2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio Review

February 23, 2009
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
Editor|Articles|Articles RSS|Blog|Blog Posts|Blog RSS

Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio
The 2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio sources the historic marque’s transverse V-Twin motor.

You got to hand it to Moto Guzzi, the historic Italian marque sure knows how to pick a name. Stelvio… Most motorcycle riders revere the Stelvio name as an iconic road. Having traversed the 84 hairpin turns up and down the 9048-ft pass through the Italian Alps, I can vouch that the Passo dello Stelvio is indeed a legendary ride.

The Stelvio motorcycle is Moto Guzzi’s take on the popular BMW GS. A self-described “two-wheeled SUV,” the Stelvio is presented to American riders as a do-it-all adventure-touring mount. The type of motorcycle a rider would source to tackle roads like, yes, the famed Stelvio Pass.

We sampled the Guzzi’s adventure-touring quotient on a two-day border run from MCUSA’s SoCal offices to Yuma, Arizona. The backroad highways and state roads may not have the mystique of the Stelvio’s namesake, but they showed how this new Goose flies.

Moto Guzzi lives and dies by its signature transverse-mount V-Twin and the Stelvio is no exception. The latest version of the 90-degree 1151cc mill drips character, exhibiting all the expected quirks – like the pronounced gyroscopic shudder from the centerline crankshaft and the throaty V-Twin exhaust grumble. MG claims 563 new parts adorn the Stelvio motor, but the signature change is the “quattrovalvole” head. Replacing the two-valve head of previous MG Twins, the four-valve design (also found on the MG Griso) yields more peak power, although at higher revs.

2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio 2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio
Mickey Cohen Motorsport dyno chart (above). Credit the new MG mill’s improved peak power to the quattrovalvole four-valve head (below).

The Mickey Cohen Motorsports dyno registers 90.5 rear-wheel horsepower and 69 lb-ft torque from the Stelvio at a respective 7000 and 6700 rpm. The dyno chart confirms the Twin’s mid-range zing, taking off between 4-5K and falling off after its 7K peak.

“The torquey power from the Twin was fun and easily managed,” says MCUSA Video Editor, Robin Haldane. “The midrange power was welcome and even powered the front wheel in the air when that hooligan urge set in.”

On the road the Stelvio’s lively mid-range and top end works well for spirited riding, but the high-revving power seems an odd fit to the adventure-touring application. Fueling from the Weber Marelli injectors and 50mm throttle bodies is smooth, and lugging in lower revs through the corners is not a problem, but we downshifted more than usual when the road tightened up.

The six-speed gearbox is well sorted to A-T versatility. Riders can idle along in first gear without fussing the clutch, ideal for low-speed maneuvering on or off pavement. On the other extreme, sixth-gear is a touring-friendly overdrive.

The dry clutch delivers smooth shifts, but with a stiff clutch lever pull. On a more positive note, the CARC (Compact Reactive Shaft Drive) shaftdrive is refined, exhibiting little hop or lurch.

“Most Moto Guzzi’s I have ridden seemed to have clunky transmissions,” says Robin, “however, the Stelvio made every gear change flawlessly and I didn’t notice the usual drive lash of past Guzzis.”

2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio
While it may not be the most nimble, the Moto Guzzi Stelvio enjoys the curves.

Open the door at Moto Guzzi’s Mandello del Lario headquarters and pristine mountain roads are right there. Stellar handling is required on roads like the Stelvio’s namesake, which lies 100 miles to the Northeast, and the latest Guzzi corners well for a bike with a 60.4-inch wheelbase and claimed 553-lb fully-fueled heft. The 27-degree rake, 4.9-inch trail and 19-inch front wheel don’t tip into a corner as quick as sportier rides, but once it does lean it feels very planted and stable in a turn. A high center of gravity makes the Goose feel top heavy, but it doesn’t take long to get accustomed to the Guzzi mount.

“When first pulling off the parking lot after picking the Guzzi up, it felt top heavy and awkward, similar to the feeling I got the first time on BMW’s R1200GS,” admits Robin. “However once I got moving and acquainted with the handling characteristics, the bike felt comfortable and quite fun to ride.”

While it is heavy, the Stelvio’s steel frame chassis feels slim and features a capable suspension package. The fully-adjustable Marzocchi front, with thick 50mm fork tubes, looks stout and is quite compliant. Meanwhile the Boge rear shock is adjustable for preload and rebound. Both provide ample travel, with 6.7 and 6.1 inches in the front and rear. Like other street bikes with high suspension travel, there is minimal front end dive on heavy braking.

