Why I was wrong about MV Agusta

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I’ve never been as wrong about a motorcycle brand as I’ve been about MV Agusta. Back in 2009, when the new generation of Harley-developed MVs was released, I criticized them heavily for posting inferior numbers to the previous generation while carrying over near-identical looks. I just saw a brand pushing a legacy, not a competitive product. But, since doing three trackdays on a 2010 MV Agusta F4 last summer, interviewing the company’s 30-year old CEO Giovanni Castiglioni and now riding the MV Agusta Brutale 990R I can’t think of motorcycle company I’m more excited about. Here’s why.

Photos: Grant Ray

A bad start.

I guess my negative perception of MV started back in 2004 or 2005 when I was living in London and dating a rich girl. Her 19-year old brother, in addition to his Lamborghini Gallardo, owned an F4 Senna. He rode it around in a t-shirt, a gold chain necklace about as close to safety gear as he got. That stereotype of MV buyer as someone with more money than sense was reinforced when I borrowed that Senna and found it barely rideable due to a recalcitrant front-end (it didn’t want to steer) and ridiculously awful fueling. Combine the two and riding it through traffic was a nightmare, especially since the brother would never have let me live it down had I dropped the damn thing. At probably three times the price of my more-powerful, better-handling Fireblade, I just didn’t see the point.

Honesty is a funny thing.

Then the new Brutale debuted in 2009 claiming, as my headline stated, “less power and more weight” than the model it replaced. That was followed by the F4, which appeared to make the same mistake. It’s since been explained to me, off the record, that while the spec sheets for the new models do appear unimpressive alongside those of the old models, that’s maybe due to varying levels of honesty between pre-HD MV and post-HD MV. Of course, admitting that would be admitting that MV hasn’t always been a model for ethical business practices…

What the hell is a Brutale 990R anyways?

It isn’t a naked F4. Different engine, different frame. But it is a roughly liter-sized inline-four in a steel trellis frame with significant sporting intensions.

It isn’t the same as the old, pre-Harley Brutale, even though they look strikingly similar. MV says this one is 85 percent new, with a revised engine, frame and most other parts.

As much as using the word “bargain” in reference to a $15,000 exotic Italian performance bike is inappropriate, until the MV Agusta F3 enters production in September (hopefully at a lower price), this is the cheapest model in the company’s range.

Eight position traction control is standard and you can switch between normal and “sport” throttle maps. Like other MVs, the front forks are ridiculously chunky. These are fully-adjustable 50mm USD Marzocchis. Out back is a piggyback Sachs monoshock, visible thanks to the single-sided swingarm.

But I want my exotic Italian engine to be a V!

Why? Because you want an easily-definable point of mechanical differentiation so you can brag about it or because you’re looking for character to justify the premium over a Japanese bike? So far as bragging rights, just tell people the engine’s radial-valve design was engineered by Ferrari. Character? Like the F4, to spend a significant amount of time using the 990R’s engine is to learn to love it. It’s turbine smooth, hits hard when you open the throttle at any RPM in any gear and even though it’s an inline-four, it has an engine note all its own.

The 990’s motor is way more suitable for a naked bike than the 186bhp 998cc engine in the F4. Where the superbike loves to rev, encouraging you to bounce if off the limiter when you’re riding fast, the Brutale delivers considerably more punch just off idle and through the mid-range. That comes at the expense of the liter biker’s top-end rush, but you’ll be too busy having fun at sane speeds to care.

What’s the difference between the 990R and the 1090RR, an extra R?

Well, the answer to that is tricky. Looking at the spec sheets, I see two nearly-identical bikes. Same weight, same wheelbase, different colors. The engines also produce similar numbers. The 990 puts out 139bhp at 10,600rpm and 78lb/ft at 8,000rpm; the 1090RR makes 144bhp at 10,600rpm and 85lb/ft at 8,000rpm.

But, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t just draw conclusions from MV spec sheets, so I asked the company to explain things better.

“Key points between the 990R and 1090RR, aside from price $15,000 vs. $18,000 respectively are in the Wheels, Suspension, Brakes, and Accessories…and of course the engines,” says a spokesman.

“Wheels:  990R Cast “Star” v. 1090RR Lightweight Forged

Brakes:  990R Radial Brembo v. 1090RR Cast Monoblock Radial

Suspension:    1090RR more fully adjustable Front/Rear

Accessories: 1090RR adds – slipper clutch, steering damper, adj. rear

sets”

“1090 offers more noticeable torque, and also +HP due to larger displacement (1078cc v. 998cc on 990R).”

Ok, but it’s Italian, it must have some foibles.

Here’s the procedure for switching between Sport and regular throttle maps: Start the engine; hit the “set” and “ok” buttons while scrolling through a series of indecipherable sub menus; get frustrated and give up; pull away; pull an unintentional wheelie; smile; remember that it’s the start button you use to change modes; hit it; watch “sport” flash on the screen; watch it disappear; hit it again; hold it; almost run into the back of Grant on the Aprilia RSV4; hit it some more; hold it some more; give up; look at the screen again a few minutes later and notice that you’re now inexplicably in Sport. To reverse the selection, repeat the process. Good luck figuring out how to change the traction control settings, we couldn’t figure them out on the F4 either.

