The Everyday MV
Fast, flashy machines are nice, but RealWorld do-it-alls can be fun too. MV Agusta has a go at the genre with the 2015 Stradale 800
For a company of its size, MV Agusta sure has been pumping out a surprising number of new models over the past few years. Starting with only the spectacularly styled F4 and Brutale naked in 2010 when the Castiglioni family acquired the brand fromHarley-Davidson, the Varese manufacturer quickly proceeded to introduce an entire series of machines powered by charismatic triples.
First came the 675s F3 and Brutale, then the 800 versions and just recently very original variants of the Brutale 800 called Dragsters. But perhaps the most marginal model so far from MV Agusta has been the supermoto styled Rivale. Stubby, high on its legs and built from the same solid and sexy parts as the sportier models, it was designed to compete directly with the Ducati Hypermotard. The 2015 Stradale 800 reviewed here is the light-touring version of the Rivale, and so it will directly compete with the Ducati Hyperstrada, the Hypermotard light-touring version.
There are a couple of intriguing facts about the Rivale and Stradale. First, simply that the models they’re gunning for aren’t Ducati’s most successful ones. And second, that the official mission of the new Stradale (a motorcycle with multiple personalities) actually fits the Multistrada profile much better than the marginal Hyperstrada’s.
On the other hand, MV has every right to build a broad lineup that includes at least some marginal machines—which arguably give the brand both an edgier and deeper aura. And although the “bike for all occasions” theme may not be the most accurate way to describe the Stradale, it’s not really misleading either. So I guess there’s no problem here, perhaps just a little unusual way of doing things, which could be explained by the very interesting discussion I had with MV Agusta CEO Giovanni Castiglioni during the posh world launch of the Stradale in Spain. Castiglioni, 34, is also in charge of product planning. And it’s his money being spent. So basically what he says goes. When I asked if that meant the Stradale I had just tested existed because one day he decided he’d like MV’s lineup to include a bike like the Stradale, he just said, “Yes.” And when I bluntly asked how the still very young company funded these projects, he just replied, “It’s my money.” Knowing full well tens of millions of Euros are required to get a bike from concept to market, I dared to insist he explain what he meant by that exactly, as if one young man couldn’t possibly have both such wealth and decision-making power at his disposal. To which he repeated, seemingly wondering if I couldn’t understand his perfect English, “It’s my money!”
Well, alright then.
So what exactly is a Stradale 800? The question is a valid one. Walking around the parked bikes in front of the exquisite Finca Cortesin Hotel in Casares where MV gathered members of the international motorcycling press, I myself felt somewhat confused at what I was observing. Was this a naked accessorized for light touring? Was it another one of those mixed-category bikes, and if so, which ones? Why are those semi-rigid saddlebags shaped so weirdly? Once explanations are made—that this is a light-touring version of the Rivale—then one begins to understand the Stradale’s nature, which says a lot about how marginal the bike is. And marginal aptly describes one’s first impression of the latest MV once it’s on the move.
The riding position is literally unique among streetbikes, with the exception of the Hypermotard/Hyperstrada’s, which is basically identical. You sit far forward, the steering column seemingly between your knees (which isn’t far from the truth) holding a wide flat handlebar that feels below rather than in front.
The forward position also makes the footpegs feel a little rearward and has the rider leaning backward during hard stops. It is essentially a riding triangle if not taken from, then at least inspired by the off-road side of the business. For any “street” motorcyclist, the posture is a bit awkward at first, but it’s not at all uncomfortable, unpleasant or hard to get used to. It’s just a different way of sitting on a motorcycle.
Triples can be awesome engines. But they have to be done right. The Stradale’s most definitely is. For some reason I’ve never understood, mid-displacement engines have practically been abandoned ever since racing eliminated the 750 class, which is a very long time ago. And I’ve sorely missed them. Although 600s or 675s, which are nothing else than less peaky 600s, are often called middleweights, by no means do they accomplish the true middleweight mission on the street—which is to offer a power level that is both fun, friendly and useable at low and mid rpms, and exciting but not overwhelming as the revs rise toward redline. The 600s (or 636s, 650s, 675s…) don’t accomplish that and 1000s overshoot it, often by a wide margin. But the Stradale’s 115-hp super compact 798cc triple is right there. MV Agusta chose not to use the 125-hp version installed in the Rivale and the argument can be made that the new bike would be even more fun with 10 additional horsepower.
