It was love at first sight. When the Agusta first appeared in the pages of the bike magazines, I joined the ranks of those who believed this to be the most beautiful bike ever made. I first saw one, two in fact, in the flesh, at Kyalami in South Africa at the first Superbike round of the Y2K season. I took a photograph of one parked next to a Ducati 996, in itself a bike held in high esteem amongst the worlds cogniscenti, and it made the Ducati look plain and understated in comparison.
I am lucky enough to own what many would consider amongst the ultimate machines available, the Super Blackbird, but along with most other bikers who aspire to a machine they don’t own, I still look at other machines, but only one has a genuine interest, the MV Agusta. Seduced by the design, and the fact that there are not thousands on the road, nor probably never will be, I dream of one day owning one.
At Boffa Bikes in Morges, I found an all silver one, which I quickly sat on to size up, much to the dismay of the shop owner, who rushed over to find out what I was doing. He seemed appeased that I might be a genuine potential customer, when I advised that I was the owner of the Blackbird parked outside, and travel in excess of 25,000kms p.a. The things that immediately struck me were the diminutive dimensions, and that fact that the seat was just a piece of lightly padded foam and very hard! It featured the famous Ducati style whip up sidestand, so I was grateful for his grabbing the bike and putting it on the stand for me, before it got dropped! The first time I actually saw an Agusta on the road, was in Italy on my tour to the Passo de Stelvio in August 2001. I was stopped at the side of the road, as the Agusta and two other machines had sped past, and I decided to set off in pursuit to try and listen to the famous tuned exhaust note, and to see how it handled. Unfortunately for me, I had trouble catching up! They had home advantage, knew the roads, and were riding very quickly, so after 5 minutes, I disappointedly gave up the chase.
Time passed, and I tried riding a couple of alternative bikes. Karel’s Moto Guzzi, and then the Honda Fireblade, but there was only one bike I really wanted to try! Karel listened to my comments with amusement, he favours twin cylinder machines, and I four. Having listened to my scathing criticism of the Blade, and my comments regarding handling and lack of torque, he believed that the Agusta would prove to be just another slower, smaller version of the same thing. His big mistake however, was in saying that he knew that the owner of Speedbike had his own personal Agusta, which he might be prepared to lend for a test. With winter rapidly approaching, I badgered Karel to exercise his influence to try and get me a test, and in the hope that this would kill off my incessant desire, he came through with the eagerly awaited confirmation, that on Saturday 27th October 2001, I could have a test ride for a couple of hours. I had been travelling on business in Scandinavia the week before, and only returned home on the Friday evening, but here I was, awake bright and early on the Saturday morning, rushing around and getting ready to leave Sue, who was none too pleased that I was going out so soon, and yet again, placing a bike ahead of her! The morning starts off cold, and I’m concerned that these are not ideal riding conditions for such an expensive machine. As I wend my way through Geneva to the bike shop in Carouge, thoughts turn to cold tyres and potential lack of grip, and concerns that this may spoil my enjoyment. Despite it having been only moderately cold and dry in Scandinavia the previous week, it had rained at least once a day in Geneva, which meant that my planned test ride up the Col de Faucille would be damp in places. It’s only just over a week since I took out a Fireblade on test, and I had been deeply unimpressed, but Karel’s note that the Agusta is 150ccs smaller, weighs more, makes less power, and probably needs even more revs to ensure swift progress, can`t dampen my enthuisiasm or sense of expectation. Can the sheer magic of Italian flair and design, really overcome the sterile perfection of Japanese bikes? It’s a nagging question, but I’ll soon find out.
The bike is started in the garage, and wheeled out with its cold engine warming up. As it appears, I’m a little disappointed straight away, as instead of the red and silver beauty I was expecting, this bike was all red, and had Speedbike (bike shop name) logos on it. As the engine was stopped, a small wisp of smoke crept out and upwards from the rear of the centre pipes, cool! With the formalities of photocopying my licence over, the owner explains the controls to me. Restarting the engine shows the speedo dial hand sweep round to the 17,000rpm limit mark, yes, you have read that correctly, 17,000!!, and as the temperature increases incrementally on the digital display, I note it flashing through 38 and 42 degrees as the engine starts to warm up, before reaching full temperature and being able to switch off the manual choke. I ask what revs I should change gear at (not so dumb as it sounds!), and am told 8000rpm for normal riding, and 11000+ rpm for real speed. Sitting astride the bike I note the missing mirrors, no way to check for pursuing police (!), and the race numbers on the screen and fairing, and the transponder mount on the lower fairing, give clear notice this bike is obviously quick and used for track days, but more of that later. With a final warning about lack of steering lock around town, I edge off the forecourt and into town.
