Originally posted August 2018
USED BIKE REVIEW: 2007 MV Agusta Brutale 910R
I CAN remember precisely the moment I decided to buy this bike.
I had just changed up into second gear after awkwardly aborting a small, unintentional wheelstand in first, while blasting up a small incline out the back of Bickley in the Perth hills.
As the front wheel bounced back onto the tarmac, I opened the throttle and the Brutale catapulted forward once again — at a phenomenal rate.
Three thoughts crossed my mind, almost simultaneously.
Thought one: I am way out of my depth here.
Thought two: I can’t believe this thing is legal.
Thought three: I want it.
Now, I’m no expert on high-performance bikes. Most of the road bikes I’ve owned have been relatively docile V-twins: a CX500. An XV1000 Yamaha. A Ducati Pantah.
My most recent bikes have been a pair of near 30-year-old Moto Guzzi LeMans 1000s. One of those LeManses had been subjected to a substantial (and rather good, if I do say so myself) cafe racer treatment. The bike was substantially lighter than stock without all its fibreglass bodywork, and it was entertainingly quick (in an old-fashioned Italian twin kinda way). It also went round corners rather well. And, on song, it’s twin Lafranconi exhaust sounded magnificent.
But as I moved my weight further forward on the Brutale to stop that front wheel become airborne again out the back of Bickley, I knew my relationship with Cafe LeMans was being dealt a fatal blow. No longer would I be able to tell myself, let alone anyone else, that the Guzzi was quick, light, or went round corners rather well.
And if I thought the circa-1988 Lafranconis sounded good at 6,000rpm on a twin-cylinder Guzzi (which I did), I was mesmerised by the sound of the twin-outlet circa 2007 Lafranconis poking out the back of a four-cylinder MV Agusta at 9,000rpm. Think fighter jet.
What’s it like to ride?
It’s like flying.
And I don’t mean that it flies, as in “it goes really fast” — although it certainly does.
I mean it’s actually like flying.
There’s a scene in one of the Harry Potter movies in which some of young Harry’s friends fly to London upon strange skeletal horse-like creatures that are only visible to those who have seen death. And since some of the group have never seen death, they can’t see the creatures on which they are flying.
Riding the Brutale, especially at a bit of pace through the suburbs with your eyes focused off somewhat to the distance, it is easy to forget that you are on a machine at all. You sit way forward on this bike, with no wheel, no mudguard, and no tank visible to you. They are all under you, not in front of you. The bike’s mirrors are there if you look at them left and right, and the speedo-tach dials are there if you look down. But if you look ahead (which is generally a good idea) you can’t see the bike at all.
The illusion of flight is helped somewhat by the fact that the bike is incredibly light, surprisingly narrow for an in-line four, and responds to your slightest movement. You don’t even lean, really, to steer it. To change direction, you just kind of motion leftward and rightward with your shoulders.
And if you’re experienced enough as a rider (highly recommended, for a bike like this) that your brake, clutch and throttle movements are more or less performed without conscious thought, it really is just like you’re flying.
How does it go?
The only bike I’ve ridden that was anything like the Brutale was a 2016 Yamaha MT-10. The Yamaha was a wonderful bike which reminded me, both in riding position and acceleration G-forces, of an over-sized big-bore motocross bike. The motor was loopy-quick, the wheelbase loopy-short, and the resultant grin just plain loopy. (Read our test report here.)
With an extra 15hp or so on tap and with the benefit of the latest anti-everything technology, the MT would likely beat the Brutale in a drag race. But not by much. And maybe not at all. And it’s academic anyway, really. Either bike will get you to 100kmh in about three seconds flat, maybe a bit less if you’re a better rider than me, which means that bloke at the lights with his 580hp $462,000 Porsche 911 Turbo S will need to do everything right to stay with you when the red turns to green.
In fact, even the guy on his Ninja H2 had better concentrate …
So the Brutale is crazy fast.
That tendency to pull wheelstands is, I’m sure, no accident. This is a hoon machine. It’s a fun bike. And wheelstands are fun, right?
