Whether it’s a restored CB, a classic BSA or even a stripped-down Sportster, retro bikes are downright ubiquitous. Yes, friends, a good look around is all the proof one needs to know that vintage is all the rage, if not in actual iron then certainly in appearance and form. And it’s more than just tastemakers like Jesse James and Roland Sands jumping on the retro wagon. Garage builders are ordering clip-ons and rearsets by the pallet-full.
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Even manufacturers are capitalizing, with ultra-stylized versions of their own existing motorcycles. Harley’s Nightster has been around since 2007, and Triumph’s Thruxton edition of its reincarnated Bonneville model will celebrate its – get this – 10-year anniversary next year. And while venerable Italian marque Moto Guzzi has always been admired more for its timeless style than its trailblazing technology (case in point: visit its website), the company’s retro standard V7 has been competing with the Bonnie for several years now.
For 2013, the V7 line has been updated with a new engine and is available in three variations, as noted in our preview. The blacked-out Stone has the lowest MSRP at $8390, while wire-spoke wheels and two-tone paint jazz up the $8990 Special. But it’s the striking, vintage-inspired Racer that steps into the ring for this comparo.
As faithful MO readers undoubtedly noticed, we recently spent significant time aboard 2013 renditions of both the Racer and Thruxton, and have offered up succinct impressions of each. The reason for the brevity? Because we always knew we ultimately wanted to give our readers a side-by-side comparison of these two highly stylized, pseudo-retro machines. So let’s get ready to rumble.
Tale of the Tape
Truth be told, a comparison of these two bikes is rather like two boxers of differing weight classes mixing it up in a title fight. No matter whether the larger contender (in this case, the 865cc Thruxton) moves down in weight for the bout, or the smaller fighter (the 744cc V7 Racer) moves up, it’s just not going to be a fair contest. The quicker, flashier upstart will likely land a few stinging jabs, but the bigger brawler has the clear advantage: it’s got a longer reach, and its punches carry more heft.
Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, but the flamboyant Guzzi dances into the ring with more panache than the comparatively conservative Triumph.
“I really like the profile and stance of the Thruxton, but it becomes nearly invisible when the V7 Racer is parked beside it,” comments Editor-in-Chief Kevin Duke. “It’s the unique chrome tank that immediately draws in the eyes, but it goes much deeper than that. It has a timeless stance that looks just about perfect to my eyes. The red finish of the chassis and wheel hubs adds a color flourish to the black and silver base, and the number plates and subtle flyscreen add to its distinctive qualities.”
“The Thruxton presents a more subtle personality,” Duke adds, “walking softly while carrying a bigger stick.”
The Thruxton’s 865cc parallel-Twin is the same solid motor used in all the Bonneville's current incarnations, although its ECU mapping results in an extra horsepower over the Bonnie. (The other brother in the Classics line, the recently reviewed Scrambler, nets different performance mainly because its engine features a 270-degree crankshaft, instead of the Bonnie's and Thrux's 360-degree spacing.) Willing at the bottom end and capable at the top, it exudes confidence in every gear. Whether you're café hopping, canyon carving or lane splitting, the Thruxton is game for pretty much whatever you ask of it.
Meanwhile, the Racer sports the longitudinally opposed V-Twin engine that made Guzzi famous. For 2013, V7 engines are comprised of 70% new components and boast slightly boosted horsepower and torque ratings over its predecessor. Still, while the Racer certainly exudes a frisky attitude that matches its appearance and marginally lives up to its moniker, as previously pointed out, there’s little benefit in winding it up; by the time you reach 6000 rpm, all the ponies have been let out of the barn and the handlebar buzz becomes pronounced.
“I had hoped for more power from Guzzi’s redesigned 90-degree V-Twin,” Duke comments. “It feels a little torquier and livelier than the previous Racer’s powerplant, yet it remains a mild mill. But, while its power can’t be considered anything close to arm-stretching, it never feels gutless in normal use, cranking out usable grunt whenever it’s asked."
In addition to retro presentations and air-cooled, twin-cylinder engines fed with electronic fuel injection, there are plenty other similarities between these two bikes to warrant this prizefight.
The five-speed transmissions of each are well-suited to their respective motors. The Guzzi’s tranny will keep its motor humming while stylin’ and profilin’. But by 70 mph you’ve likely run the shifter clear through its cycle. And using the upper end of its powerband is accompanied by significant vibration.
