Turning clean with MV?
Euro emissions rules means we get an all-new MV Agusta Brutale 800 for 2016. A good thing? Al finds out in Spain
Generally, state interference in motorbikes is a bad thing. Leg protectors, quiet pipes, power and speed limits – we’re not a fan of much of this. Neither do we love emissions rules, which mean bigger catalysts and smaller power figures on many modern bikes. Okay, no-one wants to poison baby hedgehogs with too much acid rain and unburnt hydrocarbons, or deafen the local golden eagle chicks. But the latest Euro IV limits seem to be ratcheting down already-low emissions, from (let’s face it) statistically-insignificant numbers of vehicles, to wit, posh motorbikes. Sure, the VW diesel engines powering millions of cars worldwide should probably keep it down a bit. But the sub-thousand MV Agustas sold in the UK each year? Hmmmm.
But, whether I like it or not, them’s the rules. So the good guys at Varese need to knuckle down, polish their slide rulers and protractors, and get to work on new, emissions and noise-compliant engines. And for the Brutale 800, that meant a new motor, based around the Turismo Veloce powerplant, as well as a heap of chassis, design, and detail mods. We went to Spain, to see if they’d got it right.
It was a good start. We left a grey, dismal Gatwick, landed in the golden-hued land of Andalucia, and settled down for the night in Marbella. Next day, we were up bright and early, for a ride up the mountains towards the town of Ronda. It’s like Benidorm for bike and car testers out here: the weather is fantastic, the roads quiet out of season, and the route itself is
world-class. All types of bend, from hairpin to fast sweeper, decent straight sections, flick-flack sections, the whole nine yards. A solid test for any bike really.
We started off cautiously though. MV test rider, Rebecca Bianchi, had been put in cuffs the day before, and the European Superstock 600 racer had earned a hefty speeding ban from the Feds. Eek! The thought of standing before the beak in Ronda, and getting hit with a fat Euro fine was looming in my mind, as I slipped the key into bike number six, and got the Agusta started.
Much of this was familiar to be fair. I’d been in the same part of the world just over a year ago, riding the MV Agusta Stradale 800. The motor and chassis are in the same ballpark, and, importantly, the structure of the electronic riding aids is much the same. Selecting your particular poison in terms of traction control, ABS, quickshifter, throttle response and power output is tricky at first, but with my memory of the Stradale (and the Turismo Veloce) dragged out of the dusty cupboard at the back of my mind, I soon had it sorted.
Then, we’re off. Through the dusty urban sprawl of Marbella, a quick trundle along the Autostrada, then left turn, and up into the hills. I’m very happy on the Brutale: the seat’s a bit firm maybe, and there are odd lumps just above the knee area that dig into my inner thighs a bit, but the riding position is spot-on for the target sporty-naked-middleweight sector. The dash is clear, and after a bit of fiddling, I get a reasonable view in the mirrors. The traffic thins as we dispatch dawdling trucks, buses, hire cars and delivery trucks with a whiff of ride-by-wire throttle, and the road livens up a treat.
I’m in Sport mode (there are three – Sport, Normal and Rain), and it’s spot on actually. On Agustas of old, the sport modes were good for full-bore track attacks, but a bit much on the road. Not here though: the throttle response gets it just right – not too sharp, not too dull. A direct connection between your wrist and the rear Pirelli, just what you want. The quickshifter is epic. I’d sampled it before on the other Agustas, but it’s even more addictive on this bike. The crack when you change up on full gas, and the savage blips when you change down a gear more than you would normally make every cog-swap a proper giggle. Agusta’s done a top job with the intake sound too – despite ever tougher noise regs. Many modern cars have tricks, like piping fake engine noise into the stereo speakers, to keep the driver engagement high – but Agusta’s worked wonders with the airbox design, and there’s a bubble of high-revs aural pleasure surrounding you at all times.
It’s not just the sound though. This new engine actually has a bit less power than the old model, but a back-to-back dyno chart shows that, in exchange, we get much smoother torque, lower down, which makes up for the 9bhp or so snipped off the top. Besides, as Brian Gillen, Agusta’s tech director points out, even the firm’s World Supersport ace Jules Cluzel only spends 12 per cent of his time at full throttle over 8,000rpm, and that’s at the super-fast Sepang circuit. He gently suggests that most Brutale riders will be spending a bit less time there, making the improved low- and mid-range performance much more relevant.
We’re trying to prove him wrong though. The morning cobwebs are well and truly gone, the Tarmac has defrosted in the sun, and the Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tyres are up to temperature. And we’re having a proper go at the Ronda road now. Slamming the awesome Brembo brakes on, flinging the Brutale onto its side, scraping a toe through the bend, and gassing hard out again. The quickshifter sings up and down, the fat torque slingshots you forward, then it’s time to repeat it all over again for the next bend. And everything is utterly optimal. Like baby bear’s porridge, the engine, brakes and handling are all just right. You never seem to get too much power, but just enough. There are no surprises in the fuelling. The brakes give enormous power and feel, without ever overwhelming. And the chassis cuts the ideal path between stability and agility. The Ronda road isn’t without its bumps and lumps, and there were a few spots where a lesser bike could have got properly out of shape. Hitting a huge dip cranked over at 90mph cricked my neck, we hit so hard…but the Brutale just shook its head casually, and ploughed on through. The suspension maybe lacks a little of the ultimate wheel control you get on more high-end setups. But there’s full adjustment there front and rear, and a bit of setup for your personal needs would improve things no end.
