Road tests

Moto Guzzi Centauro Road Test
Half man, half cruiser

V10 Centauro  I've got some simple advice for anyone who feels their social life has been drop-kicked past the goal posts of life: buy a Centauro (pronounced "chentoro"). Named after the mythical half-man half-horse, Moto Guzzi's latest toy is guaranteed to start a conversation wherever it goes.

Plonking the Centauro on the footpath outside Melbourne's Cafe Racer cappuccino emporium is as much a study in human nature as it is motorcycle design. Anyone with an interest in bikes soon ends up crawling over it. The styling is about as subtle as a smack in the head with a house brick, and the questions from any rider within cooee come thick and fast. "How big is it?", "What's it like to ride?", and inevitably, "What is it?"

That last is a fair question. The styling and high-tech spec sheet screams Moto Guzzi's answer to Ducati's Monster -- a naked musclebike if you like. Ride it, however, and you start thinking more along the lines of a cruiser with 'attitude'. When you add in the price ($19,995 plus ORC) and crowd-pulling ability, Honda's Valkyrie seems a more natural competitor.

Guzzi certainly hasn't mucked around when it comes to throwing the best bits from the parts bin at the Centauro. Suspension is WP Racing tackle, 40mm upside-down forks on the sharp end and a remote reservoir monoshock on the back. Compression and rebound damping adjustment is available at both ends, with an allowance for preload alterations on the rear.

Four-spot Brembos do the braking work on the front (320mm discs), and a twin-spot item graces the rear (282mm disc). The stylish Marchenisi wheels are fitted with Pirelli Dragon rubber.

A slightly detuned version of the company's premium four-valve-per-pot, fuel injected, 992cc Daytona powerplant is installed. The five-speed box is complemented by the same double uni joint shaft you'll find on the Daytona and 1100 Sport.

What all this means is that there's little the owner can, or would want to, do to upgrade the bike. Suspension and rubber are already premium gear, and there's nothing to whinge about in the braking department.

The frame is also a Daytona item, though there's been some fiddling around to get the seat height down which seems to have resulted in reduced suspension travel at the rear.

Flat bars, with the seat located a long way back, and forward-mounted footpegs result in an un-natural riding position. The reach feels big even for tall people, and the shape of the seat means there are no options on where you sit.

The adjustable front brake lever is a welcome touch, while the switchgear is basic fare which you'll find on several bikes such as the Ducati 916 and Honda VTR1000.

There's space for a pillion, which turned out to be more comfortable than looks would suggest. Removing the seat hump is simple enough, though I couldn't find the appropriate Allen key in the toolkit. Maybe it went walkabout with another tester, though it's worth checking before you leave home.

Firing up the powerplant on a cold day reveals that it likes plenty of warm-up time. Try riding off early and you're likely to be rewarded with some coughing and farting -- not unlike most of us after a hard night... A couple of minutes' idling, plus a few kays under the belt, and the Centauro's ready to play.
There's been some debate in these pages before over whether cruiser/naked-bike powerplants should be detuned when transferred from their more sporting siblings. The petrolheads among us say no, and I'm one of them.

In the Centauro's case, the rework is fairly minor with power down from a claimed 102ps at 8400rpm to 94 at 8200. Torque is said to be up from 9.0kg-m at 6600 to 10.0 at 5500. What has me mystified, though, is why Guzzi chose the Daytona engine for this bike in preference to the 1100 two-valver. The latter would seem a more natural choice. Maybe there was a marketing decision to give the model a high-tech profile.

The upshot is that the Australian spec bike doesn't appear to deliver the performance revealed by Alan Cathcart in his report on the Euro version last July. Former Deputy Ed Mike Sinclair, who has ridden a factory-supplied Euro bike and this test version, backs this up.

While bottom and top end power are all you could ask for, there's a point in the midrange (around 4000-4500rpm) where the grunt drops off noticeably -- particularly in the higher gears. That engine speed equates to around 120km/h in top, and defies Sir Al's undoubtedly accurate "turbocharged tractor" description of his test version's ability to provide clean stomp in top from 2000.

You soon learn to ride around the midrange hole and, when you do, there's plenty of urge available. I'd be very curious to see what a cleaner-breathing set of mufflers could do for the performance.

With all the good gear included in the chassis, you'd expect the Centauro to handle exceptionally well. The potential is certainly there, but I reckon any owner would be well advised to do some careful fiddling before they can expect to get the best out of their bike.

The combination of the rearward seating position and general 'tail-down' stance of the machine means it tends to understeer in stock form. This is soon overcome with a bit of body english. Throw some weight into the curve and the bike reacts well, with plenty of stability. A bit of familiarity will soon see you exploring the limits of the cornering clearance, which are ample.

You could probably risk losing a bit of the stability by setting the machine up with a more 'nose down' attitude, by pulling the forks up through the triple clamps a few mil and winding up the rear preload. As delivered, it's one of the best of the cruiser class in this area.

The front suspension works particularly well on stock settings, while the rear makes a reasonable fist of its limited travel. There's no hint of shaft torque reaction, as the double uni joints allow the rear to squat under power just like a 'normal' bike.

Speaking of torque reaction, there's the usual Guzzi twist to the right when you blip the throttle -- something you'll always get with a transverse engine layout -- but a gentle right wrist on the downshift reduces this to nil.

Did I mention the tyres? The tread of the Dragons rates as a fashion statement on its own, and their performance matches the looks.
Brakes are conventional, with no linking of the rear and front systems as per some Guzzi models. While there may be better stoppers on the market, these are more than up to the task.

Shifting gears is typical Guzzi, requiring a relatively slow and firm technique to get the best. You can shift without the clutch, though I wouldn't bother. Clumsy changes up from third to fourth will find a false neutral.

The overall finish on Moto Guzzis has improved noticeably in recent years, and this bike is no exception. There's some nice details, and the general fit of the bodywork is very good.

The placement of the ignition coil at the front of the motor, in the weather, is unusual, as is the low location of the oil cooler. Fortunately the latter has a substantial stone guard.

Keeping that finish looking good is made unnecessarily challenging by the self-retracting sidestand. It's too far forward to use safely unless you get off the bike first, and really needs to be replaced with something -- almost anything -- off another bike.
The Centauro delivers anything from 15 to 19km/lt fuel consumption on a relatively young engine. There is an 18-litre tank which has a low level warning that makes its presence felt at around 14 litres.

Maintenance and longevity has always been a high point of Guzzi twins. The owner can tackle the tuning chores, including valve lash, and the powerplants seem to last well. One thing to watch for is that the shaft uni joints are kept lubricated. Replacement of a looked-after set falls due every 40,000km or so, and costs about the same as a chain and sprocket set.

We've got to that stage of the yarn where I'm supposed to come up with some pithy concluding remarks, which either have you reaching for the chequebook or Guzzi calling their lawyers.

I've said this before about Guzzis: if you're considering purchasing one and have never ridden a twin from Mandello, try to score a decent demo ride. They can be a little quirky and take time to settle in to.

The Centauro was a classic case. On the first ride I didn't like it, but by about the third we were getting along famously. The styling ensures you meet lots of people on your journey, and there's enough potential in the chassis to ensure you have a ball along the way.

Guy Allen

V10 Centauro Specifications

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