“More prevalent than the V7’s power deficit is the strong vibration that transmits to a rider,” Duke asserts. “V-Twins have perfect primary balance, but the secondary vibes from the small-block Guzzi are surprisingly strong.”
Guzzi-philes should rest assured that the Racer’s not without its charming, quirky Guzzi-ness. As Duke points out, when the engine is revved at a stop the varying rotational forces of the crank cause the entire bike to pitch rightward. Also, there’s no discernible “click” when going into first gear, so it’s not uncommon to find yourself bouncing the ball of your left foot on the lever at stoplights to ensure you’re ready when the light changes. And what’s up with that phantom neutral?
“The V7’s gearbox isn’t quite up to the standard set by the Triumph, with disappointingly longish throws and less precision,” says Duke. “Its shifter was initially mounted too high and made the condition worse until we used the clever eccentric mounts for the shifter peg to bring it to a more agreeable position.”
Meanwhile, the Thruxton changes gears crisply and its easy interplay takes full advantage of the engine’s alacrity. Whether milking second for extra speed on the on-ramp or stomping into fourth to pass a dawdling freeway driver, the Thruxton’s drivetrain relishes the challenge of being pushed to real-world extremes. Its wet, multi-plate clutch gives it a leg up on the Guzzi’s dry, single-plater that has a surprisingly heavy pull for such a mild mill, although both seemed a bit weak to Duke.
Countering the Guzzi’s 121cc displacement disadvantage is the bike’s relatively light weight. Comparing curb weights (full of fuel and ready to ride) can be misleading, as the V7’s generous 5.8-gallon tank can carry 10 more pounds' worth of fuel than the Triumph's 4.2-gallon tank. But even subtracting the fuel difference, the Guzzi has a clear advantage. Sans gas, it scales in at just over 400 pounds, while the Thruxton weighs 471.
“The Racer feels much lighter than the Thruxton when picking it off its sidestand and rolling it out of the garage, adding to its friendly nature,” Duke observes. "It not only feels lighter than the Thruxton, it handles that way, too, initiating a turn with less effort than its British rival.”
The weight difference begs the question of, given a hardier powerplant, what a real burner the Racer might be. In this bout, it’s clear that the Racer is the real lightweight – and in this case, that’s a good thing. Count this as one of those stinging jabs.
Both bikes sport a tubular steel, double-cradle frame. The Guzzi’s, highlighted in that same racy red, wins in terms of sex appeal, but Duke noted that hitting mid-corner bumps in fast turns upsets the chassis, giving the sensation as if it might be flexing. The Thruxton displayed no such behavior.
Both bikes also feature comparably sized single discs in the rear with two-piston floating calipers, and 320mm discs up front. Although the Racer uses a higher-spec four-piston Brembo caliper up front, it didn’t offer the expected performance advantage over the Thruxton’s two-piston Nissins.
“The Brembo name promises better response but doesn’t deliver, with a fairly long pull of the lever before lazily biting,” Duke says. “I’d like to try brake pads with toothier material that would bite quicker. The Thruxton’s front brake feels more powerful than the Guzzi’s and offers decent feedback through braided-steel lines.”
Both bikes have a telescopic fork (at 41mm, Triumph’s is a millimeter thicker), and both utilize a twin-sided swingarm in the rear (the Triumph’s is steel; the Guzzi’s, alloy) with dual shocks adjustable for preload and rebound damping; the Racer’s also include compression damping. Note that the Thruxton’s fork is preload adjustable, while the Racer’s is not, making the Thrux’s suspension slightly more adaptable to real-world riding conditions – a theme that consistently presents itself in this matchup.
Also, both retro-rockers feature spoked rims of equal size – 18 inches up front and 17 out back. The Thruxton’s 36-spoke front and 40-spoke rear are indeed classy, but the Racer’s spokes, also in chrome but set off by black rims and racy red hubs, take this round based on allure alone – another recurring theme of this retro-ride title fight.
But there are also substantial differences between these retro rockers, chief among them the Thruxton’s chain drive versus the Racer’s reactive shaft. Guzzi has done a good job of limiting driveline lash and the jacking effect suffered by some shaft-driven bikes.
When it comes to cockpit ergonomics, the Thruxton’s bars aren’t as painfully low as the bars used when the bike was first launched. “They placed no weight on my wrists at highway speeds, providing a perfect balance of sport and comfort,” Duke says.
