All right, as much as I had moaned about Moto Guzzi and their import arm bringing in only the one-liter bikes the last 15 years, one would think I would have written a piece championing the virtues of the new Breva several issues ago. Yes I'm a tad tardy, but quite frankly, I didn't think I would see it this side of the pond. Too many times we have heard rumors or seen articles in the European motorcycle press about the small block models that either didn't make it stateside or worse, were never produced at all. Just a few short years ago I seem to recall a small block based 750cc-cruiser style bike with a nice teardrop tank, wire wheels, and alleged six-speed gearbox. If my memory serves me well, it was called the Griffo or Ippogrifo or something like that, which surely means "phantom" in Italian.
So when my 2003 press kit from Moto Guzzi arrived early this spring and I saw the pictures of the Breva page one, I thought to myself, "Yeah right, another teaser." However, the teaser looked cool enough for me to punctuate the end of my occasional emails to Frank Wedge with, "Any news when the Breva will actually get here?" I was rewarded with hopeful responses that seemed increasingly optimistic as the months sped past. Then all of a sudden in an uncharacteristic coordinated marketing premier it was here and actually available in most dealerships for a test ride.
A quick trip to Moto Guzzi North America's web site yielded the name and number of my nearest dealer, Lewis Motors of Tipton, Indiana. Just to be sure, I called ahead and was informed by the proprietor, James Lewis, that he indeed was holding onto the first bike he received as a test ride mount until the model was commonly available. "It is one of those bikes that has to be ridden to really be appreciated," he warned, then asked me how tall I was to determine whether the high or low seat would be preferred. Assured that I had the requisite thirty-inch inseam required for the tall seat, he issued me directions for the 3-hour trip to his shop.
With the Menendez Brothers securely buckled into the back seat of my Jetta I headed out early one Saturday morning to take James up on the offer of a test ride, even though I forewarned that I had trouble justifying the thought of a monthly payment for such a luxury. Three traffic jams, two detours, and almost six hours later I arrived to find the a silver Breva with a dark red seat sitting out in front of a quaint storefront that looked more like a bike shop than today's all to common cycle-boutique. My first impression was that like the new Ducati 999 (why don't they get it over with and just round up to 1000?), the Breva looks far better in real life than in the magazines or the brochure photographs. The fit and finish on the Breva is top shelf, up to par with all the big bore bikes, plastic being used only sparingly, yet tastefully. The red seat, which sounds awful and looks odd in the pictures, really sets a nice contrast with the silver coachwork. Thankfully, before it's introduction someone at Aprilia had the good sense to take all the marketing wizards out for a long lunch before they came up with the bright idea that it would look really cool painted flat black or named "Zinc."
After a brief and non-threatening explanation of the controls from James, I fired the bike up, pulled in the clutch, snicked it into first, and pulled out onto the boulevard. The riding position is upright and comfortable, though those over five feet ten might want to lean toward something bigger. The team at Moto Guzzi has done well with the feel of the controls on the Breva. The clutch pull is easy and engagement smooth, the gearbox throws are light but precise, the steering is easy but direct. The motor spins easily and has a broad, even torque band that makes shifting optional in many situations that would have one searching down for a lower gear or two. The brakes are strong with minimal effort, though I'm sure one could overheat the front disc with aggressive riding, no hooligan stoppies here, but competent under all relatively normal riding.
From the styling to the feel of the controls, the Breva is an exceptionally well thought out and executed bike. It is fun, easy to ride, attractive, and relatively affordable. In a word, this bike has balance.
Moto Guzzi has always had to deal with a somewhat narrow market. The motoring press has always discouraged consumers by describing them with lukewarm adjectives like "quirky" and "distinctive." I would challenge you to find a road test or riding impression of a Guzzi written over the last two decades that didn't mention how the bike had "much character and European flair, in spite of it's many flaws." However, the press has always reserved their greatest scrutiny for the rare occasions that they deign to review one of the small block models. Crippled by overwhelmingly lopsided currency exchange rates during the late 70s and early 80s when most were last imported stateside, the small blocks were blatantly damned as being, "intriguing but hard to cost justify when one can buy a KZ650 with a third more horsepower for a third less price." I really look forward to the motoring press reviews on the Breva, however. I know they will wail about the price, and I'm sure they will all want for another 20 horsepower, five degrees of lean angle, and second front disk. But if they whine too loud they will have missed the point of the Breva altogether.
The last bike I rode that I enjoyed riding as much as the Breva was a BMW R1100 that I rented out in Arizona a few years back. It was just a bit big and a tad heavy to be as comfortable as the Breva, but it had many of the same qualities that make a bike really fun. One would never impress the typical bystander, let alone a fellow cyclist, with either bike. Rather, they are both bikes that one rides solely for the pleasure of the experience. And pleasure IS the point of the new Breva.
Thanks to the MGNA folks (once again) providing demo rides, I was able to take a ride on the Breva at the Washington State MGNOC National. I agree with everything Kip said about the Breva, except I'm not overly thrilled with this kind of styling, but I believe I'm in the minorty on this. However, after I took a demo ride on the Breva, I mentioned to John Stoddart (MGNA National Sales Rep), "The Breva just got a whole lot prettier!"
What I really wanted to say - the Breva I rode (without any doubt) was the smoothest Guzzi I've ever ridden, period. -FW]