Moto Guzzi Bellagio: It's the twin peak

Bellissimo! You can forget your Harleys, says Tim Luckhurst; the V2 Bellagio does everything better
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Indy Lifestyle Online

emented marketing babble causes amusement at all manner of modern events. But, given man's unique capacity to talk tripe about machines, the potential at a motorcycle launch is spectacular.

And Moto Guzzi did not disappoint. In the exquisite ballroom of the Villa Serbelloni, an executive informed me that the 940cc Bellagio cruiser is the consummation of "love between a man and his motorbike". Then he explained that "the rider has the same passion for this machine as for his fiancée".

Perhaps the Italian penal code is admirably non-judgemental, but there is no excuse for marketing-speak of this level of absurdity. I left.

Outside in the villa's forecourt stood 15 coal-black cruisers, chrome-plated in classic American style and boasting the most stylish, broad, pulled-back handlebars I've ever seen. Despite the stomach-churning pomposity of the press conference, I wanted to ride one. Sadly, that was not immediately possible. It was not possible for hours.

Moto Guzzi's absorption in 2004 by the gigantic Piaggio conglomerate was supposed to introduce efficiency to this charismatic manufacturer. There was little evidence of it as 80 journalists competed for the privilege of testing 15 motorcycles. But, when I finally climbed aboard, the Moto Guzzi charisma was intact.

Bellagio, the town after which this bike is named, is an idyllic resort on Lake Como, set at the tip of a promontory but surrounded by high peaks. Climbing these means riding through steep, winding passes punctuated by hairpins and short straights. The lakeside road out of town snakes through almost as many tight bends.

Guzzi, based since 1928 at Mandello del Lario on the opposite side of Como, tests all its motorcycles in this terrain. The Bellagio could not feel more at home. Those handlebars offered total control as I tipped the bike into corner after corner. The big twin's power curve spreads elegantly through the rev range, giving the surge to climb out of ascending 180-degree switchbacks in second gear.

The new 936cc, 75bhp version of Guzzi's classic 90-degree transverse V-twin is good. Cruisers are not made for racing, but the Bellagio is sprightly in the mid-range and the long third gear makes for relaxed riding when the curves unwind. The gearbox requires firm treatment, but any clunkiness is more than compensated for by the lightweight, reactive shaft-drive to the rear wheel.

I have praised this transmission system before for its performance on Guzzi's long-distance tourer, the Norge and its naked roadster, the Griso. It is equally impressive here. Integrated into a single-sided aluminium swing-arm, the shaft enhances the Bellagio's structural rigidity and adds to its smooth handling at speed.

One look at its low, two-up, rear-set saddle, forward-positioned footpegs and stacked mufflers tells you who Guzzi sees as the competition. This is the closest thing to an Italian Harley-Davidson the company has produced. At a glance, it resembles the Sportster and Street Bob models. Piaggio executives make no bones about it; the Bellagio is aimed at potential Harley buyers who want something more distinctive.

It is, of course, a much more powerful and sophisticated motorcycle than the basic Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster. The Bellagio boasts twin front discs, a much larger fuel tank and that smooth shaft-drive. It can out-corner a Sportster and is practical on motorways. You could, at a pinch, tour on a Bellagio. In performance terms, it is closer to the excellent Triumph Bonneville than the American icon.

This is a classy motorcycle. Comfortable, quick and agile, it seduces you from the moment you push those wonderful handlebars into the first tight twist and feel the bike follow instantly and smoothly. Fans of big twin-cylinder engines will find few to beat the Guzzi version. As I rode through heavy rain beneath the glowering Como cliffs, hot air wafted from the cylinder-heads on to my legs. No other twin offers that luxury.

It's not inconceivable that Guzzi can snatch a slice of what its marketing men call the "American-Road market". In the 1960s and 1970s, models including the California, Ambassador and Eldorado were much sought after Stateside. The Bellagio has the sophistication, modernity and reliability that such machines conspicuously lacked. Only Triumph has as much kudos among a certain generation of discerning American riders

In 2006, its new range of motorcycles boosted Guzzi's total sales above 10,000 for the first time since 1983. That success is a fair return on Piaggio's investment in new technology and its continuing loyalty to unique aesthetics.

The Bellagio is definitely worth inspecting. But enthusiasts will not be surprised to learn that it costs more than its competitors. If you adore Guzzi style only slightly less than the marketing twits suggest, that should not be a problem.

Specifications

Engine: 935.6cc air-cooled transverse V-twin

Maximum power: 55kW (75bhp) @ 7,200rpm

Maximum torque: 78Nm @ 6,000rpm

Brakes: front twin 320mm floating discs, rear single fixed 228mm disc

Transmission: six-speed gearbox, shaft final drive

Dry weight: 224kg

Seat height: 780mm

Price: £6,999

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