Review: 2009 Moto Guzzi Griso 1200 8V

Quirky Enough For Ya?

Photo © Basem Wasef

Lots of motorcycles are noisy and powerful, but few achieve that ideal balance of “character.” Moto Guzzi is an Italian manufacturer that’s been around for almost 90 years, and they’ve long held a reputation for building bikes with tons of so-called “character”— whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on your taste, but we spent some time with their 2009 Griso model (starting at $14,290) and actually took a liking to its oddball personality.

The Goods

Though its tubular steel perimiter frame lends it an unusual silhouette, the 2009 Griso’s most distinctive feature is its new 8-valve, 90 degree twin engine. The transversely mounted powerplant boasts 563 new components, including new heads and pistons that help it achieve a compression ratio of 11.1:1. Horsepower has been boosted to 110 (at 7,500 rpm), and torque is 79.7 ft-lbs at 6,400 rpm—pretty impressive for an air-cooled engine.

The lump is mated to a six-speed transmission, and a single-sided swingarm houses a shaft drive. Four-piston Brembo brakes and 43mm inverted Showa forks are found up front, while 2-piston units are situated at the rear, along with a monoshock that’s equipped with a remote gas reservoir.

Swing a Leg Over

The first Guzzi I ever rode was a 2007 Griso, and I didn’t really get it—so when I was offered some time with the 2009 Griso, I wasn’t expecting much. But firing up the new bike felt immediately different. It wasn’t just its aftermarket pipe by Termignoni, which is louder but arguably less cool looking than the stock one found on the ’07 model. Somehow, the bike came alive more even at idle; its boisterous exhaust note may have pissed off the neighbors, but it sure made this motorcyclist happy... though I did try to roll the Griso away from my garage on a couple of occasions before starting up this bad boy.

The saddle is large and comfy, and feels sufficiently padded for long rides. At least parked, the Griso seems rather long (and it is, with a wheelbase of 61.2 inches.) Controls are easily reached, and the multifunction display effectively combines an analog tachometer with a digital speedo and other functions like ambient temperature. Neat details include the hollowed pedals and the aluminum trim around the fuel filler… and you better get some neat details on this bike, since it's got a premium pricetag.

On the Road

The strangest thing about a Moto Guzzi is that the whole bike actually tilts to the right when you rev the engine in neutral. It’s called “torque reaction,” and happens because of the orientation of those big, transversely positioned pistons.

Once you get over that strange phenomenon, there’s a lot to enjoy with the 2009 Moto Guzzi Griso. It’s got dramatically more power than its non 8-valved predecessor, and though there’s a bit of a dip in mid-range torque, the pull from 5,500 rpm to the 8,000 rpm redline is absolutely outstanding. Unlike a sewing machine-like inline 4-cylinder engine, this thing vibrates like crazy and always seems to be communicating exactly what’s going on inside its crankcase—which can be either nirvana or a circle of hell, depending on your disposition.

The gearbox operates smoothly and predictably, with the only weak link being the rather heavy clutch, which starts to feel extra heavy in traffic. But on the open road, the Griso is loads of fun to ride. Its ride is plush but controlled, with solid handling characteristics—though its length can be a bit of a handful at lower speeds. The Brembo brakes work very well, adding confidence to the equation. Though its dry weight of 489 pounds prevents it from getting confused with an all-out sportbike, the Griso is nonetheless powerful and maneuverable enough to offer plenty of entertainment on remote, twisty roads.

Bottom Line

The Moto Guzzi Griso is a polarizing bike; you’ll either love its unusual characteristics, or be driven mad by them. Me? I had a great time riding the Griso through Los Angeles, and enjoyed it far more than the 2007 model I tested a while back. Though it’s far from perfect, it’s those quirky personality traits—the quivering engine, the massive footprint, and even the “torque reaction”—that make you feel like you’re riding a serious motorcycle. It may not be for everybody, but I enjoyed riding the Moto Guzzi Griso far more than I expected to. And if you don’t mind paying the $14,290 premium, I’m guessing you might, too.