A fun and lively classically styled bike

I have to begin this article with one of my periodic confessions: I have very mixed feelings about the whole Retro Bike scene. To put it simply, I think that anyone who pays a premium for a pair of torn jeans or a fake sweat stained t-shirt really has more money than sense.

The same applies to fake classic bikes. Some classic machines were excellent. Even today, I have never ridden a more involving and satisfying bike than a Matchless G.50, and if I never rode anything but a 1962 Triumph Trophy I would be happy. However, most classic bikes were rubbish in their time – unreliable, difficult to start, and so predictably unpredictable in handling and power that they wouldn’t excite a torpid hamster. To copy these bikes is just as silly as wearing a brand new t-shirt that has been synthetically aged.

This is why I am reluctant to put the Moto Guzzi V7 II into the retro bike segment because, rather than being a parody of a classic motorcycle, it is a very, very fine modern motorcycle in its own right and yet continues 94 years of motorcycle manufacturing heritage on the banks of Lake Como in northern Italy.

Let’s begin by looking at what makes a classic bike better than a modern machine – when on paper it should lose out on every front. The key, overwhelmingly important, factor is that the motorcycle must have an emotional link to the rider. This is where many retro bikes miss out. Adding complexity to a motorcycle does not automatically make it better – it just makes it more complex.

There is no argument that if you have a 200 horsepower superbike cranked right over, and on the very limits of tire adhesion, you need traction control. There is a less valid but still credible argument for having different mapping options on your heavily laden AT machine as you ride from warm, dry roads into monsoon conditions.

However, what the electronics do for most riders is to separate them from the very reason they ride in the first place – the pursuit of that unique link which comes only from a truly anthropomorphic bond between rider and motorcycle: the two-wheeled horse in living metal. The best, and only the very best, young designers understand this very subtle and nuanced idea, and when they produce a modern classic it retains all the intense involvement of an original classic – but adds an electric starter and a lack of oil puddles on the garage floor.

So, let’s have a closer look at the V7. To an untrained eye, the transverse V-Twin engine looks just like every other Guzzi that has used this car engine since 1967. However, in the last 48 years, things have moved on vastly. Yes, the engine does lie – uniquely amongst modern, mass-produced motorcycles – in a 90 degree V across the frame, and yes, it is air-cooled, but the 2015 manifestation of the concept is very modern and comes with all the obligatory emission controls in the form of a catalytic converter and fuel injection.

However, despite being compliant with all current and predicted legislation, Guzzi have done a very clever job in that the cat converter is completely inconspicuous and the twin exhausts have a suitably classic growl to them.

In fact, things are far better than this. If you are so inclined, you could creep round a Trappist monastery quadrangle and not disturb the monks’ contemplation. Alternatively, you can have a lot of fun!

Give the V7 a seriously sporting handful of throttle and the over square, 80mm x 94mm, 744cc V-Twin has a really pleasant growl. It’s not the angry Rottweiler of a lightly silenced Norton Commando but certainly enough aural pleasure to give the impression that bureaucrats haven’t stifled all the pleasure out of riding a retro bike.

The engine itself is a lovely thing and is as effective as it is visually attractive. This is very much a motor to be seen, stroked and admired and so it is important that the castings and machining are both impeccable – which they are. The power the V7 produces is deceptive. Clearly, the V7 has to be compliant with European A2 license requirements, so it produces 48 hp at 6,500 rpm. A2 customers are on the way to an open motorcycle license, and they are vital to the whole motorcycle industry in Europe. Get your A2 rider locked into your marque and you can then ease him into the $20,000 exotica when he has an open license.

U.S. and Canadian customers get an extra two metric horses via a modest re-mapping of the ECU.

Now this doesn’t sound like much fun, but it is because Guzzi have somehow managed to get peak torque at an incredibly low 3,000 rpm. In practice, having this much pulling power available means that the V7 can be ridden like a scooter or, heaven forbid, a cruiser.

Our test route took us up some serious hills surrounding Lake Como and, carrying me and Carol, who was taking the images for this article, the V7 was a perfectly practical touring machine.

Where it lost out was on top speed. I have no idea what the V7’s actual, head-buried-in-the-tank maximum is, but I would be surprised if it is much north of 105 mph. Returning to the Guzzi factory, I saw 95 mph on the speedometer half a dozen times. At these speeds, the V7’s aerodynamics – those of a porcine brick – start to demand power the bike clearly doesn’t have.

But here is the core of the matter. With ever-reducing and more rigidly enforced speed limits, 90 mph is ample to get your license suspended, so at what point does top speed become merely a matter of geeky conjecture? For absolutely certain, I could ride the V7 hard all day two-up, and stretch the tolerance of the law to the outer limits, with the existing 48 hp.

However, a bit more urge would be nice – isn’t it always? After the test was completed, we were gossiping to Guzzi staff and one mentioned that the factory does have a rather special V7 currently wandering around northern Italy. This engine knocks out 65 hp, with even more torque, and really would tick all the boxes. At the moment, Piaggio is spending a lot of money on the Guzzi brand, including reworking the ancient Mandello del Lario factory, so it clearly sees a future in the retro/quirky sector. A “Super V7” would extend the V7 range very nicely indeed.

