2014 MV Agusta F3 800 Review - First Ride
We ride MV's bulked up middleweight stateside
I have to admit, I approached the MV Agusta F3 800 with a bit of trepidation. Despite reading our European correspondent, Tor Sagen’s, mostly glowing review of the bike from its overseas debut at Misano, I’d just finished riding MV’s Brutale 800, featuring the same basic engine, last week with a less than enthusiastic opinion. Quite frankly, I was expecting the fully-clothed F3 800 would exhibit the same issues that turned me off on the Brutale. Unpredictable throttle response, two-stroke-like power delivery, and an attitude that demands the rider’s full attention 100% of the time were big turn-offs for me.
2014 MV Agusta F3 800
All it took was my first stroll down pit lane to realize the F3 800 was a much improved motorcycle. Thanks to the latest software update to the F3’s fuel map settings, throttle response from the 798cc engine finally resembled an old school throttle cable setup. This was a good omen as I continued my way down pit exit and onto Chuckwalla Valley Raceway’s sinuous course.
Once up to speed it was hard not to notice the howling bark of the 798cc tre pistoni engine, as it exhibits the intoxicating three-cylinder wail that makes this engine configuration so endearing. MV says the F3 800 makes 148 hp, or “approximately the same as a World Supersport racebike,” says Brian Gillen, MV’s three- and four-cylinder platform manager and head of MV’s racing efforts. And with a larger displacement comes more torque — 65 ft.-lbs. for the 800, much more than WSS motorcycles.
F3 800 Nitty Gritty
Based on the F3 675’s engine, the 800 version retains the same 79.0mm bore, but stroke increases to 54.3mm (versus 45.9mm on the 675). Different pistons compared to the 675 up the compression ratio to 13.3:1 (versus 13.1:1), but to keep piston speeds at an acceptable level, redline is lowered to 13,500 rpm, down 1500 revs to the 675. The F3 800 engine retains the counter-rotating crankshaft seen on the rest of the Triple line, but utilizes titanium valves all around, compared to the steel units on the Brutale 800. Intake cams on the F3 and Brutale 800 are also different, as the former is tuned for maximum horsepower, which benefits bikes like the F3 800, which are meant to spend much of their time at the racetrack.
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An equally significant difference between the F3 800 and the rest of the MV line, including the F4 four-cylinder models, is the use of MV’s latest fuel mapping upgrade. It’s no secret MV has been getting a lashing in the motorcycle press about the horrendous fueling on many of its bikes, and even Gillen admitted this during the F3 800’s U.S. press intro saying, “We [MV Agusta] were really behind in electronics compared to our competitors.”
To this end, Gillen was happy to remind those who weren’t aware that MV is constantly improving and revising fuel maps for all its models. The most recent mappings are listed on the MV Agusta website. Under the model name, select the “Upgrade” option to see the date of the latest fuel map. If yours is out of date, a dealer will be able to upgrade the mapping for free.
Playing With Electrons
Compared to the Brutale 800 I had just ridden a few days prior, the F3’s fuelling, especially at part throttle, is world’s better. The updated fuel mapping is a major contributing factor, but so too are the dual fuel injectors per cylinder, compared to the single injectors on the Brutale 800. With the F3 800, I finally felt comfortable twisting the fly-by-wire throttle and receiving a linear amount of power to the rear wheel each time.
This building enthusiasm was quickly curtailed as I flicked my toe upward to signal an upshift via MV’s Electronically Assisted Shift (EAS) system. A fancy acronym for quickshifter, EAS’ programmed ignition kill times (approximately seven milliseconds, according to Gillen) were too long for a racetrack setting. With each shift there was a slight hesitation before power was reapplied. This wasn’t a one-time occurrence or the result of sloppy footwork, either — this happened consistently and was reported by all the journos in attendance. Because the F3 is a street bike primarily, Gillen says the long kill time was deliberate for the slower shift times seen on the street, but noted a software update to allow different track and street settings is something MV engineers are considering.
During our test, one of the bikes’ EAS would not shift from third to fourth without some concentrated effort, which was especially troubling considering those are the two gears used most around Chuckwalla. Tapping the shifter as normal would kill the ignition, but not change gears. A second flick of the lever would then grab fourth gear. Sagen reported the same thing in Europe, and like Sagen’s experience, other bikes in the test didn’t have this problem, indicating a setup issue with the specific motorcycle.
