I haven't had any juicy questions to answer lately, thus the lack of articles. What's going on? Are your bikes all running perfectly?
I did have some recent experiences that gave me real insight into the new V11 Sport. First off, I got to peruse Moto America's parts department during their April 30th Open House (Actually, they put me to work doing inventory!) and saw many of the new bikes' drive train components. Secondly, Dr. John Wittner was there, and he tolerated my many quasi-technical questions. And last, a customer purchasing a V11 Sport requested that we put the first 500 miles on his bike so it could have its first service and be ready for a trip. This we agreed to do at no additional charge! So I've ridden it, seen its guts, and talked to one of its creators. So here's what I've construed about this truly exceptional motorcycle.
I do believe the V11 Sport to be one of the best conceived Moto Guzzis ever. Previous Guzzi sport bikes, such as the various Daytona and Sport 1100 models, were probably a little too "sport" for the great majority of potential Guzzi customers. The V11 Sport is better focused at the most likely Guzzi sport-bike customer, who of course wants performance, durability, reliability, and ease of maintenance, but also civil manners around town and comfort - what we call (without intending to be sexist) a Gentleman's Express.
As a dealer, I all too often saw the disappointment on the faces of perspective customers who found the Sport 1100s and Daytonas too extreme in their riding position. Moto America has made available aftermarket handlebars from Heli-Bar that raise the rider as much as possible within the constraints of the fairing, which helped a lot, but not enough for many. The V11 Sport goes without a fairing and so has the possibility of much higher bars. Back in '97 I suggested to then-Guzzi CEO Cecchinato that this model deserved swan-neck clip-ons for even greater adjustability, as the styling motif was '70s cafe retro, specifically relating to Guzzi's own V7 Sport (Retro is big right now, but unlike Kawasaki, who has copied both an Indian and a BSA, Guzzi thought it appropriate to copy its own bike!) I was more than a little impressed to witness the head guy dial the phone, speak Italian into it, hang it up, and say to me, "Done!" In the end, though, the engineers at Tomaselli limited the rise of the bars to the present configuration - my limited experience with the compromises of design.
Back to that styling motif, I think Guzzi wanted to get away from the sport bike category, hence in part the lack of fairing, but didn't want to fall into either the "standard" or "streetfighter" categories. The Centauro didn't make much of a dent in the streetfighter market, and standards are the current "third rail" of the motorcycle market: touch it as a manufacturer and you'll die!
Traditional cafe racers were the last essentially unfaired sport-type bikes, so I think Guzzi's style inspiration was a very good one. Cafe racers were also fairly closely related to their "standard" counterparts, unlike today's sport bikes, and so these old-fashioned bikes, being less specialized, were better capable in a variety of applications. Why did that good idea go by the wayside? For those wanting more wind protection, Guzzi promises they'll soon have a windscreen kit available, probably borrowed from the Centauro Sport. Meanwhile, Givi's nifty A200 looks like a decent option.
The gas tank certainly looks bulbous, but it has its reasons. First off, many complained that the Sport 1100s and Daytona RS lacked sufficient fuel capacity. I've heard more than a few potential customers surmise that five gallons isn't enough to cross the Mojave Desert, which somehow always seems to be on their itinerary. Maybe in European minds, a vast expanse without towns and gas stations doesn't seem possible. With the V11 Sport, Guzzi sought to add capacity, while at the same time making the tank shorter for a more pleasing riding position. Add to that the huge capacity of modern motorcycle air boxes and the bulk of the average engine management system, and it's easy to understand why Guzzi couldn't just stick a V7 Sport gas tank on the V11 Sport. Heck, all the V7 Sport tanks had to hide was a pair each of ignition coils and carburetors (and not even an air cleaner). The requirements in building a US-legal 2000-model-year motorcycle are all too apparent under the gas tank of a modern Guzzi: lots of big chunks connected by wires and hoses. Taller riders often complain that the V11 Sport's gas tank knee cutouts aren't long enough. I believe their existing length is quite intentional, as they direct long legs outward, away from the cylinder heads. After all, why design a tank that allows long legs to tuck in when the engine doesn't?