I’ve not yet mastered wheelstands on this bike, but it is a skill I’m willing to hoon, er, hone. (I could pull a pretty good wheelie on my XR500 back in the day, you know, around corners and all …)
The MV’s wheelstands are a product of a super short wheelbase, low gearing (top speed is a measly 240kmh, give or take), a free-revving four cylinder engine with about 145hp on tap at 11,000 revs (and plenty at much less), and modern materials that enable those clever Italians to produce a full-size motorcycle, complete with four pistons and a radiator or two, that weighs less than 190kg until you put wet stuff in its engine.
As you might expect, after more than a decade punting around on V-twin Guzzis, the MV Agusta engine took some getting used to.
My first cautious ride around the block found me in top gear in next to no time, with my left foot looking in vain for a seventh gear.
And yes, that seemed odd.
Then I noticed that my natural change-up point (think Moto Guzzi) was around 4000rpm. A quick check on the ‘net tells me that, at 4000rpm, the Brutale is pumping about 45 horsepower at the back wheel — interestingly, about the same as the old LeMans at the same revs. Of course, the old LeMans gets to about 6,000 revs, call it 65 horses, and pretty much gives up. The Brutale, on the other hand, is just getting warmed up. At 7,500rpm we have 90 horses, by 8,500 we have 105hp, by 9,500 there’s 115hp, and at 10,500 there’s more than 120.
A Guzzi she ain’t.
Riding this bike slowly is an entirely different kettle of king george whiting.
My recollection of the MT-10 was that it behaved impeccably at low revs and at small throttle openings. But not this bike. The Brutale is unconvincing just off idle, where it feels unhappy and confused. Like an impatient lover, it wants you to either go home or bloody well get on with it.
I said earlier that I was surprised the Brutale is legal on the road. That says it all. When you point it at the horizon and let it rev, it is thrillingly enjoyable and blindingly quick.
What about the corners?
Wheelstands aside, the Brutale’s light weight, short wheelbase and quick-revving motor make for a thrilling experience in the corners. It doesn’t so much turn through corners as just kind of fall into them. It’s like you drop it, but recover in time to not crash. So you need to go deeper into the corner, then change direction in a hurry — or you’ll find yourself banging into the inside kerb.
Long sweeping corners feel downright weird. The bike changes directions so readily that a long highway corner becomes a dozen mini corners, each one wanting you to lean over and go tighter. My LeMans loved sweepers. You would choose your line early — just one line, thanks — and the old girl would stick to it like glue.
By comparison, the Brutale feels like a nine-year-old with ADHD after a litre of raspberry cordial.
This is not a relaxing bike in corners.
But it sure is fun.
How are the brakes?
Big twin discs up front, with Brembo components of course, are sufficient to scrub you back from licence-shredding momentum to a standstill in the blink of a Thestral’s invisible eye.
Or to pull a way-sick stoppie, if you must.
The back brake, on this bike at least, is useless. It’s so bad, I think there’s something wrong. Maybe the piston has seized in the bore. Maybe the pads are glazed or worn out. Or maybe Brutale riders think back brakes are for sissies.
Let’s go with that.
Back brakes are for sissies.
What’s the back story?
How long you got?
If there’s one reason why I’m more likely to own an MV Agusta than a Yamaha, it’s because of MV’s great back story.
MV Agusta was once the undisputed king of motorcycling. In the 1960s and ’70s, their bikes were simply unbeatable. With riders like Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood, Phil Read and John Surtees behind the bars, MVs brought home a string of Grand Prix trophies unmatched in any era before or since.
MV dominated Grand Prix racing for nearly two decades, winning both the Rider and Constructor Championships every single year from 1958 through 1974. And early in that run — 1958, ’59 and ’60 — the company not only won the 500cc title, it also won the 125, 250, and 350 titles.
Born as a spin-off from helicopter manufacturer Agusta at the end of the second world war, MV Agusta first tasted race track success in 1948 when it won the 125 class in the Italian Grand Prix. Within ten years, it went from a one-win wonder to the undisputed champion of the world.
