2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Test |
Long-Distance Review

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Long Term Review
Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

Be Different. Be Selective. Be Moto Guzzi.

This is my personal marketing message for the latest motorcycle to descend on the world of baggers—the 2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress. But the message didn’t arrive at first glance – rather, it took a few thousand miles of touring, bar hopping, serious WOT canyon action, and the occasional drag race.

When Shane Pacillo, Piaggio’s Marketing Communications Manager, invited Ultimate Motorcycling to the Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress launch at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, two thoughts immediately percolated in my already espresso-filled mind.

First, it takes some serious balls for a 95-year-old Italian company steeped in motorcycle-racing history to design its first-ever bagger in 2016, and launch it amid a tough crowd seriously passionate about American V-twin machinery?

And, second, can I ride one back to my home in Northeast Pennsylvania?

Read our Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Review – 10 Fast Facts

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress seat heightA few weeks later, I flew out to Sturgis to ride the 2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 throughout the Black Hills, and then make Moto Guzzi history by becoming the first rider to take the Flying Fortress through some Eastern states en route home.

Throughout it all, including a few extra miles of testing near home and on my personal “Mountain Course”, I have about 3000 miles on the Flying Fortress—enough to get a true feel for the bike, and also see what would go wrong.

A bulk of those miles were at WOT—the MGX-21 registers 116 mph in sixth at best going downhill—in order to understand the performance and durability of this beauty. More testing came in the form of what this bike was built for—touring and downtown cruising.

Just make sure your bladder is empty before stopping anywhere on this bike. I’ve ridden hundreds of motorcycles all over the world, and have never received such a response as this bike generates.

Pull up on the Moto Guzzi MGX-21, and prepare to have everyone —from the slick-backed hair NYC lawyer piloting a Yamaha FZ-09, to the modern Harley-Davidson rider rumbling on his CVO Street Glide through H-D’s part of the country near Wisconsin—stop and ask you question after question. Can I pee first, guys?

Galluzzi Design – What’s Not to Love

My 19-month-old son Enzo has a picture collection of Miguel Galluzzi designed motorcycles in his room. I figure if the brain needs true stimulation, what’s better than some Galluzzi-designed motorcycles, including the Ducati Monster, Aprilia Dorsoduro, Moto Guzzi V7 Racer, and the Moto Guzzi California 1400?

Galluzzi, just like Ducati 916 designer Massimo Tamburini, is a hero in my world. When I heard he was behind the new MGX-21 Flying Fortress, I knew I’d like it, but this wasn’t so true during my initial view on the computer screen. In person at Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, though, the MGX-21 spoke like no others.

Its lines achieve an authority of simplicity, and yet they are futuristic. The red valve covers of the 90-degree traverse V-twin and Brembo brakes immediately add Moto Guzzi’s rich racing heritage cues to the bike. That history includes 28 major titles from 1924-1957—eight European Championships (250cc, 500cc, Sidecars), eight GP titles (350cc, 250cc), and 12 Isle of Man TT wins (350cc, 250cc).

Galluzzi, head of PADC (Piaggio Advanced Design Center) in Pasadena, Calif., says that taking on a bagger to rival the likes of Harley-Davidson and Indian was a huge challenge, and from the first few days of the bike’s unveiling at Main and Fourth streets in Downtown Sturgis, there was a definite sense of relaxation. Nearly all the commentary was positive.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress windscreen buffetingThis reputation traveled with me as I rode through South Dakota, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. Except for South Dakota and Wyoming, I was a pioneer on the Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress, becoming the first to pilot the bike in unfamiliar territory.

The MGX-21 had celebrity status worthy of the Paparazzi, causing a raucous reception everywhere I stopped, from gas stations to stores to bars to hotels. And the questions were so endless, I had the basic data memorized within three stops.

