MV Agusta’s built its reputation on high-spec supersports machines. But its new Stradale 800 is aimed at a more relaxed market. Can premium and practical mix? Al went to Spain to find out
Things can go weird when luxury brands go for mass markets. Sometimes it’s a disaster: when Burberry caps became more prevalent on police lineups than fashion lineups, the firm had to take drastic action to keep the value of its vomit-beige tartan tat closer to £500 per item than £5.
Sometimes it works a bit better: German firm Leica normally produces incredibly posh rangefinder cameras – lenses cost up to £7k on their own, and it even sells a black and white-only digital camera for £6k. Without a lens. Or flash. Or anything except a nice wee strap in fact. But Leica also sells cheaper compact cameras, rebranded Panasonics or the like, with the red dot logo, and a correspondingly higher cost. People get the cachet of the premium brand (with the nice wee strap), in a cheaper deal, and (whisper it) they’re often much easier for mortals to get the most from.
So what are we to make of MV Agusta’s new Stradale 800? In some ways, Agusta is like Leica: selling no-compromise, top-spec, luxury items, with superb performance, high prices, and a little less user-friendliness than more-prosaic brands. Bikes like the Dragster 800 RR, with its exotic £3.5k spoked Kineo wheels and single-sided swingarm. Or the full-beans F4 superbike range, dripping in Ohlins, Brembo, carbon and track porn. Incredible machines, but hardly the stuff of day-to-day commuting or light touring duties, the avowed target for the new Stradale 800.
At first glance, the Stradale looks a bit like a Ducati Hyperstrada. Like the skinny Duke, the Stradale is based on a supermotard, Agusta’s Rivale, with a set of posh wee panniers and tweaks to add usability. The tall, upright riding position, minimalist fairing and long-travel suspension are all firmly on the road side of the adventure touring recipe – and it also looks pretty sweet, glinting in the Spanish sun.
Yes, Spain. At the tail end of 2014, the good people from MV have flown us to Andalusia, for a wazz round the dry, (relatively) warm asphalt between Casares and Ronda. It’s a welcome break from the grey drizzle of London, and I can’t wait to get out for the ride. I’m assigned a bike, given a quick briefing on how to tweak the various rider aids, and I hop on. The starter starts, and we’re away.
Things are going well straight off. The seat is a bit tall for my stumpy pins, but I’ve got used to that over the years. The dash is clean and clear, and I’ve just about retained enough knowledge of the controls to keep the ABS on, stick it in Sport mode, turn the TC down a notch and start the lap timer. Perfect.
We’ve got a guide for the day, one of MV’s test riders, and he’s already warned us of the chilly Tarmac first thing in the morning, so I’m grateful for the traction control and ABS, and the steady pace out the hotel and along the coast for a few warmup miles. The Stradale isn’t a big bike at all, the dashboard is close up to your face, and the neat little adjustable screen isn’t far from my helmet chinbar. Wind protection is good though, and with my Knox race gloves on, I’m very pleased with the natty handguards on the ends of the fairly wide bars. What’s not so good is the seat: there’s a distinct ‘bum’ shape fitted into it, and where you’d like to move about and maybe slide back a bit, you can’t.
We’re up in the hills now, and MV’s man is clearly feeling the effects of his breakfast cappucino. We’re ‘pressing on’ at a fair old rate, up into the hills toward Ronda. The main Ronda road is mythical amongst car and bike testers for its continuous twisting, sinous bends, but we’re on a smaller road up the mountain, and it’s a corker. I’ve not been ‘on it’ on a bike abroad for a few years, but it all came flooding back. Sheer cliff face on the inside, sheer cliff drop on the outside, tenous fencing, locals driving like bipolar go-kart racers, all check. What was an additional bonus was the terrible surface of the road. Public finances being what they are in Spain, I guess the maintenance of mountain roads for road test johnnies isn’t a high priority, and there were potholes and rough patches a-plenty. Worse, though, were the deep dips and cambers, as if the road foundations were coming adrift.
But the Stradale was coping like a star. The riding position was perfect for the super-tight hairpin bends, the long-travel suspension was soaking up punishment like a heavyweight champ, and the flat torque drive from the engine fired you out of every corner. The up and down shifter was a revelation too, once you got your head around it. One of the engineers had described it as making things as easy as on a scooter, and that made perfect sense. Clutchless changes means one less thing to think about as you hurtle down a 90mph mountain sweeper trying to keep up with Franco the crazy MV test rider…
But it was the chassis that really impressed. That suspension makes an incredible job of soaking up even the wildest amounts of wheel travel, while keeping you stable, planted, and able to crack the gas on regardless. The wide bars give ample leverage for steering input, and it’s easy to throw the Stradale from full lean to upright to opposite lean in a trice. There’s tremendous amounts of ground clearance too: a tentative toe stuck out will eventually touch Tarmac, but I never had a peg or lever deck out anywhere. No complaints about the brakes either: the front Brembos have a progressive feel, with plenty of power and no lack of control – the rear needed a little more care though – it was possible to kick the ABS in if you gave it a thoughtless boot.
