test is something of a pilgrimage for me, as the last
Moto Guzzi I rode was also a Le Mans, back in about 1982.
Then the Le Mans was considered a fire
breathing monster of a bike. 850cc and slim as a whippet,
it was one of the fastest production bikes on the road, even
then, and handled in the way that only Italian bikes could
at that time. That it was cripplingly uncomfortable, not especially
reliable and had suspension that achieved stability by being
virtually solid seemed not to be an issue at the time. I loved
my fire engine red Mark II Le Mans, and only sold it because
the shaft drive made it too difficult to change the gearing
So here I am. 22 years later and I am out
in the wilds of Oxfordshire on a new Le Mans. This version,
the Rosso Corsa, sits at the top of the Moto Guzzi road bike
pile, being blessed with very pretty Ohlins suspension at
each end as well as the latest incarnation of their 1100cc
motor. And it is fair to say that times have changed somewhat.
And for the better, too.
But Moto Guzzi
Le Mans is a very strong name, and anyone who remembers
them of old will have some expectations as a result. So let’s
have a look at what hasn’t changed.
The motor, of course, is bang up to date.
Well, actually, it isn’t. While there is the latest,
state of the art, fuel injection feeding it, the actual lump
is the same air cooled 90° transverse vee twin that it
was in 1982. Or 1972, for that matter. It looks better finished,
for sure, and it’s now blessed with electronic ignition
instead of points, but to all intents and purposes the engine
hasn’t changed. And why should it? It’s a strong,
compact and efficient motor which is relatively cheap to make
and easy to work on. The trademark shaft drive is effective
and unobtrusive and in the wise words of an old engineer,
if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Guzzis always had linked brakes, even before
Honda reinvented them. They still do – any twin front
disc Moto Guzzi has the left disc operated with the rear,
from the brake pedal. It’s an efficient, simple setup
that gives bags of feel and keeps the bike secure
and stable even under serious braking pressure but manages
to do this without any electronic gadgetry of any kind at
all. In fact, the linked brakes are so good that it is possible
to lock the rear without locking the front as well –
that’s pretty sensitive for a brake pedal.
Instrumentation is as basic as I remember
as well, with a speedo and tacho joined by a small cluster
of warning lights. Other than a fuel warning light there are
no concessions to the fact that this is a 21st Century bike.
No clock, no LCD displays. Everything is analogue, including
the trip meter which is reset the traditional way by turning
a knob on the side.
And the sidestand is still a long reach forward,
in front of the left hand cylinder. Perfectly useable, but
something a little out of the ordinary.
But there have
certainly been changes. For a start, I am over a hundred
miles into a journey but I’m not in pain. The Guzzi
is big by sports bike standards, and that means that there
is room to move, room to stretch and room to be comfortable.
The big seat is generously padded and the reach to the bars
is just right. Add that to a large, protective upper fairing
and you’ve got somewhere that is quite a pleasant place
to spend several hours at a time. The suspension is compliant
but effective, absorbing the worst failings of the Department
of Transport without removing fillings or jarring the spine
and still transmitting enough feedback to ensure that the
rider knows exactly what is going on. The standard adjustable
steering damper does its job without being intrusive but backing
it right off on the motorway did give me a distinct feeling
that it is more than just a styling accessory. A couple of
clicks cured a slightly unstable feeling and there were no
more concerns throughout the test.
Performance-wise, it’s not unreasonable
to say that the big Guzzi has fallen slightly behind the opposition.
While it is by no means a slow bike, it is comprehensively
outgunned by even an average sports 600. Except, of course,
when it comes to torque. An
1100cc motor will never be gutless, and the Le Mans is a great
example of what a relatively low revving but very torquey
motor can do, especially when set up for performance. Pulling
away is never a problem, especially since Moto Guzzi have
discovered the delights of a clutch that can be worked with
two fingers rather than both hands, and the easy character
of the engine soon comes to the fore. But there is another
side to this bike. There is a distinct power band, and once
within it the motor pulls hard, revving happily up towards
the red line. What soon becomes apparent is that although
you can simply ride the torque and potter around making very
little effort, this is a bike that really rewards the effort
you do put in.
Handling falls into a very similar category,
with the easy going nature of the bike making it relaxing
and forgiving when required but still offering enough agility,
ground clearance and feel to make for a distinctly sporty
experience should you approach the ride in a more committed
fashion. Again, this is no ultra quick steering scalpel of
a bike, requiring considerable effort to turn, but it is accurate,
stable and rewards a smooth rider who is prepared to make
Comparisons are always a risky game, but
this bike reminded me very much of the Ducati 1000DS - our
2003 bike of the year. It's a little bigger and a little harder
work but the overall riding experience and the satisfaction
are similar. Plus, of course, both can trace their lineage
back to the dawn of time and both are overlooked by the rider
seeking a quick adrenaline fix. Which is their loss, because
both are fine motorbikes in their own right.
To sum up,
then, I liked the Moto Guzzi Rosso Corsa a lot. Sure, it isn't
the fastest or best handling bike I have ever ridden. Nor
was it the most comfortable or the most economical. But
it did everything very well - far better than any Moto Guzzi
I have ridden before - and did some things better than many
other bikes. It has masses of character, it looks to be quite
well screwed together, it has a very distinctive style and
a history that many makers would die for. It's far more practical
than most sports bikes although the pillion seat is only recommended
if you intend to get very close indeed to your passenger,
and then only for a short distance. Shaft drive may be terribly
unfashionable but it has a lot going for it and Moto Guzzi
have been doing it for so long that they seem to have overcome
any of the potential issues that can arise with it. There
is a beautiful set of alloy performance cans available for
it that remain road legal but make the sound far more like
a big vee twin. They also, when combined with a new chip,
liberate a further 12bhp which should not be sneezed at. In
fact, the only real criticism I have of the bike is the headlight.
It looks great but I fear the days of the single headlight
on sportsbikes are numbered, because it simply fails to provide
enough illumination to make the sort of progress you'd otherwise
be able to achieve at night anything other than a game of
high speed blind man's bluff. Which is probably not a great
If you fancy something a bit different take
a look at one of these. They're great bikes and fantastic
value to boot. And that can't be a bad thing.