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Common Tread

2020 Moto Guzzi V85 TT first ride review

Mar 19, 2019

I am willing to bet that 98 percent of the reviews for the new Moto Guzzi V85 TT will use the word "character" multiple times, and how you feel about this "classic enduro" machine, as Moto Guzzi labels it, will largely depend on how important that word is to you.

But let's back up a bit. The story of Moto Guzzi, like that of pretty much every Italian brand, is complex and wandering — highs, lows, and different owners galore. Since 2004, that owner has been Piaggio, the Italian scooter giant that also owns Aprilia and Vespa.

Under Piaggio's leadership, Moto Guzzi's output has been somewhat hit and miss, and mostly miss, especially since the implementation of Euro 4 environmental regulations back in 2016. Moto Guzzi let much of its lineup wither on the vine; farewell the Griso, Norge, Stelvio, etc. The MGX-21 bagger and V9 Bobber are stinkers, requiring a particularly strong dedication to character over, say, being able to ride at higher speeds, or comfortably navigating roads more technically challenging than a Target parking lot.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT in Sardinia
If only every day were a beautiful day in Sardinia. Moto Guzzi photo.

Don't get me wrong; I love character bikes. I recently dumped my own Triumph Tiger Explorer to get a far more pointless Bonneville T120 as my daily ride. I have written love letters to the Harley-Davidson Street Bob; I swoon for the BMW R nineT. I have a picture of an Indian Chieftain on my desk, serving as an aspirational goal.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT
The Moto Guzzi V85 TT in Grigio Atacama colors comes wtih a black frame and more street-oriented Metzeler tires. Moto Guzzi photo.

So, trust me: I get it. And on a single perfect day of riding in Sardinia, zipping up and down quiet mountain roads on which we never exceeded 80 mph, and being followed by a dedicated mechanic, I fell in love with the Moto Guzzi V85 TT. It is ridiculously fun. I completely and totally 100 percent understand why Guzzi guys are so fervent. But I mention the doom and gloom of Moto Guzzi's recent past to provide a sense of reality here. If I were thinking of putting down $11,990 for this bike ($12,990 if you want it in the Ronald McDonald paint scheme and equipped with aluminum panniers), I would have some questions about how well this bike would hold up beyond today.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT Rosso Kalahari
The Moto Guzzi V85 TT in the Rosso Kalahari color scheme comes with the red frame and more dual-purpose Michelin Anakee tires. Moto Guzzi photo.

I'm afraid, dear reader, there is no way I can answer those questions right now. I'm only able to tell you what I experienced on a seven-hour press ride. We're dealing with a newish powerplant, housed in a new chassis, and swimming in new technowhizzbangery. Beyond that, the past is just the past. What Moto Guzzi did before this point is not necessarily indicative of what it is doing now. Once upon a time, the bikes that Triumph and Harley-Davidson made were all kinds of awful; now they aren't. Why not Guzzi, too?

Moto Guzzi V85 TT Giallo Sahara
Moto Guzzi V85 TT in the Giallo Sahara color scheme also comes with the red frame and the Michelin Anakee tires. In the U.S. market, this version will also come with the aluminum panniers and will cost $12,990. Moto Guzzi photo.

Tell us about the bike, Chris

"The V85 TT, like any Moto Guzzi, is designed around the engine," explained Diego Arioli, Moto Guzzi's head of product marketing.

Off the top of my head, I can't really think of a motorcycle that isn't designed around the engine, but you get what he means. The V85 TT's 853 cc air-cooled transverse V-twin is very much the star of the show. It's the thing that will make you contort your face and say things like, "No, see, you have to understand" — like when your college roommate got high and tried to explain that Wu-Tang Clan was the greatest musical group in history. That engine is the thing that will keep you coming back. It's the thing that will make you not care about anything else.

Moto Guzzi describes this powerplant as new, but I'm not entirely sure how it's different from the 853 cc air-cooled transverse V-twin that powers the V9 Bobber and V9 Roamer, but for the fact this one puts out a claimed 80 horsepower and 59 foot-pounds of torque, versus the 55 horsepower and 45.7 foot-pounds claimed on the Bobber and Roamer.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT dash
The V85 TT gets a TFT dash. Moto Guzzi photo.

