An experienced street rider will approach a motorcycle and immediately begin sizing it up as to type and affixing certain expectations to it. It’s usually obvious whether a bike is a tourer, sport tourer, dual-sport, sportbike, cruiser or naked bike; we decide that as easily as a cat categorizes a potential meal on the hoof as reodent, bird or reptile. Moto Guzzi’s new 2007 Griso 1100, however, defies easy categorization. It looks long and low; its lines, style and seating position are indicative of a naked bike. Or could it be a sportbike?
To add fuel to the fire, Moto Guzzi in its press materials tells us that the Griso has been completely redesigned and is, “A new category of motorcycle that Europeans call ‘Techno Custom.'” As evidence, the company points to its “long and low power cruiser profile,” that it’s “stable as a power cruiser, as agile as a lightweight naked, and as powerful as a muscle bike.” Whoa! Let’s sort through that mouthful of press jargon.
Powering the Griso is an air-cooled, 90-degree pushrod V-twin engine displacing 1,064cc with a 9.8:1 compression ratio and two valves per cylinder. Those are hardly the stats of a world-beater engine, and when we took it to our local dynocologist a few runs confirmed that the Griso generates only 70.5 peak horsepower at 6,900 to 7,100 rpm, with 56.3 lb-ft of peak torque at 5,500 to 5,600 rpm. OK, scratch the sportbike idea.
But that doesn’t mean this isn’t an impressive motorcycle or a joy to ride. Drink in the Griso’s emotional Italian styling, from the stressed-member engine with its exo-skeleton, double-cradle tube-steel frame to its two-into-one exhaust, the purposeful black male-slider fork, touches of brightwork and that single-sided swingarm. The valve covers jut to the sides with authority, and that breadbox of an oil cooler on the right side adds the proper industrial touch. It’s all visually held together by that rapacious red paint and saucy open grillwork that give the bike a lighter appearance-la dolce vita in red!
That still leaves the question: Is it a techno custom, naked bike or cruiser? Who the heck cares! The proof, as they say, is in the puttin’‚ so let’s go for a putt.
The key is situated up by the steering head, and with the Griso’s electronic fuel injection there’s no need for a choke nor fast-idle lever. The starter grinds briefly and the engine comes to life; its slight side-to-side shudder and the way it pulls to the right when revved are characteristic of Guzzi’s unique V-twin bikes with their longitudinal crankshafts.
Seating position is aggressive with the feet high, knees up, the rider coaxed into a slight crouch by the reach for the bars; the hands are spread on widely spaced grips. For comfort I would prefer the bar to be a bit narrower and slightly swept back, as it splays and positions my hands at too flat an angle, which pushes out the elbows. Lever pull is light to moderate for that hydraulically actuated dry clutch; find first gear and note that the shift throw is uncommonly long. Likewise, the engagement point on the clutch is extremely broad. While this makes it difficult to stall the engine, it’s also hard to make a clean, crisp getaway without excessive clutch slipping. While the six-speed transmission shifts easily, the long throw between gears slows the shifting process.
The rider sits atop rather than into this machine; its 31.5-inch seat height may be problematic for those not blessed with long inseams. Once it’s rolling the Griso feels taut, mass centralized, purposeful. The engine is uncommonly smooth, especially for such a big V-twin, with only a slight vibration felt in the tank or grips, here and there in the rev range. It begins to generate power from about 2,700 rpm, and power comes on smoothly to its 8,000-rpm redline. The only glitch is that when the rider rolls off the throttle, then abruptly rolls on again, the bike lurches forward through a bit of driveline slop, with a clank at the rear end.
OK, the Griso is no sporty literbike (some of which make about double the horsepower), but it’s light enough at 539 pounds wet and pulls hard enough to certainly entertain the rider in other ways. It spreads its torque over a wide range, maintaining more than 52 lb-ft from 2,900 to 7,100 rpm, and torque is what most riders use the majority of the time. Its combination of valve clatter with that rattly dry clutch provides a certain auditory delight. We’d like to say the same about the exhaust system, but with that big muffler can hanging off the side (and its absurdly complex endplate) the Griso is annoyingly quiet. We expect that any Griso owner who wanted to relive the glory days of a booming Guzzi exhaust note will soon go in search of an aftermarket system to restore that dream.
hat 43mm male-slider fork can be dialed-in very satisfactorily with its spring preload, and both rebound and compression damping adjustments. In the rear the patented Compact Reactive Shaft Drive integrates the driveshaft within the graceful aluminum-alloy single-sided swingarm, but with something extra. The shaft has a universal joint at each end, with built-in torsional dampers for smoothness, and links them with a control arm. It cancels out the typical up/down motion of the driveshaft as the throttle is abruptly opened and closed.
