Moto Guzzi V100 Mandello - Dave Richardson

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2022 Moto Guzzi V100 Mandello

Stateside perspective

by Dave Richardson

I'm honored that a few friends have asked my opinion of the new Moto Guzzi. Really, I don't know any more than what's in the press, although I have seen something similar in the past. I would like to offer a perspective to hopefully illustrate the importance this motorcycle represents and the lineage and development it took to get to this point.

To begin, back in the 1960s, larger motorcycles were typically what we call non-unit, having a separate engine and transmission. The exception was mainly Japanese, smaller, and/or two-stroke motorcycles. By the late '60s, the British were becoming unit-constructed, leaving non-unit mainly to BMW and Moto Guzzi, the manufacturers aligning their crankshafts with the centerline of their motorcycles longitudinally, rather than across it transversely.

My impression of chassis design in those days was to build the powerplant, then loop some tubes around it. And the mantra apparently was to make a low center of gravity. If powerplants dictated frame design, then Guzzi was definitely at a disadvantage. For their powerplant was long, forcing the swingarm to be shorter than desired in order to maintain a reasonable wheelbase. While reasonably stable, early Guzzis were a bit ponderous and didn't respond well to heavy loading rearward.

As one would expect, Guzzi immediately began developing their recently-introduced 700cc platform, improving and diversifying it. But always, new developments were piecemeal; there may be a new engine, frame, or chassis, but not all three at the same time. And so, each new design was compromised to work with older componentry, I suspect because of a constant need for expediency and economy.

The one thing totally new was the small twin, introduced in 1978, following a similar non-unit formula. This caused the new line to always be difficult for Guzzi to build for a competitive price; smaller isn't necessarily cheaper. The same year, Honda introduced their similar CX500. Like it or not, it did illustrate a different formula for designing a shaft-drive longitudinal V-twin, notably with unit construction and a competitive price.

Guzzi's first development of the big twin after a slight displacement increase was a five-speed transmission in place of the original four speed. Luckily, the result was an interchangeable unit, no longer than the original, probably because this update was anticipated and therefore allowed for, so no real changes in chassis or engine accompanied it. Soon followed a semi-automatic transmission, also directly interchangeable.

Next came Lino Tonti's frame for the V7 Sport. Raising the engine made for lighter handling. At the same time, he wanted a lower frontal area. In order to achieve this, the generator on top of the engine had to find a new home, becoming an alternator on the crankshaft's nose. Nothing much changed for the next two decades until John Wittner further refined the engine's position in his design for the Daytona 1000. The frame was new and the same basic engine had new heads with belt-driven cams, but the powerplant still took up the same long span of real estate. At about the same time, the Quota was first developed. Its unique dimensions required another new chassis but continued with the existing drivetrain.

By the mid-1990s, a valuable new transmission had been developed that not only held six gears rather than five, but was actually shorter. How was this possible? By essentially building it as a dual-range three-speed. And so, this six-speed is shorter front to back but a little chunkier. It was first shown on the never-produced Ippogrifo 750 small twin, shown in 1996. A new series of sport models was introduced in 1997, the Sport 1100i, Centauro, and Daytona RS, but they soldiered on with the same basic five-speed that had served for now a quarter of a century.

Aside from all this, an entirely new engine was developed at Guzzi called the VA10: V for V-twin, A for aqua cooled, and 10 for 1000cc. As I've heard, this was largely the work of one man and not particularly the focus of Guzzi development at that time. It featured chain-driven double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, water cooling, fuel injection, and unit construction, supposedly with chain and shaft final drive options. The intakes were in the middle of the V with exhausts to the outside. The V angle was reduced to 75° (the Honda CX500 was 80°), which helped make the inlet tracts straighter for more power and centralized engine weight for easier cornering. It was first envisioned as an engine for World Superbike competition. Under Aprilia's ownership in the early 2000s, its role was expanded to include a 1200 street bike and a 1400 tourer. The engine was to be mounted level in shaft-drive applications and canted forward with a chain for enhanced forward weight bias.

