Moto Guzzi Norge 1200

by Gus Breiland

I had been trailing three cruisers for about 2 or 3 miles through the twists and turns of Hwy 60 outside of Zumbro Falls. I shed some speed, holding back a bit while the Shriner parade trundled on in front of me, only to catch up to them in the twists and turns. Noticing that the “Tail gunner” was slowing down and looking as if he was having trouble, I wanted to see if I could be of any assistance. I slowed a bit to give him room, watching as his throttle hand spent more time off the bar than on. I was feeling a bit sorry for him as he continued to stumble around the curves, his friends disappearing around the next bend.

Being on a test bike and being the soft and cuddly guy that I am, I didn’t want to blow past him as Leo’s was on the back of the bike and Murphy’s law states that as soon as I become a jerk, I will auger into the next ditch as the tasseled wonder in front of me would ride by, finger flying high, laughing at the foreign bike on fire.

review103aSadly, my kindness was rewarded with a puff of white smoke escaping from the rolling roadblock. My concern turned to disappointment in 0 seconds flat as the rider in front of me lit a cigarette in the middle of some of the best corners South East Minnesota has to offer. I had been had by leather, chrome and a half helmet in my favorite section of road and wanted nothing more than that ember of nicotine to find its way towards something combustible and light that road zit on fire. Happiness was found once they left my vision and I continued on with the bliss of the Moto Guzzi Norge 1200.

The Norge wants you to be happy on the road. It wants you to throttle on through the corner and lean just a little farther than before. The smooth power of the V-Twin, 1151cc motor is transferred though the shaft to the rear wheel so well that I felt nary a shudder though my 444 miles with this Guzzi.

Gear after gear, up shifting and down shifting, I felt no hesitation at all. Gone are the days of frame flex and shaft lash. The Norge excelled in corners and didn’t leave me wondering which way the frame was going versus the motor and rear end. The 6-speed gearbox seemed to have a boxy, but not clunky, motion. I guess I would describe it as the shift lever felt as if it had a lot of travel, but engaged smoothly. I was able to false neutral a few times from Neutral to 1st, but after I got used to the bike this went away.

The best way to describe the Norge is it is a bulldog. It is stout, compact, and excels at laying power to the road smoothly and effortlessly. Fuel injection feeds the motor with only one little foible. There is a subtle popping or sputtering while decelerating; this is a function of the fuel injection system being prepared for a twist of the wrist, but sounds as if the bike needs a tune up. It is slung low enough to the ground that I would say this is an under 6’3” friendly bike as I was flat footed at every stop sign and I did not have to grab my ankle to get on or scrape my boot across the passenger seat to get off. I am 6’1” and the bike fit me comfortably. The bodywork is not trying to occupy the entire lane and the tail section stops at the brake light instead of having a fair amount of real estate behind your passenger’s rear. I love that about the bike; it looks solid and rides as such.

The bodywork of the Norge is clean, and free of many of the “I went to Art College” styling cues that can ruin a bikes appeal. I am thinking of the angled wedge of the Aprilia Futura, BMW’s continued growth from a motorcycle to a small car feel, or “we stuck some bags on our sport bike, hope you like it” from Kawasaki’s Concours 1400. The bodywork does not have the same protection as some of its competitors, but it shouldn’t. A sport touring bike should have a bit more than sport, but less than touring and I found the Norge to be just about right. I would have liked about 3 more inches on the adjustable windscreen on my windy days of testing, but that was about it. A cat’s whiskers will grow to the width of its’ body like the Norge’s mirrors. They are the widest feature, keeping the saddlebags within them. If you can get the mirrors though, the bags will follow while still being voluminous enough to hold my helmet and gear as I walk around town looking for something to eat.

review103bThe brilliant set of headlights on the Norge are second only to the Suzuki’s V-Strom, with excellent coverage of the road both length and width. Other features of the bike include dual 320mm stainless steel front brake discs with 4 piston calipers, and a single 282mm 2 piston rear disc, along with ABS. A 550-watt alternator lights up the night, with extra power for integral heated handgrips. A trigger on the left hand is held down to turn the grips on and off, while a quick flick of the trigger sets the heat in 3 levels.

The left hand also controls a combined high beam / passing switch, turn signals and a “Mode” button to toggle through an MPG calculator, elapsed time on a tank while riding, trip, top speed and average speed. The only issue I had with this display is that the title of the piece of data being shown was obscured by the clear polycarbonate cover; meaning you will have to memorize the order of the data, decipher it on the fly, or never use it again. Of course you can’t ignore it completely because the turn signal is directly under the “Mode” button and I found myself Mode’ing instead of turning or turning instead of Mode’ing. The gauges at start up are quite festive in a rainbow of colors as the gauges cycle and reset, and then the display goes to red which is very easy to read at night and soft on the eyes keeping your night vision more stable than typical white light dashboards.

