I absolutely loved my Moto Guzzi Stelvio, and miss having it around. I miss the character and foibles associated with owning and riding a Guzzi, and it sounded superb running an open pipe. I get why it was unceremoniously chopped from the Moto Guzzi lineup but I didn’t understand why only a V9 powered version was to replace it. I mean, who on earth is going to want an underpowered and heavy adventure bike? Surely if the California could be made EU4 friendly then the Stelvio could too. The NTX650 of yesteryear was a cool bike back in the mid ’90s but surely a modern-day equivalent wouldn’t cut it against the plethora of mid-size wannabe adventure bikes on the market today.
But then there was the official press launch earlier this year and subsequent reviews and videos began to filter through. I didn’t read them as I don’t like to have my first impression tainted or biased, but I did quiz a couple of journo pals and they had nothing but high praise for the V85. Work commitments and a lack of availability of press bikes has meant I’ve had to bide my time before taking one for a meaningful spin.
The foundation of the V85 is the air-cooled, 853cc V-twin currently found in the V9 Bobber and Roamer, which I tested on the official launch back in 2016 – Ride Report here. Not a powerplant known for it’s continent conquering punch, but one that still maintains a good dollop of good old fashioned character. Thumb the starter on the V85 and the whole bike lurches from side to side under torque load, thanks to the crankshaft being mounted longditudally – just like a Beemer. Once running the Guzzi’s bars vibrate and osscialte, a reminder that you’re about to ride a mechanical bull, not some sanitised whizzy thing with 37 contra-rotating balancer shafts denying you of any notion that petrol is exploding violently beneath. The result is a wonderful cacophony of clattering, hums, drones and clonks. But sophisticated in a, dare I say it…. Germanic way. It feels as if everything has been mounted with metalastic bushes to smooth out the buzz yet leaves the mechanical soul in place.
The transmission isn’t agricultural like old Guzzis either. I used to think that all the cogs were going to fall out of my Stelvio every time I stamped into first gear. And the heavy clutch needed constant feathering at low speed to take-up the lash in the remainder of the transmission and Cardan shaft. Very tiring and not exactly ideal off-road. The V85 has a light clutch with a pleasant feel and biting point, and the much revised 6-speed gearbox is perfectly normal, deftly changing up and down without the need for stamping. It’ll happily and smoothly shift without the clutch and the ratios are well spaced too.
The suspension is relatively basic, this is a ten grand bike after all, with a semi-adjustable 41mm USD fork and monoshock. I didn’t bother tinkering with the settings but the preload is easy to change if luggage and pillions are your thing. The riding position is commanding yet unintimidating, this isn’t big bike, and the wide bars are perfectly placed for a 5’10” rider to cruise with a near bolt-upright back and hands nicely splayed. The pegs are set just far enough back from the centreline and high enough to allow for decent ground clearance. The blue V85 seen here was returned to base with an IOU for hero blobs and foot pegs, it really is that flickable and fun to ride, and exceeded my expectations.
Radially mounted Brembos are more than adequate and rarely needed much more than a double digit tug and the rear pedal features a neat cam adjuster for tuning the position. All variants are shod with Metzeler Tourance Next tyres, apart from the white and yellow one which runs Michelin’s Anakee Adventure. Giallo Sahara & Rosso Kalahari, to use the marketing speak, is the more off-road oriented version. If only by virtue of having snazzier paint and grippier rubber.
I only had an hour on the blue one before swapping through the Piaggio fleet – see review here – so arranged for a longer term borrow a few weeks later. I ended up with the white and yellow one that Simon Hargreaves had just used for a random feature. On the hottest summer’s day on record he rode from the mostly southerly McDonalds in the Cornwall to the most northerly one in Scotland. In a single hit. I wasn’t about to put that much effort in but did end up completing a leisurely seven hour trip which included a lap of the M25, country lane romps and even a couple of miles of green laning.