Indeed, motorcycle design was evolving to where engine design was dictated by the chassis. The old idea of low center of gravity being best was slayed in the early 1980s when Honda built a 500cc two-stroke grand prix racer with an underslung fuel tank and its great volume of lightweight exhaust expansion chambers over the top. It was an immense failure. Just as motorcycle steering changes between low and higher speeds, we were learning that while a low center of gravity was great for low speeds, such as a scooter, a higher center of gravity made it easier to steer into a corner, as the weight was closer to the roll center and therefore had less leverage working against the rider.

Finally for the new millennium, the shorter transmission from the Ippogrifo was applied to an update of the Sport 1100i, the V11 Sport. But again, the new design was mated to old components; the chassis stayed the same, with what to me was an embarrassingly wasted space behind the transmission.

In 2001, Guzzi showed dealers a prototype that was an update to the V11 Sport with its alternator moved to the top of the engine, which was then moved forward for a more forward weight bias. This development didn't see production until the introduction of the Breva 1100 in 2005 (2006 in the US).

This Breva combined a new frame and transmission with essentially a leftover V11 Sport engine, save for the change of alternator positioning. But how was this change possible when the Tonti frame required its relocation to the front of the crankshaft? Probably because the thinking had evolved on frame design. In Tonti's time, frames were made of round steel frame tubes reaching straight back from the steering head, thus leaving no room for a bulky generator. In more modern times, sturdy frames are designed with frame tubes or formed aluminum sheet rounding wide transverse four-cylinder engines. And so, allowing room for Guzzi's alternator was now straightforward.

But why a new transmission? The five speed was over thirty years old by then and still being used while the six speed was being retired after half a decade. The reasons seem to be cost and new requirements. It surely cost more to make the complicated early six speed. And now, the output shaft needed to be moved more to the side to make room for the standard of modern tires at 180mm.

There was another reason that I discovered later but never heard described by Moto Guzzi: the output shaft was also rotated down so that the engine would mount higher. This was revolutionary. Up until then, every longitudinal motorcycle I'd studied had the crankshaft, transmission input and output shafts, and driveshaft all on the same plane. This development was the logical extension of modern thinking about a raised weight center. Indeed, customers taking test rides regularly raved of the Breva 1100's light steering compared to their older models while some did feel that this new bike was a bit tall and awkward at really low speeds. This transmission went on to serve in all big twins except 1100cc Californias until the recent discontinuation of the 8Vs.

Almost exactly ten years ago, September 16, 2011, eight years to the day since I got married in Guzzi's home town of Mandello del Lario, I was back there as a guest of the US Guzzi importer along with two other US dealers to talk business. Guzzi was celebrating their 90th anniversary with the announcement of a 40 million Euro investment by owner Piaggio, about half in new models and half in facilities. No specific models were named, although the California 1400 was then known to be in development. The plan was outlined for the facilities, however, showing a new production plant, a hotel, and other amenities to make this a true gathering place for Guzzisti.

After the weekend's events, we were back on the road to Aprilia near Venice. There we had our business meeting. Afterwards, we were invited to see their Research & Development Center where Guzzis are also developed. As expected, we saw the California 1400 in progress. Also, there were the soon-to-be introduced V7 IIs and a lovely model that never saw production. Down a hallway we passed two advanced Guzzi V-twin engines, one the familiar VA10 I recognized and the other I'd never seen. We were led to a room where stood a completely new Guzzi motorcycle. It was like nothing I'd ever seen. Like the VA10, it was water cooled with the intakes in the middle of the V, double overhead cam with four valves per cylinder, and unit constructed. It uniquely combined shaft drive with the lean-forward attitude promised for the chain-drive VA10. The powerplant seemed no longer than a Guzzi big-twin engine alone, allowing for a long swingarm and driveshaft. It was said to be 1300cc and about 130 horsepower.

