lot of yellow paint on every nut and bolt, and absolutely no customer care. Let me repeat that, NO customer care.

    Maybe it’s time for Moto Guzzi to break from tradition and follow the lead of the other manufacturers and begin assembling their bikes in Thailand. My Triumph, my Ducati, and my 2011 KLR 650 were all assembled in Thailand with NO defects in workmanship at all.

    I will never purchase another Moto Guzzi, and would recommend others stay away as well.

    • Kevin Duke

      I think it’s so cool that you’re still having old-school fun on new bikes, Harvey! But what’s up with the vendetta against Guzzi? You’ve infiltrated each of our last four articles about Guzzis to complain about your V7 and the way you were treated by your dealer. Pardon me if I don’t fully understand what happened with your bike, but it sounds a little like the dealer deserves your wrath a little more than Guzzi HQ, no?


        Yes, you’re right; the dealer does deserve my wrath as well, and he finally admitted that his PDI wasn’t done quite properly. (Of course I had to take him to Small Claims Court and win a judgement to repay me the $387 “set-up” fee.) But, to paraphrase Harry Truman, the buck stops on the bosses’ desk. So that is why I keep pissing and moaning about Moto Guzzi; ultimately they are behind the bosses’ desk and are responsible for what the customer rides home. Carlo Guzzi’s name adorns the side of my beautiful V7, and I expect the company he founded to care more people (customers, dealers, employees) than just profit and loss statements. I expect them to honor the fine tradition of such a storied marque, and turn out a finished product, something a person can be proud to ride home. And then, if a customer does have a concern, find out what
        happened and correct it. But to just write it off as just another dissatisfied customer and never respond to my emails, my call, or my letter, leads me to think that Moto Guzzi just doesn’t give-a-shit, but I do.

        • steve5656546346

          But the individual problems of one (1) person is not significant in the larger picture: almost all customers are very satisfied! So, no, I am not going to stay away from Moto Guzzi because one (1) customer had a bad experience.

          Sorry, but it really is not all about you.

  • Stewart E

    Ah, Guzzi my love. I can’t but be grateful for Piaggio putting their money up and keeping the great marque still flying. OK, their business sense seems to be making the bikes a little more anodyne, but at least the great big Vee twins are still out there, fighting against emissions and noise requirements. Everyone should have a Guzzi – I’ve got four and have had over twenty. they’re beautiful, soulful things. Maybe this summer I’ll ride the Como road and listen to the exhaust beats bounce off the cliffs, take the bike up over the passes into Switzerland and round the hairpins back into Italy. I won’t buy a V9, because my le Mans and 750 take up all my time, but if you want a new bike, you should. Fall in love, Stay in love. Buy a Guzzi.