2015 MV Agusta Stradale 800 First Ride

Frank Melling | December 11, 2014
MV Agusta Stradale – The Swiss (Italian Actually) Army Knife of Motorcycling
or
Just Maybe the Most Important Bike MV Agusta Have Ever Produced

Everyone knows what MV Agusta means. Awesome power, racing heritage in every pore, beautiful finish, glitterati lifestyle – the list is predictable and goes on and on. But how about a practical MV? Better still, how about a genuinely multi-purpose MV? And, even better, better still, what about an MV which still oozes charisma and heritage, and does a lot of things well? Now, we really are into new territory.

Yes, the three cylinder, 798cc engine is a shared platform but the rest of the Stradale is very much a unique motorcycle designed for multi-purpose use right from the outset.

Let’s start with the engine, because it really is a lovely thing. It’s a tiny unit for a modern engine and, in the Stradale, the motor now has a hydraulic clutch which makes it just under a couple of inches narrower than the older F3 engines. It now weighs just 115 pounds (52 kg) and makes 115 horsepower in Sport Mode.

As one might expect from a current engine, it has a stack of electronic options. I will discuss these in more detail later but the key one has to be a truly practical quickshifter which actually works well in real-world motorcycling.

Quickshifters have been around for ages and they came directly from race bikes. In the olden days, it used to be the rule of thumb that a gear change cost you a bike’s length. This was fine when everyone else lost a bike’s length too, so things were even. Now a quickshifter allows racers to keep the throttle pinned while the electronics shut off the power for a millisecond until the next higher gear is engaged. That bike’s length loss of acceleration is now much less.

Racers then wanted to be able to hammer down through the gears without fear of the back end locking, so the software geeks developed the auto blipper which not only allowed clutchless gear changes to be made but told the engine to provide a burst of revs so that the next lower gear was engaged smoothly.

Until the Stradale, my view was that if you couldn’t blip the throttle, and engage the next lower gear effortlessly, you should have your license suspended for being incompetent in a public place. However, the Stradale has changed my mind.

I expected the quick change to work well at quasi race speeds. Spin the engine up to 10,000 rpm, apply just a hint of pressure on the lever and the gears slide in both instantly and effortlessly.

The same applies with downshifts. Hammer into corners and the electronics really will allow the next lower gear to be engaged as well as you could do the task manually. So far, so what? This is what the system should do.

What makes it really interesting is that, despite spending a day trying to make what is now a practical auto shift not work, it still does its job. So when might it not work where it would be useful?

First, I simulated being worn out after a long day’s ride and deliberately made imprecise, non-racing quality changes: the gears went in perfectly. Not the hot-knife-through-butter action of high rpm, accurate changes but still perfectly acceptable. So, when you are coming back from a full day’s ride tired and just want to get home, have cup of coffee and watch MotoGP on TV, the MV system will give you a helping hand.

Next, I simulated being under pressure around town as you hurry to get to the office. Hurried gear changes, not at optimum revs, to avoid getting run over by a truck. In other words, typical, urban, close combat riding. Again the system works. Admittedly, not as well as high rpm, thoughtful and committed riding, but certainly more than adequate.

Giovanni Castiglioni was one of the Stradales chief test riders.
The 2015 MV Agusta Stradale 800 looks much better in real life than in pictures.
(Above) Giovanni Castiglioni was one of the Stradale’s chief test riders. (Below) The 2015 MV Agusta Stradale 800 looks much better in real life than in pictures.

Giovanni Castiglioni, who owns MV Augusta, says that within the factory the Stradale is affectionately known as MV’s scooter and you can understand why. Here’s the choice. Ride to work on a dull, droning, single-cylinder scooter or a Stradale? Just let me think about that one for a split second…

The quality of the MV system now poses big problems for dual clutch systems like those employed on the dreadful Honda NC750. Why on earth would you want all the cost and weight of this system when you can do the job better with what one MV staffer called: “A $30 electronics’ fix.”

The answer is you wouldn’t. The second answer is that, now, all bikes need this system.

Finally, for all the fat, old, bald wrinklies like me, you can still change gear really, really well without using the quickshifter, so it is not as if MV are emasculating us in the way that scooters do. If you have the appropriate level of skill, you will be able to play with the gearbox all day long and the Stradale will help you to have fun. What can be fairer than that?

