I'VE been riding a Moto Guzzi V7 Stone for three weeks and my firm conclusion is that I've got mixed feelings about it. At first I liked it. Then I didn't. Now I think it's appealing but a bit too expensive.
"A bike's just been delivered for you," an office security guard told me. "It's a nice looking one." He was correct. The V7 is a good looking motorcycle. I'd seen them before, and ridden one last year, but I didn't remember it being as handsome as this, with its matt black paint, shiny chrome and sticky-out cylinders.
It's an archetypal motorcycle. It doesn't buffet on the winds of change. It looks the same as a motorcycle did 50 years ago. The tank isn't an enormous swelling of steel that comes up to your chest. It's just a motorcycle petrol tank. The pillion seat isn't a perch half up your back. It's just a seat behind you.
The engine isn't hidden somewhere. It's shoving its air-cooled elbows in your face, and a stressed member, carrying the swing-arm, which incorporates the shaft drive. It's a highly space-efficient configuration, allowing the 744cc V7 to be small. A configuration that sends sideways rotational forces through the chassis which you can feel when you open the throttle. It rumbles and rolls. I was in no doubt: this was a motorcycle. Riding through London felt good. I caught people checking it out. I'm going to like this, I thought.
Two things tainted that early enthusiasm. The first was riding the bike a bit more. The V7 has too-soft suspension. It feels like a rocking horse, and it doesn't make up for it in comfort. It clatters over bumps and potholes. The gearbox can feel stiff and sometimes goes into neutral instead of second. The bars are too high.
After a few days, the nature of the riding experience overshadowed the initial impression of style and character. I started to wonder if that sideways rotation, which at first had seemed like personality, was actually just not very good.
The second thing was a custom café racer exhibition in London's fashionable Shoreditch, where the streets are rivers of tortoise shell glasses and curly moustaches. The exhibition was an orgy of turn-ups, tattoos and key chains. I saw a C-list celebrity. Café racer-style gloves were on sale for the price of an iPad.
And I thought: this isn't motorcycling. It's fashion. I'd been wrong. Buffeting on the winds of change, of fashion, was exactly what the V7 represented. It and all its café racer ilk were motorcycling's equivalent of the fixed gear bicycle, only worse because there is actually a practical case for those. Fashion is the only real argument in support of café racers and fashion is always a compromise of form. It makes matters worse that Ewan McGregor fronts Guzzi’s marketing campaign.
I wanted to ram-raid the exhibition on a pink and lilac jelly-mould CBR600, the motorcycle that taste forgot, and set fire to it. Although Shoreditch 'hipsters' would probably think the CBR was fashionably ironic.
The V7 Stone is the third bike in my long-term comparison of machines suitable for A2 licence holders. That means it makes 48hp, the same as Honda's CBR500R, my running favourite, but at £6,832 on the road, costs £1,733 more. Where is that money going? It's not as though the V7 feels like £1,733-worth of extra quality. The brake pedal, for example, touches the exhaust when pressed hard. The CBR's doesn't, because it's Japanese, not Italian.
They're very different to ride. The CBR is pleasingly torquey. The V7 is all torque, blustering forward from about 2,000rpm. There's no redline on the rev counter and it doesn't need one. There's not much north of 6,000rpm except noise and shaking, so there's little incentive to go there. It's more fun to change up, and keep it bubbling at about 4,000rpm.
I got 52.5mpg from the V7, including motorway and town, and 164 miles between fill-ups of the 22-litre tank, including 15 miles with the fuel light on. The CBR500R delivered 67.4mpg, giving a theoretical 232-mile range from its 15.7-litre tank.
Despite its lack of fairing, I didn't find the windblast too annoying riding the Guzzi from London to Derby and back. Possibly the clocks do some deflecting. I wonder if the rider's position, with arms straight out in front, almost horizontal, puts him at a good advantage to withstand the blast. Although the seat looks reasonably padded, I was shifting about after a couple of hours.
But at length I concluded the V7 is a perfectly agreeable machine. I warmed to it again after swapping it for the boss's ZX-6R for a couple days. The Kawasaki would be superb if I wanted to learn to do a fast lap somewhere. In London it's thoroughly sub-optimal. The red line is at 16,000rpm but you'll be lucky to get above 4,000. It can't weave through stopped traffic because the steering lock is at about five degrees from straight. With my arms aching from supporting my own weight, and my neck aching from looking up at the road ahead, I thought: This is why people don't buy sports bikes anymore. It was an actual pleasure to get back on the V7, with its upright riding position and good natured, burbling, chassis-twisting V-twin.
It would have been a pleasure to get back on the CBR500R too. I can't say the Guzzi is a better riding experience than the Honda. It has shaft drive over the CBR's chain, a genuine advantage for an easier life. Otherwise style is the only justification for the extra seventeen-hundred quid. You might call it Shoreditch tax.
There's nothing wrong with style. The question is, is it worth that much? What else could that money do?
What I'm saying is, buy the CBR and give the £1,733 to charity, you self-regarding moustachioed Shoreditch bulb.
Model: Moto Guzzi V7 Stone
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