MV Agusta 125 SS

A scintillating new middleweight sportbike makes exotica almost affordable

Photos by Riles Nelson Video by Mike Maez and Kevin Duke

MV Agusta is a different company than it was just a few years ago when it had only three models in its lineup. Now, after an infusion of Harley-Davidson cash capitalizing new developments for a couple of years before dumping its stake in MV Agusta , there are seven models for sale this year. And there’s several more in the pipeline.

With MV’s latest model, the F3 and its 675cc three-cylinder engine, the hallowed Italian marque is dramatically expanding its market. The F3 carries on MV’s tradition of building sex on wheels but now includes high-tech sophistication at a price ($13,999) that almost seems inexpensive.

These recent developments have been paying huge dividends. Global sales in 2009 was a miniscule 2213 units, with income of $35 million. The projection for 2012 is nearly quadrupled at more than 8000.

Income in 2013 (from a forecast 10,400 units) is expected to reach 101.2 million, a jump of 189% in just four years.

The F3 is the first MV to be fitted with a ride-by-wire, computer-controlled throttle, and this is keyed in to the F3’s traction control, engine-brake control and wheelie control. And, if you prefer, switched off for 100% rider control. The electronic 50mm Mikuni throttle bodies can fully open in just 75 milliseconds if a throttle hand could be so quick.

But even more interesting is its counter-rotating crankshaft, a strategy to reduce an engine’s gyroscopic forces on a bike’s handling, thereby reducing steering effort, especially at elevated revs. Yamaha has used such a system to positive effect in its nimble M1 MotoGP racer. A three-cylinder progenitor of the F3 was the 900cc Petronas FP1 from 2003, the street version of the Foggy Petronas World Superbike entry which twice podiumed in 2004 against its 1000cc competitors but ceased racing in 2006.

The F3’s engine is notable in several other ways, too. It uses a 79.0mm bore and 45.9mm stroke to make up its 675cc displacement, a considerably more oversquare arrangement than Triumph’s 675cc Triple (74.0 x 52.3mm). The F3’s bore/stroke ratio of 0.581 is much less than the Trumpet’s 0.707 or even a Japanese 600’s 0.634.

MV says this jewel-like Triple weighs just 115 pounds, and it’s an extremely compact mill, using its counterbalance shaft to drive its cams via a chain and gear arrangement. Oil and cooling lines are integrated into the block’s casting so there are no external lines. Transmission gears are stacked to keep the powerplant short, allowing the F3’s swingarm to be relatively long inside a tight 54.3-inch wheelbase.

MV Agustas have been sexy since before Marilyn Monroe, and the F3 does an exemplary job of carrying on that tradition. To my eyes, it’s one of the most exquisite faired sportbikes ever produced. After salivating over its finely chiseled lines and extremely lithe profile, eyes are drawn further inward by its elegant single-sided swingarm and provocative triple-exit exhaust tips.

MV’s little Triple sounds similar to the Triumph when fired up, but its sonic qualities outdo the Trumpet’s when revved up due to its delightful and devilish intake snort. Getting underway proved to be a bit troublesome until we adapted to the clutch’s narrow engagement zone and lack of flywheel mass.

Gassing it up along the AMA Superbike course at New Jersey Motorsports Park, the F3 accelerates quickly but seems to lack a bit of the Daytona’s midrange stonk. Turn-in response is very quick, lending credence to the F3’s crankshaft design objective. A steep, 23.6-degree rake and short 99mm of trail play at least as significant a role.

MVICS is a short way of saying Motive and Vehicle Integrated Control System, which is the structure coordinated by an Italian Eldor ECU, a departure from MV’s past use of Magnetti Marelli systems. MVICS coordinates the systems of riding modes and other related electronic controls.

The ride-by-wire throttle works seamlessly most of the time, and its response varies quite a bit over the three engine modes: Rain, Normal and Sport. We began the day in its Sport setting, and journalists were initially uneasy with its response. Small throttle inputs created large jumps in power, while full throttle openings didn’t quite live up to the promised 128 crankshaft horsepower.

MV Agusta 125 SS

It turns out the F3s we were riding needed a bit of extra setup time, and a recalibration of the electronic exhaust valve eventually delivered more linear reactions. Later, we adapted to Sport mode’s strident response, although the F3’s engine was noticeably more compliant in Normal mode. As usual, we neglected Rain mode.

Also neglected, mostly, was traction control. We began the morning with it switched off, and a multitude of various setup changes taking place throughout the day meant we weren’t very anxious to throw in another variable. Late in the day I tested it in its third of eight positions, and its intervention was barely noticeable as it subtly mediated throttle openings, spark advance and fuel delivery to regain grip based on bank-angle and wheel-speed sensors.

Despite using old-tech two-piece brake calipers, the Brembo units bleed speed quite capably, although they’re not quite as sharp and responsive as monoblocs like on Triumph’s 675R. A Nissin, not Brembo as you might expect, master cylinder feeds fluid through braided lines for consistent feedback on the dual 320mm front rotors.

New tech is MV’s electronic engine-brake control that nudges open throttle plates to reduce compression braking. It’s especially evident in Sport mode where it felt like an especially slippery slipper clutch.

Digital LCD instruments are quite readable for an electronic display but, like most bar-graph tachometers, the F3’s rev counter is inferior to an analog tach in terms of quick assimilation of info. A small shift light illuminates 500 rpm before its 14,500-rpm rev limit.

The F3 has a greater appetite for revs than the torquier Daytona 675. A second fuel injector placed higher in the intake opens after 11,000 rpm to feed titanium intake valves, while exhaust gases pass through poppets of the same lightweight material. Upshifts are easily reeled off thanks to the quickshifter fitted to our bikes (standard equipment on U.S.-spec models), and I was consistently able to see more than 150 mph down NJMP’s main straight.

The latest engine mapping was uploaded to our F3s the day before our test by Eraldo Ferracci. The legendary Fast By Ferracci tuner told us he saw a best of 125.7 horsepower on his dyno, which would tower over the 111 hp we saw from the Daytona 675R. However, the F3 didn’t feel like it had a 15-pony advantage, so we’ll have to test them head to head on the same dyno to verify exactly how they compare.

In the corners, the F3’s chassis feels stiff and responsive, exhibiting surefooted responses after further dialing in the fully adjustable Marzocchi fork and Sachs shock. The bike’s balance is further aided by where it carries its fuel, placed mostly under the seat and under the rear edge of the “tank” to centralize its mass and limit the effects of its weight.

MV Agusta 125 SS
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