Reviews

Riding the Moto Guzzi V85 TT, A Review

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I can only sympathize for the Moto Guzzi engineer that got the design brief on the new V85 TT adventure-touring model. It probably read like a list of impossibilities, and represented a gauntlet of technical challenges.

An ADV bike is already a tough space to tackle, and right now the middleweight segment is hotter than ever. Even with a blank-sheet design, it is hard to create a motorcycle that can compete in this space, but for Moto Guzzi, creating the V85 TT must have felt like fighting with one arm tied behind its back.

It is one thing to create a motorcycle with 80hp and 500 lbs of wet mass, and then make it capable of handling both road and dirt. Customers in this segment demand a bevy of electronic features as well, so those must be developed as well. And then, make it cheap…because no one wants to hock a $20,000 motorcycle into a forest of trees each weekend.

But for Moto Guzzi, and that intrepid engineer, the task is even more complicated. You are married to the Italian brand’s “transverse” 90° v-twin engine design, which has always been a heavy and bulbous proposition. Oh, and this new 853cc twin-cylinder engine is to be air-cooled…because, Moto Guzzi.

True to the brand’s image too, this new bike will play on vintage themes, all while balancing the modernity that the market demands.

Indeed, this is a design brief filled with unique challenges, and I don’t envy the team that had to meet these lofty goals. The moto-journalist’s burden is to ride the creation though, and as I have often said, we are the spoiled children of the motorcycle industry.

The Moto Guzzi V85 TT is quite easily going to be the best selling model in the company’s lineup for 2019 – that is a low bar to achieve right now – but they are doing it with a bullet. The V85 TT is a stout all-rounder, that punches well into its weight class, for a bargain price. Let me explain.

The Landscape

When you think about the middleweight ADV segment, it is filled with a bevy of capable machines. The BMW F850GS comes to mind (as well as its GSA counterpart), and this year sees the KTM 790 Adventure joining the fray. The Ducati Multistrada 950 S is also an option; and if we creep into the 1,000cc bikes, there is the venerable Suzuki V-Strom and Honda Africa Twin in the mix as well.

Don’t forget too the Triumph Tiger 800, a bike that ruled the roost in this segment before getting seriously challenged by the aforementioned machines.

One the vintage side, we see no shortage of “scrambler” models that offer varying degrees of off-road and on-road capability. The Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled is at the top of the heap, though the Triumph Scrambler 1200 is rapidly displacing the Italian with its better off-road performance, despite its heftier price tag.

BMW is all over this niche as well, with its entire lineup of  R nineT models – though the Scrambler and Urban G/S are perhaps the most relevant to our discussion here.

Finding clear air in this landscape of ADV bikes is no easy task, but Moto Guzzi appears to have found a niche, and in doing so, plays to the brand’s strengths.

For a long time, Moto Guzzi has struggled to find an identity, but the move as of late has been for the historic Italian brand to be just that – an historic Italian brand. Its bikes are vintage styled, and geared towards…let’s say, “uniquely” minded riders. It is a small component of the industry that Moto Guzzi owns, but it is paid-in-full theirs.

This pushes the Moto Guzzi V85 TT away from I like to call the “pretense ADV” models, which sell some sort of promise of being Dakar Rally capable. Few adventure-tourers can really do the business off-road, and as any internet commenter will point out, we see far more at the coffee shop than we do on the trails.

This is what has made the vintage side of the ADV market so intriguing, because while the bikes in this space give a nod to their rally raid roots, it is a move made out of respect, not aspiration. No one expects you to take these models down the dusty trail (though many of these bikes will surprise you off-road), and somehow that message seems more authentic in this post-authentic world that we live in.

But, in the lineup of vintage-inspired adventure machines where do we see the balance between urban, touring, and off-road use? The Moto Guzzi brings a new element in that regard. The bike is an all-rounder. Sporty to ride, but still tourable, and ready for the nearest gravel road you can find.

What Is Old Is New Again

You can’t start a discussion about a Moto Guzzi without first talking about the “transverse” elephant in the room. I like to use the word “transverse” in quotes just to start internet arguments, but let’s roll right along to the bike’s air-cooled, 853cc, 90° v-twin, pushrod engine design.

