By Surj Gish, with Max Klein
Photography: Bob Stokstad
Surj: Goading Guzzi
The compact cruiser market is not new, but getting it right seems to be a tough job. Moto Guzzi is also anything but new to making motorcycles, and the Roamer demonstrates this fact. Who knew to look to Italy for such an American feeling bike? Very few indeed, but riding it is a reminder that a bike can exist with no other purpose than to just be fun.
In recent years, Guzzi had offered essentially two ranges: big and small, although saying it like it’s that simple would be ignoring the ancient, storied Italian marque’s knack for creating confusion. But still, there were the 1200s like the Griso and the Norge, which stayed true to the quirkiness that so inspires the brand’s fans; and then there were the various V7s. More recently, big and small became small, big and bigger, with the addition of the 1400 line, including the return of the classical Eldorado name. These bikes all used Moto Guzzi’s signature longitudinal crankshaft V-Twin and shaft drive layout.
An 853 cc version of that layout is the heart of the V9, which comes in both Roamer and Bobber versions. First and foremost, let’s talk about that engine. The Roamer’s “little” V-Twin is a fantastic rumbler. From the moment you start it, it’s just plain cool, with a growling, lumpy idle—as factory exhausts go, this one is right up there with the best of them.
That joyful noise comes with a certain level of character, for lack of a better term. Put less soulfully, the bike has a very noticeable rock to the right under power, and the shaft drive has a pronounced jacking effect. These things are by no means intolerable, but the Wrecking Crew had mixed feelings on this, with some noting the shaft jack in particular as a black mark, since shaft drive geometry is now so well developed in other motorcycles.
As a rider of motorcycles with similar afflictions, I don’t mind a little sideways rock with my roll, and found ‘round-towning on the Guzzi to be a blast. The V9 engine has great throttle response and really great power, in spite of stated numbers that are downright… we’ll say disappointing, at just 55 HP, with 45.7 ft. lb. of torque.
But in spite of those lackluster numbers, stoplights are nothing more than excuses to run through all six of the gears, and perhaps the most shocking aspect is the way it never gives up. Running up an onramp just goads you into adding more throttle.
The powerband is wide, with zero flat spots, and the bike settles in very smoothly around 80mph. Even with all this enthusiastic acceleration, we all got about 40 MPG.
This is a seriously good powerplant.
The chassis and ergos are a bit more divisive. The posture is almost reminiscent of a scooter, with higher bars and a feet-forward peg position that is less than ideal. Coupled with the 2×12-esque seat and that torquey engine, you end up with a bike that’s kinda hard to hold on to—get too vigorous on the throttle with a loose grip on the bars and you could end up on the ground.
Feature-wise, the Guzzi is a hit. The speedometer is elegant in appearance, but packed with useful information: the integrated fuel gauge, fuel economy information, and gear indicator are very helpful. The digital tach isn’t my thing, but at least there’s a tach, right? Controls are intuitive, including traction control, which offers two levels plus good old American off, which I forgot to tell Max about. Scrolling through the options on the display is quick and easy.
Along with traction control, the bike comes standard with ABS. I did find myself occasionally bumping into the TC when riding quickly on particularly rough sections of East Bay “pavement.” Nothing unmanageable, but it felt a little too involved on “roads” that seem like a conspiracy to increase dual-sport sales.
The ABS, however, offers a somewhat bipolar solution when the rider overdoes it on the brakes. The front functions about as expected, and we had no complaints. The rear actuates slowly for a modern system, meaning you can skid the rear almost at will. We do like it when ABS can be disabled, but that’s not the case here. The ABS can’t be turned off via the menus; it’s just that like a spineless politician, the rear is something of a flip-flopper: both anti- and pro-locking.
I’m not going to bitch (too much) about suspension and ground clearance. You get 5.1” of travel up front, and 3.8” out back, and that rear travel number is small enough that one of the nicest things I can say about it is “well, it’s more travel than that damn Forty-Eight had.” The suspension is soft, too, but who am I kidding? It’s a cruiser of sorts, it scrapes when you’d expect a cruiser to scrape. And besides… sparks!
Even if you aren’t pitching it over enough to light up the night, the OEM Pirellis do a great job of inspiring confidence and give more cornering grip than you’d expect. Again, this bike is nothing if not fun to ride, partly because it’s surprisingly light at 439 pounds in running order according to Guzzi, which presumably includes things like fuel and oil.
That’s 129 pounds less than the Roadster you can read about starting on page 19 of this issue.
Brakes are solid, your basic steel rotors with less-basic Brembo calipers: one 320 mm disc up front with four-piston caliper, and a 260 mm disc to the rear, squeezed by a two-piston caliper.
