“Nasty, brutish and short” is the famous phrase used to describe the life of the typical medieval peasant (or MO editor), but it could almost describe some of MV Agusta’s earlier Brutales. With this latest electronically enhanced iteration, MV has brought the bike all the way into modernity and then some. The goal, according to MV, was to make the new bike more customer-oriented and easier to ride, with a focus on both reduced fuel consumption and a more friendly user interface. To find out, one of us had to go ride it.
Nastywise, consider this from EiC Duke’s review of the 2013 machine: “Those whispers of instability turned into a scream in one instance while riding on a SoCal freeway. To get around a clog of traffic, I accelerated hard from 70 mph while traveling over some Botts dots that divide lanes on our freeways. While enjoying the engine’s instant thrust, the handlebars unexpectedly began wagging in my hands and nearly caused me to pee my pants as I contemplated if the bike would spit me off. While not a full lock-to-lock tankslapper, it gave me such a fright that it made me uneasy every time I dialed up full throttle. I’d factor in the cost of a steering damper if I was considering a Brutale 800.”
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The new bike still doesn’t have a damper, but it does have one degree more rake – 24.5 degrees now, along with 8.5mm more trail (103.5mm now) and 20mm more wheelbase (1400mm/55.1 inches) in a slightly stiffer hybrid frame of MV’s signature steel trellis and aluminum side plates. Those changes turn it into a paragon of stability over the mostly smooth A397 that climbs to Ronda from Marbella on the Costa del Sol. It still steers plenty quick, thanks in part to that inertia-cancelling backward-spinning crankshaft. Now more agile than aggressive, says MV. Seems to be the case.
The brutishness of the thing has also been reined in, some of it government-mandated and some of it out of common sense. This is the first MV to meet Euro 4 regulations, and as such it needed to emit 30% less pollution and a whopping 5 fewer decibels. In achieving that, it makes a claimed 116 horsepower instead of the previous 125, but a lot of that hp peak was bulldozed lower to fill in a trench in the midrange; R&D Technical Director Brian Gillen, who was also head of MV’s World Superbike/Supersport squad while he was in charge of the Brutale and various other projects, points out that MV’s racing data reveals its riders are at full throttle only 12% of the time even on the racetrack. It’s acceleration off corners and midrange power that matters.
Power delivery has also been a bit of a sticking point for MV; they finally got off/on-throttle response dialed and smooth enough to satisfy everyone in the last Brutale, Rivale, and almost everyone except Sean Alexander on the Turismo Veloce – only to have to go back and do it all over again to satisfy Euro 4. What we have now, says Gillen, are completely new ECU algorithms from start-up to redline to make the bike easier to ride and smoother-running.
Some of us who grew up driving rusty Chevelles are less sensitive to throttle abruptness, and to my wrist, the new Brutale’s throttle response is perfectly fine, smooth even, once it’s entered the zone above 4000 rpm or so, even if that response doesn’t always seem to be 100% linear. In Normal mode, the bike gives 100 hp and level 4 (of 8) traction control – and it fed the power in with excellent smoothness on the way up the mountain to Ronda in the morning while the road was still wet. (I could’ve swapped into Rain mode on the fly, 80 hp and more TC, but I didn’t wanna because there were dry patches, too.) There’s also Custom mode, which lets you dial all the parameters into your liking (and saves them there when you restart the bike).
In Sport mode, the Triple delivers the whole 116-hp enchilada and again, to me, still with perfectly acceptable throttle response even if the initial onset of power does become more perceptible. Some kid from France or somewhere in our group, who spent most of the ride balanced beautifully on the Brutale’s back wheel and was a really swift, smooth rider whenever he chose to also use the front, said he felt the power was a bit abrupt for his liking. I suppose what it comes down to is, if you’re a really expert rider on the edge of traction most of the time, you may want to seek a reflash. One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, as they say, and the young Frenchman seemed to be making ridiculous progress anyway.
I think the average rider will find no fault at all with the Brutale’s fueling, and besides, the design brief was to make the Brutale more user-friendly for non-experts. For them, MV succeeded; packing more torque lower in the rev band makes the bike easier to launch, roll around town upon and navigate tight corners – and the light-pull new hydraulic slipper clutch is nice too. In normal use, Normal feels just as fast as Sport, and is probably where most riders would leave the mode selector parked.