The company pulled out of GP competition at the end of 1976, having won 270 Grand Prix motorcycle races, 38 World Riders’ Championships and 37 World Constructors’ Championships. Today, more than 40 years since its last serious effort at the top level, MV is still the second-most successful marque in the open class of Grand Prix racing history. Only Honda has won more 500cc titles than MV.
Of course, the company’s racetrack and sales success crashed just as spectacularly and quickly as it began. The company was still winning Grand Prix races in 1976 but it was cactus by 1980 — another victim to the lighter, faster, cheaper, more reliable bikes that started coming out of Japan in big numbers in the 1970s (and have been coming ever since).
More than a decade after MV Agusta collapsed, Italian brothers Claudio and Gianfranco Castiglioni (of Cagiva fame) were collecting the remnants of Italy’s once-great marques. They bought the rights to the MV Agusta name in 1991. Their first bikes under the reincarnated MV Agusta badge came in 1997 – a small range of fast, light, exotic, expensive, four-cylinder 750cc sports bikes called the F4. The range expanded in the early 2000s to include 1000cc variants of the F4, and the first of the Brutale series, a 750. The Brutale 910 arrived in 2006, and the higher-spec 910R followed a year later.
The company has gone through a mind-bending saga of corporate ownership, with Harley Davidson, Mercedes AMG and Proton all owning big chunks at various times. Today it’s mostly owned by three young(ish) entrepreneurs — Italian Giovanni Castiglioni (son of the late Claudio Castiglioni who is generally credited with saving Ducati from bankruptcy and creating the subliminal Ducati 916), an English “financial investor” named Oliver Ripley, and a mega-wealthy Russian named Timur Sardarov who actually owned an MV before becoming one of the company’s owners.
But despite its profile and all that race-track history, it’s still only a tiny company on the global scale. Accurate sales figures are hard to find, but total sales in 2017 are likely to have been substantially south of 10,000 bikes. Ducati will have sold 50 or 60,000, by comparison, and Honda about 17 million. Yes, Johnny — 17 million.
Is it reliable?
I don’t know. Ask me in a year or two. For now, I can tell you that the bike refused to start for me a few times (although not lately), stalled and wouldn’t start again for five minutes (although only once), and its left rear indicator stopped working the other day and a new bulb hasn’t fixed it. Hhhmm.
Internet chat groups tell me the early Brutales had suspect electronic devices (SPUs, they’re called) which sometimes produced whacky behaviour, like headlights that wouldn’t go out, even if you turned them off and took out the key. But keep in mind this bike is ten years old, and I’m okay with the fact that it may have a few bugs to sort out. (If I need a new SPU and it costs me a grand, or it’s difficult to find one, I’ll be pissed off. But I’ll get over it.)
Is it comfortable?
No. The seat is just frame padding.
Actually, it’s not that bad. Truth is, you’re too busy looking out for kids, dogs, balls, radars, reversing BMW X5s, and honky nuts to notice whether it’s comfortable or not.
My 20-something-year-old daughter jumped on the back and went for a pillion squirt with me. “I kept thinking I was going to fall off the back,” she said.
This was probably my fault.
My none-of-your-goddam-business-how-old-I-am wife looked at the pillion seat, made a “pfft” noise, then went inside.
Should I buy one?
Can’t believe a modern bike will occasionally refuse to start, or have electronic foibles? Then no.
Wanting a bike to ride to Albany and back, in comfort? No.
Wanting to carry a pillion? No.
Wanting to carry luggage; even just a little? No.
Expect your bike to idle sweetly and behave nicely at low revs? No.
Just off your LAMS licence? Er, no.
Want to risk your licence every time you roll out the driveway, accelerate from the lights like a Formula One race car, carve suburban corners like a Thestral, bore your friends mindless about historic race win statistics, out-cool your friends who ride Ducati Monsters, learn how to say “37 World Constructors’ Championships” in Italian, wonder each morning if your bike will start … oh, and learn how to pull 140hp wheelies?
Well then, yes.
FOOTNOTE: Five months later, I’m giving the Brutale a cautious but pleasing tick for reliability. After replacing the battery and cleaning every electrical connection I can find back in February, the random acts of cutting out and refusing to start have vanished.
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