First ride: Moto Guzzi V9 review

So you're after a retro bike with character are you? Step this way

UNDERNEATH Visordown towers there’s a shared car park, heavily guarded by a pack of rabid dogs and a one eyed man who’s friendly with the trigger of his sawn-off shotgun. There’s always a Moto Guzzi V7 tucked away in one corner of this subterranean vehicular dungeon.

It’s a handsome bike – finished all in black, with nice graphics and heat-wrapped exhaust header pipes that draw your eye to silencers that look anything but silent. Along with bikes like the BMW R nineT, Ducati Scrambler and new Triumph Bonneville Thruxton, it’s exactly the type of bike I’d expect to see parked in a fashionable part of London.

The new Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber and V9 Roamer wouldn’t look out of place among their ranks either. The Bobber and Roamer are essentially the same bike, based on the same new V9 platform, and sharing the same key parts, with a few changes to differentiate them.

Guzzi says each one has a different soul. With a matt black finish on the exhaust, bars and wheels, the Bobber is the more aggressive looking bike. Well, as aggressive as a bike with 16 inch wheels and Suzuki VanVan-esque balloon tyres can be.

The Roamer is the more relaxed of the pair –  it’s more colourful, shinier thanks to more chrome and is also more relaxed to ride, feeling like you sit in it more, with the bars rising up and sweeping back to meet your hands.

Both models are adorned with plenty of modern-retro design cues; the styling, design and finish exude class, as do details like the aluminium filler caps and graphics that work well to complete the look. The new V9 does have a few modern touches like two-setting traction control (wet and dry), ABS (obviously), plus a USB port, immobiliser and compatibility with Guzzi’s MG-MP virtual dash, datalogging and navigation system.

I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think they’re a couple of nice looking bikes. Having said that, if you reckon they could do with a bit of help to change their style or add your own touches, Guzzi will be only too happy for you to leaf through the sizeable V9 accessories catalogue.

Giving substantial substance to the style is the new Euro4 compliant air-cooled 850cc transverse 90-degree V-twin engine. It’s not just a bored and stroked out V7 lump – new parts include the cylinder head and piston, along with the redesigned combustion chamber and six-speed gearbox, all driving a new shaft drive. In terms of character, the engine is the V9’s centrepiece and visibly so with one pot sticking out each side of the bike in brutish Guzzi fashion.

Fashion. That’s an important word here, and Guzzi knows it. I talked to product marketing manager Diego Arioli over dinner the night before the test ride and he told me that Moto Guzzi has just been doing what it’s always been doing, but now the trend for bikes like the ones I previously mentioned is playing to what it does.

So Guzzi is keeping on the same tract its always been on, but does old school style explain the kind of power figures you expect to see on bike from days gone by? I think a claimed 55hp at 6,250 rpm and 48lbft torque at 3,000rpm from an 850cc engine is possibly lacking.

Having said that, as I roar along the side of Lake Como on the V9 Roamer, it doesn’t feel too underpowered because the torque is so accessible and present from almost no revs. I would tell you when the power makes an appearance, but the simple, easily readable single round clock doesn’t include a rev counter.

As I crack the throttle open, the engine roars me forward with a glob of drive from a torque curve that’s near-flat until just before the shift light blinks to prompt me for another gear.

The engine’s rounded, plump power characteristic comes with a suitable dose of theatre too. I’m impressed the first time I thumb the starter and the bike splutters in to life with a deep, rich exhaust note and mechanical noises from deep in its bowls. It sounds great the whole time it’s running – emitting the archetypal sound of a motorcycle you hear from bikes in old films.

The engine feels agricultural, although its organic character gives the V9 a huge amount of charm; it feels, dare I say it… alive.

In fact, the V9 can feel too alive at times. Putting the V9 Bobber or V9 Roamer in neutral and revving the engine causes the whole bike to flex to the right. I found that an agricultural innovation too far when trying to power out of slow corners, with the bike occasionally feeling discombobulated. It was almost certainly twisting when I was driving out of corners, laying waste to any feeling I was getting. Both bikes could feel wobbly and vague in this instance so while there’s personality and character there, at times the V9 feels like it’s close to overstepping the mark, like a mate who’s had one drink too many and gone from charming raconteur to something less endearing.

The front of both the Bobber and Roamer feel a little on the nervous side. I ended up being very cautious through tight turns and hairpins because I never had a reassuring sense of how much grip the front tyre could and would give me. I also got little feel for how hard I could turn the bike and how commanding I could be with bar inputs. If I started to do anything assertive with it, it always made me feel like I might startle it.

I don’t think the tyres were to blame because they gripped well in the cold, damp conditions and gave me enough adhesion to save troubling the two-setting traction control and ABS. I think the issue at the front is more to do with how the V9 carries its weight.

There was enough braking force though, and the single Brembo front caliper has adequate power for the front, along with decent feel through the lever.

The Kayaba suspension is stiffer than I was expecting, but does an acceptable good job of keeping the Guzzi in check. At the front, I had no major qualms with the non-adjustable conventional fork, which allowed the tyre to track well over crappy surfaces. The rear of both the Bobber and Roamer is quite firm.

Both bikes are comfortable enough, with nicely finished seats and relaxed riding positions that place feet slightly forward, so my shins were under the bottom of each cylinder head. Depending where I was on the seat, I would occasionally touch it with my shin, but a heatproof pad of material prevented any discomfort. The switchgears felt poor though, especially the indicator cancel button, which felt like a jammed button on a games console controller.

The Guzzi V9 Bobber and V9 Roamer are at their most enjoyable when cruising along and taking the time to enjoy their theatre – the sound and character of the engine creates something that feels more visceral, conscious and soulful than many bikes – certainly more so than the V9’s competitors.

But is that enough? If you’re a Guzzi fan, there’s a good chance you’ll like the new V9. If you’re unsure, you’ll need to take a test ride, if only to test where your own mark is concerning when character, charm and idiosyncrasy begin to border on something less appealing.

Model tested: Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber and V9 Roamer

Price: V9 Bobber - £7,999 + OTR charges / V9 Roamer - £7,899 + OTR charges

Engine: 850cc air-cooled transverse four-valve V-twin

Power: 55hp at 6,250rpm

Torque: 48lbft at 3,000rpm

Weight: 199kg plus fuel

Suspension: Non-adjustable Kayaba 40mm diamter conventional forks, twin preload adjustable Kayaba rear shocks

Brakes: Front – four piston Brembo caliper with 320mm floating disc. Rear – two piston caliperw with 260mm disc

Tyres: V9 Bobber - Continental Milestone / V9 Roamer - Pirelli Sport Demon

Fuel Capacity: 19 litres

Colours: V9 Bobber – matt black with yellow decals, may grey with red decals / V9 Roamer – White, red

Availability: March

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