First reaction? It was amazing how many people have never heard of the Moto Guzzi name. So, the first question was usually about the brand, even after a few asked if it was a Harley. The second question was always “What did the model name mean?” MG is obviously for Moto Guzzi, the X, because Galluzzi says the bike was “against the standards of typical baggers,” and 21, is the size of that beautiful front rim with a carbon-fiber center cover.

The next questions immediately followed:

  • Engine and power? 90-degree 1380cc transverse V-twin (same as California 1400) that produces 97 horsepower @ 6500 rpm and 89 ft/lbs of torque @ 3000 rpm
  • Weight? 752 pounds wet
  • Seat height? 29 inches
  • Sidebag capacity? 58 liters
  • Fuel tank capacity? 5.4 gallons
  • Comfort level? Impressive once you get over the initial, slightly awkward feeling of top heaviness from the massive powerplant
  • Is that exhaust truly that big? Yes – 2-inch true from the header back
  • Does that stereo crank? Not really, though the bike has Bluetooth
  • Electronics? Yes – Three power modes, plus traction control and ABS, though only traction control can be turned off
  • Cruise control? Thank God!
  • Why is it so quiet? This is the first Euro4 Compliant Moto Guzzi, so its stock cans are extremely restrictive. I heard some aftermarket pipes, and it sounds beyond ballsy!
  • The price? $21,990, which many agreed was on the lower side in the bagger market.

Oh, and Flying Fortress—this refers to the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. The B-17 long-range bomber dropped more bombs during World War II than any other US fighter plane (including bombing runs on Italy). And, yes, there’s also the obvious Hammerhead Shark look—this was noted as a design intent.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fotress Kevin Wing Photo Lieback

Enough Info – How about the Ride?

Let’s begin at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. From the time we left Main Street to returning to the SpringHill Suites in Deadwood—the infamous town where Wild Bill Hickok was shot down while holding the Dead Man’s Hand of aces and eights—emotions begin favorably and grow to pure excitement.

The ergos are perfect for my nearly six-foot frame. The reach to the bars not locking my arms, and the reach to the pegs—mounted somewhere between forward and mid—is comfortable. You can see over the double-bubble fairing, which achieves unbelievable wind protection up to around 85 mph. From there you get some buffeting (this is with both full- and open-face lids).

The first day was a clean 150-mile loop around the Black Hills of South Dakota, riding past Mount Rushmore and shooting photos at various locations. Though those giant air-cooled cylinder heads look like they’d fry your legs, this is not the case. While idling in downtown traffic in full gear (listed below), the heat was noticeable, though nothing to cry about. When on the move, I used the cylinder heads to rest my calves a few times, and I could barely feel the heat through my Spidi Furious Text riding jeans.

The initial reaction after the V-Twin roars to life, causing that traverse side-to-side motion, is top heaviness from the 29-inch seat height—tall when compared to similar Harleys that have seat heights in the mid-20s. It takes some muscle to get her off the kickstand, and when initially releasing the featherweight clutch, stability feels a bit awkward. Fortunately, after a few stops in heavy downtown Sturgis traffic, the awkwardness went away. You must find the low-speed smoothness point, which I did by keeping two fingers on the clutch and riding within the friction zone.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Harley-Davidson
MGX-21 by world’s biggest six pack (photo by author)

When pushed, this bike loves the upper rpm range. Keep that twin cranking between 4500 and 7000 rpm for endless gratification. For most riders, there’s no lack of low-end torque in higher gears. I dogged her down to 1500 rpm in sixth gear a few times, and the bike putted along comfortably.

The faster you ride, the more stable the chassis feels, and comfort was never an issue. The 45mm forks are paired with 4.2 inches of travel, and the dual shock setup provides easy spring-preload adjustment with a knob above the right footpeg. I found five clicks out from full turn to be ideal for both comfort and sharp handling. This remained the go-to setting throughout over 3000 miles of testing.

I figured this out during the second day of that launch that saw us four “Crazy Ones” flipped off by fellow riders, all of whom later complimented the Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress’s styling and power. That day, the four of us rode in unison like fighter pilots, passing when safe, and pushing the bike to the absolute limits.

