The North American debut of the Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress came in front of a very tough crowd.
Bagger With A Twist
Ask the average rider about their knowledge of Moto Guzzi products and chances are the mumbled answer will be limited to “Italian” and something about a V-Twin mounted “the other way.” Even though the company is now almost a century old—it was founded in 1921—the fact is few motorcyclists can name even one of its models. One thing’s certain though: the brand isn’t instinctively associated with cruisers, but that may very well change with the introduction of the new MGX-21 Flying Fortress, Moto Guzzi’s first-ever bagger.
The new bike is a big deal for the brand. Guzzi cruisers have been around for a while, and all sporting their signature longitudinally mounted V-Twin. But none have caught on. The MGX is different. It was first seen a couple of years ago as a prototype at EICMA where its unusual and somewhat futuristic take on the bagger theme immediately generated interest within the motorcycling community. Thankfully, every detail of the original concept was kept on the production bike, launched at the 2016 Sturgis rally.
Introducing a new cruiser at Sturgis is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, there are definitely a lot of potential customers—these days, about half a million bikers make the annual pilgrimage. But on the other, there simply isn’t a tougher crowd to be in front of when it comes to cruisers. Harleys are the ubiquitous ride. With so many of them parked or being ridden, they literally become the backdrop of the annual rally.
Indians stand out at Sturgis, mostly because there are considerably fewer there, but they’re very well accepted, largely because of the brand’s historical significance and American pedigree. American-made Victory bikes are also okay, but prepare to be mocked by someone from the predominantly pro-Harley crowd if you roll into town on something like a Yamaha V-Star or Honda Shadow.
Among the questions in my mind was how this decidedly biased Sturgis crowd would receive the MGX’s futuristic styling. How critical would they be about the bike’s longitudinally mounted V-Twin or its Italian origin?
No one could have guessed the answers before actually putting the bike in front of the crowd and I will humbly confess to being quite shocked at how well the MGX-21 was received. Bikers constantly pointed at the MGX, always in a curious and inquisitive way and never with derision. Where traffic slowed to a crawl, people came off the sidewalks to get a closer look and ask questions, always very politely.
“That’s a Moto Guzzi?”
“What’s the engine size?”
“How does it ride?”
“Is it kind of the same as a Street Glide?”
A few times, riders approached me and started to speak in Italian. The first time I thought I had been mistaken for someone else, but by the third time I understood these people were themselves Italian and thought that I was too since I was riding an Italian bike. No, sorry, just a journalist on a press ride. Once that was cleared up, all the same questions got asked.
I’ve been to Sturgis a few times on Harleys, Victorys and Indians and I find it quite ironic that it took an Italian carbon fibre-covered bagger with its V-Twin mounted the other way to get this kind of attention and curiosity. As for the answers to all the questions, they’re mostly positive, with a few exceptions.
Proportionally and ergonomically, the MGX-21 resembles the typical American bagger. At 1380cc, its six-speed, shaft drive, 95-hp V-Twin is notably smaller than the 1700cc-ish Harley and Victory motors, not to mention Indian’s huge 1811cc big Twin.
Weight, however, is significantly lower at 314 kg (701 pounds) ready to ride. A Chieftain is about 70 kg heavier and a Street Glide about 60. The Guzzi is by no means small, but it’s surprisingly easy to lift off its stand and push around for a bike of this size.
At idle, the engine rumbles pleasantly with the whole bike gently trembling along. Snap the throttle and just like a car with a big V8, the torque rotates the bike to one side. The V-Twin’s sound isn’t American, but it’s deep, crisp and not at all unpleasant. There’s no heavy clunk when engaging first gear, just the click of a normal transmission.
Low rpm torque is plenty good enough if not massive, but full-throttle acceleration is surprisingly strong and keeps building right up to the relatively high 7,000 rpm redline. To be very frank, the MGX-21’s V-Twin feels more like a sport-tourer’s engine than a cruiser’s. Actually (at least when it’s moving at a good clip) the big Guzzi itself has a sport-touring feel about it. Whether at medium speeds through twisties or flying down a highway at 90 mph, the MGX remains beautifully planted and precise.
Ground clearance, while not unlimited, is surprisingly generous for the class, so it will lean enough to let its rider have plenty of fun on a curvy back road. Right down to the excellent ABS-equipped brakes, the entire chassis exudes a nice, solid handling nature that makes you feel like you’re on a tourer. But the MGX-21 doesn’t behave as well in all circumstances.
Suspension, while generally nicely calibrated between firm and supple, can become overwhelmed in certain conditions. For example, if the speed is high enough, a dip mid-corner will generate a long-lasting and not so reassuring weave. But hands down, the MGX’s worst flaw is its low speed handling. Between walking speed and light traffic speed, not only does it demand constant inputs to be kept in a straight line but the more inputs made, the more corrections are needed. It feels like it’s zigzagging and not able to go straight. You get used to it and can get to the point where inputs are minimized, but only with a lot of precision and concentration, which is annoying.
The issue apparently comes from the addition of the big 21-inch front wheel and the weight of the fork-mounted fairing on a chassis (the Audace’s) not designed for them. The front-end’s tendency to fall into turns was so strong Moto Guzzi installed a unique pressurized steering aid under the lower triple clamp to help the front wheel stay straight by pushing it back toward the middle position whenever the steering is turned. It’s not an ideal solution, but it’s the one they adopted. I wouldn’t say it’s a reason not to consider buying a MGX-21, more a “be aware of” type of note. And as you may have guessed by now the model name is derived from that big trendy 21-incher up front.
In terms of equipment, Guzzi’s new bagger is quite generous, which it should be considering its $23,990 price tag. Standard features include ABS, traction control with three settings plus off, cruise control, and a 25W AM/FM audio system with Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port for external devices.
A pair of decent sized side bags is standard, as is all the carbon-fibre finish. Red calipers and head covers nicely complete an attractive and classy yet modern look.
The definition of a bagger is getting stretched these days, but the MGX-21 is the real deal. Actually, what Moto Guzzi achieved here is quite remarkable. It’s not American, it doesn’t feel American and it doesn’t look American. Yet, the bagger experience is genuinely there, albeit with a few interesting and pleasant twists. I’m not sure how much its authentic bagger feel and presentation is by accident and how much stems from Moto Guzzi having a good understanding of the American biker culture (my personal guess is 80/20), but at the end of the day, it works. It may well be that the particular nature of the brand along with its European origin are responsible for how well such an unusual machine was accepted by such a tough and traditional crowd. In other words, it would seem a Moto Guzzi cruiser is inherently expected to be different. The important thing is that it all comes together so well: the Italian brand, the unique mounting of the V-Twin, the styling and the touring feel of the riding experience.
by Bertrand Gahel