In early 2016, I was fortunate enough to ride the revamped and Euro4 version of the MV Agusta Brutale 800. On paper, the Brutale 800 lost power and gained weight, but the reality is that MV Agusta improved upon already one of its best-selling machines, in subtle and clever ways.
Now a year-and-a-half later, the 2017 MV Agusta Brutale 800 is finally available in the United States, and I have been reunited with one of the best street bikes on the market.
Spending almost all of last month with this motorcycle again, it is clear that not much has changed from a rider’s perspective, though internally improvements have been made to some of the weaker elements of the design, like the sprag clutch and valve train.
While not much has changed with this year’s edition of the MV Agusta Brutale 800, I am mostly fine with that.
I say mostly, because the MV Agusta Brutale 800 could benefit from some changes, with those handful of refinements, the MV Agusta Brutale 800 could be the best street bike on the market…and I don’t say those words lightly.
1. Ditch the Dash
If my above words were the carrot, here comes the stick. For as a good of a motorcycle as the MV Agusta Brutale 800 is, from a user interface perspective it is one of the worst machines on the market, and my first two gripes about the bike come from that perspective.
MV Agusta is woefully behind the times when it comes to the dashes on its motorcycles…even the Japanese brands have eclipsed this “premium” European marque.
The monochromatic LCD dash on the Brutale 800 is woefully behind the times in terms of technology, with now feature-rich color TFT and OLED dashes being the state-of-the-art in the motorcycle industry.
An entire sector of UI design has been created in the past decade, which MV Agusta seems immune too.
While great leaps have been made in effectively showing and gathering information from users, MV Agusta seems to take things a step in the other direction, consistently showing information in the most confusing format possible…let me explain.
Let’s say you want to know how far you have traveled on your odometer. Instead of reading “321” miles, you will see “000321” miles, which is painfully hard to read at speed, when coupled to the small and thin font size.
About the font size though: because of it, you will also have to train your brain to see “123.1” miles on the trip meter, instead of the apparent “1231” that is displayed, because the decimal point (or is that a fleck of dust?) is not perceivable to the naked eye.
Similarly, tracking the rpm is a difficult task, especially when you are on the boil and looking for the end of the rev range. Normally this is easy to do, as you keep the end of the tachometer in your eyesight.
On the Brutale 800, the tachometer goes to 15,000 rpm…there is only one problem though, the bike redlines closer to 11,500 rpm. The RR model gets a bit closer, with its 13,000+ rpm limit, but neither reach the end of the rev-limiter shown on the dash, which is just visually very strange.
To its credit, the Brutale 800 is the best out of all the MV Agusta models in terms of its dash design, though that statement is really more of a testament to how bad the other models’ dashes are, rather than how good the Brutale 800’s is.
MV Agusta should take a line from KTM and BMW, both of which just upgraded their lineups with color TFT dashes that greatly improve the experience on these motorcycles.
With MV Agusta hoping to define itself as the ultimate premium Italian motorcycle brand, and thus command a premium in price over its competitors, having a strong interface for its users is a crucial step, especially as MV Agusta implements more high-tech electronic features to its machines.
2. Honk to Turn Left
Another item of regret across the entire MV Agusta line are the hand controls, which have been an ongoing issue with the Italian brand for quite some time.
This is more of an analog problem, whereas the dash is a digital one, but it ties into the same user experience refinement issue that the brand contends with, even on its more basic systems.
A great example of this is the placement of the horn and turn signal switches, which are inverted in position from almost every other motorcycle on the market. As such, it will take a few miles before you stop honking to turn left.
I’m also not a big fan of how MV Agusta integrates its menu and traction control selectors, which are housed in a cheap-feeling rubber cover to the left of the red headlight switch (another MV oddity, in its own right).
These selector toggles are imprecise in operation, and generally take away from the refinement of the overall bike package.
Instead of this odd solution, which seems like a last-minute parts-bin idea, MV Agusta should look to its Italian counterparts for how to implement clever on-the-fly toggles, as both Aprilia and Ducati excel in this space.
Actually, what MV Agusta should do is just throw out its entire left control cluster design.
On virtually every possible attribute, this part of the bike is a miss, makes the motorcycle harder to use, and detracts from the overall quality of the Brutale 800 design.
This might be my biggest pet peeve of the MV Agusta brand.
3. Stop Using Bricks for Seats
While MV Agusta is alone on its strange hand controls, a more common area of complaint is the Brutale 800’s stiff seat.
Many motorcycles come shipped with wooden pads for your posterior, especially sport bikes, so this has become a common complaint across a bevy of makes and models.
Stiff seats are so prevalent that you would think manufacturers would have taken heed by now, and yet they are also so common, that like mirrors that only give a rider a view of their elbows, it is something that we just sort of live with and accept.
And yet, the MV Agusta Brutale 800 take this attribute to a whole new level.
I am surprised that the Italian brand didn’t just make the seat out of plastic and call it an early day…since what they created for the Brutale isn’t far off from this very notion, and a plastic seat would have been cheaper and easier to produce.
