First Ride: MV Agusta Brutale 800

Published: 06 April 2016

Reduced power, tamer geometry – yet the new Brutale 800 is better than ever

he Brutale 800 might mark the dawn of a new era of common sense from MV Agusta. Note the caveat – we’re talking about Italians, and they’re liable to go wild again and begin spouting about ‘passion’ at any moment. But the 2016 overhaul of the middleweight roadster has created a naked that works properly, and behaves in a manner befitting of the category – not just like a Supersport bike deprived of plastics.
The old Brutale 800 is closely related to the cleverly designed and potent F3 800. Not a bad start in life, but the demands of a naked likely to be used on the road are different from that of an elbow-scraping track weapon. You don’t want high-revving power and really aggressive geometry when you’re sitting upright with no fairing – you need a touch more stability and power suited to speeds your neck can cope with.
The Brutale 800RR we used for the Rutter test last year made 127bhp at the rear wheel (the same as our Z1000 long-termer), but didn’t make it until 12,500rpm. And peak torque wasn’t reached until 10,500rpm either.
You might think ‘so what? I spend loads of time at full throttle’. Fact: Jules Cluzel just about manages to hold full throttle at high rpm for 20% of a lap at a really fast circuit like Aragon on MV’s WSS bike. MV’s development riders manage close to zero on roads they know well.
That’s why the new one makes 116bhp, but crucially peak torque is at a claimed 7600rpm, with most of the claimed 61lb.ft available from 5500rpm through to eight-and-a-bit grand, according to MV’s own dyno traces. New intake and exhaust cams and pistons, as well as the new Euro 4-friendly exhaust, are responsible for shifting the power around.
From very early on, it’s quite obvious the Brutale has moved well away from its track origins and is now a thoroughly useable, enjoyable and effective road bike.
For a start, it has proper throttle response. The firm’s Turismo Veloce, introduced last year, was a step in the right direction for the MVICS ride-by-wire engine management system, and the Brutale has had to further that refinement to meet Euro 4 noise and emissions regulations. Whether MV wanted to or not, they’ve had to get their system closer to perfection to meet the new standards. And it shows.
There’s a slight on/off, hunting reaction at a constant throttle at lower rpm, but the minimal crank inertia means you hear it more than you feel it – it’s enough to create a bit of slack in the drivetrain and then take it up, but doesn’t jerk you around. It’s annoying, but doesn’t spoil the ride.
At least throttle inputs ellicit an appropriate and predictable response now. New algorithms in the same hardware have improved things greatly, and what you ask for at the throttle potentiometer is more or less what you get from the throttle bodies.
It makes enjoying the midrange-centric power delivery as fuss-free as it should be. The Spanish launch took PB from Malaga to Ronda, with relentless bends from 50-90mph, and the MV only required the odd change between third and fourth to get up the road quickly, easily and enjoyably. It takes a little time to adjust
and not overrev it – the light crank and sharp response fooled my brain into riding it like a 600, changing down to have it at 8000rpm ready to drive out of bends. You soon realise this gains you nothing, as the meat of the power is delivered earlier.
Hold a gear instead, and use that 5000-8000rpm thrust to drive hard from decent lean towards the next corner. There’s enough engine braking on the ‘Normal’ map to barely bother the radial four-piston Brembos, too. But when you do, you’ll find that they offer power appropriate to the bike, with decent lever modulation and no grabbiness. Sporty, but not aggressive. If you’re prone to using a bit of back brake, you’ll find it classically Italian and close to useless most of the time. One thing at a time, eh?
The electronic rider aids offer similar refinement, too. The Brutale is the first bike to come with Pirelli Diablo Rosso III tyres as standard, and normal riding couldn’t find the limit of grip to trigger the ABS. Deliberate handfuls provoked brief, effective intervention.
The traction control confounds a little – set on maximum, it only arrested drive after it spun and slipped on a dusty first-gear hairpin, and even allowed power wheelies. MV say this is because the system reacts to slip, and isn’t a preventative measure. That’s fine, but if you’ve selected the safest setting, it’s probably raining, or you’re demanding a larger safety margin. As it stands, I don’t see why it needs eight settings if they all wait until a problem arises. A greater span of intervention to suit more people would be better, especially given that MV wants this bike to be accessible to more riders.
MV cite the Monster 821 as the most realistic competitor for the sort of people who might want the Brutale, and while it’s more expensive, the chassis alone makes it worth an extra £850. The Monster feels a bit cut-price, a bit basic, and has fairly compromised ground clearance and no space to tuck your feet away. It’s easy and fun, but it’s a bike you can grow out of.
The MV is balanced and easy to ride at low speed – the seat tapers at the front so it’s easy to get both feet down, and there’s no awkwardness or heavy controls to intimidate the affluent but steadier and less skilled riders MV want to bring into the fold. The disposable cash you need to own an MV doesn’t come with the skill and confidence you needed to get enjoyment out of older MVs.
The chassis’ rake and trail have grown a little, as has the wheelbase. Small changes to the suspension have been made, too, including an increase in negative rear shock travel, so the rear tyre stays on the floor under hard braking.
The result has taken the edge off the handling, but not to the Brutale’s detriment – the extra touch of stability gives you the confidence to throw it around more often than not. Most importantly, there’s no commitment threshold you need to reach to get something out of it. Whether you’re fresh from your test or a club racer, the Brutale has enough scope in its ability to offer a fast, fun and engaging ride.
That’s not to say it’s completely safe from criticism – it’s still made by Italians, and as you expect (want?), it has a few quirks. The bars are too straight, for a start. Look at any naked bike, and the bars sweep back from the yokes a touch to spread pressure evenly across your palm. The Brutale bar bend is too shallow, and after a while the edge of your palm aches.
I also suspect the suspension will be too harsh on British roads. Our test route flattered the taut damping, but a couple of broken road joins gave me sharp kick in the coccyx. Plus, the mirrors suck. And while the mode/traction control/ABS switches and menus are easy to get to grips with, they don’t always respond.
I’m still reticent to recommend one on the basis of the launch – it has been known for MV press demos to be better set up than production bikes, so we’ll be interested to see if machines from UK dealers show the same improvement. The potential is there, it just needs to be delivered on.

Words Chris Newbigging