2008 Moto Guzzi Norge Review: Sport-Touring Motorcycle
What rider doesn’t love a look back at the motorcycles that preceded today’s tech-savvy creations? Welcome to the Ultimate Motorcycling retro review archives; we’re revisiting some of our favorite reviews from year’s past, highlighting the machines that laid the rubber for what’s on the today’s showroom floors. Enjoy. – Ron Lieback, ed.
While it certainly is not wise to capitulate to every craving that wanders across our minds’ landscapes, constant denial is equally detrimental. Satisfying two cravings concurrently? Now that’s just sweet success.
Waking up early one cool morning, I had an urge for Nepenthe Restaurant’s sublime Famous Ambrosiaburger. Typically, Big Sur’s remoteness from our offices in Malibu would squelch any thoughts of culinary satisfaction. However, with Moto Guzzi’s sport-touring Norge 1200 in our fleet, a match was made to consume the food of the gods—from both a gastronomic and motorcycling perspective—with a 650-mile day trip.
It certainly would not do to simply motor up US 101 to California State Route 1, and then retrace my tracks as I am the sort of rider who lives for riding long circuits. I slipped into a set of Olympia Moto Sports riding gear and headed north, just as Giuseppe Guzzi himself did 60 years ago when he was doing research and development work on the first production swingarm. Guzzi’s trip to Norway inspired the moniker of the bike I was riding. Perfect!
Given that this was going to be a chilly ride, the heat provided by each 575cc air-cooled cylinder was a welcome antidote to the 45-degree temperatures of Interstate 5’s mountainous Ridge Route. The relaxed power pulses of the big twin, along with the lazy lope allowed by the 6-speed transmission, make the Norge a pleasant freeway cruiser. The torque curve peaks at 5,800 rpm, at a speed above the legal limit, so there’s always a nice boost there for any necessary passing.
Once into California’s Central Valley, I had an opportunity to taste the higher-speed characteristics of the Norge. Secluded barren farm roads have a less than ideal road surface, but they do provide the wide views necessary. Although the Norge is capable of more than 100 mph, that figure should be considered its maximum cruising speed; above that, the 95 hp motor begins to run out of steam.
Taking on the high-speed, fairly abrupt elevation changes of ruler-straight California State Route 33, the Moto Guzzi retains its composure, a testament to the softly sprung, nicely damped suspension, appropriately tuned for both comfort and sport. My high-speed cruising had taken a toll on the 6-gallon fuel tank, as the mpg dropped to around 30.
An inability to find fuel on the West Side Highway north of Taft—a cruel irony given the thousands of “grasshopper” counterweight oil pumps along the way—forced me to abandon my plan of taking the twisting Carissa Highway through the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The search for fuel led me to the busier Paso Robles Highway, then west past the intersection that claimed the life of James Dean 53 years ago (since redesigned, and renamed James Dean Memorial Junction).
Truck traffic forced me to abandon Route 46 for the obscure, and newly repaved, Estrella Road. This is one of those little strokes of luck that we all enjoy when riding through less-familiar territory. Great sight lines and a smooth, tacky surface made this 13-mile side trip nothing less than exhilarating.
In the process of pushing the sporting limits of the Norge, I discovered that much of the suspension comfort comes at the expense of cornering acumen—though not enough to ruin the spirited ride—so place the accent over the “touring” portion of sport-touring. Joining a nearly deserted El Camino Real north of Paso Robles, it was time to relax into another high-speed straight-line cruise.
The most demanding challenge to the Norge’s sporting credentials appeared on a 47-mile stretch of Carmel Valley Road. With hundreds of corners, and portions where the road was less than two lanes wide, I was able to get a handle on the Norge’s cornering limits. Aided by its Pirelli tires, though restricted by a dragging center stand, the Norge generally complied. Remember, this is a sport-touring bike, not a race bike with lights. Still, for improved performance in all conditions, effective handlebar-mounted suspension adjustment, a la BMW, would be a welcome enhancement.
I learned to appreciate the effortless push the big torquey motor provides—the transmission was rarely touched. Engine compression braking was the rule of the day when the riding got sporty, as the Brembo brakes are not overwhelming.
Joining Cabrillo Highway in Carmel-By-The-Sea, the fun continued on the high-speed sweepers on the way to Big Sur, the perfect sort of road for the Norge. Funny how that works—a bike named after Norway thrives in fjord-like conditions. This far into the trip, I noticed a distinct lack of fatigue, despite the challenging roads I had selected. Agreeable vibration, a temperate power delivery, and a fantastic seat conspired to keep weariness at bay.
Thirty miles later—about six hours after leaving work—I was sitting at an outdoor communal table enjoying one of the most spectacular dining views of the Pacific Ocean imaginable. Did the Norge and the Nepenthe’s Famous Ambrosiaburger live up to my lofty expectations? Suffice to say, the southern portion of the trip down Route 1, US 101 and Route 154 (past Michael Jackson’s notorious Neverland Ranch), was piloted by a rider with a happily full stomach who arrived back at the office just before dark, fresh enough to consider duplicating the ride the following day.