State of the Moto Guzzi -

Gabe Ets-Hokin
by Gabe Ets-Hokin

"What, your motorcycle only has one neutral?"

Moto Guzzi? Moto who? If you've been riding motorcycles for any length of time, you've probably seen one or two of these unique machines, usually owned by the kind of guy who likes 1970s Saabs. They are known mostly for being quirky to the point of distraction, oddly engineered motorcycles that only appeal to those who like Moto Guzzis.

I've always been a fan of the big pushrod twins, so I was very excited when we here at MO were offered an opportunity to get a first-hand glimpse at the State of the Guzzi in the US market. The two bikes we tested are from opposite ends of the product lineup, allowing us to closely examine both an entry-level, smaller-displacement cruiser as well as a top-of-the line "trophy bike".

How do you like your quirks?
So is it the same old thing you've already read in every Moto Guzzi review since 1922? We found some of the same-old same-old with these bikes, but we also found some interesting surprises about these quirky, yet loveable machines that never sell in large quantities but somehow keep getting produced, year after year.

Nevada 750

In the early 1990s, the small-block Moto Guzzis -- V-twins with smaller engines displacing 500 or 650 cc -- were highly prized among Guzzi owners. The smaller motor revved faster and felt much lighter than the heavy, slow-revving 750-1000cc air-cooled, push-rod transverse V-twins that are a Guzzi hallmark.

The Nevada 750 and its brother, the Breva 750, revive the tradition of small, sporty Moto Guzzi V-twins. Introduced late last year, the Nevada uses smaller engine cases than the larger V-11 series motorcycles to achieve a surprisingly light claimed dry weight of just 388 pounds. It still uses a traditional air-cooled, two-valve-per-cylinder engine with an bore of 80mm and a stroke of just 74mm, producing an oversquare 744cc engine that loves to rev quickly up to its 8,000 rpm redline.

Guzzi's build quality and detailing seem very good these days.
The engine is hung in a double-tube steel cradle and sends its power through a five-speed gearbox to a two-plate dry clutch and finally to a standard driveshaft turning a 16" rear wheel with a 260mm rear disc brake. The 18" front wheel sits out front in a non-adjustable, 40mm Marzocchi fork, braked by a single 320mm disc and four-piston Brembo caliper. Steel braided brake lines? Hey, it's Italian, right? Naturalmente!

The rear is suspended by a pair of Sachs dampers, infinitely adjustable for preload. The motorcycle is finished with a nice instrument cluster, compact teardrop tank, and a low, nicely padded saddle with room for a passenger. The rider footpegs are placed in a standard position, with plenty of ground clearance.

The first impression the Nevada gives the rider is that it is small. With a 29-inch seat height and buckhorn cruiser bars, the bike feels small and cramped for a rider over 5'6". With a wheelbase of just 58.3" (.3 inches shorter than the V11!), the Breva is one of the most compact mid-sized cruiser on the market. It basically feels like a 250 Rebel or 250 Virago, thanks to the wonderfully low center of gravity afforded by the heavy crankshaft and small top-end of the 744cc pushrod engine -- look Ma, no overhead cams!

This would be an excellent choice for a entry-level cruiser rider. Don't let the displacement scare you.
The little V-twin coughs to life willingly with a touch of throttle, helped along by the smooth and responsive Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection. Blipping the throttle rocks the bike to the right as the heavy flywheel and crank teach you the meaning of "torque". Vibration is noticeable, but not irritating at normal speeds.

The instruments are clear and easy to read, although the digital clock and tripmeter are hard to reset. At night, the red illuminated instruments make the red-numbered redline impossible to see on the tachometer, but this is not a motorcycle that really needs a tachometer -- you'll know when you're close to redline!

Other instruments and controls work nicely: The switchgear is standard Japanese, and a hazard flasher switch is thoughtfully included. Another feature, which is a necessity for a motorcycle intended for riders with small hands and feet, is the dogleg clutch and brake levers. Adjustable would have been nicer, but as usual, you have to cut costs somewhere, and this bike has plenty of features for the price.

The cable-actuated clutch is smooth and progressive and allows for easy engagement. The five-speed gearbox is primitive, with a long throw between gears and clunky transitions from gear to gear. But it shifts fairly smoothly, especially at an unhurried pace.

