Monday, 21 April 2014

Moto Guzzi V-Twin Off Roaders - Improbable Italian Enduros

Moto Guzzi V65 TT
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Considering our recent inundation of overweight, overly-complicated, quasi-enduro hair shirts produced by every manufacturer and their Chinese knockoffs, you'd be forgiven if you were to think that the overwrought poseur offroader (sorry, “Adventure Tourer”) was a recent innovation. If you thought these “should-be-an-uncompetitive-road-bike-but-it's-a-class-leader-because-we-made-the-suspension-too-tall” machines that clutter up showrooms and spend most of their time outside the nearest Starbucks - or beached on logging road ditches by weekend warriors - were concocted by the marketing gurus of the motorcycling world who sought to add yet another saleable category to our ever-growing gamut of useless niches, you'd only be half right. The improbable off-roader has been around for decades, gradually evolving into the two-wheeled barges we enjoy today, and few of these fauxduros were as unusual as the V-twin mud pluggers that rolled out of the Moto Guzzi works in Mandello del Lario.


Moto Guzzi V65 TT Brochure
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The story of Moto Guzzi's off-road efforts begins in the mid-1980s, when the venerable Italian marque decided to take a stab at building a large trailie based around their new Lino Tonti-designed small block V-twin engines and frames. The decision to build a twin-cylinder off roader during this period wasn't pure happenstance or the product of some particularly good weed making the rounds in the design department – BMW had been cleaning up in the showrooms and in competition with their rugged Gelände/Straße series, introduced in 1980 with the R80G/S. The formula was as simple as it was weird – take a well-proven and rugged engine, strip away the cosmetic baubles, put on some long-travel suspension and skinny rims, and bam: a new category of on/off road machine that was neither fish nor fowl. It was too heavy and cumbersome to be a proper dirtbike, and too biased towards off-road riding to be a proper streetster, but somehow the combination just worked well as a do-it-all machine that could munch miles on the freeway and function well enough offroad to win the Paris-Dakar and the Baja. Against all odds BMW was fast developing a cult following for its unusual machine, powered by its perennial airhead boxer twin. And Guzzi, like many manufacturers, wanted a slice of the G/S success pie.

Moto Guzzi V35 TT Motorcycle
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The irony was that BMW claimed to be bucking the trend of increasingly specialized Asian machines by producing a deliberately mixed bag that would function well as an all-rounder. Faced with a slow slide into nostalgia-driven conservatism, and some rumours of the automotive side of the business shuttering the stagnant motorcycle division, something fresh was needed to kickstart sales. Using existing parts-bin bits - a slightly reworked R80/7 engine, a R65 frame, some R100/7 forks and brakes - was an expedient solution that would keep costs down. Despite the basic elements being standard BMW fare, the resulting G/S was unlike anything else on the market. BMW's answer to the proliferation of specialized niche machines was... to build a new specialized niche machine. And never mind that off-road oriented “scramblers” had been around for decades, even if they had never been runaway sales successes. Don't think too hard about that, you might piss off the copy writers in the BMW marketing department who have worked hard to build an image of iconoclastic and innovative success spearheaded by their goofy parts-bin-special boxer dirtbikes.
Regardless of the motivations behind the design, the G/S was a trendsetter and performed remarkably well offroad as well as on, spawning a new category and a series of imitators. Moto Guzzi was a little late to the G/S copycat party, but when they did put pen to paper they introduced a series of machines that were so brilliantly executed that nobody outside of the Guzzista forums remembers they ever existed.

Moto Guzzi TT Motorcycle Brochure
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After decades of producing a line of well-regarded horizontal singles and a variety of small engines in various configurations, not to mention some stunning racing engines, Guzzi introduced their now iconic air-cooled transverse V-twin in the 1967 V7. Designed by Giulio Cesare Carcano, famed for his work on the legendary 500 V8, the twin was initially developed as a larger engine aimed at winning an Italian police motorcycle contract, some claiming it was intended for use in a three-wheeled military tractor. The rugged 90-degree overhead valve motor would prove to be one of the most enduring engine designs of all time, and would establish Moto Guzzi's unwavering commitment to the unusual engine layout, which (curiously) has always been viewed with far more consternation than the equally distinct BMW boxer. The Carcano engine became the genesis of what has become known as the “big block” Guzzi architecture, which has maintained the same basic layout into the 21st century: air cooling, one-piece crankcase, overhead valves actuated by pushrods, and a separate transmission with shaft final drive. The only aberration of the formula has been the eight-valve engines introduced in the Daytona series in the early 90s, featuring a belt-driven pair of high cams acting on short pushrods controlling four valves per cylinder. Current 8V models use a modified high-cam layout with chain-driven camshafts, but otherwise still retain the basic characteristics of the big block engines that have endured since 1967.

