First ride – MV Agusta F3 – Motor Cycle Monthly Magazine

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First ride – MV Agusta F3

Published: 01:23PM Mar 16th, 2012

MV Agusta launches its first middleweight triple streetbike to compete against Triumph’s Daytona 675 and the Japanese fours.

THERE’S something special about seeing a line of red-and-silver MV Agustas in the pit lane of Circuit Paul Ricard. Especially when there are factory mechanics fiddling with the new F3s: giving bodywork a polish; removing tyre warmers; blipping throttles to warm the three-cylinder engines on a bitterly cold morning in the south of France. It’s almost like a racing scene from MV’s glory days in the early 1970s.

A sense of history is never far away when you ride an MV Agusta at a racetrack like Ricard, where Giacomo Agostini won the 1973 French 350cc Grand Prix on a works triple on the way to his 13th and last world championship for the Italian firm.

But never mind history and race wins; the F3 is all about the future and bringing MV Agusta to a new group of customers. The Italian firm is relying on this 675cc triple, along with the similarly powered naked Brutale that will follow it into production in a few months’ time, to give a vital boost to sales and profitability.

What’s new?

MV’s racing heritage ensured that the firm’s engineers had one main aim: to create the most powerful, lightest and fastest middleweight of the lot. The F3’s capacity and liquid-cooled, DOHC 12-valve layout match those of the Daytona 675, but there’s a clue to the newcomer’s character in its cylinder dimensions. The MV’s short-stroke layout (79 x 45.9mm against the Triumph’s 74 x 52.3mm) is designed for high revs and horsepower above all else.

The F3 also has the most sophisticated engine management system yet seen from a middleweight. It combines ride-by-wire throttle control with a choice of four engine maps one of them customisable plus adjustable traction control. The result of all that is a motor that revs to 15,000rpm, and produces a claimed maximum of 128bhp that is 4bhp up on the Triumph’s figure and matches Kawasaki’s class-leading ZX-6R.

MV’s development team overseen since his arrival last year by Massimo Bordi, formerly Ducati’s technical chief also went to great pains to make the F3 engine light and compact. Many components were designed to do more than one job, notably the counterbalancer, which also drives the camshafts. And the engine is innovative in using a contra-rotating crankshaft, which the firm claims gives lighter handling by reducing inertia.

Chassis layout follows that of MV’s four-cylinder F4 models, so is based on a frame that combines tubular steel main sections with aluminium castings at the steering head (Magnesium was used for the limited edition Serie Oro, of which 200 units were built.). The triple also follows the four-cylinder model in having a single-sided aluminium swingarm. Suspension is by Marzocchi up front and Sachs at the rear, multi-adjustable in each case.

There’s an obvious similarity with the F4 in the new triple’s styling (by the firm’s British design chief Adrian Morton), especially in the traditional red and silver of the launch bikes at Paul Ricard. But the triple’s exhaust system ends in a neat trio of silencers set low, midway on the bike’s right, instead of with four pipes in the tailpiece. And its motor fired up with a uniquely raspy three-pot sound that instantly sounded raw and aggressive.

How does it perform?

Heading out onto the track, I was relieved to find the F3 feeling reasonably roomy, as it’s a very compact bike whose 1380mm wheelbase is the shortest in the class. Its stubby tank put the clip-on bars within easy reach but the non-adjustable footrests gave a fair bit of room for my long legs, despite a thinly padded seat which, at 812mm off the ground, was low enough to let even the tiny Japanese tester get both feet down.

So it’s small, light and manoeuvrable, this MV, and I didn’t have to ride it far to realise that it’s every bit as racy as it looks. As soon as I was out on the track, cracking the throttle open sent the F3 howling forward with what felt like very impressive force for a middleweight, even if the sense of speed was probably emphasised by the freezing wind that was shooting down the back of my neck as I tried in vain to shelter behind the low screen.

The balancer-shaft equipped motor has a distinct three-cylinder character and it was very smooth, revving sweetly until the flashing warning light at 15,000rpm demanded a change up. It was hard to tell in isolation, but the way the F3 accelerated made me think it’s right up there with its fastest rivals in a straight line.

