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words - Rob Smith
For those of us without deep pockets, this MV may well be the only one ever attainable -- and there's plenty to be enthused about on this little gem

I’ve just had a bit of a look around Varese in northern Italy. Situated just a few short kilometres form the Swiss border and nestling between the Alps and Lago Varese, Varese is a beautiful and typically Italian town. Boulevards and cafes and easy access to some of the best alpine motorcycling roads on the planet.

Fitting then that Varese is home to what must be one of the most iconic names in motorcycling history. Confession time – my visit to Varese actually involved nothing more than sitting at my desk and utilising Google maps, but all the same having just handed back the latest 920 Brutale after a week of sheer delight, I felt compelled to see exactly where the MV started its life – and I get it, I really do.

Sure Ducati is perhaps the most iconic of all Italian motorcycles, but really when it comes to history, Mecanicca Verghera Agusta has an undeniable presence and more than just a little charisma. An environment of stunning beauty, where the mountainous ride to work in the historic and robot-free Aermacchi factory would be the best precursor to a day’s labour a person could wish for.

The 920 Brutale is the second Brutale I’ve ridden and in truth only the third ever. The earlier Brutale was the original 750 and it was a very special machine that instantly made me want to take ownership, despite having the ugliest headlight known to man. Then there was the 750 America, all four-pipe loud and dangerous, glaringly red and exactly what it was, a sexy 70s motorcycle that handled like truck and weighed in with a similar penalty.

But today is a long time on from either experience, and the 920 is a very different kettle of sardines. Or is it?

PRICE POINT
Let’s start by setting the scene. At $16,790, the 920 Brutale is a budget model and certain visible aspects of the package support the notion that money has been saved. It’s an intro model for sure and the looks in white and black are frankly dull, a feeling reinforced when you catch sight and feel of the cheapo tank stickers that do nothing to fill the owner with MV pride. The cost cutting extends to other areas of equipment, but it’s my opinion that the loss is small and largely unnoticeable.

But let’s get down to some specs and figures before getting to the really good stuff. MV Agusta is renowned for its four-cylinder engines, although its racing history encompasses singles, twins and triples as well. So it’s no surprise to find a liquid-cooled four housed between the tubes. Power comes from a 921cc displacement and 16-valves making a claimed peak power of 129hp at 10,500rpm through a rack of 46mm throttle bodies. Torque is also a very respectable 95Nm at 8100rpm.

With traction control all the rage these days the Brutale 920 allegedly features eight-levels of traction control coupled to dual engine modes (Normal and Sport). I say allegedly because when I picked the bike up, it was set on four for traction control and sport. Here’s why I say allegedly. I tried to change both the traction and the mode, I even read the manual – no really I did. But could I change either without much pressing and holding and trying to click through with the engine running in neutral and stationary whilst standing on one leg and wearing a stupid hat – could I buggery.

EASY DOES IT
Technology is terrific if you can operate it easily. So here’s a tip for MV ‘make it simple’. Because if it starts to rain, I want to be able to change the modes with a single click of a single handlebar-mounted button – on the move without stopping. Likewise, when I want to change traction control levels, I want to be able to do it on the fly really easily, without having to press and hold anything with one hand while fumbling buttons with the other.

Anyway, as a result I left the thing in Sport and four and in truth ‘normal’ (soft) held no attraction in either wet or dry conditions. Pointless? Maybe.  So let’s get to the good stuff I mentioned. Starting with the engine, the fuel injection system utilises a Magneti Marelli 5SM engine management system and it gives the engine superb throttle response that translates into the kind of rasping, snapping, mono-wheeling jackass motorcycle your mother was worried you’d end up with.

Nothing wrong with that eh? But that’s only part of the story, because while the bottom end is blessed with plenty of entertainment DNA, the midrange is equally punch happy and  dare I say it ‘useful’, not just when peeling the lightweight throttle back and ripping up to and through bends, but also in a true touring sense. Which is very handy given the fact that the fuel range is potentially over 350km with a claimed 23 litres available in the tank. Yep – touring you read that right.

VERY STABLE
As mentioned, the chassis is a tubular steel trellis married to excellent Brembo radial brakes, 50mm upside-down Marzocchi forks, a Sachs shock absorber, and the new single-piece seat has apparently been reconfigured for increased comfort – certainly photo pilot Bronwyn had no real problems getting her feet on the ground.

It’s not a heavy machine at about 190kg dry and it dead-wheels around the carpark quite easily. Once moving there’s a sense of stability that sometime really light machines lack, and it appears that the geometry has been chosen with stability in mind over genuine snap-jack line changing. But despite not having top-shelf suspension components, it’s in the bends that the true MV character reveals itself regardless.