It is Guzzi’s sacred cow design element, and thus also the brand’s cross to bear. So, it is impressive that Moto Guzzi was able to coax just under 80hp from the bulbous lump, and then keep the wet weight (with 23 liters of fuel) at 505 lbs.

The folks at Mandello del Lario did this by using an aluminum pushrod, titanium valves, and advanced rocker arms. The bike redlines at 8,000 rpm because of this, and there is a fat torque curve to play with between 4,500 rpm and 7,000 rpm. A single 52mm throttle body completes the engine package on this “Made in Italy” motorcycle.

Three riding modes are available: Street, Rain, and Off-Road, with each augmenting the traction control, ABS, and throttle response. Cruise control is standard as well, and it should be noted that in the Off-Road mode, rear-wheel ABS is disabled. It is worth noting that traction control and ABS can be completely turned off in any riding mode too.

Settings are managed through a 4.3″ TFT display, which should look familiar to Aprilia RSV4 owners, though it is an updated version of that colorful dash. The navigation through the dash is fairly intuitive, though not the best we have seen.

Overall, the controls and fit and finish are “good” not “great” – but they certainly don’t make you feel like you are sitting on a $12,000 European motorcycle. The unsung feature of the Moto Guzzi V85 TT certainly is value, as the bike has it in spades, while not crossing the line into “cheap” which can often be the trap.

On the Road…Literally 

The spec-sheet betrays the Moto Guzzi V85 TT, because once you get the machine on the road, you find that this “underpowered” and “overweight” motorcycle moves quite well.

Side-to-side transitions are considerably snappy, thanks in part to the low-slung mass of the V85 engine, but also due to the 150/70 rear tire size. Braking is done by Brembo, and the front stoppers provide plenty of braking power and modulation.

I am not sure why this particular attribute surprised me so much, but it was an unexpectedly pleasant discovery as we began to increase the wick of our pace on the press ride.

The feel from the cable clutch is fairly light on the lever, and the gearbox takes plenty of abuse. For bonus points, it didn’t spit back a single false neutral or missed shift, which isn’t exactly easy when you are in ADV boots.

Power on the Moto Guzzi V85 TT is linear through the rev range, though things start to get a little too buzzy around the 4,000 rpm point. Around 8,000 rpm the party is over far too early, and you have to reach for another gear.

The mechanical torque in 1st and 2nd gear is quite good, and makes you forget that you are only working with 79hp and 59 lbs•ft of torque. The gearing from 3rd gear onwards though reminds you of the limitations of the air-cooled v-twin, which made our course along the windy roads of Sardinia a challenge, as we had to manage that 2nd to 3rd gap for many of the turns.

Get too lazy on your shifts, and you will find yourself waiting for the bike to find its momentum again out of a turn. Similarly, one notices the lack of “umpf” when cruising along in 4th gear, and hoping for a roll-on of power when passing another vehicle.

It is impressive what Moto Guzzi has been able to achieve with its air-cooled engine design though, and it certainly is on-par with the rest of the segment, but this rider would like to see another 20hp from the machine. Your mileage may vary on this one.

I might be able to overlook the power deficit however if Moto Guzzi had provided us with a little bit more lean angle on the V85 TT, which would have meant more corner speed, and fewer boot scuffs.

The lean angle on the Moto Guzzi V85 TT really is the bike’s Achilles heel, because the machine is plenty fun to ride fast. The chassis responds very well to corners, acceleration, and braking. There is some dive from the KYB forks, though dialing in some preload would likely help the matter (both the forks and shock are preload and rebound adjustable).

Despite the suspension being a bit “budget” (there is a sport package that brings Öhlins pieces to the table), I found the Kayaba units to do their job quite well. The rear-end of the bike gave me zero issues, no pumping, no squatting, just butter.

At the $12,000 price point, you expect some budget elements to creep into the V85’s design, but Moto Guzzi was smart in handling which corners it cut, the suspension being a particular point. Sure, I would love to see fully adjustable units on the V85 TT, but the bike didn’t need them out of the box. Could better brakes be fitted too? Sure, but again there is no deficiency here.

