September 25, 2007 Moto Morini motorcycles have become rarities since the company's heyday in the 1970s, but the brand is enjoying a resurgence - not only is it back under Morini family ownership, but its new range of 1200cc twins are making a strong impression around the world. Loz Blain takes the 9½ streetbike and the Corsaro streetfighter for a back-to-back road test and discovers that even if they share their thunderous 1200cc V-twin engine, these two Italian exotics are as different as Meg Ryan and Naomi Campbell.

Two freshly-uncrated exotic Italian motorcycles, a fine and sunny day, and Melbourne’s excellent Formula One racetrack to play on. What could make this a more perfect Saturday?

Our test bikes today represent two thirds of the Italian company's 2007 motorcycle range. One is simply known as the 9½, the other the Corsaro, or ‘Pirate.’ Both names are references to older bikes from the storied Italian company’s racing history.

Both bikes share the magnificent Bialbero CorsaCorta 1200cc v-twin engine, built from the ground up by Moto Morini. Due to its short stroke, the injected powerplant revs hard and fast, responding to a sniff of throttle and delivering mountains of grunty torque from anywhere on the tacho. A V-angle of 87 degrees helps shorten the engine longitudinally, and both bikes benefit from the shorter wheelbase this permits.

The friendly 9½

The engine is tuned down in the 9½ for around 120 horsepower – which suits this friendly streetbike perfectly. The 9½’s styling is quite retro, with a broad tank, spoked wheels, single headlight and a practical, comfy seat that’s just this side of pillion-friendly. If you were being cruel you’d say it looks like a larger VTR250, a slightly more angular take on Ducati’s wildly popular but rapidly dating Monster naked look with its exposed trellis frame.

The riding position is pure comfort and control, the broad bars and excellent mirrors making slow-speed handling through city traffic an absolute joy. Perfectly placed ‘pegs are relaxing on the legs and make it quite comfortable to stand up and ride dirtbike-style. The unadjustable Marzocchi forks and adjustable Sachs shock are set quite softly – at least for a big bloke – giving the 9½ a serene and planted feel.

I’m not sure why Morini chose Pirelli Phantoms as the OEM tyre – in truth the 9½ handles well enough to deserve something sportier. After a single roundabout I felt completely comfortable with the handling. As light on its feet as a Hornet 600, the 9½ flicks through turns easily, delivering instant confidence and winning smiles very quickly during test rides. You’d re-spring it for the harder riding it tempts you into, though, as handling becomes a little uncertain when the pace lifts into proper scratching speeds.

The engine’s just fantastic, revving aggressively like Suzuki’s brilliant TL donk but smoother and gruntier. Even through the stock exhaust it packs a satisfying deep barking note that tempts you to ride it a gear up for the meaty sound. Even a smooth application of the throttle in first will send the front wheel sailing into the air, and with a bit of twistgrip abuse it’ll power-wheelie in second just as happily. Never too quick to lift, it’s a friendly and enjoyable bike for hooligan antics.

It’s just as well-mannered on the brakes, solid and planted unless you’re looking to bounce up a stoppie, in which case the 9½ will happily comply. Similarly, slow-speed u-turns are an absolute breeze. It’s very hard to fault the 9½ as an all-round riding experience – the pegs will limit cornering angles, and the suspension would need to be firmed up for trackdays, but both are trade-offs for the bike's exceptional comfort and ease of use. In fact, despite the wall-of-grunt engine, it’s so friendly and confidence-inspiring that I’d happily recommend it as a first large-capacity bike…

The evil Corsaro

…Which is definitely not the case for its big brother, the magnificent Corsaro, which was unveiled to awed applause at last night’s Melbourne launch by Moto Galleria manager Dean Tomaselli.

The Corsaro is a genuine stunner to look at from any angle – its upswept tail section gives it the attitude of a custom streetfighter. The angular tank instantly evokes the MV Brutale, the boldly-painted trellis frame screams Ducati and the headlight puts a more aggressive spin on Triumph’s Speed Triple. The twin bazooka exhausts divide opinions – personally I think they look fantastic. The whole bike is a class act style-wise, and draws adoring eyeballs wherever it goes. Park it next to a Monster S4R, and the Ducati looks like a relic.

For everything the Corsaro shares with the 9½, it couldn’t be a more different riding experience. Where the 9½ is soft and friendly, the Corsaro is hard, angry and skittish. The same engine that was so smooth in the 120hp 9½ feels peaky and raw in its full-blooded 140hp state. The hard seat, flared tank and higher pegs combine to give the Corsaro a muscular, aggressive sort of riding position, and the clutch feels twice as heavy.

Lord knows why Moto Morini fitted that pillion seat – only extremely flexible and endlessly tolerant size sixes need apply. Actually, putting it that way, perhaps the Italians know what they’re doing.

Where the 9½ gives instant confidence, the Corsaro delivers stern warnings. Much stiffer, fully adjustable Marzocchi forks and Sachs shock show no interest in soaking up pavement ripples and speed bumps – they’re not here to stuff about making your life comfortable. U-turns are now wobbly affairs as the engine coughs and surges at low revs with its higher gearing, and the steeper steering head angle makes you feel like you’re sitting straight over the front wheel, making hard braking feel like you’re diving off a cliff.

Get right up it on a smooth road, however, and the gorgeous Corsaro gets a chance to do what it’s built to; the engine roars and rips upwards through the gears, throwing the front wheel upwards and forcing your butt back into the stepped pillion seat. Launch it hard into a corner and the uprated suspension finally wakes up and feels like it’s starting to take an interest. Roll on hard on the corner exits and you’re treated to a very close-up view of the clocks as the front wheel becomes purely ornamental.

If you like a bike that badly needs to be shown who’s the boss, the Corsaro could be the one for you. Slap it around and treat it badly and it becomes a very willing partner in crime. Ride it with any less than complete aggression and commitment and you’ll find it a handful.

These Jekyll and Hyde Moto Morinis put Tomaselli and Australian importer Paul Nobbs in an interesting position – buyers gasp at the sheer presence of the Corsaro, but many test riders will find it too highly-strung for a daily ride. The unassuming 9½ is easy to overlook on a showroom floor, but everyone that takes it out comes back with a grin a mile wide because it’s just so easy to get along with.

The brand’s boutique pricing puts the two bikes into the ‘exotics’ category where buyers spend extra for stunning looks and exclusivity – but the Corsaro’s the only real head-turner of the two – so it’ll be interesting to see if the 9½ manages to keep its footing purely on the back of its brilliant rideability when competing against the similarly fun and friendly SV1000 and Hornet 900, which cost thousands less. The Corsaro's pricing pits it against Aprilia's brilliant Tuono, KTM's Super Duke and MV Agusta's Brutale - in that company, it has a good chance of holding its own.

Which would I take home? Well, while the head screams 9½ for all its many virtues, I’m intrigued by what lies further down the Corsaro road. My test ride was brief, and only towards the end did I start to bond with this aggressive customer. It requires a lot more from its rider but it has the personality, performance and good looks to tempt me toward the darker side. Corsaro by the narrowest margin, and maybe just because I'm a glutton for punishment.

The Moto Morini 9½ retails for AU$18,990, the Corsaro for AU$21,990, and for AU$23,990 you can purchase an up-spec Corsaro Veloce, kitted out with Ohlins and Termingnoni parts in all the right places. Test rides are available now.

Loz Blain

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