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Moto Guzzi V85TT Wins Me Over, Some Doubts Remain

Italian retro adventure machine manages to impress with comfort and character

I originally thought the V85TT was a terrible idea. When it was first revealed as a concept at way back at EICMA 2017, Moto Guzzi’s retro adventure bike struck me as a boneheaded styling exercise (and one that perhaps comes too late in the game*).

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It seemed especially boneheaded because the Italian brand had tried the ADV thing before and it didn’t work. The 1151cc Stelvio (2007-2015) certainly looked the part but was too expensive (I had wanted to buy one but in 2014 it cost more than the Triumph Tiger Explorer XRX I bought in 2017) and suffered electronics issues. Additionally, I’ve heard from two different Stelvio owners that it overheats in ambient temperatures as low as 28°C (82°F). Hardly the bike you’d choose for a ’round-the-world jaunt.

Moto Guzzi has made a bike that has exceeded my expectations.

Add to this all kinds of negatives that have cropped up about other recent Moto Guzzi efforts (ie, those released under Piaggio ownership); the MGX-21 has some very weird issues, and I’ve had three different moto-journalists tell me the V9 Bobber (which doesn’t look like a bobber) is the worst bike they’ve ridden in years. Not to mention the brand’s longer history of inconsistent quality under different ownership. 

So, back in March, when Moto Guzzi flew me to the Italian island of Sardinia to ride the V85TT I brought a fair bit of “baggage” with me in terms of cynicism. Actually, let’s not sugarcoat it: I was expecting a steaming pile of poo – the most sucktacular box of suck that ever sucked.

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You can guess what happened, right? Within five minutes of firing the V85TT’s 850cc air-cooled transverse V-twin engine to life and steering onto sun-drenched coastal roads I was thinking: “Ooh, I could definitely be a Moto Guzzi guy!”

As I mentioned in the review I wrote for Common Tread, it’s near impossible to talk about the V85TT without using the word “character.” That has long been the selling point of any Moto Guzzi and this bike is no different. The V85TT delivers a wonderful, stupid, raw experience that almost kills one’s concerns about reliability.

The 2019 Moto Guzzi V85TT has an old-school feel but loads of technowhizzbangery

Not Just Another Pretty Face

One of the reasons I disliked the V85TT when it was unveiled two years ago was its yellow and red “Evocation” paint scheme, which, along with the bike’s overall aesthetic, alludes to the Moto Guzzi V65 TT that Claudio Torri rode in the 1985 Dakar Rally – back when the rally actually went to Dakar. 

You’ll be hard pressed to find many English-language articles about Torri, however. As best I can tell, he never completed the race in any of the attempts he made on Guzzis (in 1986, 1988, and 1991). I hadn’t heard about him until Moto Guzzi made mention at a pre-ride presentation. So, for me – a guy who isn’t well versed in obscure enduro riders from three decades ago – the Evocation paint scheme maintains a distinctly Ronald McDonald quality that, along with its deliberately retro styling, exacerbates the natural ugliness of an adventure motorcycle. Sure, it seems to be a defining characteristic of the adventure genre that bikes have a sexless aesthetic. But the V85TT appears to revel in that ugliness like a dog rolling in poo, bringing to mind the 1980s: a time of awful hair, uncomfortable jeans, and Ronnie Milsap.

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Thankfully, in other color schemes (there are up to five, depending on market), the effect of the V85TT’s ugliness is less severe. And in a strange sort of way you can’t help but admire Moto Guzzi for being the only manufacturer to take this particular approach. I mean, look at the motorcycle world over the past few years and two of the hottest trends have been modern classics and adventure bikes, so, you know, why not a retro ADV? It’s actually surprising no one else has done this. I suspect there’s someone in the halls of Triumph headquarters who looked at this and thought: “Damn it! We missed a trick!” (Though, I suppose one could argue that’s exactly what it’s done with the Scrambler 1200)

The V85TT’s looks hold up on closer inspection; there are some budget-looking switches but overall this Guzzi is sturdily built. You wouldn’t want one of those exposed cylinders to hit the ground very hard but the bike has the feel of something that can suffer the standard slings and arrows of long-term, (almost entirely) on-road ownership. Even the accessory bits, like aluminum luggage, look rugged and of better quality than the rebranded Givi kit** you’ll get on a Triumph Tiger 800 or Tiger 1200.