2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio
The Stelvio’s suspension and long wheelbase made for very stable handling around a curve.

“Where the suspension was a surprise for me was cornering on the road,” says Robin. “Most bikes with a lot of travel make the bike feel loose in a corner, but the Stelvio kept its line very well and felt planted all the way through the corner.”

The high level of suspension travel allows for off-road action, but the Stelvio is certainly not a trail bike! That didn’t stop us from veering off the highway as we rode through California’s Imperial Dunes. No, we didn’t scale the massive dunes, but some OHV dilly dallying included dirt road wandering. The 8.2-inches of ground clearance from the protective skid plate is such that dirt road navigation is not a problem although a brief run of more adventurous terrain caused the rear to bottom out. The Pirelli Scorpion tires inspire confidence on the road and were rugged enough for our meager off-road excursions.

The dual radial-mount four-piston Brembo calipers and 320mm discs carry high expectations. The high CG and steering geometry may be more to blame, but the front Brembos didn’t exhibit the firm initial bite expected. On more than one occasion casual two-finger pulls were rapidly changed to full fist hammerings due to lax stops. As a result, we used the 282mm disc and rear two-piston arrangement more than usual.

2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio
The  Stelvio’s riding position works well for taller riders, with the wide handlebar ample leg room quite comfortable.

Our biggest gripe with the Stelvio is its wimpy range. Calculating our 35.5 MPG efficiency and the 4.75-gallon tank, there should be a 169-mile range. During our 590 test miles, however, it seemed we were always looking for gas. Rolling into one fuel stop 30 miles into the reserve there was an unimpressive total of 140 miles on our trip meter. Any bike that aspires to adventure-touring status should have a stock range much closer to 200. Another foible of the fuel/range is the digital fuel meter has three, and only three, positions: Full, half-full and empty – at which point the fuel light comes on and reserve tripmeter kicks in.

As for the other touring accommodations, the Stelvio fares much better. The comfortable riding position is well-matched for a taller rider. At 6’1” I felt right at home aboard the big Guzzi, with the tall, wide handlebar and ample legroom. The seat is amenable to long-distance treks. It is also adjustable between 33.1 and 32.3 inches (840mm to 820mm). The half-fairing provides decent wind protection for the body and the adjustable windscreen does a fair job too. Adjustment is manual, and I found the bottom position the best, as higher settings caused helmet buffeting.

2009 Moto Guzzi Stelvio
Okay, so the Stelvio isn’t going to be a Baja desert racer, but the adventure-touring mount is capable of some tame off-roading.

A small storage component, on the right side of the fuel tank, is adequate for immediate needs like gloves or sunglasses. Optional 60-liter panniers are available for more serious touring, along with other accoutrements like heated grips and navigation system.

The instrument cluster on the Stelvio includes a white-face tach on the left, with digital speedo and display on the right. The mirrors provide a decent view but vibrations from the Guzzi Twin caused the mirrors to shake on the road to the point of blurring. We have to compliment the Guzzi, however, on its lighting. When it gets dark out the Stelvio is quite visible, with the dual headlamps and side fog lamps so bright that while riding lead on a different mount, I kept looking in my mirror surprised to the see the Guzzi and not a car riding my tail!

In the light of day, the Stelvio is easy on the eyes. While its styling may not be as sexy as other Italian designs, there is a lot to like – the single-side swingarm, spoked wheels and Guzzi eagle emblems our favorite. Then, of course, there is the transverse Twin’s heads, peaking out the side of the frame – completely different than anything else on the road. The Moto Guzzi cachet draws heavily on its uncommon character.

Riding the Stelvio through the desert and twisty mountain roads of Southern California, we had plenty of time to contemplate the Guzzi mounts strengths and weaknesses. As for its future success, the logic behind the Stelvio is sound. Its clear intention is to steal some BMW GS sales, one of the most successful motorcycles in the past two decades. With more than 100,000 units sold, pinching even a small piece of the GS pie would be a boon for Moto Guzzi and we imagine at least a couple graying gentlemen will arrive at this year’s round of BMW rallies to show off their quirky new Guzzi to old GS friends.

The Stelvio is available now in American showrooms in Corsa Red and Guzzi Black. The $14,990 MSRP is comparable to the $14,750 of the standard GS. So it’s official – the Beemer now has its doppelganger, a European AT steed with distinctive engine and plenty of personality. A versatile bike fit for famous roads – the Stelvio.

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