But you have to work that motor hard to get the best from it, because just as its dimensions suggest, the F3 is a rev-happy little bike that doesn’t appreciate being treated gently. Provided I kept the slightly small and hard-to-read instrument panel’s digital rev-counter bar past the 10,000rpm mark, the bike pulled cleanly and pretty hard. When I kept it above 12,000rpm the MV really flew, those three silencers howling a high-pitched tune as it headed towards a top speed of about 160mph.

But although the motor seemed to run cleanly enough at low revs, it was clear that the MV didn’t have the midrange punch that is part of the Daytona 675’s appeal.

Fortunately the bikes I rode shifted very sweetly (though one rider reported a few missed changes), and some of the launch machines were fitted with the accessory quick-shifter that gave very slick upshifts without backing off the throttle. So on the track it was fun to keep the F3 on the boil, although on an everyday road ride it might simply be a bit tiresome.

Throttle response was a particular issue in my first session, when the bike was slightly jerky as I wound on the power, especially out of the first turn, a right-hand hairpin. That was easily cured for the next session by switching the mode selector from Sport to Normal, which gave a calmer and much more controllable response.

The Custom mode I used for my last session was also excellent, and gives potential to fine-tune the set-up just how you like it.

The F3 is also unique for a middleweight in having a big-bike style traction control system, with eight levels. On the fairly intrusive level five, I was occasionally conscious of the bike seeming to hesitate slightly, especially when accelerating hard out of the last right-hander onto the pit straight. With the TC set on setting three for the last session I didn’t notice this, so it’s possible that the system was quietly doing its job.

MV Agusta F3

I’d need more time on a warmer track than Ricard to be sure.

One thing I didn’t have any doubts about was the handling, which was not only as agile and quick steering as you might expect of such as small, light bike, but also had the stability to make the F3 superbly confidence inspiring though faster curves such as the long Signes right-hander at the end of the Mistral. The bike swept through there at roughly 100mph feeling superbly planted, its Pirelli Supercorsa SPs gripping despite the cold (These were fitted for the launch. The F3 will be delivered with slightly more road-biased Diablo Rosso Corsa rubber.).

Flicking through the chicane placed halfway down the Mistral (the old long circuit is rarely used these days, as Ricard is now an F1 car test track), was effortless, too.

The MV changed direction with the enthusiasm of Silvio Berlusconi surveying teenage guests at a pool party, though whether the contra-rotating crankshaft made a difference was impossible to tell. And its suspension held everything together as I picked up the bike from the tricky, off-camber left-hander then aimed it right and accelerated onto the straight.

It was easy to imagine some bikes feeling vague here but the F3 was very taut and well balanced, even before I improved it slightly for my 14-stone weight by adding a couple of clicks of both compression and rebound damping to the Sachs shock.

And the multi-adjustable Marzocchis up front meant I could dial in a couple of extra clicks of rebound damping to improve the front-end feel as I braked into the circuit’s tight first turn.

That bend required full-bore stopping from flat-out in fifth gear at not far off 150mph, and the MV’s Brembo front stopper did the job every time. The calipers are conventional radial four-piston jobs rather than monoblocs but they weren’t short of bite. The only doubt about in the F3’s stopping ability came in the first session and concerned my frozen fingers’ ability to squeeze the lever with sufficient finesse.

What’s the verdict?

That was pretty much true of the overall performance of a bike whose power, light weight and handling ability look set to put it very near the front of any track-based middleweight super-sports shootouts in the coming months. How it fares on the street is another matter, as it remains to be seen how much the MV’s unashamedly racy character tells against it in everyday situations. It’s undoubtedly an uncompromising sports bike, but plenty of riders won’t have a problem with that.

There’s certainly a touch of class about the F3 that makes it feel special, not least its drop-dead styling and the electronic sophistication that none of its rivals can match.

Finish seemed good, too, with paintwork options black or white. Okay, so the mirrors are narrow and the seat thin (especially for a pillion), but you shouldn’t expect too much long-distance comfort from an MV Agusta sports bike.

And unlike many previous MV tests this one ends on a very positive note, thanks to a price of £9999 that means the F3 is less than 10% more expensive than some of its Japanese rivals. Like a ready-to-wear clothing collection from some exotic Milan fashion house, the new triple brings its Italian glamour to the showroom at a relatively down-to-earth level.

Fifteen years after MV’s rebirth, the F3 could just be the marque’s best and most competitive model so far.

MV Agusta F3
MV Agusta F3
MV Agusta F3
MV Agusta F3

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