In celebration of its 100-year anniversary, the legendary Moto Guzzi brand of sporty Italian motorcycles is presenting an upgrade to its stalwart V7 machine – itself observing its 50th birthday. The bike is a substantial upgrade over its predecessor, offering improvements in horsepower, torque, suspension and chassis.
What I don’t like:
It doesn’t look new. The refreshed V7 features the air-cooled 90-degree transverse V-twin engine that has been its signature since the early 1960s, when designer Giulio Cesare Carcano created the powerplant for a sport version of the Fiat 500. The sleek gas tank looks almost like the one on the 1970s Ambassadors and Californians. The twin rear shocks, rubber fork boots, instrument clusters, megaphone exhausts and spoked wheels are classic Guzzi elements honoring the glory days of the brand.
The company is deeply connected to those glory days. A visit to the factory in Mandello del Lario in Northern Italy, on the eastern banks of Lake Como, is like a walk back in time. Part of an original factory wall is preserved, the factory floor feels like the 1970s, and the official company museum is like a dusty, dimly-lit time capsule highlighting 100 years of design and competition history. (A visit to the website is impressive, too, with its virtual tour of 100 years of marvelous motorbikes. You can also see Ewan McGregor, a well known Guzzisti, but here identified only as “Actor,” wishing the company a happy birthday.)
Even the company logo is a throwback. The eagle wings that adorn the gas tank, headlamp, and speedo gauge (which flash red as the rising revs urge you to change gears) are a tip of the hat to the days of World War I. Company cofounders Carlo Guzzi, Georgio Parodi and Giovanni Ravelli, serving in the Italian Navy’s air force, planned to start a motorcycle company after the war. But Ravelli died in a crash in 1919. Guzzi and Parodi memorialized him in the winged logo, which has appeared on every Guzzi that has come off the Mandello factory floor for the hundred years since its opening in March 1921.
Over a full-day scenic ride from Palm Springs to Idyllwild and back again, the new V7 proved a worthy successor. It boasts a new Euro 5-compliant 853cc engine which makes 65 horsepower (up from 52 on last year’s model, which was still the traditional V7 750cc engine) and 63 pound-feet of torque (up from 44) and is a close relative of the engine that powers the V85 TT adventure touring bike.
The V7 also features a longer, beefier swingarm, larger cardan final drive, wider rear wheel, adjustable Kayaba shocks and improvements in lubrication that increase efficiency and decrease engine vibration. A new footpeg mounting system, too, helps provide a smoother ride feel.
Modifications to the crank have even reduced the rocking rotational effect, a signature feel of all previous iterations of the Guzzi V7 engine, to almost nothing. If you sit at a stop light and blip the throttle, the motorcycle tilts lightly to the right – instead of trying to throw you to the pavement, as models decades ago did.
A six-speed transmission – with a periodically evasive neutral – puts the power to the pavement, via Guzzi’s time-honored shaft drive. Stopping power comes from Brembo braking, single discs at both the 18” front and 17” rear wheels. The wheels wear Dunlop Arrowmax Streetsmart tires.
The rider triangle, Guzzi says, is unchanged from previous models. (And a little time recently on a 2019 V7 III confirmed this to my satisfaction.) Traction control is somewhat adjustable. Suspension is adjustable in the rear but not in the front. Wet weight, with five gallons of gas and a claimed range of over 200 miles, is 421 pounds, says the company.
The new V7 will come in two styles. The V7 Stone features no chromed parts but instead is an exercise in matte, with black aluminum wheels, black exhaust, black rubber fork boots and two paint schemes plus a special Centenario livery that calls back to Moto Guzzi racing victories. The split-level saddle is new. The instrument dial is circular, simple and entirely digital.
The V7 Special runs with spoked wheels, chromed exhaust, chromed fork tubes, an analog-look pair of instrument dials, and comes in either a blue or grey color scheme highlighted by striping on the tank and side panels. The same saddle is used, and comes in brown.