The seating position is quite forward on the machine, but not uncomfortably so. At the first few sets of traffic lights, I encounter the usual Italian game of hunt the neutral gear position. I only found this some miles later when the engine had become warm, and found the best way to actually engage it, was by going up from first to second and then back a notch. Being forced to hold the clutch in however, didn’t cause the aching wrist muscles, that the same exercise on the Ducati had caused. As I turn onto the same motorway entry that I had taken two years earlier on the Ducati, and been impressed how it had carved around, I didn’t get the same positive feedback on the Agusta, it felt as if it needed more steering input. Initially I tried not to read too much into this, different bike, tyres, temperature, etc etc, and would have scored one up to the Ducati, if scores were being kept, but in hindsight, and as later bends were to prove, I realise it was quite the opposite. The bike could turn much quicker than I had attempted, and so I had misjudged the effort needed. A little disappointed by the exhaust note so far, I decided to see what all the press praise had been about, and arriving at the first of a couple of tunnels, I dropped a gear or two and accelerated, hard! The reward was instant speed, and a noise that bounced off the tunnel walls in an aria of sound. To try and describe the noise is impossible, it created a stirring in the groin, and if you likened it to anything, would be like the excitement felt during the most amazing sex you have had in your life. It wailed harmoniously, and I was only at 8000rpm. I did the same through the next tunnel, same thing. Like a drug which is taken to stimulate the senses, this was providing a real high. I wanted more, and throughout the test, I kept dropping gears for the hit, and sheer joy, of listening to that exhaust note.
The motorway was a little boring, as speed is low to avoid the many radars, and turning off for Ferney en route to the Col de Faucille, I was horrified to see a great queue of cars waiting to pass through customs. I couldn’t wait, the expectation was building to fever pitch, so I dashed up the empty inside lane, and arrived at the head of the queue. Ignoring the obviously blatant race numbers and lack of mirrors, I was waved on through, and set off for the real test! The appearance of the sun meant that both the roads and the temperature were rising, great! Once on real roads I quickly found that dropping gears to be constantly around 6000rpm+ gave me instant acceleration, as below this was nothing special, and cruising at 3000rpm in top on the motorway had shown that there was a noticeable delay before the power came in again. Riding with higher revs not only gave me speed, but that sound again! Like the Ducati, which gave instant low down punch, and encouraged rapid spurts of acceleration, so it was on the Agusta, although the corresponding revs were much higher. I found myself launching into rapid bursts of acceleration to take advantage of small gaps in the traffic, just for fun. Aware that I only had 2 hours maximum before the bike had to be back, I arrived at Gex, at the foot of the Faucille, and was overjoyed to see an empty road ahead. The town clock said 10.40am.
First real bend and the bike turns sweetly, very sweetly, in fact much faster than I would have imagined. I very quickly find that I only need to move a partial bum cheek off the seat to assist turning, the rest is effortless. The bottom of the hill is a little rutted, which was felt through the forks, but they seemed very well damped and moved only a little. Annoyed to find a couple of cars further ahead, I blasted past in a flash. Dropping gears to keep above 6000rpm as I exited bends, gave the drive I hadn’t found on the Blade. It positively flew out of them, and all the time accompanied by that seductive howling exhaust. I found myself deliberately taking the full curve of each bend, rather than cutting across their apexes as I would on the “Bird”, knowing that the speed of turn and capability of the bike would get me round without drama. The technique of turn late and hard is the complete opposite of the “Bird”, but it came naturally, very impressive! I imagined what it must be like to be on the hill somewhere, and hear this cacophony of sound reach you. To my mind and ears, the sound far exceeds the dull booming of a Ducati, itself music to the ears, and again, the only way I could think to describe this, was in some form of sexual connotation. I would imagine that the use of Viagra to prolong an experience, must be the same as the effect the Agusta has on you. You become enraptured by the aural stimulation, crave the noise, and deliberately hunt for the higher reaches of the rev range, but if you thought that was special, wait, there is even more to come!! So far I have only been in the 6000-9000 rpm bracket. Finally, as the road straightens a little, I reach 11000+, here the note changes and you truly reach orgasm. The change is fantastic, and by the time you hit 14000, and the rev limit light flashes to tell you to change up, you’re in the throes of ecstasy, you need it to go on, and on, and on. Please don’t let it stop!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I arrive at the summit of the Faucille and have to stop, I want to get off and take a couple of photos, but looking at the stand, and how quickly it seems to want to retract before even being put down, I decide against the idea. I pause and consider the ride up. I realise I have been very impressed. Superlative handling, with effortless cornering , and no nasty surprises anywhere. Maybe the ride has been a little slower than I would have hoped for, tempered a little by the semi-damp conditions, but I never had any cause for concern. When really opening up, it’s best to sit at the rear of the seat, press your butt against the backstop and just let it rip, as you take advantage of the optimal crouched position behind the very effective screen, noticeable as the noise generated at speed on the motorway had been well muted, certainly in comparison to the Blade, and had kept most of the wind blast off. The seating position position, much the same as the Ducati had been, seems to be perfect for me, although I noticed that my left heel sometimes rubbed on the swingarm as it moved up and down, even though my shoe size is small. The tank is as small as the Ducati’s, and frankly, you almost ride the bike without realising it’s underneath you.