Stability in a straight line remains solid until upper 80s, and from there to the top-speed downhill of 116 things get a little shaky, though an easy tap of the back brake or light roll off the throttle allows for full and quick recovery.

At these speeds, the MGX-21 feels much better in the corners than the straights, where the chassis—based on the California 1400 but with tweaked steering geometry for better handling—truly displays its character.

For spirited riding, don’t worry about scraping pegs. Even while staying upright in the seat it took some serious effort to scrape pegs as the 21-inch front and 16-inch rear wheels shod in Dunlop Elite 3 tires provided much feedback. Moto Guzzi reports that the MGX-21’s lean angle is 33 degrees when suspension is at full travel – impressive for a bagger. Also impressive is the ground clearance of 6.77 inches without a rider. The higher ground clearance also aids in downtown situations, too. When backing into the normal eight-inch curbs, you won’t smash the Guzzi’s exhaust—a somewhat of a notorious issue in the world of baggers.

Two things on fuel: First, the MGX-21 sucks gas up generously when pushed. I went dry after 147 miles of spirited riding, and literally coasted into a station. On a slower ride, I saw 180 miles on the tank, but was a bit nervous. Second, be careful when fueling up. I spilled gas about 80 percent of the time due to the opening’s design.

Modern Electronics, If Needed

Let’s talk Moto Guzzi electronics, starting with traction control (MGCT). There was never a feeling of lack in traction in low- to high-speed situations, even a few damp mornings across a chilly Minnesota, and this was with the three-level MGCT system off.

To test the MGCT, I rode around a few cities in the rain, looking for oil slicks and smooth concrete—I even took the MGX-21 for a 12-mile fire-road tour, playing with the settings. Setting 1 has the least intervention, and three the most. It’s not adjustable on the fly; you must be stopped to change the traction control settings. With Setting 1, you can barely feel the intervention, but with 2 and 3 selected, and you know the TC is on. Though I preferred the TC off, it remained in 1 for most of my longer touring, whether on the highway or back roads.

As for intervention of the ABS, get on the brakes hard (two 320mm discs squeezed by four-piston Brembo calipers up front, and a 280mm disc and two-piston Brembo caliper in the rear) and you can notice the intervention of ABS. The brakes work extremely well in all situations, with me relying much more on front than rear. I’d more than welcome switchable ABS—who doesn’t love to leave long black streaks when coming to a stop on the rear brake?

The Moto Guzzi MGX-21 arrives with three power modes: Veloce (Sport); Turismo (Touring) and Pioggia (Rain). These modes use the ride-by-wire system to control power delivery, with Veloce being the sharpest and Pioggia the dullest, predictably. You can change these on the fly with the throttle closed. I mostly remained in Veloce, naturally, though I used Turismo in the rain. Pioggia was a bit too doggish for even the extremely slippery stuff.

It is almost sacrilegious in motosphere to offer any bike worthy of touring without cruise control, though there are a few holdouts—Moto Guzzi is not one of them. A bit of fine-tuning is needed for the MGX-21’s cruise control, which is fully functional with acceleration and deceleration, along with a resume feature; the cruise is either too abrupt or lazy when increasing or decreasing speed, depending on conditions. On the upside, the system is easy to engage and can helps comfort tremendously for comfort, such as an 800-mile highway stretch I rode in the Midwest.

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress GaugesStereo System – Now You Hear It, Now You Don’t

The 2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress arrives  arrives with an entertainment system that allows AM/FM radio, Bluetooth ability, and two 25-watt amps hooked to a speaker sound system—all controllable by a four-way toggle switch on the left control. The overall system works well, but make sure you’re going under 35 mph and have an open-face helmet on. The speakers should be louder—much louder.

How About Those Sidebags?

Those waterproof bags look gnarly, and seamlessly flow with Galluzzi’s design. At 29 liters each side, they are functionally, though you can’t fit a 15-inch Apple MacBook Pro in them, unless you take it out of the case.

