The Moto Guzzi Stelvio NTX is a very interesting entry to the growing adventure bike segment. It comes loaded out with Guzzi branded Trax bags by SW-Motech, a skid plate, auxiliary lighting, an adjustable windshield, windshield "winglets", ABS, traction control, and a tanker-like 8.5 gallon fuel tank. Essentially, it is fit with most of the options you need to take off from the showroom and ride a few states away. The most interesting part of this is the MSRP on the bikes remains under $16,000 US. A comparably equipped BMW GS in the Adventure flavor can easily run a person over $20,000 US.
The Moto Guzzi Stelvio is clearly a good bargain on paper, just accounting for accessories and MSRP comparisons, but how does it stack up on specs? Well, not too badly there either. It comes with an inverted 45mm diameter fork with 6.69" of travel up front, and a single sided shaft drive swingarm with a shock travel of 6.1" in rear. In the braking department, it is well equipped with a set of Brembo 320mm stainless steel discs up front, and a single Brembo 282mm stainless disc out back. The bike delivers a soulful 105 bhp, and a healthy 83.3 lb feet of torque to the Alpina sealed tubeless spoke wheels. The last number is perhaps the only number on the spec sheet that doesn't sound great, and that's the weight. The bike does weigh in at a hefty 598lbs ready to ride.
Ergonomics and Handling
Many people are immediately put off the bike a bit when they notice that 598lb curb weight of the bike before riding it. However, once on the bike the weight becomes almost a non-issue. The bike feels much more compact and ergonomic than the spec sheet would lead one to believe. The seat is one of the best OEM seats out there. The seating position is nice and neutral, it doesn't force the rider into one position. The seat has two-position adjustability for height, and can also be set up in the high position up front, and low in the rear (my personal setting). Perhaps the most surprising element of the bike's ergos is the fuel tank. The tank doesn't feel or look like it really holds 8.5 gallons of fuel. It is completely unobtrusive and melds into the lines of the bike seamlessly.
How does this translate into the riding experience? Quite well actually. Under acceleration the shaft drive behaves well. There's no jacking or packing of the shock that some of the older shaft drive systems had tendencies for. The bike leans into curves with little effort. The wide dirt bike-like handlebars provide a nice amount of leverage when the situation calls for it. The suspension eats up road imperfections with aplomb. The massive weight of the bike seems to disappear. That is, until you start pushing the bike hard. It will eventually start dragging the centerstand. Not long after that, you can start to outrun the suspension. It doesn't necessarily become wobbly or unpredictable, but you do start to remember it is a little heavy, a bit softly sprung, and a longer travel suspension.
On the other end of the spectrum, the bike tours beautifully. When it comes to eating up the miles, this is the adventure bike I want my butt sitting on. That suspension that becomes a bit mushy in aggressive riding situations is now a system that eats up expansion joints and bad back road paving like candy. The great seat and neutral seating position is easy on the rump and the back. The tall windshield does a decent job of keeping wind pressure off of your torso, but it seems that buffeting from it does tend to affect many riders. (I personally installed an MRA X-creen , and absolutely love it on the stock windshield.)
That Engine, Though
Perhaps one of the most enduring qualities of the bike is it's engine. The Moto Guzzi mill provides the bike with more character than most engines in this segment. It becomes hard not to make a comparison to Harley, in this department. They both shake and rumble at idle, have unique and awesome sounds, and are both quite easy to live with. The Stelvio engine has a bit of a multiple-personality disorder. Below about 4k RPM, the bike is more than happy to thump around town and torque itself down a highway. Above 4k RPM, it turns into a screaming Italian stallion. This is where the engine really comes to life. The exhaust sound goes from a throaty rumble, to an almost V-12 like growl.
What all of this translates into while riding is a versatile power plant. When cruising around town, or eating miles on the back roads, the bike is incredibly comfortable thumping along at 3k RPM in 6th gear. Ridden gingerly like that, the bike is capable of returning up to 45 MPG on a tank! However, that ghoulish growl and 105 bhp are hard to resist. Drop down a gear, wick the throttle up, and prepare for a big grin to appear on your face and the Stelvio will deliver. While it certainly won't be winning any drag races with that kid on the R1 down the street, it does accelerate hard enough to please most people looking for a bit of a pull on their arms.
