An Italian bike inspired by a Nordic journey is a civilised companion, finds

Specifications

Engine: 1,151cc, air cooled, 90 degree, V-twin, 4-stroke
Maximum power: 95bhp (66 kW) @ 7,500rpm
Maximum torque: 100Nm @ 5,800rpm
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, shaft final drive
Brakes: Front twin 320mm floating discs with ABS, rear single 282mm disc with ABS
Weight: 246kg
Seat height: 800mm
Tank capacity: 23 litres
Price: Between £8,500 and £10,000 depending on equipment

The name tells a story. In 1928 Moto Guzzi production engineer Giuseppe Guzzi, brother of the company's founder, rode the original Norge model from Lake Como to Norwegian Lapland. Despite nearly seven decades of technological advance, much of it pioneered by Moto Guzzi, I was not convinced that the 2006 Norge 1200 was going to make it out of the factory gates. My bike's right handlebar flopped pathetically when I tried to adjust the mirror. A colleague stalled five yards from standstill. His electrics had failed. The bikes rattled horribly at tick over.

Moto Guzzi has struggled to overcome decades of legitimate scepticism as to whether it can build motorcycles that work as well as looking gorgeous. The new generation Breva and Griso models launched last year proved that it can. But this felt like a reversion to the days when owners expected to push their Guzzis more than riding them. Then I pulled in the clutch, the rattle stopped and the butter-smooth 1,151cc 90-degree V-Twin began to work its magic.

If you buy motorcycles to boast about their technical specifications stop reading now. The Norge can only muster a modest 95bhp and its top speed is fractionally less than 130mph. But if charisma and aesthetic charm count, you will be intrigued. Add tremendous comfort and sure-footed agility and this bike begins to make sense. It is a long-range touring motorcycle, designed for riders who want to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.

The windshield is superb. At 100mph I was still enveloped in a bubble of calm air. On this style of motorcycle that level of comfort is valuable as well as pleasant. Few irritations limit range as dramatically as wind noise. Even with earplugs inserted it becomes exhausting after five or six hours in the saddle. This is one of those rare bikes on which the aerodynamics of fairing and screen make 1,000-mile days a realistic option.

The ride quality adds to that impression. It is sumptuous, and the handling remains good when the Norge moves from motorways to tight bends. The balance is superb and weight balance close to perfect. Under extreme pressure in sharp corners I found the front suspension a tad soft on standard settings and the ABS kicked in a little too soon. But the steering is so refined that full-lock turns become a doddle and the bike remains graceful when carrying a passenger. The broad, soft saddle has room for two and the engine is torquey enough to pull a passenger without fuss.

The six-speed gearbox is quiet and accurate and responds to the lightest touch. Guzzi's patented shaft-drive system, already in use on the Breva and Griso models, adapts well to this configuration, delivering smooth power to the end of the aluminium alloy swingarm without perceptible jerks. The lightweight engine and transmission gear combine to make the Norge feel more powerful than the performance specifications imply.

Of course, being a Guzzi it looks lovely as well. Four powerful headlights mounted in twin pods beneath the windshield give the front end the appearance of a predatory falcon. That elegance is maintained as the fairing sweeps back to embrace the protruding cylinder heads. This is a large motorcycle, but it looks and feels compact.

If you have grown out of bragging about daredevil antics but appreciate the ability to cover distance in comfort the Norge is distinctive. Mine gave me no mechanical trouble over 100 miles of fast, mixed riding. Moto Guzzi insists that technical glitches experienced on pre-production models will be eliminated before the Norge is made available in the UK in August. The company's new reputation for reliability makes me inclined to believe that. So, the question is whether this elegant Gran Turismo machine is better than its rivals.

The Norge has a capacious fuel tank. I achieved 46mpg in fast riding, suggesting a range of at least 250miles between stops. It comes with ABS fitted as standard. There are eccentricities, such as heat rising from exposed cylinder heads and an instrument panel that looks incongruously cheap in the context of what is in all other respects a very classy machine. But I like the Norge very much. It has personality as well as impeccable manners. I would be happy to ride one from Italy to Oslo.

The unromantic truth is that it is not better than a BMW R1200RT or Honda Pan European, nor is it as fast as a Triumph Sprint ST. But Moto Guzzis have always appealed to aesthetically refined tastes and this one is no exception. It is a thoroughly modern and sophisticated motorcycle and guaranteed to attract admiring glances wherever it goes.

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