First Ride: Moto Guzzi Norge GT 8V

A grand turismo intended to have all the fun of a naked sportsbike but with all the protection of a tourer.

Now in its 90th anniversary year, Moto Guzzi has replaced its premium Norge 1200 with the new Norge GT8V.

The similar looks don't mean they are similar bikes though, almost 80% of the bike has been redesigned but as Moto Guzzi Brand Manager Gianluca Di Oto stated at the press launch, this bike is "an evolution, not  revolution".

Initial impressions after sitting on the new bike were the high footpegs. but in reality my brain just needed resetting after a morning's ride on the Moto Guzzi Stelvio.

Whilst obviously not as agile as a sportsbike and despite the bike weighing in at a 257kg dry it certainly changes direction with ease and was a lot of fun to ride.

The winding roads around the Tuscan Hills were eaten up in comfort, although inevtably the bike did scrape its way through a few of the corners when really pushed.

For the first time the Norge gets the 1200cc 8V engine and it's this that really gives the bike its character. The bike has 102 bhp to call on and torque pulls strong from low revs, peaking at 5,500rpm.

The six-speed gearbox is smooth and easy to engage but I spent most of the time riding round the Tuscan Hills in third due to the good spread of power. The shaft driven bike has a new single plate clutch and was well behaved in town and certainly fast enough on the short open stretches of roads.

The Norge is a GT so you would expect it to be comfy, but I think they have done a great job. It's a soft ride but also one that gives confidence and although another tester found the seat to be too soft, it was great for me.

Apparently Marzocchi had a lot of time to get the best set-up with the front forks and this was an area that previous Norge owners had called for improvement on. A new spring set has been used and the test bike I had gave me great confidence in the front end. The rear suspension has also been updated.

Whether it's still eager to turn on its side so easily two-up and fully loaded with luggage remains to be seen any time saved in speeding through corners could have been used to take in the beautiful views.

It's clear that Moto Guzzi know their customer base and have aimed the bike at riders of 40 plus. The changes to the new bike have exisiting 1200 owners to thank, as well as the long arm of the law.

With the Norge a popluar choice for Police forces in cities such as Berlin and Milan, the model has obviously covered a fair few miles with some of them at a brisk pace. In fact, the first few times I saw a pair of them in my mirror I instinctively double checked the speedo.

One of the issues the Police reported with the previous bike had occasionally been overheating so the design team have spent some time working on the internal oil system.

The oil cooler has been relocated lower than previously and other changes made to guard against overheating. It seems bizarre to then say that the engine bay is insulated, but this change has been made to stop the rider getting too hot rather than the engine, with heat escaping through the rear wheel bay.

The result is less noise from the latest evolution of the "four valve" series engine along with the promise of improved reliability and engine life.

The Norge has previously been labeled ugly by Visordown but I think likening it to Sylvester Stallone's mum is a bit unfair.

The looks of the bike certainly grew on me over the two day launch in Florence and the press bikes in white certainly looked the part. And built to a high standard. If you're not into this season's colour, the bike is also available in a 'titanium' silver and black.

Keeping things Italian, Brembo calipers are used and haul the bike to a stop pretty effectively. ABS comes as standard on the Norge 8V and although you are aware of the ABS kicking in, it is in no way obtrusive on this bike. You can switch it off using a button on the right hand control switches but if you're covering lots of miles, especially with a pillion and on unknown roads, it's a no-brainer not to have it on.

The windshield is electrically adjustable and although it is possible to change it whilst moving, the location of the buttons would seem to suggest that Moto Guzzi prefer you do this at a standstill. It's a nice touch and another 'included' option.

Other practical features include 12 volt external power socket, side and centre stand, intergrated pillion grab handles and room to easily fix a sat-nav system (a TomTom was available to use on the press bikes). Fuel capacity is 23 litres.

The colour-matched panniers keep the same shape as before but apparently have improved stability and water resistance. I can't imagine why anyone would design a side pannier that isn't water resistant but I guess they must have done at some point?

The analogue clocks are easy to read and the onboard computer/digital dash gives you the all the time and normal trip functions you would expect.

Moto Guzzi wanted this bike to be perfect so that their customers would not feel the need to change to alter anything. In fact, the only extra options available are a alternative gel seat (which lowers the seat height 30mm from the standard 810mm) and a top box.

By including all the normal extras as standard, production at the factory is kept simple and they can concentrate on producing complete bikes, rather than running an accessories department.

So for your £11,549 you get ABS, heated grips, side panniers and the electric windscreen. It's a great package and if you're looking for a competitively priced tourer that will be easy to live with whilst having a bit of character it's well worth a look.