With a wonderfully responsive motor, evocative exhaust note and silky street manners, the Breva 1200 Sport, is the Breva Moto Guzzi should have built.
One the most memorable and exhilarating rides of my motorcycling life was on a Guzzi: a race-tuned 850 Le Mans Mk1. I rode it from Ha’iku, Maui (close to sea level) up to the Haleakala Park entrance at 6,800 feet on the volcano’s switchback access road, and back down again. With a race cam, lightened flywheels, flowed head, Bub exhaust and flat-slide Mikunis, that baby really flew, handled precisely and would stop on, if not a dime, certainly a nickel. But what was so seductive was the way the motor loved to rev. Below 3,000 rpm, it wouldn’t have pulled a fly off a cow patty; but when it came on the cam, it surged to the red line with a rush of booming power; but on closing the throttle, all was uncannily smooth and calm. Experiencing that insistent thrust and urgent spin-up came back to me the first time I rode the new Breva 1200 Sport. But the Sport also adds fluid mid-range torque, and considerable modern civility. This is not your grandfather’s Guzzi!
AT ITS PRESS INTRODUCTION IN 2004, I NOTED THAT JUST ABOUT the only way the Breva 1100 could be improved was with more power. (Extra power is always better, right?) It was a smooth, sophisticated package that felt more “together” than any other Guzzi I’d ridden. Gone was the tepid midrange and forceful top end rush of the V11 Le Mans engine, replaced with a smooth, progressive powerband that was maybe just a tad lacking in excitement. Of course, the eight-valve Griso provides that extra thrust in spades, but it’s a different animal from the friendly Breva.
A development of the 1100 version, the Breva 1200 Sport combines that platform’s silky street manners with an 1151cc engine, similar to the 1200 Norge tourer’s, adding about 13 hp to the mix. The Sport also has a new front end with titanium nitride-coated 45mm forks and 320mm petal brake rotors. The Breva’s sit-up cast handlebars are replaced with a wide, flat tubular bar, and a styling revision adds a small but surprisingly effective flyscreen-cum-handlebar fairing. The rest of the bodywork is Breva, including the high and wide gas tank with its chrome edge strips.
The bodywork integrates the Guzzi’s bodacious cylinders into the overall styling package, and does it admirably. The engine still has its all-important presence, but blends perfectly with the tank. Finish is beautiful: theglossy red paint (black is also available) looks inches deep, and attention to detail is way above average; for example, I particularly like the underseat bungee anchors. A small thing, perhaps, but many are the times I’ve struggled to secure a tailpack or cargo net to a press bike with nothing to hook on to.
And that offers some pointers to where Piaggio seems to be positioning Guzzi in the motorcycle marketplace. Their strategy seems to be that all-out sportbikes from the Noale-based company will wear the Aprilia brand, while Guzzi goes after a more conservative, tradition conscious buyer. That puts the company into direct competition with BMW, and the 1200 Sport up against its most obvious competitor, the R1200R.
SITTING ON THE SPORT, I’M GREETED BY AN INSTRUMENT panel similar to the Breva’s, with white-faced dials for speed, engine revs and fuel. (Unfortunately, like the Breva, these are trimmed in chrome—experience tells me chrome can sometimes glare annoyingly in direct sunlight.) Similar also is the comprehensive on-board LCD “telemetry” panel offering a variety of handy information like average and maximum trip speed, fuel consumption, range and so on. This info is accessed by a left grip trigger that scrolls through the display options. There are also two separately controlled trip meters.
Turning the ignition key lets the 1200 run through its pre-flight checks, and the starter is inoperative until this routine is complete—about two to three seconds. It can be an annoying delay, and I’m not sure why it’s necessary. After all, your car doesn’t do it. Like many modern bikes, the starter also has a mind of its own, spinning the engine until it fires— even after releasing the button. But the rhythmic, basso throbbing from the exhaust is worth waiting for. The stock muffler has a beautifully resonant (yet presumably legal) burble.
The low-ish seat feels perfectly placed, though the bars seem further away than they should be and are low and wide, leading to a forward riding position just on the sporty side of touring. The bars are also easily adjustable by loosening a couple of Allen screws.