Metzeler Tourance Next tires shod the model we road (Moto Guzzi also fits Michelin Anakee Adventure tires as OEM fitment), and were surprisingly good at our aggressive street pace, and for a road-biased tire, they did fine in our off-road excursions. Similarly, the 19″ front wheel size was less of an issue than I was expecting it to be, as usually the larger wheel size can feel vague at spirited riding.

I should stress, our street pace was very aggressive on this ride, and despite its vintage and adventure DNA, there is some sport bike blood flowing beneath these fairings on the Moto Guzzi V85 TT. As such, I am pretty sure this bike has never met a sweeper it didn’t like, but I will say that the fun gets limited by what I would estimate to be less than a 45° maximum lean angle.

Every turn’s entry had to be managed, as pegs, feet, hopes, and dreams scraped along the road. At what I would call a modest street pace, the limitations of the V85 TT’s ability to lean started to become apparent. A “spirited” ride meant managing body position and lean angles, and having less mechanical sympathy for hard parts.

Things cap out at what I would consider a 90% pace, as the laws of physics just become too insurmountable, and you start weighing the options of high-centering on a footpeg mount at 50 mph or so. It is frustrating when a motorcycle stops you from your fun…even if it is perhaps in your best interest.

This is the only bone I pick with Moto Guzzi’s engineers, and for a solution I would probably just add some height to the suspension setup. With a 32.6″ (830mm) seat height, the Moto Guzzi V85 TT is approachable for shorter riders, but gives up some of the ground clearance and lean angle found on other much taller ADV machines.

There are tradeoffs to be made here, but for another inch or two my biggest complaint about the Moto Guzzi V85 TT could be rectified, and the bike would have some added chops in the dirty stuff. I call that a win/win.

Getting Guzzi in the Dirt

I should highlight at the front of this section that Moto Guzzi gave us only a limited amount of time off the tarmac with the V85 TT. Our planned ride included what was graciously exaggerated as “800 meters or so” of off-road in order to capture some photos, along with a 3-mile optional section that far too many of my fellow journalists skipped.

Filled with sizable rocks, sand, ruts, and gravel – this unkept “road” offered a good insight into what the Moto Guzzi V85 TT is capable of when asked to prove its ADV credentials, and the motorcycle did quite well.

Before one heads into the great off-road unknown, they should select the “Off-Road” map from the riding modes, which tempers the throttle, changes the traction control algorithm, and disables the ABS on the rear wheel. If one really wants to, you can disable ABS and traction control completely, as you can do in any of the riding modes.

With only 79hp on tap, the difference in the riding modes certainly isn’t very large, and the “Off-Road” mode seems to just mute the throttle just a little bit more than the “Strada” mode I was in the rest of the day. Some riders complained that the “Off-Road” setting was too soft, and desired more throttle response, but I had a more difficult time telling the differences between the two, as the “Strada” mode wasn’t exactly sport bike crisp itself.

Don’t take this as a negative, however. The Moto Guzzi V85 TT comes out of the box with the Goldilocks amount of “umpf” for dual-sport riding. I will echo a colleague’s comment that “Strada” mode with the ABS and TC off is probably the sweet spot for dirt riding on the V85 TT – you just don’t need to dull this bike’s senses to get loose with it in the dirt.

As with just about every ADV or dual-sport on the market, I would have preferred taller bars to accommodate my tall torso (and short arms), but that’s more a “me” problem than a “you” problem. Otherwise, the tank shape lends itself well to standing up and holding the bike with your legs.

Again, the low-slung weight on the Guzzi comes in handy, and this 505 lbs porker feels pretty maneuverable at low speeds, and it is easy to pick your line through the dirt, which is great when you are dealing with the baby-head rocks that our route was dominated by.

Physics can go only so far though, and here is once again where I would love to have seen another inch or two in suspension travel on the Moto Guzzi V85 TT. Absorbing some big hits, you begin to see the limits of the low-spec Kayaba suspension, and the ride height restrains you from wanting to push the limits of the V85 TT.

Tubed wheels are the name of the game here, mostly for cost reasons. Some riders will deplore their use, others will remember that they feature on the Honda Africa Twin and Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled as well, and perhaps care less.

