Italy has long been the coveted source for high-performance motorcycling exotica here in the States. And of the four Italian marques, MV Agusta may be the most exotic of all. A former Grand Prix powerhouse, MV is renowned for the sleek styling of its F4 Superbikes (and most recently the gorgeous F3 supersport). No to be forgotten, however, the Italians have also produced some of the most lust-worthy naked standards on the road with its Brutale streetfighter.
Based off the F4 models, the Brutale hails a confusing displacement lineage. The original 750cc forebear eventually diverged into a smaller 910 and larger 1078. Along the way there have been a mishmash of model names, including the 910, 920, 1078, 1090 and the 990 – the latter a 998cc version. The situation is further confounded by several special S and R spec versions of various models, not to mention limited editions… Well, the Brutale story is almost as complicated the MV Agusta ownership saga over the last decade.
This summer Motorcycle USA started fresh with two versions of the 2012 Brutale, the 1090 R and, for those whom one R just ain’t enough, the racier 1090 RR version. Flogging the Italian mounts on the curvy backroads of our Southern Oregon headquarters, the two brutes more than lived up to their billing as attention-grabbing high-performance play bikes.
(UPDATE: MV recently announced changes to its 2013 Brutale lineup, which eliminated the 920 version that was unavailable in the US market. It now includes three versions of the 1090, a base model alongside the 1090 R and RR. It also includes the Brutale 675, which is based off the firm’s Inline Triple-powered F3 supersport, as well as the all-new Brutale 800 – also an Inline Triple.)
The Brutale 1090 RR (top) utilizes higher-spec chassis components than its Brutale R sibling (below).
Our MCUSA testing cadre has long deemed the Brutale one of the most fetching bikes on the road, and these 2012 models do nothing to change that opinion. The R & RR share the same basic styling lines, though the up-sec model is by far the flashier mount. Offered in MV’s traditional silver and red racing colors, the RR further ups the styling ante on its sibling with cleaner integrated turn signals and LED running light. Our standard R test bike features a more understated black colorway, with red accents.
Styling cues draw attention to the spec sheet variances of the two bikes. Gold two-piece calipers on the R contrast the silver monoblocs adorning the RR. The bright red frame on the RR isn’t all show either, as its chromoly steel tubing is different than the alloy sourced by the R version, the former is also TIG hand-welded in contrast to the MIG welded base model. The bikes continue to diverge with different seats and wheels. Perhaps the most prominent visual change, the R sources the familiar and distinctive star-spoked cast aluminum rims while the RR hoops are 10-spoke forged aluminum wheels.
The biggest difference between the two Brutales, however, is unseen – as they sport different versions of MV’s 1078cc Inline Four. Displacement and the 79mm bore and 55mm stroke are unchanged, but the RR makes use of more aggressive higher-lift intake cams and shorter intake manifolds. The RR’s 49mm throttle bodies, identical to those on the F4 superbike, are also 3mm larger in diameter.
Considering how similar the engines appear on paper, the performance disparity is dramatic. The R mill churns out a more street-friendly powerband, with a stark advantage on the low and mid range. The high-strung RR, on the other hand, features a top-end bias and only presses its advantage when the tach screams up into five-figure territory. Not surprisingly, the RR features a 600 rev higher 12,200 rpm redline to tap the top-end hit.
The MV Agusta Bruale RR and R exhibit quite different power deliveries, with the latter a more street-friendly bottom end and mid-range.
Dyno runs confirm test rider impression, where the R outmatches the RR until 9500 rpm. Peak torque production for the R is 74.42 lb-ft compared to 67.58 for the RR. And those peak numbers don’t express the R’s true advantage on the bottom and mid-range, where its potency isn’t even challenged until the RR starts to surge around 8K. From there the RR’s racy nature propels it forward to its peak horsepower edge of 138.32 compared to the R’s 126.78 rear-wheel ponies.
“In terms of the engine there is actually considerable difference between the R and RR,” confirms MotoUSA Road Test Editor Adam Waheed. “The R had a little bit bottom-end and early mid-range power while the RR has its powerband more at the mid-to-top part of the rev range.”
Power production isn’t the only difference between the two engines. The more tightly wound RR emits shrieking engine tones. The sound appeals to its targeted high-performance crowd, who also likely forgive the RR’s more vibey nature. Oddly enough, the bikes measured identical sound readings of 81 dB at idle and 98 revved to half redline. However, the RR offers the rawer tones, and is louder in practical application owing to the rider revving out to milk its optimal power traits (a fact that brought unwanted attention during our photo shoot from the authorities, who were called in by rural neighbors that objected to the loud, albeit street legal, exhaust ruminations).
