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TOURS 2014



Moto Guzzi 
V11 Le Mans
A Motorcyclist's Review

Pashnit about Motorcycles
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Speed Triple Street Fighter

 

After riding my much loved 1989 Yamaha FJ1200 for a few years, and reaching nearly 80,000 miles on the odometer, it was time to look for something new.  The FJ1200 was starting to randomly exhibit a lot of little mechanical failures.  Even its cracked and glued body panels were showing their age.

So, with some degree of reticence… tinged with the excitement for a new bike, I began to search for its replacement.  As the FJ was an air-cooled bike (with just an oil cooler), it was only semi-faired. I preferred this look having a bit of weakness for the 70's style bikes.

So I began to look for bikes that had their engines exposed, but provided reasonable faired protection from the elements.  I wanted a bike that was capable of long distance comfort, with plenty of power to lope along effortlessly. 

Although not an exact fit aesthetically, a good friend and riding buddy of mine owned a 1998 Honda VFR800.  He was quite satisfied with its performance and reliability.  After a test ride or two, I also was impressed.

The Search Begins

So I began my search for a new bike with the VFR at the top of my list.  After a bit of homework, I settled on the 2000 year model for its stunning yellow color.  At the same time, I also considered a new Yamaha FZ-1.  I'd been pleased with the quality of Yamaha’s FJ, and liked the FZ-1’s ergonomics and overall look.

 

However, I had a nagging vision of Moto Guzzi’s new V11 Sport that'd stuck with me for some time. I'd seen a prototype awhile back and that impression had been with me ever since.  Back then, it was beyond my budget, and it didn’t fit my needs.

So while considering the Moto Guzzi, I managed to see quite a few V11 Sports at local bike hangouts.  After chatting with various owners and digesting their positive remarks, it made me think back fondly of that first impression of the V11.  On a whim, I decided to browse around, learn more about these bikes and what they cost.

To my surprise, in the 2002 model year, Moto Guzzi released a half-faired version of the V11 Sport called the 2002 V11 Le Mans. Just one look had me hooked!  After a couple test rides at my local dealer, I knew I wanted this bike.

Regarding buying new versus used.... well, sure if I had waited a year and gotten a 2002 as "last years model" I could have saved a few thousand, but that's life.  I was fortunate to come into some money when I bought the bike, so was able to pay cash for it.  So since it's not a debt hanging over my head, I just consider it a hobby.

The Purchase

Why a Moto Guzzi?  Well, first and foremost… the V11 is a simple, air-cooled, and elegant design that I found irresistibly attractive. I've always loved that 70's sportbike look. I have a preference for bikes that proudly hang their engines out conspicuously, and even to a greater degree, air-cooled bikes.  To me, there is nothing more fundamentally “motorcycle” than an air-cooled engine.  While perhaps anachronistic and mechanically at a disadvantage to modern liquid-cooled motorcycles, the simplicity and beauty of finned cylinders has stayed with me the last few bikes I've owned.

So I rode home on my first ever new motorcycle… and have been smiling ever since.  The more I ride it, the more I think I'll be keeping this bike for a long time.  Even as a regular all-purpose and sport touring bike, I really like it.  It's certainly something different!  There are quite a few out here in Northern California, but everywhere else they are quite rare and distinct, and I like that.

But as most Moto Guzzi owners know, a Moto Guzzi as delivered from the factory is less a complete and perfect bike, and more a foundation upon which the owner builds his own vision. As such, my bike has evolved quite a bit in the last year. 

Corbin Solo Saddle

One of the first modifications I did was have a Corbin Solo Gunfighter made down in Hollister, CA.  There really isn't any substitute for having Corbin make a seat "custom" for you if you can make to their factory showroom.  And in my case, it was the best option.

Corbin doesn't "officially" make a seat for the 2002+ V11 Sport varieties (i.e. Le Mans, Scura, Naked, etc) at present.  But if they can get a donor bike, hopefully that will be addressed one day.  Unfortunately, I've heard various degrees of varying customer satisfaction when ordering the "generic" fit Corbin for one's bike via mail-order.  On the other hand, having it made on-site seems to be an almost guaranteed success.

I can't recall exactly what I paid for the Corbin solo saddle, but it wasn't any more than the standard pricing.  In fact, if I recall, I actually got a small discount because they put a tiny scratch on the tank under the seat.  All in all, it was about $275 and worth every penny.

