2011 Moto Guzzi Griso Motorcycle Review
Are there any female Moto Guzzi owners out there? I am sure there are, though they certainly have to be few and far between. I cannot think of a company responsible for more unabashedly masculine machines than those from the uomini at Mandello del Lario.
Wide, imposing, and gruff, yet paradoxically graceful, the almost uncategorizable Griso is the least subtle bike in Guzzi’s distinctive realm. At one time called a “techno cruiser” by the Italian company, Moto Guzzi now wisely shies away from defining this unique motorcycle.
To be sure, nothing else looks like the Griso. From the muscular transverse V-twin, with its provocatively protruding cylinders, to the large-girth muffler, the Griso’s manhood is not to be disputed. This falls in line with the source of the Griso name; it is a character in Alessandro Manzoni’s celebrated 19th century Italian novel, “I Promessi Sposi” (“The Betrothed”), that Moto Guzzi describes as “a tough and fearless leader.”
Wake up the Griso in the morning and it is cantankerous. Like a Harley-Davidson, the Guzzi motor combusts to life with disquieting authority. It is as if a hand grenade has been dropped into the cylinders to set the pistons into motion. The entire bike shakes as each air-cooled 575cc cylinder rises to operating temperature, guided by the sophistication of a Magneti Marelli EFI. Once underway, a large side-mounted oil cooler maintains temperatures, and it is another eye-catching design feature along with the high-visibility, large-diameter exhaust headers.
Pull in the single-plate clutch and before you engage first gear, you will notice a rise in revs-the motor is preparing for engagement. Shifting into first is not slick, though it is sure. Subsequent gear changes are much smoother, particularly as the Griso warms.
The Griso’s seating position is on the sporting side of neutral, as the low, wide bars insist that you lean forward a bit. The pegs sit a tad high, though not unnaturally or uncomfortably. Indisputably, the Griso is a wide mount, with the leather seat and perimeter tube frame pushing your knees out. The motor is mounted far enough forward that only those of especially long inseams will have knees displaced by the cylinders.
Ever mindful of the company’s racing heritage, Guzzi has decked the Griso out in the green-and-brown livery of Omobono Tenni for this SE version. Tenni, the 1937 250cc European Champion, was nicknamed The Black Devil for his hair and on-track exploits, which ended in a fatal crash in 1948. The association does the Griso proud.
While not a racing bike, the Griso acquits itself nicely on the road when ridden appropriately. As torquey as you expect a big V-twin to be despite a straightforwardly oversquare configuration, the newer Quattrovalvole heads and overhead cams allow the Griso’s heart to pump a bit more rapidly than before, and redline is put off until 8000 rpm. Never frantic, the acceleration is nonetheless insistent. Thanks to plenty of rotating mass, the rider can twist the throttle hard to the stop and still feel completely in control.
The combination of a six-speed transmission and a power-band that runs from idle to redline means that proper gear selection is not mission critical for the Griso. You will want to keep things spinning for maximum performance, as the healthy 110 horses come just 500 rpm shy of redline. Torque maxes out at 80 ft/lbs, coming 900 rpm earlier than the horsepower peak. Short-shifters will do fine, though revving the Griso up does have its rewards.
With the rake kicked out to 26.3 degrees, a roomy 61.2-inch wheelbase and a claimed dry weight of 489 pounds, one has to realize that things don’t happen quickly. In comparison, the Ducati Monster 1100 EVO-another air-cooled, liter-plus, 90-degree V-twin-measures out at 24 degrees of rake, a four-inch shorter wheelbase, and about 125 fewer pounds.
Also, although the Monster shares the same tire brand and sizes as the Griso, the Monster’s Pirellis are aggressive Diablo Rosso IIs, rather than the yeoman Scorpion Syncs. Suffice to say, the Griso wants to be ridden much more deliberately than the Monster.
Once set into motion, the Griso is steady. Deceptively high-end, the suspension-inverted 43mm forks, linkage rear-is fully adjustable and impressively compliant and composed, even on rough corners. Mid-corner corrections require leverage, which the wide bars provide, though you are best served by thinking ahead. Set yourself up nicely, and the Griso guides you through the corners with confidence. Don’t bother throwing your knee out; that’s not how the Griso rolls. Old school cornering is the way to go. Transitions in switchbacks require more muscle-another hint toward the mandatory masculinity of the rider.
With over 500 pounds of motorcycle hurtling down the road, strong brakes are a must and the Griso gets radially mounted calipers clamping down on 320mm discs-serious stuff. The story on the rear is not so good-the brake lever looks like a gear shifter and is tucked so far in that it is tough to reach. Fortunately, the engine has 11:1 compression braking for the rear wheel.
Long distance rides are compromised by the plentiful vibrations, which caress your posterior and massage your feet, while they slowly assault your hands. You won’t notice it right away-you will probably even enjoy it, until your hands inevitably wilt. This, of course, means little in town, which is another setting in which the Griso thrives.
Much of its heft is carried down low and centralized, so it doesn’t feel quite so heavy in urban environments. Although the wide bars reduce steering effort, you will want them to be a couple of inches taller for sauntering through the city. The Griso is plenty comfortable, dexterous, and attention grabbing, so don’t be surprised when motorists roll down their windows to ask you what it is you are riding.
The big motor is ideal for battling cars on the boulevard, as you are never in the wrong gear and usable acceleration is always on tap. At stops in neutral, you will feel the characteristic side-to-side rocking caused by the engine configuration. Once in gear and underway, it is no longer a problem, and there is no bad behavior from the shaft drive.
There is something so evocative about the Moto Guzzi Griso 8V SE that turns every excursion into either a trip through Italy’s wine regions, or a rumble past the Colosseum. It is a man’s motorcycle, and quite unapologetic about it. Riders longing for a lithe, ballet-like sporting bike must look elsewhere.
Photography by Don Williams