2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress – First Ride Review

The new-for-2017 MGX-21 Flying Fortress is Moto Guzzi’s bold entry into the middleweight bagger segment. (Photography by Kevin Wing)
The new-for-2017 MGX-21 Flying Fortress is Moto Guzzi’s bold entry into the middleweight bagger segment. (Photography by Kevin Wing)

An endless crackling of unmuffled pipes fills the air, and the bitter stench of abused clutches is unmistakable. If it’s early August in the Black Hills of South Dakota, then this must be Sturgis—and the onslaught of tens of thousands of baggers into this most American of bike rallies.

This year, there’s a new player vying for a place in that V-twin-biased motorcycle segment—Moto Guzzi is officially appearing for the first time at the 76th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. And the Italians have come to the party with a secret weapon: the new MGX-21 Flying Fortress bagger.

The all-black treatment on the new Moto Guzzi MGX-21 includes carbon fiber panels on the tank and saddlebags. Thank goodness for the bright pops of red on the cylinder heads and brake calipers.
The all-black treatment on the new Moto Guzzi MGX-21 includes carbon fiber panels on the tank and saddlebags. Thank goodness for the bright pops of red on the cylinder heads and brake calipers.

Crashing the seemingly monolithic North American cruiser market can seem like a Sisyphean task to outsiders, but Guzzi made significant inroads with its excellent California series, introduced in 2013. Then, at the 2014 EICMA show, Moto Guzzi rolled out a real eye catcher, the concept MGX-21. It was big, black and ostentatious, and people loved it, but nobody—including Moto Guzzi designers—thought it would ever see the light of a production line.

Read our Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring road test review

Two years and many focus groups later, the new-for-2017 Flying Fortress is alive and well and in production (and in dealers now). The Moto Guzzi MGX-21 is powered by the same 90-degree transverse-mounted engine seen in the California 1400, with 104mm bore and 81.2mm stroke, keeping the 90-degree V-twin’s displacement at 1,380cc. Guzzi claims 95 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 89 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm, tamed by a throttle-by-wire system with three modes, as well as switchable traction control, ABS and electronic cruise control. The cylinder heads jut out from the sides, while the crankshaft runs lengthwise, so you still get that familiar crankshaft rotation rocking the chassis at stops, with the bike leaning right as you throttle up, and the powerful pulses of the two big pistons reminding you they’re lurking just up front.

Unlike the reverence for tradition on the California and Eldorado, the MGX-21 embraces a sleek and head-turning modern aesthetic, backing it up with grunt and tech.
Unlike the reverence for tradition on the California and Eldorado, the MGX-21 embraces a sleek and head-turning modern aesthetic, backing it up with grunt and tech.

You’ll also find Guzzi’s unique “elastokinematic” engine mounting system, the better to quell the MGX-21’s requisite vibrations when on the throttle. The new blacked-out exhaust system is slightly different, with longer silencers to meet tighter new EU4 standards, yet it still puts out an impressive bark.

Surprisingly, the production model otherwise stays fairly true to the concept, with extensive carbon fiber bits mostly in the form of covers on the saddlebags and tank panels, front fender and case covers. Designers elected to ditch the solid-disc front wheel and flesh out the previously enclosed rear section, which morphed into something more practical: saddlebags. True, they’re super-stylish, rigid saddlebags, but they provide 58 liters of functional cargo space nonetheless. (They’re also removable, if you like). The MGX-21 also gained a 50-watt AM/FM audio system with smartphone/USB/SD inputs, because, say Guzzi reps, that’s what many consumers around the country expressed great interest in.

Weight-saving carbon fiber on a bagger? Well, yes, but they’re really just stylish covers. The two-piece seat sports a dished rider portion at 29.1 inches, with a removable passenger section.
Weight-saving carbon fiber on a bagger? Well, yes, but they’re really just stylish covers. The two-piece seat sports a dished rider portion at 29.1 inches, with a removable passenger section.

To hear chief designer Miguel Galuzzi tell it, the MGX was always meant to be the first of the bikes in the California series. “When we were thinking of the California platform, it was always supposed to be many different bikes. The California was a traditional style and design. With the MGX, it really let us try something new and different.”