“I LOVE the sound of the RR,” exclaims, Adam, the archetypal race replica rider. “You can hear when its velocity stacks start moving and the engine just surges to life—it’s just wild enough to make it exciting but not so hairy to make you feel like you’re holding on for dear life. Plus the motor just sounds insane — it’s feels and sounds like an Japanese Inline Four, only one that has racing cams and runs on alcohol. Yeah, the engine does vibrate a little bit more than a Japanese engine would, but it’s not bad by any means and something I think I could live with.”
Traction control is incorporated into both bikes. The 8-level MV system can range from meddlesome to encouraging hooligan antics, depending on the desired setting. We noted obvious differences in intrusion from the highest and lowest settings. The electronics effectively harness engine power to desired amount.
A slipper clutch, the RR’s signature upgrade in the transmission department, is well calibrated and appreciated by our testing crew. Internal gear ratios on both bikes are identical, though the RR sports a couple extra teeth in the rear final drive chain sprocket. Our testers noted a grabby clutch on hard launches, but nothing disparaging in an altogether well–sorted six-speed transmission.
Chassis on the two bikes are more dissimilar than at first appearance. As mentioned before, the steel-tubed frames are of different construction. The 50mm Marzocchi front forks on both mounts offer three-way adjustment and the rear Sachs shock offers preload and rebound adjustment. The RR’s piggyback shock, however, offers additional high- and low-speed compression adjustment. The RR also makes use of a steering damper.
Shorn of most bodywork, the naked Brutales both feel lighter than their actual curb weights. The 468-pound R tips the scales two pounds lighter than the RR (MV press materials claim an identical weight for the bikes). Both are light on their toes in tight, technical terrain, where the Brutale turns in quick with easy transitions.
“On the road I was really surprised by just how well the MV carries its weight. It felt like its mass was centralized well and near the ground,” says Adam. “The chassis had above average balance too. This made it easy to wail around corners and really ride the bike aggressively without worrying about it trying to kill you.”
“Plus the Brutale is fairly comfortable too,” adds Adam. “The suspension’s damping settings are a good compromise, offering a taut sporty ride when you want it but also soak up the bumps pretty good too when your just cruising down the road.”
Our road testing culminated in a day-long run to Crater Lake National Park. The backroad highway leading to the park features stretches of pristine surface and sweeping high-speed corners where the Brutales stretched their legs. Both bikes are eager to run at an elevated pace, with the RR’s advantages increasing with the mph. However, the racetrack is where the higher-spec Brutale will truly earn that extra R. As it was, its chassis felt somewhat tauter, but the steering damper was deemed overkill for regular street duty.
In the braking department, the RR again gets the technical edge, at least from the spec sheet perspective. Its radial-mount monobloc calipers are undoubtedly potent, offering immediate stopping power. However, the R’s lower-spec Brembos are more than adequate too, with precise modulation.
“Another important difference between the two bikes is the braking with the RR offering up-spec front brake calipers,” says Adam. “However, I actually preferred the feel and power of the two-piece Brembo set-up on the R, as they weren’t quite as touchy and a bit easier to use aggressively.”
Riders on both bikes are perched in a semi-aggressive stance – with a slight forward cant. The riding position is intuitive with the handlebar placement ideal for our 6’1” frame. Our legs nestled securely underneath the fuel tank hump, with the pegs placed high, but not uncomfortably so. Notably the RR allows for ergonomic fine-tuning with adjustable footpegs.
Says Adam: “The ergonomics were very normal and ‘Japanese’ feeling. And I like that. It’s nice to hop on a motorcycle and just be able to ride it away without the need to acclimate to its controls, center of gravity, etc.”
The Brutale proves comfortable enough for an extended day in the saddle, with our lower back minimally fatigued after a 200-mile day. And not that anyone is buying a Brutale based on its fuel efficiency… but we observed a nearly identical mpg of 32.24 on the R and 33.28 on the RR.
A play bike pure and simple… The Brutale delivers more than ample street performance in a sleek package.
Folks concerned with pinching pennies at the pump shouldn’t even bother asking about the Brutale MSRP, with the R ringing in at $16,498 and the double R a tidy $18,998. The MV’s command a premium price tag, to be sure, but it’s all relative. When compared to the $14,999 (and 152-hp!) Aprilia Tuono V4R the Brutales look quite expensive indeed, but next to its most similar rival from Ducati, the Streetfighter ($14,995) and Streetfighter S ($18,995), the asking price is more palatable. Certainly, the MV badging brings more exclusivity than its comparatively ubiquitous Italian rivals – Ducati in particular.
Our short summer fling with the Brutales proved an exhilarating affair. The RR is pure high-performance kit for racing purists, while mere mortals such as us find the R delivers a pulse-racing experience on the street. Both are worthy representatives of exotic Italian luxury for the ambitious American rider, cementing MV Agusta’s high-performance mystique.