Moto Guzzi Norge 1200: First Ride Report

How does it compare to the standard-setting BMW RT?

Venture deep into the Alps during the peak of the riding season and you'll witness a very strange natural phenomena.

Thousands of strange two-legged creatures conquer the hills and valleys, flowing fast in long serpentine files, like ants carrying food. These strange insects are called boxers and you'll be hard-pressed to find among them any creatures that don't have two opposed air-cooled cylinders.

Yes, I know that the Big Four, Triumph, Ducati and others make touring rigs too, but after spending a few summers between the Alps' peaks, I have to take my hat off in honor of BMW's outright command of the category. So if two big jugs powering a longitudinal crank and drive shaft is the best formula for a touring scoot then Moto-Guzzi is the company that should put up the real fight, no?

Welcome Norge! It was about time; even true Guzzistas were forgetting...
When you have a tall frame like Yossef, good wind tunnel aerodynamic design on a bike is important.

By the aforementioned logic, Moto Guzzi has the right cards to play; it's just that holding the right cards is one thing, but placing your bet is another. Someone had to back Guzzi in this bold move into the upper echelons of the touring market, and new owner Piaggio is doing exactly that. The metamorphosis that Guzzi is undergoing under the new ownership is nothing short of amazing and a true flagship is joining now the growing line up: the new Norge 1200.

After the introduction of two new-age roadsters, the Breva and Griso, the Norge is a bike that should at least cause some discomfort in Munich. It's a true all-out tourer that's accessorized to the tips of its valves stems. Welcome Norge! It was about time; even true Guzzistas were forgetting that once upon a time Guzzi churned out some serious touring machines.

'To achieve good aerodynamic protection without creating an aircraft carrier, Guzzi invested some serious time at the wind tunnel and you can find some tell-tale signs.'

When the Norge was unveiled at the Milan show last year, it was easy to see that no corners were cut with this one. When you put your crosshairs on a target like the proven and successful BMW RT--Europe's king of sales in the Touring segment--you'd better try hard, and the effort put into the Norge is hard to miss. The Norge has plenty of presence, just like a big tourer should, and just as important, a stance and poise all its own. It's not easy to make a BMW-beater without drifting to copying details here and there, but the Norge's designers managed to create a very unique interpretation for the big and comfy theme. At a time when sharp cuts and just plain weird details abound in new Beemers, Marabese (the Norge's designer) went for the opposite extreme: soft and sensual surfaces, flattering curves, neo-classic and unique. If touring bikes have a sex, then there should be no doubt: the RT is a "he", the Norge a "she".

Does Moto Guzzi's latest entry into the sport touring segment strike a familiar pose? Yossef said that the headlights are similar to Yamaha's FJR.

Being Guzzi's first venture into touring after almost two decades meant also that the Norge had to cover a few bases at once. So it's no LT in size, nor is it small and sporty as a VFR or BMW 1200ST. Think about something in between. Despite the imposing presence of the Norge, there is far less visual mass and volume than in the RT while there's more aerodynamic protection than in the BMW ST. Personally I'd call it a nice and smart compromise, especially for someone like me who's not to keen on king size fairings.

To achieve good aerodynamic protection without creating an aircraft carrier, Guzzi invested some serious time at the wind tunnel and you can find some tell-tale signs.

The clear windshield has a sculpted shape and is mounted at a distance from the front fairing in order to let the air flow beneath. The upper edges of the fairing sides and leg protectors are flared out to deflect the wind blast. The end result is a fairing that according to Guzzi, should provide good protection without being too wide.

Regardless of the encompassing fairing, there is a fair bit of engine on show and it creates a nice focal point within the silver surfaces. So while the cylinder heads are nicely framed, the sharp diagonal cuts around the exhaust headers inject a fair bit of dynamism into the Norge's clothes.

Zoom close into the Norge and you won't be disappointed either. Although we tested pre-series bikes, fit and finish made a very good impression while fine touches abound, like the cast-in logo inside the rear lamp lens, the interesting     sculpting inside the main headlights and beautifying covers for the backside of the master cylinders. Even the factory GPS mounting cradle seemed well made.

Ninety extra cc's mean 73.8 foot-pounds and 95 horsepower.

Negative comments so far? The main headlights seem too close together, like those found in the Yamaha FJR, while the cast mounting brackets of the adjustable height windshield seemed a bit rough. On such "loaded" rigs it's easy to find details to nit pick about but there are very few false steps here. If there's a biggie, then it's in the handlebar-mounted mirrors; they're not quite up to standard in this class of tools. However, I also have to confess that this solution does reduce perceived visual bulk compared to proper fairing mounted items.

On the mechanical front there's a lot or a little to talk about, depending on your slant. Although it's not easy to spot, the cycle side of things is heavily based on the Breva; frame, 45 mm fork and rear suspension included. Obviously there are plenty of extra brackets and tubes; some critical dimensions were changed, too. The fork is adjustable only for preload, while in back you can change that as well as the rebound damping. All new is the ABS system, similar to the one that is installed in this model year's Breva.