Moto Guzzi Tutto Terreno Motorcycle Brochure
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The success of the big block formula continued until the mid-1970s, but despite the quality and performance of their V7 series Guzzi faced a waning market. Following a record year of sales in 1971 (which remains unsurpassed for the company) things began to slide downhill. Following yet another period of financial instability (name an Italian motorcycle company that hasn't, repeatedly), (in)famous industrialist Alejandro de Tomaso stepped in and purchased the ailing company in 1973, adding Guzzi parent company Società Esercizio Industrie Moto Meccaniche (SEIMM) and its assets to his stable of brands under the De Tomaso Industries Group, which included Benelli, Maserati, Innocenti, and his namesake automobile company.
Under de Tomaso's leadership Moto Guzzi focussed on the production of twin-cylinder machines, discontinuing production of the long-in-the-tooth Falcone horizontal singles in 1974. De Tomaso felt that a move into the middle range with a cheaper, smaller displacement offering would aid the faltering company. Engineer Lino Tonti was entrusted with creating a new machine that would fit the bill for a lighter, cost effective, more refined competitor which would aim to steal shares from the middleweight machines from Asia that were dominating the motorcycle market.

Moto Guzzi V65 TT Offroad
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Tonti was well versed in Guzzi twins, and had reworked Carcano's motor for the legendary V7 Sport in 1971, his revisions becoming the basis of all subsequent big block twins. He also introduced a new frame in the Sport, a stout backbone design that would serve as a template for most future Guzzi chassis designs into the 21st century. Tonti's solution for the new series of machines was to retain the transverse layout and 90-degree Vee, but miniaturize and lighten the package considerably, while improving efficiency and moving Guzzi into the midrange category with a smaller twin that would fill the gap in the line left by the now departed Falcone.

Moto Guzzi V65 TT Motorbike
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Tonti's new “small block” engine debuted as the 45hp, 490cc, 74x57mm mill slotted into the new V50 unveiled in 1976, introduced alongside a downsized 346cc, 66x50.4mm Italian home-market displacement tax dodging version dubbed the V35. On the whole the new models shed a slightly obscene amount of weight compared to their bigger stablemates – there was over 100 lbs difference between the new small blocks and their big block counterparts. While sharing a general visual similarity to the big block motors, and retaining pushrod actuated valves and a separate transmission with shaft drive, the small block engine was an entirely new design, as was the straight-cut five-speed gearbox. Production initially began at the Mandello factory, moving to the Milan-based Innocenti automobile works (which was also part of de Tomaso's empire) in 1979 to increase production capacity of the Tonti twins.

Moto Guzzi Small Block Heron Head
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Moto Guzzi Small Block Cutaway
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The new engine featured horizontally split crankcases, while the cylinder was of a Heron head layout with two valves per cylinder. More common in automobile engines than in motorcycles, Heron heads use a flat combustion chamber with vertical valves. The combustion chamber is carved into the crown of the piston, which is far easier to cast/machine into a complex shape than the cylinder head, reducing production costs. The Heron head was favoured by a select few motorcycle companies – aside from the small block Guzzis, the design was shared by the 72-degree air-cooled V-twins produced for many years by Moto Morini. It remains a hallmark of the modern small blocks, a lineage which persist in the current V7 range of throwbacks, which are never to be confused with or directly compared to the big block V7s of yore lest you incur the wrath of some grizzled Goose enthusiast who doesn't take kindly to bearded espresso-sucking Rocker rejects bastardizing the heritage of Mandello's historic machines aboard wheezy, emissions strangled small blocks.

Moto Guzzi V50 TS Prototype 1981
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Fast forward to the mid-1980s, after BMW's G/S has taken the motorcycling world by Sturm and proved its critics very wrong by performing extremely well in the showrooms and on the trails. The new niche of the big road-based trailie has suddenly become an appealing formula to rival companies, and Moto Guzzi is no exception. At the 1981 Milan motorcycle show the company unveiled a prototype Tutto Strada machine based on the V50 which was in the vein of street scrambler motorcycles of the 1960s and 70s, but had not followed through with a production version. It wouldn't be until 1984 that someone in the Guzzi skunkworks eyed the V65, an upsized V50 that had been in production since 1982, and thought to themselves that could surely be turned into a dirtbike. A slight restyle, some taller suspension and a set of knobbly tires later the unholy Tutto Terreno 650 / 350 (also referred to as the V65 / V35 TT) was born.

Moto Guzzi V65 TT Motorcycle
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The TT shared the (admittedly very good) Tonti frame with the V65, which suspended the motor as a semi-stressed member. It retained the dual-shock suspension and swingarm of the V65, with the swingarm pivot supported by the transmission cases. The bodywork was squared off and given a distinctly 1980s off-road flair, with a thick foam seat, boxy high-mount exhaust, abbreviated nacelle around a rectangular headlamp, and a useless 14-litre fuel tank that would have been better suited to a motocrosser. The front suspension looked the part with lanky leading axle 42mm right-side-up Marzocchi forks and a 21 inch rim below a high mounted mudguard, but the rear looked like it had collapsed onto the 17 inch knobbly in a permanent squat. The 80x64mm 643cc motor was unchanged (or detuned slightly, depending on who you ask or what was on the shelf at the factory when final assembly came around) from the V65 donor, and produced something in the neighbourhood of 45-50hp at around 7000 rpm, decent performance from a small twin in a relatively lightweight machine that tipped the scales around 400lbs wet.

