Road Test Review
Spec charts are wondrous things. Given accurate data, a spec chart forecasts amazing insights into a motorcycle’s performance before you ever fire it up. By digesting wheelbase, steering geometry, curb weight, engine configuration, power figures and a few other key numbers, an experienced hand can extrapolate how a motorcycle will likely run.
I should know. I’ve spent decades in the motorcycle industry, preparing and proofing thousands of spec charts as a magazine road test editor and also as a PR/advertising hack. But good as it may be, a spec chart certainly cannot reveal everything about a motorcycle’s real-world performance; sometimes a motorcycle doesn’t work as well as you would have thought, and sometimes it runs better than you had hoped. On very rare occasions, however, a motorcycle will blow away preconceived guesstimates and flat-out dazzle you with some two-wheeled magic once you’re out on the road. Luckily for us, the Moto Guzzi Norge GT 8V sport tourer is one such machine.
The last time I rode a Guzzi was in the first half of the 1980s, during my years as Road Test Editor for Cycle magazine. Back in those younger years, I wanted desperately to fall in love with an exotic Italian. But the Guzzis of that era were just too quirky to embrace. They forced multiple demands upon the rider, far too many for my tastes and comfort.
Fast forward to the present. Recently laid off after 14 years of laboring at an ad agency on major motorcycle-industry accounts, I returned to my road-testing roots. Though intimately familiar with scores of the newest motorcycles, I still carried my old Guzzi biases. As I cast a jaundiced eye over the Norge specs, they did little to dispel my notions. Start with the engine and its designation as a 1200. Displacing an actual 1,151cc (via bore and stroke of 95.0 x 81.2mm), it’s only a 1200 if you’re a math geek who really, really believes in rounding up. Sure, it features four valves per cylinder for good engine breathing, but its 90-degree air/oil-cooled V-twin configuration with a single overhead cam doesn’t really promise big-time power—especially given its factory-claimed horsepower peak happening at a low 7,000 rpm. On the Jett Tuning dyno, it churned out 87.2 horsepower and 69.3 lb-ft of torque; that’s respectable, but far from class-leading figures.
So I slung a leg over the saddle with low expectations. As the Norge fires up, its longitudinal V-twin cadence relays big thumps with a lumpy idle, plus a little characteristic torque pull toward the right as you blip the throttle. Fun at idle, those strong power pulses would surely grow unmanageable at higher engine speeds. Smug in my preconceived notions, I rolled out. And immediately found I needed to recalibrate my thinking.
As revs build, the V-twin pulses fade into a delightful, velvety smoothness. At highway speeds, the mechanical feel seeping through the handlebars talks gently to the rider without becoming bothersome. More importantly, abundant torque awaits down low in the rev range, putting impressive pull immediately at hand. The engine spins up willingly and will sprint to its 8,000-rpm redline, but there’s no reason to work that hard; the meat of the powerband rests from about 4,000 rpm to 7 grand. Within that range, the power is delightfully responsive, giving a choice between a couple of gears, depending on how hard you want to push things.
For me, pushing things extra hard figured high on the agenda. I love nothing better than hammering along twisty mountain roads all day long, the tighter the better. To give the “Goose” a thorough workout, I headed for my old road-test routes and was thrilled with the way it responded. Even on the tightest of rollercoaster roads, the engine was always a fun-loving accomplice. Plenty of real-world power, spot-on throttle response, perfect fueling manners from the EFI system with twin 50mm throttle bodies, excellent gear spacing and shifting throughout the 6-speed box, good clutch feel and engagement with only a moderate pull. An excellent compact reactive cardan shaft drive (similar to BMW’s Paralever setup) eliminates all negative driveshaft reactions, and there’s nary a hint of driveline slop to upset the bike during throttle transitions. In a world of 1,600cc to 1,800cc touring bikes, this 1,151cc mill is definitely an overachiever and certainly no handicap whatsoever. After all, it was born in the land of the go-for-it autostrada, so high-speed work is in its DNA.
In like manner, the specs on the rolling chassis are not particularly outstanding. Built around a tubular-steel backbone frame with the engine as a stressed member, a longish wheelbase of 58.8 inches, moderate rake and trail of 25 degrees/4.7 inches, plus a not-so-svelte curb weight of 641 pounds, the spec chart is ho-hum. Yet it delivers like crazy with brilliant handling. On my favorite canyon roads, the nimble Norge had me cackling like a loon—so responsive and fun! At very low speeds there’s a faint reluctance for the front end to turn in. That might be a function of tire profile with the Pirelli Angel ST tires, which otherwise provide commendable manners and grip. That very minor glitch disappears once you get going and the bike dives into corners with gusto. You sit down in the Norge rather than perch high, and the Vee engine configuration and chassis design result in a low CG for a direct, connected handling feel. Transitioning left-right-left requires only moderate input through the bars, and it’s easy to pick the bike up mid-turn to change lines. Plenty of feedback through the front end builds rider confidence, and there’s very generous ground clearance. Work at it hard enough and you’ll eat away at the peg feelers and get into the centerstand on either side. That will be a moot point for 90-plus percent of riders, and by the time you’re over that far in a street environment you really shouldn’t be leaning much more anyhow.
In fast sweepers, the bike feels solid and impressively reassuring, tracking true even in bumpy corners. Credit the 45mm
Marzocchi fork, adjustable for spring preload, and the single-shock rear suspension, adjustable for spring preload and rebound damping. Tuning adjustments over the years have brought this setup prime-time sport-oriented capabilities, yet its medium-firm action still offers a velvety, well-damped feel over all but the biggest bumps and potholes during freeway cruising.
The dual 320mm Brembo opposed four-piston front brakes deliver exemplary stopping power, with linear action and lots of feel. In back, there’s a 282mm disc brake with a twin-piston caliper. The Norge comes with an ABS setup, which can be turned off if desired. But the system works so seamlessly we never felt compelled to dodge its assistance.
Despite its strong go-fast abilities, the Norge offers plenty for more relaxed touring. The bodywork does an excellent job of deflecting windblast, even though that abbreviated, electrically adjustable pear-shaped windscreen looks too small to do the job. The short reach to the handlebars inclines the rider’s torso at a slight forward pitch; very natural and comfortable. The well-padded and comfortably shaped seat rests a very manageable 31.9 inches off the ground, but the seat-to-peg relationship is a bit too tight for my 31-inch inseam. Moto Guzzi offers an accessory gel seat 1.2 inches lower, but nothing taller, so you may need to pursue a saddle build-up after purchase if you feel too scrunched. The spacious saddlebags can each swallow a full-face helmet and more, but the fairing lacks pockets for convenient stowing of gloves, hat or other small items. Fuel capacity of 6.1 gallons gives a cruising range well over 200 miles; we averaged nearly 40 mpg despite a lot wide-open throttle work. The Norge has standard heated handgrips, and a trip computer is integrated into the instrument cluster, but some of the readouts are small in size and difficult to read, especially when bathed in the red glow of nighttime illumination.
Given its base MSRP of $16,290, the Norge is quite the deal in today’s market. It may lack the cachet of a huge engine and some techno amenities built into other long-ranger bikes, but how important are such things to you? The Moto Guzzi Norge GT 8V offers sound fundamental design refined over decades of evolution, resulting in an exemplary blend of sport-touring capabilities. This is a bike that works hard to be your friend and ally, and it accomplishes that with great success regardless of what the route ahead holds in store. And if winding backroads take priority over superslabs when you travel, its many attributes may make the Norge a best bet, regardless of what spec charts for other bikes may say.