The sidebags use a three-hinge system that causes some closing difficulties when the bags are packed tight. I also broke one of the hinges on the right side, though it still seals correctly and doesn’t allow any water to penetrate. The bags arrive with a fabric inner zip bag that allows for quick transfer of luggage from parking lot to hotel, or garage to home. I bitched about the lack of space during my tour home, but without destroying the aesthetics, there is no other way. I’m sure Galluzzi tried.

The solution for touring? A simple roll bag that I use ADV riding; whenever I’m flying somewhere and am riding a bike home, my Nelson Adventure Dry Bag gets packed away.

Moto Guzzi also offers a lineup of touring accessories, from tailbacks to tank bags, to those who want to go that extra mile. My MGX-21 test bike arrived with the optional cover for the rear seat, meaning I got no two-up testing in—that also leaves me something for a follow-up review.

Concluding Thoughts

Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress near Devil's Tower
Near Devil’s Tower in Wyoming (photo by author)

I have over 3000 miles on the MGX-21 that continues to reside in my garage, and I don’t want to give it back. At all.

The bike not only caters to the rider who wants to express true unique styling downtown, but also the rider who wants to ride at a serious pace—safely and comfortably.

The attraction was endless, and cruising in a few downtowns across the Midwest and East Coast provided me with some of the largest riding smiles. However, it was connecting those downtowns with serious twisties that supplied the endless smiles.

If Guzzi asked me for the ultimate marketing slogan, I’d provide the “Be Different. Be Selective. Be Moto Guzzi.” offered at the beginning of this review. Of course, in exchange I would insist on another few thousand miles on the 2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress, a bike that truly grew my love for the non-American bagger.

Photography by Kevin Wing, except where noted.

Riding Style

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Specs

ENGINE

  • Motor: 90-degree transverse V-twin; 4 vpc
  • Displacement: 1380cc
  • Bore/Stroke: 104 x 81.2mm
  • Maximum power: 95 horsepower @ 6500 rpm
  • Maximum torque: 89 ft/lbs @ 3000 rpm
  • Transmission: Six-speed transmission w/ overdrive
  • Clutch: Dry single plate
  • EFI: Weber-Marelli
  • Power modes: Ride-by-wire with three maps
  • Traction control: Three-level traction control, plus off, with calibration mode for different sized rear tires
  • Cruise control: Electronic w/ dedicated toggle switches
  • Final drive: Compact Reactive Shaft Drive

CHASSIS

  • Frame: Double cradle ALS steel w/ detachable rear subframe
  • Front suspension: 46mm forks
  • Rear suspension: Twin shocks w/ hydraulic adjustable spring-preload
  • Front brakes: Dual 320mm stainless steel floating discs w/ 4-piston Brembo caliper
  • Rear Brake: 282mm stainless steel disk w/ 2-piston Brembo caliper
  • ABS: Dual channel front and rear standard
  • Front wheel: 3.5” x 21”
  • Rear wheel: 5.5” x 16”
  • Front tire: 120/70-21; Dunlop Elite 3
  • Rear tire: 180/60-16; Dunlop Elite 3

SOUND 

  • Audio system: 50-watt stereo w/ MP3 compatibility and smartphone input
  • Audio Source: AM/FM world band radio, smart phone, MP3 from local storage
  • Local Storage: Smart phone, SD card, flash drive
  • Controls: Dedicated controls on left hand switch group (Volume, track, mute, answer/reject, and SIRI)

SPECIFICATIONS and CAPACITIES

  • Length: 100.8 inches
  • Width: 36.2 inches
  • Rake: 27.8 degrees
  • Trail: 4.3 inches
  • Seat height: 29.1 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 5.4 gallons
  • Sidebags capacity: 29 liters per bag w/ removable nylon inner bags
  • Curb weight: 701 pounds
  • Color: Black
  • 2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Price: $21,990 MSRP

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Long-Term Test – Photo Gallery

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