Moto Guzzi V65 TT
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The TT performed reasonably well, save for a few fatal flaws. The first was the worthless range offered by the weeny fuel tank, which limited the TT's appeal to globe-trotters or people who liked to ride further than the corner store. The second was the limited rear suspension travel which was hampered by the old-school dual shock setup and short swingarm from the V65. The third was a fragile final drive that wasn't suited to being pushed hard off the beaten track. The fourth was the utterly useless front brake, which might have been suitable for a featherweight off roader but not for a 400lb road bike masquerading as such. The fifth was the lack of support for the swingarm pivot, which led to a few instances of cracked transmission cases in hard use. The final nail in the coffin was the typical bugbears of anything slapped together by Italians: iffy quality control, substandard wiring, and crap electrics - complete with bad-old-fashioned contact breaker ignition, Guzzi having abandoned a previous attempt to convert its machines to electronic ignition when they were unable to cure a flat spot under acceleration. The TT performed admirably considering how ill-suited it should have been for offroad use, and was noted as being easier to handle than the porky G/S, offering smooth, tractable power from its little V-twin and a lot less weight to muscle around.

Claudio Torri Moto Guzzi TT Paris Dakar 1985
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One example was specially prepared by the factory for the 1985 Paris Dakar at the behest of Italian architect and amateur racer Claudio Torri, who rode the machine in the PD but failed to finish. Remarkably, Torri's 650 TT was not the first small block Guzzi to compete in the event. A privateer effort undertaken by French Guzzi importer SEUDEM in 1979 had taken five road-going V50s and modified them in haphazard fashion to compete in the grueling race, beating all expectations when one of the machines ridden by Bernard Rigoni finished the event in 48th place overall, the best result of any Guzzi desert sled to date. This result was all the more remarkable when you examine the cobbled-together details of these underdog machines. At the time no spoked wheels could be sourced to fit the final drive, so the stock cast wheel was used at the rear, looking quite out of place compared to the 21 inch alloy spoked wheel at the front (and proving to be the weak link of the machines when the alloy spokes began snapping due to the side loads imposed by riding through deep sand). The standard swingarm was retained with a pair of longer shocks to suspend it, along with magnesium Marzocchi forks up front. The seat was pulled off a V1000 Convert. The fuel tank was based on the V7 Sport shell, enlarged to 30 litres. The scrappy French underdogs returned to the PD with two new V50-based machines in 1980 and another three in 1981 but failed to finish in either event.

1979 Paris Dakar Moto Guzzi V50
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Inspired by the near-success of the curious 1985 “kinda-sorta-but-not-really” works effort (Torri had funded part of the project personally) the French Moto Guzzi importer commissioned the factory to build 16 Dakar replicas dubbed the Tutto Terrena Competizione Baja. These were distinguished from pedestrian TT models by their hand-beaten 30 litre aluminum endurance tanks, long travel Marzocchi suspensions with relocated shock mounts, heavy sump skid plates, oil coolers, electric start delete (with a kickstarter fitted in its place), solo seats, lengthened swingarms taken from the big block Le Mans, and straight through two-into-one exhausts finished in white enamel. All examples were built in the factory's experimental workshop over a period of two years, with each machine exhibiting unique details due to their hand crafted nature.
The second generation of factory racers built in 1986 used the newly introduced 744cc, 84x74mm V75 engine with four-valve heads, and were developed and tested with the input of the French importer with the intention of once again competing in the Dakar. Two machines were built using lessons learned from the Baja series and extensive testing in France and Spain, both producing over 60 hp and weighing just over 350 lbs. Unfortunately neither machine finished the event.

Moto Guzzi V65 TTc Baja
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The four-valve heads introduced on the 1984 V65 Lario soon became notorious for snapping the heads off their valves, causing spectacular engine failures at random. The smaller valves used in the new heads were constructed in two pieces, with their poppets welded to the shafts, creating a weak point where they inevitably began to fail. Additionally these motors used overly strong doubled valve springs which tended to accelerate the valves too fast, especially at the higher revolutions that the new four-valve designed offered. Finally the changes in the cylinder head apparently reduced oil misting to the top end, this being quite a big deal as misting from the crankcases was the secondary means of top-end lubrication on the small block engines. The icing on the shit cake was a solid camshaft that self-destructed due to lack of lubrication, a problem fixed by a recall that installed a hollow cam with revised oil flow. All these factors came together into a perfect storm of mechanical destruction, with the four-valve motors fast earning a reputation for being grenades. It is a reputation that persists to this day, with many owners either significantly reworking their valvetrains to improve their chances, or just parking the pitiful things to gather dust rather than risking an expensive blowup.

