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I have always been an admirer of all things out of left-field. Stuff built by individuals who refused to conform to tradition, with a firm belief that their way was the only way forward. These rebels carved a different path and stuck to it, refining and remoulding it to perfection – and most of all, prevailing through criticism and ridicule. The Porsche 911 for example. I don’t think the 911 would be the icon it is if it had its engine where everyone else put it. So, in a way, Moto Guzzi is to me what Porsche is to the four-wheeled universe. It is different.
The transversely-mounted V-twin, a signature Moto Guzzi trait, came to be during the early sixties when engineer Giulio Cesare Carcano envisioned and designed a 700cc V-twin for the Moto Guzzi V7. The original engine is offered even today, albeit in 1200cc guise, and with a lot of improvements of course. The transverse layout has the engine sitting horizontally in the bike, with the crankshaft in line with the wheels of the bike. The idea of a transversely mounted V-twin was primarily for the purpose of cooling. An air-cooled V-twin head, sticking out of the bike’s frame, would cool more efficiently than if it was inside the frame like in a Harley. It also meant that the gearbox wouldn’t be constrained in terms of space and this design worked well for shaft driven bikes.
Why this layout didn’t really take off was because of the torque reaction. With the pistons punching outward, bikes with this kind of layout tend to rock to the side when you whack open the throttle or when you shut it quickly. It’s something that made earlier V-twin Moto Guzzis a bit of a challenge to ride in the twisties.
Cue 2016 and the Moto Guzzi Audace I’m riding today seems a world away from the horrors I’ve come to read and expect from the Italian marquee. Winding on throttle does not bring the proverbial ‘left lean’ to the fore but rather a smooth surge of torque that propels the bike swiftly into triple digit territory. Moto Guzzi engineers have worked hard and refined this 1380cc transversely mounted V-twin, ironing out the twist to such an extent that this problem only rears its head when you start the bike or when it is idling.
The Audace is the newest offering from the Italian marquee. Sold at Motoplex outelts in India (at present only in Pune) which also has Vespa and Aprilia under its wings, the Audace is essentially a California that thinks on the lines of the Dark Custom styling that graces Harleys. The new Guzzi ticks all the right boxes in terms of style and panache. Dark, menacing and suave like an Italian mobster in a well-tailored suit, the Audace will catch your attention. And if that does not, the large cylinder heads sticking out from the side surely will. I for one, dig the fact that they have done away with chrome and opted for a satin silver finish instead. In keeping with the street theme, the power cruiser gets a drag style handlebar, footpegs in place of floorboards, and a clean tail with two integrated LED strips that serve up brake and indicator lights. A single, large circular dial dominates the view forward, replete with an LCD displaying the speed, modes and all relevant information. The quality and levels of fit and finish are top notch with the buttons getting a nice, tactile feel. It also gets heated palm grips which is quite helpful during cold mornings.
The 1380cc liquid-cooled V-twin makes 95bhp at 6500rpm and a prodigious 120Nm of torque at 2750rpm. 108Nm is available from 2000rpm right up to 6000rpm making for a flat torque band and a very flexible motor. Wind it past 2000rpm and there is a smooth whine emanating from the shaft drive accompanied with a soft beat from the twin exhausts. The chorus does make for a heady concoction. Performance is brisk and on the move, the Audace sheds its 299kg weight with ease. Performance remains fairly strong till the 7000rpm rev limiter and shifts are more Diavel-click than Fat Boy-clunk. The host of electronics include ride-by-wire and there are three riding modes to choose from. Veloce is the full-fat mode with an aggressive map and sharp throttle response. Turismo is the touring mode where power output remains the same but throttle response is softened, and Progia is like rain mode, where power output and engine braking is reduced for a safer ride. Useful, if you are a noob riding a shaft-driven bike for the first time. The shaft drive needs a bit of getting used to as full bore upshifts in lower gears elicit a small twitch from the rear wheel as do sudden throttle applications. The best way around this is to modulate the throttle as smoothly as possible. The three-stage traction control dampens this well and you also have the option of switching it off completely for some sideways fun.
As expected, the big V-twin is a drinker and at times, the figure dropped as low as 10kmpl and that means if you ride hard, you’ll get approximately 200 kilometres out of the 20.4-litre tank.
Riding it around town at crawling speeds does take a bit of effort, especially with the wide handlebar and fat front wheel requiring some effort to turn. Get it up to speed however and the Audace will surprise you with its nimbleness. We took the bike on the biker-friendly twisties heading to Lavasa, on the outskirts of Pune and found out that this cruiser handles well. The raised footpeg levers allow for a generous amount of lean (for a cruiser) and you can spend all day grinding off the hero blobs without much effort. The 18-inch 130/70 front and 16-inch 200/60 rear Dunlops have good grip, though I would have liked a softer compound to further explore the bike’s handling capabilities. Nevertheless, the touring-spec Dunlops get the job done. As do the 45mm front forks and adjustable gas-charged rear shocks, though I would have preferred some adjustability on the front. The front is communicative and precise but like most kicked out forks, there is a bit of wallow. The feedback is amazing though and you can correct lines mid-corner, when leaned over. The brakes are stupendous, both in terms of bite and feel. The 320mm dual discs are clamped with radially mounted Brembos and there is a 280mm disc doing duty at the rear, both assisted by ABS. The ABS cuts in a bit early but works well in bringing this heavy bike to a dead stop.
Ultimately, a cruiser is about comfort and the Audace doesn’t disappoint. The seating is plush but the seat can be a tad high for shorter riders. For me it was just right, with my knees resting just short of the protruding engine head. I doubt taller riders will have a problem either as the seat is long enough to accommodate most. One thing you have to get used to is the heat radiating from the exhaust pipes exiting the engine head. Despite having a heat shield, a fair amount of heat gets through. I for one, had a nicely toasted left thigh by the end of the ride. Surprisingly, the right leg didn’t suffer this ignominy. Comfort is of high order and our resident minion too didn’t find reason to complain, riding pillion all the way to Lavasa. Well, he did whine about the windblast associated with a fast motorcycle on a cold, winter’s morning.
Coming to the final piece of the puzzle, the Audace is priced at `19.94 (ex-Pune) and that is quite a lot for a 1400cc cruiser, but then again you’re buying into a brand that’s off beat like say, Koenigsegg and Pagani. It might not be the fastest out there or the best handler but the way it puts a smile on your face, the exhilaration of powering out of a corner, pegs scraping, the V-twin throbbing inches in front of your knees; that’s what sucks you into its charms.