That being said, the Stradale 800’s mill is unquestionably a ton of fun. With enough torque down low to gently lift the front wheel at full throttle in first gear—even though the forward weight of the rider is pushing the front end down—and with enough power on top to put a smile on an experienced rider’s mug, it perfectly accomplishes the true middleweight mission. But the motor’s qualities go far beyond great torque and power. It’s also a pleasantly smooth engine, even though some buzzing is felt through the handlebar at higher revs, and an insanely good sounding one thanks to absolutely melodious intake music. Combine it all and you have one of the very best motors in motorcycling, no less. A somewhat high effort hydraulic clutch and a slick six-speed tranny with standard Electronic Assisted Shift (EAS) that works perfectly on upshifts but is sometimes reluctant on downshifts are also part of the package.
Speaking of electronics, MV Agusta sure does like ’em. Like the rest of the lineup, the Stradale is packed with them. You’ve got your four engine maps, two of which, Rain and Normal, restrict power to 90 hp, taming delivery enough to make the Stradale an option for less experienced riders, possibly even a first bike. Other MVs I’ve ridden had maps that made throttle response way too sensitive and abrupt, but in this case, even in Sport, fuelling was always fine.
A Custom mode allows a choice of two power outputs, Hard or Soft rev limiter action, two engine braking and engine response settings and eight-level, switchable traction control.
ABS is standard and the excellent braking setup is assisted with a system called Rear Wheel Lift-up Mitigation (RLM) designed to prevent the bike from flipping over during hard braking. It all sounds like a lot and it is; making regular menu navigations is an unavoidable feature of living with the Stradale 800. The irony of these multiple-choice systems is you generally end up using one combination and leaving the modes alone thereafter. There isn’t room here to get into how they could be improved in terms of ease of use, but most could, this one included, starting by less cramped and easier to read instrumentation.
The nice part about riding an MV Agusta in southern coastal Spain—other than riding an MV Agusta in southern coastal Spain—is the kind of roads at your disposal once you head inland and toward the mountains. Deliciously twisty and varying a lot in terms of pavement quality, they will reveal everything about handling. The verdict is quite good in this case. Longer and lower than the Rivale, the Stradale 800 is a precise, light, narrow and flickable bike—but not a nervous one—that is a joy to throw around at a fast pace on just those kinds of roads.
On the other hand, it’s also a tall bike with an unusual centre of gravity created by the forward positioning of the rider, which translates into slightly awkward handling at very low speeds and some wallowing over big bumps or dips encountered mid-corner at high speed. Good pavement and lower speeds transform it into an intuitive and very rider-friendly machine.
As far as touring capabilities go, the Stradale 800 is best described as a light tourer, or a practical commuter thanks to its zippered semi-rigid bags. The riding position is easy on the hands, knees and back, and although it puts the rider’s upper body flat out in the wind, the small, manually adjustable windscreen does a quite good job of relieving much of the torso from wind pressure, making highway miles very tolerable. Add a good seat and suspension that is firm but not harsh and you have a bike that, while not a true tourer, will still keep its rider happy over fairly long rides.
The $16,995 Stradale is an unusual, but good motorcycle. Who it’s built for, I’m still not entirely sure. After getting off of it and returning the key, I stayed behind with the parked bikes when everyone else left, trying to decipher them just like I did before the ride. I knew exactly how behaved the bike is that I had just spent a day on, but exactly what it is remained unclear, perhaps because there’s so little to compare it to.
But I did enjoy riding the Stradale 800 that much I do know. Is it the sexiest MV Agusta? Certainly not. Affordable? Nope. But it generally works well, has a fantastic engine and is fairly comfortable and practical. Then it dawned on me I had just ridden perhaps the most sensible MV, one intended neither for the catwalk nor the racetrack, but rather for everyday life. An everyday MV.
-Bertrand Gahel, Issue#309 March 2015