Spotted: Moto Guzzi Norge
The Moto Guzzi Norge has been on the periphery of my awareness of touring bikes for some time. One of the more striking models on the market, it also happens to be one of the best priced and most practical – if also one of the heaviest. With a new model released this past year, as part of a relentless effort to put Moto Guzzi in the mainstream, the Norge is impossible to ignore even in today’s crowded touring market.
Like many Italian motorcycle firms, Moto Guzzi is incredibly proud of its heritage, and the Norge has a particularly special one. It was named after the GT Norge, the company’s groundbreaking 1928 model – itself named for the airship that was the first to fly over the North Pole. The 500cc GT Norge completed a 4,000-mile test ride from the company’s Italian HQ to Norway’s Lapland, on the inside edge of the Arctic Circle.
It’s the kind of ride we’d classify as an epic cross-continental trek even today, and in 1928 it was even more so given the state of the roads. The company had a point to prove: their rear swingarm suspension setup – the first of its kind – worked, and could enable journeys of greater distances than were otherwise tolerable. Engineer Guiseppe Guzzi made the trip in four weeks.
When the Norge was reintroduced in 2005, it emerged with wind-tunnel-designed fairing and a modern v-twin engine and accoutrements, and completed that very same ride. The statement of intent was clear, though it was not without its issues. Reports of an uncomfortable seat, vibration-happy handlebars and an overheating engine clouded an otherwise solid release.
The 2011-2012 release cycle has seen a heavily redesigned model released, sporting a new fairing, seat, exhaust, panniers, electronically adjustable screen and eight-valve engine. According to press reports, up to 80% of the bike is new. Torque is up by 20% on the old model, alongside a 7% horsepower increase.
With great power also comes great comfort; the suspension is fully adjustable (and a tad firmer) and by all accounts of good quality, and the new seat has redressed the issues of the old.
The upgrades are much needed for a bike in a market dominated by old lineages of sport-tourers. It’s clear that Moto Guzzi are angling for the Norge to go toe-to-toe with Honda’s VFR1200, Triumph’s Sprint GT and other practical all-rounders that double as competent touring bikes. The Norge certainly sports the weight of a tourer – at 257kg without fuel, it is heavier than most competitors – but it also boasts an impressive array of accessories.
With a standard set of luggage, heated grips, ABS and a bluetooth-enabled Tom Tom GPS, the rather painful-looking £11,549 price tag doesn’t seem so bad. This makes for an especially interesting comparison with BMW’s higher-tech and higher-price R1200RT. Though a full 24kg lighter than the Norge, the BMW is also a thousand pounds more – and that’s without heated grips or a GPS.
With this said, I can’t help feeling serious doubts about the Norge as a genuine all-rounder. The incredible weight and new seating position – an uneasy compromise between high, sporty pegs and upright handlebars – mean that if weaving through traffic is your everyday life there are a thousand other bikes that will make your life easier. Having said that, if you have the upper arm strength to handle it and favour touring, the new Norge’s minimal nods to fun and performance may give your long ride the extra enjoyment a purebred tourer might fail to provide.
The final trick to making the most of the Norge’s considerable attributes is, of course, money – and perhaps more of it than you have concerns about depreciation. The 2012 edition has undergone changes large and small, and all are significant and go a long way towards justifying the “new bike” premium. To buy an older Norge would be to resign yourself to the constant knowledge that you aren’t experiencing the bike at its best.
This may not be a problem, of course, and indeed you can find models over five years old for between five and seven thousand pounds. Even better, they don’t tend to venture above 20,000 miles, with 10,000-strong odometers a common sight. But they won’t be quite as spectacular and polished, and you’ll need to budget in 6,250-mile service intervals in any case.
The new Norge is a compelling motorcycle, and indeed a surprisingly practical one. On the basis of research alone, how highly I recommend it comes down in large part to how much you fancy your chances hauling it around a u-turn in the middle of nowhere halfway across Europe. If it passes that test, it might just be one of the best deals on the grand touring market today.
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