Someone new must be in charge of Guzzi seat designs, as this fine seat cannot be related to other recent efforts. It's initially comfortable, and remains so longer than most any recent Guzzi seat (and that's some stiff competition!). Passenger accommodations are still sparse, but above normal for a sport bike. The mufflers don't sweep up as much as on the Daytonas and Sport 1100s, so the passenger doesn't quite have to touch heels to buns, and more room is available for luggage (Hepco-Becker, Guzzi's choice for hard luggage since 1994, already has a trunk bracket kit available.).
Under the seat you'll find a nice tool tray, inconveniently filled by emissions-related charcoal canisters, necessary in places like California and Switzerland. Making do, each U.S. bike has its tool kit stuffed into a cloth compartment under the seat hump, referred to by my parts man, Aaron, as a monkey paw trap, because it's only wide enough for an open hand. Grab something in the pouch and you can't get your hand back out!
A last important styling note: those curvy holes in the side covers aren't just for looks, as they allow easy access to the rebound damping adjustment ring on the rear shock. Progress!
My guess is that the Sport 1100 and Sport 1100i were designed with the need to compete (if nowhere else, on the brochure) with the rest of the sport-bike world. In this regard, a top speed of 150 miles per hour was probably considered a necessity. Attaining this required a low frontal area, tall gearing, a pressurized airbox, and an engine tuned for top end. To further complicate the compromise, the only transmission available at the time had five gears, with a choice of the fairly wide-spread ratios of the various Tonti-frame models (Californias, SP III, 1000S, Strada 1000) or the close-ratio set of the Daytona. Narrower power bands require closer gear ratios to prevent bogging during acceleration. Closer ratios also make for smoother shifts, especially at higher engine speeds, as they produce less of a change in transmission shaft speed with each gear change. All this explains why the Sport 1100s lacked midrange and had a first gear almost as tall as second on early California III.
The V11 Sport engine is claimed to make 91 horsepower, which is one more than the Sport 1100 or Sport 1100i. More importantly, it feels as if it has a bunch more midrange. According to John Wittner, that's only partially true, as the greater range of available gearing simply makes it more likely that the engine is in the fat part of its powerband at any given time. Whatever, it sure works!
I heard that a lot of work went into engine revisions, rather than a simple carryover, as the Sport 1100i engine was from the Sport 1100. The V11 Sport has new pistons and cylinder heads. I didn't get to see the new pistons but I did have the opportunity to compare a new head with one from the Sport 1100s. The part number cast into the head is that of the V11 Sport, indicating a total revamp (or maybe just the need to renew the molds). Heads for the Sport 1100s carry part numbers of the LeMans IV, from which they were fairly directly derived. The V11 Sport head has a less abrupt radius in the floor of its intake port, a revised squish band, and displays a lot less core shift between the exhaust port and the machined head pipe receptacle. Many other changes were more subtle, but this is expected, as development is often the sum of small improvements.
Not to be overlooked is the exhaust system. I don't know what it adds to performance, but subjectively speaking, it adds a great deal to the appearance of the bike. The head pipes have more of the rakish appearance of the Terminoni or Staintune systems, rather than sharing the look of my old Convert, as was the case with the Sport 1100s and Daytonas. And wonder of wonders: the "colostomy bag" crossover section has been replaced with a decent-looking little collector, again reminiscent of expensive aftermarket exhaust systems. As we discovered with aftermarket tubular crossovers for the earlier spine frames, they produced better midrange at the slight expense of top end. So for the V11 Sport to out-horse the Sport 1100s, as well as outdoing them in midrange, shows successful development. Usually you can have one or the other, not both. The mufflers are decidedly quieter than those previously used, probably looking forward to ever-tightening noise standards, or possibly so that the same mufflers can be used worldwide. (Usually quieter mufflers are necessary for Guzzi's closest neighbor, Switzerland.) Most significant to me, the mufflers are less upswept than on the Sport 1100s, making a little more room for passenger comfort (not much more!) or luggage. And the little cover plates really do keep passenger toes from frying.