Just how different? Well, the overall silhouette of the MGX doesn’t look even remotely familiar, with its sleek sculpted lines (high in front, low in back) and carbon-fiber components. Even the alloy front wheel is covered with lenticular carbon covers. Out front is a distinctive batwing-style fairing with a short screen that bears absolutely no resemblance to a Street Glide. There’s also a visually slick headlight cluster using bright LED daytime-running-light technology.

Those bright red Brembos not only look slick, but supply prodigious stopping power with 320mm front discs and radial 4-piston calipers. ABS and multi-mode traction control come standard.
Those bright red Brembos not only look slick, but supply prodigious stopping power with 320mm front discs and radial 4-piston calipers. ABS and multi-mode traction control come standard.
The 21-inch front wheel necessitates use of a new Guzzi invention—a steering assist damper, tucked under the fairing. The spring-loaded arm acts on the mass of the wheel, reducing dreaded wheel flop.
The 21-inch front wheel necessitates use of a new Guzzi invention—a steering assist damper, tucked under the fairing. The spring-loaded arm acts on the mass of the wheel, reducing dreaded wheel flop.

There’s no escaping that big 21-inch front wheel, so Guzzi employed some technological wizardry in the form of a spring-loaded damper located behind the fork to help counterbalance the inevitable fork flop that comes from carrying all that extra weight. Finally, Guzzi tweaked the frame with beefier steel tubes and reinforced it out back to better suit the long-legged intent of the MGX-21.

Also distinct from its bagged American brethren is the lack of floorboards; the MGX sports midmount pegs for a more commanding seating position and greater lean angle. In fact, for such an extreme-looking machine, I found the Fortress’ riding position surprisingly comfortable. Stretch a bit to reach the somewhat high handlebars, and settle onto the slightly forward footpegs and dished saddle for a neutral seating position that’s comfortable for up to an hour or so. The two-piece saddle has a separate passenger pillion that’s easily removed, too.

This bike isn’t just about pumping out tunes and hauling luggage. Even with all the electronic doodads, performance is a hoot on the MGX-21. True, hustling the new Moto Guzzi around Mount Rushmore’s Black Hills isn’t a point-and-shoot affair at first. The initial turns force you to confront the elephant along for the ride—that 21-inch front wheel—and you’ll need an extra helping of muscle to set the Flying Fortress onto its first line. Then just roll on the throttle and the prodigious torque easily pulls bike and rider through the tight pigtails on Iron Mountain Road, all that weight melting away. On the straights of Interstate 90, it was easy to open it up, with throttle response immediate (but not snappy) and very linear. The MGX somehow feels more midrange-biased than other Californias I’ve ridden, but the Magneti-Marelli electronically controlled fueling is predictable and smooth, even in Veloce (Sport) mode, which I used on several spirited sections. Even the cruise control, which uses a single button and single indicator, is simple elegance. Press the button and hold for on or off, then press the same button to set it. That’s all there is to it.

Midmount footpegs, generous cornering clearance and a responsive chassis make this bagger a serious corner carver.
Midmount footpegs, generous cornering clearance and a responsive chassis make this bagger a serious corner carver.

The steel-tubed chassis soaks up road warts without complaint, the beefy 45mm fork offering 4.2 inches of travel and preload-adjustable shock out back providing 3 inches of give. Guzzi engineers nailed the settings out of the box, with a nice balance of comfort and performance. The slick-shifting 6-speed transmission is fairly smooth and engages easily, and the more you ride this new bagger, the more your confidence grows and the more fun your cruise becomes. Lean angle is far more generous than you’d expect, especially compared to the competition. Couple that with superior braking performance from the dual front discs and radial-mounted four-piston Brembo calipers with ABS, and after about 20 minutes, any performance anxiety I might have had completely vanished.

But even with clean lines and a couple of choice carbon fiber bits, any motorcycle called the Flying Fortress shouldn’t be expected to be altogether nimble, and on that count, the MGX-21 doesn’t disappoint. This is a bomber of a bike, heavy off the sidestand, 40 inches wide and tipping the scale at 752 pounds, and it can be a handful at parking lot speeds, especially at the front end.

The MGX-21's distinctive batwing-style fairing and carbon-fiber covers give it a unique, menacing appearance.
The MGX-21’s distinctive batwing-style fairing and carbon-fiber covers give it a unique, menacing appearance.

There’s no denying, however, that Guzzi’s new Flying Fortress is a unique entry into an established category. Its visual presence is arresting, and fit and finish are excellent, but what really makes this bagger twin stand out is its better-than-expected fun factor.

