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Black Hills Bagger

October 12, 2016
2017 Moto Guzzi MGX21 Flying Fortress

Moto Guzzi’s beginnings were tied to aviation, so it seems fitting that the Italian company named its first entry into the bagger category after the American heavy bomber

Story by Costa Mouzouris

The bagger, which is a stripped and slammed version of a full dresser, is a purely American phenomenon, and there are two ways to look at it: It’s either the devolution of the dresser,
sacrificing touring practicality for a streamlined silhouette, or it’s the evolution of the cruiser, adding saddlebags and a fairing to a low-slung, foot-forward machine. The three main American bike makers – Harley-Davidson, Indian and Victory – all produce different variations of these streamlined touring cruisers, and in fact, the segment is important enough that Honda stripped the Gold Wing to produce the F6B. Even BMW has teamed up with American custom bike guru Roland Sands to build an experimental bagger based on the K1600GT, called the Concept 101. The traditional bagger, however, is American made, so one made in Germany might be a bit of a stretch. Perhaps equally unlikely is a bagger made in Italy – yet here it is: the 2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress.

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX21 Flying FortressLike the Second World War bomber after which it is named, the Flying Fortress is massive, boasting a 1,695 mm wheelbase, which is 70 mm longer than the Harley Street Glide, 27 mm longer than the Indian Chieftain and 25 mm longer than the Victory Cross Country – heck, it’s even 5 mm longer than the F6B. However, unlike its American and Japanese counterparts, it’s not a dressed-down touring bike, but rather a spiffed-up cruiser, based on the California 1400.

Blacked-Out in the Black Hills

Aimed squarely at the North American market, Moto Guzzi chose the mother of all biker rallies to launch the MGX-21: the 76th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, where the Black Hills provided the ideal backdrop to test this blacked-out bagger. Although MGX-21 designer Miguel Galluzzi now heads Piaggio’s Advanced Design Center in California, he has created a few memorable machines along the way, including the 900 Super Sport and Monster for Ducati, when he was at Cagiva; as well as the Aprilia Dorsoduro, Shiver and RSV4, among others, during his current tenure at Piaggio.

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX21 Flying FortressSo, the guy has a keen eye for style, and this is evident as soon as you see the MGX-21, because it strikes an imposing silhouette in the metal – or carbon fibre might be a better term, since the big Guzzi is adorned in the lightweight material almost from axle to axle, including the front fender, fuel tank panels, saddlebag lids and other trim pieces. Galluzzi took a rather sinister approach to the bagger, avoiding chrome entirely and instead using matte black and the composite material throughout. The only highlighted items are the cylinder heads and front calipers, which, instead of being plated in the gleaming reflective stuff, are bright red.

Stuffed in a Sideways V-twin

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX21 Flying FortressThe angular batwing fairing contrasts the rounded lines on the rest of the bike, but the overall effect is quite stylish. Even hard-core Harley riders took notice of the MGX-21 while parked on Main Street, Sturgis, and most of them had nice things to say – at least those who were actually aware of brands other than Harley. Many passersby had never heard of Moto Guzzi, while others thought the company had stopped producing motorcycles decades ago, which is the reason the Italian bike maker came to Sturgis in the first place: to increase brand awareness. One guy even wondered how we’d managed to get the engine in sideways. Beneath the bodywork is a 90-degree, 1,380 cc eight-valve V-twin that produces 95 hp and 89.2 ft-lb of torque, and drives the rear wheel via a six-speed gearbox and shaft final drive. The single-plate clutch has a moderate pull at the lever but releases smoothly with a wide friction point. One thing I really enjoy about the engine is that it shakes side to side at idle, thanks to its rubber mounts; it’s very reminiscent of a V8 in a hot rod. The rubber mounting also quells vibration to an almost electric smoothness once you get rolling.

Bagger Comfort

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX21 Flying FortressThe bike’s seat height is low at 740 mm, but ergonomics are man-sized with lots of legroom to the foot pegs, which are comfortably mounted just a smidgen ahead of mid-position. The handlebars are a moderate forward reach, but they, too, are comfortable, especially since the fairing cuts wind to the torso, so you’re not always pulling forward at speed. The handlebars are non-adjustable cast-aluminum, likely designed that way to deter owners from swapping them out for ape hangers. As mentioned earlier, the Flying Fortress is big, and quite heavy at 341 kg wet (although lighter than the above-mentioned competitors). It takes a heroic effort to lift it off the side stand, and manoeuvring it around the parking lot is a good enough workout to save you money on a gym membership. In fact, at low speeds, it’s probably the heaviest-steering motorcycle I’ve ridden recently. The combination of raked-out steering geometry, a cast 21-inch front wheel (carbon fibre covers conceal the spokes), and a fork-mounted fairing with incorporated sound system and speakers really add heft to the front end, causing it to flop over when turning at low speeds – so much so that Guzzi engineers had to affix a small spring-loaded shock under the lower triple clamp to counter the heavy weight as the fork reaches its steering stops.

I was somewhat curious about this device, so with the help of another moto journalist, I propped up my test bike with the front wheel in the air just to see how it works. When the fork is centred, there’s no resistance, allowing free movement side to side. However, as the fork nears the steering stop on either side, it takes progressively more effort to swing it over before it hits the stop, my guesstimate is 5 kg at the handgrip. This unusual system is invisible once speed picks up, as it’s really designed to assist parking lot manoeuvres.

Dirty Baggers

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX21 Flying FortressHaving misread a map, another rider and I took a few less-travelled back roads south from Sturgis toward Custer State Park and, after about 30 km along a smooth, winding and curiously vacant road, discovered that the pavement ended. Ever the adventurers, we continued on the dirt roads, where the big baggers nonetheless rolled along unperturbed. The only hitch was that we weren’t briefed on the full operation of the bikes before leaving and couldn’t figure out how to turn off the three-level traction control. I managed by finding a sweet spot in the least intrusive level 1,
feeding just enough throttle to keep the rear tire on the edge of spinning. We later learned that to turn off the traction control, you must scroll down to level 1 using the thumb rocker switch on the left handlebar, then hold it down for a couple of seconds. Maybe it was better the traction control was still on, because we returned the bikes to our wide-eyed hosts covered only in dust instead of peppered in stone chips.

Riding Impressions

The engine is remarkably smooth and it…

One Comment

  1. I’m not a bagger fan, but I became a Guzzi fan when I bought a Norge this spring. 4300 km later after biking the Rocky Mountains of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, and the Washington Palouse, I was a lover.
    I also like the side-to-side engine shake, just enough to let you know there’s an engine down there. I have a Honda Rubicon ATV that does the same.

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