If you think I’m being harsh in my description of the running gear, consider that I encountered sixty pounds of likely-rabid dog on the Roamer, and by “encountered,” I mean “hit.” That little bastard didn’t even touch the bike and nearly broke my left foot, but the Roamer provided enough stability and braking power that there was little drama, and no crashing.
But Guzzi isn’t marketing this bike to wannabe “animal control” officers, they’re marketing to exceptionally handsome, fit and fashionable gentlemen that know sweet selvedge denim when they see it. Accordingly, fit and finish are top notch. I suppose we’ve come to expect such things in modern bikes, but the Guzzi is a cut above, at near-Harley levels—maybe minus some of the heavier metal.
The bodywork is all metal, and the paint on the Roamer is Giallo Solare, a gorgeous pearl yellow-orange that shows different, deeper beauty depending on whether the bike is in shadow or direct sunlight.
The shape of the tank is something that requires a look in person—it appears almost conservative and traditionally shaped from the sides and above, but reveals radical contours when viewed from the front of the motorcycle.
None of us ride bikes as conversation starters, but the Roamer has that effect. It’s subtle, and can easily be dismissed as just another standard or cruiser by the untrained eye, but anyone who strikes up a conversation with you either has an idea of what they’re looking at and can usually engage in a reasonable discussion—or they’re just entranced by the pretty paint job.
Max: Do We Really Have To Say “Authentic” & “Soul” In The Same Sentence?
Here we go again: another authentic motorbike, or so Moto Guzzi says over, and over, and over again on their website. I went to the V9 page on the Guzzi website to check what the suspension travel numbers were for this machine because I wanted to make an al dente joke. I expected some simple numbers.
Instead, I found what appeared to be hipster ipsum, line after line of statements like “Because the only thing that counts out there is what you are within,” and “A spirit that brooks no compromise. A spirit that, with every choice, proudly states: I am what I am.”
Vainglorious drivel aside, much of the bike is not bad. Like Editor Surj and Fish, I enjoyed the low end torque from the new motor enough that I forgave it for not having more up top. Ripping through the twisties around CityBike World Headquarters was invigorating, partly because of the fluidity of the motor and partly because the suspension was a little overcooked, like that time you were making pasta and the phone rang and your Aunt Mildred rambled on, causing you to miss out on removing your spaghetti while it was still al dente. While soft, the suspension is much better than that joke.
In actuality, the suspension would have been perfectly fine if the MoGu would have left traction control off of the bike. Rough roads engaged the “safety bog” feature with enough regularity that I thought I was running out of gas at one point. Even worse, the motor wanted, nay, begged me to power wheelie away from every stop, but every time I tried, the electronic nun racked my knuckles with her traction control ruler.
But while the traction control was doing the Lord’s work, the ABS was heading the other direction, at least out back. I had no problem locking the rear up on dry paved roads. I could feel the brake pedal pulsating and probably could have even heard it clicking away if not for the squeal of the rear tire leaving a 30-foot dashed darkie behind me. The ABS is easy to engage but as Editor Surj said, while it may be against locking, it’s a little lacking in action.
I found the V9 to be fairly comfortable, and I don’t mean standing next to it wearing skinny jeans and holding an espresso. Seat height is low, bars are in a classic “standard” position, and the pegs complete the triangle in a relaxed, slightly forward position. Many of these authentic bikes are disgustingly painful after even a short ride but I had no issues running through a tank of gas on the V9 without discomfort, and the lack of wind protection meant that my head was always in clean air. I’m counting that as a feature.
I like the looks of the machine as well—its minimalist styling lives up to the sixteen uses of the word authentic on the Guzzi website. There are a couple of trim pieces on there but nothing excessive, and certainly none of that “we’ll just cover this with black plastic” treatment.
But here’s the thing: bikes that look like this, feel like this, should not have traction control or ABS. This is a minimalist, torquey motorcycle that can do the ton—unless the road is bumpy, that is. You ought to be able to do a smoky burn-out and then wheelie away from the scene of the crime at will, shouting freedom over the roar of the dual exhaust. The V9 Roamer (and even more so the V9 Bobber, the other flavor of the V9 platform) are being marketed as fashion accessories, not the quirky motorbikes that Moto Guzzi is known for. The older bikes were less prohibitory, less mainstream, and yes, I’m well aware of the hipster irony of that statement. I said it before it was cool, ok?
My point is, what could have been a reasonably rebellious roustabout was shot down by motorbike evolution and tech-bro-ology. Excess ain’t rebellion.
This story originally appeared in our November 2016 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.