Your mileage will vary on this one, though my only real thought on the topic is that I wish Moto Guzzi had a set of tubeless wheels – either cast/forged or spoked – in the parts catalog for those who see this bullet point as an issue, and wish to shod their steed with a tubeless option.

All-in-all, I see the Moto Guzzi as an 90/10 adventure motorcycle. Maybe it’s an 80/20 bike…though I have never really understood the practical distinction between those two distributions.

A better way to express the concept would be to say that in the real world, you are only going to take a quarter-ton motorcycle with a 19″ front tire so far off the beaten path, and in the case of the Moto Guzzi V85 TT, good common sense will likely hold you back before the bike does.

There are no promises of Dakar glory here, and I would probably chuckle if I saw one with knobby tires on it – I would applaud that enthusiasm, however. 

I come back to my thoughts that the Moto Guzzi V85 TT is a good all-rounder, which includes getting your tires dirty from time to time.

Yeah, But Would You Buy One?

Dollars to donuts, would I buy one? I find that question tough to answer, because that answer was a “no” probably before I even got on this machine. Though the lines of the Moto Guzzi V85 TT grow on me each time I see the bike, I’m just not into the heritage segment “thing” that the industry is creating right now. My Scandinavian heritage means that I like weird modern lines, uncomfortable furniture shaped like cubes, and Björk.

I am quite enthusiastic about this bike for other riders though. Despite the long suspension, 19″ front wheel, and touring tires, the Moto Guzzi V85 TT showed itself to be an extremely fun street bike, capable of carving some twisties, which always make me happy.

In this regard, my only critical complaint is the footpeg clearance at lean, as you start grinding pegs and boots just too easily, which really begins to spoil the fun you are having on the bike.

While I am well aware that any motorcycle will surprise you with its off-road capabilities, the Moto Guzzi V85 TT was an effortless ride in what I would consider moderately difficult off-road terrain.

It won’t replace the dirt bike in your garage anytime soon, and there other better-suited ADV bikes on the market for that job anyways, but there is a good “Swiss Army” knife proposition to found here with the Moto Guzzi V85 TT.

On top of that, the Moto Guzzi “transverse” 90° v-twin engine has gobs of character…and in a good way, for a change. This is because Moto Guzzi has refined this idea a great deal on the 853cc version. Gone are the agricultural references, and the gearbox is one of the best that I have seen in a motorcycle in a while.

Talking to one Moto Guzzi owner on the launch, we remarked how the bike is very much still a Guzzi in its DNA and heart, without being the Moto Guzzi that so many people roll their eyes at. A fine line has been found here in the “character” department, and it means that we all need to start taking this boutique Italian brand a lot more seriously.

Then there is the price. $12,000 is a killer price tag, and it undercuts the market with some force, while offering a bike that isn’t stripped down due to the effort. This should instantly put the Moto Guzzi V85 TT on every ADV riders “must try” list.

The Moto Guzzi V85 TT is just too lurid of a proposition, and even I worry that I could be tricked out of my hard-earned blogging dollars by a skillful Guzzi dealer and six-pack of Mountain Dew on ice.

I came into this launch expecting a strong play from the folks at Moto Guzzi, and I didn’t leave disappointed. The V85 TT is probably under-hyped, to be honest, and that is a bold thing to say when you have seen the “Ronald McDonald” livery plastered all over the internet for the past 12 months or so.

But take note, the Moto Guzzi brand is on the move, and the V85 TT punctuates that movement.

The Italian company used to reserve space next to the fanatics of other peculiarities, like Civil War reenactors…or CrossFit enthusiasts, but with the V85 TT, I think we are going to see a new chapter in this heritage focused company, as it heads just a little bit closer to the mainstream.

TL;DR: You don’t need to drink the Guzzi Kool-Aid to like the Moto Guzzi V85 TT – this bike has plenty of appeal on the merits.

The first of several models to use this new air-cooled mid-sized engine platform, we can’t wait to see what else comes from the Mandello del Lario factory. They have found their groove, along with their first hit in a long while. Kudos to them.

Photos: Milagro

Jensen Beeler

Despite his best efforts, Jensen is called one of the most influential bloggers in the motorcycle industry, and sometimes consults for motorcycle companies, whether they've solicited his expertise or not.

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