This little bike loves tight, twisty roads, but it probably doesn't love Dirty.
With 39.77 bhp at the back wheel, the Nevada 750 has brisk, if not overwhelming acceleration. It has enough power to keep ahead of traffic, go too fast on a twisty mountain road, or even pop a clutch-assisted two-gear wheelie. At speeds over 70 mph, the overhead valve motor starts to feel short of breath, and it's tapped out at an indicated 100 mph, which seems to be a relaxed speed on the 405 freeway when the traffic is light. High speed freeway cruising is not what this motor is for!

The ride is smooth and supple, if a bit too soft. It has the traditional cruiser too much front fork travel/too little rear-wheel travel, resulting in a choppy ride if it's not ridden smoothly. That means plenty of shock to the lower back, causing Contributing Editor Pete "Million-Mile Man" Brissette to place himself on the kidney-donor recipient waiting list after traversing 30 of bumpy freeways one evening.

Needing a kidney replacement was a small price to pay to enjoy a lightweight, torquey bike to go play with on the Angeles Crest Highway. Pete preferred the Nevada's light weight and moderate power to the V11's bulk and torquey big-twin power on the cold, dirty pavement of Highway 2. The terrific ground clearance (this is one of the few cruisers we've sent back to the manufacturer with unscuffed footpegs), short wheelbase and wide bars make the Nevada fun to hustle in and out of turns, get on the gas early and generally behave like a jackass, since the repercussions for bad behavior are milder on a little bike than a big one. The Metzler ME-33/ME-55 bias-plies provide sufficient grip, or at least slide predictably when they don't.

"It's a great bike for entry-level and shorter riders," said Pete, "but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone else." It's fun to ride and works very well, but it's not a bike that will interest an experienced rider for any length of time. It's too cramped and bouncy on the freeway, but should be compared against much smaller cruisers like the 250 Rebel or 500 Vulcan. It's a lightweight cruiser with a definite European flair, and would make a terrific first ride or bike for a smaller rider.

The Million Mile Man's Take on a Little Italian

Pete found the Nevada to be a satisfying ride.
Anyone looking to enter the world of motorcycling while getting the traditional 'look and feel' of motorcycling can do it in style with the Moto Guzzi 750 Nevada Classic. This little Goose will make beginners glad they didn't take the advice of family and friends to not start riding. And those looking to get back into it will be just as happy. So long as your not much over 5'8". Or plan to spend any length of time on the interstates. Don't let the displacement of 750cc fool you into believing this bike is anything other than a boulevard machine. Speeds over 75 mph just may leave a lighter rider with permanent kidney failure due to the poor damping of the twin shocks. Not to mention a twitchy front end at those speeds as well.

Whether or not Moto Guzzi intended this bike to appeal to beginners, riders of shorter stature or possibly women, that is where it's best aimed. Standing at 5'8" I found this motorcycle to feel quite diminutive. Few things in life make me feel that way. With a low saddle height, short reach to the 'beach cruiser' bars and footpeg-to-seat relation that had me thinking I was going to touch my knees to my elbows in every turn, confirmed that the Nevada was for the above riders. But the things that were somewhat of an annoyance to me are an asset to the right rider. Low saddle height, low center of gravity and an overall tight ergo package are exactly the things that many aspiring cyclists look for. It doesn't have any physical intimidation factor that so often keeps many people getting a bike. It's a classic problem in motorcycle design. Moto Guzzi may have opened a door for many new riders.

Even though this bike is narrowly focused it's still a little treat to ride. As long as your freeway time will be limited or at the least below normal cruising speeds, this little Guzzi becomes quite fun gliding up and down surface streets. In fact it handles quite well in the tighter stuff too. The Nevada Classic willingly embraces a variety of conditions and is surprisingly responsive to steering inputs. A quick stint up the Angeles Crest Highway while keeping an Suzuki SV in my sights added to the giggles that 'the little 750 that could' offered. It's quite fun to ride actually when you look beyond the ergonomics. I'm betting the SV rider was more than surprised to see a cruiser never more than one turn behind for several miles. Even more pleasing to me during this chase was the fact the rider was fully decked in shiny new leathers with unscuffed knee pucks, boots and gloves all matching his 'canyon carver.'

