Any sport-touring motorcycle is going to fit along a sliding scale of sportiness vs. touring capabilities. At one end of the spectrum would be a sporty bike with bags and razor-sharp handling that could acquit itself well along a winding road. However, its rider may arrive at his or her destination frazzled by wind, vibration and a cramped seating position, and frustrated by the lack of luggage capacity. At the other end of this spectrum would live the luxury sport tourer with its saddlebags, adjustable windscreen and high-technology touches such as an anti-lock braking system (ABS) that add comfort and convenience at the expense of handling and lightness. Somewhere along this scale is your ideal sport tourer.
Which leads us to the Moto Guzzi Norge 1200 and BMW R1200RT. The RT has been around for several years, and the Norge was introduced for 2007. Our own Clement Salvadori tested the 2007 Norge 1200 a year ago, and since then our readers have been clamoring for a comparison with this high-tech BMW. Well, your clamor has been answered!
2008 BMW R1200RT
Since BMW introduced its first RT model back in 1979, that designation has come to represent sport tourers equipped with a full fairing, tall windscreen and removable saddlebags. When the air/oil-cooled R1100 series of horizontally opposed fuel-injected twins was introduced for 1994, they carried an adjustable seat, ABS, Telelever fork and Paralever driveshaft; when the RT version appeared for ’96 it retained all those features and added an electrically adjustable windscreen and removable, hard-sided saddlebags. Its latest iteration, the R1200RT, remains an air/oil-cooled, horizontally opposed twin that now displaces 1,170cc through a bore and stroke of 101.0 x 73.0mm. With its 12.0:1 compression ratio it requires premium fuel, and has four valves per cylinder.
2008 Moto Guzzi Norge 1200
Dispel any notions you may have of Moto Guzzis as those long, black, simple, stodgy motorcycles of old with their big, 90-degree air-cooled cylinders jutting to the sides, chugga-chugga. We tested the Guzzi Griso 1100 in our March 2007 issue and found it sporty and exhilarating. And should you not consider it a fair fight to compare a Guzzi with a high-tech BMW, consider that the Norge also features ABS, fuel injection and a single-sided swingarm called the Compact Reactive Shaft Drive (abbreviated as “CARC” in Italian) that, like BMW’s Paralever, effectively cancels out the jacking action of the driveshaft. Though the Norge may have a conventional fork it nevertheless features an electrically adjustable windscreen and heated grips. Both of these two-cylinder sport tourers have similar engine displacements, so it’s a fair fight, and we were enthused about traveling on them.
On both bikes the ignition is keyed to the bags, and the BMW’s saddlebags open easily. Twist the key, push down and a little lever pops up; lift it to open the bag. These side-opening bags have simple, boxlike contours without convolutions, hold a large full-face helmet and will easily accommodate a luggage bag dropped inside.
The Guzzi’s bags require that you first open a flip latch at their trailing edges, turn the key and undo another flip latch at the top. Inside, the bags are large and become deeper to the rear, but the handle intrudes into their central portion from the top so it’s more difficult to drop in a liner bag. Still, they hold a lot including a large full-face helmet.
For any heavy two-up traveling you’ll need a luggage rack as the rear portion of the seat will be occupied by your passenger. Unfortunately the Guzzi has no rack, but the BMW comes equipped with a large and useful built-in unit that will hold a duffel with camping gear or whatever.
A tankbag is almost a requirement for a sport tourer, and both bikes will easily accommodate a strap-on version. Neither has a steel fuel tank, so a magnetic tankbag won’t work. The BMW comes with a tank-top rack to which a BMW bag can be easily latched; the Guzzi’s broad tank will easily accommodate whatever strap-on tankbag you choose. The BMW has a deep, narrow locking pocket in the fairing that’s intended for the optional radio that (hold your breath) sells for $1,490 and you’ll need the $405 radio prep kit; our test bike was not so equipped.
