2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800 Review | Singular Triple

MV Agusta’s Rivale 800 looks to put a stylish spin on the supermoto genre

2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800

"This bike isn't for everybody," Adrian Morton says without a hint of apology. "The Rivale didn't come through marketing or focus groups. At MV we can just make a sketch and get on with creating something individual. Isn't it great that we can still do that in 2013?"

MV’s British design chief, looking over his creation before riding it for the first time on the launch in the south of France, has a point. The Rivale is a perfect example of MV’s ability to think small and act fast, even if the supermoto-inspired triple has taken a year to reach production after being voted the most beautiful bike of Milan’s EICMA show in 2012.

It’s a classy piece of design, all flowing curves and fine detailing, finished off with MV’s three-cylinder signature of a trio of stubby silencers. It’s also very much a niche model. Even after riding the Rivale I’m still not sure exactly what type of bike it is or which bikes are the rivals implied by its name.

What’s for sure though is that the Rivale is a blast to ride, especially on a sunny morning on the spectacular Route Napoleon in the Alpine foothills near Grasse. That’s not surprising given that it combines a powerful, flexible, and compact three-cylinder engine with a lightweight chassis incorporating long-travel but respectably firm suspension.

That 798cc, DOHC, 12-valve motor comes straight from the Brutale 800 and is mechanically unchanged. A new exhaust collector box combines with revised fueling to make the power delivery slightly less sharp, though the claimed peak output of 125 hp is identical. The new triple also follows the Brutale in coming with MV's electronics package incorporating four riding modes: Normal, Sport, Rain, and a Custom mode.

There’s also MV’s familiar eight-way adjustable traction control system, set via buttons on the left handlebar. As with the firm’s sportbikes, you can also go into the menu to choose from options, including throttle response, engine braking, and how abruptly the rev limiter kicks in—all of which is potentially useful, though arguably unnecessary, on a naked middleweight.

The chassis is new, though the frame follows the Brutale—and indeed MV Agusta generally— format of steel tubes combined with aluminum plates at the swingarm pivot. The Marzocchi fork gives 5.9 inches of travel, and the Sachs rear shock has 5.1 inches, compared to the Brutale’s 4.9 inches at each end. Those longer legs mean you’ll need a similarly lanky pair of your own to be at home on the seat, which at 34.7 inches tall is a stratospheric 2.8 inches higher than the Brutale’s.

The Rivale hasn’t got much steering lock either, but at least it’s light at 392 pounds dry, which will help with low-speed maneuvering. The view is a typical supermoto-style one of a small digital instrument panel and very little else except for the slightly raised one-piece handlebar, which incorporates bar-end mirrors of the style that Ducati once fitted to the Hypermotard (which is surely the Rivale’s closest rival).

Like that bike, the MV has a very forwardseated riding position, giving that typical supermoto-style feel of being perched on the fuel tank. As I left the launch base hotel in the south of France, with the bag I’d bungeed to the pillion seat preventing me from sliding backward, the bars felt curiously close. At least the tall seat gave plenty of legroom.

Looks apart, the Rivale’s star attraction is its motor. The 798cc capacity comes from having a longer stroke than MV’s 675cc unit. That 125- hp maximum might not be huge but seems like plenty from such a short, light bike. It’s a raw, rasping, free-revving powerplant with decent low-down pull for a middleweight—enough to lift the front wheel very effortlessly, despite the forward-biased weight distribution.

There’s also a thrilling high-rev kick that is enhanced by the soulful three-cylinder howl as the tachometer bar graph jabs toward the 13,000-rpm limit. On the twisty launch route there were few opportunities to let the MV stretch its legs, but it put 125 mph on the clock very rapidly, heading for a top speed of around 150 mph.

Better still, this bike also benefits from MV’s increasing expertise with the triple’s fueling. The Brutale 800 was pretty good in that respect, and the Rivale was better, answering a twist of the throttle with a snatch-free delivery even in the most aggressive Sport mode.

Occasionally there was a touch of imprecision, so it’s not perfect yet, but generally the MV responded so cleanly that I wasn’t conscious of it. Also improved was the gearbox, a weakness on previous MV triples. The Rivale’s shifted very cleanly and was made sweeter still by the quickshifter that is standard fitment.