We’re getting up towards Ronda now, and the MV test rider is stretching his legs. All this morning’s caution about the cops, speed limits and jail time has been flung to the warm southerly winds, and we’re soon screaming through the big fast sweepers like Republican dive bombers over Franco’s armies. My mouth is dry, and wrists and shoulders are feeling the effort, but I don’t want it to end, just yet. And then, too soon, we’re at the coffee stop, and time for a half hour break. We sup down strong Spanish café, munch on firm Manchego queso, and catch our breath.
Back on the road, and I try fiddling with the engine maps. I finally get into Normal mode, after much confusion between the hazard warning light button and the neighbouring Engine Map button. Duh. Once I get myself sorted, turn off the hazard flashers and finally select ‘Normal’, things turn down just a notch. We’re still getting full power and torque, but the throttle response is a bit less sharp, and while I might be imagining it, the intake sound doesn’t seem as sweet. Our lead rider has changed, and the new guy is a bit more cautious, so we spend a few miles at a bit less than ten-tenths, and I can play with some of the other settings. Turning the quickshifter off is easy, but why would you? Similarly, the ABS is easily switched off, should you want to start locking up the rear. The traction control goes from zero (off) to eight, but even on setting one or two, you can still get some nice lively wheelies out of the little Agusta. Brian Gillen later says he always rides on setting one and gets all the wheelies he ever needs, while hanging onto a decent safety margin.
I’ve exhausted the dash options now, pretty much, except for the ‘Rain’ mode. But with not a cloud in the sky, I decide not to hex proceedings by tempting the weather gods. I slip back into ‘Sport’ mode, drop back a little from the rider in front, and quickshift my way all the way up the box and back again, just for more of dat noize. Back down the hill to Marbella, and the Brutale continues to impress. The Pirelli rubber just grips and grips, giving amazing confidence, the brakes remain strong, with no hint of fade, and the motor keeps delivering the grunt, just how you want it, all the way. It feels like nothing more than a very high-end version of Triumph’s Street Triple, with almost as much grunt as a Speed Triple, combined with the light touch of the Street. Triumph’s naked 675 is a legendary bike, no doubt, but this Brutale feels like it can match it almost everywhere, and best it in the grunt and sophistication stakes. You would expect that of course – the £10,499 Agusta is a couple of grand more expensive. But then Triumph has beaten plenty of more-expensive bikes over the years…
So, there you have it. The new Brutale 800 is a fantastic all-round roadbike package. The engine is massively satisfying, and just so much fun. The chassis works a treat to let you get all you need from the performance. And, of course, it has all the design, style and quality you’d expect from the Varese outfit. All this – plus meeting all the required state rules? What else could you ask for?
Largely based on the latest version of MV’s 800 triple, as seen on the Turismo Veloce, but tweaked up with different airbox, bellmouths and cams. There’s a hydraulically-operated clutch, with slipper function,
New frame gets slightly more relaxed geometry: 20mm more wheelbase, 8.5mm more trail and head angle goes to 24.5°.
Marzocchi forks, Sachs shock, both conventional, fully adjustable units, with no clever electronic damping, or complex damping tech.
Pirelli’s latest sporty road rubber, the Diablo Rosso III. After a very short warm-up period, they were essentially faultless.
Loads of optional extras, from a super-sweet Fresco exhaust that’s mega light and mega loud, to carbon bodywork, gel seats, billet aluminium parts, even a lithium battery.
Type: l/c inline-triple, 12v DOHC, 798cc
Bore x stroke: 79×54.3mm
Fuel system: MVICS (Motor & Vehicle Integrated Control System) with three injectors. Engine control unit Eldor EM2.0, Mikuni ride by wire throttle bodies
Transmission: six-speed/chain. Slipper clutch
Frame: steel trellis/aluminium swingarm plates
Suspension: 43mm Marzocchi USD fork, fully adjustable
Sachs monoshock, fully adjustable, single-sided swingarm
Brakes: dual 320mm discs, four-piston radial mount Brembo calipers (F), 220mm disc, twin-piston caliper (R), switchable ABS
Tyres: Pirelli Diablo Rosso III 120/70 17 F, 180/55 17 R
Fuel capacity 16.5 litres
Dry weight 175kg
Peak power (claimed):116bhp@11,500rpm
Peak torque (claimed): 61ft lb@7,600rpm
Quickshifter, downshift throttle blipper, traction control, power maps, switchable ABS.