Your right hand is your standard throttle, brake and another combined switch for Run / Kill. Pretty cool, and it keeps the controls less cluttered. The windscreen, however, is controlled by 2 separate buttons, one for up and one for down; instead of a simple toggle. Also the buttons are inboard of your thumbs, making you stretch with your hand remaining on the controls or removing your hand from the bar to actuate the window. This could have been better thought out.

The 6 gallon tank, including the 1 gallon of reserve, gave me about 38.9 miles to the gallon average over my time with the bike. I did not notice a big difference between my commuting and my touring mileage. The clutch weight, on the other hand, was noticeable. The Norge is a good motorcycle for touring, but the clutch is too heavy for stop and go traffic, even though it is hydraulic.

The saddle bags are keyed to the ignition, eliminating the need for a key ring. The kick stand is bent to not only hold the bike up, but it also has a short section of horizontal tubing to catch the bike in case it begins to sink into pavement or loose sand. This bike also comes with a center stand, which I like. Center stands make storage easier and repair, or even cleaning, easier.

The Norge 1200 is certainly a bike to consider if you are looking for a Sport Touring motorcycle. It is smooth and comfortable with a shaft drive for ease of maintenance, and functional with a healthy tank and dedicated saddlebags. This bike wants you to be comfortable on the plains, but able to twist and turn up and down the mountain. As a commuter, the bike left something to be desired with below average fuel consumption and the heavy clutch.

Thank you to Leo’s South for letting us take the 2008 Moto Guzzi Norge 1200 for a spin. You can find them online at http://www.leossouth.com/ or in Lakeville, Minnesota at 16375 Kenrick Ave.

by Sev Pearman

Please let me dislike this bike,” I thought as I pulled up to the dealer. “Please let it be buzzy. Or heavy. Or anything else that would kill a sale.” The machine in question is a 2008 Moto-Guzzi Norge 1200 and it encompasses everything I covet in a motorcycle: comfortable ergos, a generous tank and good mileage for long range; functional brakes and blazing headlights for real-world function; and no-mess shaft final drive. “Please let this beast be a heap and a half.”

First things first: how do you pronounce this thing? MMM checked with our Italian consigliore and sidecar ambassador, Piero Bassa. After delicious and refreshing coffee and Camparis, he told us it is pronounced NORE’-juh.

review103cThe fact that this bike even exists is a story unto itself. In 2000, Italian rival, Aprilia acquired Moto-Guzzi. Aprilia injected much-needed cash into Moto-Guzzi, revitalizing the brand. Unfortunately, Aprilia soon foundered with the slump in the European scooter market. Four years later, Italian scooter giant, Piaggio came to the rescue, scooping up both brands as they circled the drain. Piaggio’s rescue of Aprilia and Moto-Guzzi kept both makers alive and makes Moto-Guzzi the second-oldest, continuously operating motorcycle company in the world (MMM refutes Triumph’s claim.) We picked up the graphite black beauty with a mere 140 miles on the clock. Her appearance is deceptive; she looks smaller than her dimensions suggest. Even though I have coveted this model since its 2006 introduction, I didn’t recognize her as she stood, at the ready, in the parking lot. She looked more like an 800cc sport-tourer than a 1200cc Gran Turismo

While going over particulars, dealer personnel cautioned me about the oil filter. While the Norge uses a convenient spin-on oil filter, it requires a wrench unique to the model. Leo’s had not yet received theirs. Despite the $200+ dollar asking price, they were backordered from Moto-Guzzi. I was warned that the filter wasn’t fully seated. Hoh-kay…

I saddled up and headed for home. HOO-BOY! The initial impression is a compact bike that envelopes the rider. It feels positively feline; more like last month’s Aprilia Shiver naked bike than Japanese sport-tourer. You sit within the Norge and become one. Control inputs provide instant results. This is an intuitive bike that likes to run and run hard.

The sun appeared the next morning, inviting me to explore all that the Norge had to offer. I tried the various oil filter wrenches in my toolbox without success. The Norge has a deep sump, and clearance between the filter and sump wall was negligible. The new plan was to ride to Moto-Guzzi agents Judson Cycle, in Lake Crystal, MN and mooch the use of their wrench, but the thought of weeping oil coating a rapidly rotating tire on a $15,000 bike put me off. I got cold feet and gingerly rode her over to my auto mechanics.

Pat and John D., along with their brother, Jerry, are riders and I always make a point to swing by and show them our current test bike. After giving me a good dose of crap about the loose filter and its $200 wrench, John kindly offered the use of his filter wrench stash. I quickly found a cup-type that fit and snugged it up. Problem solved, I topped off the oil (she didn’t need much) thanked John and Jerry, and roared off.

