I started riding motorcycles in pursuit of a feeling I was missing in a lot of new cars. They are all becoming so refined and digitized that the sense of connection I lust after between a car and its driver is slowly becoming more distant. And even though all of that technology is starting to trickle down to motorcycles, we still have an endless combination of drivetrain and technology configurations that vastly change the riding experience from one motorcycle to the next. Moto Guzzi recently celebrated their 100th birthday. And after a century of iconic motorcycle manufacturing, the Moto Guzzi V85TT Travel delivers a distinct blend of heritage and modern comforts fitting for this Italian centenarian.
What is the Moto Guzzi V85TT Travel?
The V85TT, or “Tutto Terrano” meaning “All Terrain” in Italian, is Moto Guzzi’s middle-weight adventure bike. It’s also a nod to the V65TT which was their 1985 entry into the Paris to Dakar Rally. Only seventeen V65s were produced and their one-and-only rally entry unfortunately didn’t finish due to mechanical issues in the last stage. But 35 years later, Moto Guzzi gifted us with a bit of that modern Dakar heritage in the V85TT Travel.
Just like its Dakar sibling, the new Moto Guzzi V85TT has a transversely mounted V-Twin engine. It’s old-school in that it’s air-cooled, but it’s fitted with modern engine management and internals such as titanium intake valves to allow for more aggressive cam profiles. It makes a healthy dose of power for its 853cc of displacement, with 76 horsepower at 7500 rpm and 60 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm. True to Moto Guzzi heritage, they’ve paired it to a dry-clutch six-speed transmission and a shaft-driven final drive. It is one of the only drivetrains of its kind left in production and doubles as a refreshingly simple piece of engineering art that is also a structural piece of the bike’s steel trellis frame.
Tacked on top of the beautifully simple drivetrain is enough modern technology and creature comforts to bring this bike well into the 21st century. Heated grips, cruise control, and multiple drive modes all hidden behind a digital TFT display are more than you need to comfortably ride hundreds of miles a day. The “Travel” trim, with an MSRP of $13,590, even buys you panniers and an oversized windscreen. The right side case is big enough to fit your helmet, but the left side is smaller due to an exhaust cut-out.
Switchable rear ABS is buried somewhere in the display menu for off-road riding, and it’s connected to Brembo hardware front and rear. Dual 320mm front discs are clamped by four-piston calipers that provide plenty of feedback through the levers as well as stopping power.
Ergonomics of the Moto Guzzi V85TT
The downfall of so many adventure bikes is just how tall and intimidating they are to ride. They’re competent in the right hands, but the majority of us won’t be ripping over dunes or doing anything that makes a towering 34” seat height “worth it.” Thankfully the V85TT sits in a sweet spot with a 32” seat height. It weighs just a smidge over 500 pounds wet, with incredibly wide handle bars that make the rider feel more in command. Even with my short 28” inseam I was able to touch both toes on level ground, though leaning to one side at stoplights was more comfortable.
Peg placement is perfect for covering long distances, but they are a little intrusive around town. They’re placed right where my feet naturally want to fall when coming to a stop, which made for a few awkward moments on sandy or uneven surfaces. Exiting steep sloped driveways in downtown Los Angeles proved to be awkward at times, and backing the bike out of tight spaces was a bit harder due to limited leg movement. This would be less of an issue for taller riders who have the ability to place their feet around the pegs. But for my stubby self, reversing and coming to a stop required some forethought in certain places. But thankfully none of those things matter once you’re on the move.
Cruising Southern California
Motoring out of DTLA towards Angeles National Forest is where the Moto Guzzi felt content. The air-cooled twin settled around 4500 rpm at 75 miles per hour as it trundled along California’s Foothill Freeway. There is zero buzz to be felt in the handlebars, but a slight undulating thump reminds you there’s a V-Twin between your legs. It’s a fitting amount of character for such a retro ride without being intrusive or uncomfortable. The opposing cylinders and ergonomic six gallon gas tank give you plenty of space to tuck yourself behind the bike in a cocoon of calm air. The upgraded windscreen on the “Travel” trim deflected the worst of the airflow to the uppermost part of my helmet, which made for a quiet ride despite really strong wind gusts.
Snaking up Angeles Crest Highway is where the V85’s highway and presumed off-road stability showed its hand. Corner tip-in is expectedly not the Moto Guzzi’s standout feature on a dual purpose bike, but mid-corner stability prevailed through even the bumpiest of turns. Even if the V85TT may not be the bike to absolutely thrash through the twisties, it is a beautifully characterful riding experience a few notches below the limit.
A wide torque curve mixed with the v-twin’s willingness to rev meant 3rd and 4th gear were all that was needed for my entire canyon run. Upshifts slot into place with a satisfying “pop” and even though there is no quick-shifter option, that is probably for the better in this case. With a gearbox on the clunkier side and a shaft driven final drive, I certainly didn’t miss it. A guttural intake growl transitioned to an off-throttle exhaust overrun that made me feel like I was souring through the mountains in a World War II-era aircraft. Motorcycling is all about how it makes you feel and the Moto Guzzi V85TT knows exactly how it wants to please you.
On the way back down the mountain I worked the front Brembos harder as I danced the bike on its nose into each corner. Feel, feedback, and bite never wavered up front, though the front suspension and tire felt like they were straining a little harder under the added pressure. I took that as an Italian hint to take in the scenery.
The Moto Guzzi V85TT Travel is one of those pieces of engineering where the final product is greater than the sum of its parts. Pasta alone can be pretty bland, mixing in Nonna’s secret sauce turns a simple dish into a crave-worthy dinner. Moto Guzzi may not always offer the latest tech in the majority of their bikes, but they do offer 100 years of heritage that they are still very strongly connected to.
What makes something special is often a list intangible emotions or ideas. Nonna’s spaghetti and meatballs may not have changed much in 50 years, but that’s why you crave it for dinner every Sunday night. And nobody knows that feeling more than Moto Guzzi.