Meanwhile, the Racer puts its rider further hunched over in attack mode. The Thrux’s rearsets put its pilot’s feet under his butt, while the Racer’s ergos have its rider’s knees relatively close to the bar ends. Unfortunately, the Racer’s aggressive stance is little more than a taunt; you’re ready, willing, and able to attack, but you’ve got no weapon at your disposal other than your dashing good looks. Holding that ready pose gets tiresome – like being stuck in traffic in a Lamborghini.
After a day of riding, the Triumph unanimously emerged as clearly the more comfortable and amenable motorcycle. Despite its highly stylized presentation, the Thruxton, like its Bonneville brethren, is perfectly willing and capable of doing whatever we asked of it. And it looked super cool doing so.
The soft suede saddle of the Guzzi Racer, with its black plastic cowling and integrated number plate, is certainly apt for the bike’s motif and perhaps more aesthetically pleasing than the Thruxton’s standard Bonneville issue throne. But it’s a rabbit-punch that leaves the Racer exposed. First and foremost, everyone knows suede doesn’t take kindly to water exposure. Tucked under the Racer’s seat is a nylon seat cover to protect it from the elements.
Like many of the Racer’s accoutrements, the rear cowl exists purely for visual effect; it neither hides nor protects anything. To be fair, Guzzi does offer a couple of optional two-up seats to fit the Racer, although passenger pegs and their mounting are apparently left up to you.
So while the Thruxton’s matching painted cowl may not be quite as fetching as the Guzzi’s, simply unscrew two Allen bolts to remove it and what do you find? More seat, a good 12-15 inches' worth. And darned if there aren’t handy pegs situated just below. The Racer makes no such arrangements.
The bottom line is that while both bikes are certainly comely and will garner plenty of well-deserved attention, if the Racer rider wants to take a new friend out for a spin on his hot machine with its sexy suede seat, well, he’s S.O.L. Meanwhile, the Thruxton rider is free to continue his café courtship somewhere down the road. This punch by the Triumph connects solidly if carrying a passenger is an integral part of your riding duties.
For the final round of our bout, it’s a face-off of accessories. Both bikes offer model-specific Arrow slip-on exhaust systems purported to optimize sound as well as performance. The Guzzi’s runs $1189. Triumph offers two optional Arrows: a 2-into-1 ($1099) or a 2-into-2 ($1199).
The Racer scores with its groovy Record kit ($1999.99) that includes a sexy bullet-nosed fairing to better emulate racebikes from the 1970s. The Thruxton counters with a natty headlight cowl and flyscreen with matching paint with racing stripe ($249.99).
Finally, both marques boast closets-full of branded gear, although the array of Hinckley’s clothing line far exceeds that from Italy. While Triumph wins the round on sheer volume of swag, both are as stylish as expected, and enthusiasts of each marque will surely prefer their favorite.
After a glance at the price tag, the staggered and reeling Italian ($9990) is dancing its way to the final bell. At $8799, the cool, practical, comfortable – and quite sexy – Triumph Thruxton costs more than a thousand dollars less than the flashy, buzzy Moto Guzzi.
The Judges’ Scorecard
While both motorcycles scored big style points, the V7 Racer, with its chrome fuel tank, racy red accents and brushed aluminum side panels, came out on top in terms of presentation. The V7 Racer also gets kudos for its surprisingly vast fuel range and the availability of its GP-throwback Record kit. But good looks only take you so far.
“While both these European contenders play in the café-racer segment, they don’t quite play head to head,” Duke remarks. “The Guzzi’s loftier price tag and relatively Spartan accommodations makes it better suited as a second (or third) bike, its flamboyant personality able to hold its stylish head high in even high-end circles. The Racer screams that it’s cool, gesticulating wildly like an Italian after a few glasses of wine.”
“But,” he continues, “if you’re going to have just one bike in your garage, the extra power, cheaper price and more versatile platform of the Thruxton make it a more agreeable candidate."
Time and again, the Thruxton proved itself more than just a showpiece. Triumph’s café cruiser performed not only as expected, but surpassed our expectations in long-term comfort and flexibility of application. It's a complete, well-rounded motorcycle, and therefore dons our Retro Comparo championship belt. Ding-ding.
2013 Moto Guzzi V7 Racer Review
2013 Triumph Thruxton Review
2012 Triumph Scrambler Review
Moto Guzzi V7 Special, V7 Stone and V7 Racer Coming to US for 2013
2012 Moto Guzzi V7 Lineup Review
2009 Triumph Bonneville Review
2008 Moto Guzzi V7 Classic Review