One of my favorite things in life is to point a cool motorcycle toward an unknown destination and take pictures when I arrive. Not snapshots. Carefully composed images that are rewarding to make, and view. I’ve been a professional photographer all my adult life, and interest in photography and motorcycles came early. When I was 17 I maneuvered my ’86 Yamaha FZ600 onto a high stone wall at a remote waterfall in Colorado because I thought it would make a compelling image. I nearly didn’t make it back to tell the tale. Adventure, I think it’s called, and I loved it.
When I learned that CW wanted me to explore greater Los Angeles and photograph a new Moto Guzzi in the sweet spots, I jumped at the chance. Sure, I’ve been to L.A. about 300 times, but there are so many layers to the place, you’d never discover all its secrets even in 1000 visits. That’s a big part of the fun, finding spots you didn’t even know were there.
Filling the role of the cool motorcycle: the 2013 Moto Guzzi V7 Racer, already a desirable ride, but fitted with the prototype retro Record Kit fairing, seat and tail piece that will soon see the light of day in North America. She’s a beauty, and it’s more than skin deep.
More than 70 percent of the engine components are new this year. Increased power and torque (41.7 hp at 5970 rpm, 40.3 foot-pounds at 2650 rpm) are the result of redesigned cylinder blocks, heads and pistons, plus a new intake system with integrated ECU—it’s the first ever Guzzi with a single throttle body.
Other notable changes are new aluminum wheels, a larger capacity chromed aluminum tank and a new gearbox pre-selector that dramatically improves shifting quickness and precision. The optional Record Kit (available in the U.S. in early 2013, MSRP $1,999.99), however, is the cherry on top of the long list of improvements. Also adding to the fun factor: This particular V7 Racer is likely the only Moto Guzzi in the world sporting the new café Kit.
After a positive first impression—the quality of the machined components, the artistry of the Italian design—I got to know the new Racer in motion in the hills of San Pedro. The bike is small, light, and nimble, with a predilection for bends in the road. In other words, a perfect partner in urban exploration. An overall feeling of quality and solidity prevails, and the simplicity of the instrument cluster suits the retro theme perfectly. The Record Kit puts the clip-ons a full two inches lower than on the stock Racer, and at 6-foot-2, I’m probably the tallest guy who could feel completely comfortable on the bike.
The overcast sky was bit of a dud for pictures that evening, so I ducked into a pizza joint for dinner. Emerging 55 minutes later (1 hour max on the meter), golden God rays blazed on the horizon, the kind of light that photographers kill for, or at least fantasize about. I jumped on the Racer and raced to the highest point in Pedro, just in time to snap the Italian machine as the giant orange ball dropped into the Pacific. Had I eaten pizza for 30 more seconds, I would’ve missed the epic shot. It’s good to be lucky in love and in photography, and the Guzzi and I had just hit the jackpot.
A storm was forecast the next day, so I considered sitting it out at home. But knowing that severe weather often creates opportunities for epic light and dramatic skies, I had to venture out into the disturbance. I headed into the high desert in an attempt to stay dry.
It worked, and I rode by a ranch house with lots of rusty old relics in the yard. “Scrap Iron” Mike was out front wrenching on an old ‘40s gas pump. Mike collects the cool old desert treasures that a lot of us love and sometimes photograph. “Take the bike out back and get some pictures,” he said. “That’s where all the good stuff is.” What a great guy. He offered to pull the Model A out of the shed, but rain was threatening and I pointed the Guzzi toward Los Angeles.
The Record Kit draws attention, that’s for sure. I was surprised at how many Guzzisti came out of the woodwork. One guy tracked me down inside a Starbucks. He didn’t even buy a coffee. “Is that your Guzzi out there?” he asked, with a kind of reverence typically reserved for rare Italian machinery or possibly even the Pope. He just wanted to talk to me, I guess, or maybe touch the hem of my garment.
Many people realize they’re looking at something special, and really, they are. The Racer is bold and brazen, with its chrome tank and bright red frame and swingarm, but pulls it off in that way that only an Italian can. The brown leather strap artfully gracing the mirror-like tank only adds to the charm. This bike would look perfetto parked in a piazza in Florence—“a well-dressed Italian with a rich history,” to borrow the factory’s words. Can’t say the same for a Honda or Suzuki.
As I headed into L.A. on the 10 freeway, the sky ahead turned black. Not dark. Black. Then, deluge. People in cars must have felt badly for me as I jet-skied next to them. About the time my leather gloves and boots reached full saturation, four out of the five northbound lanes were flooded with about 16 inches of water. The photographer in me instantly thought, “great picture!” so I stopped and parked the Racer in the middle of the freeway at the edge of the lake, pulled out my camera and wondered if it was dry enough to function. I would soon wonder the same thing about the Guzzi when a rogue big rig drove by through the deepest part, creating a wave that makes the image a lot more dramatic.
After a beautiful sunset that was rewarding to capture in downtown L.A., a friend invited me to stay the night in Malibu, rescuing me from the prospect of a long, soggy ride home and giving me a chance to carve some canyons in the bright, warm sun the next morning.
Old Topanga Canyon Road is a happy place on the V7 Racer. The drivetrain sounds produced under acceleration are pleasing, blending harmoniously with the famous Guzzi ‘small block’ exhaust note from the Arrow slip-ons. It’s a rewarding bike to ride, not because it’s blindingly fast (it isn’t), but because it’s a wonderful machine that sends endless pleasant messages to your nervous system. The improved gearbox is a joy, with smooth, precise shifts and great feel. It’s easy to trust this bike in corners, too. The information coming to you via the Pirelli Sport Demons and the time-honored double cradle frame is honest and true; no surprises. The front brake is adequate, and you can trust it, too, as long as you don’t ask it to… race. Yes, the V7 could use a bit more front brake, but the package is balanced and works very well.
I rode to Santa Monica, visited my friend Derek Hill and convinced him to drop everything and come ride his 1975 Honda CB400 Super Sport with me. He’s had the Honda for almost two years, and we hadn’t managed to get out with it together yet, so this was a great opportunity. The bikes complement each other very well, both small machines with style to spare. One is vintage; the other, vintage-looking but with good brakes and modern reliability. I’ll always remember riding the Racer up the Pacific Coast Highway with one of my best friends as the day came to an end.
Motorcycle riding is a strong metaphor for life, in a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” sort of way. Just think: If I had stayed home on that day when the bad weather was forecast, I’d never have had all those experiences, or these images that prove they all happened. I ride motorcycles for the freedom they provide, because I love to explore, and because I enjoy the mechanical intimacy they provide.
The 2013 Moto Guzzi V7 Racer is much more than a transportation appliance; it’s a fun bike that backs up its solid hardware with a healthy dose of race-inspired Italian style. It’s polished, capable and fun. And perhaps most poignantly, it made me feel like a 17-year-old high school kid again, going off on another memorable motorcycle adventure.
Grazie mille, Racer.