They’re not hyper, they’re anti. They’re not über, they’re under. Motorcycles born under the Eagle of Mandello del Lario are hinky, Italian V-twins. Ooh, nice, like a Ducati? Well… No.
It’s true, both Ducati and Moto Guzzi have been marching to a different drum to the rest of motorcycling for over 40 years. The Bologna crew, however, parlayed their non-conformity from the preserve of the air-cooled pervert into the domain of six-figure-earning dentist. Guzzi meanwhile crawled from their well-respected niche into an obscure and dank crevice where they hunkered down, it seemed from the outside at least, to wither and die. Only recently has a torch been shone into their blinking eyes.
Guzzi are former Grand Prix world champions and awe-inspiring risk-takers. They built a 500cc, V8 grand prix racing motorcycle, after all, with a mould-green dustbin fairing. Guzzi were still making serious sports bikes when they released the 850 Le Mans II in 1978. They were close enough to the cutting edge to have to wear safety goggles. So pleased were their research and development department with the manufacture of this true and enduring icon, they took a well-earned vacation. And forgot to go back.
A decade or so later the motorcycles built on the banks of Lake Como had become an anomaly. They hung-on though, limpet-like, supported by what must be the most fanatical and unswerving customer base in all of motorcycling.
Meanwhile a revolution had happened in Japan. The Le Mans had grown to 1000cc, but blood-curdling superbikes like the Yamaha FZR1000 now roamed the Earth. Guzzi had turned up to a gunfight with a potato-masher. Even brand new Guzzis looked quaint and this was a time when the world didn’t give a flying fig for heritage.
Eight-valve heads and obscure class wins at Daytona bought the Italians enough credence to be allowed to pitch their vision, but like film directors who’d gone too long without a hit, they were humoured more out of politeness than any serious respect.
Both Ducati and Moto Guzzi used to make all manner of machines: scooters, single-cylinder road bikes and tiddly trail bikes – but then chose to concentrate on one engine configuration. In Guzzi’s case this was the across-the-frame V-twin. Guzzi’s transverse vee has two cylinders, angled at 90-degrees, like a Ducati, but instead of being inline with the wheels, Guzzi rotated their vee so the cylinders are raised like Joshua’s arms to heaven. It's as if a BMW Boxer had decided to surrender.
The first of what is now regarded as Guzzi’s trademark engine configuration appeared in the mid-60s. The mini-renaissance they’re enjoying would lead this observer to believe they’ll stick with this configuration till the last drop of black gold has been wrung out of Mother Earth.
The engine architecture is almost Brutalist in its design. The engine, with its flywheel right behind the front wheel and gearbox leading to a shaft drive , looks like it could haul a 7.5-tonne truck. Its sump meanwhile, is as deep at the Mariana Trench. The current range’s 1200cc motor is a statement in alloy (and a little too much plastic for my liking). And it’s saying, without apology, ‘This is what we make, take it or leave it.’
Until very recently it had been over 30 years since a Guzzi had been anything but an after-thought in any sales arena you’d care to mention. They were still capable of building surprises, like the track-only MGS-01 of 2002, but for the last decade, the burgeoning premium European market was squeezing so hard, Guzzi’s pips squeaked on an hourly basis. Their former fellow fall guys Ducati were kicking sand in their face, and had been joined by a reborn Triumph, Aprilia, KTM, a reconstituted BMW Motorrad and half-a-dozen other Euro-chancers to stop Moto Guzzi getting more than its head much above water. Guzzi is part of the Piaggio group, with Vespa and Aprilia, and while it gives a level of security, it also means they are the group’s heritage and touring wing and are unable to stray into more modern design (a shame for any fans of the Terblanche concepts from a few years back).
But the tide is turning. Stick around long enough and people eventually notice. A few builders around the world had created Guzzi café racers, using old 850s and 1000s, well before alloy tanks and clip-ons came into vogue. Hipsters looking for authenticity eventually scanned through Tumblr feeds long enough to find recurring images of Guzzi specials. Now beanie-wearing creatives all over the globe are calling Guzzi’s entry level V7 Stone (matt black, £6630, 95mph, 50bhp) and gaudier V7 Racer ,‘Rad’. They’re positively stoked if their homeboy buys one. The recently reborn California tourer is receiving high critical praise, too. And I couldn’t be happier for Guzzi. They deserve a resurgence, if only for the obstinacy. It’s a quality to admire in a motorcycle manufacturer.