Rebellion against the trappings of contemporary life.
It’s an impulse that crosses cultural boundaries, has stirred individuals throughout history to achieve remarkable things and continues to drive trends today. A long-standing, natural urge, in other words that, if you’re thinking from the vantage point of a marketing executive, can be exploited. With motorcycles in particular, the old-fashioned look might be there but the substance of what actually made them special is gone. However, there are authentic examples of the past living in the present and not as some cheap imitation. Italian manufacturer Moto Guzzi is a prime example.
Guzzi is an anomaly. The oldest, continuously operating motorcycle manufacturer in Europe. Still headquartered on the original grounds where it was founded at Mandello del Lario. Still producing a 90-degree, transverse V-Twin with nearly the same architecture as it had half a decade ago, hand-built in the Italian factory on the banks of Lake Como.
For decades, Guzzi was an immensely innovative, performance-focused brand. It’s rich racing history includes multiple world championship titles and Isle of Man TT victories. Mid-century engineering accomplishments (supercharged engines, the legendary Otto Cilindri V8, world-beating singles and even a reliable, practical scooter in the Galletto 160 to name a few) were well ahead of their time. Guzzi even had a wind tunnel built at the factory in 1950. At the time, it was the only manufacturer in the world with such a testing facility.
Then in the late ‘60’s, Guzzi brought a 90-degree V-Twin to life that would remain a steadfast characteristic of its bikes to come. It’s this platform that eventually became the V7, which in turn grew to become the brand’s most popular mill ever.
The V7 is still a mainstay of the brand’s line, but in 2016 Guzzi introduced the latest evolution of the mill with the 853cc V9.
The V9 Roamer is one of two models released that year, alongside the V9 Bobber. It’s the more relaxed, cruiser-styled of the two, and Guzzi is quick to stress that the Roamer follows in the footsteps of the now-discontinued Nevada 750.
The Nevada, however, was unmistakably fashioned with the traditional cruiser aesthetic in mind whereas the Roamer embodies something different. A relaxed retro standard, rather, with styling similarities to the V35’s of the later ‘70s. The tank shape, dual exhaust layout, handlebar form and seat all derived, to my eye, from that era of Guzzi’s history.
And it’s a head-turner. I’ve had plenty of people want to talk bikes at stops before on other makes and models, but not with such predictable regularity as with the V9 Roamer. The striking display of the V-Twin, the gloss white and red pin striping, the low, broad shape of the fuel tank, the blacked-out elegance of its mechanical innards. They all combine to create a motorcycle unlike most anything on the road aside from one-off customs.
I get asked frequently in these situations how I’ve been able to keep this classic bike in such pristine shape, and see surprised admiration for the motorcycle light their faces when I explain it’s a 2017. It’s a testament to Guzzi’s achievement in creating a machine with authentic classic presence, however it’s performance in action belies its aesthetic.
Traditional, But Not Antiquated
The air and oil cooled transverse V-Twin is architecturally similar to the engines in all Guzzi models, and its character is simultaneously visceral and refined. Fire the Marelli fuel-injected engine to life and it trembles in the ALS steel tube cradle frame, anxious for fuel and open road.
Roll the throttle and the low-end torque becomes immediately apparent, but fuel delivery is polished, making it easy to mete out continuous, manageable power.
The six-speed transmission provides a noticeable mechanical clunk as you move up and down the gearbox, and clutch pull requires a firm hand. But the package is well-calibrated from the progressive engagement on clutch release to the willing nature of the transmission to slip into the next gear as it passes power to the rear wheel through the shaft final drive. The only issue is finding neutral at a stop, which is a bit tricky at times since it requires a fairly delicate touch to not jump directly up to second.
As for performance on the road, power isn’t thrilling, but rather measured, torquey in the lower revs, and well-suited to both slow rolls around town and freeway travel. You can have fun exploring twisites on the V9 Roamer as well, but at a more relaxed pace. Its 19-inch front and 16-inch rear wheel configuration contributes as well to the V9 Roamer’s feeling as a more leisurely machine when the road begins to bend.
Handling is responsive, however does require a bit of concerted forced at the bars. The standard 40mm fork and dual shocks keep the bike composed in most situations, but can be a bit jarring at slower speeds when rolling over pot holes and other surface imperfections.
Bringing the 439-pound bike to a stop is a four-piston Brembo caliper, 320mm disc set-up at the front that offers confidence-inspiring feel and engagement. The rear Brembo caliper is similarly smooth and responsive. ABS is included, too.
Another safety feature is two-level Moto Guzzi Traction Control. This modern convenience is selectable on the fly, and was a welcome addition as I explored backroads this autumn that were often littered with dead leaves. I never noticed any intrusion in either Level 1 or 2, but was thankful for the system in such conditions.
The single, rounded instrument panel is a classic looking piece with analog speedometer and no tach, but the small digital display provides a bevy of additional information. Fuel consumption, gear position, trip meters, odometer, average speed, clock, TC setting and outside temperature. You can easily toggle through all displays via a button on the left switchgear. The panel is a bit small, but the digital display provides a clean display of information and is easy to see from the ride position.
The custom-looking seat is nicely padded and ride position is slightly cruiser-ish. The pegs have been moved back slightly in 2017 but still have a more forward-mount feel. During longer rides on the freeway I would get a bit of pain in my hips as a result of the peg placement, but at lower speeds or while transitioning side to side during easy jaunts in the hills the ergonomics proved comfortable.
Beyond that, the V9 Roamer is easy to manage at the controls and the mechanical character of the machine is endearing. The sound of the exhaust note, the vibration of the engine low in the rev range, the way it smooths out as engine speed increases, the certainty of gear changes all have an at times raw, but primarily well-sorted charm. The additional contemporary refinements from the precision of the fuel-injection system to TC and ABS make for a thoroughly satisfying motorcycle.
At the end of the day the V9 Roamer has unmistakable appeal as a living piece of the history of one of the most storied motorcycle manufacturers in the world. It seamlessly blends nostalgia with modernity, a motorcycle that straddles the line well between the present and the past. For riders that seek an authentic, classic experience that benefits from the precision of today’s manufacturing techniques, the V9 Roamer will undoubtedly please.