I have always been fascinated with Michael Corleone from Mario Puzo’s best-selling novel The Godfather. Of course, for the vast majority the most enduring memory of Michael Corleone will be Al Pacino’s brilliant portrayal of the character in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic movie trilogy that bears the same name as the novel it is based on. But what has always captured my imagination about Michael is his ability to integrate with a fast changing American society without ever letting go of his decidedly Italian roots. He straddles the two completely different, and frequently opposing, worlds with effortless ease, moving from one to the other seamlessly. If there was anyone to carry forward Don Vito Corleone’s Italian legacy there is no question that it had to be Michael, or Mikey as he is often called. Yet, the Mikey that Kay falls in love with and eventually marries, couldn’t be more American.
Wondering why I’m going on and on about the Corleone family in an article that should have been about a motorcycle? Fret not, for you haven’t been misled with those images. Indeed, this article is about a motorcycle, and it isn’t just any other motorcycle. It is the new and utterly desirable Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber, and in my eyes, the Michael Corleone of the Guzzi family.
Still puzzled? You see, back in the 1930s and ‘40s, American riders started trying their hands at motorcycle customisation. They would take regular road going bikes and start stripping them down in a bid to imitate the bikes that were being raced around America’s dirt tracks. One of the things that would face the axe would inevitably be the heavy and usually ornately valanced rear fender. The result was a ‘bob job’. This trend eventually branched off into two directions, resulting in the highly modified chopper, and, don’t hold your breath, the bobber. In keeping with the old traditions of the bob job, bobbers were simple machines and therefore extremely easy to customise. But, like so many things born across the Atlantic, the bobber tradition was primarily an American phenomenon. There have been a few bobbers from this side of the Atlantic too but most have been the exception rather than the rule.
Bella e semplice
The Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber is the latest addition to the limited list of European attempts at creating a bike that toes a wholly American line. You only need to look at the bike to find evidence of what I’m saying. In keeping with the best of bobber traditions, the V9 is beautiful in its simplicity. Its exposed steel twin tube cradle frame that houses the air-cooled 853cc 90-degree V twin engine, simple 15-litre tank, round headlamp, single offset speedo and flat-ribbed seat hark back to an era where motorcycle design used to be uncomplicated.
Fire her up and you are treated to a wonderful beat from the twin exhaust (on either side of the motorcycle). But what you can’t ignore are the vibrations at idle, they seem to be everywhere – seat, handlebars, footpegs and mirrors. Good news however is that once you get going they tend to disappear only to appear again towards the top end of the engine’s rev band. The meat of this bike’s performance is in the mid-range where it pulls strongly and cleanly. Just like those bobbers do on the other side of the pond.
There is something different however, and this is something you can figure out even at idling. Should you rev the engine, you’ll realise that the bike wants to fall on its right. You see, unlike the American bikes where the engine is placed transversely, the Guzzi’s engine is placed longitudinally. The resulting gyroscopic action of the crankshaft (further amplified by the gyroscopic action of the shaft drive system) wants to drop the bike on to its right. And with that, we’ve highlighted the second aspect that separates the V9 Bobber from its American brethren. While the vast majority of American bikes use a belt drive system, final drive in the Guzzi is via a shaft.
This gyroscopic effect on the motorcycle has a profound impact on the V9 Bobber’s dynamic capabilities. Unless you’re used to it, you’ll find right turns are easier to manage than left turns. But once you’ve gotten past that issue, the V9 is a sweet handler. Through fast turns, the bike is predictable and confidence-inspiring. In fact, where dynamic abilities are concerned, you might even go so far as to suggest that there is a degree of sportiness to its handling that feels entirely European.
There are several reasons that contribute to this, not the least of which are its stiff and capable frame and a suspension set up that compliments handling. If you look carefully at the Guzzi, you’ll realise that the engine (which makes up the main mass of the bike) has been kept really low. In fact, the crankcase of the engine is nestled between the downtubes instead of sitting on it as it would in a normal cradle. What this does is lower the centre of gravity contributing to its neutral handling nature. It’s also lighter than most of its ilk at 199kg and has at 1480mm has a shorter wheelbase than the Harley-Davidson Iron 883 (the Moto Guzzi’s closest rival despite a hefty price difference in favour of the American bike). That said, slow turns are still a bit of an issue.
Like its American brethren, the Guzzi rides on a pair of shock absorbers adjustable for spring preload. The ride quality is admittedly on the firmer side for a bike of this kind but it isn’t something that will rattle you.
A torquey air-cooled V-twin engine, minimalist old school design and feet slightly ahead footpeg position. Could this bike be more American? Its simplicity also means that this Italian stallion is extremely easy to customise – an aspect that is crucial to its claim of being a genuine bobber. Yet, a shaft drive, that gyroscopic effect, superb handling abilities and unique character mark it out clearly as an Italian. At `13.6 lakh, ex-showroom in Pune, the Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber ain’t exactly cheap. But the experience of owning and riding a bike as characterful as this, a bike that brings a unique Italian twist into an all-American motorcycle format, is priceless.