I also don’t think anybody will find fault with the bike’s gross domestic power output; when you get to a dry straight and roll the thing open, you’re greeted with that delicious, exotic war whoop of power that the Italians seem to have patented, along with a pretty good blast of acceleration (enough that the French kid said hoisting the front wheel with a little clutch in third gear was no problem). Except for a few inadvertent wheelies of far less duration, I kept my wheels on the ground.
What I am a harsh critic of is auto shifters that don’t work so hot. If we’re going to argue about whether the throttle’s closed all the way or not before the thing will shift, I’d rather blip the throttle and do it myself, okay? The MV’s autoshifter works extremely well both up and down through the gearbox, in town or in the mountains; all it asks is that you be moving at least 12 mph.
Though I’m a big fan of the well-executed downshift, I have to admit it’s nice when you’re waffling up to a damp downhill corner on an unfamiliar road to just be able to nudge down with your toe and positively know you’re going to get a smooth shift and the exact amount of engine braking you asked for, and the system doesn’t over-dramatize with too big a blip, either, like some stupid car that plays engine noises on the sound system. Just enough to mate the gears perfectly; I even took to downshifting mid-corner just for fun, which also never upset the bike. (Engine braking is one of the things that also adjusts when you switch from Normal to Sport, along with throttle sensitivity and rpm limit.) Upshifting leaned over with the gas on is even better. Again, the Triple’s soundtrack is fantastic above 8,000 rpm or so, where it’s hard to see how we passed Euro 4…
One of many things that was done to reduce noise was to use smaller teeth in the primary drive and more of them; now there are three teeth mating together where before there were only two. That also reduces driveline lash; the MV has an imperceptible amount, which also adds to its high-quality feel. “Things you can’t see that cost money,” smiles Engineer Gillen.
On the road in the damp, riding in a group, I never gave the brakes a really good squeeze, but they’re big expensive Brembos fed by Kevlar hoses, with more than enough power for street use, and sensitive enough in the damp for nice one-digit modulation. Bosch ABS with Rear Lift Mitigation challenges the idea that using the front brake will throw you over the handlebars.
Things had dried up for the most part on the way back down the mountain with a few wet areas left in the shade, and I furtively sniffed toward the Brutale’s performance edge like an aging badger. Gillen, who’s a refugee of Buffalo, NY, says they raised the center of gravity of the bike a bit, and gave the rear suspension more negative travel, to promote increased weight transfer and therefore increased mechanical grip via the bike’s all-new Pirelli Diablo Rosso 3’s – trickle-down knowledge from racing.
These are things I didn’t personally feel qualified to truly evaluate on the damp and chilly road to Ronda, not that anything to do with the bike held me back in the least. I love its magnificent engine wail, perfect auto-shift gearbox, and what felt like a perfectly well-controlled, solid chassis at my pace.
Every MV I’ve ridden does seem to have a certain dynamic, an expensive, solid feel. Maybe it’s psychological, because there’s nothing all that special about the bike’s 43mm Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock except for MV’s tuning. Back in Marbella at the bottom of the mountain, I realized I’d forgotten to make the switch from Normal to Sport; probably the missing 16 hp was what let the French kid leave me in the dust. Yes, that must’ve been it…
Besides, if you want the last nth of performance, you’re probably more an F3 kind of guy than a Brutale 800 one. MV says the competition really consists of the top-line Ducati Monster 821 Stripe, which is about 10% less money and also rated at 116 hp, but lacking a few of the options the MV has, and the exclusivity. Then, also according to MV, there’s the Triumph Street Triple R and maybe the Yamaha FZ-09. Around town mixed use is the real terrain for these, the upright ergonomics and handlebars make them all great companions. The Brutale is a little thick between the ankles compared to some, and its narrow-at-the-front seat feels like it might not be the most comfortable over the long run. Neither probably is a Lamborghini.
If handlebar vibration is your bugaboo, there’s also a bit of that coming through the tapered aluminum bar at 6,000 rpm and 75 mph or so, but not enough to complain about. The need to suffer for your Italian fetish is almost extinct, but the Brutale carries a vestigial trace of PITA. The humped passenger pad looks pretty sadistic.
Let’s face it, MVs have a certain amount of snob appeal, and if you’d asked me what’s the other “Super Premium” motorcycle brand in the world, I don’t know if Harley-Davidson would’ve leapt off my tongue first. But Giovanni Castiglioni and his crew definitely have a point when they lump themselves in. (Maybe it’s just flattery, designed to get H-D to buy and sell them again to pay for a new pool or something?) Who else but H-D can charge that kind of premium for a bike that’s not really functionally superior enough to ones costing considerably less except in the eyes of the faithful? H-D does do excellent paint and trim, and so does MV, along with many little engineering marvels that slowly reveal themselves in the privacy of one’s ten-car subterranean beachfront garage. And maybe also some things that will cause you to tear your hair out that only an owner gets to discover. Along with Euro 4 comes mandatory OBD, should any actual mechanical malady develop. There is DLC coating on the starter clutch now for reduced friction, which we surmise may have been causing trouble before?
