Favorite Son

Whenever people (motorcyclists or not) find out my job is Senior Editor at Robb Report MotorCycling, then next thing out of their mouths is invariably this question: Which bike is your favorite?

As anyone who likes a wide variety of motorcycling (dirt, cruising, touring, sport), there is no “one bike” that can work as a favorite. Is the Yamaha GYT-R WR250F my favorite, or is it the Aprilia Tuono 1000 R Factory, or the Harley-Davidson CVO Road King? I don’t want a favorite—I want them all!

Of course, the questioner isn’t satisfied with that answer. They still demand I name a favorite. Although my response can be changed by my mood or whatever bikes happen to be in my garage, I find myself naming the Moto Guzzi Griso 1100 more often than not. It’s a great answer, in that it confuses the non-motorcyclist and intrigues the motorcycling cognoscenti. And, without a doubt, I love the Griso.

Certainly, the Griso is far more motorcycle than the sum of its parts. Sport riders are skeptical. It weighs in at 500 pounds dry, and its bulky pushrod, two-valve, air-cooled 1064cc transverse V-twin motor doesn’t seem like an ideal powerplant. The wheelbase is over 61 inches, much longer than its naked competitors, which typically sport gaps between their axles in the 50 inch range.

Custom riders aren’t buying what I’m selling either. It doesn’t have a relaxed seating position. The V in the twin is going in the wrong direction. The rear wheel isn’t fat enough. And, heck, it’s Italian!

Touring fans aren’t interested, though bagger aficionados might be if the bike came outfitted with the optional windshield, panniers and tank bag. But, stock? No way.

So, it isn’t a bike for specialists–and that’s what I like about it. When I roll out of my driveway, I prefer to decide what kind of riding I’m going to do. If I’m on a Ducati SportClassic 1000, I’m not likely to cruise Sunset Blvd. from start to finish, unless I have a couple of wristaches in mind. By the same token, if I’m at the bars of a Ness Signature Victory Vegas, canyon carving suddenly doesn’t seem like a good idea. Aboard the Griso, I don’t have to make that decision. I can do either, both or neither of those rides on the Griso.

Sure, it’s somewhat ponderous and set in its ways, but as long as I’m not expecting cutting and thrusting on the level of a Kawasaki Ninja ZX-6R, the Griso can handle tight byways such as Piuma Road (home to a couple of signed 15 mph hairpins and few straightaways) with confidence. Pick a line and the Griso will do its best to help you hold it. Change your mind, and it will firmly insist that you stay the course. The Griso has plenty of ground clearance, even though it’s a wide machine. However, the most aggressive riders can touch the pegs down at will.Triple disc brakes can handle the Griso’s 500 pounds, and there’s plenty of engine compression assistance. The suspension is fully adjustable–compression and rebound damping, plus ride height (spring preload). The stock settings, however, will appeal to most riders. Still, feel free to fine tune to your heart’s content. I’ll be riding in the meantime. The Griso just isn’t that sensitive of a machine. Named after a brutish character in the Italian novel, “The Betrothed”, it’s not a bike that requires kid gloves to ride.

Velocity increases are not neck snapping, but the big motor has lots of torque at low rpm, an ideal accelerant for real-world sport riding. Shifting the deliberate 6-speed transmission early is just fine with the Griso, and downshifting is at your discretion. Feathering the clutch is not necessary, nor is it easily achievable. The clutch engages late in the lever’s sweep, and over precious few degrees of arc. It takes some getting used to, but it’s never an ideal setup. The fuel injection system is without glitches.

Wheelies? Stoppies? Backing it in? That’s not the way you ride the Griso. It’s an adult’s motorcycle, and not aimed at stunterz (or whatever silly thing they call themselves). You ride it methodically, and it rewards you with reassuringly solid performance. Nothing happens exceedingly quickly and, again, that’s a good thing in the real world of street riding.

Down on the boulevard, the Griso can hold its own with mass production customs. It isn’t the least bit unusual for someone to roll down a window to reward you with a “nice bike” compliment. Indeed, the Griso is a spectacular machine in person. The large tube frame is as masculine as it is distinctive. The red version of the bike has the unmistakable Italian sexiness, while the black version does a very slow burn. Of some controversy is the huge, left side single muffler. I like it, but I can understand why others might consider it overdone. Mistral makes alternative mufflers that are both narrower and louder, if the stocker doesn’t work for you. Either way, the snaking of the headers is enduringly sexy. On the right side, the eye catchers are the side-facing oil cooler and massive one-sided swingarm with integrated shaft drive.

With the exception of the touchy clutch, the Griso is happy working its way through traffic, gathering admiring and curious glances (if not downright stares) as it goes. The grunting motor and plenty of flywheel ensures that you won’t stall it at an inopportune moment (and, let’s face it, they’re all inopportune). The suspension is up to the rigors of crumbling infrastructure, and the handling remains on-call in case an unexpected obstacle finds its way to the Griso’s 17-inch wheels.

So, why is the Griso such a favorite with me? It comes down to a few things. It’s fun–I never get off the bike without a smile on my face. It’s versatile–it adapts to my changing moods and inclinations as I ride, rather than pigeonholing me. It’s masculine–not too many women are going to want to take controls of a bike this size, and the two protruding cylinders are certainly manly. Finally, it’s cool–we’re not just talking Italian, we’re talking exotica. The Griso isn’t for everyone…but it’s there for those who are ready.


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