How the Moto Guzzi Norge won me over

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When I picked up the 2011 Moto Guzzi Norge 8V from Piaggio a few weeks ago, I was initially somewhat sad to part with the R1 I had been cruising around on. The R1 felt like it weighed nothing, accelerated the way only a liter-bike does, wheelied on command and had great brakes to boot. The Norge is a touring bike, which basically means it’s slower, heavier and a lot more comfortable than most other bikes. At least, that’s what I was expecting. Tipping the scales at 566lbs, it’s not bad for a bike with a giant air-cooled twin, shaft drive, four projector beam headlights, hard bags and a fairing that does an amazing job of blocking the wind. It’s not slow either. Give it just a hint of clutch and the front wheel jumps skyward. Cool. With the bags off lane splitting through LA traffic, I’m not sure there’s any other bike I’d rather be on

This is a fast bike.
Faster than the Black Devil through rush-hour in Moscow and with less than half the attention too. Faster than my GSX-R to downtown and with almost zero stress. Faster than anything else in traffic really and with none of the negative attention a flashy sportsbike draws. It’s also comfortable. Comfortable enough that Ashlee and I have ridden it two-up with a full complement of camping gear on two trips in as many weeks. It’s also a nice bike. Easily nice enough to justify it’s $16k price tag. The paint beats out even the Honda VFR1200, the branding is actually something you’ll appreciate. Those tiny red Moto Guzzi ovals on the valve covers could even be considered cute.

Wes fell in love with the Griso, and I have more than just a little crush on this bike. The Norge works so well that you start to wonder why all bikes aren’t this good. Rather than polluting the end of a glowing review with a list of gripes and things that didn’t particularly suit me, I’m going to list all three of them right here and never mention them again:

1. The center stand drags early and often. If this was my personal bike, I’d have to take it off.
2. There is an extremely limited range of suspension adjustment. It isn’t at all bad, but I’d add a stiffer rear spring and full damping adjustment at both ends. (Then I’d probably go to the race track and get laughed at for trying to press a touring rig into service it was never meant for.)
3. Squint and both the R1 and the Norge look like Dame Edna. Its four projectors are extremely powerful but I’d still add an HID system to at least 2 of them.

Can you tell them apart?

So how does it go so fast?
I can’t single out any one thing that makes the Norge so easy to ride so fast. When it comes to performance, they got it right across the board.

The motor has a strong, smooth powerband that pulls cleanly from down low all the way to redline. Brembo brakes have amazingly good feel, are easy to modulate and fill you with confidence. Moto Guzzi’s strange chassis and motor arrangement work wonders when it comes time to lean the Norge; a slight nudge on the is all it takes to slam it all the way over.

It stops!
The new 8V motor is amazing. The 1151cc, 4-valve per cylinder, air and oil cooled 90º V-twin pumps out a claimed 102 hp and 77 lb/ft of torque. If you’re in the mood for fringed ass-less chaps, you can hold the throttle wide-open, shift super early and keep the motor under 2,000rpm. The windscreen will shake a little as the whole bike vibrates, but you’ll still get some acceleration. Get it spinning faster than that and things smooth out considerably.

Leaving stoplights, I slipped the clutch until about 5 grand, shifted just before the 8,000 rev limit in first gear and waited for the blinking red lights to cue my next change. Top speed is an indicated 136 mph. It’s limited by gearing, though I doubt it has the power to go much faster than that. At that speed, the bike is perfectly friendly and still willing to change direction, lean all the way over as you wish and even brake extremely hard while leaned all the way over with a passenger on the back. That’s an impressive feat for any bike.

It brakes!
When you’re riding like an asshole on public roads it’s always nice to have the confidence that goes with really nice brakes and a well tuned ABS system. All things considered, this is one of the better factory braking systems out there. The pads have good bite, the lines are stainless and the last-generation Brembo calipers and horizontal master cylinder are just as powerful as they were when superbikes were running them just a few years ago. When the ABS does kick in, it does so in a gentle way that doesn’t cycle overly slow or upset the chassis. It’s got a gentle touch and once you trigger it a few times, it’s easy use to your advantage.

