2002 Moto Guzzi Le Mans ride report

9 Apr 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 2002 Moto Guzzi Le Mans ride report
Moto Guzzi V11 Le Mans


I have been on the search for a new bike to replace my K75. I realized a few months ago that I was bored with it, and driving a boring motorcycle is antithetical to the whole thing, so I should do something to change that. I’ve been through a number of plans, which I won’t enumerate here, but suffice to say that recently, one of them included getting a Moto Guzzi Le Mans. which is the subject of this writeup.

The Le Mans is basically a V11 Sport with a fairing attached. It’s actually got quite a few differences, but that’s the obvious one. Read the Cycle World review to get the full scoop. It’s intended to fill a sport-touring market niche — it’s got the performance of a sport bike, with the touring comfort and amenities of a full-on tourer. Of course, in reality it must do neither, but must provide a compromise somewhere in the middle.

Moto Guzzi have oriented this bike more towards the sport side of the sport-tourer definition.

I’m not sure I can say what other-brand bikes the Le Mans competes with. BMW doesn’t have anything quite like it (although I guess the R1100S comes close). Honda has the CBR1100XX, although they call it a sport bike, and charge nearly $2,000 less for it.

Yamaha has the FJR1300, but it’s both a better sport bike and a better tourer (just looking at specs) for over $1,000 less. Moto Guzzi, however, is Italian, which is worth a fair amount just in prestige. (And certainly the Guzzi engine is more interesting by leaps and bounds — you’ll notice there are scant references to Japanese bikes on these pages, and I can only barely sustain an interest in BMW’s oilheads.)

I took a test ride on one yesterday, and wanted to share my impressions with the net. Here you have it.

The engine and transmission

Moto Guzzi has been making the same engine, a 90 degree V twin, for many years. I think it’s been at least since WWII, but I’m not sure — it’s not terribly important to the subject at hand. It’s a very basic engine by modern standards, with pushrod valve actuation, two valves per cylinder, and hardly a computer in sight.

The current crop have fuel injection, so Guzzi has finally entered the computer age (not necessarily a good thing, but worth knowing).

On the bike I rode, which is based on the V11 Sport, the engine is 1063cc. Moto Guzzi claims it puts out 91 HP, and Cycle World claims it puts out 77 HP at the rear wheel. Whatever numbers you use, I found the engine to be fairly powerful. It propelled me forward with good acceleration and a beautiful sound, although it’s not the deadly speed I had been expecting — perhaps I was spoiled by riding the brain-rupturingly fast Honda Sabre V65.

But the Le Mans was fast enough. It wasn’t so fast that I would put it in the same class as a CBR600, which Geico has apparently done (they wanted to charge me $2710 for a year of moderate-coverage insurance, versus $250 for my R100; Dairyland said they’d provide the same coverage for $790, so I think Geico is just being melodramatic).

I do want to stress, however, that the engine has a beautiful sound. Whatever Moto Guzzi did to achieve that lovely rumbling, they did it right.

The transmission was pretty nice, although again, I must have been spoiled by reading reviews. It shifted very well once rolling, but getting the bike into first gear was just as difficult as on my R100 or K75. The gearing was pretty close on the transmission, so that I found it hard to tell which gear I was in, and rapidly lost count among the other things I was having to compensate for.

This is a problem that would go away with experience, I’m sure.

One particular problem I had was that as I was rolling up to a line of stopped cars, shifting down through the gears, the shifter lever stayed firmly in the down position, in about 3rd gear. I couldn’t budge the thing! My only choice was to rev the engine up and start rolling in 3rd, and hope I didn’t glaze the clutch.

It worked, and once rolling again, I was able to downshift, but I was pretty unhappy with having the problem in the first place. Doesn’t seem like a smooth, slick transmission should have such a drastic (and potentially hazardous) problem.

The suspension

When they put this bike together, I think Moto Guzzi must have looked around and figured out what everyone was replacing stock suspensions with. They picked very nice forks and rear shock, which should equate to an excellent ride.

I found, however, that the ride was pretty poor over anything but smooth pavement — but on moderately smooth pavement, it handled things like accelerating and hard braking quite nicely (braking in particular was a treat, almost no dive, very well controlled). I suspect that the suspension would have been greatly improved if I had taken an extra hour to get it set up right for me — I’m a big guy, at 6′ 1 and probably 230 pounds in riding gear. Although it never bottomed out, I think there was some tuning I could have done to make things more comfortable.

The brakes

The brakes on this bike are excellent. Brembo is basically the only brand I’ve ever used, and these felt top notch. I never got in a really hard stop due to the conditions I was riding in, but they felt very precise, with a good aggressive bite (without being too aggressive) and good stopping power.