Bigger news lurks in the engine room; I noticed the small writing under the neat Norge logo. The basic engine castings might look the same, but in order to provide the real he-man torque required for full-payload touring, both bore and stroke were increased. They are up to 95mm X 81.2mm from the Breva's 92 X 80, resulting in 1,151 cubic centimeters. Now, 90 extra cubes might not sound like much, but there's a serious hike in both torque and horsepower. Torque is up from 62.7 foot-pounds at 6000 RPM to 73.8 foot-pounds at 5800, while power output goes from 86 to 95 horsepower. Some tuning! Big thumbs-up to the guys in the greasy engine department hut.

It might be worth noting that in order to cope with the increased load, the oil pump has been changed from the old gear type to a lobed one and exhaust valves are in nymonic steel and directly cooled by oil jets. The rest of the power train is lifted from the Breva, including the six-speed tranny and CARC-designed single-sided schwinger.

After all the new model launches at Guzzi in the past year I know my way out to the factory by heart and my attention is drawn first and foremost on the new engine. In a nutshell: what a gem! There's super-sano drive from the word "go" and the Norge piles up the MPHs in commanding fashion without ever going above 5000 revs. Ever dream of your perfect Guzzi V-Twin engine? It's here at last and strangely enough all I can think of while rolling it on is: if only this engine was mounted on the Griso, that would be one hell of a power cruiser!

The Norge pulls a real ace from its sleeve: very quick, sweet and reassuring response to steering inputs.'Give it a good twist at the right grip, and the Norge shoots forward with very un-German like enthusiasm and the same merry-sporty attitude is manifested in that light and responsive steering.'

As nice as the new 1100 cc mills are, this is another world. The way this thing pulls out from the slow hairpins while climbing up from the lake towards the mountains above, picking up decisively from as low as 2000 RPM, is so, so satisfying. Wind it out some more and it propels you in a hurry towards the next hairpin. On the fast autostrada you discover that this two-valve pushrod V-Twin might be close to 40 years old in its basic design but has very modern power much higher up the range too.

Helped by the very good aerodynamic protection, I push on and very quickly find myself "cruising" at 110 mph and change. Back to more reasonable speeds, I start paying more attention to important issues such as riding position and rider environment. As in many big tourers nowadays (and the Breva, too) if it wasn't for the sculpted and well padded seat I could be lead into thinking that I am straddling a big bore trail bike or adventure tourer. The handlebars rise up to meet your hands but aren't close enough, so your elbows don't bend much. There is good seat to footpeg distance and only the sculpted seat limits the perceived real estate. It feels very comfortable but I dislike seats that confine me to just a few inches of back and forth room to move around.

The group I am riding with leaves the highway behind and enters a busy two-lane road on the Valtelina valley. There are stoplights and trucks; it's slow and crowded yet the Norge handles it all with style. The clutch and gearshift operation are as good as I remember from the Breva while there's a definite improvement in reaction to on-off throttle inputs. Compared to the Breva, the Norge is way less jerky. Slowing down to crawling speeds, the Norge still feels light and manageable.

That "big yet light" sensation continues as we leave the traffic behind and tackle our first proper twisty road. On this road with 30-70 mph corners, the Norge pulls a real ace from its sleeve: a very quick, sweet and reassuring response to steering inputs. It reminds me of the Breva's sweetness in such conditions and it's no wonder. The bike shares the cycle portion, but just how does it manage to be as quick-steering with all those extra pounds and heft?

I can't think of another proper tourer that can offer this level of flickability. In the meantime, the suspension also gives an impression of being a good mix of plushness and control. The suspenders work fine over the smooth but when the tarmac deteriorates in quality, I am a bit surprised by an unexpected harshness when hitting bigger bumps. It feels like there is still some work to do on the high speed valving settings or quality. When going much faster I felt like I wanted a bit of extra damping in the back, too.

Here's the optional GPS system installed.
Once Yossef figured out how to operate the saddlebags, he found his long lost Windows 98 laptop hiding inside.
One thing is sure. In the rarefied air of the 1,200cc with ABS touring class, the Norge has a place.

Regardless of the criticism on the suspension settings, most of the time the overall impression is: "what a fun ride!" The great engine response to throttle inputs works in unison with the superb handling. Tip the Norge in till the tip of the boot skims over the tarmac, caress the apex and roll the throttle on. The Norge straightens and accelerates smartly and with enthusiasm. Experienced touring riders will appreciate the ease with which you can balance the Norge mid-turn with the precise throttle response. I wish I had something to say about the ABS system, but conditions were sunny and dry, the asphalt was clean and no deer jumped in front of me. In normal use, the non-servo Brembo set up does a very smart job and the rear ABS steps in only when you insist with the pedal.