Behind the crankshaft, hardly a part carries over from the Sport 1100s, starting with the clutch. Once again, the flywheel is lighter, and this time the ring gear is also revised. Oddly, at least according to an early version of the parts book, the spring pressure plates revert back from the lightened one of the Sport 1100s, Daytona RS, and Centauros to the slightly meatier one of the original Daytona. All spine-frame models carry ten clutch springs, rather than the eight of all other big twins. The V11 Sport gets the first new set of Guzzi clutch springs in over a quarter of a century, having seven winds instead of five and using wire about .005" thinner, which together makes them significantly lighter. I would wonder if these springs are preloaded more than previous ones (although because of the extra windings they would sooner reach coil bind), but I didn't have all the clutch and flywheel components in hand at the same time for comparison. I have heard that the new clutch plates, introduced late in 1999 with the Jackal and Quota 1100 ES, are a bit thicker. Rounding out the new clutch is hydraulic actuation, which combines with the new springs to produce a very light lever pull. Some don't like the fact that the engagement point is so far out on the hand lever, but there's nothing wrong with it. It's just different from what we've all come to expect from a big-twin Guzzi clutch.
Of course the big news is the transmission. I'm sure you've all read the oft-repeated accolades of this new gearbox: better shifting and, of course, the additional ratio. Me, I never had a complaint with the big-twin five speed, and the latest ones (again introduced late in 1999 with the Jackal and Quota 1100 ES) have a revised shift detent pawl (2823 4700) that makes them shift better (an easy update to all previous small-twin and big-twin manual transmissions). The six-speed shifts butter-knife smooth although it still has the familiar long-throw lever of other Guzzis. First gear on the V11 Sport is lower than on any big-twin five speed, save for early California III Cruiser that came with essentially sidecar gearing (6/32 rear drive instead of the more usual pre-1100 gearing of 7/33). Sixth gear is not quite as tall as fifth on the Sport 1100s, reflecting the lower top speed of the new model. The six-speed's ratio spread from first to fifth is nearly identical to that of the Sport 1100s and Daytonas. The span of all six gears, not surprisingly, is greater than any big-twin five speed (but amazingly not as wide as the old four speed!), even wider than the widened five-speed spread introduced with the Quota 1100ES.
Of equal significance is the effect of the six-speed's design on the chassis. This transmission is nearly 3" shorter than the five speed, making possible various combinations of shorter wheelbase and/or longer swingarm. While changes in those directions would have made a better track bike, I believe Moto Guzzi knew its market, and chose instead to invest the extra length in the driveshaft, which should improve its durability and lessen its potentially-adverse effect on the rear suspension. The six-speed's output shaft is about an inch further outboard to easily clear it wider (170 mm vs. 160 mm for the Sport 1100s, Centauros, and Daytonas) tire (and obviously designed with far wider tires in mind for the future). The output shaft is also about an inch lower than before, which looks strange in positioning the driveshaft below, rather than in line with the swingarm pivot. Dr. John says that besides combining with the longer driveshaft to lessen the operating angles of the U-joints, the lower shaft does good things for rear-suspension compliance.
I've heard of two driveshaft assemblies on early Daytonas needing replacement. Luckily, the assembly used since the Sport 1100 arrived in 1995 fits earlier spine frames. Still annoying, however, was the maintenance requirement of periodic replacement, although no one I know has ever bothered to honor it. No such requirement is listed in the V11 Sport Owner's Handbook. Not only should the U-joints last longer because of decreased operating angles, they also have the advantaged of a neat gearing trick. The V11 Sport's transmission has a lot more total gear reduction and the rear drive proportionately less, resulting in lower operating speeds for the driveshaft.
You may have already heard that the six speed incorporates the unusual design of having two lay shafts. What the heck does that mean? To begin, a motorcycle typically has three gear reductions between the engine and rear wheel: primary, the changeable ratios of the transmissions, and final. Primary is usually a pair of gears between the crankshaft and transmission. Guzzis and BMWs, more like automotive designs, spin their clutches at crankshaft speed and house their primary reductions in their transmissions. Final reduction is either the ratio of the sprockets on a chain-drive bike or the gear reduction in the rear drive of a shaft-driven bike.