The V7 pricing ranges from $8,999 for the base Stone model to $9,190 for the Centenario to $9,490 for the V7 Special.
All three use the E5-compliant V7 engine, and identical LED lighting front and rear. And all three include the Moto Guzzi MIA system, which connects to the rider’s smart phone and enables Bluetooth use of the telephone and other media with read-outs on the dash as well as access to information about routes, fuel consumption, mileage, and more. It will even store the bike’s location on the user’s phone, so the bike can be found if the user forgets where it was parked (though perhaps not where it went after someone else rode it away).
In promoting the V7, corporate Moto Guzzi is stressing heritage more than horsepower and the analog pleasures of riding a motorcycle that doesn’t do all the work for the rider. (But for ABS and traction control, there are no electronic minders here. The throttle is connected to the 38mm throttle body by a cable, for heaven’s sake. No throttle-by-wire for this guy.) This is one of the oldest motorcycle companies in the world, they want us to know. It is pure Italian. Its product is locally-sourced, hand-made, and soulfully artisanal.
Without naming names – well, without naming them too much, or for attribution – company representatives are quick to distinguish the home-grown aspects of the V7 from other top European machines, which might be composed of engines assembled in Thailand, swingarms sourced from India, a chassis forged in China and wheels spun in Czech Republic. Moto Guzzi insists the V7 is authentically Italian.
That’s not the only campaign the company needs to wage. A more complicated one – and one the company recognizes – is the task of introducing or re-introducing itself to a world that isn’t aware of its existence. From past experiences riding Guzzis, as far back as the lovely 1971 Ambassador I rode during the mid-1980s right up to the day I spent early this month riding the new V7 on the roads between Palm Springs and Idyllwild, I know that the average citizen isn’t familiar with the Moto Guzzi name.
Twice during the day’s ride, in fact, I was approached by admiring passers-by who asked the same two things: “What kind of motorcycle is that?” and, “Oh, it’s Italian?”
The challenge of promoting a 100-year-old start-up actually has a benefit. There is a certain kind of motorcycle buyer, either one returning to motorcycling after many years away or coming to it as an adult for the first time, who will be attracted to the bike that’s not a BMW, Ducati, KTM, Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki or Suzuki, and could not possibly be mistaken for a Harley-Davidson.
This kind of buyer has driven sales of the retro-inspired Triumphs, I think, as well Ducati’s Scramblers and the modern line of Royal Enfields. That first-kid-on-the-block buyer is more interested in the look and feel of the bike than its stats and specs, and is as attracted by legend and legacy as lap times. That rider will love the low 30.6″ seat height, and will be more charmed than disappointed by the relatively mild performance.
Other riders may experience the pleasure of riding a slower bike faster, rather than trying to keep up with the sometimes overwhelming capability of a really fast bike. I had a perfectly pleasant spin up the Palms To Pines Scenic Byway (aka Highway 74) to Idyllwild and then back down Highway 243 to Banning, moving at a satisfying pace. At no point was I frustrated by a lack of power, and I was frequently impressed by the handling. Did I need a bigger engine? Not that day.
While it seems silly to a rider who started on a 50cc Suzuki to think of this as a starter bike, it could safely be someone’s first motorcycle.
I’ve always had a soft spot for outliers, outsiders, underdogs, and labors of love. [Editor’s Note: I think that’s why Charles and I are friends.] Visiting the Mandello factory, I could feel the heritage and the heart of the brand, and I feel it again when I see Guzzis on the go. I’ve been delighted to see some V85TTs on Southern California roads since my lovely ride in the Alps. I’m hoping to start seeing more V7s now, too.
For sure there will be some on hand when Moto Guzzi re-starts its annual Moto Guzzi World Days, the annual gathering of the Guzzisti at Mandello. The event will be held September 9 through September 12.
Check out the 2021 Moto Guzzi V7!