Time for a break. Through the two hours of riding until now the seat feels fine. I take the time to study more details but have little success while trying to remove the hard luggage. Some colleagues join me in the effort without much success either but we discover later that cases need to be pushed back rather than pulled up, and then they come off in a jiffy. Yep, journos need to read the owners manual too! I play a bit with the manual windshield height adjustment (two plastic knobs) and discover that although it's a bit rough, it actually works well.

Maybe this is the time to mention that the Norge is going to be sold in four trim levels. There's the basic T (turismo), TL (turismo lusso, meaning luxury). GT (grand turismo) and GTL (figure it out yourself). They differ in equipment level; just don't ask exactly how, as there are too many details to count. In the options list you'll find heated grips, lower seats, electric windshield adjustment, a GPS system, and much more. After riding the Norge one goodie I would add to the list is a suspension package. Although level in specs with many other tourers out there, with the ESA option available in Beemers, a fully adjustable suspension option would be nice to have.

This leads us to that big question: how does it compare to the standard-setting BMW RT? We have to ask in response, "Can you compare a 16,500 Euros scoot (the BMW) with a 13,500 Euros Norge?" The Goose seems to read my mind as we take off again to show me what she's best at. It might not be polished with 1200-grit wet-and-dry paper like the RT, but it sure has character and in spades. On paper it might be down on power compared to Bavaria's best by some 10-15 horsies, but it more than makes up for it with the 1200 mill's rev-happy character that's supported by rather shortish gearing. Give it a good twist at the right grip, and the Norge shoots forward with very un-German like enthusiasm and the same merry-sporty attitude is manifested in that light and responsive steering.

On the last autostrada stretch I also notice some very light vibes around 4,000 rpms, but they are never bothersome, and I could do with rotating the hand levers down some. However, it simply can't be done as the banjo bolts hit the handlebars risers. The problem is that really testing a touring rig as important as the Norge requires not just a few hours but rather a few days, if not a few weeks. I hand back the Norge feeling that I was just getting into its groove.

One thing is sure. In the rarefied air of the 1,200cc with ABS touring class, the Norge has a place. It's got quick steering as no other, plenty of charisma, again, like no other, and just as important, a very attractive price for what it is. The first thing I did when I arrived home was to send an email to Guzzi asking for a Norge for a really big test-loop.

Type: 90° V-Twin, 4 stroke
Cooling system: air cooling
Displacement: 1,151 cc
Bore and stroke: 95 x 81.2 mm
Compression ratio: 9.8 : 1
Timing system: intake open 24° B.T.D.C.
intake close 52° A.B.D.C.
exhaust open 54° B.B.D.C.
exhaust close 22° A.T.D.C.
with valve clearance 1.5 mm
*Claimed* Maximum power: over 66 kW (95 HP) at 7,500 rpm
*Claimed* Maximum torque: over 100 Nm at 5,800 rpm
Fuel injection system / Ignition: Magneti Marelli IAW5A, a-n type; 2 Ø 45 mm throttle bodies, Weber IWP 162 injectors, Lambda control, twin spark ignition
Spark plug: internal NGK PMR8B (Long Life)
external NGK BPR6ES
Starting: electric
Exhaust system: stainless steel, 2 into 1 type with catalytic converter, height-adjustable muffler
Homologation: Euro 3
Gears: 6 speed
Internal ratios: 1st 17/38 = 1 : 2.235
: 2nd 20/34 = 1 : 1.700
: 3rd 23/31 = 1 : 1.347
: 4th 26/29 = 1 : 1.115
: 5th 31/30 = 1 : 0.967
: 6th 29/25 = 1 : 0.862
Lubrication: splash
Primary drive: helical teeth, ratio 24/35 = 1 : 1.458
Secondary drive: Compact Reactive Shaft Drive CA.R.C.; double universal joint with floating bevel gear, ratio 12/44 = 1 : 3.666
Clutch: dry
Frame: tubular cradle, high tensile steel
Wheelbase: 1,495 mm
Trail: 120 mm
Rake: 64.5°
Steering angle: 32°
Front suspension: telescopic hydraulic fork with Ø 45 mm, preload adjustable
Front wheel travel: 120 mm
Rear suspension: single arm suspension with progressive linkage, rear shock absorber adjustable in rebound and pre-load (hydraulic)
Rear wheel travel: 140 mm
Front brake: double stainless steel floating disc, Ø 320 mm, 4 piston calipers - abs
Rear brake: single steel disc, Ø 282 mm, 2 piston caliper - abs
Wheels: three spokes, light alloy wheels, gravity casting
Front wheel: 3.50" x 17"
Rear wheel: 5.50" x 17"
Front tyre: 120/70 ZR17"
Rear tyre: 180/55 ZR17"
Voltage: 12 V
Battery: 12 V - 18 Ah
Alternator: 12 V - 550 W at 2,000 rpm
Length: 2,195 mm
Width (handlebars): 870 mm
Height (dashboard): 1,125 mm
Seat height: 800 mm
Minimum round clearance: 185 mm
Front footrest height: 377 mm
*Claimed* Dry weight: 246 kg
Fuel tank capacity: 23 litre
Reserve: 4 litre

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