There’s no doubt that on the standard settings the suspension is probably too soft for some, but even though my 95kg bulk may have been asking a lot, frankly I liked it, and although I could have changed the settings to make it more track biased, as a road test I could find no reason to fiddle, certainly not in the short time I had the thing. There’s little in the way of effort needed to either initiate the turn or hold the turn radius thanks to the low but wide bars, a 1430mm wheelbase, 25-degree steering head angle and 103.5mm of trail, figures shared by the more up-spec 990R and 1090RR incidentally.

The lack of effort is certainly a trait that allows a delicate and sensitive hold on the bars, rather than an info-killing grip. What’s more, when you’re attacking the kinds of roads where one corner simply runs headlong into the next, the transition from left to right and back again at what might be termed legal but loopy speeds, is a joy of thought-action translation.

END FOR END
But it’s the front end feel at decent lean angles that comes as a surprise – especially over wet and broken surfaces where the feedback information allows subtle alterations to position and speed. Full marks to the Pirelli road Angels incidentally. Maybe the stiffer steering head has something to do with it, but it’s nice to have when you run in hot under trees and discover that the sun has failed to dry the road completely.

The back end which is equally comfy and certainly makes the touring side of things very viable, is also pretty good at its job. I don’t think I’d be wrong in saying that if you never rode an up-spec version with say, Ohlins suspension over the rebound-only adjustable Sachs unit, you’d probably never find anything to complain about. As once again the feedback is very clear and unambiguous, especially over the wet surfaces already mentioned.

I’d love to give a glowing testimonial to the traction control and make lurid claims regarding its application, but in truth it only really got to work out a couple of times. Being in the middle position of intervention meant that at least its use is noticeable, but it has to be said only just. Which in my mind is how it should be. There’s a subtle rising and falling of the revs and the primary feedback is of umm… traction. Having been raised over 30 years of riding to not spin up the back on the road, the sensation is novel to say the least. Did I like it? Yes most definitely and I can see how it will become important. Do I need it? Probably not, but if it’s there, just like ABS I’m happy to have it.

Earlier in the piece I mentioned the T word, and although the Brutale is clearly a sports bike, the touring capability is there and, who knows, maybe the designers will carry out a few tweaks to capitalise on that in the future.  I like to be comfortable over distance and the seat is very impressive. Certainly I’d have no issues with long distances on the MV and it’d be true to say some dedicated touring machines I’ve ridden have been worse. The fuel economy ranges between 14-20km/lt. Not bad numbers if you consider the continuum of use behind them, with everything from mono-flogging, through weekday commuting to Sunday morning scenery appreciation. 

SPIRIT OF MV
Could you carry a pillion? Err… so long as they were very small I suppose and not for very long. But hey – you wouldn’t really have that on the list of requirements if Brutale ownership was your goal.

In summary, the 920 Brutale is pitched as an entry level MV that may well lead to further and more expensive ownership. For those of us without such deep pockets, this MV may well be the only one ever attainable (at least until the 675 gets here). As such it’s still at its heart enough of an MV to feel good about.

The sad-chops headlight is still an aberration and begging for replacement and the paint would have to be changed for glossy red at the earliest opportunity. Beyond those two things, the only genuine frustrations are with the electronics that in my opinion simply take to long too program to be genuinely useful.

Overall though, I really enjoyed the 920 Brutale, it really is easy to use and live with and it’s bloody good value.
SPECS: MV AGUSTA BRUTALE 920
ENGINE
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder
Capacity: 921cc
Bore x stroke: 73mm x 55mm
Compression ratio: 13:1
Engine Management: Mikuni throttle bodies and Magnetti Marelli 5SM ignition/injection
Claimed maximum power (at crankshaft): 129hp (96kW) at 10,500rpm
Claimed maximum torque: 95Nm at 8100rpm

TRANSMISSION
Type: Six speed
Final drive: Chain
Clutch: Wet

CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame type: Steel tubular trellis
Front suspension: 50mm upside-down telescopic hydraulic fork with full adjustment, 125mm travel
Rear suspension: Progressive, single shock absorber with rebound and preload adjustment, 120mm travel
Front brakes: 310mm steel discs with Brembo four-piston calipers
Rear brake: 210mm steel disc with Brembo twin-piston caliper
Wheels: Spoked aluminium-alloy – front 3.50 x 17, rear 6.00 x 17
Tyres: Front 120/70-17, rear 180/55-17

DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Rake: 25 degrees
Trail: 103.5mm
Claimed wet weight: 190kg
Seat height: 825mm
Wheelbase: 1430mm
Fuel capacity: 23 litres

OTHER STUFF
Price: $16,790
Colours: White or black
Test bike supplied by: MV Agusta Imports, www.mvagustaimports.com.au
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited kilometres

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Published : Friday, 27 April 2012
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