Back to the present and the V7 gearbox and clutch. At one time, in the good – actually bad – old days selecting a gear on a Guzzi was a real lucky dip affair. Yes, it was possible to get a Guzzi ‘box working properly but only with the efforts of a skilled tuner and a sensitive rider. By contrast, the six-speed V7 had a thoroughly modern gearbox with sweet, effortless selection. I never once missed a gear, up or down, and that would have been an impossible thing to write even a few years ago. The six speeder, one more than last year’s five, might be considered overkill on a bike like the V7, but in the real world it isn’t. The ratio spacing is now ideal in all conditions from trickling through traffic to fast riding.

The single plate clutch is light and grab free and the shaft drive unobtrusive.

For 2015, the engine has been tilted forward by four degrees and lowered by 10mm (a bit under half an inch). This gives the bike a more pleasing look and also provides 30mm (over an inch) of extra clearance behind the heads and barrels, which is always welcome for the long of leg. At a bit over 5’ 10”, I never found the motor intrusive.

The saddle has also been lowered to 790mm (31”). Normally, this rings warning bells for me since, with racing knackered knees, I can’t manage a cramped riding position. There was no problem at all with the V7, which had plenty of room available. Carol also commented on ample space for the pillion.

The chassis is another case of Guzzi understanding what it is doing in terms of the V7. Compared to an Aprilia Superbike – Aprilia being Piaggio’s other key motorcycle brand – the Guzzi is basic to the point of being crude. It has a steel frame and no adjustment on the suspension worth talking about. Only the alloy swinging arm is vaguely modern. The rear end has twin Bitubo shocks, and again these are old school.

Including the twin shocks, there is nothing, as in absolutely nothing, wrong with this chassis. All the top classic race bikes use steel frames, and swinging arms, and they will out handle most modern superbikes. The wear on my boots’ toe sliders indicated that the V7 will provide plenty of fun if you want to press on.

Guzzi don’t publish steering geometry figures but the lovely, neutral handling feel of the bike suggests that it won’t be far off the magical 63 degree head angle and two and a half inches of trail that defines the perfect classic motorcycle.

The braking is fine too. It’s not up to superbike standards, but coming down off the hills, two up, there was plenty of power just in the single 320mm front disc, which is gripped by some excellent Brembo calipers.

Some journalists have been all snotty and hormonal about the ABS and traction control the V7 now has. Who needs TC with so little power? I have a different view. Many V7s will be used by riders with very little riding experience so why not protect them as they come to terms with their first full-sized bike? Sliding down the road because you have lost traction on either wheel doesn’t enhance the riding experience in any way.

Finally, but still of critical importance in this market sector, the whole V7 range is beautifully finished. Someone has taken care with the design details on these bikes, and Piaggio accountants haven’t screwed the last penny out of production costs – and it shows. There are sound financial reasons for this policy. The V7 range is Guzzi’s most successful product, and customers worldwide like the bikes. Rather than being a niche motorcycle like Honda’s CB1100EX, the V7s are paying Guzzi’s bills.

Customizing is the big idea behind the V7s, and this is where I disagree with Guzzi. The V7s come in three flavors ranging from the “Stone” bagger to my favorite, the “Racer”. All the bikes are mechanically identical. This needs stressing. Regardless of what your V7 looks like, it will go, handle and stop just the same as every other V7.

Personally, I don’t like the matte paint finish on the Stone. If you can’t polish your retro bike then its whole raison d’etre is questionable – and Guzzi could provide you with a paint job so deep and lustrous that you would want to swim in it. So, my choice of tank would be the chrome job on the Racer. This would be great because I also like the dropped ‘bars on the Racer too. The problem is that the Racer only has a single seat and so Carol can’t ride with me. Guzzi’s answer is that I should buy a dual seat and have the dealer fit it for me before delivery – and then have me sell the single seat to recoup the cost.

All the options – exhausts, seats, tanks – fit on any V7 without modification and not even ECU remapping is required. This being the case, why can’t a customer simply order the bike he or she wants directly from the production line? It’s hardly a new idea. The vast majority of new cars are now built to order and to hugely more complex demands. Instead of the basic simplicity of putting a different colored fuel tank on a V7, car customers will specify the engine, internal trim and every other bell and whistle in the catalog – or not – as their budget permits but all the options will go onto one chassis.

I can see the accountants’ eye view of selling lots of aftermarket accessories to V7 owners but I think that Guzzi would do better by letting buyers customize the bikes directly from the production line and then, if they want to add clutch and brake levers machined from titanium billet, let them indulge their fantasies privately.

This brings us to the big question – how does the V7 fare against the retro market opposition? The answer is outstandingly well. I cannot see the attraction of the Triumph Bonneville range. They are fat, dull, slow things that really need to buy a subscription to a Health Spa and go on a diet before they are allowed out in public. For me, Bonnies are more Cruiser than retro.

The Royal Enfield Bullets are okay, but 29 hp really is a cure for insomnia. I once had a lawnmower with a tuned, two-stroke engine and that made more power than a Bullet.

The Ducati Scrambler range I do like. The bikes are very stylish and reportedly go extremely well. The problem is that they are a size too small for me and I couldn’t imagine riding one all day.

The best of the classics/retros, and by a big margin too, is the Honda CB1100 EX, but this is a big, heavy and much faster machine than the norm for this genre of motorcycle. Take the Honda out of the equation, and the V7 is the star of the show and the bike I would buy. Add the extra 17 hp Guzzi are currently playing with and then not even the Honda would beat these quirky, and utterly delightful, V-Twins.

Stone: $9,290
Special: $9,290
Racer: $10,990