The engine is of pushrod design. Throw in the bike's dry clutch and tubed tires, and it is very much an old-school affair. But then you take a look at the electronics package. Moto Guzzi has thrown in all the bells and all the whistles. Adjustable traction control and ABS, riding modes, cruise control, a TFT screen providing a Byzantine array of options and information, the ability to connect with and control certain elements via an app, LED lighting, and a sexy eagle-shaped LED daytime running light that the Moto Guzzi guys were keen to point out no less than five times in their presentation. They are very proud of that DRL. (Moto Guzzi's logo incorporates an eagle in homage to a fallen pilot who was part of the group of friends who originally dreamed up the brand while serving together in World War I.)

Moto Guzzi V85 TT daytime running light
The daytime running light replicates the eagle from the Moto Guzzi logo. Moto Guzzi photo.

Moto Guzzi refers to the V85 TT as a "classic enduro," having apparently identified an unaddressed niche within the niche of dual-purpose motorcycles. According to the brand, the market currently consists of crossovers, easy enduros, scramblers, and adventure bikes. The pre-ride presentation didn't give specific examples, but effectively it was a matter of, "This type does A and C but doesn't do B; that type does B, but doesn't do A or C," and so on. The V85 TT, however, claims to be adept at everything: urban riding, touring, and off-road riding. I'll happily concede the first two, but I'm not sure about the third. More on that in a bit.

Riding the Moto Guzzi V85 TT

I'm six feet, one inch tall, so throwing a leg over the bike's 32.7-inch saddle wasn't difficult. Moto Guzzi, however, says it has designed this bike with a wide range of riders in mind, claiming its ergonomics suit folks anywhere between five feet, four inches tall and six feet, two inches tall. For reference, Motorcycle.com's Ryan Adams is five feet, eight inches tall and had no issues. Neither did Morgan Gales of Cycle World at six feet, four inches. The seating position is comfortable, with everything falling naturally into place for those used to riding upright bikes. The handlebar is not too wide, and when you bring the bike up off the sometimes-gets-stuck-on-your-boot sidestand, it is well balanced. Moto Guzzi's spec sheet suggests a 505-pound curb weight. I would have been willing to believe it's less than that.

For a bike so loaded with tech, the switchgear is strangely sparse. On the left, beyond the usual horn, indicator, and high-beam flash switches, there is a button for cruise control and a tiny button to connect the bike with your phone's app. On the right, along with the buttons for the hazard lights and starter, there is a switch labeled "Mode" that, in "That's so Italian" style, does not actually control the bike's riding modes.

left switchgear
It seems like more things should be controlled from the left hand grip. Moto Guzzi photo.

In fact, you use the Mode switch to navigate the bike's information menu, which means that, really, it should be on the left grip since fiddling with a switch while holding a steady throttle is a pain in the caboose. For the same reason, I would have put the headlight switch — to change between DRL, normal lights and high beams — on the left, as well. Instead, it's on the right.

You change riding modes by pressing the starter a bunch of times. And I do mean a bunch. The bike has to be running, obviously. What should then happen is that you press the starter again to switch between the three riding modes: once for road, once more for rain, once more for off-road. But that is not what actually happens. Instead, you press the starter an indeterminate number of times, hoping you'll be able to hit your mode of choice before sunset. Sometimes you'll press the button once, sometimes you'll press it five times, sometimes you'll press it 16 times. There is no rhyme or reason.

This was not an issue exclusive to the bike I was riding, by the way; all the folks I spoke to encountered the same thing. See my above statement about Moto Guzzi's past and the questions I'd have as a buyer.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT
Riding the Moto Guzzi V85 TT in Sardinia. Moto Guzzi photo.

And yet... when you press that starter for the first time: Oh my goodness, y'all. The engine shudders to life, and those of less mature sensibility will be inclined to start grunting and shouting obscenities. There is something wonderfully visceral in the experience. This, brothers and sisters, is a motorcycle! A glorious metal box of explosions. A fire-driven dandy horse of the finest order. Then you knock the thing into first gear and its torquey power delivery has you instantly hooting and laughing maniacally.

