New Guzzi Le Mans ridden and rated

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The new Le Mans is no longer a superbike like the one which first bore the name back in 1976. The cynics will see it as a marketing exercise by Aprilia, the new owners of Moto Guzzi’s 80-year-old factory in Mandello de Lario, as it’s little more than a V11 Sport with an added fairing. But hey, give the firm some credit – it has saved Moto Guzzi from extinction and has brought some hard-headed business sense to the brand.

In a few years, Moto Guzzis will be divided into two distinct groups when you see them in the classifieds – pre-Aprilia and post-Aprilia models. The new owners have identified three major problem areas with Moto Guzzis, all of which are classically Italian and all have been put right on the new Le Mans.

First is something owners will recognise – dodgy electrics. The new Le Mans has had its wiring completely revamped. Second, Moto Guzzis were well known for quickly falling victim to corrosion and paint dulling. The same standards applied to Aprilias are now in operation for Moto Guzzi.

Finally, the build quality could be very variable on Moto Guzzis, and again Aprilia’s own standards have now been applied.

These are mostly things which have a longer-term influence, but ride the Le Mans and there are other changes you’ll spot straight away. First is the suspension, something Moto Guzzi has failed to get right for many years and which has spoiled some otherwise excellent machines. The V11 Sport of two years ago was typical. There was something odd about the front which gave it a sloppy, underdamped feeling. In corners there wasn’t sufficient feedback, while in a straight line at speed the front end would start to wander and feel vague, to the point where on some bumpy roads you’d back off rather than risk it getting any worse.

That’s all gone completely. Marzocchi forks are still used, but the damping has been recalibrated by Aprilia’s engineers, who have done the same to the rear WP shock, transforming the feel of the bike in the process. It’s now quite firm and definitely sporting, lending the rider a sensation of being in contact with the Tarmac, while the odd pitching movements of the old V11 Sport have been banished.

The Le Mans has more weight over the front than the V11 Sport due to the fairing, but this alone isn’t responsible for the new-found stability at speed. There’s a poise and confidence about the bike’s handling that runs much deeper than that. Now you can run it up to an indicated 140mph or so and still it tracks with absolute security.

Maybe this has helped the braking, too. No changes have been announced, but the Brembo set-up feels more powerful, possibly due to the improved wheel control. The front end still starts to skip right at the limit of the tyre’s adhesion, but you’ll still score shorter braking distances than on an old V11 Sport.

In the best tradition of the Le Mans, this is not a bike you can throw around or flick through a series of turns. Instead, it’s a slow-steering but very stable machine which works best when you swing it through corners smoothly. Though once tucked down into a bend the front holds a surprisingly tight line, while the V11 Sport would push the front end wide and drift off-line.

The final drive from the six-speed gearbox has also been altered to eliminate the backlash which was a real nuisance on the V11 Sport. Riding that in town was always jerky, but this has been completely cured. And as well as making life more pleasant for rider and passenger in slow-moving traffic, the effects of throttle movements in corners are tamed significantly.

Which, amazingly, leaves the Le Mans with one of the best transmissions available on any modern bike. A few years ago, who’d have thought you’d say that of a Moto Guzzi? The six-speed box made its debut on the V11 Sport and was a revelation after the agricultural changes we’d always been used to on Guzzis. Ratio swops are rapid and positive and give the lie to claims that BMW changes are clunky because of the big, single-plate clutch and heavy flywheel – the Le Mans has these, yet slips easily from gear to gear, like a GSX-R.

One advantage of the gearbox is that it’s some 70mm shorter than the old Guzzi five-speed unit, which in theory allows a longer swingarm, a shorter wheelbase or some combination of the two. But for now the Le Mans uses the same frame as the 1100 Sport Injection, so until a new chassis is designed it’s wasted space. But we could see a new model from the reborn Guzzi as soon as the Milan Show later this year, when the firm will probably unveil a dedicated tourer to take on BMW’s R1150RT. It will almost certainly be called the Spada, a badge given to touring Guzzis throughout the 1980s, and it’s likely to have a new or seriously modified chassis as well as touring bodywork.

As it stands, the Le Mans, for all the sporting heritage of its name, fits the role of sports tourer. The engine is relaxed at speed, its 5700rpm at 100mph feeling less than that due to its effortless, loping gait. It only manages 35mpg at this pace, which gives a range of 170 miles, but back off the throttle a little and you’ll see a useful 200 miles between refills.

The fuel injection mapping is something else Aprilia has looked at, and the engine feels crisper and more predictable for it. It pulls from tickover and just keeps getting stronger, though the meat of its thrust comes between 5500rpm and 7000rpm, 1000rpm before the red line, where the power is falling away again.

It’s fast enough to thrill, but the torque back-up is ideal for lower speed touring work, too, while the fairing provides exceptional protection for the rider with no serious buffeting and plenty of room to tuck behind. The downside is that it’s pig-ugly, looking more like an engineer has just been asked to come up with a piece of plastic to fend off the wind. And the original Le Mans was so pretty, too… However, the bike is available without the bulbous fairing under the V11 Sport tag.

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MCN Staff

By MCN Staff