It’s about time someone made a high-tech bagger touring bike. Moto Guzzi leads the way with its carbon fiber-clad, and ride-by-wire powered MGX-21 Flying Fortress ($21,990). Assembled in Italy, with Californian influence from famed clay master Miguel Galluzzi, the MGX-21 breathes new life to a popular American segment.
As always, the engine configuration of this air/oil-cooled Guzzi is its signature feature. Sculpted red cylinder heads protrude from either side— a pair of middle fingers to the traditional American V-Twin establishment. Inside finned aluminum walls lurk two oversquare pistons, consuming 1380cc (84 cubic inch) of displacement with each chug. Four valve heads, electronic fuel injection, with ride-by-wire (contrary to a conventional mechanical throttle cables) keep this blacked-out hotrod loaded with steam. Long matte black pipes purge exhaust gasses and extend beneath carbon fiber (and removable) hard cases. Flip the key, press the start button and it’s time to ride.
The 90-degree Twin rumbles to life with a pleasing, albeit less rambunctious note versus the competition. However, pipe harmonics from behind, or as a passerby from the side of the road have a more attention grabbing growl. If it’s too mellow of a tune, MG also offers a Sports Exhaust option (pricing TBD).
Weighing 784 pounds with its 5.4-gallon fuel tank filled to the brim, the Guzzi takes some muscle to lift off the kickstand. You’d think a bike with such liberal use of carbon would be lighter, but then again, look at the car-like size proportion of the engine’s bottom-end and gearbox; Then you’ll understand where the heft comes from. Another gripe, at least for a smaller guy or gal, is the seat junction. While the saddle itself is both supportive and comfortable, (we logged over 400 miles in two days without a hint of discomfort) the seat pan is wide, and a tad tall (29.1 inches off the floor).
Still, the Guzzi has a lot of things going for it in terms of create comfort. There’s the aforementioned seat, and four-position adjustable front brake and clutch levers. The clutch also gets hydraulic assist making it friendlier to use. The ergonomics help ease long days in the saddle and the footpeg placement is a happy medium between a mid-control and the full-forward dresser set-up. Those looking for a more traditional cruiser experience can bolt on MG’s accessory floorboard option ($329.95). An adapter kit is also required.
In typical touring fashion, a four speaker stereo pumps out 50-watts of music, talk, or whatever you want to listen to. Bluetooth connectivity allows for easy smartphone pairing. There’s also an auxiliary USB input, and AM/FM radio functions. Sound quality is pleasant, but it would be nice if max volume was louder. Bass and treble adjustment would be a welcome addition as well.
The audio system is manipulated via a joystick within the switchgear. Although straight forward, it lacks tactility, making it hard to use when riding. Oddly enough, we have a similar complaint with the finicky push-button engine start/stop.
The dash is comprised of a pair of round LCDs inset over swept analog-style gauges. A pleasing visual mix of old and new, that not only looks cool, but functions great too. Speed is displayed both digitally and via the left gauge pod. The right LCD houses engine riding mode and TC settings, in addition to a gear position, air temperature, and a fuel gauge.
The blacked-out handlebar is upright, but not overly so, with a pleasant reach. It looks cool too, appearing similar to a more sport-oriented clip-ons above top clamp set-up. Attached to the fork, the front fairing moves with the direction of the colossal 21-inch front rim (more on that later). The fairing does a pretty good job of blocking air but taller folks will likely notice excessive wind in their brow. Moto Guzzi offers an easy fix however, with its accessory XL Flyscreen ($124.95).
Considering its dirt bike sized front hoop, the Guzzi does take some miles to warm up to. Get some distance under your belt and apprehension is replaced with intrigue to how engineers managed to dial in turning manners so well. At reasonable highway speeds, the Guzzi’s suspension floats across the road and delivers favorable ride quality. However up the pace to near triple digit speeds the chassis gets nervous feeling— especially in crosswinds. MG claims that the front wheel’s carbon cover helps mitigate this… maybe not.
With abundant ground clearance and OE-fitted Dunlop Elite 3 shoes, the chassis offers a degree of athleticism that some baggers miss — making it more amusing to carve sweeping archs on — even if you’re not a typical cruiser customer. The ability to raise, or lower the rear end, and/or to accommodate extra weight in the form of cargo, passenger, or both, via a hydraulic preload adjuster knob is a welcome touch. It would be nice if the shocks had more preload adjustment range on the high end, as well as damping adjustment considering its ‘sporty’ nature.
Storage-wise the genuine carbon fiber hard cases function like they should. The latch mechanism is easy to use and either side can be locked when you’re off the bike. Each side includes Guzzi branded liner can hold a little over one cubic foot of cargo, however they’re not wide enough to swallow a full-face helmet.
The horizontally-mounted mill plays into the experience with a rpm loving powerband. In contrast to the torquey low-end of other larger displacement Twins, the Moto Guzzi performs best when the tach needle sweeps past four grand. Here acceleration is rapid, at least for a mid-size displacement air-cooled cruiser, delivering enough ‘oomph for performance minded rider to get their jollies… at least for a moment.
The ride-by-wire throttle adds another element of sport, replacing the traditional mechanical twist-pull throttle cables with electronics to manipulate the throttle bodies. Moto Guzzi’s sister company, Aprilia, has some of the best ride-by-wire, and traction control electronics in the business, so it’s no wonder MG’s set-up is so dialed out of the box. Cruise control is also standard fare and it performs as advertised.
Engine fueling is downright superb— especially in ‘Veloce’ mode (Italian for fast). This is the sportiest engine map/throttle setting delivering crisp, immediate engine response with every twist of the right grip. There’s also ‘Turismo’ (touring) setting netting slightly less throttle response. Lastly, if you’re treading water, or riding over slippery surfaces, you can select the ‘Piaggio’ (rain) mode which combines reduces engine torque and throttle response making MGX friendlier to command in intimidating situations.
Three-level traction control adjustment (plus off) arguments the power mode settings, keeping both wheels inline. Though considering the FF’s intended application (cruising), we never really felt the system intervene, other than in the gravel. Still, it’s nice to know that it’s a standard feature.
As expected there is some vibration through the controls but its frequency didn’t get annoying. Credit goes to the elastic kinematic engine mounting technology (introduced in ’13 with the California 1400). The setup removes negative vibes, including a slight degree of MG’s classic engine torque rotation at idle, yet it doesn’t detract from the overall experience— allowing Moto Guzzi’s shake, rattle, and roll to live on, in a more refined way.
Each of the six transmission cogs are spaced optimally keeping the eagle-branded bike moving forward. The action of the shift is equally pleasing, feeling secure with every gear exchange. Though, it sure would be nice if MG included a handy quickshifter which theoretically, would make the FF accelerate harder. Lastly, a shaft final drive puts power to the back 16-inch tire, and while it perfumed well, overall we prefer the more intimate feel of a belt-drive for this sort of application.
Wimpy brakes are typically the weak link in this segment. Not with the FF. The Brembo sourced components provide ample stopping power along with pleasing lever feel. A set of glowing red four-piston calipers radially pinch large 320mm diameter discs, while a twin-piston Brembo grips the 280mm back disc. Stainless-steel lines complete the set-up. Front and rear brake input is independent of one another, a good thing in our book. ABS augments both ends ensuring wheels never lock-up during braking. The ability to move the brake lever closer, or away from the handlebar, adds to their effectiveness.
Following years of stagnancy, there’s finally a new player in the bagger scene. Thankfully, it’s appeal is more than skin deep. Sport-ish attitude paired with modern tech and proper fit-and-finish make this head turner a machine you’re going to enjoy riding— even more than making friends jealous when their drooling over it.