2011 Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review

June 29, 2011
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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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.

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Euro envy remains a common complaint for the American motorcyclist. Luckless Yanks that we are, it’s always those folks over yonder Atlantic that get the cool motorcycle bits and pieces first. Thankfully that’s begun to change, and this current model year introduces a host of previous Euro-only rides. One bike which finally got its immigration papers in order is the Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Tenni.

The latest iteration of the Griso, which makes use of the four-valve cylinder head (thus the 8V designation), has been in the U.S. market for years now. Where the SE distinguishes itself from the standard Griso 8V is its classic styling accents, notably the brown leather seat and wire-spoked wheels. A fetching powder-coated black frame with matte green paint is also unique to the SE. The so-called Tenni colorway is a tribute to racer Omobono Tenni, who piloted the Italian marque to racing glory in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review
The Moto Guzzi Griso 8V already sports sleek styling lines, with the SE model adding some critical classic cues with the leather seat, wire-spoked wheels and Tenni colorway.

The 90-degree V-Twin mounted across the frame axis remains Moto Guzzi’s signature engine configuration. Fire up the air/oil-cooled 1151cc Twin and the mirrors and bars shake with a rhythmic chugging at idle. Slam the throttle while the bike rests on its kickstand and the Guzzi does its best to flip over onto its right side. This effect comes via rotational force of the longitudinal crankshaft, a definite character-building trait endemic to the Guzzi. This ain’t your typical motorcycle, and even the Guzzi faithful must admit they’re partial to mounts that exemplify the term quirky.

“The torque force while sitting still makes me laugh every time I blip the throttle,” agrees MotoUSA Associate Editor, Justin Dawes. “This is definitely an Italian bike, presented with the mindset of ‘you don’t like it? Screw you, we don’t care.’”

The cylinder heads burst from each side in front of the rider’s knees, with the “quattro valvole” moniker brandished on the covers letting everyone know this is the not the older two-valve Griso. Gear-driven timing chains turn the camshafts on the four-valve heads, and even without accounting for the dulcet tones emanating from the left-side exhaust, the Guzzi mill plays to the riders emotions with its rattling harmonics.

Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review
Moto Guzzi’s signature V-Twin configuration mounts the engine across the frame axis, the cylinder heads jutting out in front of the riders knees and twisting a longitudinal crank.

Once accustomed to the clatter of the Guzzi mill, riders can appreciate its ample road-worthy performance (for full technical details of the 8V engine read our 2009 Griso 8V Comparison). The Twin churns out rich torque across the powerband, but riders benefit most from the sporting performance delivered in the mid- and top-end. The Griso turned our in-house dyno to the tune of 95 peak horsepower and 73 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheel. No slouch for an air-cooled Twin.

The six-speed transmission clunks in the bottom gears at low rpm; rev the engine above 4K and the shifter slides up and down without any effort at all. In fact, the hydraulically operated clutch lever seems optional for the middle gears at times. The shaft drive, another Moto Guzzi staple and quirky trait for a sporting model, lunges on hard acceleration and delivers bumpy chatter on aggressive downshifts.

“The transmission and shaft drive are definitely funky,” notes Dawes. “That bike stretches and shrinks so much on acceleration and decel. It feels like the crazy link swingarm and gearcase moves a ton.”

Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review
Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review  Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review
The Griso exhibits handling prowess that far exceeds expectation. The suspension and chassis are well suited to a high-spirited pace, the Guzzi and intuitive handler.

No complaints could be registered in the handling department, however, where the Griso obliterates modest expectations. The steel frame chassis is taut and communicative. The inverted 43mm Showa fork delivers optimal performance, offering three-way adjustability (preload, rebound and compression) to further fine tune the ride. The rear Sachs shock retains the same three-way adjustment options, along with impressive execution on the road.

“The suspension, chassis and handling in the canyons are what surprised me the most,” says Brian Steeves, Motorcycle USA’s most brazen high-performance test rider. “The Griso was surprisingly good, and even when it was done surprising me, it still hauled ass and wanted more.”