Then there’s the shotgun exhausts that look amazing, but get in the way of your heel if your toes are on the pegs. Fortunately MV realizes this and covers the pipes in all manner of heat shields to prevent your boot melting.

But since it’s Italian, it must also handle.

Correct. Climbing off something like the BMW S1000RR, the suspension feels a bit soft, but very well controlled. Feel through the flat bars of what the front tire is doing is exceptional, meaning you can throw it into corners hard with a level of abandon only complete confidence brings. The steep steering angle helps with that too. The trick is to trail it into corners on the brakes to keep the front end planted and to quicken the steering even further.

Despite that fast steering, it’s still stable. In fact, the whole thing feels almost Japanese in its accessibility and ease. Just get on it and ride, you’ll have fun and it won’t throw you off.

Will it wheelie, mister?

While I’m coming clean, I might as well admit that I don’t like pulling wheelies. Riding someone else’s fancy press bike, especially one I can’t afford to replace, always leaves a nagging feeling in the back of my brain, urging me to close the throttle if the front wheel starts coming up. But, I had the Brutale’s front wheel in the air within about 10 yards of my first ride. The upright riding position, the short wheelbase, the immediate torque and the very sharp throttle response just encourages that sort of thing.

Seriously, it’s easier to wheelie than a Triumph Speed Triple, and that’s saying something.

So MV Agusta…

Everyone knows that we love us some Aprilia RSV4. But, you know what? I’d choose the MV Agusta F4 over it all day long. It’s faster, it’s easier to ride and is totally happy just sitting at the absolute limit trackday after trackday after trackday.

The company? I’ve interviewed and talked to pretty much everyone doing something remarkable in the motorcycle world right now and you know who appears to have their shit together the most? Who appears best able to cope with the sea change affecting bikes right now? Giovanni Castiglioni.

Combine the prestige of the brand, the looks of a Brutale, the performance of a superbike, the quality of a Harley-financed factory and the cheapest price of the range and you have the Brutale 990R. It’s fast, involving, accessible and desirable.

I guess my problem all along was that I didn’t understand MV’s unique selling point. Were they just GSX-R clones with a higher price tag? Just Ducatis with inline-fours? No. Now I understand. MV Agusta’s USP is awesome. Pure awesome.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate BeastIncarnate

    Pure awesome… once you replace the headlight and gauge cluster. Until then?

    Pure butterface.

  • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

    aaaaaaaand that’s why I have a subscription to HFL. Great article.

    • Kyle

      +1 Kyle likes Case’s post

  • Frosty_spl

    Love this bike! I like how the top of the tank extends over your legs.

  • Charlie

    I’ve had an F4, 2 750 Brutale’s and a Brutale 910R. All good to great, but totally eclipsed by the new 1090 Brutale. I haven’t ridden the new F4 but prefer the upright riding position. The new RR is nimble/light/comfortable around town and a twist away from a superbike. It may not look quite as good as the older Brutale’s, but it’s a world apart. A different animal with great family resemblance.

  • aristurtle

    It looks slick and very narrow (in a good way), but I’m not sure how much of that is the bike and how much is the photographer.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      It feels considerably more narrow at the knees than the 2011 ZX-10R I sat on.

  • robotribe

    I still think it’s overdue for a face lift; too many other nakeds–mostly of the Japanese flavor–have turned the Brutale look that was for a time “different”, into “disposable” (ex. Suzuki Gladius).

  • Dumptruckfoxtrot

    Excellent review! It sounds like a hoity toity hooligan bike, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      That’s an excellent description of it. Posh hoonage.

  • Myles

    Awesome. I hope they do well in the next few years and continue to bring awesome bikes to the table.

    They’re like a cool Ducati. They have history winning races and all that stuff. They pretty much dominated early GP racing, and have the second most GP wins of an manufacturer. Only down one to Honda. It would be sweet if they found sales success and got the funds to get back into motoGP.

    It would also be sweet if they brought a small displacement four cylinder bike to market. 20k rpm should be doable and reliable with modern engineering. How sweet would it be to thrash a lightweight exotic bike the spins to 20k?

  • paul

    I remember Fonzie couldn’t say wr wr wr wro wrong
    ;)

    good read thanks

  • Ducky

    It takes a big man to admit they’re wrong, and it’s very rare in the auto/motojournal arena. Very good read, thanks.

  • Kentaro

    So Harley-Davidson tried selling them off right? What happened?

    • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate BeastIncarnate

      They decided it would be more profitable to give MV away.

