2011 Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE

Road Test Review

Like the chicken or the egg, one wonders what Moto Guzzi decided upon first—the Griso moniker for this motorcycle or its unique design. If the former, I can imagine the artisans at Marabese Design near Milan scratching their heads a bit at first, pondering what a motorcycle named after a muscular bodyguard in an Italian novel should look like. Signore Griso’s creator also described him in The Betrothed as “the bravest of the brave, the master’s right hand man to whom all the most dangerous and difficult missions were entrusted.” The build of Vin Diesel perhaps, with the sleek style and speed of Kato (as in Bruce Lee, not Kaelin)? However it got there, Marabese duly succeeded in creating Moto Guzzi’s “Techno Custom,” an outrageous power-cruiser/sportbike combo atop its 90-degree “flying” V-twin, and wowed the public when the one-of-a-kind concept bike was unveiled in 2002.

To Guzzi’s credit, when the production Griso 1100 was finally released for 2006 it remained nearly true to the concept. Since then the bike has received numerous refinements and—in 2009—the motive force it genuinely deserves from Guzzi’s latest and most power­ful 8V “Quattrovalvole” engine. On this new Griso 8V SE or Special Edition, the standard model’s cast wheels are replaced by aluminum hoops with stainless-steel spokes, which magically go without tubes for the sporty 120/70 and 180/55-ZR17 Pirelli Scorpion Sync radials (more on the magic later). Blacking out the SE’s wheels, frame, engine, fork and handlebar sets off the lovely pastel green and tan paint and red badging which, in combination with the brown stitched-leather seat, is an homage to the 2002 Moto Guzzi LeMans Tenni sportbike. It had similar green and brown livery (reminiscent of the old dustbin-faired V8 and 350 racers) and was a tribute to Omobono Tenni, who raced to 47 victories for Moto Guzzi before he died in 1948. Tenni likely would have preferred the LeMans, but would probably understand its colors being used for the Griso SE with its beefy, fully adjustable male-slider fork, fully adjustable linked rear shock, twin Brembo radial brake calipers and huge wave rotors up front.

Despite the taffy paint and V-twin’s unique layout it’s the Griso’s massive 2-into-1 exhaust that first catches your eye, with its howitzer-size, single-wall stainless pipes collecting just before a closed-loop catalyzer and that signature twin-turbine silencer. The air-cooled, 1,151cc, SOHC twin with four valves per jug pumps a throaty bark out of that Toontown silencer, and made a healthy 97.7 horsepower at 7,500 rpm and ­74.3 lb-ft of torque at 6,600 at the rear wheel on the Jett Tuning Dynojet dyno. As a stressed member in the twin-tube steel frame the 90-degree 8V mill shakes the bike at idle, yet is quite smooth at speed and on the gas, with just enough pulse-feel rumbling into the handlebar and footpegs to remind you it’s a twin. Power, or rather gobs of torque, are always on tap from the big engine—more than 90 percent of peak, in fact, from 3,000 rpm nearly to redline at 8,000—and thanks to the bike’s fairly light 553-pound wet weight it leaps briskly forward on command. Separate oil pumps for lubrication and cooling and that large side-mounted oil cooler ensure the air-cooled powerplant doesn’t overheat.

The urge is fed through a mildly noisy single-plate dry clutch (which actually has a nice, low-effort, wet-clutch feel) and slick-shifting six-speed transmission, which is geared tall enough to give the bike a relaxing lope when dropped into sixth on the highway. Guzzi’s single-sided compact reactive shaft final-drive system (Cardano Reattivo Compatto or CA.R.C.) takes over from there, with torsionally damped u-joints in the shaft and pivots in the housing that minimize both suspension inputs under throttle and driveline lash. A little lash is noticeable if you shift early, but the power­train is otherwise very refined.

Other than the spoked wheels, so far I could be talking about a Moto Guzzi sportbike. Run your finger down the spec chart to the longish 61.2-inch wheelbase, however, and you’d think the previous discussion all goes out the window. Surprisingly not. In addition to all that sportbike running gear, the Griso’s relatively tight 26.3-degree rake, 4.25-inch trail and wide handlebar offset the bike’s stylishly requisite long wheelbase, so it turns quickly with mild effort in tight corners yet holds a line really well in fast sweepers. Oddly it’s even a little darty at times on the highway, though that could be a combination of pavement surface, tires and that wide bar. In any event don’t let the distance between the axles fool you into thinking this bike handles like a cruiser.

Nor does it sit like one. Footpegs are relatively high and rearset, like a naked sportbike—the first thing to drag is the sidestand, though you’ll have to work pretty hard to get it there. The handlebar leans the rider forward into the wind, which works well with the comfortable, 31.5-inch-high seat to make long distances more than doable. The bike does ride a little harshly on the freeway with the suspension set for a good compromise elsewhere, but you’ll be stopping to fill the 4.4-gallon tank quite frequently anyway, especially if you only manage the same average fuel economy we did of 33.6 mpg.

Ring-and-locknut spring preload adjustment on the Boge rear shock makes it difficult to change to accommodate passengers and/or gear, though R&Ls are pretty common on sport-oriented, piggyback reservoir units such as this. Adjustments for preload in front and damping in both directions front and rear are a snap, and help make adapting the bike for more comfort or more sport both possible and easy. Guzzis of old would stand right up under braking in corners—not so with the Griso, nor does it suffer from any shaft jacking or bump steer. Basically it feels like a big naked sportbike when ridden hard in the canyons, with just a tad more feedback coming from the handlebar and back end. The triple disc brakes are very strong and capable and have good feel at the lever and pedal.

Guzzi went to some trouble giving all of the little things on the Griso plenty of their own styling flair. The red tops for the fork legs, for example, or the hubcap-size aircraft-style fuel filler, turned aluminum bungee pegs under the seat and mesh screens in front and back that allow air to flow to the cylinder heads and airbox under the seat (which adds a great throaty growl of its own under throttle). Atypically for bikes with nowhere to hide it, even the charcoal EVAP canister is carefully blended into the lines of the drivetrain. The analog tach/digital speedo and LCD display is a beauty on its own, and offers a wealth of info including reserve range, ambient temp, a chronometer and two tripmeters. Both brake and clutch levers are adjustable, hydraulic lines are braided stainless and the battery is easy to access under the locking seat.

Gripes? Oil is checked with a dipstick, tricky when there’s no centerstand. And instead of an external flange on those lovely spoked wheels to make them tubeless, like the MG Stelvio’s the spokes actually penetrate the rim and are sealed with O-rings, which can greatly complicate things should the wheels ever need truing or other service. In fact, with the large front brake rotors, final drive and rear disc partially obscuring them from view, I’m not sure the spokers are worth the trouble (vs. the standard cast). You be the judge….

Owning a unique bike like this from a 90-year-old marque (see page 26) that builds about 5,000 motorcycles per year is done for its exclusivity and appearance first, spokes and all. There’s nothing quite like the sight of the bright green SE Techno Custom parked among a sea of red Italian bikes. That riding it is also so much fun and different makes the Griso 8V SE one unique and complete package.