Road Test Review
If there are any stretches of paved road left in the U.S. with more than 200 miles between gas stations, I’d sure like to know about them. Highway 140 from Winnemucca, Nevada, to Lakeview, Oregon (part of the historic Winnemucca to the Sea Highway), used to be one, but now there’s gas after about 130 miles at Denio Junction. These days Highway 50 in Nevada, the reputed Loneliest Highway, has enough fuel to keep the typical motorcycle’s five-gallon tank from running dry as well. No problem on the paved roads in Alaska, either. Canada or Mexico may have some long stretches of tarmac between gas stops, but for the most part, with a little planning (and maybe a RotoPax canister, see page 64) you can ride the asphalt in North America on a five-gallon tank without fear.
Things change dramatically when it comes to true adventure touring and the blacktop turns to dirt or gravel. Desolate bucket-list roads like the Dalton and Dempster Highways present enough to worry about without the fear your fuel tank will suddenly fill with air. So, while you may not need an 8.5-gallon gas tank, having one on the 2012 Moto Guzzi Stelvio 1200 NTX does help reinforce its claim to real adventure-tourer status.
The Stelvio is my favorite bike in the Italian company’s current U.S. lineup, and to it the NTX version adds cylinder, oil sump and hand guards, that big tank, a redesigned, larger fairing and windscreen and standard aluminum side cases. Both have Guzzi’s most powerful air-cooled, 90-degree V-twin with cylinders across the frame. The four-valve-per-cylinder, 1,151cc engine has been retuned to move the power a little lower down, but it’s still Guzzi’s rev-happiest mill and therefore surprising to some to find in its adventure tourer.
Looking at the numbers, while this 8V engine (launched in 2009 in the Griso techno custom) does make more power up top, it doesn’t make any less in the midrange than the old two-valver, so you can have your pasta al dente and eat it, too. On the Jett Tuning dyno our last Stelvio test bike cranked out 91.5 horsepower at 7,300 rpm and 69.4 lb-ft of torque at a lofty 6,500, nice numbers for screaming it down the autostrada or up Pike’s Peak. Yet the engine also makes at least 50-60 lb-ft of torque from idle to redline at 8,000 rpm, the kind of consistent grunt you need for clawing along a dirt road, or climbing the 80 hairpin turns over the pass in Italy after which the Stelvio is named.
That broad powerband is the work of single-overhead chain-driven cams and four valves in each of the NTX’s cylinder heads, which adjust with screws and locknuts every 6,250 miles. Closed-loop electronic Marelli fuel injection feeds a pair of 50mm Weber throttle bodies, and burned gases escape through howitzer-sized pipes that converge in a large single upswept muffler. The oil sump is wet and checked with a dipstick; the single-plate clutch is dry yet has a nice linear feel at the lever. Lubrication and cooling are ensured by a pair of oil pumps—one for pressure and one for volume—and an oil cooler tucked up under the fairing. Power rolls rearward through a reasonably good-shifting 6-speed gearbox and cast-aluminum, single-sided swingarm/shaft drive.
Riding the NTX is a sense-sational experience involving all but smell and taste. While the 90-degree Vee has perfect primary balance and the rider feels very little bothersome vibration, it still provides plenty of throbbing pulse feel to let you know you’re riding a Moto Guzzi without looking down. The bike’s longitudinal crank leans the bike characteristically to the right when you rev the engine at a stop, and it serves up a wonderful, growling roar (with a side of valve clatter) when you twist the throttle hard at speed. The bike is playful, fun and delivers both midrange grunt as well as top-end power for any kind of riding, whether you’re on the highway, in the corners, solo or two-up and loaded.
