Society owes a sizable debt to the boot-shaped nation of Italy. As if delicious food, modern fashion and hot-blooded passion weren’t contributions enough, Italy has bestowed upon the world a disproportionate number of lust-worthy motorcycles. Perhaps it’s the Mediterranean climate or a well-fostered love of competition, but when you’re talking about a brand that regards itself as the curators of “motorcycle art,” nothing says Italian sportbike quite like a 2020 MV Agusta Brutale 800 Rosso.
Part of a three-bike middleweight Brutale 800 lineup that includes the RR and RR SCS, the Rosso is the affordable option but still drains $14,500 from your bank account. If I know one thing about art, it’s that it can get a little pricey, although wheelieing around on your MV is a lot more fun than letting your Bernini or Caravaggio collect dust. And what do you get for all that dough? A raucously fun naked machine with attitude and styling to spare.
There is no doubt that MV Agusta leans into the visual drama. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, as the original Brutale design was the brainchild of famed motorcycle designer Massimo Tamburini. His trademarks shine true, starting with a fierce predatory stance, drawing our eyes back through the steel-trellis frame to the triple-stacked exhaust pipes and, of course, a single-sided swingarm. And check out that sculpted sliver of daylight between the seat and the subframe. Bellissimo!
Devilish good looks cast quite the spell, driving any sane enthusiast to dedicate an entire evening to lovingly polishing its deep-paint finishes — candlelit garage and smooth jazz not required but encouraged. The single blemish lies in the primitive LCD instrument panel that a bike of this caliber should never have. To make up for it, our test unit was embellished every bit-and-bob of “Italian chrome” (carbon fiber) in the accessory stable.
Fling a leg over the 32.7-inch seat, and the accommodations are as spartan as you might expect on a naked bike, with a waist narrower than a supermodel strutting a Milano catwalk. A wide handlebar, mirrors that don’t vibrate furiously, a reasonably plush saddle and an agreeable knee-bend round out the rest of the digs. The Brutale wants to be ridden, and its commanding cockpit is the perfect place to dole out orders.
Beneath the beauty is a beast of a 798cc in-line triple. Friends, this is what a sporting engine should be. Cranking out a healthy 100 horsepower at 11,000 rpm and 54 lb-ft of torque at 7,800 rpm on the Jett Tuning dyno, the Brutale 800 features a lower state of tune than its sportier RR and RR SCS brothers. But 100 horsepower and 434 pounds soaking wet give the Rosso a power-to-weight ratio that’s right in the sweet spot.
Geared nice and low, there is always enough pep to casually float the front wheel and roar out of a canyon corner without ever feeling overwhelmed. Clicking through the 6-speed gearbox is made that much easier with an up/down quickshifter that performs best with a heaping serving of throttle in the mix, letting you hear that joyous three-shooter exhaust note.
The triple-cylinder lump spools urgently, and save for a tad bit of roughness right above idle, it’s impressively smooth. What’s more is the near-perfect tractable torque line that’s as flat as Lake Varese on a calm day. When all your sporty riding is tied up in a bow, the Rosso is happy to plod home at mellow speeds with an air of sophistication and grace.
We can see some of MV’s racing pedigree bubble through in the triple-cylinder engine’s counter-rotating crankshaft, which is commonplace among MotoGP engine designs but is a rarity in production motorcycles. What does a counter-rotating crankshaft do? By making it spin in the opposite direction the Brutale’s forward-rotating cast-aluminum 17-inch wheels, engineers can reduce the negative gyroscopic impact they have on a motorcycle’s handling. Less gyroscopic effect makes a bike easier to turn-in, and the Brutale has a light, low-effort steering response.
Engineering magic aside, the Brutale 800’s short wheelbase and steep rake make for a ridiculously good time in the canyons. Toss it on the side of its sensibly sticky Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tires and wail through a choice bit of road with utter confidence in that steel-trellis chassis. Whether you’re attacking some high-speed sweepers and putting your faith in the front end or relying on the Rosso’s agility to tic-tac-toe your way through slow, tight sections of road, the Brutale lives its best life on a clear afternoon and winding mountain passes. My Italian might be limited to corny catchphrases, but I understand everything that the Rosso is telling me.
Teamwork makes the dream work, and the fully adjustable Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock pair up better than an ’80s buddy-comedy duo. Sure, the Brutale 1000 boasts gilded Öhlins suspenders that earns more brownie points at the coffee shop, but what we have here works well. Sprung and damped on the sporting end of the spectrum, the Rosso’s setup doesn’t sacrifice too much comfort in the name of performance.
With all that chassis confidence underneath you, knocking the 3-level ABS and 8-level TC settings down isn’t something one should fret about; I openly encourage it. However, working the mushy rubber buttons on the left switchgear to navigate the menu is trickier than solving a Rubik’s cube. We hope updates to the 2021 Brutale, which includes a TFT display, solve the problem. MV has forgone a fancy IMU on this model, and the systems keep things on an even keel. Four throttle response maps are available (Normal, Sport, Rain and Custom), and on dry Southern California roads I rarely strayed from the perky Sport mode.
Then there are the Brembo 4-piston binders and 320mm rotors, always available to get you stopped in a hurry when necessary. Feel at the axial master cylinder could be improved, as I prefer a little more attack and initial bite on my sporting machines but opting for higher-performance brake pads will most likely nip that in the bud. A 2-piston Brembo and 220mm rotor are great for tightening up a line or trawling through traffic in the rear.
Once parked in the garage and you’ve dolled it up to a high shine, it’s clear that the MV Agusta Brutale 800 Rosso lives within a special corner of the motorcycling world. It’s unapologetically Italian, even down to the price. As a machine, it has the performance to trade blows with other top-dollar middleweights and swap paint in the canyons but falls short when compared to the standard tech available on comparable bikes like the KTM 890 Duke R or Triumph Street Triple 765 RS.
However, MV Agusta is the unrivaled master of motorcycle pageantry — the brand’s meticulous attention to detail and eye-popping styling surpasses the mind and speaks directly to the heart. And it’s those qualities that kept me thumbing the Rosso’s key until the next ride.
2020 MV Agusta Brutale 800 Rosso Specs:
Base Price: $14,500
Priced as Tested: $19,444 (carbon fiber accessories)
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC in-line triple, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 79.0 x 54.3mm
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet slipper clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 55.1 in.
Rake/Trail: 24 degrees / 4.1 in.
Seat Height: 32.7 in.
Wet Weight: 434 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.4 gals.
Fuel Consumption: 35