It handles!
There’s nothing wrong with the stock suspension here. The bike turns amazingly fast with almost zero effort from the high, wide bars. Provided the centerstand isn’t already on the ground, the bike will tighten its line with only a thought and it will never, ever do anything to scare you or kill your confidence. Case in point: Latigo canyon with bags full of tent, sleeping bags, clothes, food and Ashlee seated behind me wearing a full-on back country pack with the rest of our supplies. This is one of those rare roads that has multiple blind, down-hill, decreasing radius corners, most of them covered in gravel. I flicked it on its side, held the center stand just millimeters from the ground (to avoid being punched in the kidneys) and trail-braked all the way through. If ever there was anything that would make a bike unhappy, it’s this kind of maneuver, but the Norge had no problem.

How does a big heavy touring bike end up with effortlessly light steering and amazing feel? Thank the signature Guzzi twin with its crank oriented length-wise in chassis. Rev it at a stoplight and the bike jerks sideways ever so slightly. That’s the only time rotational inertia from the crank will have any effect on your riding though. Since it turns a different direction from the wheels, you don’t have to overcome all the force when you crank on the bars to put it on it’s side. Actually, all Guzzis share this feature. So do BMW’s flat twins and Honda’s Goldwing.

It grips!
You won’t find anything special here, which is actually a good thing. Standard sized sportsbike rubber fits just fine and the Pirelli Angel ST tires that were fitted to our press bike did nothing but inspire confidence. Funny 16″ or 18″ wheels and skinny or wide rear tires can severely limit your tire choices and it’s nice that Moto Guzzi didn’t play the funny tire game here.

It’s comfy!
It has a sort of fancy ass seat that incorporates magical temperpedic-like memory foam that’s incredibly comfortable for both riders. Until now, Ashlee’s all-time favorite pillion seat was the thick and flat one on the back of my GSXR. 50º+ lean angles may have contributed to that preference, but even for long, straight and boring rides, she’s pretty certain that Suzuki got it right.

“The passenger grab handles are actually effective,” she said of the Norge. “You can lock your elbows with your arms behind you so as to support yourself under acceleration and braking. This is a rarity. Normally, the grab rails are only useful for braking.” As far as pillion riders go, she’s experienced, having logged over 10,000 miles holding on for dear-life in the last 2 years.

The power adjustable screen does an amazing job of blocking the wind. It distorts your vision slightly, but much less than any other OEM screen I’ve ever looked through (I’m looking at you Japanese sportsbikes). With the screen up, I was able to ride with my visor open for miles with no wind or anything else in my eyes. I’ve never been able to get away with that on a bike before and it felt pretty cool. Before the Norge, I never really understood power adjustable screens. I always figured you’d put it in one comfy place and then leave it there for the rest of eternity. Since the screen distorts things just a bit, it’s nice to be able raise it on the open freeway and drop it down when it comes time to fight traffic again.

It’s luxurious!
Sure, we we’re camping on a motorcycle, but we still had full-length camp pads, comfy sleeping bags, a tent, a whole bunch of fire wood, wine, cheese, gourmet sausages, clothes for off the bike, camera gear and fruit for the next morning. Ashlee had to wear a backpack to carry some of this stuff, but with the optional top-case, everything would fit in the bike just fine. Wes made do on the R1 with a half-length camp pad, minimalist back-packing tent and well, not much else. He found some room for his camp hat, a flannel and a knife, but after that, his Kriega backpack and tail pack were full. The Norge has no problem carrying your stuff.

It’s awesome!
There aren’t a lot of motorcycles I would say that about. When you look at a new bike, you usually imagine what it would be like after you change the pipe, screen, tires, mirrors, hideous graphics and other things the manufacturer obviously got wrong. This ritual is necessary for 99 percent of motorcycles out there. Some people really seem to enjoy taking off parts that the manufacturer designed poorly and then charged them money for. Thousands of dollars are then spent on replacement parts that function properly. It’s often called customizing or personalization, but when you put it this way, it’s just annoying and expensive. The Moto Guzzi Norge does not need this treatment. Seen from any angle, I can find nothing that really needs to be changed. The pipe looks and sounds great, the screen blocks the wind, grip heaters heat, the seat is comfy, there are no flames, skulls, pin-stripes or tribal graphics to peel off and you can even see out of the stock mirrors.

  • FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

    People throw around LOL a lot, but Dame Edna really got the best of me. She rendered big as Christmas after the jump, totally unexpected.

  • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

    Sean, good writeup.

    Lots of Guzzi love from the HFL crew. Between this, the Griso, and the California over on Wired – it’s nice to see some exposure on a brand that doesn’t get much press. That Piaggio hookup sure comes in handy.

    Also nice to see that they’ve been able to reuse the Tuono mirrors. It’s a parts bin bike!

