September 13, 2011
The historic Moto Guzzi brand has many loyal followers, but has never sold in large volumes here in the United States. When it was acquired, and revived, by the conglomerate Piaggio several years ago, money began to be infused to refine and improve both the chassis and the traditional v-twin engine.
The Norge tourer is largely unknown to Americans. Although you could purchase the prior version of the Norge, it is quite rare to see one on the highway here in the U.S. I therefore will not bore you with all of the detail changes between the prior model and the subject of this test, which is the 2011 Norge GT 8V.
Having said that, I have to point out that the Norge has now received the much more powerful eight-valve engine that has previously been found on models such as the Griso. With the latest tuning and fuel injection offered up by Moto Guzzi, the eight-valve engine has both a substantially higher peak horsepower and torque, together with broader and smoother power when compared with the older two-valve motor.
When I first sampled the eight-valve engine in the Griso, I was very impressed. With the cross-frame mounting of the 90° v-twin, the Moto Guzzi has always had plenty of character. A rocking motion while blipping the throttle at a standstill mimics, in many respects, the same motion felt aboard a BMW boxer twin. This same basic engine configuration and layout embodies history and tradition, particularly if you have ridden Moto Guzzis in years past.
Together with that history and tradition, you now receive refinement and a modern level of power and torque. Quite a combination! Simply put, the eight-valve motor, in its latest and most refined state, combines all the good things about a modern 90° v-twin, i.e., those pleasant big pulses, and low-end power, together with smooth and predictable throttle response that will get you down the road (with or without a passenger and luggage) quickly and efficiently. Oh, and with a smile on your face.
The Norge comes standard with large capacity saddlebags, as well as a broad, comfortable seat that offers good support for hours of riding. Add to this the new, electrically adjustable windscreen, redesigned faring with improved wind protection and newly developed vibration damping in the footrests, and you have a package that can be both fun and comfortable to ride over long distances. Practical, as well.
Owners of the previous Norge model frequently complained about the suspension settings. The forks and shock are new this year, as well, and damping is excellent. In our experience, they offer a great compromise between comfort and sport, and held up well with a 210 pound rider and 135 pound passenger aboard.
The Norge has very complete instrumentation, which is, for the most part, quite legible. Traditional looking, analog tachometer and speedometer are combined with an LED panel with fuel information (including MPG), trip information and more. The LED is not as legible as we would like, however, given its relatively small screen and poor contrast in bright light. Part of this could be down to the pair of 54-year-old eyes that were staring at it, however.
The Norge is a big, heavy motorcycle with a claimed dry weight of roughly 570 pounds (before adding 6.1 gallons of fuel). The big twin pulls along smartly, however, and the handling belies its mass. Stable in a straight line, we were surprised by the almost nimble feel the bike provided at speed while cornering. Good geometry, relatively good mass centralization, and wide handlebars for leverage all play a factor here. The Norge transitions well from side-to-side, and confidently holds its line mid-corner. The suspension settings, as we noted earlier, hold up well in these conditions. You won’t be chasing sport bikes through the canyons, but a good rider can hold a surprisingly quick pace on the Norge through the twisties.
We found relatively good gas mileage, with the Norge returning close to 50 mpg while cruising on the Interstate and roughly 40 mpg combined with a reasonable amount of surface street riding. Not bad given the size, weight and power of this motorcycle.
Having ridden many Moto Guzzi machines over the years, I never expect the transmission to cooperate with me quite as seamlessly as most Japanese motorcycles do. Moto Guzzi has made huge strides, however, and after a clunky entrance into first gear, the bike shifted well once underway. I don’t recall ever missing a shift or finding a false neutral.
The brakes are very strong with their Brembo calipers providing quick and substantial initial bite that can at first surprise you, but, with practice, can be well modulated. Given the mass those brakes have to cope with, I was a bit surprised by their effectiveness and urgency, but came to enjoy using them. If you hustle the bike and use the brakes aggressively, you will experience some brake fade, but this is normal for a touring bike when it is mimicking a much lighter sport machine.
The ergonomics of the bike were comfortable with one exception. You will see from the photos that my 5′11″ frame could use more legroom. Some riders will not be bothered by this so much. The rest of the ergonomic package is hard to argue with, including the seat and ample wind protection, coupled with high bars that place your hands in a comfortable, natural position. Other riders (older riders, in particular) might have a significant problem with the high pegs. It was something I had to get used to, but eventually I stopped thinking about the peg location, and was able to ride the bike longer distances without any discomfort. Vibration levels were never an issue from a comfort perspective.
The clutch and other controls are reasonably comfortable and easy to use. Again, this was not always the case with Moto Guzzis in the past. Clearly, in designing the Norge, Moto Guzzi took the extra effort to make the rider interface as pleasant as possible.
The windscreen is wonderful. It has a reasonably broad range of adjustment and a complex surface that effectively pushed wind away from my chest and shoulders. Although I was too tall in the saddle for the screen to completely direct wind from the helmet level, I could always find a position that minimized buffeting and noise. The reach for the screen adjustments is a bit awkward; however, as you must remove your hand from the grip to reach the button that raises or lowers the screen.
Take a look at the video we have attached below for a better idea of what it was like for us to ride the bike. The Norge GT 8V is a comfortable, fast motorcycle full of Italian character and soul. Engine reliability should be a strong point given the careful refinement of the powerplant for more than a decade. The shaft drive minimizes maintenance, as well. If you can deal with the relatively high foot pegs, you might just fall in love with it. The Norge GT 8V is available in both white and black (as pictured). U.S. MSRP for the 2011 Moto Guzzi Norge GT 8V is $15,990. Here is our video review of the Norge.