On the Road
Climb aboard the BMW and notice that it’s broad in the beam, and the kickup at that back of its wide seat holds the rider in place relatively upright. Seat height is 32.2 inches, but it has a 1-inch lower setting. Push the starter button and its BMS-K engine management system with twin fuel injectors automatically adjusts to conditions and allows it to start easily warm or cold; it exhales through a three-way catalytic converter with oxygen sensor. The fuel tank (which holds 7.1 gallons) and fairing are wide, as is its windscreen, and with the mirrors way out to the sides the fully gassed, 613-pound bike gives the impression that it’s heavy, almost ungainly. Once underway, however, it takes on a compactness and solidity that make it feel all of a piece. Shifting the six-speed transmission is low-effort, clutch effort is light, and both levers are furnished with adjustment wheels. Under acceleration the rider feels a slight vibration in the seat and grips, and the muted engine has a determined purr.
The button near the left handgrip rolls the BMW’s windscreen up or down over a wide range of adjustment, from wind in your face to fully over your head. Wind protection, coupled with the fairing and wide mirrors, is superlative.
The Moto Guzzi is powered by an air-cooled, 90-degree V-twin engine mounted across the frame, and it has two valves per cylinder. Its bore and stroke of 95.0 x 81.2mm result in a displacement of 1,151cc, and with a compression ratio of 9.8:1 the Norge also requires premium fuel. It also starts easily, thanks to its twin 45mm Magneti Marelli throttle-body injectors and twin-spark ignition. You’ll feel a decided sideways lope under idle, and hear the distinctive rattle of its dry clutch. Shifting requires slightly more effort than on the BMW, and its levers are also adjustable.
The Norge has a high, firm and narrow seat with a height of 31.5 inches; the rider feels more perched upon it while the BMW riders feels more into the bike. The Guzzi’s windscreen is much narrower, and its range of electrical adjustment much less than the BMW’s. In the up position it largely keeps the wind off the rider’s torso, but leaves the hands and head exposed. Its two ‘screen controls are positioned with the “up” button near the right grip and the “down” near the left. It’s difficult to utilize the former while keeping a steady hand on the throttle, so you may wish to operate both with your left hand. The heated handgrips on our Norge worked intermittently.
Run it up through the gears and the Guzzi’s engine is very smooth, with only a slight vibration in the seat and grips. It has a nice, throaty sound, but an inordinate amount of rotation is required to actuate the throttle; the wire for the heated grip also hangs down like an afterthought. Shifting is low-effort but with a long throw. I originally found it difficult to get my boot under the Guzzi’s shift lever, but with a wrench was able to easily reposition the lever on its splined shaft. A red light on the dash flickers when the engine is approaching its rev limiter, alerting the rider to shift. When rolling off the gas the Guzzi pops and backfires annoyingly, and also has a catalytic converter.
Because it induces more of a torso bend and a longer reach to the grips, the Guzzi’s seating position feels sportier. I’m 6 feet tall, but did not experience the common Guzzi rider complaint of knees meeting cylinders. The Guzzi has quicker steering, drops very easily into turns and has a sportier feel than the RT. Its single rear shock offers easy stepless damping adjustment, but I found its spring preload adjustment knob difficult to access. Up front the Guzzi offers fork spring preload adjustments, but I wished for damping controls as the fork bobbed around more than I wished during spirited riding.
In many ways the BMW is more subdued and understated, yet gets the job done with technology. The star of its front suspension is the Telelever, a wishbone arrangement that pivots off the front of the engine housing and attaches to a brace between the fork legs. It feeds braking inputs forward rather than down into the fork legs so that the suspension hardly compresses under heavy braking, thus leaving more suspension travel to deal with bumps. As a result the BMW fork is rather isolating, the rider loses some road feel, yet once acclimated the BMW rider will have no problem handling a mountain road and could likely ride the bike as quickly as he or she could the Guzzi. Both bikes roll on Metzeler Roadtec Z6 radial tires.
Once at the Jett Tuning Dynojet dynamometer, the largest disparity between the two bikes became a matter of record. While the Norge manages to crank out a respectable 73 peak horsepower and 61 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel, the RT blows its ‘bags off with a tick over 100 horsepower and 77 lb-ft. With such a small weight difference between them, this power and torque advantage is clearly noticeable in sport and two-up riding, though the Norge’s output will still satisfy most riders who don’t push its load capacity to the limit on every ride.
We began our two-day ride by hooking into our favorite mountain road when…graunch…something on the Guzzi touched down in a left-hander. A couple miles later… graunch…the bike grounded in a right-hander. I pulled over and noticed how very low the fully exposed centerstand hangs. Grind marks were clearly visible on both sides of the stand, there had been no warning before it touched, and pushing too far against it would soon begin to lever the tires off the pavement. It was not practical to remove the centerstand on this trip, so we just had to live with it till our return.