Moto Guzzi Paris Dakar 750 4-Valve Racer
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The final factory Guzzi off road racer was a 750 built in 1987 for the Australian importer to use in the Wynn's Safari event, with the problematic four-valve heads ditched in favour of the old two-valve setup. In preparation for the Safari this machine was given a trial by fire in the 1988 Peruvian Incas Rally, where it successfully finished (placement unknown). When it was finally campaigned in the Wynn's Safari by Aussie rider Allan Cunynghame it suffered a catastrophic front fork collapse and failed to finish. That particular machine, which would prove to be the last factory off-road racer, was repaired after the event and sold into private hands.

Moto Guzzi NTX 650 Enduro
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On the production side of the factory floor the TT concept received a significant reworking in 1986 with the introduction of the Nuova Tipo Cross (NTX) 650 / 350, which would be sold alongside the TT until it was discontinued in 1989. The NTX addressed many of the weak points of the TT and aspired to be a more serious enduro machine, complete with a sizeable 32 litre fuel tank, taller seat, and Dakar-esque fairing. The rear suspension was reworked to improve travel, new 42mm Marzocchi forks suspended the front, and the Brembo brakes were mercifully left unlinked in defiance of longstanding Guzzi tradition. The engine was shared with the TT and 2-valve V65s, with a new camshaft providing extra midrange and a coat of black paint providing some cosmetic distinction. All told very little was shared with the TT. The overall effect was that of a purpose-built big enduro machine, much like the contemporary Pantah-powered Cagiva Elefant or the Honda Transalp.

Moto Guzzi NTX 750 Enduro Motorcycle
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In 1987 (or 1986, depending on who you ask) the NTX was made available in a 750 variant, producing the same claimed horsepower as the 650 with an extra measure of torque, which would soon become the darling of the Italian polizia and scourge of Latin motorists. In police guise the NTX 750 was referred to as the X Publicca Amministrazione (X PA) and supplemented sales of the more traditionally styled V50/V65 PA, which had been the first of the small block police-issue Guzzis. The X PA had some key modifications to distinguish it from the civilian version, aside from the obvious addition of lights and a siren. The 21 and 18 inch alloy rims of the production NTX were replaced by steel 18 and 16 inch items fitted with road biased tires. The windscreen was taller, handguards were standard, and engine crash bars were fitted. A lower, more comfortable seat was also installed. A body-coloured hard luggage kit was also available. Aside from these modifications and accessories the X PA was mechanically identical to the NTX – no cop shocks or cop motor here. Production of the X PA continued until 2001, long after the civilian version had been discontinued.

Moto Guzzi 750 X PA Police Motorcycle
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The NTX earned a small but loyal cult following over the course of production, which endured with only minor changes until 1995. In the press the NTX earned many of the same accolades and jeers that the TT had, with a poorly damped suspension and worthless front brake topping the list of complaints. The dual-shock swingarm looked downright quaint well before the end of production, and was well behind the times for an off-roader of any description from the git-go. The tall centre of gravity, exacerbated by the massive fuel tank, made slow manoeuvres and trail riding a bit dicey. American riders were largely oblivious to the NTX, with as few as 24 examples having been imported - which was still a better showing than the TT, of which only a dozen or so are thought to have been sold on this side of the Atlantic. But the sweet character of the flexible little V-twin and decent handling on- and of- road (wobbly suspension aside) won the NTX a few fans over the years, even if it never threatened to unseat the G/S from its perch as king of the quasi-enduros.

Moto Guzzi NTX Brochure
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While the NTX remained in production for the next ten years more or less unchanged aside from some cosmetic improvements, the competition had moved on. The BMW G/S had been significantly updated and punched out to 980cc in 1987, when it was rechristened the R100GS (no slash, with some sources claiming the new name meant Gelande-Sport, though BMW sometimes denies this). The bigger, badder, fatter GS was recast as a world-conquering adventure machine, gaining inches and pounds in every direction compared to its more elemental predecessor.  The new GS was modified with the express intention of turning the GS into a more road-oriented machine that would better suit the actual rigours most of the machines would face (contemporary surveys having determined that as much as 98% of G/S owners never left a paved road), marking a moment of transition that would lead to our modern glut of top-heavy tourers with laughable off-road pretensions. Meanwhile, Honda released the first 583cc version of their evergreen V-twin powered XL-V Transalp in 1987, with the 742cc XRV 750 Africa Twin following in 1989. Yamaha got into the game in 1989 with their parallel-twin XTZ 750 Super Ténéré. The market was gradually shifting away from big enduros to purpose-built twin-cylinder “adventure” machines that sacrificed most of their off-road ability for better long-distance touring manners. Like the new GS these were road-biased motorcycles built for occasional excursions off the beaten track, provided you had the skills to manhandle a tip-happy 500 pound-plus beast on DOT approved tires over rough terrain, and the strength to lift it up when you inevitably toppled it over.

