REVIEW | 2019 Moto Guzzi V85 is a retro-cool adventure bike

28 November 2019 - 08:28
By Denis Droppa
Moto Guzzi V85 TT is an adventure bike styled with old-school cool. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
Moto Guzzi V85 TT is an adventure bike styled with old-school cool. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

Italian motorcycle brands Aprilia and Moto Guzzi gained a new lease of life in SA when Italian Motorcycle Importers (IMI) recently took over the distributorship, after the demise of former importers Cayenne Sport.

They are based in the opulent showroom of Maserati Johannesburg in Sandton and offer their bikes with a three-year/60,000km service plan. IMI also sell parts and apparel and have a workshop that looks after Aprilias and Moto Guzzis, both old and new.

They are niche players in the local two-wheeled market and their initial product offering consists of the Aprilia RSV4 superbike, Aprilia Tuono streetfighter, Moto Guzzi V7 naked bike, and the Moto Guzzi V85 TT.

I was invited to take a ride on the V85 TT, a R209,000 middleweight adventure bike that has traction control and ABS brakes as part of the safety package. Standard fare also includes cruise control, a TFT digital screen with a trip computer, and the ability to mirror your smartphone’s navigation onto the bike’s screen.

To give the bike some “Jedi coolness”, Moto Guzzi has appointed Hollywood star and globetrotting motorcyclist Ewan McGregor — perhaps best known as portraying a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars — as brand ambassador for the V85 TT.

It’s a versatile bike aimed at commuting, touring and off-road riding, and riders can switch between three rider-selectable modes — road, rain and off-road — to suit the conditions.

All those hi-tech toys are modern but the design isn’t. The V85 TT is styled with old-school cool that conjures Dakar Rally bikes of old — especially in its white-yellow-red Giallo Sahara colour scheme as shown here — and Moto Guzzi refers to it as a retro enduro bike. TT stands for Tutti Terreno which is “all terrain” in Italian.

Though it’s not a hard-core off-roader it’s well set up to explore rough gravel trails with its semi-knobbly tyres, wire-spoked wheels, semi-decent ground clearance courtesy of a 19-inch front wheel, and protective belly pan. Off-road mode disables the ABS on the rear wheel to improve braking ability on gravel, though ABS always stays active at the front.

I don’t think Moto Guzzi intends it as a proper enduro bike but it has the hardware and software to tackle more than the proverbial puddle in your driveway.

The looks are retro but the technology isn’t, and includes a TFT digital instrument panel. Picture: DENIS DROPPA
The looks are retro but the technology isn’t, and includes a TFT digital instrument panel. Picture: DENIS DROPPA

It’s a machine suited to biking newcomers as it’s easy to ride, comfortable and not intimidatingly large or powerful. It also has shaft drive — unique in its class — meaning there’s no worrying about oiling a chain.

The Guzzi feels nice and nimble through busy suburbs. Being a middleweight bike it isn’t too bulky, and for my six-foot height the seat was low enough to straddle with both my feet flat on the ground. Shorter riders may need to use tiptoes.

Wide handlebars with Shrek-ear side mirrors call for caution when lane-splitting but I managed to squeeze the bike through reasonably tight gaps when navigating the biblically congested traffic in Fourways, Johannesburg.

The upright riding position places no weight on the wrists and makes the V85 seem well suited to long-distance riding, though the small and nonadjustable screen doesn’t offer a lot of wind protection.

I noticed some oddities in my short ride. For instance, there’s a gearshift indicator in the TFT display but it goes blank as soon as you pull the clutch when slowing down to stop, so you’re not entirely sure whether you’re actually in first gear when you pull off again.

Also, switching between the three riding modes involves pressing the starter button — in theory just one press per mode but in practice it’s a hit-and-miss affair that sometimes takes several jabs.

I guess it wouldn’t be an Italian machine without some quirkiness.

Power hounds won’t find much to get the adrenaline flowing with the 60kW and 80Nm outputs on offer, and the 853cc vee-twin engine is all about low-revving torque — it redlines at just 7,500rpm, which is almost laughably low for a bike.

It won’t go much faster than 180km/h but it’s an easy cruiser with decent overtaking poke.

It makes a rowdy noise as only vee-twins can, giving this bike an appealing vocal character that’s viscerally enhanced by its thumpety-thump idling. It’s a rough and raw engine but in a good way, adding to the bike’s overall rugged charisma.