MV have been criticized, accurately, in the past for some dire engine management software. No one can point the finger at the Stradale for this. In fact, the engine management can only be described as outstanding.

I did repeated roll on tests from 30 mph in sixth gear and the Stradale simply pulled away smoothly and effortlessly all the way to 100 mph. At any revs, in any gear, and regardless of how you are riding then the motor will work with you.

Maximum torque is at 9000 rpm but this is deceptive. There is useable power right from the moment the engine fires and the power is linear, predictable and easy to use.

This brings me to the Stradale’s 58 zillion riding options where you can select rain mode, normal mode and probably riding-with-your-finger-stuck-up-your-bottom mode too.

Here’s a rundown on what you can have if you prefer PlayStations to riding a motorcycle.

“Four engine maps (Sport, Normal, Rain, Custom) allow riders to adjust a host of parameters…

“Engine torque in line with power output (two levels), rev limiter cut in point (hard or soft), throttle sensitivity (three levels), engine braking (two levels), traction control (eight levels and disengagable).”

For me, it’s a waste of calories even operating the buttons. I did try some of the options and all that they did was to spoil the riding experience. If you have left Junior High School, there is only one way to ride the Stradale: Sport Mode and fastest throttle response. Since the bike is such a delight set up this way, and so easy to ride, why would you want to use electronic prophylactics to spoil the experience?

Finally, the electronics also provide ABS and traction control neither of which I could feel, or use, during the test ride but which are worth having as safety aids.

There is also a built-in anti-stoppie device. According to MV, some dorks – they didn’t say that, honestly – are now so cack handed – they didn’t say that either – that they flip the bike over by taking an immense handful of front brake at low speeds. To avoid this, the electronics cut the power to the front brake. Yes, all very worthy but wouldn’t these riders be better off on electric scooters?

Critically, you can still do power wheelies without the electronics interfering. 5 stars to MV keeping the fun in the motorcycling.

The hydraulic clutch is bit strange. It works very well in practice but the action is heavy. Since this is artificially induced it’s bit of an odd way of doing things.

The MV Agusta Stradale 800 dash is adequate at best.
The MV Agusta Stradale 800 indicator switch is for Nintendo children.
(Above) The MV Agusta Stradale 800 dash is adequate at best. (Below) The MV Agusta Stradale 800 indicator switch is for Nintendo children.

MV raves over the all electronic dash and really they shouldn’t. At best, it’s adequate – but no more than this. Speed is easy to read but the rpm are very hard to find, running along the bottom of the small display area. Warning lights for indicators and neutral are Christmas tree tiny and will be useless in bright sun.

MV need to up their game in this respect because this display is not in keeping with the rest of the Premium end motorcycle.

While on the subject of electronics, I should mention one of the bike’s major irritations: the fiddliest indicator button ever.

The tiny button is buried beneath the switch gear on the left-hand side grip. The button itself is too small and there is a very weak cancelling indent. This led to the chastening sight of assorted journalists honking their horns – the horn button is large, easy to find and lies above the indicator button – and then driving along with the indicators still on. Worse still, MV staff also couldn’t cancel indicators. I rest my case.

One of the MV engineers joked, with courtesy and kindness, that my problem is that I’m not from the Nintendo generation and so buttons are alien to me. Of course, he is right. The problem for MV is that I can afford a Stradale whereas the 16-year-old can only look at the website and dream. This makes my need for easy to use buttons more important than the child’s dexterity – and every time too!

I need to put a caution note in the next part of the report. On screen, the Stradale looks far worse than it is in real life. Adrian Morton’s bold design lines are not to everyone’s taste but they are not generic and are all the better for this.

The killer question was answered the night before the launch. MV parked three Stradales in front of the hotel and I just couldn’t wait for the following morning to come and ride one. In the final analysis, this is what defines motorcycling. If you have to go somewhere – take the car. If you want to go somewhere you need a bike – and that bike has to be something which generates a frisson of excitement and desire.

The Stradale is tall and this is both good and bad. I am 5’ 11″ in riding boots and this is the minimum height at which to be fully comfortable. There is a 20mm (one inch) lower seat option but this is an extra and can’t be factory specified on build.