Anyway, Gillen points out that MV had a very good last year when it sold 9000 bikes (the Brutale is its biggest seller, with more than 30,000 sold since 2000). Meanwhile H-D outdoes MV’s annual production in two weeks.
Unlike H-D, Senor Castiglioni says he has no ambition for MV to chase volume or lower prices by producing abroad. They do want to boost production, but also to keep it in-house and the brand exclusive. As a matter of fact, the Brutale is the first of three new nakeds on tap for 2016, along with three new sportbikes. And MV is beginning to market itself more aggressively through agreements it’s made with Mercedes-AMG to display bikes in AMG showrooms, and through limited-edition bikes, some of which it’s designed with Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton. It’s a perfect fit for those aspiring to the MV lifestyle, Castiglioni thinks.
It’s a nice lifestyle to visit, and only a fool wouldn’t want to live there. My flight out from Malaga was booked for 0645, which meant I needed to be on the road by 0430. When I stumbled into the dark hotel lobby of Villa Padierna thinking I’d need to rouse some poor sap to find me a taxi, the perky beauty behind the desk knew my name and asked if I’d like some coffee. I’d have been happy with a Styrofoam cup of instant, but within three minutes an 18-year-old waiter in full uniform appeared bearing coffee, fresh-squeezed OJ and a warm basket of baked goods on an actual silver tray; deed Senor want café Americano or café con leche? Just as I bit into a flaky warm chocolate croissant, a big BMW sedan swept up to the front door. A uniformed doorman placed my ratty Ogio bag (from the ’98 Yamaha R1 launch) gently into the trunk, the driver opened my door and everyone wished me a smiling Buenos Dias and safe travels in the middle of the night. Nobody expects a tip. You could get used to being a rich guy, except that there never seem to be any to-go cups. Back home, it’s a drag to not have a bidet.
A lot of the things your one-percenters do with their money leaves me more amused than angry, but buying yourself a shiny new MV Agusta is a thing I could actually get behind. And that’s not just the Air France champagne talking.
|2016 MV Agusta Brutale 800 Specifications|
|Engine||798cc liquid-cooled DOHC inline three-cylinder, 4 valves/cyl.; 12.3:1 compression ratio|
|Bore x stroke||79 x 54.3mm (3.1 in. x 2.1 in.)|
|Engine management||Integrated ignition – injection system MVICS (Motor & Vehicle Integrated Control System) with three injectors.|
|ECU||Eldor EM2.0, throttle body full Ride by Wire Mikuni.|
|Electronics||Torque control with four maps, Traction Control with eight levels of intervention.|
|Clutch||Hydraulically actuated wet-clutch, multi-disc with back torque limiting device; primary drive 19/36|
|Transmission||Six-speed, cassette style; MV EAS 2.0 (Electronically Assisted Shift up & down)|
|Maximum speed||237 kph (147.2 mph)|
|Emissions||Certified to Euro 4|
|Type||ALS Steel tubular trellis Aluminum alloy|
|Rake/trail||24.5 degrees/ 103.5mm (4.07 in)|
|Wheelbase||1400mm (55.1 in.)|
|Front Suspension||43mm Marzocchi inverted telescopic fork, fully adjustable; 125mm (4.92 in.) travel|
|Rear Suspension||Sachs fully adjustable linkage-mounted single shock absorber; 124mm (4.88 in.) travel|
|Front brake||Dual floating 320mm discs, Brembo radial-type 4-piston calipers; Bosch 9 Plus ABS with RLM (Rear wheel Lift Mitigation)|
|Rear brake||220mm disc; 2-piston Brembo caliper, ABS|
|Front Wheel||Aluminum alloy 3.50 x 17 inch|
|Rear Wheel||5.50 x 17 inch|
|Front Tire||120/70 – ZR 17 M/C (58 W)|
|Rear Tire||180/55 – ZR 17 M/C (73 W)|
|Seat height||830mm (32.7 in.)|
|Dry weight, claimed||175 kg (385.8 lb.)|
|Fuel capacity||16.5 L (4.36 US gal.)|
|Colors||White, Black, Red|