    • contender

      They’re awfully pretty – and apparently pretty capable – but HFL has been curiously positive to an HFL-friendly manufacturer. Maybe Moto Guzzi really has it together..

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

        Having “it together” as a business and making some good bikes will get you two very different answers.

  • Justin

    Loved the write up. Just curious, where were you riding in the photos? Saw the AZ plates, and though maybe it looked like my old stomping grounds. Keep up the awesomeness.

    • Sean Smith

      Guzzi has AZ dealer plates. I was camping Joshua Tree and McGrath State beach.

  • Miles Prower

    Is that a screw-top Nalgene water bottle on the picnic table? If you’re gonna be riding around on a fancy touring bike, you need to upgrade your water bottle!

    My whole family uses Camelbak Better Bottles. I keep one in my tank bag when I’m on my touring bike. Leakproof, easy to clean — and best of all, I can drink out of it without taking off my full-face helmet.

    I also have a Camelbak Groove bottle for longer days. I can fill it up with regular tap water, and the built-in filter removes off-tastes. When I’m flying (which I do a lot), I take it empty through security then fill it up at the first water fountain. When I’m staying in hotels, I fill it from the bathroom sink.

    (And no, I don’t work for Camelbak. But I do think that other motorcyclists might benefit from knowing there’s a better bottle out there!)

    • Steve

      Thanks for that tip. I’m a former backpacker who’s been out of the game for a while and not in touch with the latest/greatest. I use a nalgene on the bike on rides and had been thinking it would be nice to have something like that to use when I have to fly for work, which is 10-12 times/year. This should fill the bill alot better!

    • Sean Smith

      I’ve had that water bottle for like 10 years. It costs me nothing to just keep on using it ;)

      • Miles Prower

        Yikes! If it’s that old, there’s a pretty good chance that the bottle contains BPA, a chemical that’s been shown to have negative health effects, including erectile dysfunction and ejaculation difficulties.

        But then again, choosing that Norge over your GSX-R crotch rocket might have a greater effect — good or bad — on your health and sex life.

        • Sean Smith

          You had me at erectile disfunction. I think I’ll just set that bottle next to my old Arai.

  • Roman

    Glad to see y’all give the hole bike review thing a spin. Always dug the Norge, dig modern Guzzis in general, would love to have one as a sport-touring beast.

    • Devin

      Yeah props for the bike reviews. Love em.

    • Denzel

      I third that…

  • jason

    You carried FIREWOOD on the bike?

    • Devin

      Was thinking the same thing, wouldn’t you just carry a small hacket and make your own?

      • Sean Smith

        National parks man. They’re Nazis about that kinda thing.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      We camped at the beach, no gathering.

      • jason

        Gotcha!

  • caferacer

    That’s a good-looking gauge cluster!

    • Gene

      I don’t know about good looking, but at least it’s not a digital speedo.

      Shame about hiding that beautiful motor under so much plastic, though.

      • Sean Smith

        The plastic keeps the heat off your legs and I actually prefer digital speedos with huge analog tachs and easy to see, bright white shift lights. Not that there’s anything wrong with the Guzzi dash, those are just my personal preferences.

  • paul

    Nice to see another positive Guzzi review. : )

  • http://www.damiengaudet.blogspot.com damien

    HFL-Moto Guzzi
    as
    Car&Driver-BMW

    I kid, I kid. Good write up.

  • Wereweazle

    These two Guzzi articles are probably my favorite things that have ever been published on this site. I don’t know if it’s just fun to read about someone so excited and happy with a bike, the feeling of getting to know a bike I’ll likely never ride, or just how much I like reading a comprehensive review in general. Whatever it is, they make me happy.

    • noone1569

      What I really enjoy about it is the fact that the two Guzzi’s were bikes I would generally dismiss as just some pretty, expensive bikes that I would never be interested in. Then, a couple hooligans like Sean and Wes ride them, and they are awesome bikes. . .Hmm . .. maybe I shouldn’t dismiss them…

    • Dumptruckfoxtrot

      Non-feature wise I’d agree. The Guzzi articles are awesome.

      • http://www.facebook.com/beastincarnate Ben Incarnate

        Agreed. There are several full blown features that overshadow, but these really are great bits o’content. I like to presume I’m relatively well informed and I hadn’t seen the new Norge styling before this article.

  • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

    One question; does Aerostitch make Guzzi-badged one piece Cordura suits? Time for Sean and Wes to suit up!

