Moto Guzzi Breva V1100
MAG's London Rep, Gerrard Livett goes all Italian
Following a change of ownership of the marque, Moto Guzzi claim their new Breva V1100 is their best ever. Uncle Sol spent a wet Wednesday in Wimbledon putting it to the test.
It is very hard to come to a bike without any degree of prejudice, be it positive or negative. I had considered buying a Guzzi a couple of years ago, but several people told me that they had a bad reputation for reliability. Even Guzzi owners I know regale me with tales of the hours they spend in the workshop fixing their machines. However, that did not put them off, simply because of the joy they got out of the bikes. In the end I didn't get the Guzzi - I didn't even take one for a test drive, until recently.
The last longitudinal shaft driven V-twin I rode was my crash-modified Honda SilverWing, which won 'Best Rat' award at the North Herts Gremlin show in 2001. But to compare the Breva V1100 with a plastic maggot is like trying to compare a butterfly with a sea-horse, they are completely different animals.
The first thing you notice with the Breva is, quite frankly, just how sexy it looks. It is a well-known fact that Italians are born with an innate sense of style. You only have to experience the passagiata in any sizeable Italian city to realise that looking good is the law. But you shouldn't be deceived by the looks, this bike has the substance behind the style.
When starting the big V-twin I was expecting the familiar ker-thump, thump, ker-lubble lubble I used to get from the 'Wing, but technology has moved on since the 1980's, a lot. Once the Breva's on-board computer has finished its diagnostics, all you have to do is touch the engine start and let go - the computer does the rest, with the fuel injection system delivering the right mixture for that classic v-twin idle. A few quick details on that computer system: it has many of the features that are commonplace on modern cars - it will tell you your mpg and how much fuel is left in the tank. It also has two trip meters and the LCD display can be easily changed to metric for those continental journeys. It has other features, but enough about boy's toys - how does the bike itself perform?
My first impressions after pulling out of Corsa Italiana and heading for Box Hill was that this bike was the biggest pile of rubbish I had ever ridden. Every time I had to stop at a set of lights and pulled the clutch in it made a worrying rattle. I subsequently learned that this was because of the plates in the dry clutch and is perfectly normal, but it can be disconcerting at first. I was also expecting a little more poke. For a bike with an 1100cc engine (albeit 86bhp at 7,500rpm) it felt considerably underpowered.
Pulling away from lights you don't get the back-end lift associated with a shaftie. This is because of the new drive mechanism that the Guzzi uses. The shaft is enclosed within a massive single-sided swinging arm and is no longer a torsional component. Hence all the available power is delivered straight to the back wheel.
As I said earlier, most of us are prejudiced about bikes, and I expect that if I am riding a shaft-driven touring bike I will get the low-level torque that enables smooth acceleration in almost any gear. Not so the Breva. Guzzi have detuned a racing top end without shifting the power band lower down. To get the best performance in variable traffic conditions I found myself going up and down through the six speed box like a fiddler's elbow. My friends tell me that I have been spoiled by riding a Diversion 900 and that working the gears is to be expected. Once you get used to the box, however, it becomes natural to match the required gear to the appropriate speed.
The style is a cross between a cruiser and a sports bike, but it has a low seat which meant getting both feet flat on the floor was never a problem. The sculpted seat was a little wide, which can mean problems for shorter riders, although a lower seat option is available.
After a quick lunch at Box Hill the rain started to come done in earnest. There is one school of thought that says that you cannot really test a bike in the wet. I would disagree. If it handles well in the wet, then by extension it must handle in the dry. I set off on a convoluted route up to the Ace Café to test how the Breva performed under a variety of conditions. And I was pleasantly surprised. On the twisty country roads the bike was so well balanced that all you had to do was just lean it into the corner and it took you where you wanted to go. Even in the wet the tyres gripped the road and filled me with confidence that we weren't going to end up in a big heap in the hedge. The flow was so natural that all I had to do was match the gear to the road speed. Coming out of a bend, the lack of rear-end lift on acceleration made for a very smooth pull away.
On the motorway it seemed a little pedestrian, but the V-twin was more than capable of achieving licence-losing speeds and the gentle v-twin is more than suited to make the longest journey pass with ease.
After a welcome cup of tea and dry out at the Ace it was time to give the Breva the ultimate test - riding through rush-hour traffic. Here the lack of bottom-end torque did let it down slightly. Filtering was slightly more problematic than it could have been, but the same principle that applied on the twisties worked here. You just point the front where you want to go, give a twist of the wrist and the rest follows. The brakes are more than enough to stop the weight.
Once back at Corsa Italiana my impression of the bike had totally changed since I first pulled away. The most suitable word to describe this miracle of modern Italian engineering is 'quirky.' I really noticed how much I had learned to love the Breva when I rode away on my Fazer 600. Not only did the Japanese machine feel smaller and lighter, it also felt just so much more dull.
For a basic price of £6,999, you get a bike that is reasonably powerful, handles exceptionally well and has style and charisma oozing out of every bolt. It is fitted with an immobiliser as standard, although an alarm is available for an extra (£222.42). The optional screen (£192.34), which was fitted to the test bike, is almost essential. It takes enough of the wind to make riding a comfortable experience. Among other accessories available are the 29 litre panniers (at £482.30), again, essential for those tours that this bike so begs you to take it on.
Guzzi have priced the Breva to compete with the BMW RG1150. Not having had the privilege of riding the Beemer I cannot compare, but If I were in the market for a large bore all-round machine with style and performance, I don't know if I'd look any further.