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MV uses an Eldor ECU to keep tabs of the bike’s major functions, including the eight different traction control settings (nine including off) and four different riding modes — Rain, Normal, Sport, and Custom. Similar to the system seen on the Brutale 800, TC consists of sensors for throttle position, gear position, engine speed and rear wheel speed to react to rate of change between engine and rear wheel speed. A relatively crude way of controlling rear wheel slide, a more comprehensive system would add lean angle and front wheel sensors to more accurately predict slippage.
These electronic niggles aside, riding the F3 800 on a racetrack is a thrill. The 800 demands its rider give it everything they have, as it rewards aggression. Ergonomically, the rider is perched in attack mode, perfect for the racetrack. For such a focused motorcycle, footpegs aren’t perched terribly high, but there’s no fear of dragging hard parts, either.
The F3 800 is a tight, compact motorcycle. Even for my five-foot, eight-inch frame, I felt cramped. Elbows touched knees in a full tuck, and there’s limited room to scoot backward without sitting in the pillion seat. Taller journos in attendance felt even more restricted.
Railing the lithe little MV through a series of corners at Chuckwalla induces ear-to-ear grins every time. It flicks into turns effortlessly, no doubt aided by the counter-rotating crankshaft, and elbow-dragging lean angles are possible with relative confidence. Marzocchi provides a fully-adjustable 43mm fork, with Sachs supplying an equally adjustable shock. Both units receive slightly stiffer damping compared to the F3 675 to cope with the extra power, and even minor adjustments produce a noticeable difference. The 800 really comes into its own on corner exits, as the torque gives the kind of push out of a corner we wish we could get from a 600, without the scary top-end rush of a literbike.
For this track test MV replaced the standard Pirelli Diablo Rosso rubber with Diablo Supercorsa SC tires, and with the perfect track conditions, setting the TC at anything over level two felt more restrictive than I would have liked. That said, despite the relatively crude system, TC intervention is almost imperceptible, feeling more like a dragging rear brake than abrupt curtailing of power.
Changing TC levels is possible on the fly, but the dash display has to be in race mode. Even then, trying to toggle the tiny rubber buttons on the left bar to add or subtract intervention levels is difficult with gloved hands. Forget trying to do it in a race situation. To date, the +/- paddle system seen on the Aprilia RSV4 APRC is still the most effective way to accomplish this while diverting minimal attention away from the road ahead.
While playing with the four ride modes, throttle response in Sport was a bit abrupt for my tastes. This is where switching to Custom mode pays off, as the rider can then pick and choose throttle sensitivity, amount of engine brake, hard or soft rev limiter, and traction control level independently from each other.
From the factory Custom is set with the Sport throttle, reduced engine brake, a hard redline, and TC at level two. I switched throttle response to Normal, which produced a more linear relation between right wrist and rear wheel. From there, I also switched the engine brake to normal as that’s the feeling I’m used to. Two-stroke riders will likely appreciate the freewheel effect from the reduced engine brake setting when diving into a turn.
The hard rev limiter lets the rider rev all the way to the 13,500 rpm redline before abruptly cutting power, which is suitable for a track environment. The soft setting gently kicks in about 1000 revs before 13,500, reminding the rider they should probably shift soon. No matter which setting is chosen, the F3 800 likes to generate speed. Scrubbing that speed is the task of Brembo monobloc calipers with strong initial bite. Braking power is immense, but there’s not much lever travel, so modulation could be a challenge to all but the most sensitive hands.
A Potent Track Weapon
MV’s heart is in racing, and this passion is evident with every lap aboard the F3 800. The faster you ride it, the more it rewards you, but this frenetic pace combined with the cramped riding quarters means the experience is rather taxing on the rider. MV still has a few electronic gremlins to sort through, but thankfully the biggest complaint — fuel mapping — has been sorted with this latest update. Weighing in at 380 pounds dry, even when fully fueled it feels light both at rest and at speed.
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Price is set at $15,798 and it’s available in three colors: pearl white/black, red/silver, and matte metallic black. At press time, F3 800s are already available in every state but California. MV says full 50-state compliance will be met in a matter of weeks.
With the F3 800, the field of oddball-displacement sportbikes just gained another member, joining the likes of Kawasaki’s 636cc ZX-6R, Suzuki’s GSX-R750, and Ducati’s new 899 Panigale. Shootout, anyone?
A special F3 800 Ago edition will be produced in limited quantities to commemorate the man who put MV Agusta on the map, and the most successful Grand Prix champion of all time, Giacomo Agostini. Each will have forged wheels, carbon fenders, billet pegs, folding levers, and a gel seat with an Alcantara cover. The Ago also gets a special paint job, with the pièce de résistance being Ago himself signing each one. The signature is then clear coated so it lasts the life of the bike.