Moto Guzzi NTX Brochure
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Guzzi joined the nascent adventure tourer festivities with the entirely new Quota 1000 IE, which was distinguished from their previous off-road efforts by using the Weber/Marelli fuel-injected 949cc, 88x78mm, big-block twin yanked straight out of the California III cruiser. First unveiled in 1989 but only reaching production in 1992, the Quota had a claimed 69hp at 6600rpm and 59lb/ft of torque at 6000, eclipsing the power output of the NTX 750 by a fair margin with a torque curve flat enough to make a Harley rider jealous. It also eclipsed the weight of the NTX by clocking in at over 560lbs (with the factory claiming a ridiculously optimistic 465lbs dry), a not insignificant 150-pound difference between the small block soft-roader and the new big-block BMW-beater. Twin 280mm discs grabbed by Brembo two-piston calipers up front addressed the braking complaints of the NTX and dealt with the added heft of the big block platform. Wheels were spoked 21 and 17 inchers, while the rear suspension was much improved by a rising-rate monoshock swingarm. Wheelbase was a long 63.4 inches, which offered better traction and compliance off road but did nothing to mitigate the shaft jacking effect of the solid drive shaft. By the time the Quota was introduced BMW had long since eliminated the jacking effect from their boxers via multilink rear suspensions with articulated Paralever driveshafts – Guzzi would introduce its own articulated shaft system, a parallelogram linkage dubbed Cardano Reattivo Compatto (CARC), in 1993 on their Daytona superbike.

Moto Guzzi Quota 1000IE Motorcycle
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In spite of the soft-roader image, legend has it that the Quota was intended to be every bit as durable and capable off road as anything else in the hopes of securing military and law enforcement contracts in areas where severe duty was expected. The Quota had to handle some serious shit and was built to last. The Tonti frame was abandoned in favour of a new twin spar steel backbone frame with removable lower cradles to facilitate easy engine removal. A pair of massive rectangular box section spars, tucked up high above the engine and hidden beneath the bodywork (which reduced fuel capacity to 20 litres, despite the appearance of having a massive gas tank), connected the steering head to the swingarm support and offered a strong and rigid chassis to cope with the rigours of off-road abuse.

Moto Guzzi Quota 1000IE Enduro
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An interesting aside – with the introduction of the oilhead R1100GS in 1994, BMW redesigned the GS chassis to minimize the frame and utilize the engine as a stressed member, with a subframe supporting the new Saxon-Motodd-designed Telelever front suspension and the swingarm pivoting through a reinforced transmission casing. Unfortunately this near-frameless design overtaxed the chassis and led to cracking mounts and broken subframes, especially on the few examples that were actually flogged off road or called upon to embark on cross-continental journeys like the BMW marketing department kept insisting the GS was designed for. The Quota had no such problems with its massive box section frame, and thus in a perverse way it could be argued that the Guzzi would be a better choice for gruelling excursions than the GS. Regardless of whether the Quota was intended to do duty as a military machine in the deserts of Africa or not, it proved to be a tough machine - wonky electrics and the usual Guzzi foibles excepted. BMW would completely redesign the chassis of the GS with the introduction of the R1200GS in 2004, significantly reworking the rear frame to better support the seat and swingarm pivot.

Moto Guzzi Quota 1000 Motorbike
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Period reviews noted that the Quota was reasonably capable on and off road. Performance was improved over the NTX with better suspension, better brakes, and a stronger motor. There was no escaping the weight and tall attitude of the Quota (which, perhaps not coincidentally, translated to “heights”), but reviewers noted that despite the top-heavy design and 35 inch seat height the heft was easy to control and the balance was good once underway – this damning-with-faint praise coming from an era before all tourers and “adventure” bikes were expressly designed for (and exclusively reviewed by) 6-foot-10 200-plus pound Aryan supermen with 40-inch inseams who delighted in having absurdly proportioned motorcycles built just for them. To add insult to injury at least one Quota was delivered to a journalist without a sidestand, forcing every stop into a delicate balancing act while the rider dismounted and heaved the ungainly brute up onto the centrestand. If you were fortunate enough to have a sidestand mounted to your Quota, you were treated to the catastrophically stupid 1990s Italian trend of fitting a sui-sidestand that would automatically retract as soon as the weight was taken off it, a brilliant addition to a tall, top heavy machine with expensive engine parts jutting out on either side.

Moto Guzzi Quota 1000 IE
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Unwieldy at a rest though it may have been, once underway the Quota was a pleasant machine and the lazy, torque-addled California mill suited the laid-back character of a large quasi-off roader that was likely to be called upon to devour miles on the freeway than jump whoops on the back forty. Some complained about the agricultural and lazy nature of the softly tuned V-twin and its clunky five speed transmission, as Guzzi critics are often wont to do, but reviews were generally favourable and the Quota surprised in its abilities on the highway. The Quota was an interesting competitor to the GS, in other words, and comparisons to the Bavarian tractor were inevitable. But the Quota was not a volume machine intended to knock the GS off its perch, and nobody was expecting the boys in Mandello to build a world beater that would fly out of the showrooms - let alone go toe to toe with zee Germans. As such the Quota sold a few units and earned a few loyal fans, much like the previous Guzzi trailies, but never became anything more than a curious aberration in the model lineup to keep the California company.

