In the Midwest where I live, the heat and humidity of Summer can make motorcycling at any time other than early morning hours an exercise in stamina, as waves of heat roll off the pavement and creeping dehydration takes an insidious toll on even the fittest rider. With Fall, though, comes blue skies and mild temperatures and colors changing from brownish and dusty to more vibrant hues, as the leaves explore the kaleidoscope and daily highs in the 60’s become common. It’s my favorite time of the year to ride, the urban bustle giving way to rolling country roads that gently implore: "Relax."
And while my personal taste in bikes tends to the more extreme end of the performance spectrum, there is something just so right, on these types of leisurely rides, about a bike that isn’t intent on making you work, one that rewards sitting up and rolling on a modest amount of power and smelling the pleasant scents of the changing seasons. Recently, I spent an afternoon with just such a bike: The Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber.
(Thanks to the fine folks at Reno's Powersports in Kansas City, Missouri, for the extended test ride.)
Is there a more evocative motorcycle name in all of motorcycledom than Moto Guzzi? Sure, the Harley-Davidson and Triumph folks can likely make a strong argument, but for my money nothing brings to mind the notional ethos of the motorcycle (freedom-of-the-road, wind-in-the-hair, go-anywhere-anytime, effortless momentum on a blue sky day) than the brand started in in 1921 in Mandello del Lario, Italy, near Lake Como. (Maybe it has something to do with the sing-song nature of the Italian language itself, where a brand like Maserati can call its big sedan the mellifluous “Quattroporte” when they’re really just calling it “Four Door.”)
Currently part of the Piaggio corporate family, Moto Guzzi (or just “Guzzi” to its fans) has the distinction of being the oldest European manufacturer in continuous production. During World War I, three friends from the Italian Air Force envisioned a post-war motorcycle company to leverage the unique skills of each. Carlo Guzzi (a mechanic) was the mechanical mind behind the company, Giovanni Parodi (a pilot, and son of wealthy Genovese ship owners) would provide the capital, and Giorgio Ravelli (also a pilot, and already a famous motorcycle racer) would promote the machines by continuing his racing career. Sadly, Ravelli was killed just after the war’s end in an airplane crash, and the legendary “flying eagle” logo for the company was adopted from the Italian Air Corp’s symbol in tribute.
(Of interest is that the company’s original name was GP, for “Guzzi-Parodi,” but was changed to Moto Guzzi to shelter the Parodi family’s shipping fortune from that of the upstart motorcycle company.)
Carlo Guzzi’s first engine design was a horizontal single-cylinder that in various configurations dominated the company’s history for 45 years. And as planned they torture tested those engine configurations on the racing circuits of the world. In 1935, Irish racer Stanley Woods won both the Lightweight TT (250cc) and Senior TT (500cc) races at the Isle of Man TT, then (and still) the ultimate test for rider and machine. Moto Guzzi continued to experience huge success in many forms of racing for several decades, but by the early-1960’s the company’s fortunes had changed and financial considerations saw them shift towards higher-volume products and thus de-emphasize their racing programs.
Early in the 1960's Guzzi engineered the now-iconic air-cooled 90-degree V-twin, with the engine’s transverse cylinder heads projecting prominently and proudly from either side of the bike as if someone dropped an equally iconic BMW boxer-twin engine from a great height only to see the cylinder heads bend upwards. (The effect is almost wing-like, an unintentional visual nod to Guzzi’s aviation heritage.) That basic engine configuration continues to today, and a version is found in the new V9 Bobber.
The Bobber's motor is tuned for torque rather than horsepower, the 853cc engine making a leisurely 55-hp at 6250rpm with maximum torque of 46-lb/ft available at 3000rpm. It’s a lovely, tractable engine, the transverse mounting gently shimmying side-to-side at idle like a happy dog wagging its tail, and in the real world it has more than enough juice to make for a spirited ride. Power is delivered to the rear wheel through a drive shaft, and Guzzi’s six-speed dry clutch rattles pleasantly (though not as demonstrably as the wonderful older dry clutch Ducati bikes). It also shifts accurately, much more so than the lovely Guzzi V7 Racer I owned last year, which had a gearbox filled with what felt like Limoncello-flavored Jell-O and random nuts and bolts.
The design of the V9 Bobber is classic, easy-going Moto Guzzi. While Guzzi has released some stunning performance bikes over the years (the current Griso 8V power-cruiser shares honors with the Ducati XDiavel as most impressive in its class, and the 2004 MGS-01 Corsa gets my vote for one of the most beautiful bikes ever designed), they’re best known for more laid-back fair. The V9 Bobber continues in that vein, with a deceptively simple design that includes just enough retro touches to keep the heritage alive without being over-styled in the least. The exposed bits (including the exhaust pipe) are done up in anodized matte black, except for the fuel tank and fenders which are finished in matte silvery grey (it’s also available in black) with racy red highlights, and the lightly-padded (but comfy) seat is a tapered, flat slab highlighted with contrasting white stitching. Nice. The instrument gauge is a single, simple retro-modern analog speedo with a small LCD screen to register various information and allow basic configurations of the onboard systems. There’s absolutely nothing to detract from the riding experience, and the electronic nannies (including two-stage ABS) are both simple and completely non-intrusive.
Straddling the bike is easy, as it’s light weight (439-lbs) and low profile make it easy to maneuver at low speed. (I’m 6’0” and could stand over the bike flat-footed.) The Bobber’s flat handlebar falls to hand with little forward lean and, at least for my build, was positioned at a comfortable and relaxed angle; it immediately feels like an “all afternoon” fit. On turn-over, the twin shimmies in its delightful way and the exhaust barks happily with a charming rumble. Put the bike in gear and clutch take-up is progressive and forgiving.
The bike accelerates progressively and with verve, though this isn’t an engine that will toss you off the back with a liberal throttle application like so many naked and super-naked these days. The side-to-side shimmy smooths out immediately and forward progress, even with a serious twist of the right wrist, is measured and pleasant. This is a comfy bike to ride, telegraphing its every move to eliminate surprises, but one that still rewards giving it the bones. It handles like a featherweight, which isn’t surprising given that the relaxed riding position positions most of the rider’s weight over the middle-rear of the bike rather than the front wheels. The handling isn’t telepathic exactly, but the bike bobs and weaves with ease and little effort. It’s forgiving in a way that makes it an ideal beginner’s bike, or a bike for someone who wanted to commute a bit and not stress over popping wheelies at every stop light. Of equal importance is the bikes plentiful stopping power, which was progressive, fade-resistant, and more than adequate for the relaxed nature of the bike.
The motorcycles to which I’m typically drawn are generally high-strung and loud and knife-edged and, if I'm honest, sometimes not all that fun. Yes, my Panigale R or Tuono 1100 V4 Factory can make me feel like Captain America riding a nuclear missile but they’re also, well…work. The V9 Bobber is the opposite of that, a bike that rewards small amounts of effort with massive smiles, one that practically demands a rider look around and take in the world as it zooms by, and one that generally discourages doing so at the extra-legal speeds of so many of today’s two-wheeled conquerers. There are other stand-outs in this diverse class of bike, including the excellent Ducati Scrambler, the moody Triumph Thruxton, and sublime BMW rNineT (and one of my new favorites, the Yamaha SCR950), but few have the Guzzi’s sense of effortless and simple cool.
While I have no way of knowing, I wouldn't be surprised if the V9 Bobber’s formal design brief was a single word on a piece of paper: ”Divertimento!” (“Fun!”). If so, Moto Guzzi has wildly achieved that goal with this bike.