"Why aren't there more bikes like this?!" you shout aloud. "By gawd, if more people were riding these things, psychiatrists everywhere would go out of business!"

And what really blows your mind as you snick into second, then third, and beyond, is that, despite all its mechanical rawness, the V85 TT is instantly rideable. It's Honda-level affable; you immediately feel comfortable. And with that sense of comfort I was more than happy to throw the thing into the blind corners and hairpins of southern Sardinia. On a sunny, warmish day, the bike's Metzeler Tourance Next tires held perfectly well. The Metzelers come on the gray (Grigio Atacama) with black frame V85 TT, while the Rosso Kalahari (red and white) or Giallo Sahara (the McDonalds-esque red and yellow) color schemes, which come with the red frame, wear Michelin Anakee Adventure tires. Chassis-wise, there is no difference between the bikes. Discuss.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT
It's possible to touch down a footpeg. Moto Guzzi photo.

Occasionally touching down the pegs, I had a blast throwing the bike around. There was a faint sluggishness when attempting to flop it from side to side on sharp S-turns, but I was arguably at that point riding the V85 TT in a way it was not intended to be ridden. Keep anywhere near the posted speed limit and you're unlikely to have complaints about handling.

Brakes are Brembo with ABS at both wheels. The front provides plenty of stopping power but the rear needs a good mashing to be effective. Coming hard into corners, the front didn't dive as much as I would have expected from an adventure bike, which is a kind of magic trick because normally that would mean a stiff ride. Not so. Sardinia's roads are far from perfect but the bike handled them with ease. Off-road mode changes the ABS settings and ABS can be switched off, too.

Rolling through the narrow streets of ancient villages, it was easy to mentally transfer the bike's agility to an urban setting. A good turning circle and low center of balance mean it’s easy to move through tight spots at slow speeds.

As you accelerate to European motorway speeds (130 kmh or 80.7 mph in Italy) the V85 TT gets a little vibey. We didn't hold these speeds long enough for me to make an informed decision as to whether it would be too vibey for long hauls. Either way, a taller screen would probably be in order for those wanting to take Moto Guzzi up on the proposition of using this bike as a tourer. And you will lament the fact the screen is not adjustable.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT
We rode the gray, or Grigio Atacama color scheme, which has a black frame while the other colors come with red frames and different tires. In addition to the all-aluminum panniers, these plastic-and-aluminum boxes are available. Moto Guzzi photo.

Moto Guzzi has a wide range of accessories for the V85 TT that can be purchased individually or in one of three packages: Touring Pack, Sport Adventure Pack and Urban Pack, with items ranging from extra lighting to hard panniers to uprated Öhlins suspension and engine guards. There are two kinds of panniers: all aluminum and plastic and aluminum. Both sets look robust, the aluminum ones particularly so, and a full-face helmet fits in the right side. It's usually my opinion that — unless offered for free as an incentive — manufacturer luggage should be eschewed for less expensive or higher quality aftermarket options, but I will admit that Moto Guzzi's stuff looks pretty robust.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT off-road
How does the V85 TT work off the pavement? Remains to be seen. Moto Guzzi photo.

How is it off-road? I have no idea

Remember that line from A Princess Bride? "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

That line came to me as I pondered Moto Guzzi's use of the word "enduro" in describing the V85 TT as a "classic enduro." Classic, yes. It has a classic feel and cool, old-school styling. But enduro? Maybe that translates differently in Italian.

Certainly the visual references to the V65 TT that Claudio Torri rode in the 1985 Dakar Rally are pretty easy to pick up. But I really don't think Moto Guzzi intends for this machine to be ridden hard off-road. That's the feeling I got from Moto Guzzi's own presentation, in which most emphasis was placed on the bike's urban and touring abilities (and its eagle-shaped DRL). Moto Guzzi says the V85 TT is a bike "to take you even the last mile of your trip — from the road to the beach, or to your camping spot." But I'm not sure that means "enduro."

off-road on the V85 TT
It may appear we did some significant off-road riding on the V85 TT. Those appearances would be misleading. Moto Guzzi photo.

