First Ride

First ride: Moto Guzzi V7 II Racer

Tom Rayner is in seventh heaven with Guzzi's gaudy Cafe Racer

SOMEBODY asked me without a hint of irony if retro bikes were 'a bit last year'.

But heritage sells and everybody's at it - in fact, some manufacturers like Royal Enfield and Harley Davidson never stopped. 

And surely for sheer head-turning, kerb appeal nothing can beat Moto Guzzi's gaudy V7 II Racer. Not many bikes have the guts to roll out of the garage sporting a blinding chrome tank, red frame and plastered in the number seven. The V7 II Racer is no shrinking violet.

But for a bike with so much show, where's all the go? Before even giving the Guzzi a chance, many bikers will stumble over the figure of 47hp and disregard it. But that's a mistake, because there's an equally important figure just beneath and that is: 44lbft at 3,000rpm. To put this into context - the torquey Ducati Scrambler makes around 50lbft but up at 5,750rpm. 

To put it plainly: if you fitted a set of knobbly tyres then the V7 II Racer could pull a plough. Unfortunately the spoilsports at the Guzzi press office wouldn't let me try, but in the more realistic scenario of a British road it means the V7 pulls willingly regardless of which of the six gears you select. It makes country back road riding both a relaxing and deeply satisfying experience. 

I'm using the Ducati Scrambler as a point of comparison because I'd been riding it the week before I picked up the V7 Racer. I'd assumed the two bikes would have a similar feel but I couldn't have been more wrong.

I confess, my first 60 miles on the V7 II Racer were not happy. The bike felt vague and wallowing on the M40. The Ducati was so perky and alert in comparison. I even checked the V7's tyre pressures at a garage to make sure they weren't too low - they weren't.

Then something happened to make my opinion perform an about turn: I rode the editor's Suzuki Bandit 1250. It was smooth, slick and flawless - or in other words deathly dull. By the time I got back on the Guzzi I was in love. It felt crude, rebellious and completely alive by contrast. This is a bike that likes to be muscled and (surprisingly) ridden hard.

I had been harbouring the notion that the V7 II Racer was soft. A bike that makes sense at a standstill but is nonsense on an open road. Quite the opposite, in fact I reckon the Guzzi would be really good fun on a race track. Make no mistake, it will get swallowed whole by sports bikes but it's such a rider's bike and so rewarding that around somewhere like Cadwell Park it would feel quite special.

And if it rained heavily you might even embarrass a few nervous sports bike owners because the Guzzi benefits from confidence-inspiring traction control and dual-channel ABS. I have a long gravel drive leading to my house so tested the traction control every morning and evening. Even on a surface as loose as this the electronics could cut the engine before the rear tyre span too wildly out of control.

The head-turning Guzzi gets attention everywhere it goes, it's like dating a glamour model. I've never ridden a bike that's received so much adulation, and never from other bikers. People at work who know nothing about bikes stopped by my desk to ask me about it - this has never happened before, even riding Harleys.

I'm a fairly understated kind of guy, so I felt like a poser on the Guzzi - in fact, at times I felt like an outright plonker. It's just so loud and without a hint of subtly. To pull off the V7 Racer I needed an open face helmet, shades, jeans and a battered leather jacket. Instead I was wearing a Weise textile jacket and trousers (practical but hardly chic). I certainly looked more at home in the saddle of the Bandit, even if I didn't feel it.

In many ways this should be the easiest review I've ever written. If you think the V7 II Racer looks cool then you'll buy it, if you don't then you won't. There's no test ride required. I could imagine somebody buying a Bandit 1250 despite being indifferent about its looks - this is impossible with the Guzzi. If you like the idea of the Racer but can't stomach the style then there's the more subtle V7 II Stone or Special.

For what it's worth I'm both thrilled and appalled by the Racer. Top marks for its audacity but I can't help feeling it's gone a flourish too far. In terms of design it's less Tamburini and more Llewelyn-Bowen - it looks like one of his Changing Rooms projects, a bit gimmicky and transient. But this is just my opinion and it would seem I'm in a minority. So why does everybody think it looks so cool? Simple, it's the chrome tank. 

On a sunny day with a blue sky and wispy, drifting clouds then the chrome tank becomes a work of art. During my photoshoot I thought I could see Constable's The Wheatfield reflected in the chrome. It's a living mirror and also very handy for checking helmet hair after a ride. But there's a downside - one rain shower and it streaks and smears. A day parked in London and the dust and grime dulls the sheen. It will take a special type of neurotic who can keep up with the cleaning regime required to keep this bike at its best.

Design wise I love the brown suede leather seat, the red eagle on the tank, the fork gaiters, the red eagle on the tank - and of course, best of all, the classic Guzzi protruding V-twin (easily the best-looking engine in motorcycling). The jury is out on the red frame and I really can't stand the number seven stickers on the rear seat unit and above the headlight. 

I'll put my money where my mouth is. I had a go at tweaking the V7 Racer in Photoshop to show what it would look like if the Italians had hired me as lead designer and not LLB. I won't give up my day job.


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