The Pirelli Diablos had lots of warmth in them when we stopped for pics, and performed admirably on the poor sections of the mountain asphalt – they’ll be superb on normal UK tarmac I’d say.
After lunch, we head back to the hotel on the bigger, faster, more sweeping main road. I’ve been down here a few times, but not in a while, so I was trying to be cautious as my addled brain tried to recover memories of the route. But the Stradale just eggs you on and on. There’s a fine intake roar from below you, and the exhaust note is as good as you’ll get on an EC pipe. The suspension was as excellent on faster smoother roads as it had been on the earlier bumpy route, and the little MV was super-stable everywhere. I still hadn’t fallen in love with the seat though: the movement restriction was bothersome, and even the couple of hundred klicks we’d ridden so far had given me a bit of arse-ache.
The 115bhp motor was probably just about right for the faster route – you never feel like you’re running out of puff. On one long straight, I tucked in and managed to see an indicated 210kph, with more to come, which ties in with MV’s claimed 133mph top speed. Sure, it’d be nice to have a bit more top-end for ‘Autobahn touring’, but that’s not quite the Stradale’s remit. As the man from Agusta told us, it’s a bike aimed at light touring, and commuting. Perfect to waft you from your Chelsea riverside penthouse flat across town to Canary Wharf, or perhaps a jaunt down to Hove for lunch of a weekend.
Back at the hotel, safe and sound (despite our best efforts), I’m feeling a lot of love for the Stradale. It’s a bit like a very well executed version of something like a Kawasaki Versys: easy to use, super-practical, but with none of the cheap bits, and a hefty chunk of extra power. Sure, it’s a pricey option at nearly £12k. But just as with a nice Leica camera, there’s a lot of rewards that come with that pricetag…
• MV Agusta’s got some very good finance deals at the moment, in the UK and most other countries. There’s also a low rate PCP deal from MV Agusta UK. More info: www.mvagusta.com/en-gb/
The 800cc version of Agusta’s modern triple has been around for a few years now. Its schtick is that it spins ‘backwards’, that is, the opposite way to the wheels. That’s so that the gyroscopic forces from the big spinning masses cancel each other out to some degree, making direction changes easier. Sound a bit witchcraft-y? Rossi’s Yamaha M1 GP bike used the same setup when it was developed. The Stradale has a unique hydraulic clutch, that makes the motor 30mm narrower than before.
The Stradale’s steel tube/alloy plate frame is trademark MV, and based on the Rivale. It’s slightly longer and has a degree more head angle. That plus a 30mm longer swingarm gives 46mm more wheelbase than the nutter Rivale.
It’s an MV, so of course front and rear are fully adjustable. The Marzocchi forks have separate damping legs – one compression, one rebound. Rear shock is by Sachs.
Where lesser brands cut corners, MV retains the glamour. So you get 320mm discs, and four-piston Brembo radial calipers up front. A notch down from the monobloc items on the supersport bikes, but still corking calipers. Bosch ABS has a rear wheel lift mitigation system, to stop panic-braking commuters flipping themselves forward like eight-year-olds on their first BMX.
MV’s given the Stradale both barrels from the rider aids 12-bore, with switchable ABS, four power modes and eight levels of traction control. You also get a quickshifter, and best of all, a blipping downshifter. Close the throttle, press the gear lever down, and with no further input, you’ll smoothly enter the next lowest gear with a rort of panache.
The panniers (a first on an MV from the factory we think?) are small, but perfectly-formed. Lockable zippers and simple attachment system are useful, built-in rear lights are cool. There’s a small electrical connector you need to unplug and stow when you remove each bag – a minor faff. When the bags are off, the tail lights under the seat are revealed.
Type: l/c inline-triple, 12v DOHC, 798cc
Bore x stroke: 79×54.3mm
Fuel system: MVICS fuel injection, ride by wire throttle bodies
steel tube trellis, aluminium swingarm plates
43mm USD Marzocchi fork, fully adjustable, separate adjustment legs
Sachs monoshock, fully adjustable
dual 320mm discs, four-piston radial mount Brembo calipers (F), 220mm disc, twin-piston caliper (R)
Pirelli Diablo Rosso II or Scorpion Trail 120/70 17 F, 180/55 17 R
Fuel capacity 16 litres
Dry weight 181kg
Peak power (claimed):115bhp@11,000rpm
Peak torque (claimed):78.5Nm@9,000rpm
Quickshifter, downshift throttle blipper, eight-stage traction control, four torque maps, switchable ABS with rear wheel lift prevention.