      • Kentaro

        Who bought them? Are they on their own now? Thanks for the response

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          They paid the Castiglionis 20 million euro to take it back. Two years after buying it from them for over $100 million.

          http://hellforleathermagazine.com/2010/08/mv-agusta-the-castiglioni-years/

          • Kentaro

            Gosh that’s ridiculous. Thank you for the info.

            • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

              No problem, just bone up on your HFL!

          • noone1569

            This still cracks me up. If I were a stockholder or on the board of Harley, I would be seriously furious over this. Even more so than the Buell disaster and I’m a Buell guy.

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    Nice article. This is dangerous stuff though.. you could damn near sell me on an F4 with a few more articles like that!

    Very interesting that you mention the F4 is happy sitting on the limit track day after track day… I currently ride a GSX-R1000 and I’ve seen a couple of F4′s at track days. I used to just think they’re people with too much money to spend, now I think I’m starting to get the point as well.

    This is like a question I posed on a couple of forums a while back – are European bikes more than the sum of their parts? There’s plenty of people who have put Ohlins and Marchesini’s etc. on their Gixxer, CBR – but it still seems like Euro bikes have the edge in sweet handling and a little something extra in the engine. What do you reckon? (I would be stoked if you guys did an article to answer that question, it’s hard to find regular riders who’ve properly sampled top spec bikes from both sides of the pond.)

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I could sell myself on an F4 if I could afford one.

      The differences between say a GSX-R and the F4 are quantifiable in component quality and features like slipper clutches, more adjustable suspension, etc. Then there’s just the benefit of riding a bike built from passion, not rational cost cutting. The GSX-R is amazing. The F4 is special.

      • MotoRandom

        Now wait just a darn second there. I thought we were all paying the monthly fee to help sustain you and Grant’s jetsetter lifestyle. Or did you tie up all of your liquid assets on a deposit for a new Aventador LP700-4?

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          We blew it all on cocaine and hookers in Vegas.

          • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

            No you spent it on cocaine and hookers in Vegas. The rest you wasted.

  • DoctorNine

    The mechanicals are wonderful. But all that plastic ‘style’ stuff on it is an eyesore.

  • Miles Prower

    The 990R… 1090RR… but what about the the new Brutale 920 (921 cc)?

    “The MV Agusta model line-up is expanding with the introduction of the new BRUTALE and the 920 engine. This incredible naked has enamored the motorcycle world with its unique design that has been to date unequaled. Ever since its introduction the BRUTALE has continued to be the leader in both design and performance. With the launching of the new BRUTALE, the most beautiful and powerful naked is now within reach of an even larger number of riders whom have always dreamed of experiencing the emotions only the BRUTALE can deliver. A new engine, new chassis settings, a one-piece seat design with a focus on comfort, the BRUTALE offers a new interpretation of a high performance naked. A motorcycle that offers aggressive styling and raw performance matched with an intuitive chassis. A Brutale that is always incredible easy to ride and has never been this comfortable and intuitive.”

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Not coming to the US.

  • Liquidogged

    Dear motorcycle industry:

    Round headlights on the nekkids, please. You are not going to improve on the basic beauty of a circle. Stop trying. It’s indicative of a “WE CAN MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER!!!!111″ design philosophy. No more teardrops, evil insectoid pupils, robot spider googly orbs, none of it. Round headlights. One or two. Get weird elsewhere on the bike.

    Sweet bike otherwise. Gorgeous even. And the specs are hot. Definitely want to ride.

  • Mohd

    I got my first MV 1090RR last Nov after being a Ducati fan with an S4R and Classic GT parked in my garage.
    Due to the low quality of after sales service that i use to get from the local dealer not the brand I decided to get a new bike.
    it was the best thing I did in 2010 the bike is awesome the service is excellent what more do you need. the down side is not much of after market products and no advertisement for the brand

    • Ricardo

      This bikes do not need much aftermarket products at all, and if you want hi-end products to end up with gorgeous machine there is Motocorse…check it out: http://www.motocorse.it

      I own a F4 1078 RR (second one, previous was a F4S)and for me is the definitive SBK.
      1st. for it’s design (Tamburini’s best design…)
      2nd. for performance & sensations (is a racing machine, for track and for road racing weekends…well you know)
      3rd. Reliability. (Yes, amazing for an Italian bike, no?)

      I believe with this new strategy the brand will reach more customers and market share, which is good for us.
      Let’s see the F3 how it comes….

      BR……R.

  • http://www.lgdm.fr stempere

    As i can see why “no advertisement for the brand” is bad for the brand (relative to sales) but for the consumer i think it’s great. I for one am pleased to ride a bike i only saw one time in the streets and almost no one knows about, it helps with the “it’s special” point Wes made above.
    Ducati’s lost a lot of their charm when they became the iPod of motorcycles.

    EDIT it seems it didn’t work properly, but this was a response to Mohd above ^

  • Miticale

    Much enjoyed article. Remember when I first rode a Brutale 750 and scared the ever loving crap out of me. That owner has gone on to trade that in and get the 990 (In Europe). Seriously considering the F3 when it’s available, straight collection.