MV Agusta Rivale…Hooligans Need Apply

It’s a compact bike, like it’s made to 7/8 scale.

By Paul Berglund

I swung a leg over the exotic looking three-cylinder Rivale and turned it on. Hmmm, it wasn’t happy. The LED dash told me to shut off the engine and service the taillight. Since I was at Heinen’s in Osseo, I asked an adult for help. They sell and service MV Agusta brand and made quick work of it. The tech hooked up a computer looking black box to the bike and went back to his computer. The black box diagnosed the problem and told him via Blue Tooth what the problem was. The Rivale has two tail light pods and one of them had lost the will to illuminate its brake light. I could leave the sexy beast and have them fix it, or I could ride it. I chose to ride it.

The error code caused the fancy dash to display “malfunction” where all the smart features of the bike are normally displayed. No problem for me ‘cause I’m not smart enough to use them. So this review contains no further mention of traction control settings, engine modes or other hi-tech features that the bike has. I just rode the thing. I could see the speedo, tach and temp gauge. I could also see where the warning lights on the dash were. They worked, but not having a helmet with bifocals in my face shield, I couldn’t make out what they were indicating. Very small these lights are.

I did have to watch for one yellow light that would come on every 70 to 80 miles. It told me the bike was low on fuel. Fuel mileage, which I worked out with a pencil and some paper, was in the mid 30s. The fuel tank is only 3.4 gallons and makes for frequent stops. Another immediately noticeable trait: The turning radius. It doesn’t have one. If you want to maneuver the bike in the confined space of a crowded gas station or your garage, be patient, it’s going to take awhile.

But what’s it like to ride?

At first I was confused. It’s a compact bike, like it’s made to 7/8 scale. When you sit on it you feel like you just got 4 inches taller. It’s flat underneath you, just like a dirt bike; only the handle bar sticks up. You sit bolt upright and far to the front. As I taxied onto the freeway, I could have sworn there was no front wheel. I felt more like a centaur then a man sitting mid-ship on a motorcycle. I (very) quickly got up to speed on the freeway and, despite the dash clearly displaying what gear the bike was in, I kept trying to shift up from 6th. It seemed a bit buzzy to me. I just didn’t get this bike at first; not until I got to a twisty narrow road that runs beside a creek in the hills of Wisconsin. The clouds parted and the angels spoke to me. In Italian, RPM spells FUN.

This bike spoke provocative, naughty things to me. And I listened.
This bike spoke provocative, naughty things to me. And I listened.

I’m a slow guy who grew up with low-revving American motors. Red line at 4,500 RPM was the norm. With this bike, if you’re not at 8 or 9 grand, you are riding it wrong. It makes really good power at low RPMs, but man-up and twist that throttle and it makes a joyful noise unto the Lord and a ridiculous amount of power for an 800cc motor. Red line is at 13,000, and if you’re not comfortable up there, don’t buy this bike. If you were weaned on Ninja 250s or four cylinder 600cc sport bikes, and like highly expressive red Italian things, you may wish to start thinking about the MV Agusta. For some perspective, the 796 Ducati Monster we tested a while back here at MMM left me cold. It spoke to me in an abusive and demanding way. This bike spoke provocative, naughty things to me. And I listened.

You just have to shed your inhibitions and rev that motor. But I don’t know if I’m up for that on a daily basis. It’s like living with a high-energy dog, like a Jack Russell Terrier. It requires you to put in more effort. You have to expend more mental energy. It’s emotional and has needs. Once I understood what was required of me, the bike held up its end very well.

As for the suspension, it’s stiff. If you ride on our rapidly failing Minnesota roads, it will hurt your spine from time to time. On smooth and sinuous roads, it handles flawlessly. Oh, and the brakes are fantastic too.

You could make the Rivale your daily ride. You could putt along amiably on it. It’s comfortable enough, not punishing like the mid sized Monster. It’s a little buzzy on the freeway, but not peaky with a narrow power band like the Monster. It builds power smoothly and, ultimately, ferociously all the way to its red line. You could ride the Rivale sedately but it would do so wistfully. The Ducati would slap you for trying that.

Your face may redden when you hear the MV’s list price of $14,998 ($15,998 with ABS). That might put it out of reach of the young hooligan that wants to step up from their mid-size sport bike. But this is the kind of bike we need to get into their hands. To get your money’s worth out of this bike requires hooliganism. If you’re not a hooligan, check with your doctor to see if your adrenal glands are healthy enough before riding the MV Agusta Rivale.