It’s similar to BMW’s Paralever, and the Guzzi system also works quite well. Controlling the action of the rear end is a single shock absorber with rising-rate linkage and remote reservoir. Like the fork it’s also fully adjustable for preload, and for damping in both directions. It also provides plenty of range to handle any reasonable demands placed upon it by the rider, and we were able to dial-in a very satisfactory blend of plushness with control at both ends.
Check the specs and find that the Griso offers rake/trail figures of 26 degrees and 4.25 inches, with a 61.2-inch wheelbase. As a result the Guzzi is solid and stable at speed, and steers actively through your favorite bit of twisties. There’s so much leverage in that wide handlebar that you’ve got to go easy, steer with your hips, as too much hand input makes the bike feel twitchy. Still, if you need just that little extra turn-in as the curve tightens up, give a little dip with a shoulder and the Griso will roll a bit farther over onto those excellent Metzeler Rennsport tires, a 120/70-ZR17 front and 180/55-ZR17 rear. They contribute to its sure-footed, predictable handling. We might call the Griso a “character sport,” a bike that offers a lot of emotion and good looks, that garners attention everywhere it goes, though it won’t light up either the rear tire or the racetrack.
For our photo shoot I squired the Griso past shooter Kevin Wing pass after pass, accelerating to around 70 mph, trying to corner like a man half my age for the camera, then braking hard and turning it around in the width of the road. I continued for 20 to 30 passes at a time, and through it all those twin 320mm floating Brembo front disc brakes, hugged by their opposed, four-piston calipers, hauled my bacon down hard in powerful and easily controlled one- or two-finger stops, with the able assistance of the single 282mm rear disc with two parallel pistons. Despite this consecutive hard braking there was not a hint of fade, which was impressive. My only braking complaint is that when the rear pedal is applied it enters an area of slight resistance, a “dead spot,” before passing through it to actuate the brake-which makes it difficult to modulate well until the rider is used to the inconsistency. The front brake and clutch levers each have an adjustment wheel. With that said, the Griso is just a few control improvements away from being an all-day fun rider. These include tightening up that clutch friction zone, shift-lever throw and dialing in the rear brake feel. Its seat is narrow, but well padded for a few hours at a time in the saddle.
You’re probably wondering-why the name Griso? It comes from a character in the novel I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed) by Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873). In it an Italian nobleman, Don Rodrigo, contracts the plague and senses his vulnerability to those who would take advantage and steal his fortune. He calls in his trusted bodyguard, Griso, and asks him to bring the doctor immediately, but to tell no one; do it discreetly and both will be very well paid indeed. But instead the scoundrel Griso returns with two men who overpower the fever-wracked Don Rodrigo, loot his possessions and carry his nearly lifeless body away in a cart. As a comeuppance, in going through his master’s clothing in search of any last coins, Griso likewise contracts the plague and is also soon carried away in the cart. Hmmm, naming a bike Griso is kind of like naming one after a character from the Sopranos.
The Griso has no centerstand or underseat storage, and its 4.5-gallon tank hides beneath a plastic cover so a magnetic tankbag won’t attach. However, options available through your Moto Guzzi dealer include both a large and small tankbag, a seatbag, rear luggage rack, a mini windscreen and saddlebags. The latter are a soft nylon/PVC combination and hold 15 liters each, or are expandable to 20. For those who might wish to go traveling, I would suggest a larger aftermarket windscreen as the Griso hangs the rider out there like a mainsail. The bike sells for $13,490 in either black or red, which puts it up against bikes like the technically advanced BMW R1200R before you begin adding options to either.
So what is the Moto Guzzi Griso 1100? In my book it’s a sophisticated naked sport with the emphasis on suspension and handling rather than power. While some manufacturers attempt to lure buyers with monster power but pay less attention to suspension and brakes, Moto Guzzi has taken the other direction with the Griso. On a winding road it’s very common for a better handling bike in the hands of a skilled rider to stay with one that makes more power. And that’s part of la dolce vita.