The MV Agusta Brutale 800 is a bike that begs to be ridden, and it is fairly suitable as a day-long adventurer, while understanding that this is not a bike meant for long-distance touring.
So, it is surprising that MV Agusta built something so stiff and hard, that only a short ride is possible without additional padding. If you want to overcome the “only to Starbucks” stereotype, give the people something that can be ridden in comfort further than the corner coffee shop.
4. Clearance Clarence
At 6’2″ in stature, I appreciate a motorcycle with some legroom, and the MV Agusta Brutale 800 does a good job accommodating the tall man’s riding triangle. The legs are roomy, and the handlebars accommodate a long reach.
During more spirited riding though, the ground clearance on the Brutale 800 leaves something to the imagination, and on the track the bike’s footpegs becomes a liability.
A couple sessions at our local race track found me dragging far more footpeg than kneepuck, even when hanging as far off the machine as possible.
I get the balancing act that MV Agusta has to make here, since the Brutale 800 is not an F3 800. That is to stay, it is designed for the street, and not the race course. But as a sport bike, a certain amount of sport-riding should be possible, without having to replace the rearsets.
But as I mentioned in grievance #3, you are not going to go on grand touring trips with the out-of-the-box ergonomics of the Brutale 800, and as such a little bit more corner clearance, at the expensive of legroom might not be the worse thing in the world here.
The MV Agusta Brutale 800 shouldn’t have to worry about the Indian Scout having a larger clearance angle.
5. Sachs Sucks
I have spent a good portion of this year sampling the latest suspension pieces from all the major brands, and I continually find the Sachs pieces to be the worst of the lot. I’m not that convinced of Marzocchi either, and I find it interesting that MV Agusta chooses both of these suspension brands for its line of motorcycles.
On the Brutale 800, I find the combo to be well under-sprung while also grossly over-dampened, which makes for an oddly taught ride that isn’t as confidence-inspring as it should be.
When you couple this to the Brutale’s short wheelbase and steering angle, the effect is a very twitchy machine on the street. On the race track, matters get worse, as the Brutale suffers from ample doses of headshake and rear pumping.
A bit of time with the wrenches helps tame the MV Agusta Brutale 800 out of the box, but you are still limited by what you are working with from the Sachs factory, with our wrenches finding the limits of Sachs’ adjustment envelope. Sometimes “you gotta ride the wiggle,” as Nicky Hayden once told us.
As an alternative, I have been greatly impressed by what Showa has brought to the table in the past couple years, with the company’s balance free forks and shocks being incredibly impressive, adjustable, and easy to work with.
For a premium brand too, MV Agusta certainly couldn’t go wrong by using the offerings from Öhlins.
Other Than That Mrs. Lincoln…
If the above list of issues sounds like nit-picking, then you are correct. The overall package of the MV Agusta Brutale 800 is very strong, though its rarity and brand name make the Brutale 800 often go overlooked when it comes to picking a new street bike for the garage.
This is the sad reality for MV Agusta right now, as the Italian manufacturer has a strong lineup of machines in its arsenal, with only more competent and refined motorcycles left still to come from its factory floor.
Brian Gillen (MV Agusta’s R&D Technical Director) and his team of engineers in Varese, Italy have developed the Brutale 800 a mechanical package so that it is truly impressive, and when you talk to those who have worked deep inside the three-cylinder engine, even more superlatives are used to describe the machine.
From a motorcyclist’s perspective, the Brutale 800’s ride-by-wire throttle has a very connected feeling, and I have already said in my previous ride review that it was one of the best on the market.
Similarly, the up-and-down quickshifter is butter smooth on the street, and only shows issue when on the boil at the race track.
The engine is linear in power, with only a hint of vibration, and while the 110hp on tap does leave me wanting for more, MV Agusta has appropriately geared the Brutale 800 to make it feel peppy at urban speeds. I suspect the Brutale 800RR is the sweet spot for my sport biking tastes, with its 140hp.
Visually, Adrian Morton (MV Agusta’s Design Director) and his design team at the Castiglioni Research Centre (CRC) have wrapped this three-cylinder street bike in an exquisite package, and visually the Brutale 800 is unlike anything else in its segment.
I suspect over the course of time, we will talk about Morton’s projects the same as we do Tamburini’s. MV Agusta’s creations are undeniably beautiful. It is hard not to want the Brutale 800 when looking at it in person.
Leading-edge innovation and breathtaking design are the two pillars that MV Agusta hopes to use as the foundation for its future, and the MV Agusta Brutale 800 is one of the first successes from that strategy.
After of a year’s worth of financial turmoil that has surrounded the boutique Italian marque like a hurricane, at the eye of the storm, there has been the calm the comes in the form of the Brutale 800 and its track-focused sibling, the F3 800.
These bikes are class leaders; they are the benchmark for other motorcycles in their respective categories; and it is time that we took notice of that fact.
Photos: MV Agusta & Milagro