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THROTTLE JOCKEY / SUSAN CARPENTER

A luxury Moto Guzzi? Molto bene

Italy's new Norge 1200 sport-tourer serves up a big, capable ride and adds the accessories to make it cushy.

February 07, 2007|SUSAN CARPENTER

IN these days of GPS, ABS, push-button this and turn-a-knob that, it isn't enough to build a mere touring bike anymore. It has to be a luxury tourer -- a motorcycle so cush it does everything but leave a pair of chocolates on the saddle.

With the 2007 Norge 1200 sport-tourer, Moto Guzzi enters this fast-growing segment of the market, hoping to slice its own piece of the luxury touring pie using the company's do-everything Breva 1100 as its base. The Norge is pretty much the same bike as Guzzi's bestseller, only the motor packs an extra 97 cc and the accessories that cost Breva owners extra (such as the windshield and saddlebags) are upgraded, integrated and stock. Then there are the amenities: anti-lock brakes that turn on and off with a button, an electronically adjustable windshield and heated grips to stop fingers from being able to chill drinks at the end of a long day's journey into night.

Now you, like me, may think it's odd for an Italian motorcycle to be named after Norway, but there is a reason. The Norge is a tribute to the 3,700-mile trip Giuseppi Guzzi took to the Arctic Circle almost 80 years ago. Yes, Moto Guzzi has been around that long. As its green, white and red tank badges boast, the company has actually been building bikes since 1921 (even if, since 2004, the company's been owned by fellow Italians, Piaggio).

Inspired by Guzzi's historical trek toward Santa's home turf, I opted to take my new Italian friend on a tour of Southern California instead.

Wheeling it down the coast, through the forest, across the dreaded freeways and into the rock-strewn mountains, it performed incredibly well on all counts and might even have been better with some of the trick accessories, such as the Tom Tom Satellite Navigation System (an extra $1,000) so I could get lost without fear, and an electronic alarm system ($250) that would spoil the party if thieves hauled it to a chop shop.

Like all modern-day Guzzis, the Norge is powered with a transverse 90-degree V-twin, i.e. the cylinders are placed across the width, rather than the length, of the chassis. On the fully fairinged Norge, they're peeking out from the bodywork, not only to show off the fact that this silver bullet of a bike is a Guzzi (rather than the Beemer it appears to be at first glance), but to keep the heads cool since air is its only way to beat the heat. The transverse mounting also narrows the bike's profile because the heads are angled up, not out, like those boxers being built two countries to the north (hint: I'm talking about Germany).

Even so, the bike felt a little too thick-waisted to squeeze between lanes easily. Mirror to mirror it's about 37 inches wide -- the same width as the saddlebags, which are roomy enough to carry a whopping 18 gallons of marinara.

At least the suspension is easily adjustable for such heavy loads, with a knob under the seat to stiffen or soften the hydraulic rear shock and well-marked bolts on the steering column to adjust the damping on the fork.

At 542 pounds, the bike felt a little more Russian than I was expecting. But the only time I felt its weight was when I tried to heave it off the side stand, which in addition to being ridiculously far forward, seemed to lean the bike unusually far left.

For a woman with flab for arm muscles, it was especially challenging after I'd filled the 6.1-gallon tank. At least I was flat footed as I gruntingly got the bike upright. The saddle is 31.5 inches, but it's narrowly contoured, so it feels a lot lower to the ground.

Out on the open road, I found the bike to be virtually wind resistant. If good things come in small packages, this windshield proves the maxim. It's puny but effective. Between the contour of the upper lip and the gap-toothed lower mounting, I was living in a turbulence-free air bubble.

Slowing down to negotiate the hairpins of Malibu's Decker Canyon, the bike was artful as an experienced espresso puller.

Thank the sporty 58.9-inch wheelbase and patented "compact reactive" shaft drive that incorporates an extra bar on top of the shaft to stop the seat lift or "chassis jacking" of more conventional shaft-drive systems.

Being a Moto Guzzi, the Norge does, of course, vibrate, but Guzzi's done a lot of tweaking to increase the engine's power (which is a modest but satisfying 95 horses), reduce vibration (which only slightly blurs the rear views) and meet Europe's stringent emissions standards (which gets some good help from fuel injection and a three-way catalytic converter).

Worthy of a trip to the Arctic? Well, Sven, that's up to you.

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susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

2007 Moto Guzzi Norge 1200

Base price: $14,990

Powertrain: Air-cooled, four-stroke, 90-degree V twin, two valves per cylinder, six-speed

Displacement: 1,151 cc

Bore and stroke: 3.7 inches by 3.15 inches

Horsepower: 95 at 7,500 rpm

Torque: 70 pound-feet at 6,800 rpm

Seat height: 31.5 inches

Dry weight: 542 pounds

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