When I’d seen one of the other testers climbing aboard the Griso wearing one-piece leathers I’d thought he was barking. Surely this long, low Guzzi V-twin isn’t the type of bike you ride wearing a racing suit, for gawd’s sake — any more than you would to ride a Harley? It’s just not right.
An hour later, I’m having second thoughts. Right now I’m following two other guys up the twisty Spluga Pass, a few miles from the Swiss border and high enough in the Alpine foothills for the autumn air to be distinctly chilly. More to the point, I’ve been cranking the big Guzzi through a string of hairpins at a rate I wouldn’t have imagined possible before riding it. Full leathers on the Griso, then? Well I still reckon the big bruiser is more of a jacket-and-leather-jeans type of bike, but it’s a very handy all-rounder that is well up for a bit of a scrap.
The production Griso is not a watered-down version of the striking concept bike that was unveiled at the Munich Show three years ago, either. The first thing that struck me after seeing the line of black V-twins outside the Mandello factory was that this is that rare beast, a production bike that looks better than the prototype. Part of the reason for that is that they’ve stuck so faithfully to the original lines, with the big aircooled motor’s impact emphasised by large-diameter steel frame tubes; and with fat tyres plus that huge, conical single silencer that makes a virtue of Euro3 necessity.
Detailing is excellent in everything from the cut-away front mudguard, via the bodywork grilles and big aluminium fuel cap surround to the minimalist indicators and classy rear light.
One thing Guzzi didn’t need to design specially is the motor, which is the same 1064cc aircooled unit that debuted in the Breva V1100 earlier this year. In familiar Guzzi fashion it’s a 90-degree V-twin with two valves per pot and pushrod operation. But it also incorporates twin-plug heads, redesigned lubrication system and an uprated alternator relocated between the cylinders, instead of on the end of the crank. The Breva’s new six-speed gearbox is also retained, as is the final drive system whereby the shaft runs inside the single-sided aluminium swing-arm.
Just about everything else about the Griso is new, staring with that frame whose large-diameter steel main tubes curve down from steering head to swing-arm pivot sections, and are left on display by colour-matched plastic panels that are cut away to allow room for the protruding cylinder heads. Forks are angled at a laid-back 26 degrees, but the Griso gets an aggressive look from its high-spec front end, which combines multi-adjustable upside-down Showa forks with big discs, four-pot calipers, fat-tyred 17-inch front wheel and cut-down mudguard.
The hard-charging spec doesn’t stop there. Rear wheel is another 17-incher wearing a 180-section radial, and the one-piece handlebar is slightly raised and long enough to encourage a slightly leant-forward riding position. The Griso felt quite long and heavy at slow speed — not surprisingly for a 227kg bike with a 1554mm wheelbase. But its seat is low enough to allow most riders to get both feet flat on the ground (though a long left leg is needed to reach the sidestand), and those wide bars gave plenty of leverage plus generous steering lock.
The motor felt slightly juddery at low revs but pulled crisply enough even from below 2000rpm in the lower gears. And the Griso was respectably quick, too. Not in tear-your-arms-off vicious, as the modest maximum output of 88bhp at 7600rpm is only a couple of horses up on the Breva’s figure, thanks to the new exhaust. But there was plenty of smooth grunt available all the way through the midrange, and that fairly upright, wide-armed riding position caught enough breeze to make life interesting even at almost-legal speeds.
Despite that the bike was comfortable enough to sit at 90mph when the road opened out, and to rumble up to an indicated 115mph given a bit more space, approaching a true top speed of about 125mph. It was certainly fast and long-legged enough to cover distance at a respectable rate. And even though the tank holds only 17 litres, fuel range should be well over 120 miles even if you’re caning it.
Inevitably the big, long Guzzi felt a bit like a tourist coach as I tipped it into some of the hairpins near the Swiss border, but most of the time it was improbably well balanced and even respectably nimble. The wide bars gave plenty of leverage to offset the bike’s length and conservative steering geometry, and the multi-adjustable suspension at both ends was firm and well-controlled enough to prevent more than the occasional wiggle.
There was also heaps of ground clearance, apparently thanks to the Guzzi development testers who apparently kept coming back with prototypes’ footrests ground away until the designers moved them up by 20mm — with the result that I rarely managed to scrape even the toes of my boots, despite the grip of fat Metzeler Rennsport rubber. Predictably the Brembo front brake set-up of unlinked 320mm discs and four-pot Gold Series calipers gave strong stopping, too, even when we hacked back down the mountain later in the day.
Perhaps that late adjustment to the footrest position sums-up the Griso as well as anything, because it seems that even Guzzi’s own designers initially underestimated this bike’s potential to be far more than just a eye-catching roadster for gentle cruising. Instead, it’s a return to the good old days of big naked Guzzis with performance, attitude and handling as well as style. It costs £7490 on the road and comes in a choice of red or black paint. Such is the Griso’s all-round ability that a more difficult question could be What Not To Wear when riding it.
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