Moto Guzzi Quota 1100ES Motorcycle
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In spite of the presumably limited appeal of an oversized Italian enduro-slash-tourer, production of the Quota 1000IE continued until 1997, when the model received an update to become the Quota 1100ES for 1998. The engine was enlarged to 1064cc with a 92mm bore and 80mm stroke, a displacement bump introduced in the big block range by the 1100 Sport in 1995. A new lazy camshaft and updated EFI with a new Marelli ECU rounded out the engine updates, while the five speed transmission and final drive was pulled straight off the Sport 1100. Power was virtually unchanged from the 1000IE, but the torque curve was beefed up – put an 1100ES on a dyno and you'll find the horsepower matches the torque peak number-for-number, making for some seriously understressed motivation. The rear subframe was reworked to reduce the seat height to just over 32 inches, which was still on the “1990s Teutonic action hero” side of the ergonomic bell curve. In a curious bit of spec-sheet fumbling the dry weight of the ES was listed as 540lbs, 77lbs more than the claimed figure for the IE and still on the bullshit side of the scale, with the actual curb weight being as-near-as-dammit 600lbs. Brake rotors were upped to 296mm at the front to improve on-road stopping power. Aside from these detail updates and refinements the ES was little changed from the IE, complete with conservative styling that was beginning to look more than a little dated despite some minor restyling. While the 1000IE had been a European (and Australian) exclusive model, the 1100ES was imported into the US market from 1999 onward. It sold in ludicrously small quantities, likely barely more than a hundred examples, to an indifferent market until it was quietly dropped from the US lineup around 2000, not long after Aprilia purchased Moto Guzzi from De Tomaso. The final North American deliveries were apparently to Canada in 2001, with ES sales continuing in Europe until as late as 2002. Some have suggested that Aprilia didn't want another Italian V-twin powered enduro/tourer competing with their new ETV 1000 Caponord, but this gives the Quota a bit too much credit considering less than 1000 examples were built over the entire course of production, and most of them languished in showrooms.

Moto Guzzi Quota 1100 ES Motorbike
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Off road machines remained absent from the Guzzi lineup for the remainder of Aprilia's ownership, and upon Piaggio's takeover of Aprilia and its subsidiaries in 2004 the Guzzi lineup was subjected to a significant reworking to increase sales. The iconic V11 sporting models were unceremoniously dropped, with only the uninspired Breva and American-pandering California carried over. In 2007 Piaggio greenlit the revival NTX name with the NTX 1200 Stelvio, which shared absolutely nothing in common with the original NTX and was more swollen, complicated and road biased than the Quota had ever been. Now Guzzi was fully intending to do battle with the boxers from Bavaria on their home turf, with an overweight, accessory-addled quote unquote “adventure tourer” shod with faux-knobblies and possessing zero off-road ability. Piaggio dropped all the sporting pretension of Moto Guzzi's heritage in favour of building the Italian equivalent of a BMW, and the Stelvio was (and is) one of the worst offenders in this regard. The Quota was quirky and unloved, but surprisingly capable and full of character. The original NTX was equally capable and admirably weird, while the TT was a curiosity that achieved far more success off road than it ever deserved to. The Stelvio, meanwhile, is a shameless knockoff chasing the latest dumb niche - much like how the asthmatic V7 retro-repops are attempting to unseat the Triumph Bonneville from the hipster hit list to become the sole source of revenue for manufacturers of exhaust header wrap.

Moto Guzzi Quota 1100 ES Motorcycle
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Moto Guzzi has come full circle. After apeing the BMW G/S with their half-baked but charming TT, they are now making a bloated faux-enduro tourer aimed squarely at stealing market share from that caricature of an off-roader that is the R1200GS. Long gone are the weird V-twin powered oversized enduros that could be coaxed into traversing the globe or running the Dakar: today Guzzi has joined the leagues of BMW knockoffs pandering to middle-aged riders with marketing-driven dreams of globe-conquering go-anywhere adventures in their minds - and hernia-inducing tipovers in the Starbucks parking lot in their reality. Moto Guzzi's previous attempts at off-roaders were the best kind of unholy abominations that have been forgotten in the rush to build the biggest two-wheeled equivalent of a sport utility vehicle that can turn a profit. The TT, NTX and Quota will remain obscure skeletons in the Piaggio corporate closet, relics of an era when Moto Guzzi was still weird enough to be interesting and dumb enough to be daring, and were happy to leave the dull profit chasing to the Japanese and German bean counters.