Pulling in the slightly heavy clutch allows an almost imperceptible shift into first, and the big Guzzi pulls away effortlessly. The first thing I notice is how smooth the engine is: low speed shuddering—a typical trait of big L-Twins—is almost absent in normal riding, and the engine seems to get smoother overall the faster it revs. Gear shifting is always an easy snick; light and positive with no false neutrals that I could find. However, throttle transitions are not perfect, just as with the majority, it seems, of fuel-injected bikes. There’s also a hint of lash in the transmission, which exaggerates a slight hesitation moving from overrun to acceleration, especially at low revs. It’s a common trait, and can often be tuned out with a remap. It is curious, though, that after more than a decade of development and the enormous computing power on board, FI systems still can’t match a worn out Amal concentric in this area.
Riding a Guzzi is always a visceral experience: a subtle throbbing from the engine felt more through the seat than the bars; the evocative rumble from the exhaust; even a little heat wafting from the two air-cooled cylinders; all add to the time-honoured experience. But is the 1200 Sport just a Breva with low bars?
The answer comes when I open the throttle. The exhaust rumble becomes a baritone boom that brings back memories of that race-tuned Le Mans. The accompaniment is a howl from the airbox as the Guzzi’s big lungs gasp for oxygen. It’s a glorious symphonic soundtrack. Acceleration is rapid rather than abrupt, but speed builds remarkably quickly, and I soon start looking for opportunities to wind the throttle on just to experience the huge thrust and its delightful musical accompaniment. Adding to the aural treat is an endearing pop-popping exhaust burble on the overrun.
Turning the big Guzzi at speed requires little effort from the wide bars, but the chassis does resist being tipped over at slower speeds. This is just a reminder of the engine’s flywheel effect—and the slightly lazy 120mm of trail. However, cornering is stable and secure with the Guzzi going wherever it’s pointed, and the faster you push through the swervery, the easier it gets.
The dual cradle steel tube chassis, anchored as it is to the powertrain feels tight and rigid, lending an overall feel of well-managed precision. Guzzis have always been among the best handling bikes, from the classic Lino Tonti chassis of the seventies on, and I’m glad to say that’s still the case. But the rigidity doesn’t compromise comfort. Plush is the word I’d use to describe the Guzzi’s ride, the suspension coping well with road ripples and transmitting little to the rider. Brakes are nicely balanced front to rear, with the front brake feeling especially smooth and powerful.
RIDING THE 1200 SPORT ON FAST, OPEN ROADS IS GREAT FUN.The suspension is firm yet supple (and finger adjustable front and rear for ride comfort or a sportier stance); the seat is broad and supporting; and the engine willing, strong and entertaining. The riding position—which feels oddly reminiscent of an old board-track racer—seems strange at first, but is presumably intended for comfort at speed, as the wind lends support to the torso. The flyscreen is surprisingly effective at reducing drafts, though, and the big cylinders keep the wind off my legs.
What is particularly impressive is the way the big motor feels like it really wants to rev as it spins up through the gears. The 1200 Sport’s throttle response keeps bringing back that race-tuned seventies 850 Le Mans I rode. Yet the 1200 remains smooth and tractable below 3,000 rpm: fast spin-up usually means light flywheels, which can make an L-Twin less smooth at lower revs. Guzzi seems to have subtly changed the laws of physics in this regard. There’s a general air of solidity, thoughtfulness and quality engineering about the bike—fortunately, the days of fragile temperamental Italian bikes are behind us. In particular, the solid-looking Compact Reactive Cardan (CARC) driveshaft system housed in its single-sided swingarm completely negates the suspension windup under acceleration experienced on older Guzzis.
THE BREVA 1200 SPORT, IN MY OPINION, IS THE BREVA Guzzi should have built in the first place: the extra power and the sportier characteristics of the 1151cc motor only improve an already excellent package, and the tubular handlebar offers lots of options for tailoring the riding position. Few motorcycles I’ve ridden offer a better soundtrack, and even fewer have a fit and finish as nicely detailed—though the chrome side strips are not to my personal taste. Guzzis have always been extremely durable machines, too and hold their resale value well.
My only concern on the 1200 Sport is the price: BMW, for example, has aggressively cut its Canadian prices this year (from $16,000 MSRP for the R1200R to $14,500), which makes the Breva 1200 look a little rich. That said, you’d need a $1,000 accessory exhaust on the Beemer to emulate the Guzzi’s tailpipe concerto, and it still wouldn’t get close to that wonderful thrumming from the 90-degree Twin on a wide open throttle. Ride one: you’ll see!
– Robert Smith