I am not a fan of the Ronald McDonald paint scheme. Thankfully, there are alternatives

With a seat height of 830 millimeters (adjustable to 810 mm or 850 mm), the V85TT is not necessarily shorter than other midsize ADV machines (seat height on a KTM 790 Adventure R, for example, ranges between 830-850 mm), but for some reason it feels more accessible. Perhaps this is because you aren’t straddling as much of the engine’s bulk. Moto Guzzi says the bike’s ergonomics are designed to suit a wide range of rider heights – from 5 feet 4 inches to 6 feet 1 inch – and I believe it. Mostly. I’m not sure how satisfying it would be for those one the shortest end of things.

Nonetheless, for a 6-foot-1 rider the ergonomics are comfortable and natural. Feet and hands fall exactly where they should, the riding position relaxed and upright. I didn’t get enough sustained seat time to make an informed judgment about long-distance comfort, but suffered no aches or pains during a day of mixed riding. Screen height is not adjustable and taller riders will lament this at motorway speed. Here’s hoping the aftermarket takes a shine to the V85TT and provides alternatives.

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Passenger accommodation looks good, though I did not ride as nor carry a passenger, so I can’t really speak to that aspect with authority. Also not used but looking effective was the standard luggage rack; there are plenty of places to lash Kriega bags, which is increasingly the thing I look for in a bike. (I find soft luggage to be more versatile – and lighter – than hard cases.) The presence of tubed tires is annoying but not a deal-breaker (my everyday bike has tubes). Tires are either Michelin Anakee Adventure or Metzeler Tourance depending on some sort of variable that is so arbitrary I can’t now remember what it is. It’s one of those “With this paint scheme we call it such-and-such, and with that paint scheme we call it so-and-so, even though the two versions are indiscernible in every way but color” sort of things.

Lighting is all LED and Moto Guzzi makes a very big deal of the fact the bike’s daytime running light is in the shape of an eagle. Moto Guzzi’s logo incorporates an eagle in homage to the fact the company was dreamed up by three men serving in the Italian air force during the First World War. It’s so big on eagles it refers to its headquarters in Mandello del Lario as the “Eagles’ Nest,” which is cringe-inducing for English speakers due to the existence of that other far more sinister Eagle’s Nest. But, hey, this is the same company that nicknamed one of its bikes “Black Devil.” Guzzi be so Guzzi, y’all.

The 2019 Moto Guzzi V85TT is quite easy to throw around on twisting roads

That Engine, Though

Press the starter on the V85TT and the whole bike rocks to the right as its powerplant comes to life. It is a wonderfully visceral experience, reminding you at id level that you are sitting on a metal box of explosions. The less mature rider (ie, people like me) will be inclined to hoot or shout things like, “Hell yeah,” in Aquaman-style. From this point on, every flaw or quirk you uncover on the bike will be met with an internal argument of: “Well, yeah, but the engine…”

The pushrod V-twin is incontrovertibly the star of the show, delivering a grunt that belies its 853cc displacement. It feels “bigger.” That’s aided by the overall size, fit, and finish of the bike. The only time it’ll occur to you that you’re on a middleweight is when attempting particularly spirited riding. The route Moto Guzzi plotted for us in Sardinia provided no straightline opportunities to hammer the throttle and explore top speed. Most of the riding was done in second and third gear. I tapped into sixth only once, simply to be able to say I had.

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I am entirely confident that doing the ton is possible on a V85TT but I equally sense that you’ll need a good amount of time and space to achieve such a feat. Not that it matters. Mind-melting speed is not what this bike (or any Moto Guzzi) is really about. Nearing 80 mph, there’s a fair bit of vibration (and wind turbulence) that I’m not sure you’d want to put up with for long stretches. 

Or, well, perhaps that’s a misleading statement. This bike is all about vibration, after all. It shakes and clatters and growls and snarls from the moment you press the starter. That’s one of its key selling points; if you don’t like mechanical brutishness you’re looking at the wrong bike here. Personally, I love that kind of stuff. I think it’s awesome. But at above-motorway speed, the awesomeness could, I think (but don’t actually know because I didn’t get a chance to test my theory), turn to annoyance.

2019 Moto Guzzi V85TT’s reason for being

Rolling through town or hustling along country roads, however: awesome++. The V85TT is equipped with three riding modes that, unlike riding modes on some bikes (looking at you, every Triumph ever made) actually feel different from one another: rain, road, and off road. That said, throttle response is so spot in road (Strada) mode there’s not really any need to switch modes. Which is fortunate considering the fact switching riding modes is such a pain in the ass. More on that in a bit, though.

Throttle is responsive but smooth, torque-rich but entirely manageable. Those with greater depth of Guzzi experience tell me it is more refined than in days of old. From a compatibility perspective it is downright Honda-like: everything feels instantly “right.” This pairs well with a transmission that has none of the unwanted “character” I had cynically expected. Smooth and reliable, the six-speed gear box held up to a day of aggressive shifting and rising temperatures.