Although the OEM seat wasn’t terrible for long distance riding, I had wanted a custom seat for a long time to improve comfort.  The stock seat was too wide and made reaching the ground flat-footed difficult.  I'm not sure what the stock seat height is, however I am 5'8" and with the stock seat I was unable to sit flat-footed. The bike itself is a bit wide.  So if you have a short inseam like I do, 30", then it can be hard to get both feet down.  However, with the Corbin, I would say it lowered my seating position an entire inch.

Modifications Galore

Mods I've made to the motorcycle over the past year include:  

- Mike Rich Motorsports "Stage II" ported heads
- TiN coated valves and new guides
- Dual-plug head conversion
- Airbox removed, K&N pod filters with custom made filter side-covers
- Jet-Hot coated exhausts
- Power Commander-III usb
- Leo Vince Ti exhaust
- Stucchi crossover
- Ohlins R&T front forks with proper spring rates installed by Lindemann Engineering
- 25mm hollow axle for increased front-end rigidity
- Wake your neighbors FIAMM horns
- Throttlemeister “heavy” model
- Heated Grips
- Powerlet outlet in fairing
- Kisan headlight and taillight modulators
- Kisan signalminder with running light conversion
- Formotion clock/thermometer
- Rizoma aluminum brake/clutch reservoir
- Various cosmetic modification

You may notice in the first pic that the front rim is polished around the edge, while the rear is not.  That's a result of my ham-fisted removal of the front wheel and brakes... and knackering up the finish on the rim. 

So I thought, "...hey, I always like the polished rim edges on a Speed Triple I saw one time way back.

In turn, I just stripped off the paint along the damaged edges, and it looks pretty good.

Future Mods

The engine is coming apart soon for a warranty replacement of the cases due to the factory "crinkle coat" failing prematurely on 2002 bikes. While we're "in there" I thought I would get some other work done.

- Higher pressure fuel-pressure regulator (3.5 bar, instead of 3 bar OEM since I've opened up the intake and exhausts)
- High-comp pistons
- Carillo connecting-rods (significantly lighter than OEM)
- Ti push-rods (yep, you heard it right PUSH RODS, remember this bike is "old tech")
- New cam and corresponding higher rate valve springs
- And the crank/rotating-bits will need to be rebalanced

Other than the parts costs and after talking it over with my dealer, most of the installation of the new components should be "free" since almost all of these parts are coming apart/out under warranty during the engine case swap. So I thought this might be the best opportunity to get the work done.

Ultimately, if I can get 90-ish horsepower at the rear wheel, I'll be satisfied.  I have around 84-86 HP now (depending on the phase of the moon) and around 64ft/lbs of pretty flat torque delivery. 

With the new dual-plugs, a revised PC-III custom map, and the modifications this Winter, this target should be easily attainable.

And to round out the suspension, I am also getting an Ohlins rear shock with the remotely adjustable preload.  Then next Spring, some Hepco bags and I should be "set" for a long time for any other mods.

Is all of this necessary?  Honestly, no.  The V11 Sport delivers about 78 horsepower to the rear wheel stock.  It has more torque at low RPM than many comparable bikes, and with very little work, 80+ HP is readily achievable. 

And in day-to-day riding, this is plenty of power.  Not to mention it's delivered with the gusto only an Italian twin can!

Riding the Moto Guzzi V11

Although the V11 Sport models may be cramped for some taller riders, aftermarket bar risers and peg kits can make the bike a good fit for most riders.  The Le Mans model offers the additional benefit of an effective fairing, and the steel frame offers generous luggage and weight carrying capabilities.

 

As for what it's like riding a Guzzi, it's by far one of the most unique experiences in motorcycling.  One I would highly recommend to anyone interested.  Is it the quickest, fastest, or best handling bike?  No, but it’s got a soul that’s hard to define.  There is a character and uniqueness to this bike that separates it from other motorcycles.

But in the spirit of Pashnit.com, is the V11 Le Mans a Sport Tourer?  Well, depending on who you ask, any number of motorcycles that otherwise might not be considered sport-touring motorcycles might fit the bill.  This is certainly the case for the Le Mans .  It’s in the eye of the beholder.

While the V11 Sport models certainly can’t be characterized as “track weapons”, they aren’t tourers either.  They are more in the spirit of the café racers of old.  The bikes are so flexible due to their engine design and relaxed ergonomics, that they can be employed for everything from spirited weekend canyon carving, to long distance journeys.  And on the melodious thrum of the Guzzi twin, what a journey it is.

