Recently I was offered a loaner bike while having some warranty service done at Santa Rosa BMW Motorcycles, (aka EuroCycle Sonoma in Windsor, CA). Loving the idea to ride through this fabulous wine country of northern California’s rolling hills on something new, Kerry Sturgis, my AWESOME service manager, set me up to take out the Moto Guzzi version of my GS: the Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 NTX.
My Moto Guzzi Fantasy Ride
When I moved to Santa Barbara in the early ’90’s I frequented a motorcycle shop next to a Guzzi repair shop. They would have a number of repair and for sale Moto Guzzi’s out front for me to dream and drool over. It had been my fantasy to take one of the antique beauties, put disc brakes on her, and ride Highway 126 east to the I-5 and then South to Mulholland and East to the beach laden PCH which we would follow North homeward bound to Santa Barbara. I romanticized this idea over and over again… till I eventually left SB a couple years later. Never having fulfilled this particular fantasy – I was jazzed at Kerry’s offer!
An awaking to the Moto Guzzi reality
After turning my keys over to Kerry, and receiving a briefing of the differences of controls and settings I was off to finally get my own feel for riding a Moto Guzzi. Almost immediately I realized I may have been very spoiled in the motorcycles I’ve ridden. I expected the Guzzi to be like fine Italian art, or gelato. You know, that romanticized version of PCH I had. She was going to show me something different.
Day 1 – Feel the Power
The first days ride was about feeling her out while I took care of some business. I knew right away that what I was dealing with was more of an Italian version of a Harley-Davidson: lots of grunt, torque, and vibration. She roared when I twisted the throttle and felt like she would definitely win in an arm wrestling match. The ride back to camp that night was comfortable and steady. I kept my knees tight to her in order to minimize hand numbness from vibrations, something I could never do with my Harley air-cleaners in the way. She let me hold her tight in this way, and my hands were fine after the 90 mile route we had chosen. She was fun on the road and good on the highway. Would definitely need to get a taller windscreen if I owned her, but that is to be expected.
The Return Trip – Twisty Hillsides
I was excited when the work was completed on my bike. It meant 70 miles of twisty hills between me and the dealership. Just the kind of morning I love! I had heard her described before as a pregnant ballerina: top heavy at start, but agile once she got going. I was excited to find out how agile she could be. This is precisely when things got interesting. I found out how all that brawn and beef works in the turns. While she is absolutely nimble to ride, her brawn seemed to hold her in one of two modes, drag or lurch. I was unable to master the subtleties of her throttle. I was used to needling with gentle grace of slight pressures of throttle easing in and out of turns. By comparison, she was a brute.
… But what about the ballerina?
With that said, she also had grace. At one point myself and another car took a side road. With the other car in front it seemed I had my “rabbit” to keep up with. I thought my riding must be suffering from my concern over throttle control. My “rabbit” kept losing me in turn after turn only to glimpse it as it entered the next turn. I kept thinking to myself that I must have lost my nerve. Then I looked at the speedometer. We were almost triple what we should have been doing. My “rabbit” knew this road well and the Stelvio had danced, darted, twirled, and curved like a champ.
Moto Guzzi Off-Road?
I promised I would not take the loaner on any back roads, but the fact was – she wasn’t set up for me to do so. We all take efforts to dial in our bikes to fit our bodies, riding styles and preferences. Her stock setup was absolutely not ideal for my off-road specs. But would I take her there? Dirt road and easy trails would be fine. However, I am not sure I would take her in challenging off-road terrain. I prefer more subtle throttle control with torque and power when I need it, not as a first and only resort. That’s my point of view. I would love to hear those who prefer the Stelvio off-road.
Hand levers… This was an interesting mix. The clutch felt like standard Harley brakes: Grab a handful and squeeze!
Meanwhile, the brakes were as refined as that Italian art I originally mentioned: gentle, finesse, grace. Like a Beemer – one finger to slow, two to stop.
It wasn’t what I expected, and yet, it was a lot of fun. I was regularly reminded of the interview I did with Carla King where she mentioned the problem with her testing the Moto Guzzi’s in Italy was that they DIDN’T break-down. I had no impression that the bike would let me down or leave me stranded at all. She definitely felt like she had the brawn and guts to hold it all together. Would I buy one? Not for the style of riding I am heading towards now. If I was to live in the Italian countryside for a while – I would definitely consider it.
Kerry Sturgis, Service Manager at Santa Rosa BMW: I was told beforehand that Kerry is only one who should handle my service needs in this part of California. A SUPER high recommendation!
Harley Brakes: I have heard that this latest HD revamp includes MUCH more sensitive brakes. That is good to hear. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to find out for myself.