Power is fed through a 6-speed gearbox, refined during Aprilia’s tenure. The clutch is hydraulic and has a broad release zone. Shift action is light, but has a long throw. While this didn’t bother me, it may put off those coming from Asian machines. I really worked the gearbox, especially on the tighter, more technical stuff, and didn’t miss a shift. Despite its Grand Tourer market placement, the Norge is a quite-competent sport-tourer.

The Norge, like all Guzzis, features a parallelogram swingarm driveshaft engineered to reduce driveshaft effect. Called CARC in Guzzi-speak, it eliminates rear-end climb, generated when the final drive pinion gear “climbs” up the final drive. This system works: the rear end remains planted when accelerating, even when you whack the throttle.

The fairing is superb. Moto Guzzi is the only motorcycle manufacturer to own a full-sized, wind tunnel. You can say what you want about computer modeling, but nothing beats real-world testing. The frame-mounted fairing is large enough to divert air over the rider, yet is relieved so you may admire that sexy 90º V-twin beneath. Think of it as weatherproof lingerie for your machine.

The Norge also features a trick, electrically adjustable windscreen. Two thumb buttons raise or lower the screen while on the fly. This is very useful to fine-tune the airflow as you change positions on a ride. Riders smaller than my 260-lb, 5’-10” may be fine with the stock piece, but I’d spring for a larger screen.

The fairing is svelte; it clings to the frame and motor. I parked the Norge next to my friends FJR-1300 to compare the two. Despite having similar missions and dimensions, the Norge appears and feels smaller, more compact.

The cockpit is terrific. You get a large, round tach and speedo and a secondary LCD panel that generates top/avg speed, instant/avg fuel economy, trip meters, range to empty and 37 other functions, all controlled by thumb buttons. I am not much of a gadget guy and the panel was washed out by the sun, so I didn’t find much use for it. The Norge also comes with three-setting, heated grips. If you have never used these, they allow you to wear a thinner glove when the temperatures drop. Hey! It’s 40º and sunny – let’s go for a ride!

The best part of the fairing is the formidable quad headlights. These are the best, most powerful stock headlights I have seen in over twenty years of riding. The low beams don’t just illuminate curb-to-curb; they light up sidewalk-to-sidewalk. The high beams are even better, providing night-riding confidence. There is no need for additional lighting. These lights are that good.

The color-matched hard bags are equally terrific. They are opened and removed with the ignition key; a nice touch. Moto-Guzzi designed the bags so that they are narrower than the front of the machine. This aids parking and lane-splitting duties. Little details like this will truly make-or-break a long-term relationship with a bike. Well done, Moto-Guzzi!

I received no complaints from my butt. The seat remains comfortable even after emptying the 6-gallon tank (includes 1.0 gal reserve.) The seat height is a reasonably low 31.5” so I had no problem flat-footing it with my 32” inseam. This seat is fantastic.

I write this several days after I have returned the machine. What sticks out in my mind above all are the superb ABS brakes on the Norge. They are a perfect balance of sportbike power and tour bike feel. The front wheel wears monstrous twin, 320mm, stainless steel, rotors pinched by 4-piston Brembo calipers. The rear runs a 282mm, stainless steel, rotor and 2-piston caliper. The ABS can be switched off via a fairing button, but unless you plan to flat track it on gravel roads, I don’t see a use for this feature.

review103dThe Moto-Guzzi Norge has a MSRP $15,590 which includes a 2-year, unlimited mileage warranty and roadside assistance. Also available are a travel trunk and integrated Tom Tom navigation system. MMM wonders if you can still get the Mr. T voice prompts in the Tom Tom. “I said ‘turn left,’ fool. Now I have to recalculate!”

The Norge is nimble and agile enough to satisfy as a pure sport bike and has enough wind protection, blinky gadgets and luggage capacity to work as a full-on tourer. But where she truly shines is as a sport-tourer. All-day ergos, a 240-mile range and excellent hard bags make the Norge my Number One pick for a sport-tourer or full-on tour bike.

The Moto-Guzzi Norge generates more fun and has more style than the offerings from Honda, Triumph and Yamaha and is simpler and more visceral than the BMW oilhead. In my opinion, there is no better sport-tourer on the market today. My only complaint? We are not likely to see the 800cc Euro-only version.

Thanks to Leo’s South for providing our test bike. Additional thanks go to Pat and John at M & J Automotive in St. Paul for their help.

Wife’s first reaction®: “We could get one of those”

Grand Tourer: Superb fairing, heated grips and bags. Best headlights, ever. Powerful, well-modulated brakes

Sunday Poser: LCD panel difficult to see. Larger windscreen please. That’s all I got. This is one fine machine. By the numbers: Rider: Editor Pearman 5’-10”/260 lbs/32” (height/weight/inseam) Fuel consumption: 40.9-mpg avg.

Selected Competition: BMW R1200RT, H-D Electra Glide, Honda ST-1300, Triumph Sprint ST, Yamaha FJR-1300

M.M.M.

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