The prom queen is never chosen solely for her personality, and character actors don’t win People‘s Sexiest Man Alive. These are truths we’ve come to simply accept, and they extend to machines, too. Saying an item has “character” or “personality” implies it has aesthetic, ergonomic, or other flaws.
The Moto Guzzi V7 Special ($9,290) has character. It drips with history and personality. And yet, it’s also a looker. In fact, the entire Moto Guzzi V7 range — the Stone, Racer and Special — has elegantly captured the retro-chic movement still riding (enormous) swells in today’s two-wheeled community. I spent a few days in the saddle of the V7 Special, a tribute to the classic V750S, trying to have some long conversations on winding roads with this quirky prom queen.
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Established in 1921, Moto Guzzi is Europe’s longest running motorcycle maker. Throughout its 93 years of continuous production, the Mandello Del Lario-based manufacturer has created motorcycles that consistently break molds and push conventional boundaries. There was the horizontally mounted, single-cylinder GT Norge that made the trek to the arctic circle; the infamous Otto, a 500cc, V8-powered racebike that could top 171 mph; and of course the Guzzi trademark: the transverse-mounted, 90-degree V-twin that debuted with the original V7 in 1962 that is still in service today.
Three pieces of advice given by the lady behind the counter as she handed me the keys to my V7 Special stuck out: “don’t hurt my baby”; “you’re going to have fun”; and “she won’t ride like anything you’ve ridden before”. The instructions continued to flow as I checked out the Special. “Getting her into first at the lights can be a bit tricky. You may have to rock her back and forth a bit — let the clutch out slowly to check. Don’t forget to let it warm up a bit, too.”
The starter motor on the V7 is strong enough to turn over a frozen Freightliner. It spun the high-compression (10.2:1) V-twin mill to life with ease. I took a minute to do a walk-around and let the oil warm up, as instructed. The retro look on the V7 Special is more genuine than purely aesthetic. Its exhaust note was difficult to place; it burbles more than it thumps and sounds as though it’s making bubbles…somewhere. At idle the V7 visibly pulsates. A combination of that iconic motor configuration and its compact, reactive shaft drive makes the whole bike shudder and, with a blip of the throttle, rock toward its right side. I make another mental note — don’t let it idle on any kind of incline. And then I’m off.
Crafted from select grain leather and featuring incorporated D30 armor for your shoulders, elbows and back, the Hood Jacket ($600), Icon 1000’s new flagship gear, provides both protection and inspiration for retro two-wheeled nostalgia. Its removable hood, thankfully, doesn’t go full wind-sock when riding from haunt to haunt, and in typical Icon 1000 fashion, the detail work is second to none. Mechanical articulation means riders don’t suffer in the saddle or look like linebackers on foot, and the perforated panels of leather provide just enough breathability for brisk mornings that turn into hot afternoons.
The Moto Guzzi V7 Special clearly has Triumph’s newest-generation Bonneville squarely in its sights. Steeped in similar racing pedigree, it sells within $100 of the plucky Brit and, despite being down on power, is almost a full 100 pounds lighter. It also produces more torque, relatively speaking. On the road that translates to a bike that introduces itself as approachable, controlled and engaging. Rolling on the throttle in the straights can become addictive as the linear torque curve kicks in early and doesn’t peak (5,000 rpm) until just south of the rev limiter (7,000 rpm). Shifting through the gears I immediately noticed the difference between a traditional chain drive set-up and the Guzzi’s shaft unit, which provided less of a connection through my left boot. During acceleration it made the V7 feel incredibly smooth, on downshifts, less so.
During a fast-stop procedure I jammed on the Brembo brakes while neglecting the transmission. Stopped at the light, I was forced to hunt down first gear, usually a simple procedure — tap the shifter until it bottoms out and you’ve found it. On the Guzzi however, I had to tap toes, rock the bike (as I had been told) and gamble with my left hand before hitting pay dirt. You see, the shifter never bottoms out with this shaft drive set-up, so it feels like nothing has happened, even when it has.
At idle the V7 visibly pulsates. A blip of the throttle rocks the bike toward its right side.
The combination of the Guzzi’s omnipresent powerband and stiff suspension, however, means blowing a downshift heading into the twisties shouldn’t cause any alarm; although I didn’t try it, the V7 might have pulled away from that light fine even if I hadn’t bothered to find first gear. What did surprise me, though, was the amount of sideways rotational forces that the V7 creates. Those same rumbles that made it dance in the parking lot generate an extra element of physics: on turn in, it feels as if the bike is fighting against your lean angle on left-handed curves and that it’s trying to bury you when you go clockwise. It becomes even more pronounced when you hop back on the throttle at corner exits. It feels as though you need to muscle the motorcycle into submission to stand up and go straight.
This is the “character” that Moto Guzzi aficionados speak of when confronted by other riders. It’s takes some getting used to — something I was assured of when I ran into another rider aboard a V7 Racer. He had been a Bonneville owner previously but decided to get rid of his Hinkley twin in favor of something that would stand out in the crowd — a testament both to the Guzzi’s quirkiness and to Triumph’s popular bike. A true convert, my new friend explained how I was comparing the Guzzi to a preconceived notion of motorcycling; that I should approach the V7 with the same open-minded, uncorrupted view that I had the first time I twisted a throttle.
Apparently I’m too old a dog. Or four days isn’t enough time. Either way, I couldn’t come to appreciate the new tricks that this gorgeous Italian steed was trying to teach. That being said, never once did I hurt the front desk woman’s baby (or myself); I had gobs of fun; and yes, she definitely didn’t ride like anything I had ridden before.