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2020 Moto Guzzi V85TT first ride review: (The engine is) the wrong way 'round

Guzzi's first crack at the lucrative adventure bike segment is predictably different but surprisingly excellent.

The V85 may not be a rocket ship, but it'll get you to all kinds of beautiful places in comfort and style.
Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

On paper, based solely on numbers, it's kind of hard to make a case for Moto Guzzi. Its bikes are never the most powerful or sophisticated in their class, neither are they the cheapest or most reliable. And yet, the brand still has tons of very loyal fans, and when you start to get up close and personal with a Guzzi, you can start to see why.

The V85 TT middleweight adventure bike exists in a category of motorcycle that's very near and dear to my heart. My first bike was an 800-cc Triumph Tiger, and other entrants in the class, like Ducati's excellent Multistrada 950 S or BMW's F900, offer compelling reasons to ditch the weight, cost and complexity of bigger, full-fat ADV units.

So how does the Guzzi compare with those other bikes? Again, on paper, maybe not so well, but it's definitely not without its high points and certainly not without its charm. To start with, unlike any of the other bikes I mentioned, the V85 is air-cooled. It's a transverse V-twin engine -- like the ones used on all Guzzis -- and as such has a large, single-plate dry clutch and shaft drive. In fact, it's the only middleweight ADV bike to offer shaft drive, since even shaft-drive-loving BMW went with a chain on its F-series.

The 853-cc motor makes a not-class-leading but also not embarrassing 79 horsepower at 7,750 rpm. It also produces 59 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm, so it's not exactly a rocket ship, but it'll get out of its own way without much trouble. The most significant criticism I have of the engine is that with the stock exhaust, it's too damn quiet. You can barely hear the bike until it's at the top of its rev range, and then you have to upshift, and it's silent once more.

The V85 is notable for being the only motorcycle in its class with shaft drive, something that even BMW doesn't offer until you step up to the R1250.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

The engine is paired with a six-speed transmission that sits somewhere in between BMW's boxer-twin and Ducati's 950 SP in feel. Less agricultural than the former, not as slick as the latter, it's still a pleasant enough box to use. The clutch is surprisingly light and easy to modulate given its design, and the bike is happy enough to putter around at low speeds.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the Guzzi engine is a real gem. It's all black and silver, with cooling fins and beautiful castings. It also does one of my favorite characteristics of transverse motorcycle engines and rocks the bike to the right when you rev it at a stoplight. BMW flat-twins do this, too, and it always makes me smile.

I'm also a huge fan of the fact that the V85's engine is a relatively frugal little lump, which, when paired with the bike's massive 6-gallon fuel tank, means that the Guzzi has a stellar cruising range -- something which I feel is extremely important for this kind of motorcycle. It should be no issue for most people to get 200-plus miles out of a tank without trying very hard.

The Guzzi's suspension isn't overly sophisticated, but it feels plenty competent with its preload-adjustable, 41-millimeter fork and its also-preload-adjustable rear monoshock. If the bike were more expensive, I'd knock it for not having more adjustability, but it's fine as is. The V85's Brembo brakes have good bite and offer decent feel at the lever. The Guzzi has ABS standard with an off-road mode that can turn off the rear ABS.

The Guzzi is notable for including luggage in its asking price when nearly all other manufacturers charge significantly more on top of the motorcycle.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Other electronic goodies include traction control -- which, along with ABS, is accessed through the bike's lovely TFT dash -- as well as selectable ride modes and cruise control. My test bike lacked a couple of mod cons, most notably heated grips and fog lights, but they will be available on a new trim level called the V85TT Travel, which is due in dealers in March.

Speaking of the Travel model, it will also offer a taller windscreen, a slightly cheaper set of plastic panniers and no top case. The move to plastic luggage from metal may sound like a significant downgrade, but honestly, the metal cases on my tester kind of sucked and were not easy to take off and put on. If I had my druthers, I'd ditch the hard bags entirely and go with a set of soft ones from a company like Enduristan or Kriega and save myself both the weight and the headache.

Another high point on the V85 is its seat, which is one of the best stock motorcycle seats I've experienced to date. It's relatively long and flat, which offers plenty of options for moving and stretching out on a longer ride. The seat is also wrapped in an almost Alcantara-like suede fabric with some choice Moto Guzzi embroidery on it. The surface offers plenty of grip for your butt, which is very nice under acceleration and in corners. It's also padded well, but not overly squishy. Other manufacturers should take notice.

As the engine's performance numbers would suggest, the V85 is no rocket ship. But it's not taxing over longer distances; it has a very easy-to-modulate throttle, and the hand and feet controls are well-placed and pleasant to use, offering plenty of tactile feedback.

The V85's gigantic 6-gallon gas tank and modest engine mean that you're not going to need to stop for fuel very often.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

The bike is surprisingly fun on a canyon road, too, with its tall suspension offering ample ground clearance for when you want to really lean the bike over -- something that it's very willing to do with minimal effort. It also feels very stable when you're in a corner.

I found myself having way more fun in the canyons of Malibu, California, than I ever expected while chasing a friend on an Aprilia Tuono. I ended up leaning the Guzzi over enough to drag a toe midcorner and still felt like it would have been happy going further.

The experience on the highway is similarly enjoyable. The bike feels exceptionally stable and relaxed at freeway speeds. The engine doesn't ever seem to be working too hard, which is good because it cuts down on vibrations and makes for stellar cruising range. The only real downside for the V85 as a long-distance tourer is the small windscreen -- though that will be rectified in the Travel model.

Nothing about the Guzzi is intimidating, and while that might read as boring with certain types of motorcycles, for an adventure bike, it's high praise. The V85 feels like it would be happy in just about any situation you could throw at it, and thanks to that -- and its high level of comfort coupled with its seriously good looks -- it's a bike that you end up wanting to ride everywhere.

I absolutely loved the sueded fabric on the V85's seat. Coupled with the shape of the seat, it made for an extremely comfortable ride.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

While the V85 was in my possession, I found myself using it for things that I'd usually take a car for. I took it grocery shopping, and not only did the top case have no trouble holding my XXL full-face Arai helmet while I was in the store, both the panniers swallowed up a surprising number of bags.

Those same bags, when they weren't full of groceries, held my riding jacket and gloves with room to spare when I went places where I didn't necessarily want to look like I'd just gotten off a motorcycle. If, like me, you live in someplace with a year-round riding season, you could probably use the V85 as your only vehicle and rarely find yourself wanting or needing more.

Is the V85 a good value at its list price of $12,990? Definitely, especially when you consider that the list price includes the metal luggage, though personally, I'd shell out the extra $500 for the Travel model for its extra creature comforts.

The V85TT -- like all Moto Guzzis -- is a bike that's made for people who want to be different. If all you're interested in is bang for buck and ruthlessly engineered reliability, you'd likely be shopping for a V-Strom or an Africa Twin. But in this case, wanting to be different from everyone else doesn't mean you're sacrificing much, and that's pretty cool.