Among the available accessories Guzzi announced, add-ons include the Flyscreen XL, which offers better wind protection, and a Sports Exhaust, which gives the exhaust a throatier bark. You can also pimp your ride with rider floorboards, cylinder head protection, a rear rack and various accessory seats.

Guzzi’s electronic rider aids carry over from the previous California models, though things are a bit more refined this time, as with the single-button cruise control. Still there’s somewhat of a learning curve when first setting out.
Guzzi’s electronic rider aids carry over from the previous California models, though things are a bit more refined this time, as with the single-button cruise control. Still there’s somewhat of a learning curve when first setting out.

At $21,990 the MGX-21 isn’t cheap, but it’s in line with most American V-twin baggers. And it’s got arguably better handling, with a smoother transmission and, most definitely, grippier brakes. This is a case where Guzzi’s traditional charm is likely to be overshadowed by useful electronics, and a profile that’s second to none on the boulevard. But if you don’t want a me-too bike, that’s OK, right?

Can modern electronics and bold styling help Moto Guzzi get a bigger toehold in the popular bagger segment?
Can modern electronics and bold styling help Moto Guzzi get a larger foothold in the popular bagger segment?

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Specs
Base Price: $21,990
Website: motoguzzi-us.com
Engine Type: Air and oil-cooled, transverse 90-degree V-twin, 4 valves per cyl.
Displacement: 1,380cc
Bore x Stroke: 104.0 x 81.2mm
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated dry clutch
Final Drive: Shaft
Wheelbase: 66.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 32 degrees/7.4 in.
Seat Height: 29.1 in.
Claimed Wet Weight: 752 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.4 gals.
MPG: NA

29 COMMENTS

  1. What the article seems to be saying is, like a certain other popular brand that they are competing against in the market, the looks are far more important than the actual performance of the bike. (21 inch front wheel)
    Sorry if the article actually was saying something else, but I got lost at the description of heavy front wheel needing a dampener, then requiring lots of effort into a turn.
    Seeing a bike set up for looks before function is like seeing a beautiful woman at a slight distance, getting closer and realizing she has rotted teeth, bad body odor and is dumb as a fence post.

    • I purchased a California 1400 Touring and it’s without a doubt the best bike I’ve ever owned. I’ve had 3 HD’s with the last being a full dress Road Glide and numerous others from Japanese manufacturers. They all had their good points points but after not having a bike for a number of years I am enamoured by the California Touring. Its smooth, fast and so far rock solid in regard to reliability…

  2. I really think the cylinders cutting into the gas tank gives the big Guzzis a weird look. The smaller Guzzis look great but are poor performers and their sales figures prove it. Guzzis in the US sell primarily to riders that are Guzzi fanatics and that’s too bad as the engine layout is really cool. Perhaps they will someday get rid of the Heron head design and step into the 21st century.

    • Brad,

      Guzzi had nearly tripled its sales figures since 2010 and leading the way is the lowly V7 models that you said were poor performers with poor sales figures…

      Also, cut out fuel tanks have been used by various manufacturers including Harley Davidson and Excelsior Henderson going back decades so it’s not necessarily unheard of design element. Of course we all have our opinions on things and I happen to like it as it’s different than every other motorcycle currently on the road.

      Also, I’m not a long time Guzzi fanatic, I’ve had various models from a half dozen manufacturers including a Harley Tour Glide and 2 Super Glides.

      After all’s said and done, I do like the Guzzi the best. The Tour Glide rattled and shook even with the rubber mounts and the engine pinged when going down hill. I never did get that straightened out before I sold it.

      The Super Glides were OK but the maintenance was a pain, always needed valve jobs. I got so proficient at it I could pull the heads off on the side of the highway and get it to a local machine job and be on my way in a few days.

      I’m new to the Guzzi and I’ve found it to be reliable so far but a little quirky, I can live with quirky as long as nothing serious happens that might leave me stranded, then my opinion would most definitely change.

      I have to also say I just finished a 4200 mile trip from Seattle to New England without a hiccup from the Guzzi. I experienced driving rain, snow, temps in the 30’s to over a hundred degrees in Death Valley and the Guzzi just soldiered on without complaints. I could not imagine doing that on one of my old Harleys.

      So for now, I really like it and that’s coming from a once dyed in the wool Harley Davidson owner.