The BMW’s dual front disc brakes with their four-piston fixed calipers are linked to the dual-piston single rear disc, so that applying the front brakes also actuates the rear, but not vice-versa. The anti-lock system performed flawlessly. The Moto Guzzi’s triple-disc brakes are actuated by a pair of four-piston calipers up front, and a single two-piston rear. Its ABS system also performed flawlessly, is not linked, and there’s a handy button on the fairing to deactivate the ABS for riding on gravel surfaces.
Out on the road the BMW is all smoothness and precision, with the controls working just so and everything muted and obviously fussed over. While BMW has banished the surging of the early R1100 Oilheads, the current model is still abrupt on/off throttle. The bike feels heavy in the front, heavier when maneuvering it around, yet we were astounded to find that the BMW is actually lighter than the Guzzi by 2 pounds.
I’ve heard it said that golf is a good walk spoiled by a little white ball. In that vein the Moto Guzzi Norge is a wonderful sport tourer spoiled by a low-hanging centerstand. But of course it’s not actually “spoiled” as the joke goes, because if a suspension adjustment doesn’t bring satisfaction the centerstand is easily removed with the help of a 24mm wrench and a properly sized Allen wrench. The piece-o’-pipe sidestand is plenty stout enough by itself. Sans centerstand I took it up my favorite road again: Left, right, harder, faster, again, and nothing scraped! I was able to explore the Goose’s power and handling, and the Norge felt like an entirely different motorcycle. Note, however, that a centerstand is especially useful for when performing maintenance, or patching or repairing a tire. You can still plug a puncture with the bike on the sidestand, though.
Most sport tourers offer good fuel capacity, and with its six-gallon tank and 42.6 mpg the Norge has a range of more than 250 miles. The RT carries 7.1 gallons and, on our two-day ride, turned every gallon into 40.7 miles; with a lighter hand on the throttle the Beemer’s range could probably touch 300 miles. Each illuminates a low-fuel warning light as the supply sinks to its last gallon.
In base trim the Guzzi sells for $15,590, and the RT for $16,800. However, our test RT was equipped with an accessory package that included a chromed muffler, Electronic Suspension Adjustment (ESA), heated seats and heated grips with high and low settings, cruise control, on-board computer, white turn indicators and a second accessory socket–the package added $1,890 to the price tag for a total of $18,690. While a chromed muffler and clear signal lenses don’t float my boat, the two-position heated seats and grips are major comfort items, and cruise control is a big help on those droning freeway rides. The ESA was the star performer as, with the push of a button on the handlebar the bike’s suspension can be set to the Normal, Comfort or Sport damping settings on the fly. Each setting comes into play immediately as the system changes damping rates, and the rider can feel the differences right away. Spring preload can also be changed with a button push, but must be done stopped and in neutral with the engine running.
The Guzzi is available in the Graphite Black shown, or Silver, or Red. The BMW buyer has a choice of Biarritz Blue Metallic, Titan Silver Metallic or the Sand Beige Metallic shown.
On our sliding scale the Guzzi is more toward the sporting side in terms of its raw nature, as the rider feels more of the wind and road, and is more in touch (for good or ill) with what the bike is doing. However, it still delivers good luggage capacity and acceptable wind protection–just less of it. The BMW, by contrast, goes beyond the idea of “touring” all the way to luxury with its wider windscreen that has a much greater range of travel, and overall better wind protection. The Beemer’s saddlebags are easier to access and pack, and that big luggage rack seals the deal. Add the optional heated seat and grips, and its sophisticated ESA suspension that wonderfully blends plushness with control, and the BMW coddles the rider to handily win the comfort/convenience contest. Of course, it will cost you $3,100 more.
These bikes are not at opposite ends of the sport/touring spectrum, but rather good compromises as the Guzzi offers more sport while delivering good comfort and luggage capacity, and the BMW lives way at the luxury touring end in terms of coddling and amenities, though it does not sacrifice much in terms of sport as it’s still light, agile and powerful. Its question really is, “How much coddling do you want with your sport touring?”