The only glaring criticism of the engine is the strange fueling vibration it has at about 3,500 RPM. In researching the problem, I have learned that the vibration is caused by the fueling map switching between closed-loop and open-loop fueling at that point. This means that at about that RPM, the ECM will start determining fuel to the throttle-bodies on a different map. This causes the bike to develop a distinct buzzing feeling to the rider. However, I have also read many owners testifying that this problem lessons after break-in with the first throttle-body sync service. (My personal bike has about 2,000 miles and hasn't improved much, but I've also had other issues with it we'll discuss later.) It isn't quite as unpleasant as riding a big thumper at 75 MPH down the highway, but it is a bit disconcerting on a bike that is otherwise quite smooth for a V-twin.
Now we're talking about my favorite part of adventure riding, the off-road! Although many Stelvio owners likely won't be venturing far from tarmac and gravel roads, I do like to push myself and my machine off the beaten path to see what we're capable of. I previously raced at the expert level in a few Cross Country racing series, so I do think of myself as having a bit more off-road experience than a lot of reviewers who ride these bikes. That said, this bike is a big surprise on the trail!
I'll get the obvious out of the way first. Yes, the bike is heavy. Yes, it is quite easy to bottom the suspenders out pretty hard. Yes, the ABS and traction control are completely defeatable! I am quite happy to be able to say that last bit. ABS, loose traction conditions, and 600 pounds of bike are a scary situation on the trail. That being said, the bike is actually very predictable in most off-road situations. It doesn't do anything weird or surprising most of the time. I've had it a few feet in the air, I've crossed it up in some wicked powerslides (which sound and look great on film!), and I've even managed to loft the front tire in the air off-road with the stock Pirelli Scorpion Trail tires.
Speaking of tires, they are most definitely the weak point of this bikes off-road ability. They are adequate for hard pack and light amounts of small gravel, but that's about it. In sand the bike becomes quite difficult to handle with the stock meats. It likes to wander, skate the front tire, and then suddenly sink in and attempts to tuck in. The same can be said about the tires in deep gravel and roads with larger diameter gravel. If you intend to seek out much trail riding with the big Guzzi, I highly recommend looking for a better set of tires. However, if you only intend to do a few gravel or hardpack rides and a lot of commuting or street adventuring, these tires aren't bad at all. They're actually quite enjoyable on the pavement.
As for the overall off-road experience, I'd give the bike a solid B+ in this category. For a liter class bike, it does pretty well in the dirt. It is a little heavy compared to other entries and it has a little less suspension travel than some as well. However, it really does handle itself well. It also comes from the factory with decent armor for the dirt. If you have the guts and skill, you will be quite surprised with where this bike (or any other liter-class adventure bike) can take you.
As much as I love the riding experience of this bike, there are a few downsides to owning it. The bike has a few little quirks that need sorting out, even when new. The first thing many owners do, is pull the dust covers from the auxiliary lights to make sure the wiring inside is routed correctly. If it is not, the wire can short and blow a fuse. In addition to this, many owners have started installing inline fuses on the wiring that leads to the light, as the circuit runs back to a main fuse that can shut down the entire charging system of the bike and leave you stranded.
Another issue with Moto Guzzi in general, as I write this, is the dealer network. Moto Guzzi dealerships are relatively few and far between in the States. To compound that problem, some of the dealers barely offer support for the brand. While there are many dealerships that are top notch and offer supreme service to the customer, there seems to be a good deal of them that are just there for the sale.
One thing that could be a big plus for Guzzi, but also seems to be a downside, is the Piaggio ownership of the brand. While it seems Piaggio could and has pumped much needed financial assistance into the company, they also need to take big steps to improve customer service. This is where the bad experience I alluded to earlier comes up. My bike ended up having a bad ECU, which took from June 18th, 2015 until September 3rd, 2015 to resolve. After many calls to Piaggio Customer Care, a few emails to them, multiple calls to the dealership, complaining posts on the Piaggio, Moto Guzzi Americas, and Moto Guzzi Facebook and Twitter pages, I never once received any feedback. Not one answered call, post or, email. Not one returned call from voicemail. Nothing.
After finally calling and mentioning lemon laws and attorneys, I magically got a call from my dealer stating that the ECU was the culprit and was on order. A week later, another call to inform me that my bike was finished. After asking if I could wait until the weekend to pick the bike up, I was told with much reluctance that it would be okay, however, it would be inconvenient to the shop. Really!? Upon conducting further research, it seems that many people have had similar issues with Piaggio. This, to me, is an area of concern that could make or break the brand if it wants to compete with the big adventure bike powerhouse brands.