2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress First Ride Review

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

An Italian interpretation of the American bagger

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.

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
Ergonomics/Comfort 8.0/10
Appearance/Quality 9.0/10
Desirability 9.0/10
Value 8.0/10
Overall Score84.25/100

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Specifications

Engine Type90° V-Twin
CoolingAir and oil with an independent cooling pump; oil radiator with thermostat controlled fan
Displacement1380 cc
Bore and Stroke104 x 81.2 mm
Compression Ratio10.5 : 1
Valve Train4 valves per cylinder, DOHC
Fuel SystemPhased 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 hp95 hp @ 6500 rpm
Claimed torque89.2 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Final DriveDouble cardan joint and fixed bevel gear seat
ClutchDry single plate with flexible couplings
Exhaust SystemThree-way catalyser with lambda probe
Emissions ComplianceEuro 4
FrameDouble cradle tubular frame in ALS steel with detachable rear subframe
Wheelbase66.7 in.
Trail4.9 in.
Front SuspensionStandard fork , 46 mm
Rear SuspensionDouble shock absorber with adjustable rebound and remote spring preload
Front BrakeDual 320 mm stainless steel floating discs, Brembo radial callipers with 4 horizontally opposed pistons: ABS as standard equipment
Rear Brake282 mm stainless steel fixed disc, Brembo floating calliper with 2 parallel pistons: ABS as standard
WheelsCast Aluminum
Front Wheel3.50” x 21”
Rear Wheel5.5″ x 16″
Front Tire120/70-R21 62V
Rear Tire180/60-R16 80H
Saddlebag Capacity7.6 gal. each
Seat Height29.1 in. (28.3 in. option)
Claimed Curb Weight701 lb.
Fuel Capacity5.4 gal.
Reserve0.7 gal.
Available ColorsBlack
WarrantyTwo years, unlimited mileage
Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

More by Evans Brasfield

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4 of 33 comments
  • TheMarvelous1310 TheMarvelous1310 on Aug 12, 2016

    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!

  • Peter Tanshanomi Peter Tanshanomi on Aug 12, 2016

    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 Gabriel Owens on Aug 23, 2016

      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.