Full disclosure: Steve Bond is not a hardcore Guzzi guy. Still, he has had some memorable experiences. Perhaps the Moto Guzzi V7 Café and Classic can generate a little warmth in Mr. Bond’s heart for Italy’s “other” traditional manufacturer.
In more than four decades of motorcycling, I’ve ridden only a few Moto Guzzis. The first was a vintage 1970s LeMans with a clutch so stiff it required two hands to pull. It was harsh and raucous and you didn’t dare vary the throttle in the middle of a corner or it would pogo like a rocking horse, eventually punching a Guzzi-sized hole in the scenery.
Almost 30 years later, I rode a modified V11 Sport to ninth place in the Canadian Thunder class at the Mosport round of the 2002 Canadian Superbike series. The Guzzi wasn’t much faster than the wolfpack of SV650s that surrounded me, but it handled pretty well and the twin Conti pipes sounded awesome.
Logistics did not allow me to sample a 2011 Moto Guzzi V7 until late last season: two models actually, the Café ($10,795) and the more traditional-looking Classic ($10,595).
Both are powered by a 744cc version of Guzzi’s 90-degree V-Twin mounted longitudinally in the chassis. With cylinders poking their heads into the airstream like a Richardson’s ground squirrel on the Saskatchewan prairie, the air-cooled engine is a thumb in the eye to modern technology—its two valves per cylinder are actuated by something I remember grandfather telling me about. Pushrods.
The Café’s lime green plastic fuel tank faithfully follows the contour of the original Moto Guzzi Sport from the 1970s and the clubman seat makes the overall profile one of the prettiest I’ve seen. Many modern mufflers look like they were designed in the dark (see Kawasaki Z1000 and Honda VFR1200), but the Guzzi’s twin upswept silencers nicely enhance the appearance of the bike.
The Classic carries the more traditional “breadbox” fuel tank, double seat, upright riding position, lower mufflers and classic black on white paint scheme.
The odometer on my Café showed only 25 km and its first official act was navigating paralyzing downtown Toronto traffic. The Guzzi behaved itself admirably, but stalled a few times, which turned out to be excessive freeplay in the throttle cables, making it difficult to coordinate the clutch and throttle in the stop-and-go traffic. Once I got home, my usual 15-minute session where I adjust levers, gearshift and other controls to my personal preferences took care of that issue.
The Café’s clip-on handlebars have a nice angle to them and are mounted below the triple clamps, although the slight rise brings your hands about level with said clamps. The sharp bend in the clutch cable makes the pull heavier than the Classic, which has higher and wider bars, allowing straighter routing for the cable.
The footpegs on both models are mounted roughly in the same position. While this makes the Classic comfortable, not so the Café. The low bars make the Café feel very cramped for anyone over six feet. If Guzzi had only gone the full Pukka Café route and moved the pegs a few inches rearward, there would have been more legroom, improving the riding position significantly.
Most motorcycles give a clunk and a lurch when going into first gear, but the Guzzis engage with a barely noticeable snick. Gear selection continues on silently as the five-speed transmission shifts with crisp, short throws.
Acceleration is somewhat leisurely but when you consider that the 48 horses have to propel 400 lbs. (183 kg) of Moto Guzzi V7 plus rider, it’s understandable. Cruising at 100 kmh shows about 4,000 rpm, although slight buzzing was felt through the bars and pegs. Guzzis, just like Boxer BMWs, maintain the amusing trait of lurching to the right when the throttle is blipped, a factor of the longitudinal crankshafts.
The 320mm single front disc with Brembo four-piston caliper felt wooden at first but improved significantly as the pads bedded in. Hard stopping requires a firm grip from four fingers on the lever.
The advantages of a single disc are twofold: less unsprung weight for better suspension compliance which aids handling. And less rotational mass allows the bike to steer quicker.
The instrument panel consists of analogue speedometer and tach, an LCD tripmeter and odometer within the speedo and similar LCD ambient temperature and clock in the tach, with a low fuel light in the bank of warning lights. For an Italian motorcycle, the speedometer is as accurate as a Swiss chronometer—an indicated 100 kmh is a GPS-certified 97 kmh.
And, like most Italian motorcycles, the tripmeter and clock reset themselves to total kilometres and ambient temperature every freaking time the key is turned off. Listen; if I wanted tripmeter and clock when I turned the key off, chances are I want them back next time I fire the bike up.
Which at times, is an exercise in frustration. The Café is as cold blooded as a Nile croc, requiring full enrichener and copious cranking (even on those frigid 15C mornings) before it reluctantly coughs into life. Even then, the enrichener must be left on for the first few klicks or the bike stumbles and bucks its way down the street. Even when warm, it still runs very lean with lots of popping and banging on closed throttle.
The Italians have always known how to build a chassis and the Moto Guzzi V7s are no exception. The steel frame and swingarm ties everything together nicely and the 40mm Marzocchi forks have damping and spring rates well suited to the V7. The twin Sachs rear shocks likewise keep the hind end well planted without being harsh.
It’s not in the league with modern sportbikes, but is certainly capable of a sporting pace without getting all wiggly-assed. And unlike Guzzis of old, you can chop the throttle in the middle of a corner without the dreaded shaft drive effect launching you into the next postal code.
The Metzler Lazertecs are first-rate. I’ve raced on these tires and, not only are they sticky, they wear like iron. The narrow 100/90-18 front allows the Café to steer like a bicycle, but without being twitchy, making it a lot of fun to ride around town.
Both V7s really shine on open, two-lane roads. They cruise along quite nicely at 80 to 90 kmh, steer precisely, and the chassis has such excellent feedback you could ride over a quarter and tell whether it’s heads or tails. The bikes glide over frost heaves and smaller bumps and the torquey motor is strong enough to keep you entertained.
The Guzzis won’t propel you to the next corner at warp speed but there’s more than enough grunt to make it interesting. Besides, if you’re not coping with retina flattening acceleration, you can concentrate on the more important things—good lines, smooth, gentle trailbraking and keeping your cornering speed up. It’ll make you a better rider.
The Moto Guzzi V7 Café also exhibited a behaviour I’ve never seen in a press unit before. It marked its territory on my driveway. A quick check showed the bottom sump bolts were loose.
Because the Café had 25 klicks on it when I took delivery, I’ll cut it some slack on the oil leaks and excessively lean fuel injection issues as they’d be taken care of during the first service.
The oil stains were just a gentle reminder that like any high-strung thoroughbred, Italian motorcycles need occasional fettling. Three minutes with a six-mil. Allen key and all was well again.