Early in 2012, Piaggio CEO Roberto Colaninno announced an upcoming new Guzzi to be water-cooled and 1300cc. As exciting as that was… it was the last I heard of it. I asked about it once and was shrugged off, leaving me to think of it as just another prototype that wouldn't progress to production.

I did hear that they planned an entirely new motorcycle for Guzzi's centennial, which then seemed a long way away. But I also knew that these developments took time. What might it be?

Discontinuing the 8Vs and 1400s certainly left the door open for a replacement in that range. But the world was changing. Climate change had become dramatic and governments and vehicle manufacturers were reacting with the mandate and promise of more electric vehicles in the future. Where would Guzzi be? A company known for the charismatic rumble of their V-twins might have a difficult time finding its place in a world of silent and smooth electric motors.

As much as Guzzisti clamored for a new engine, I had trouble imagining Piaggio making the necessary long-term investment in a new engine that may only be viable for ten years. It seemed difficult for them to go forward but impossible not to.

When the 850 V7s were announced earlier this year I wondered: is this it? Is this all that's new for the centennial? I could imagine it. My impression was that the V7 IIIs were disappointing in sales (although they deserved much better), the V85s were a big success (at least in 2019), and 2020 was probably a mess. Maybe between all that and the perceived future of gasoline-powered motorcycles, the 850s were the best they could reasonably do.

Instead, I'm guessing Guzzi had what I'd call a K100 moment. As the story goes, in the late 1970s BMW faced a major decision whether or not to continue in the motorcycle business. It was either shut down bike production or invest in a whole new design to attract a larger customer base. Thus was born the K series that saved BMW motorcycles and grew their sales tremendously. The genius was building a more mainstream line of models to appeal to new customers while building the traditional horizontal twins for their existing customers, not that there weren't some crossovers, but at least they were doing much more than just satisfying the same people.

I remember being at the Guzzi factory in 2001 for the 80th anniversary and talking with their marketing manager. He said to me, "You see these people here," referring to the vast crowd of Guzzisti in attendance. "These people will not save us."

Indeed, then as before and ever since, there have not been enough people wanting what we love about Moto Guzzis. But, with Guzzi never before doing more than evolving existing designs, there was little chance of attracting a larger clientele.

This is that chance, and that great bet: the V100 Mandello. Guzzisti are already complaining about it, but there's nothing new in that. In the end, they will buy it; they can't help themselves. But the real proof in the pudding will be how the rest of the motorcycling world reacts to it.

I've seen Guzzi refer to it as a sport-tourer, which is a little surprising as that has never been a popular market segment. Then again, a sport bike appeals to an even narrower market segment and a standard rarely excites a lot of people. The logical model would be an adventure-touring bike, but Guzzi launched one of those just three years ago in a similar displacement category. Time will tell, as the V100 will surely be the basis of future developments in various market segments and displacements.

The basic engine architecture of the V100 is very familiar in comparison to the 1300 prototype. Thankfully, the rest of the motorcycle isn't, as that one was ugly! There are major differences but the lineage is obvious. And in that regard, I'd like to suggest no hesitation about this entirely new model. I can assure you that this one has existed in running condition for at least a decade and only made better in that time.

This is truly more than just another new model. Think of the magnitude: the first new architecture in 55 years (yes, I ignore Guzzi's two strokes and inline engines shared with Benelli). I'm calling it Second Generation (second gen for short) to differentiate it and honor it for all that it represents.

Completing the story, going back those ten years to when I first saw this new bike, at the same time we were promised a new production facility along with a hotel and visitor amenities. I had heard that various legal and environmental issues obstructed progress on that. But now, along with the V100 Mandello, Guzzi has announced groundbreaking in 2022. Moto Guzzi's second century has truly and spectacularly begun!

Dave Richardson/September 2021

Dave Richardson is a retired Moto Guzzi franchise owner. He wrote the authoritative guide to the brand, Guzziology and recently released two autobiographies of his life in bikes. His books are available at Amazon.com


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