Offroad you’ll want to ride with care, avoiding anything tougher than rutted dirt roads, as that big engine and the NTX’s additional equipment bump its weight up to 661 pounds with a full tank. Even half-full it still weighs significantly more than its rivals from Germany, England and Japan. Fortunately there’s traction control and ABS (both of which can be switched off) to help keep you from getting in over your head. Decent ground clearance, generous suspension travel, and the sump, cylinder and hand guards all contribute to the NTX’s off-pavement creds, as do its standard Scorpion Trail tires, which are a good compromise between street grip and some dirt capability and are tubeless as well. This eases plugging flats and allows more tire choices, and its aluminum wheel rim/steel spoke combination should take more abuse than cast alloys, though the spokes penetrate the rims and use a sealing system that complicates truing.
Back on the pavement you’ll enjoy steering, suspension and brakes on the NTX that give it sport-tourer handling and a compliant ride. The tubular-steel, twin-spar frame uses the engine to enhance stiffness and response, and Guzzi’s Compact Reactive Shaft Drive feeds torque from the final drive into the frame and prevents throttle inputs from jacking the rear suspension up and down. Despite its 60.4-inch wheelbase, the bike can’t help but steer quickly and lightly with that yard-wide tubular handlebar, yet I really had to work in tight corners to touch anything down. The stout, long-travel 45mm Marzocchi male-slider fork dives a bit under braking but is fully adjustable, gets progressive springs on the NTX and soaks up bumps really well. In back, a Sachs single shock with a stiffer spring for the NTX adjusts easily for spring preload with a remote knob, and has a screw on the bottom to dial-in its rebound damping for sportier riding or loads. (To get at the screw have someone sit on the bike to move the progressive link out of the way.) Impressive-looking floating rotors and Brembo four-piston radial calipers up front provide immense, smooth stopping power, and the rear disc brake feels strong and linear at the pedal. The ABS works smoothly, too, and is easily switched off for offroad riding with a button on the handlebar.
Styling updates are led by a wider fairing that blends into the curvaceous lines of that big plastic fuel tank (which lost the integrated storage pocket when it gained capacity). The increased width enhances the Batmanlike appearance of the black mask around the twin headlights. Overseas, the front turn signals are nicely integrated into the new fairing, but for some reason U.S. models still get them in the mirrors, which shake and blur at speed. An exotic-looking LED tail/brake light incorporates the rear turn signals. The windscreen is taller and wider and adjusts up and down three inches, and wind protection is further increased by a pair of new, small side deflectors. There’s decent wind protection and no buffeting behind the screen and deflectors, though I found it noisy enough to require earplugs.
Ergonomics are an NTX strong suit, primarily because it’s one of the only adventure tourers with a stock seat height that adjusts down to a reasonable 32 inches from 33. That’s still tall, but my inseam was misplaced at birth and I can get both feet on the ground. The wide, tubular handlebar and footpegs are well placed for a comfortable upright riding position, the two-piece seat is comfortable enough for long rides and the big, cushy passenger pad is flanked by a big pair of grab handles. In the luggage department the standard side cases hold a lot, detach easily and have built-in strap anchors, but they lack carrying handles and ours leaked and had fiddly locks. More importantly, in order to clear the muffler on the left the cases get symmetrical tubular-steel bolt-on mounts that stick out an equal amount on the right, making them a full 41 inches wide on the bike—about two inches wider than the handlebar per side. Lane-splitting is doable, but nerve-wracking.
Adventure-touring and sit-up sport-touring riders will appreciate amenities like the halogen auxiliary lights, adjustable brake and clutch levers, dual electrical accessory outlets, centerstand (that requires too much effort to deploy) and even the unusual luggage rack, which works well even though it’s just a hoop with a couple bungee anchors on it. The NTX also comes prewired for optional heated hand grips. A complete trip computer built into the LCD display alongside the analog speedo includes a chronometer, shift light, lap timer and ambient temperature and fuel gauges. Our test bike delivered an average of 36.5 mpg, for a range of one gazillion miles from its 8.5-gallon tank.
OK, maybe a few less than a gazillion, like 310, which can probably be improved upon with a gentler throttle hand. But along with a lot of power and torque, character, comfort and handling, the Moto Guzzi NTX does have fuel range only rivaled by the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure’s 8.7-gallon tank. And as the saying goes, you can never have too much gasoline unless you’re on fire.