The seat is wider than the Rivale, the Stradale’s sibling, and ought to be near perfect – but it isn’t. Some stylist at MV has decided to stick a pointless triangular lump of hard rubber right where the base of my spine reaches the seat. This means that instead of being able to wriggle around a little bit and change riding positions, especially useful on long, Interstate stretches, the MV logoed triangle tries to insert itself up your bottom. This may well be a selling point in certain sections of the community but not, I would suggest, for mainstream motorcyclists.

One cynical journalist said the Stradale chassis is just a case of cost cutting by using the same frame across a whole range of models. In fact, he couldn’t be more wrong. The Stradale chassis is a bespoke item and Giovanni Castiglioni was at pains to stress how many chassis and swingarms they had built before arriving at the finished design.

The result is a masterpiece of design for the bike’s intended purpose. With a long, 57-inch wheelbase and 4.25 inches of trail the Stradale has a beautifully neutral feel in the cruise and yet turns well at sportbike speeds.

With a pillion, there will be a bit more rake as the back end squats down a little and the Stradale will be even more easy going.

Take the bike to a trackday and the long travel suspension will be worked hard, the front end will tuck in a little more, and the bike will become very nearly a sportbike. It’s a masterpiece of compromise engineering and MV really do deserve a lot of credit for what they have achieved.

Both the Marzocchi front suspension, with 6 inches of travel, and the Sachs rear shock are infinitely adjustable.
Another compromise is the braking. There is a pair of 320mm discs sat on the front of the Stradale and these are gripped by 4-piston, radial Brembo calipers.

Put some fierce pads in these anchors and they would be hard work for the rider of a recreational motorcycle. However, a good choice of pads plus a sensible Nissin master cylinder means that there is a huge amount of braking power but it is as easy to use and biddable as a working Spaniel.

The Stradale comes equipped with Pirelli’s latest dual compound Diablo Rosso II tires. It’s easy to see where the sticky bit of the rubber begins because a clear band soon develops round the last couple of inches of the circumference.

I think that I am supposed to say that the dual compound offers a giant leap forward in performance but I couldn’t tell any difference on the road. A current sports/touring tire is the equivalent of a race tire from ten years ago and this is all that any fully paid up member of the human race needs on the road.

Frank, MV’s test rider and our group’s guide for the test ride, really pressed on in the afternoon session. On the Spanish mountain roads, of very variable quality it would have been a determined sportbike rider who could have gone much faster because the Stradale had all the power, handling and braking that the terrain demanded – and it was fun too!

At this point, it’s worth mentioning the silencer. In good boy mode, the Stradale whispers along like a choirboy at a funeral service: it’s near silent. However…

The Stradale is an MV so in the afternoon I rode the nuts off it, mainly in second and third gears between 50 mph and 80 mph. At this speed, and with the engine spinning at around nine and ten thousand that lovely 79mm x 54.3mm Triple wails like a proper MV. Ridden like this the Stradale goes, stops and handles as a proper sportbike should.

So, thus far we’ve got an MV Agusta scooter/commuter. An MV which is very nearly a serious sportbike, and is in any case a better choice for iffy Spanish backroads, and now we come to the Stradale being what Giovanni calls, “A light tourer…”

Here’s where the story gets really interesting. If that silly seat hump was removed, there’s plenty of room in the saddle and the ‘bars are high, wide and comfortable. The footrests are low too so the Stradale is somewhere you would want to spend all day.

Your wife/girlfriend is going to be a happy camper too because there is plenty of room for a full sized woman and the pillion footrests aren’t set stupidly high as they are on a committed sportbike.

However, there are a few problems. First, the tank is small at only a spoonful over four gallons and, driven hard, the Stradale rips through fuel. Expect plenty of stops for fuel and careful thought of where the next gas station is.

It was interesting to see that not only were the journalists somewhat paranoid at the thought of spending the night stranded on a mountain top chatting about bikes to a Spanish goat because we had run out of gas. MV were just as cautious and filled up all the test bikes after 60 miles. You will become very thoughtful in ensuring that you get every drop of the 16 liters (4.25 US gallons) in there. 200 miles between re-fills will remain the prerogative of the dedicated tourers.

The Stradale comes with integrated panniers as standard and they are really, really neat and reek of MV style. But they are also utter rubbish and want destroying for one overwhelmingly important reason. They won’t take a helmet.