Moto Guzzi's new six-speed locates its "primary" reduction after the changeable gears, so here what is usually considered the primary is technically the secondary. I noticed upon examining the new gears in Moto America's warehouse that they were a little on the narrow side. This finally made sense when I realized that not having the primary reduction in its usual place before the changeable gears saved those gears from the higher loads of torque multiplication. That is, as you slow the driven shaft with gear reduction you increase the torque it has to deal with proportionately. So by Guzzi moving the "primary" reduction to the output end of the transmission, the gears could be made lighter, which makes those very same gears easier to engage and disengage. Oh! So that's why this thing shifts so effortlessly!
Realizing that Guzzi's big-twin five-speed was introduced on about a 50-horse model of two-thirds to three-quarters, the current displacement (and yet it handles current power quite well) leads me to surmise that this new transmission wasn't designed for only a 91-horse 1100. With the future well in mind, Moto Guzzi specified some rather large, high-quality bearings to support the various shafts. Adding the fact that the shafts are far shorter than in the big-twin five speed, the significance of the bearings' dimensions grows larger. There are other clues to future thinking in this transmission. For one, the back cover has unnecessary machining and unused lugs and bolt holes, indicating other applications have already been devised.
From the parts book I came to realize that this transmission contains no gaskets and no shims. In other words, each example is machined to a much higher tolerance than any previous Guzzi transmission. I've heard that Guzzi's been buying a lot of new machine equipment lately. My guess is that this transmission wasn't possible until some of these new wonder machines were operational.
There is almost as much "new" in the rear drive as in the transmission. This is the first new big-twin rear-drive case since the 1975 Convert, and it's probably been needed since the floating rear drive system was introduced with the Daytona in the early '90s. Prior to that, the existing case served well when attached to the driveshaft tunnel of the swingarm, thereby giving the rear drive extra volume. For the floating rear drive of the spine frames, it was necessary to seal the rear drive. Usually this worked fine, but occasionally the rear drive in these applications would become pressurized and blow a seal, especially at high speeds when a bit over full of gear lube. This new rear drive holds more lubricant and has a bulge at the bottom so that the lube volume isn't so close to the engaging gears. This, I assume, reduces pressure buildup. Along that same line, this new rear drive incorporates the free-breathing filler cap of small twins, a first for a Guzzi big twin.
Inside the rear drive is more evidence of building for the future. All previous Guzzi rear drives support the pinion shaft by two tapered bearings, leaving the pinion gear sticking out the back end to engage the ring gear. Obviously it's better to support a gear on both sides of its engagement, so this new rear drive has a needle bearing supporting the back end of the pinion shaft. The ring gear no longer uses eight high-strength bolts for attachment to the hollow wheel drive shaft; here the gear and shaft are one. While ring-gear bolts have rarely been a problem on big-twin Guzzis, this new arrangement is surely capable of handling more power. Keeping with that theme, the needle bearing deeper into the drive case and the large ball bearing on the wheel side are both of increased dimensions for the first time ever on a big-twin Guzzi. The spline driving the wheel appears to be of the same old dimensions, as it serves well and makes it easier for Guzzi to adapt this new assembly to updated versions of existing designs. As with the new transmission, this rear drive doesn't use gaskets, just o-rings and seals.
One of the great features of the spine-frame models is that the floating rear drive exerts much less driving force into the rear suspension. Chain-drive bikes squat at the rear under acceleration and traditional shaft-drive bikes raise up. To make this possible, spine-frame Guzzis have a small, sealed needle-roller bearing just inboard of the axle nut, allowing the rear drive to rotate on the axle to coincide with the movement of the suspension. With the V11 Sport, a second bearing is added inside the spline driving the rear wheel, giving much better support to the rear drive.
