For the last 10 years, it's been hard to tell whether MV Agusta has been making motorcycles or art projects. The Brutale and F4 series were heart-breakingly beautiful, designed by the late, great Massimo Tamburini, probably the most famous motorcycle designer of all time. Every detail was sumptuous, and peak power figures were always right up there with the best in the business. But they were expensive, they weren't competing in World Superbike, and they were notoriously peaky, physically punishing and challenging to ride. Rarely would you see one ridden in anger – you were more likely to see them mounted and lit as lounge room ornaments.
But a brand can't coast forever on good looks and a racing history that ended 40 years ago. In 2014 the company re-established its racing division and went back to World Superbike competition. And with the diversification of its 800cc triple range, it feels like MV is finally ready to step down from its lofty historic throne, roll up the sleeves and get busy competing in a bunch of different segments.
At an Australian press launch event, we had a chance to take a quick ride on three of the 2015 800cc bikes: the Turismo Veloce sports-tourer, the Brutale Dragster streetfighter and its stupidly gorgeous Dragster RR big brother. What follows is a quick seat-of-the-pants impression, but we're planning full reviews with video for the coming months.
2015 MV Agusta Dragster 800 and 800RR
It's no secret that I've had a raging motorection for the Dragster 800RR ever since the first photos leaked back in October last year – and the standard model is a hot little number in its own right. Sawn-off, snub-nosed, bob-tailed and muscular little beggars they are, with pillion seats almost big enough to sticky-tape a wallet to. They're incredibly minimal, probably the closest thing on the market to my "two wheels, a seat, a whopping big motor and a handlebar" streetbike ideal, and yet what parts have been added are exquisitely shaped.
As small as they look, they feel even more compact on board. The tiny dash and headlight simply vanish when you're riding, giving you that wonderful magic-carpet feeling of flying through the corners as if the bike's not there at all. This feeling is further enhanced by both bikes' super light weight of just 167 kg (368 lb) dry, which gives them a lot of agility and makes them a ton of fun to throw around.
The engine on both bikes has a streetfighter's attitude and loves to rev, to the point where low-end torque suffers a little. Put next to, say, Yamaha's MT-09, the Yammy feels much stronger at the bottom. You've even got to rev the Dragsters a bit to get them off the line. On the move, though, keep them singing and there's plenty of excitement to be had. The throttle response is crisp and aggressive, and the standard Dragster's 125 horsepower (93 kW) encourages full-throttle shenanigans.
The RR version is a significant upgrade. Aside from the gorgeous spoked wheels and cosmetic upgrades, it gets an extra set of injectors closer to the airbox to beef up the midrange and top end by about 15 extra horsepower. The difference is fantastic, it's hard to go back to the standard Dragster once you've tasted the RR.
Making matters worse is the RR's electronic quickshifter, which is the first on a production nakedbike to "go both ways" with auto-blip downshifting as well as full-throttle upshifts. It's awesome. Remember the first time you used a quickshifter on the road, how intoxicating those upshifts were? It's even better with the downshifter, because if you're riding the thing hard and revving it high, it absolutely screams as you bang it down through the gears.
The RR gets a steering damper as well, which is a welcome addition as the standard Dragster's front end can get a little flighty on full-throttle corner exits.
In short, I knew I loved the Dragster RR before I met it, and this quick ride did little to quell my throbbing heart. But that doesn't mean it's perfect. When I did bother to look down, I found the dash on both bikes quite busy and confusing, with too much going on. While the RR's is nicer, both bikes have gone for a liquid crystal look that does no favours to legibility. And the wide, flat profile 200/50 rear tire is a purely cosmetic choice; it makes the back end of the Dragsters look cool, but noticeably slows down what could be a sharper steering setup. I wonder what this bike might feel like with a 190/55 on the back…
2015 MV Agusta Turismo Veloce
The Turismo Veloce might just be the first "grown-up" bike MV has made in a long, long time. It's not a racer, it's not a hooligan hellraiser, it's a proper mile muncher with all-week comfort and all the electronic goodies. Promising "emotional touring," it takes the 800cc triple engine in an entirely different direction from the Dragster bikes.
It's a tall and substantial machine, about the size and weight of the Yamaha FJ-09 Tracer, but smaller and some 18 kg (40 lb) lighter than a Ducati Multistrada. Comfort-wise it gets an A provided you're tall enough to flat-foot it. It's got a relaxed ride position, plenty of leg room, decent pillion accommodation and a great cruise control system to spare your right wrist during transport sections. There's also a speed limiter function to help you relax even further if you're riding in a heavily policed area.
The engine is completely reworked for touring duties, with new pistons, crankshaft, cams and gearbox. Peak power is down to 110 horsepower (82 kW), but torque is boosted by some 15 percent through the midrange compared to the Brutale and Rivale. It feels markedly different from the Dragster; less aggressive, more calm and composed.
I need to declare my biases at this point: I'm not a grown-up. I tend not to like grown-up bikes as much as stupid-young-person bikes. I couldn't feel a massively improved low-end or midrange; perhaps it's been swallowed up by the 24 kg (53 lb) the Turismo Veloce carries over the Dragster bikes. To me the engine feels and sounds muted in Turismo Veloce format, I found myself wanting that raging Dragster RR top end – mind you, I wasn't out gliding through the alps for a week, I was on a quick backroads blast. Still, touring riders with serious acceleration addictions will want to check out the barnstorming Multistrada instead, which can scare OR charm the pants off you in equal measures.
MV has put a lot of thought into making the Turismo Veloce light and narrow for a long-range tourer, including panniers that sit no wider than the handlebars. It's also a fine handler, tipping into corners more willingly than the Dragster bikes, presumably by virtue of its narrower, taller 190/55 rear tire. Rapid progress on faster roads feels easy and relaxed, and slow speed handling is equally impressive.
I'm not entirely sure this kind of bike needs an up/down quickshifter like the Dragster RR, but it gets one anyway, and it works just as nicely. It's not as much of a laugh, though, because the engine character tends to keep you lower in the rev range, making downshifts less hectic and entertaining.
The dash goes full TFT, with a ton of options and features available through a thumbswitch on the left bar. It could be brighter, and features that aren't on the bike shouldn't appear in the menus, but it's a big step forward from the LCD units on the Dragster bikes. The bike also features enough Bluetooth gear to connect up to nine (!) devices, giving you the ability to see who's calling on your mobile phone, for example, and letting you accept or reject calls through your Bluetooth headset using the bike's thumb switches. This is something I think offers a lot of promise and I'm looking forward to playing with it more.
But the goodies don't end there for connected touring riders. It's got two USB ports, two 12-volt sockets and a beefed-up alternator to keep all your Facebook machines charging as you ride. Nice!
All in all, the Turismo Veloce feels like a well thought-out and solid bike for sports touring riders. I don't think it's the looker that some of its MV Agusta stablemates are, but it's got some nice touches and it's vastly more practical. It'll be interesting to see how the bike buying public reacts to it.
It's a new year and a new approach for MV Agusta. These new 800s feel more road- and rider-focused than ever before. Here's hoping they spark a revival of this historic brand because we want to see more MVs on the road! Make mine a Dragster RR, in red and white. Yessss... Come to papa.