MV-Agusta-Stradale-800-panniers-are-silly.jpg
The Stradale 800’s panniers are silly.

Someone at MV must have a wife or girlfriend – they can’t all be celibate aesthetes. In case they are all partner-less, here’s how a couple go riding. First, wife puts purse in pannier because she will not move without her girl bag. So far so good, and she rides in comfort. Now, we arrive at historical monument, restaurant, race meeting or whatever and we remove purse from pannier. Also good. Finally, we put our helmets inside the panniers, along with our gloves, whist we tourist about because wives loathe carrying helmets. This is fact.

It is simply silly to say, as MV did, that the panniers have to be this size to be aerodynamic. If you want the last 2 mph at a trackday take them off!

Panniers mean touring and touring demands that helmets go inside said panniers.

Not that the fix is even difficult. A simple expanding bellows, with a double zip, would allow the pannier to remain aerodynamic on the bike and then just grow four or five inches to take the helmets when the bike was stopped. Giovanni, you owe me a bottle of wine for fixing your bike and maintaining marital harmony!

By contrast, the tiny screen looks to be no more than a fig leaf to protect the modesty of the Stradale but works very well in practice. Okay, it’s not going to do much to help in an Arctic blizzard but this is not where you will find the Stradale. For reducing the wind blast, and no doubt a modest amount of rain, it’s a good thing.

So, we come to the only question you should ever ask a journalist: would you buy a Stradale with your own money?

In my case, the answer would be yes. At $14,598 the Stradale is not cheap but it is a lovely piece of engineering and really does generate that unmistakable, first date, tingle in the loins feeling. Oh yes, it does – and then some.

Lust is okay but not if the motorcycle doesn’t work. All my bikes have to do their job. The Stradale really is the sort of scooter I would want to ride. At 440 pounds with a full tank of gas it is light, easy to move around for parking and the high seating position gives an excellent, and safe, ride in dense traffic.

As a sports bike, it will get your license suspended without the merest hint of effort. Thanks to the relaxed view of the Spanish Police, we ran the Stradales up 120mph effortlessly. Yes, your Honor, I am truly sorry for riding my Stradale as it was intended to be used and promise never to do it again. Take the bike to a trackday and you will run with the Intermediate Group all day.

MV-Agusta-Stradale-800-action-4.jpg
With a long 57-inch wheelbase and four and a quarter inches of trail
the Stradale has a beautifully neutral feel in the cruise and yet turns
well at sportbike speeds.

Finally, the Stradale will make a really nice tourer for a relaxed day out. Keep the bike in Sport mode and ride it in the higher of six gears and you can cruise along in effortless silence.

Yes, the Stradale really is a do it all bike and, like the Swiss Army knife, I am certain that there is an electronic option for removing stones from horses’ hooves or opening bottles of wine.

There is a postscript to this story. Popular myth and legend is that Tamburini’s iconic 916 is the bike which saved Ducati. The truth is rather different. It was Miguel Angel Galluzzi’s parts’ bin special, the bike which became the Monster, which sold in tens of thousands and put the factory’s finances on a sound footing.

With the Stradale, MV have a similarly unique bike. Yes, the Stradale does need a few fixes but these can almost be done in your garage they are so simple. 99% of the bike is pure genius and it has no competitors. Ducati’s Multistrada has the same general aim but it is too much bike to be an easy companion for 365 days a year.

What will stop the Stradale becoming MV’s Monster is that they plan on building just 1500 units for worldwide sale. So, no matter how well the bike does it can’t be a game changer. It will be interesting to see if Giovanni and his team change their mind when they realize what a solid gold egg their goose has just laid.

Finally, a note of acknowledgement for my blatant plagiarism. If you like the Swiss/Italian Army knife title for this piece don’t give me any credit. It was MV’s World Superbike Team Manager and F4 Brian Gillen who came up with the idea over lunch and, being an archetypal, professional journalist, I could do more than steal it.

2015 MV Agusta Stradale 800 First Ride 

The 2015 MV Agusta Stradale 800 has real potential as a tourer. If you have the appropriate level of skill  you will be able to play with the gearbox all day long and the Stradale will help you to have fun. The 2015 MV Agusta Stradale 800 has the potential to be the most successful motorcycle MV has ever made.

 

Frank Melling

Contributing Editor |Articles | Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.