Le Castellet, France—Lean, muscular, and compact, the new MV Agusta Brutale 800 Dragster is a sportbike conceived with twisty mountain roads in mind. Moreover, from midsection back, this naked new MV Agusta has especially daring styling, highlighted by a pillion that looks like it will work as a seat only if the girl is really skinny. What’s more, there’s no traditional back fender, just a “fingernail” of sorts that mounts to the single-sided swingarm and is hung way out behind the rear wheel.
When I saw the first pictures of the Dragster circulated on the web by MV Agusta, the bike’s styling, along with its fatter-than-usual rear tire, made me think the new machine was philosophically similar to the concepts that inspired the Ducati Diavel. Not so. The MV Dragster is actually an evolution of the MV Brutale theme—a smart restyle, if you will. The mechanical soul of the Dragster remains totally Brutale 800; in fact, its full name is the MV Agusta Brutale 800 Dragster. Even the gear ratios are unchanged, MV choosing to not switch to higher (numerically) final-drive gearing that would enhance the sprint qualities of the very capable 800cc three-cylinder.
The most obvious and meaningful factor separating the new Dragster from the basic Brutale (styling aside) is its 200/50-17 rear Pirelli Diablo Rosso II. It’s an important styling element by itself, but it also represents a significant alteration to the chassis. Of note, Chief Project Engineer Marco Cassinelli firmly suggested that the Dragster also be homologated with the standard Brutale 800’s 180/55-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II.
The rest of the chassis remains unchanged: a classic trellis frame with machined aluminum jaws that solidly clamp the rear section of the engine and locate the swingarm pivot. Vital Dragster measurements include a wheelbase of 54.3 in., a seat height of 31.9 in., 24 degrees of steering rake and 3.74 in. of trail. The bike, which weighs a claimed 368 lb. dry, offers 4.92 in. of suspension travel at both ends.
The Marzocchi fork, a 43mm inverted design, is fully adjustable in compression, rebound, and preload, as is the Sachs shock absorber. Brembo brakes—with twin 320mm front rotors and four-piston calipers in front and a 220mm rear with a two-piston caliper—provide plenty of stopping power, aided by ABS. The dramatic improvement of the electronics suite of all 2014 MV Agustas, first felt on the Rivale 800, has been further refined on the Brutale 800 Dragster. The latest MVICS (Motor & Vehicle Integrated Controls) system has refined hardware, but the new software, along with a revised engine control strategy, has also yielded positive results. MVICS, for the record, is based on the Eldor EM2.0 engine control unit and Mikuni ride-by-wire throttles.
Switches conveniently located on the handlebar make it easy to select riding modes and make fine adjustments. The system offers four torque-delivery settings and related mappings. Three of these are set directly by MV Agusta: Sport, Normal, and Rain. The fourth lets the rider define preferred parameters in engine response, rev limit, engine torque response, throttle action, and engine braking. A PC is needed to interface with the MVICS ECU to adjust the software, but within established limits. Traction control, which can be disengaged, is selectable over eight levels.
MV spent a lot of effort honing the algorithms that ensure maximum controlled traction in a variety of riding conditions. And at Le Castellet (the Paul Ricard circuit in France owned by Formula 1 mogul Bernie Ecclestone), the conditions were less than ideal after a daylong rainstorm. But a nighttime wind partly dried the track and, most important, brought out a shining sun. Tarmac temperatures, though, never went above 47 degrees Fahrenheit, so I set the traction control at level 4. I did, however, give myself full throttle control because I prefer to ride without “filters” of any kind between my right wrist and the power delivery.
The seat of the Dragster is pleasantly contoured and richly executed, with contrasting colors and double stitching. The 28.5-in.-wide handlebar carries at its ends the smartest and most efficient rearview mirrors in the industry. They are built in three sections, which allows a greatly increased arrange of adjustment, but finding the exact right setting is something that can’t be done promptly.
MV Agusta’s 800cc triple, with a claimed 125 horsepower and 60 pound-feet of torque (same as in the Brutale 800 and Rivale 800), is a middleweight with the punch of a light-heavyweight. This unit delivers rapid acceleration and superb flexibility across the rev band. After a few laps around the track, I realized why it wouldn’t have made sense for MV to adopt a numerically higher final gear ratio to improve acceleration: I was able to lift the front wheel upshifting from second to third and from third to fourth! I am not a wheelie-happy guy; this just happened because of the Dragster’s very fat torque curve. The purity of the throttle response confirmed that all the electronic components of the integrated engine management systems were indeed honed to perfection now. This also includes the quick-shift system, although it’s still a bit too sensitive to the light pressure of the left foot against the shifter lever, which can inadvertently happen with my size-11 boots.
The section of the Paul Ricard track where our test took place includes two medium-length straights and a sequence of chicanes and bends ranging from a full fifth-gear right to a very tight second-gear sharp bend. The Brutale 800 Dragster felt perfectly stable at speeds easily exceeding 140 mph at the end of both straights, and hard braking for the sharp turn at the end of the front straight was absolutely impeccable, the bike exhibiting the solid feel and sharp steering response I expect of a modern MV Agusta. This was especially appreciated in that very fast fifth-gear bend, taken at full throttle. Now that was exciting!
Most corners at Paul Ricard are right-handed, so when I had an uneasy feeling from the rear tire in an easy left-hander I thought it was due to the fact that the left shoulder of the fat Pirelli Diablo Rosso II was colder than the right one. This theory only lasted a handful of seconds because two corners later I was happily grinding my left knee around a fourth-gear left-hander. Lowering the rear tire pressure by 3 psi did not help, so I went back to the regular 28 psi and then to 31 psi, at which point that uneasy feeling around that corner disappeared. I wonder how the Brutale 800 Dragster will handle when fitted with the alternative 180/55-17 rear tire.
MV Agusta’s 2014 Dragster, which will sell for $14,798 in the US, is a very fashionable variation of the Brutale 800. As such, it encapsulates all the remarkable qualities of the Brutale in a daring design that underlines the exclusive personality of the MV Agusta brand, even if it does represent a departure from the marque’s historical sporting tradition. Now it’s time for Gianni Castiglioni and his R&D engineers to use the versatile Brutale chassis as the basis for a lightweight all-around sportbike, similar in spirit to the old Ducati 900 Super Sport, designed to appeal to connoisseurs.