Moto Guzzi Quota 1100 ES Motorcycle
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18 comments:

  1. I love your articles but can i give you a tip, you need to cut them down a bit they are very long. The detail is great and something not provided by other sites, but dude i did a rough guestimate and i think you just wrote like 3500 words about these moto guzzis, i would love to have read the whole article but i just dont have time.

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    1. Dude, this is what OddBike is all about. I put the effort into writing a proper, detailed profile of these machines that everyone else ignores or glosses over. Take the time to read it rather than treating it like the latest fluff from the regular buff mags.

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    2. Luca Mercurio21/04/2014 17:05

      To me, your articles are good enough... Damn it, let's just say it plain and simple, they're fun to read, original and much more technically accurate than the usual "motoblog" ones I use to read.
      If you want to share a story, you have to take the time and lenght you need: at least if the goal is the quality and the strenght of the story itself, and not the re-sharing rate (for that, you know, 140 digits are often enough).

      About the Guzzi's... Being an Italian (even if not a motorcycle enthusiast until 6-7 years ago, it's an interest that was born spontaneusly but later than usual) I've never seen or heard of the Quota or the first NTX, while the old TTs has got a little more fame in the generic forums and is not so rare in the used bike market (which is curious, knowing what kind of disastrous breakdowns they use to have).
      At the opposite, the new Stelvio is quite appreciated by the press and the public, even if it's still miles behind the deeply loved GS or Multistrada... And, you know, even if I agree with your analisys of this strange phenomenon, I can't blame Moto Guzzi for creating that.
      In order to survive, you've got to do what the market ask (or what more powerful players in the market makes buyers believe they need), at least until you're solid enough to think big and original again...
      It's sad, but it's what I fear it's all about lately: like Ducati owes the Monster a good part of the profits they re-invest in the latest technology for the latest superbikes, even the Guzzi needs a "cash cow" now (like the V7) in order to dream for the future...

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    3. I love the length of the articles. Nailed it with the 'adventure bike' description - have come across more than one Touratech laden albatrosses completely stranded on a fire road in the middle of nowhere while putting around on my dirt bike.

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    4. I have a love-hate relationship with Guzzi nowadays. I want them to survive, which means they need to turn a profit and they need to sell boring machines. But they lost their soul after Piaggio took over and they stopped making interesting stuff - sales be damned, Guzzi just isn't Guzzi anymore. They were far more interesting and appealing when they were making stuff that didn't sell and they were teetering on bankruptcy.

      A good example is that other victim of Piaggio - Laverda. They kept making interesting stuff that didn't sell until they were dissolved. It's a more romantic fate than becoming so pragmatic that you lose the plot.

      I'm glad Guzzi is still around, but I still think their glory days are long passed and they will likely never be appealing again. Not with their current business model, anyway.

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    5. Thank you Jason that was a very interesting read. Some great history there. I do however think you are selling the Stelvio short. It is one of the best bikes I have ever owned and yes I have had all the Bavarian GS models. For a big bike it is very capable off road.

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    6. Luca Mercurio22/04/2014 10:27

      You know, probably you're right but I want to believe that Guzzi will find a path out of this... Maybe, a different one, with some traces of the old one.

      If you think, Ducati has lost part of his '70s soul by totally forgetting of the "Scrambler" singles family it used to sell, which had its success in Italy and in foreign markets... But has acquired the "new" (from '80s), superbike-oriented one which everyone now love, even if the most of us can't actually have a new one.
      Maybe, Guzzi do really need to search his soul in the California family, even if it saddens me as well as you...

      (I know it's more romantic to be ourself 'till the death, but at least, being Guzzi still alive, it's a little simplier for old models' owners to have infos, mechanic guides and spares, while other extinct Italian companies seems to have vanished completely leaving their history and memories on the shoulders of the few who struggle to preserve them)

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    7. James,

      Sorry to hear that, but the length and detail Jason goes into is EXACTLY why I consider this site to be one of the best. Plenty of his articles are the best individual source on certain bikes that I can find on the internet.

      A simple copy/paste in Word shows that this is actually nearly 5,500 words. Hopefully you can save the article for when you've got a moment, because it's well worth it.

      Jason takes the time to get in-depth, he compiles sources, and most importantly, he's enjoyable to read. Does he sometimes hate on bikes I like? Sure. =) But I always learn something (usually, lots of things) from his articles, and that's why I keep coming back.

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  2. hi

    that's why i'm reading oddbike
    long and detailed articles. How much time I should sacrifice to collect all this informations?
    All in one place here :)
    good work Jason

    best regards

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  3. Great article Jason. I've been riding Guzzi enduros for many years and this is the most in-depth piece that I have read on them.

    Mike

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    1. That's the best compliment I could get - means I didn't totally screw this one up!

      Feel free to share pics and info about your machines on the OddBike Facebook page.

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  4. The first dirt bike on V50 basis was constructed by french guzzi importer in 1978. You can see it here: http://guzzismalltwins.blogspot.fr/2013/01/cest-au-debut-de-1978-que-limportateur.html with a second french prototype. On the same page you can see the Duna, a prototype from 1986. And at the end you can see an unknown prototype with square section frame. V75 Lario did never exist, you have the V75/4 valves 750cm3 and in another hand the Lario/4 valves 650cm3. Anyway a very good page here.