Suspension-wise, the only significance I see in the change from Dutch WP to Marzocchi forks is that the latter carry revised brake calipers from Brembo. While Brembo's 5165 four-piston street caliper soldiers on in applications such as the EV, Bassa, and Jackal, high-end sport bikes are changing to Brembo's newer 6800 series. They look nearly identical, save for the 6800s using two pins to locate the pads where the 5165s used just one. The important difference is that the 6800s flex less than the 5165s because the wider spacing (65 mm compared to the 5165s' 40 mm) of the 10-mm mounting bolts effectively locates the lower bolt between the pairs of caliper pistons for greater rigidity. I've felt the difference by comparing otherwise similar bikes-those with 6800s always have a firmer lever.
A big change in the control module of the fuel injection system produces surprisingly good results. The computer processing unit (CPU) has been upgraded from Weber-Marelli's 16M to their newer 15M. At first I feared this move, as the 15M has no possible adjustments, save for a slight idle-speed mixture modification possible only by using Guzzi's software on a PC in conjunction with a carbon monoxide/hydrocarbon testing meter. By comparison, the 16M had a little dash pot that could be adjusted somewhat like an idle mixture screw. As it turns out, all models (Jackal, Bassa, California Special, Quota 1100ES, and V11 Sport) with the 15M run relatively well, leaving those in countries not so stringent on emissions to run a bit better. My guess is that, for one, Guzzi is no longer setting the fuel-injection mapping leaner than necessary, as they apparently did with the 16M-equipped Daytona RS, Sport 1100i, and Centauros. For another, Guzzi is obviously more aware of the need to properly adjust the clearance between the ignition pickup and its reluctor behind the cam sprocket, as Guzzi has recently introduced a series of shims for that purpose. I also think Guzzi dealers are now capable of a better setup job, ever since the factory service manual for 16M models revealed some very necessary and heretofore missing information.
The big complaint in the press about the V11 Sport has been engine vibration, reported as most annoying in the handlebars. In truth, it's unmistakably there, but really only strong in the right bar under 4000 RPM. Hit four grand and it's like the quarter ran out in your motel bed vibrator. I guess that with the combination of a large displacement, high compression, light-flywheeled engine and solid engine mounts, Guzzi chose this as the best compromise. I've heard that these engines get far smoother with mileage, which has always been true of big-twin Guzzis, so I don't doubt it for the V11 Sport as well. Really, though, if you want to putt around at 3-4 grand, why buy a sport bike? This bike is a joy at 4-6 thousand (The one I rode was too new at the time for higher engine speeds.). What's more, at freeway legal speeds, dropping the transmission into sixth makes the bike feel like it's in overdrive, almost as if the engine isn't even running. I can see these bikes being ridden for long distances!
What's it like to ride the V11 Sport? It is, as described, like a more comfortable Sport 1100 with a much wider powerband. It's somewhat funny to admit that most of what makes this model better than its predecessors involves issues of civility. The V11 Sport idles well, pulls well from any engine speed, doesn't bog in the midrange, it's comfortable, and it still comes on sport-bike strong at five grand. At speed, it's my favorite Guzzi sport bike for steering. The front wheel feels sufficiently close to the chassis, it responds quickly, but remains predictable.
Some will no doubt feel that Guzzi has abandoned them, as the V11 Sport isn't as "sport" as the Sport 1100s and Daytonas of the past. But until the day that Moto Guzzi and its dealers can justify a line of a dozen or so models, the V11 Sport is certainly in my mind the best sport bike Guzzi can make to appeal to the largest potential group of buyers. And I'm not saying that it's just for old guys. I've heard of guys in their twenties trading in late-model Ducatis on V11 Sports, just as I've seen younger riders giving this Guzzi serious consideration in our dealership.
Yes, I know I'm preaching to the choir, but even if you're into 'bags and 'boards, I believe there is great significance to see that, more so than in the past, Moto Guzzi is listening to riders, conceiving the right bike, spending the necessary money on new components, and executing the resulting design brilliantly.
Got a question?
c/o Moto International
7701 Aurora Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98103