I remember it stopping me dead in my tracks. The first time I saw Moto Guzzi’s MGX21 prototype, I literally stopped everything I was doing and just stood there—drooling— thinking, there’s no way they’ll ever build that. And that’s a shame.
Two years have passed and now here I am, in Sturgis, South Dakota, eyes locked on the production equivalent of that prototype, the MGX21 Flying Fortress. With it, Moto Guzzi have proved me wrong. They’ve proved a lot of people wrong, actually; they really built it.
Not only did Guzzi build the MGX21, but they built it without removing all of the things that made the prototype so special. The lines are the same and the carbon fiber is still there, as are the red accents and that big 21-inch front wheel. Hold for mirrors, turn signals, actual sidebags, and an array of other DOT-mandated pieces, this is the same motorcycle that had completely stolen my attention two years back.
Delve into the MGX’s specs sheet and you’ll realize that it’s heavily based off Guzzi’s own California platform. But while the 1380cc, 90-degree transverse V-twin engine has gone untouched and produces the same 95 claimed hp and 89 lb-ft. of torque, the frame and associated pieces have been tweaked ever so slightly to accommodate the larger front wheel and anticipated load. As a result, there’s a bit more trail than the 1400 Custom, the wheelbase is marginally longer, and the back portion of the frame is altered via gussets that add to the overall load-bearing capacity.
Other bits, like new switchgear at the handlebar, add a little something to the overall look, though are easily confused with the switches found on Guzzi’s new V9 models.
That’s not to take anything away from the MGX’s fit and finish or the bike’s long list of features, which includes everything from a three-level (plus off) traction control system to a 50 watt stereo with MP3 compatibility and smartphone input, and AM/FM radio. There’s also electronic cruise control, three separate riding modes, and ABS, which works on a braking system that’s now finished off with Brembo brake calipers front and rear—in red. Because color accents.
All of those pieces, plus the new front fairing, conspire to bring the MGX’s curb weight to a claimed 752 pounds, which is something like 10 pounds more than what the California 1400 Touring weighs and 51 pounds more than what the fairing-less 1400 Custom weighs. And while that’s painful to write, I’ll admit that the only time I really felt the MGX’s heft was when picking the bike up off of its sidestand. In normal riding situations, the bike felt capable and light as a bike meant for navigating America’s heartlands needs to be.
I’ve ridden a fully dressed Moto Guzzi El Dorado before, as well as an Audace, and would argue that handling is somewhere in between those models; the MGX is not nearly as imbalanced as the El Dorado (which has different geometry) at parking lot speeds, but not quite as composed as the lighter-weight Audace when banked into a corner.
Part of the reason for the improved feel in parking-lot-speed situations is owed to the new steering-stabilizer-like piece at the front of the bike, which isn’t a steering stabilizer at all, but rather a patent-pending absorber that keeps the bars falling to one side or another in an abrupt manner as you begin to turn them. The resulting feeling takes time to get used to in tight u-turn situations, but I think some of my confidence when pushing the MGX around, compared to other bigger bikes, did indeed come from this stabilizer.
The 21-inch front wheel takes a little more time to get used to and does cause a slightly different feeling at the entrance of the corner, but is ultimately pretty easy to forget about, and by lunch we were tipping the MGX into corners with absolute confidence. And as I’ve found with other Guzzi models, the chassis itself is a true gem, with good overall handling mannerisms through a corner and zero instability. On the MGX specifically, suspension is good, with enough plushness to keep you comfortable on a long ride, but enough firmness to keep the bike from moving around too much. And it all handles imperfections in the road better than any Harley bits I’ve yet tested.
Power does not feel particularly overwhelming (probably because of the extra weight that that the engine is now attempting to push along), but the engine is tractable and fueling is exceptionally smooth. You can experiment with ride modes, but if you’re anything like every other speed-loving motorcyclist, you’ll probably want to just click over to the more powerful Veloce mode and leave it there. Fortunately, in any mode, there’s plenty of character thanks to the pull of that transverse twin.
The MGX’s performance and overall comfort lends itself to longer days in the saddle, and I really do see you being able to rack up the miles in relative comfort. Sure, at 6-foot-3-inches, I thought the footrests could have been a bit lower for more leg room, but wind protection is decent and the seat is shaped in a way that doesn’t have you wanting to crawl out of it every 100 miles or so. Just be careful how much you pack for your longer trips, as the MGX’s bags are definitely more meant for style than storing, and can’t fit much more than a change of clothes and maybe a jacket or two. I didn’t actually put that to the test, mind you, but know that you’ll need to have the misses pack light either way. Good luck with that.
Worth mentioning here is that Guzzi says the bags are held on by just a handful of bolts, and can be easily removed to give the MGX the same sleek look as the bag-less prototype that it had originally shown. It’s in these small design elements, and things like the USB plug at the triple clamp, perfectly concealed by a inconspicuous door, that show Guzzi’s attention to detail (though we do wish there was somewhere to store your phone when plugged in, and not just a mount that needed to be purchased as an accessory item.
Unfortunately, it’s also some of the little things that frustrated me most in my day with the MGX, like the button on the right side of the handlebar used for turning the bike on and off, which almost always took a couple of taps before it was in the position I actually wanted it in. The multi-directional toggle for operating the radio was often frustrating as well, and it’s these little things where other manufacturers that have been integrating these types of technologies into their motorcycles for years seem to have an advantage.
As for the stereo itself, it’s loud enough to keep you entertained at around-town speeds, but not quite strong enough for you to enjoy your country music at 70 mph. Oh wait, I’m the only one riding a Guzzi MGX21 and listening to country. Right…
All of this is to say that there are small areas for improvement, but not that Moto Guzzi has missed the mark. In fact, if my time on the MGX21 proved anything, it’s that the Italian manufacturer did its homework when it sat down and designed this bagger. It looks great, handles well, and is an honest to God great option for people who want a bike in this category but also something that’s a little different than what everyone else has (read: a Harley-Davidson). Guzzi says that they plan on reaching a new customer base with the bike, and I really think that with the final product being as good as it is, it will.
For me personally, the Flying Fortress is everything I hoped and wanted the MGX21 prototype to be, and I’m just glad Moto Guzzi actually built it.
|ENGINE TYPE||Air-/oil-cooled 90° Transverse V-twin|
|SEAT HEIGHT||29.1 in.|
|FUEL CAPACITY||5.41 gal.|
|CLAIMED CURB WEIGHT||752 lb.|