I say all of this with the assumption that you understand riding an old-school shaft-driven machine like this demands you ride smoothly. Intelligent gear changes, carrying speed through corners rather than attempting a sportbike-esque “stop, point and shoot” style, and so on. Ride like a dick and the V85TT will treat you accordingly. Again, I love this sort of thing. Remember how I swooned for the BMW R nineT engine experience? It’s kind of like that but seemingly more refined (and less powerful).

The bike’s ergonomics are comfortable, though I didn’t get enough time in the saddle to know if it’s good for really long hauls

Keep it On the Road

The V85TT’s Kayaba suspension won’t be winning any awards but it does what it needs to do; I had no complaints. It can be a little bit of a see-saw when pushing hard through Sardinian switchbacks but not so much that it stopped me from scraping boots and pegs. Front fork and rear monoshock are adjustable, so those willing to practice the dark arts of suspension tweaking may be able to work even more performance from the machine.

Brembo brakes are as good as you’d expect. See the above comment about riding smoothly. That’s my riding style in general, so I don’t tend to place excessive demand on brakes. For me, brakes are good if I don’t think about them; the V85TT’s brakes are good. Moto Guzzi claims a wet weight of 229 kg, and it’s all perfectly manageable thanks to a low center of gravity. 

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Off road, well… Moto Guzzi took us on a dirt lane with a few baseball-sized rocks and a bit of deep sand, that otherwise resembled the dirt road to my friend Dan’s house in Forest Lake, Minnesota. However, this dirt lane was probably a mile and a half shorter than the road to Dan’s place. 

I once rode an Indian Springfield to Dan’s house. Given the option between the two I would choose the V85TT, but my point is that I do not have any solid proof of whether this bike is any good off road. That said, circumstantial evidence suggests this is a moto that should be kept on pavement. Moto Guzzi barely touched on the subject of off road in its pre-ride presentation and company reps politely steered away from such talk at dinner. Indeed, they collectively spent more time talking about the bike’s eagle-shaped DRL than its off-road chops. In his review, Hugo Wilson of Bike magazine suggested that “the V85TT’s off-road excursions are best limited to a ride across the campsite” and I’m inclined to agree. This is a touring/commuting motorcycle that can be taken to Dan’s house, but don’t start plotting your route on the TransAmerica Trail.

Shaft drive means you don’t have to mess with chain maintenance, but opinions differ as to whether it’s a good feature off road

Bells and Whistles

The V85TT comes standard with cruise control. I never got a chance to test that feature, but the switch for it, along with the horn button, indicator switch and high beam flasher, is located on the left grip, which is where cruise control switches are supposed to be. Good job, Guzzi.

There is also a very tiny, almost invisible button with a function that remains a mystery. British moto-journalists were apparently told it controls heated grips, left there to taunt you if you don’t have the accessory item installed. American moto-journalists were told it is a button that needs to be pressed when connecting your phone to the bike. 

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This sort of confusion is just so Guzzi, and carries over the the right grip, where the large switch labeled MODE has nothing to do with the bike’s engine modes. Instead, it is part of the process of navigating the bike’s not-at-all-intuitive options menu. You will definitely need to sit down with the owner’s manual if you want to be able to do all the things Moto Guzzi says you can do (like tweak the traction control levels of different riding modes).

But wait, there’s more. The switch to set the headlight to dim, high beam or DRL is also on the right grip, that aforementioned switch on the left simply allowing you to flash your brights. So, you control the headlights using two switches in two very different locations. On top of this, the kill switch – thankfully on the right grip – is not red and is visually hidden from a rider’s perspective, so it is nigh impossible to find in a moment of urgency, which is, you know, THE WHOLE POINT OF A KILL SWITCH.

The V85TT has a kill switch but you’ll have trouble finding it in an urgent situation

Meanwhile, to move between riding modes you press…
Go on, see if you can guess.
Nope, not there, either.
Nah, man, you’re ice cold now.
I’ll just tell you: 
You press the starter.

The bike has to be on, then you press the starter an unspecified number of times, the selected mode appearing on the V85TT’s fancy TFT display. Note that I say “unspecified.” Sometimes I was able to switch between modes by pressing once; sometimes I needed to press a dozen times. Mine was not the only bike that had this issue – all the journos on the ride with me experienced the same thing. These were, I remind you, brand new motorcycles.