Out and About

The bikes runs quite well stock, especially if left unmolested.  And the 1064cc engine even when choked with OEM mufflers, intake, etc... still delivers a healthy 77-79 rwhp, and almost 60 ft/lbs of torque.  Although there is some buzzing around 5k rpm, this smoothes out over time and break-in.  Plus generally speaking the 90-degree V layout has very good vibration canceling effects.

The fuel mileage around town is on the low side, in the high 20’s, but not surprising for a lot of EFI bikes.  However, for long-distance riding, mileage climbs to the low to mid 40’s.  This gives a 180-200 mile range on average per tank./p>

 

Around town the mileage isn't too hot, around 30 give or take a couple mpg depending on how aggressive one rides.  But it supposedly gets better with break-in (which is quite long on a Guzzi apparently, as the engines are tight).  Generally 10k miles is considered "broken in" on these bikes.

>But on a trip last Summer through Yosemite, Mono Lake, and back.. highway mileage got up to 45 mpg. So that's not too awful.  If it gets better, that's a good starting point.

If there is one drawback, I do wish it had a bit more range.  I can get around 180 miles of highway riding, so that's not too terrible. But I would prefer if I could have gotten a good 200.

Gripes & Whines

For some reason the 2002's had some difficulties with Quality Assurance, and mine was victim to many of those.  I attribute this to teething pains during the Aprilia takeover after they purchased Moto Guzzi in 2000. Bikes prior to 2002, and after that particular model year are generally assembled better.  

Examples of the oversights in 2002 are forgetting to grease bearings, splines, and improper tightening of mating surfaces, leading to catastrophic oil leaks.  The most common of which is the front timing chain cover.  Mine blew out in the first month. 

Some riders complain of bar vibrations, especially through the right grip. But Moto Guzzi’s are notoriously tight as delivered from the factory, and the engines actually take a good 10,000 miles to really loosen up. This along with heavier bar ends, or accessories like the Throttlemeister and gel grips smooth out the vibration to a pleasant reminder of the soul of the bike.

The only real sport-touring drawback is a relatively weak charging system.  But if one isn’t supporting lots of extra lighting in combination with gizmos, and heated garments all at the same time, it’s sufficient for a subset of them.

No major gripes per se, as I mentioned, the 2002s and V11 Sports have a handful of issues.  Once the handful of known gremlins are addressed, it's mostly a bullet-proof bike.  After all, it's not cutting edge technology.  Being that most are known issues, if targeted up front, the bikes are really great.  

Guzzi's are known to be "tinkerers bikes" where the owners dive in and get them sorted out and customized to their own needs.  We Guzzi owners look at the bikes as providing a "foundation" for creating the bike one really wants, versus a perfect bike as delivered.

Insurance

As for things like insurance, it's pretty average, nothing shocking.  I use State Farm and they insure based on displacement, so the reputation of the bike model is irrelevant to them.  I don't think this bike is specifically flagged as a high-risk bike.  Guzzi owners are typically older(35+) so they aren't as often victims of the average squidly teenager as a Japanese race-replica might be... so that's good news for us.  

I have full coverage, and I think I'm paying about $300ish every 6 months, in that ballpark.  I'm mid-thirties, with a clean record.  Simple liability would have been peanuts.

Apparel

I have a custom leather jacket from San Jose Leather, with ballistic armor.  I also have some generic leather pants with armor that I bought from San Jose Leather as well.  For more casual rides, I have some "Draggin Jeans" with the Kevlar panels.  I also have a Tourmaster textile jacket, and liked it quite well but it never got comfortable.

I've been using Helimot's new sport touring gloves along with the Shoei RF900 helmet.  I also have some custom ear-plugs, with built in transducers in case I want to pipe-in sound,  although I've yet to try it.  Sidi boots round out the ensemble.

 All things considered... 

Overall, the bike runs great, and the 2003's have really sorted out almost all of the issues we saw earlier.  It always pulls strongly although it doesn't have the top-end rush of a modern in-line 4 cylinder motor, even in some ways not as fast as the FJ was.  But it puts a smile on my face, and that's what really matters.

But details aside, the V11 Sport, and specifically the Le Mans, is an exciting package that is fairly unique if one wants to stand out from the pack.  If one can only own a single motorcycle, the V11 Le Mans is a fantastic candidate. I can't tell you how many times I've had kids come up and ask me, "Who makes a motohh gooosy?

-Al Roethlisberger
San Jose, CA
  
Contact Al via Email: 
al_roethlisberger-at-yahoo.com

 

 

 

Related Links:

The Original Moto Guzzi Le Mans

V11 LeMans Discussion Forum



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