A slick Italian mile-muncher

 

MOTO GUZZI NORGE:Moto Guzzi is taking on the touring market, but in its own inimitable Italian style, writes Tom Robert

I CLIMBED STRAIGHT off the Aprilia RSV1000R I was testing last week and on to the Norge, and felt like Alice stepping into Wonderland.

Well, apart from the blue dress and the white pinafore, since I save those for Saturday nights in the bedroom.

What I mean is the sense of space, and the amazement of being able to sit up straight and see things in the rear-view mirrors other than my elbows.

Then there is the comfort and the performance, which we’ll get to in a minute, after I tell you why an Italian company has given its big, stylish tourer a disturbingly Scandinavian moniker.

It is in honour of an epic ride in the 1930s from the Guzzi factory in Mandello del Lario to Lapland to try out its first shaft drive and new swingarm design. It performed so well over the four weeks of the trip that the chaps back home decided to christen the tourer the Norge.

Roll on 70 years and the reintroduction of the Norge to capitalise on the market for big, comfortable mile-munchers, and I’d have no problem setting out from Italy to the frozen north on a bike that is infinitely user-friendly from the moment you walk up to it, admiring the stylish looks that make me like Guzzis the more I see them.

Climb on board, and you feel immediately as if you belong there, with the only fault the fact that the understated white-on-black analogue speedo and tachometer look a trifle dated in an era when even the displays from that most British of companies, Triumph, consist of more flashing lights, bells and whistles than New Year’s Eve in a Shanghai bordello. Not that I would know, of course.

But the best is yet to come, as you press the magic button and unleash the unmistakable, unforgettable burble of a V-twin, mitigated only slightly by a muffled clunk that turned out to be coming from the single-plate clutch, which vanished as soon as I pulled the lever.

Ride off down the open road and it becomes immediately obvious that Moto Guzzi has repeated a trick: the Stelvio Moto Guzzi produced a more stylish, better handling and significantly cheaper big trailie alternative to the BMW GS1200; in the same vein, the Norge is designed to take on more expensive rivals, such as Beemer’s R1200RT and K1200GT, Harley’s brilliant and iconic but pricey Road King, Honda’s timeless ST1300 Pan European and Kawasaki’s excellent but overlooked GTR 1400.

Before the Piaggio takeover, this affordability came at the price of dodgy electrics, finish and dealer back-up, but not any longer; you now get Italian style and cachet with as much security as anything from Germany or Japan.

The ride quality is outstanding, swallowing up any road surface you can throw at it and cornering smoothly and quickly enough to satisfy anyone, except maybe a Ducati rider who’s been drinking black coffee at the Ace Cafe all morning.

The steering and suspension are neutral and well balanced, and the engine is at its most potent between about 4,000 and 6,000 revs, which is fine for most overtaking purposes. If pushed harder, it is entirely happy to wind up to 8,000 or more with a satisfyingly angry growl.

So much so, in fact, that when I stepped off the Norge at the end of exactly the same run I’d done on the Aprilia, a glance at my watch confirmed that it had actually been quicker, not to mention smoother and more comfortable.

If you are loaded to the gunwales and heading for the horizon, the range works out at more than 400km, which should be enough to get you across the Atacama Desert without jerry cans.

After all, they’d only spoil the look of the bike, which, as we all know, especially in Italy, is the most important thing.

Factfile

Engine: 1,151cc V-twin four-stroke with four valves, producing 95bhp at 7,500rpm and 74lb ft of torque at 5,800rpm

Transmission: six-speed gearbox, single-plate dry clutch, shaft final drive

Performance: top speed 201km/h, average fuel consumption 77 km/g

Dry weight: 246kg

Fuel capacity: 23 litres with four-litre reserve

Price: €13,500

Test bike: £9,299 from RR Motorcycles, Lisburn,

Northern Ireland, 028-92666033, www.rrmotorcyclesni.com.