Going back to that mystery button, if it does help connect the bike to your phone then you’ll (theoretically) be able to use an app that Moto Guzzi says allows you to control various phone functions via switchgear (It would be hilarious – and not terribly surprising – if volume were controlled via the bike’s horn button: quick beeps to turn the volume up, and a long blast to turn the volume down), as well as use your phone as a sort of secondary dashboard. There is a USB port next to the TFT screen to facilitate such a set-up; you’ll need to buy your own aftermarket phone mount however.

The app was not yet available when I test rode the bike back in March, so I have no idea how well it works. Well, I have an idea… This is not the first time Moto Guzzi has tried this sort of thing. It offered a similar feature on the Stelvio. According to a former Stelvio owner I know, however, the system never worked properly. But, you know, that was nearly four years ago – a lifetime in the world of software.

Moto Guzzi says it was inspired by fighter jets when designing the V85TT’s tail light. Because that totally fits the spirit of a retro adventure bike…


Hugo Wilson wrote that “Moto Guzzis are for romantics and dreamers, travellers and poets, not horsepower addicts and cynics.” 

I would normally place myself solidly in the romantics/dreamers/travellers/poets circle but the goofiness of the V85TT’s electronics, along with the fact that Moto Guzzi’s electronics have a history of being far more ambitious than reliable, draws me just a little bit into that nasty group of cynics.

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Just a little bit, though. Several months on, I still think about the bike a lot. If you ask me whether I would spend £10,899 of my own money on a V85TT I’ll probably grimace and seek to avoid the question. Ask me whether I want to ride it again, and the answer is an unhesitant yes. I loved the experience of riding it, but I don’t fully trust it***. Not yet. I’m hoping the folks at Moto Guzzi will be able to loan me a V85TT for a few weeks this summer so I can get a better sense of how it performs outside the perfect conditions of Sardinia.

Remove my cynicism from the equation and the V85TT is an almost-perfect mix of character and practicality. It has the personality to make you not care about the things it can’t do, while still being able to do most of them. Commuting, touring, spending a sunny afternoon exploring your favorite quiet roads – even getting to Dan’s house.

Only time will tell, but I want very much for my doubts about this bike to be unfounded. I want to be wrong here. Because if I am, it will mean that the V85TT is the bike that made me fall in love with Moto Guzzi.

Hopefully all my doubts are unfounded

The Three Questions

Does the Moto Guzzi V85TT fit my current lifestyle?
Yes. Ever since I spent a summer with the Harley-Davidson Street Bob I have come to realize that character is important and necessary to me. The V85TT has that, while still possessing the ability to get me to work every day and take me on road trips to faraway places.

Does the Moto Guzzi V85TT put a smile on my face?
Yes – a very big one. If you don’t find yourself giggling like an idiot when riding a Moto Guzzi you may want to get yourself checked out. You may also want to walk away from the bike immediately, because emotional connection is the biggest upside of a Guzzi. If you want miserable and reliable, go buy a Suzuki.

Is the Moto Guzzi V85TT better than my current motorcycle, a Triumph Bonneville T120?
Oof, that’s a tough one. Maybe not. On paper, with its screen, handguards, and luggage rack, the V85TT is a better proposition for long hauls and getting around in poor weather. I suspect both are equally useful on dirt, which is to say: not very. Both claim to have roughly the same horsepower (80 hp for the V85TT vs 79 hp for the Bonneville T120) but my butt dyno says that’s not true; the Bonnie has markedly more oomph, especially at the top end. Both offer a great mix of character and modernity, the V85TT more so. The Moto Guzzi has more technowhizbangery but I don’t trust it. And you know, it’s ugly. Endearingly so, but ugly is still ugly.

Moto Guzzi takes great pride in its DRL, which it says resembles an eagle

Rider Stats

Rider: Chris Cope
Height: 6 feet 1 inch
Build: Lanky/athletic

Helmet: HJC RPHA 70
Jacket: Weise Outlast Houston
Pants: Oxford Montreal 2.0
Gloves: Klim Adventure
Boots: Forma Adventure
Backpack: Kreiga R20
Bluetooth: Sena 10C

More scenic than the road to Dan’s house, but no more challenging

~ | ~

* I mentioned this in a vlog a while ago: I have a gut feeling we’ve hit peak adventure bike. I don’t think the genre will be going anywhere soon, but I feel that from next year – once Harley-Davidson finally throws its hat in the ring – we’ll start to see things wane. A decade from now, ADV bikes will be where sport tourers are today, with only a few stalwarts remaining.

** There’s nothing wrong with Givi luggage, by the way. It’s simply that Moto Guzzi’s stuff looks better.

*** I used to have a girlfriend about whom I felt the very much the same…

2019 Moto Guzzi V85TT