If the V85TT is built for true off-roading, I was not able to determine that from the press ride. We did a single section of "off-road" that reminded me of the dirt road that leads to my friend Dan's house in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Actually, the road to Dan's house is longer — about two miles from the highway. I was wearing a helmet camera and recorded the whole of the off-road section; the video is four minutes and 42 seconds long. There were a few lumpy rocks, and a 20-foot section of deep sand, but, again, nothing I haven't encountered on the way to Dan's house. I once rode an Indian Springfield to Dan's house.

I will say the V85 TT handles better "off-road" than a Springfield. I don't think either would be my weapon of choice for tackling the Trans America Trail. But, really, that's not a knock against the Guzzi. I see this as very much a motorcycle for Europe, where adventure bikes and scramblers dominate the market but only a handful of people have ever ridden off-road: There's no way in hell I'm going to pay $12,000 for a bike that I then slam into a bunch of rocks, but, golly, wouldn't it be nice if I could?

Moto Guzzi V85 TT
Moto Guzzi described the V85 TT as a bike that's suitable for on-road touring or city commuting and is also capable of taking you "the last mile of your trip — from the road to the beach, or to your camping spot." This photo shows the aluminum panniers that are part of the Sport Adventure package. Moto Guzzi photo.

A single perfect day

People who need things to be black and white will hate this review. This Moto Guzzi is something of a confusing motorcycle, so it’s almost a given that a person’s response to it will be confused. I’m reminded of something a buddy of mine said after riding a BMW R nineT for the first time: "This thing is shit. I'm going to buy one."

A lot of the stuff Moto Guzzi says about the V85 TT is nonsense and I have questions about the bike’s reliability (especially the reliability of its electronics package) but that doesn't change the fact I am totally in love with the experience of riding it. This thing is pure joy. If I lived in a sort of vacuum where every day is a perfect Sardinian afternoon and I’m being tailed by a mechanic, I would run right out and buy this bike immediately. I would ride it to all my friends’ houses and contort my face as I tried to convince them to buy one as well: “You have to understand, dude: This thing will change your life! You don’t even know who you are yet, man, because you haven’t yet ridden a Guzzi!”

Really. I love it that much. I want to buy a bunch of Moto Guzzi-branded clothing and make annual trips to the Mandello del Lario factory where the V85 TT is made. But outside of that vacuum, I don’t know. And I feel bad that I have to leave you with a bunch of unanswered questions.

Moto Guzzi V85 TT
The standard Guzzi formula: transverse V-twin and shaft drive. Moto Guzzi photo.

The only way you can answer them is to go out, test ride the bike, and see if you love it enough to spend your hard-earned dough. Then, as the British say, you pays your money and you takes your choice. And what a great choice it seems to be. If it works out for you, please let me know. Because if that single perfect day can be every day, I’d be happy to join you as one of the Guzzisti.

2020 Moto Guzzi V85 TT
Price (MSRP) $11,990
Engine type Transverse 90-degree air-cooled V-twin, two valves per cylinder
Displacement 853 cc
Bore x stroke 84 mm x 77 mm
Compression 10.5:1
Power (claimed) 80 horsepower @ 7,750 rpm
Torque (claimed) 59 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm
Transmission Six-speed, shaft final drive
Front suspension 41 mm inverted fork, adjustable for preload and rebound
Rear suspension Single shock, adjustable for preload and rebound
Suspension travel front/rear  6.7 inches / 6.7 inches
Front brake Twin 320 mm discs, Brembo radial-mount, four-piston calipers, with ABS
Rear brake Single 260 mm disc, two-piston caliper, with ABS
Tires front/rear 110/80R19; 150/70R17 Metzeler Tourance Next or Michelin Anakee Adventure, depending on model
Rake 28 degrees
Trail Five inches
Wheelbase 60.24 inches
Seat height 32.7 inches
Tank capacity Six gallons
Wet weight 504.9 pounds