MV Agusta Rivale…The Point: Fun

By Dave Soderholm

How do those crazy Italians do it? Everything they design and produce is infused with beauty and passion. Look at cities like Rome, Venice, Verona, Bologna, Florence and Naples – filled with historic beauty and architecture. Look at their food and wine, world-renowned for it’s passionate character and flavor. Finally look at their auto and motorcycle manufacturers: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Alfa Romeo, Ducati, Moto Guzzi, Aprilia,, and the focus of this review – MV Agusta. If that list doesn’t get your mechanical juices going, I don’t know what will.

The Rivale is Art as much as it is a Motorcycle. This is a bike that, after I’d fuel it up, I’d just walk around and gaze at. A few of my closest friends at the gas station, friends I never knew I had, would too. There was a lot of pointing and touching and “oohs” and “ahhs” for the Rivale. Lots of “cool, look how they …” or, “I really like how that looks and blends in with … ” Lots of good MV Agusta Rivale moto-talk ensued.

Like a dirt bike, the Rivale also sits really tall, making the riding triangle very open and spacious.
Like a dirt bike, the Rivale also sits really tall, making the riding triangle very open and spacious.

Then I got home and parked it in the driveway, and I did the same damn thing again … and then the neighbors showed up and, well, you can imagine the rest. Honestly, it’s that kind of bike. Totally indicative and representative of how Italians don’t just make motorcycles, but artistic passionate expressions on two wheels. MV Agusta does this better than most. Everything in MV’s line up is an exotic. If you don’t like sexy, exotic looks and being the center of attention, then shop elsewhere.

Ultimately, the Rivale is a big supermoto hooligan bike to the core. Wheelies, stoppies and brake slides come easy to it. It’s hard to tell from looking at it, but the seating position is very front-end biased. Saddling up for the first time was quite a shocker.

“Where the hell is the front end?” was my first thought. It reminded me of riding my old CR dirtbike – not much out front to impede your view. Like a dirt bike, the Rivale also sits really tall, making the riding triangle very open and spacious. If it weren’t for the hard seat, you could ride this thing comfortably for a long time… or, until you had to stop for gas.

Tank range on the Rivale is the one fly on this otherwise delicious Tiramisu. The Rivale has a tank of 3.4 gallons. That sounds ok, until you realize it gets around 31 mpg and that the “reserve” countdown that pops onto the dash when you’re running dry starts to disappear pretty quickly. In total, you’d better not stretch this thing past 100 miles for range. Honestly – you’d better start looking for a fueling station around 80-90 miles just to be safe. I was bombing back roads with it when the fuel countdown popped onto the dash and I got pretty nervous I’d soon be pushing it. You could stretch range a little further by riding like a mile-miser, but then you’d be missing the whole point of the Rivale!

The 800cc triple-cylinder engine sucking that smallish gas tank dry is an absolute gem of internal combustion. It sounds amazing! Kind of like a 675cc Triumph Street Triple that went through puberty and grew up on the other side of the tracks. It has the same overtones, but a much deeper and more aggressive delivery throughout the rev range. The Dyno says it has 115 hp and 59 lb. ft. of torque at the rear tire. I’m saying it’s maniacal musical wheelies on command, in first through third gear! This is one heck of a fun engine… rich in torque and very responsive to the throttle.

The drive unit has some cool features. Lets begin with the crankshaft. It’s counter rotating, which means it spins opposite the wheel direction. For you non physics folks, that means the rotational forces resisting turn in of the Rivale are largely cancelled out and provides the bike with quicker easier turn in and mid corner line correction. This it does, as the Rivale steers lightly and accurately through turns. Also on the engine is a standard quick shifter. Of course this means full throttle clutch-less upshifts. Like the kind you would do during whee … umm, unintended accelerations.

Let’s move onto the onboard electronics package. Wow – MV did well here again. It’s pretty advanced and extensive. Here’s the readers digest version of it. You have four riding modes that affect throttle and engine mapping: Normal, Sport, Rain and Custom. Within the custom setting you have the ability to fine tune throttle response and also engine braking characteristics. You also have eight-level traction control and the previously mentioned quick-shifter. The various menus are all laid out on a nice looking LCD dash panel that is perhaps a little complex to navigate. I have no-doubt that an owner would get used to it in short order and have a field day tweaking adjustments to their liking.

I should also mention the brakes and suspension. Both are cutting edge and very responsive to the Rivale’s mission in life. The Brembos up front are true one-finger stoppers with amazing feedback from the front tire. The suspension has a myriad of adjustments: compression/rebound/preload in back, and rebound/preload up front to custom tailor the ride to your liking. It’s good out of the box and I was having way too much fun to stop and experiment with it.

That’s the point of this MV Rivale anyways – FUN! If that sounds like something you’d like to participate in, head to Heinen’s Motorsports in Osseo. Tell Paul I sent you!



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