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THROTTLE JOCKEY SUSAN CARPENTER

High performance, or just acting the part?

January 16, 2008|SUSAN CARPENTER

WHEN it comes to motorcycles, Italian is pretty much synonymous with sexy. Italy's major players make the supermodels of sportbikes, pairing high speed with high style that's out of reach for average Joes.

Then there's Moto Guzzi, a longstanding marque with a subtler appeal. It isn't sex so much as character that draws riders to its bikes, which possess a calm and classic beauty seemingly unruffled by trends.

Until recently, that is. With its 2008 Breva 1200 Sport, Moto Guzzi attempts to channel Ducati, with a sporty naked that builds on its popular Breva platform. But mamma mia, is it thick around the ankles.

The Breva 1100 debuted in the U.S. two years ago as a jack-of-all-trades machine that could tour, cruise, commute, carve -- and possibly scoop gelato. It quickly became Moto Guzzi's best seller, prompting the manufacturer to amplify the bike's individual attributes with purpose-built models. Last year, it geared up with the Norge tourer. This year, it's stripping back with the 1200 Sport.

The Norge and the 1200 Sport share a slightly larger, 1,151-cc engine that improves upon Guzzi's legendary transverse V-twin. The 1200 Sport is just more performance-oriented, with a remapped engine control unit for better throttle response and improved air intake and exhaust for more power at higher engine speeds.

The 1200 Sport ekes an additional 9 horses from its 97-cc displacement gain on the Breva 1100. It also dials back the powerband for more torque at lower revs.

The motor is also more meticulously balanced to reduce unwanted vibration, but that side-to-side shake is still there due to the mass of the pistons and crankshaft. At idle, the 1200 Sport still has quite the shimmy. Just add some fringe, and you've got Ann-Margret.

Only Ann-Margret never weighed 505 pounds. It was the heft of this bike that stopped me from wanting to make this Guzzi my own. For all its claims of being a high-performance machine, it just didn't deliver. Compared with nakeds from other Italians, or even the Japanese, it isn't as fast or precise.

At slow speeds, the front felt heavy, and in canyons, it wasn't exactly effortless to flick it or hold the line. While the single-sided swingarm and friction-reducing titanium treatment on the telescopic fork were designed to enhance handling, the high-tensile chassis is made from steel, rather than aluminum, which weighs it down.

Ultimately, the Moto Guzzi Breva 1200 Sport is most impressive compared with other Guzzis, offering the most speed in the company's American lineup, in addition to Guzzi heritage and style. For all its performance billing, the Breva 1200 Sport's best attributes are its classic ones -- the transverse V-twin, the cafe-racer bodywork and its overall aura.

My favorite part of this bike: its sound. What Moto Guzzi refers to as its "motor music," or engine and exhaust notes, was better than any new record I've heard recently, particularly the crackle upon roll-off of the catalyzed, 2-1 exhaust, which looks like carbon fiber but isn't. I like to ride with the throttle open, but this "motor music" was so appealing, I was looking for excuses to snap it back.

And that's where the new Moto Guzzi Breva 1200 Sport did best -- not pushing it to the limit but tooling around, collecting admiring looks.

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susan.carpenter@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

2008 Moto Guzzi Breva 1200 Sport

Base price: $13,590

Powertrain: Air-cooled, fuel-injected, 90-degree transversely mounted V-twin, four-stroke, six-speed, 1151 cc

Maximum horsepower: 95 at 7,800 rpm

Maximum torque: 73.8 pound-feet at 5,800 rpm

Dry weight: 504.8 pounds

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