      • While I was working for Guzzi as a demo ride leader during Sturgis I visited with a man from the Seattle area who had ridden there on his 2014 California 1400 Touring. He had close to 35,000 miles on it. I asked if he’d had any issues and he proudly reported “None!” I also visited with one of the Piaggio Group guys and he also said that the 1400 big blocks had been very reliable since their intro a few years ago. I’m sure that expanding the dealer network would also add to riders’ confidence factor when considering a purchase of these great bikes. Even Indian and Victory struggle with that issue to some degree.

  3. I helped lead the Moto Guzzi demo rides at the Sturgis Rally last week. When I first rode the MGX-21 I was really impressed with its power and handling. Dozens of rides up and down Vanocker Canyon the next eight days convinced me that this was the best bagger bike that I’ve ever ridden. (and I’ve ridden many) Remarks and comments from demo riders throughout the week were overwhelmingly positive. Miguel Galuzzi and his team should be commended on presenting this motorcycle for its world wide introduction at the biggest cruiser rally in existence and I believe that many of us big bike riders are more than ready for something with this kind of flair and performance. I liked it a lot.

          • Can you come up with a more clever one? You can’t face the fact that people can dislike something that you evidently have a passion for. I am 52-years old, not some kid that has nothing better to do. I like the design of the Moto Guzzi’s but it is lacking a descent engine. That is all I am saying.

          • OK, one last comment. What I do know is that I’ve ridden these big block 1400 Guzzis extensively and not only is this a decent motor it is exactly what this bike calls for. It has loads of torque in a broad powerband, is very smooth at speed, and sounds wonderful. Usually, motorcyclists find these attributes endearing, and as a motorcyclist who has almost ten years on you, not only am I passionate about this motor, I have had enough experiences with other drive lines of supposed more “advanced” design that an engine that works this well that is also designed with simplicity is preferable to me and a lot of other riders.

        • Never was designed for an airplane Dave. That was a different motor. If they change the V like the other cruisers then why would anyone buy one? If they come up with an inline four again why would anyone buy one? The motor is what makes them Guzzi and it works just fine for most of us. What did different motors do for Harley?

          • I would have guess Dave at 18-19 with his comments. Certainly not 52…..
            I have never riden a Guzzi yet but the MGX-21 has really caught my eye. I love the engine sticking out the sides. Its bold and different.

    • Dave,

      That relic of an engine runs better than any of my three Harley Davidson V-Twins that I’ve owned… Its smooth, powerful and completely reliable. And as a matter of fact heat is less of an issue on that big twin than sitting on the rear cylinder of an American V-Twin.

  4. Man! Another Guzzi on the wish list. Every Guzzi I have ever thrown a leg over fits like it was designed for me but, I have never been able to ride one home…….One of these days…

  5. as a previous MG owner i swore i would never buy another one because it was the most unreliable bike i have ever had with almost all components replaced including the engine casing ,piston rings,rear end ,other …and that was a 2002 mg lemans teni.
    but after all that was the most satisfying bike i ever had .
    now THIS BIKE I MAY BUY . I THINK THAT MAYBE THEY HAVE RESOLVED THEIR ISSUES ….???

    also FYI the mg engine was the first engine used in the first batch of drones used by the usa in the war.

  6. +After 50 plus years of riding I bought a Guzzi and Guzzi’s it will be from here on out. I’ve always driven Triumphs other than a Kaw and Yamaha thrown in. Was gonna keep my last Triumph but after not riding it for about a year I sold it. Love the Guzzi for it’s comfort and handling but the strong point is the engine. Couldn’t belief how much cooler during warm weather than an liquid cooled Triumph. I’ve not had a Harley, even with performance work done on the engine, that’s been able to keep up with my 1100 cc California. Maybe I’m old school but I love bikes with character and Guzzi’s have gobs of it. Are there better bikes, I suppose, but not for me. Offer me a new bike of any brand and I wouldn’t hesitate to make it the 1400 California. I doubt it would be the MGX-21 for me but it would be the 1400 Cal or Eldorado. So may not like the configuration but I’ll stay with a Vee the way it was meant to be.

  7. David’s an idiot…pretty plain to me. That 1400cc engine is a push-rod twin…with gobs of power and torque that is available at 3K rpm’s…it’s more than enough. It’s also easy to work on, a big plus for most motorcyclists that I encounter. Galuzzi hit it out of the park with this bike…and it’ll run circles around any Harley, Indian or Victory bagger offering. The fact that the bike looks so damned good, (beauty in the eyes of the beholder?), is just icing.