The Guzzi enters corners and changes direction intuitively, with the steering easy to manipulate thanks to the leverage offered by the tall, wide handlebar. Once on its side the Guzzi remains confidently stable provided riders mind a steady throttle hand. The rotational input of the crank does make itself noticeable, during high-speed right-handers in particular. Pirelli Scorpion tires prove the limiting factor in the handling equation, the stiffer and less grippy compound stifling the Griso’s sporty potential.

Steeves agrees: “I think if you put on a sticky set of tires, performance tires, you could go to the mountain and ride just as aggressive as any sportbike up there; just take it to guys on 600 and 750s all day.”

The radial-mount Brembo calipers, replete with steel-braided brake lines, complete the high-spec package. We found the initial bite up front curiously lacking. The stopping power is there, but requires a firm tug and doesn’t yield the precise lever feel expected.

“The front brakes were not as powerful as I would like them to be,” says Steeves. “Of course, they’re powerful enough to the point where you can lock up the front tire, but they lacked the modulation found on some sportbikes. That may be unfair to compare them to a sportbike, but I think Guzzi could bump up the power 15% or so.”

During our previous comparison with the Griso 8V we felt underwhelmed by the braking package as well, surmising an underpowered master cylinder or less aggressive brake pads were to blame. The other plausibility is that the Griso’s 555 pounds simply manifest on deceleration. Riders ignorant of the curb weight (which includes the 4.4-gallon fuel tank topped off) would be incredulous of the stat given its handling chops. We had a hard time believing it ourselves, and we were the ones rolling it onto the scales.

Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review  Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review  Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review
The radial-mount Brembo calipers didn’t deliver the strong initial bite expected (left). The CARC shaft drive is a Guzzi staple that will
mystify some riders (middle). Maybe its us… but the odd shape of the Griso muffler didn’t quite mesh with the overall look (right).

The Griso riding position is upright, with a slight forward cant and high-ish pegs. Reach to the handlebar felt natural to our six-foot dimensions, albeit with a faint stretch required. The vague aggressiveness of the riding position led to some mild lower back discomfort on long stretches of freeway, but proved ideal for the backroad and canyon scraping duties, which are the Griso’s métier.

Rider interface isn’t perfect, however, so here’s Moto Guzzi quirk warning number five, or is it six… the kickstand located ahead of the pegs and shift lever, making it a chore to find and even more of a hassle to retract. Also, while we liked the simple left-side analog tach and right-side digital speedo, the Guzzi’s switchgear is odd and unfamiliar. Every time you hear a Griso horn toot it’s likely a misguided attempt to engage the turn signals. The trip meters and info in the instrument cluster are a riddle to operate as well, though we’ll allow the one-press ignition system is pretty slick (once riders realize there no need to hold down the starter to fire up the bike).

Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review  Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review  Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Review
From the flawless stitching on the leather seat, to the fully-adjustable suspension components, steel-braided lines and tastelful
Guzzi badges and eagle logos – the Griso 8V SE gets most of the details exactly right – the fit and finish impressive.

The Griso’s styling was already striking, with its distinctive V-Twin and prominent header pipes anchoring the front while the single-sided swingarm completes the rear. The 8V SE’s classic notes only improve on these lines. It doesn’t hurt that fit and finish on the paint and various components are beyond reproach. It’s a pleasure to examine flawless stitching on the leather saddle, red accents on the fork caps, and discover the tasteful Guzzi nameplates and discreet eagle logos.

Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE Highs & Lows
  • Superb handler in the canyons and backroads
  • Unique ride defines the notion of a gentleman’s sportbike 
  • Boss styling bolstered by excellent fit and finish
  • Brake performance doesn’t live up to spec-sheet expectations
  • Quirky Guzzi traits won’t be appreciated by all

Riders who can’t appreciate the aesthetic benefit of the wire-spoked wheels might consider getting on a new anti-depressant. The only questionable styling motif in our minds is the oddly shaped exhaust canister. We also share the tears that must have been shed by the Italian designer commanded to acquiesce with the legal demands of a license plate holder.

With an MSRP of $14,490 the Griso 8V SE delivers a unique riding experience and epitomizes the notion of a gentlemen’s sportbike. Riders attracted to its looks will be pleasantly shocked by its handling prowess. We reckon more than one squid will soon find himself humbled by the grey-haired fellow that just blitzed by on a quirky green motorsickle.