  • Thom

    Nice write up . You kind of get the feeling Moto Guzzi at this point in time is a veritable font of Potential , just waiting for refinements such as this : as well as a bit of increased reliability .

    The Bones ( platform / motor ) have always been there for the asking . All needing to be done was a bit of tweaking and updating .

    So maybe a from One Foot in the Grave to impending Success Story in the making with M/G ?

  • http://twitter.com/JamesLeeFoley# J Foley

    These positive Guzzi reviews are killing me. I had resigned myself to a R or RT after both local Guzzi dealers dropped them. Its making me reconsider how far I’m willing to ride for parts and service…

  • Myles

    Is the paint really better than Shamu? I remember Honda detailing all this crazy molecular science-project-y shit claiming that the paint was as close to glass as possible without the help of Profesor X.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      It’s some pretty nice paint and it’s not on such tacky plastic panels.

    • Sean Smith

      It’s better. The black is downright amazing. Easily the best factory paint job I’ve ever seen on a bike.

  • Lou

    I am so glad to read this. I have long loved Guzzis, but there’s been an “so close/not quite” feel about them. Particularly the Norge, which I’ve tested ridden a couple time in its previous incarnation. Been waiting for just the upgrades they’ve done on the Norge. With this bike, the tweaked Stelvio and the great Griso, they are really on to something!

  • Barry

    Can you actually fit an XL Shoei in the side bags? It’s the one shortcoming of my Duc ST4s. I can fit an XL Arai RX7RR in the rhs bag because of the shorter neck on it, but I can’t fit a Shoei X11 without crushing the vents. RF1000′s are fine. All in all, it sounds like it does just about everything my ST has done for over a decade, but is new. And that’s actually a good thing, since Ducati doesn’t offer a direct ST replacement any more(and no, the new Multi doesn’t count, different bike entirely). Kind of amusing that it has the same two pin Brembo brakes. Surprised they didn’t upgrade to better suspension for a 15k bike though. I’d be curious to know sag numbers(bike, laden 1up, 2up and 2up with camp gear) for the bike. It’s the major failing I’ve seen of almost all “tourish” bikes like this. WAY too light of a rear spring, so that you end up cranking in too much preload and compression just to keep it from bottoming out as hard and as often. Of course, that doesn’t fix the spring rate, it just makes it quit being AS stupid from the factory. I’m going to guess it’d be a good candidate for a near-miata-sized spring in the back in order to get it to zero preload for one up, and anything approaching reasonable for 2 up camping. Couldn’t tell from the pics, is it a direct-connect shock to the swingarm, or did they manage to work in some manner of linkage? It’d be nice to have a linkage in a touring bike with a shaft, since it’s tougher to tune direct connections for all conditions.

    • Sean Smith

      I know for a fact that you can fit a medium Icon airframe, which is a pretty giant helmet, with plenty of room to spare. The bags are huge.

  • Todd

    If you get a Guzzi, don’t ever sell it. I’ve been kicking myself ever since I sold my V11 Ballabio. I never saw another person riding one. Also it was built in the old factory on Lake Como before they closed it.

    • Allan

      The factory and museum at Mandello de Lario are still operating.

  • http://www.muthalovin.com the_doctor

    Nice review. I am glad to see some good Guzzi love for building a quality product.

  • Filippo

    Great write up! Huge fan of Guzzi – especially that 4-valver. Now if we could only get the MGS-01 stateside…

    • Rick

      Moto Guzzi’s Great Red Hope…

      The MGS-01 is sort of like motorcycling’s version of nuclear fusion- the years go by and it never gets any closer to reality.

  • Rick

    What are Moto Guzzi’s sales figures like in the USA? There’s plenty of emotional support espoused for this brand, the vast majority of it coming from people who will NEVER buy, much less consider, these motorcycles.

    MG could’ve sold me a Stelvio 8V a couple years ago, until I discovered why the dealer demo had a flat front tire: Guzzi uses a rubber O-ring to seal each spoke at the rim. and at 200 miles one had already split. Instead of using modern tubeless spoked rims like BMW and Aprilia they equipped the bike with 72 ticking time bombs…maybe that’s just Old World charm?

    The Stelvio lost out to a new Caponord- not quite the emotional appeal but certainly a better motorcycle that’s holding air in its tires quite well, thank you.

    First Aprilia and now Piaggio have poured plenty of cash down the Goose’s neck in recent years, they owe us better.