2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800

Handling was also very good. Although its longer suspension means the Rivale’s geometry differs considerably from the Brutale’s when unladen, MV says the two bikes are more similar with a rider in place, when the Rivale has just half a degree more rake (23.5 degrees to 23). That means it handles much more like a normal naked middleweight and is thankfully free of a typical supermoto-style bike’s reluctance to turn unless its long fork has been compressed by braking.

Even when I hadn’t touched the anchors, the MV flicked into turns with minimal effort, feeling light, agile, and responsive. At times I was glad of the generous suspension travel, especially when crossing speed bumps in the villages or navigating cracked and bumpy hairpins where the Rivale did a good job of smoothing out the road. It’s also true that in town you might often appreciate the elevated riding position and the clear view it gives in traffic.

At other times, such as when braking hard into or accelerating hard out of smooth bends on the Route Napoleon, I’d have been happier with the tauter, more precise feel that comes with less suspension travel. At least the Rivale comes relatively well damped as standard and has plenty of scope for fine-tuning. But for all MV’s fighting talk about its suitability for skidding the rear end into turns supermoto-style, the bike works best at a slightly less frantic pace.

The Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tires and generous ground clearance are well up to quick riding, and there's no shortage of stopping power. The front brake setup of 320mm discs and Brembo's radial four-pot calipers is fierce on such a light bike. Even on dry roads there's enough power to lock the front if you're not careful; and the high, forward-set riding position makes the rear disc even less effective than normal, especially in the absence of a slipper clutch. MV's decision not to fit ABS as standard equipment (an ABS model will be available for $800 more) is fair enough, but not being able to test one on this trip was disappointing.

Like many a stylish Italian objet d’art before it, the Rivale wasn’t devised with such mundane considerations in mind. The bar-end mirrors look good, give a clear view, and can quickly be adjusted by pulling them out or pushing them in by an inch or so—a neat touch. But most riders would probably prefer conventional mirrors that are less likely to get bashed in traffic and could be more easily used without lowering eyes from the road.

That sculpted fuel tank gives plenty of legroom but holds just 3.4 gallons; with 35 mpg or less, likely you’ll often be filling up by 100 miles. The shapely but thin seat was starting to make its presence felt before the end of a short morning’s ride. It incorporates pillion hand-holds but gives little help for securing luggage without rubbing on paintwork.

In a way that’s the Rivale all over: indisputably distinctive and stylish but ultimately less practical than a more conventional alternative. Much as I enjoyed riding the new MV on one of Europe’s best roads, I can’t help thinking that I’d have had just as much fun on the Brutale 800 or a rival with less suspension travel, bigger tank, lower seat, and lower price.

Then again, as Adrian Morton puts it: “At MV we shouldn’t be doing bikes to keep everybody happy; we should be doing bikes that you either love or hate. The Rivale isn’t about touring or practicality. It’s about having fun on two wheels at the weekend.” That, and looking cool and exclusive in the process. If that’s what you want from a motorbike, MV’s tall triple might suit you just fine.

2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800

Specifications

2014 MV AGUSTA RIVALE 800
MSRP: $14,998 ($15,798 ABS model)
ENGINE
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC transverse inline-triple
Displacement: 798cc
Bore x stroke: 79.0 x 54.3mm
Compression ratio: 13.3:1
Induction: Mikuni EFI, 50mm throttle bodies, single injector/cyl.
CHASSIS
Front tire: 120/70ZR-17 Pi relli Diablo Rosso II
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-17 Pirelli Diablo Rosso II
Rake/trail: 23.5°/4.1 in. (105mm)
Wheelbase: 55.5 in. (1410mm)
Seat height: 34.7 in. (881mm)
Fuel capacity: 3.4 gal. (13L)
Claimed dry weight: 392 lb. (178kg)

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2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800
The 798cc triple is basically the same as the Brutale 800, with some minor tweaks to fueling that incidentally provide the smoothest throttle response ever from an MV.
2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800
The Rivale’s 43mm Marzocchi inverted fork offers an inch more travel than the Brutale, which increases the rake angle a slight amount. Brembo calipers and 320mm discs provide very aggressive stopping power.
2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800
The Rivale 800 utilizes bar-end mirrors similar to the original Ducati Hypermotard. They provide a good rear view but are too vulnerable to damage.
2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800
Although nicely shaped, the Rivale’s seat is a bit thin for support, making it a little uncomfortable for longer rides.
2014 MV Agusta Rivale 800
The cast-aluminum swingarm is the usual MV work of art, with a nice attachment on the left side for the sprocket guard to prevent any of your appendages from getting caught in the event of a crash.