The digital display is great, and the rev counter rushes round its gold fascia with effortless speed. Strangely, I never once thought about lack of torque, again the total opposite of the Blade, although here I became a little circumspect. The Blade was taken up St Cergue, which has more bends and is tighter, which would show up a deficit very quickly, whereas the Agusta was having an easier time up the relatively open curves of this road, plus, I had learnt the important lesson of riding and utilising lots of revs, which I hadn’t the previous week. There were however, greatly differing sensations, the Blade was sterile and boring, the Agusta a non-stop pleasure seeking ride of sound and involvement.
Downhill next, and here I have yet to fully master braking without linked brakes, but without the drama of the Blade I descend. I am conscious I seem to have developed a braking style that appears to differ from the “Bird”. I change gear on the Agusta as I brake, which seems to settle the handling, somehow offsetting the dive of the forks, even though there is not a great amount anyway, whereas on the “Bird” I tend to change down first, then brake separately. It sounds weird, but there are subtle differences. The brakes were powerful and confidence inspiring on the occasions I needed them. Continuing the descent, I discover another Agusta trait, backfiring on a closed throttle. 10,000rpm shut-offs create a beautiful popping from the rear on the overrun, can it get any better? Gear changes slot in beautifully both up and down the box, and really you just concentrate on riding, the controls just do everything you want, almost telepathically. Back on the level, I take the fast roads back to Geneva, trying to stay at 11000 plus. Exiting Gex and the roundabout, I blast through the right left right combination under the bridge, as if on rails. Exhausts howling, I mentally note that the suspension action is sublime, perfect for me. I also decide that it wouldn’t matter if it were slower than a GSXR750, as the mags point out, the joy is in the sensations of the experience, the uniqueness of ownership, the superlative handling, and the soundtrack that accompanies you everywhere. To me, these are all the things that make biking the sensory, uplifting experience, that differentiates it from other more mundane activities. With my mind constantly evaluating all aspects of the ride, I have a last full speed blast, and hit 200kph just before arriving at the roundabout at the border, and then resign myself to the boring low speed return through the city to the shop.
In town, a young Aprillia rider hurriedly arrives alongside, and excitedly asks what the bike is. Proudly I point to the MV Agusta logo on the tank. Is it Italian he asks? How many cylinders? I rev it loudly to demonstrate its fantastic sound, not bothered by what the startled Geneva public must think about such socially inappropriate behaviour. At the lights the temperature reaches 94 degrees as I wait, and the fan cuts in to keep the bike cool. (Apparently the latest model has an additional fan for this very reason). As I ride through the city centre. I take a couple of glances in the shop windows, and am rewarded with the image of myself perched atop this Italian beauty, and decide we make a great pairing. Finally back at the shop I dismount, having decided that the correct and safest method to do this safely, is to get off the side, and then put the stand down, don’t put the stand down first! I return the keys to the owner, and discuss the ride.
It appears that this bike is a little special, and although I knew it was the owners personal bike, I had not appreciated it was the exact bike that he had earlier finished 7th out of 40 in an endurance race at Magny Cours. The rear seat was a special carbon fibre lightweight unit, and the exhausts were in fact Arrow, which looked like OE, but gave extra power, and accentuated the aural pleasure!! I was glad I had brought it back in one piece, it must have been an act of faith to let such a valuable machine out to an unknown!!!! He asked if I had reached the upper reaches of the rev range? Of course, I replied, and we both smiled, knowing the performance in that area.
Thanking him for allowing me to take this test, I took the MV sales brochure and CD, and got back on the “Bird”, which now feels like a super cruiser in comparison, and on the ride home I really notice the difference in weight distribution and size.
In summary, however I judge the ride, (which must surely rank as one of the most enjoyable sessions of my biking career) the overriding sensation is one of ease of use, quality, and an aural soundtrack that if you could turn into a drug, would sell by the tankload. It has desirability beyond belief, and its beauty and uniqueness will haunt me until I get one. Unfortunately for Karel and my friends, that may take some time, but I must have one, and will keep it as a second bike for sunny weather only, safe in the knowledge that I will own a classic of the future. When the weather is bad, I will take pleasure in just looking at it, or polishing it. For me, MV ownership would be a pinnacle of bike ownership, I’m not sure in biking there is anything any better!
I dedicate this review to my good and dear friend Karel VanLoon, without whose assistance in arranging the test, this report and experience would not have been possible, and for this I give my sincere thanks.