    • The only idiot is the one who starts with name calling like yourself. That is good power for a Hardley, but for a twin cylinder bike Victory, Indian, and Triumph, all have more powerful twins with reliability to go with it.

    • Earlier this year I purchased my first Moto Guzzi from Moto International in Seattle – a California 1400 Touring. After putting on 600 miles for it’s breakin service I promptly drove it across country to Rhode Island a whopping 4,500 miles.

      It ran flawlessly – through steady rain in the Great Northwest, snow in the Sierra’s, scorching heat in Death Valley, and that was all in the first couple of days. The rest of the trip was pretty much uneventful but the Guzzi ran better than I could have ever hoped. I planned for the worst with tool kits, tire repair kits, even a small compressor and countless other items that I thought might come in handy.

      The good part was nothing was needed, the bike fired up and ran flawlessly day after day, not so much as a rough idle, well, except at a red light as the engine rattles a bit like a Harley which it’s not at all bothersome. Although, I did read that Guzzi engineers worked out the engine movement at idle with the MGX.

      If you like the design and want something a little different, no need to worry about the bike’s reliability…

      Also, I was approached numerous times along the way usually by older guys (my age) telling me about the Guzzi’s they owned in their younger days and how reliable they were. One gentleman and his wife at the Tail of the Dragon stated he has 145,000 on his vintage California and it’s never been to the dealer yet…

      Tires and a clutch is all it needed, along with the usual oil changes…

  8. I have owned nearly every brand of motorcycle and they range from 1930’s to modern.
    Likewise I own Harley’s and Guzzi’s. Currently I have three HD’s including a year old 117 CI Street Glide CVO.
    I am anxiously waiting for the MGX-21 after riding the California and have to say that the only advantage I can see with the Harley is the name. Granted the 117 CI engine has a hell of a lot better f power but when comparing a standard CVO 110 to the Guzzi, I prefer the Guzzi.
    One has to remember that the Guzzi though having an engine that looks like a more archaic model, is still a highly refined power plant and comparing it to a Harley is akin to comparing a Suzuki GPZ 1000 to an MV Augusta. F4.
    Both are great but one is refined where the other is exciting but run of the mill.
    Same with my cars, I have a Shelby Super Snake but love Ferrari’s.
    I suppose for some, only a Harley will sate their two wheeled appetites and again, I own Harley’s.
    Guess if I were to ride one bike, I’d go with refined, reliable and unique.
    Vice la difference!

    • Renzo, I concur. on your assessment and the comparison of the new MGX21 and the HD CVO .. I too was a long time Harley owner but when it came time for a new ride without hesitation I purchased the California Touring..

      I promptly drove the Guzzi across the US west to east, the total trip ended up being almost 5000 miles. The bike needed absolutely nothing, it was a bit weird driving so long between oil changes or having to repair something. I almost changed the engine oil in midstream but I suppose the full synthetics you really don’t have to. Every trip I took on my HD required in route maintenance and I always carried spare quarts of oil and I always need them, but to be fair they were shovel-heads.

      Either way, the Guzzi is smooth, has plenty of power and rock solid reliable. On the Tail of the Dragon another Guzzi rider with 145,000 on his older California stated he has never had it in the shop as he does his own maintenance. The gentleman said the bike needed nothing except for tires, brakes, and fluid changes, you can’t get more reliable than that. The big complaint about Guzzi’s is the lack of dealerships, but who really needs a robust dealer network when you really don’t need them,

      I buy accessories and parts from Moto International in Seattle and have whatever I need in a few days, Moto Int. has just about anything you need in stock, if not he’ll get them in a matter of days…

      Guzzi – Bellissimo

  9. Great review and comments. Thanks everyone. I am looking for a bike to replace my sports tourer. I won’t be doing as much distance traveling going forward, and I would like to ride something a little better looking than the sports tourers I have been riding for the last 15 years. It helps to hear about the cornering characteristics of this bike. Looks like a fine bike with a personality and good looking enough to take downtown or to rallies. I have owned an Italian bike before, and I found it difficult to get parts out of Italy. Thank you all for the comments. They have been helpful, and have given me some encouragement about the reliability of the bike.

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