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  5. Hi Jason,
    Not too Long!

    Jason, you are a wordsmith, a bloody pedant, and a cynical bastard, those are compliments by the way - from a bloody pedant and cynical bastard. I have spent the last week reading your blog and I really enjoyed it.

    I hope the move is working out for you, a History degree seems ideal for working an M/C parts counter.

    Cheers,

    Gazza

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    1. Cynical, maybe - but I'd say my cynicism is born of passion. I hate things that lack authenticity. To me, motorcycles like the Stelvio or the GS (which I don't claim to be bad machines or unpleasant to ride) are products of marketing and fluffed up image rather than honest purpose. They tart these things up to suit the image that will sell, which is distinct from their ultimate purpose. A Le Mans, or a Daytona, or a V11 is honest. A Stelvio or a new V7 is not. Moto Guzzi used to be authentic. Now it is not. And that makes me sad, and a bit angry that the market has driven them to this.

      On a related note I spotted a fully loaded GS in our service bay last week with honest-to-god cupholders installed on the handlebars. That, to me, says it all.

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  6. For my sins, i rode a Guzzi V65 TT in the land's end trial in the late '80s. The land's end trial (if you don't know) is a long disatnce road event with a couple of dozen off road sections, some of which are done at night. it's all very entertaining. The guzzi was great on road, but off road, it, allied with my lack of competence, was less good. Most people were riding XT250s or olde British trail bikes, but muggins here pressed on on the TT.

    At least i finished, and I never had to have it lifted off me, that much can be said.

    i've had a lifelong love affair with the mandello machines. they are "the perfect vehicle", as Melissa Holbrook Pierson says. however, they're not the perfect off road machine. The main issue they suffer from - aside from poorly chosen gear ratios and engine lacking a decent state of tune for off road riding - is the compromised rear end. If the shocks are lengthened enough for off road riding, the U/J is over stressed. on the other hand, if they're not, the bike just doesn't cut it on anything other than tarmac. many of the P-D bikes suffered just this fate - the U/Js failed and, because of the design of the V50 series U/J tunnel, either destroyed the end cover of the gearbox or the swinging arm as they escaped to air.

    Still, it was fun while it lasted!

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  7. Good take on it all Jason, agree with all said - however, i haven't blown any uni-joints on the factory bikes yet - i guess i don't push them hard enough.

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  8. Nice article! It's good to read something with some depth for a change, even if I cringe when someone criticizes my beloved marque. :-)>

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  9. Like Chevy and Ford car owners, far too many bike owners get their panties all in a bunch anytime someone writes less that glowing articles about their favorite brand, Moto Guzzi included. Deep down, everyone knows that a Moto Guzzi can't be repaired just by changing the oil but it does lend to some nice fantasies all the same.

    However; it is the improbable that makes a Moto Guzzi what it is and continues to be, different. With nearly everyone either buying a Harley Davidson or wanting to and if they can't, simply choosing something else the same way people pick out yet another silver colored bulb on wheels ala Lexus or the look alikes, Moto Guzzi makes a statement without requiring yet another trip to the HD shop to buy yet another tassle wrapped bird embroidered leather jacket. I swear I've seen the type stopped alongside the road smearing some dirt on their face a block away from Starbucks.

    The Moto Guzzi is as improbable as the people who own them. Some of them might appear a little unkempt when standing next to a teutonic pole monkey but they do wash although not according to a schedule spanning days but as often as needed. While the common razor will be disassembled and used as a feeler gauge to adjust the valves, the typical Guzzi owner both appreciates and sees the humor in those who for whatever reason, need to ask their wives if it is okay to go for a ride because theirs is as likely to own a Guzzi as well.

    Some see a Moto Guzzi and ponder why, others look at them and see what makes the world turn and it isn't the buzz of an in-line four, the about to die idle of american iron or the gentle breeze of a northern European marque that makes you check to see if you put on clean underwear today. No, the Moto Guzzi simply exists and demands you be nothing but what you are, good, bad or ugly or all of the above.

    Whereas the common rider if stranded and who puts out a call for help would be quickly victimized and left sans motorcycle, without pants and the latest in line for a Life Lock account, the Guzzi rider will find themselves traveling across the country jumping from house to house and parts, tools and sincere effort follow them to make sure they get to point B.

    While it is true that owning a Guzzi requires a certain ability to understand quantum mechanics, if only in the minds of the "proper" attitude adjusted, buying into the fold is unlike buying any other brand of motorcycle, it comes with territory, pride in the real sense of the word and the knowledge that the improbably are responsible for making everything else possible.

    Without Moto Guzzi, we'd all be riding a bike that started with the letter "Q", wearing diaper lined pants and proudly singing "I feel like a woman".

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