    PS- I’m a former ’77 MG LeMans 850 owner

  • http://rider49er.blogspot.com Mark D

    Seeing as you guys are all buddy buddy with Guzzi, it’d be interesting to read your thoughts on the V7. These big cruiser/tourer Guzzis (Guzzii?) always struck me as a little odd, but if they’ve impressed you, I wonder what the littlest Guzzi could do.

  • Steve

    Wow, nice to hear such practical raves about a sport tourer, and a Guzzi to boot! And no refrigerator jokes (name)? Much of your remarks remind me of why I love my ’02 Connie, which I have upgraded much of to obtain better perf/braking/handling, but she’s still another 50lb heavier! My next bike is almost certainly going to be a Concours 14, which I have already test ridden, but I would love to give this bike a try as well.
    Couple thoughts- what’s the fuel capacity, does it come with heated grips?

    • Sean Smith

      5 gallons and yes, with three easy to adjust levels via the left bar switch.

  • Audun

    It comes with heated grips as standard and takes 23 litres of fuel. (you do the math.) I love my Griso by the way!

  • GT

    I love my Stelvio, always puts a smile on my face!

  • Dan

    No cornering pics? Showing off for the camera may make for cliched pictures when the subject is a sportbike, but after the Griso feature I was hoping that the improbable-knee-drag pic would become something of a tradition!

    • Sean Smith

      I thought a photo of the thrashed center stand would be trashy at best.

      That said, there’s only one way to find out stuff like this:

      “Top speed is an indicated 136 mph. It’s limited by gearing, though I doubt it has the power to go much faster than that. At that speed, the bike is perfectly friendly and still willing to change direction, lean all the way over as you wish and even brake extremely hard while leaned all the way over with a passenger on the back. That’s an impressive feat for any bike.”

  • Dan

    Fair enough. How was the camping at McGrath? My girlfriend and I are thinking about heading up there this weekend.

    • Sean Smith

      Do it. We were in 158, but the other sites near that spot are also close to the beach. It’s $35 for a night and if you can, try to book a site in advance. It fills up some weekends.

  • Rick

    This article inspired me to go try an ’11 BMW R1200RT demo ride in SoCal yesterday.

    That bike had over 2K miles already and no restriction was given for my test ride- perfect!

    Impressions? I thought the chassis, ergos, and airflow management were absolutely first-class. ESA is an amazing feature that works and the gearbox was slick-shifting. It’s a super stable machine on the highway yet playful handling on tighter roads…brilliant!

    Given all the moto-journos drooling over this updated DOHC motor I went in with elevated expectations and that was unfortunate- it probably is an improvement over previous boxers but in Real World terms it really underwhelmed me. If that’s 110 horsepower then BMW must be using miniature ponies as units of measure! It never felt especially torquey anywhere, and surged annoyingly at part-throttle / low engine load, and enough buzz crept into the throttle grip to numb my fingers after about 20 minutes.

    I’d hoped for something packing a little more punch…if it’s that all she’s got in Ventura then what’s life gonna be like at 6 to 10 thousand feet with a passenger and luggage? S-L-O-W

    Bottom Line : needs a supercharger.

    Anyway, a gratuitous data point for Norge comparison.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I love the R1200RT. You just need to get used to riding the torque curve over trying to rev it out through the gears. Focus on using the stable chassis to maintain speed over slowing before and accelerating after each curve.

      Also check out the K1600, it’s ridiculously fast.

      • Rick

        That’s my point, it didn’t seem all that generous in the midrange. I can see value of maintaining momentum (as a former Karmann Ghia pilot) but it’s not always possible on strange roads (and unfamiliar motorcycles).

        I’d say my old Aprilia Futura accelerated better even when carrying that ’02-spec 6’3″ girlfriend with full panniers (hers always had a wine bottle or three)

        Will chase down a K16GT demo soon, but I’ll be shocked if its handling is anywhere near the RT’s.

  • Trevor

    I’ve got two Honda Hornets(599&919) on the sales block with the intention of pulling the trigger on a 2007 Breva with 1000k’s on it. All it took was a 3 hour ride through a mountain canyon and I was sold. I simply was not prepared for the comfort, handling and get up and go of this bike. The current owner has no idea what he has. Sure it’s a smidge heavier than the Hornets but once the Guzzi is rolling nothing’s left to do but enjoy the ride.

  • Jonathan Ward

    This article has made me want a Norge even more than I already did…