Cruise control made motorway work a doddle and the screen offered adequate wind protection. I did however agree with Si and his bum, the saddle looks amazingly comfortable but actually isn’t. It feels like it’s pitched a couple of degrees too far off horizontal. My posterior was telling me that with a slight tilt backwards more weight would be on meat covered part my sitting bones, rather than the pointy bit. Thankfully there are three different saddles of varying heights in the accessory catalogue. I reckon I’d go for the tallest one.
The very short trail on my route didn’t really give me much opportunity to test the V85’s off-road credentials but it carries its weight well. With everything brimmed the scales are tipped at 230kg, but that does include a very useful 23 litre tank of fuel. But our idea of off-roading in the UK is so completely different from our European, and especially Italian, friends. A decade ago I lived in Italy and during my stay never tired of riding the unsurfaced white roads which to me seemed like a legal playground but to rural folk are just a means of getting from A to B. Sure, any old vehicle will do for many of these routes, and Italians usually make do with whatever they’re riding or driving, but the V85TT would be the perfect all-rounder for anyone living halfway up a mountain.
The inspirational video below suggests that the rich heritage of Moto Guzzi’s Dakar Rally heritage has filtered down into the V85TT and that owning one will make you want to quit your job and set off around the world but in reality that’s just not going to happen. There are far better bikes to do such a trip on. But what the V85TT does do very well is remind the rider of why they are riding in the first place – because it’s visceral and fun.
You feel alive aboard the V85 and it genuinely does put a smile on your face, and others’ too. It’s a good looking machine. The muscular engine is all on show, not hidden behind fairings and side panels. The V-configuration is cool, even the uninitiated like it. I’ve not ridden a bike in a while that caused such a stir, especially from non bikers. ‘Nice bike mate’ was yelled from 4 vans and a car in the various traffic jams and one old boy in his Merc stopped for a nosey around, reminiscing about his old Guzzi’s.
Something that’s markedly improved on Guzzis of late is build quality and the V85 is impressive. Nearly ever component, fastener and finish appears well considered. Nearly because some have been over thought. The switchgear, although decent, is typically Guzzi and some of the buttons are funny shapes for no particular reason. But at least the subtleties remind you that you’re riding a premium, Italian motorcycle. The Alcantara type saddle, complete with useful bumstop, is nicer than the vinyl a rival brand may have used.
The paint and powder-coating on the engine and transmission is top notch and there are even branded rubber straps to keep cables and wires tidy. Which sounds like a silly thing to point out but it doesn’t half piss me off to find poorly cut cable ties lurking around the dashboard of supposedly premium bikes. One I rode recently even had multiple coloured electrical tape holding wiring together, in full view of the rider. And that was an eight grand bike too.
I’m not usually a sucker for styling gimmicks but I do quite like the DRL (daytime running light) between the regular headlights in the shape of Moto Guzzi wing logo. Which must be said are very bright and helped me spot at least two suicidal deer on my way home.
The dash won’t excite people expecting hi-def TFT screens but the Guzzi’s is compatible with your smartphone so you can make calls, listen to music etc. Handy for long trips but the burble from an aftermarket pipe and the intake roar from beneath the saddle I think are soundtrack enough for everyday riding.
Aesthetics are subjective but pretty much everyone I know loves the V85. It does though sit in a slightly strange place. There’s stacks of competition in the middleweight adventure market and on spec sheets alone het Guzzi will struggle to woo buyers. But that’d be a shame as most buyers won’t ever adventure anywhere. The V85 will tour and commute with ease, and in more style than many plastic clad alternatives. And if you’re a nostalgic type perhaps in the market for a Triumph Street Scrambler, don’t discount the Guzzi. It’s a much more practical motorcycle. But therein lays the problem with trying to compare apples with cumquats.
If the current crop of more traditional, air-cooled machines don’t tickle your fancy it’d definitely be worth giving a V85TT a test ride.
For the full specs and options including Öhlins suspension upgrades, luggage and the all important comfort saddles check the Moto Guzzi V85TT website.
Cheesy video alert
Action shots by Andy Saunders