I have every confidence that they could stop the bike very quickly.

The electrics

There are actually two parts to the electrics that I wanted to mention: the switchgear and the electrical system proper.

The switchgear was quite nice. I’m sure it’s a standard setup, but coming from the BMW, ve luf beink different camp, it was a nice change. The horn switch was where it should have been, the turn signal switch was good, I liked the trigger high beam switch, etc.

Top marks on the switchgear.

The electrical system proper, however, makes me cringe. I only saw it from the outside, and it may be excusable by a discharged battery, but oy! When I started the bike, the fuel light was glowing slightly — I figured it was just about to flip over to glowing brightly, and that I had enough gas left to go 10 or 15 miles.

It turns out that I was wrong, and I ran out of gas after 5 miles. I don’t really hold that against Moto Guzzi or the dealership, though, I should have mentioned it to them. (I thought about it, and decided against doing it.)

When I turned on the turn signals, I couldn’t tell they were on. Looking at the indicator light directly, I could just see it blinking on and off on the dash — and this was a dark, cloudy day, I’d hate to see it when the sun was shining. After refueling, I was just randomly playing with the trigger high beam switch, having never used one before, and noticed that the tachometer would dip from 1000 RPM to about 500, then recover after a second, or when I let go of the switch.

The engine tone didn’t change, so I’m pretty sure that was an electrical problem.

What’s missing

This bike is being marketed as a sport-tourer, but it’s missing a few vital elements that I’ve come to expect in a sport-tourer.

Moto Guzzi V11 Le Mans

Hard bags . First and foremost, a sport-tourer should be able to tour, and as it stands, that’s not going to happen unless you wear all your clothes at once. You can get some soft panniers from Guzzi, but they’re small and, well, soft. I don’t know how well they’d hold up in a downpour, and I certainly wouldn’t want to load them too heavily.

Hard bags can be had from either (or possibly both of) Givi and Hepco and Becker, but I suspect they’d look pretty kludgy and stuck-on.

Heated grips . This is probably my BMW-snobish self talking, but once you’ve ridden with heated grips (and Honda has figured this out on the Gold Wing), you’ll never go back. They’re the best thing in the world when it’s cold out, and you never have to unplug yourself from the bike. I don’t think Guzzi even thought about the idea.

Alternate handlebars/seating . As of this writing, there are supposedly bar risers under discussion, but nothing has been offered. Guzzi will never tempt BMW riders away from their comfortable bikes without offering some way to sit more upright, and with a more comfortable seat. I didn’t have any problems, but I’m pretty sure I’d hate spending more than a few hours in the saddle on the Le Mans.

ABS . This is one of those things where I’m not surprised they don’t offer it, but it’d sure be nice if they did. Any motorcycle that can spare the extra 20 pounds would benefit from ABS, and a sport-tourer seems like a good place to at least have the option. Perhaps with the funding from Aprilia, Guzzi can get around to making that available (although I haven’t ever seen it mentioned).

Riding impressions

In the Cycle World review. the author says that he found this bike to be thoroughly comfortable, with a ride-all-day seating position. We must be approaching this thing from opposite ends of the spectrum.

I found that my legs were cramped up underneath me so that I couldn’t exert any pressure on the pegs, half my weight was on my wrists from leaning so far forward (and once again I had forgotten to ask that the levers be rotated down to fit me properly), and my neck was cramping up from bending so far upward. It didn’t help that my jacket collar was interfering with the helmet, so that I had to actually press against that pressure to keep my head in the right position.

I was not meant to ride this bike.

However, other than the riding position itself, this bike was great. I had a really good time (ignoring the pain I was in) riding around, enjoying the engine’s roar, stopping faster than everything else in sight, etc. Except for that little episode with the transmission, the ride itself was nearly flawless.

I found that, and this is for me personally, I had to spend a lot of effort getting used to the balance of the bike. It felt more top-heavy than either my R100 or the K75, but I think that’s something I would have gotten used to without much trouble. It was just disconcerting at the beginning of the ride.


As a motorcycle, I give this bike 7 out of ten stars. It loses points for the electrical gremlins, and for the transmission shift lever getting stuck down. Other than that, it’s a great bike.

I only wish I fit on it.

A final word on pricing. Moto Guzzi says the list price is $12,690 on their website, which means you’d be paying between $14,000 and $15,000 for one once you’d covered shipping, setup, tax, licensing, etc. I think that’s a bit high, considering what you’re getting.

I would have expected, had I seen this bike and its spec sheet without seeing the price, to have paid about $12,000 out the door, at the top end. I guess what you’re paying for is the marque, and the mystique of having an Italian bike. Not really good enough for me.

But, as always, that’s just my opinion.

Created by Ian Johnston. Questions? Please mail me .

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