Watch your mirrors, the cruiser in them may be smaller than it appears.
When you find yourself getting carried away with fuel injected delight don't get disappointed when the underpowered twin fails to deliver. Keeping this bike in the 4k rpm range and short shifting to utilize the torque is the best way to enjoy this tiny cruiser. It's basically underpowered for anything other than boulevard cruising. But if you do find you've gotten in over your head in the go fast department the 750 Nevada Classic will offer an astonishing amount of stopping force from the brakes. A single-disc, four-piston Brembo caliper accompanied by a stainless steel brake line hauls the bike in with nothing more than a firm squeeze. Quite honestly the brakes on this bike are amazing. A couple of items, both good and not so good, to note are as follows: For some reason Moto Guzzi decided that knowing where redline is while riding at night simply isn't important. Because of the all-red backlighting in the instruments, the 8,000 RPM redline is only visible in daylight. And despite having a relatively smooth and positive tranny, first gear was often a problem to engage. It required a little coaxing. Another oddity was the gas cap that completely removes like one found on a car as opposed to being on a hinge. On a positive note the bike has great styling. Spoked wheels, an attractive, high quality paint job, just enough chrome to make it look like one of the big boys and a roomy seat that truly fits the definition of a 'saddle' all add to the riding pleasure of this small but capable cruiser.

If you're small of stature and a beginning motorcyclist or one who knows that nothing but cruising is on your horizon the Moto Guzzi Nevada 750 Classic is great package with the uniqueness that is Guzzi.

You can stare at it for hours.

V-11 Coppa Italia

Now this is more like it! The cliché is that Moto Guzzi is known for building "long legged" bikes for the open road, bikes at their most comfortable in high-speed sweepers in the Italian Alps. As the descendant of the first Moto Guzzi V-twin sportbikes from the 60's and 70's, the V11 is a worthy spiritual successor.

The V11 was originally introduced in 1997, and is built around a pushrod-actuated V-Twin with oversquare dimensions of a 92 mm bore and an 80 mm stroke. Two valves per cylinder suck fuel and air through a Weber-Marelli electronic fuel injection system. 9.8:1 compression pistons are said by Guzzi to give "impressive torque at low engine speeds." Our MO Dyno Jet dynamometer revealed 80.46 hp and 63.26 foot-pounds of torque at 5500 rpm, which would be impressive for a pushrod V-twin if the Buell XB12R didn't make about 90 RWHP from just an extra 100cc.

Fuel injection is just one of the nice technical innovations that transform the Guzzi from the cranky, hard-to-ride relics of yesterday to a practical, reliable modern machine. The rear swingarm and driveshaft unit uses a unique parallelogram that eliminates the rise-and-fall associated with fixed driveshafts. It's suspended with a directly connected Ohlins monoshock, adjustable for rebound and compression damping as well as spring preload.

This unique driveshaft and swingarm minimizes bad shaft-drive behavior.
Up front, a 43 MM inverted Ohlins fork, adjustable for damping and preload, is mounted to a 17" front wheel. Braking is handled by a pair of four-piston Brembo calipers connected to the master cylinder with steel-braided lines and gripping 320 mm full-floating rotors. The rear brake is a 282 mm fixed rotor with a two-piston Brembo caliper. The rear wheel uses a fashionably fat and very grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 17", 180-section tire.

The bike is really nice to look at, the kind of motorcycle you want to stare at for hours. The long, plastic gas tank is finished in the beautiful "Coppa Italia" (named after the "Italian Cup" naked-bike race series) paint scheme, supplemented with a carbon-fiber front fender and the aforementioned Ohlins suspension components. The nice people at Moto Guzzi even included a pair of "off-road", free-flowing mufflers. The big, round gauges are easy to read: even the odometer numbers are good old mechanical analog. The dials flank all the usual warning lights, including a low fuel warning light.

Both the clutch and brake levers are adjustable, a nice touch that I always appreciate. The hydraulic clutch has a smooth and light feel, especially considering it's modulating a very big, heavy automotive-type dry clutch.

The transmission isn't the best. Sure, it's better than the old tractor-like Guzzi gearboxes, but this six-speed ÃŽbox has at least two extra neutrals in it and has a very long throw. Clutchless speed shifts will require some practice to perform smoothly. However, it definitely gets the job done, and the deliberate action it requires from the rider fits in with the nature of the bike.

Gabe Ets-Hokin
Gabe Ets-Hokin

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