If you were asked to take Valentino Rossi's GP motorcycle and use it to commute and tour for a week, you'd jump at the chance, right? Yeah, me too. But you know it would be hard work also, right? Because some bikes are designed to a specific job and the specificity of their abilities usually comes at the cost of versatility. Welcome to the strangely charming world of the MV Agusta Brutale 1090.
We have spent quality time with this one's little brother, the Brutale 800 and we loved it and we feared it in equal measure. The 800 was a tightly wound little thing with extraordinarily stiff suspension. Between instant power and the motorcycle pinging off bumps like an exotic pinball, it was by turns super lively and ultra frantic. I certainly didn't have enough hair on my chest to ride it in the real world in anything but the softest, gentlest riding mode I could find.
So naturally, the prospect of riding the MV Agusta Brutale 1090 was daunting. The nice folk at MV tried to alleviate my apprehensions, though. "Yours will be the first story on the first MV to go on sale in India, Shumi. After OVERDRIVE, there's a long list..." Bloody'ell mate, thanks for that. I feel better now. Not.
I was expecting the MV to be the traditional (and wonderful) silver-red with blue highlights. But the bike that rolled out of the Motoroyale office was as black as a strong cup of coffee. The team hastened to point out that the trio of "Brutale 1090" stickers, one atop the tank, two at the bottom edge of the knee recess, were optional.
Despite the dark hue and its ability to hide detail, the MV looks special. The design is two years old and isn't perhaps cutting edge, but it's beautiful. The large oblong headlight marks the beginning of how most naked bikes today wear their head lights and the rest of the motorcycle is deeply Italian. It is sculpted and creased and sharp and sleek and purposeful and sexy. The matte black is perhaps the least flattering of MV's colourways but you can't escape the innate glamour of the MV.
Once you crank the 1090cc inline four to life, the Brutale starts to gleam with excitement. The inline four has a strong, smooth roar that will fill a large room and most Indian hearts. Right through the test, over windblast and past earplugs, that roar would be ever present. It's a unflagging encouragement at 30kmph and appreciative applause at speeds I'd rather not mention. The Suzuki GSX-S1000 also has a lovely bone-stock sound but the MV's voice has a harder, more badass edge.
The Brutale isn't at the edge of the peak power stakes though. The 1090 here makes 144PS and 112Nm, while the RR version makes 158PS, trading in 12Nm of peak torque. But unless you bring one of the 170-180PS monster nakeds, you'd be hard pressed to notice any lack of enthusiasm.
Roll off in first and the Brutale surges forward so hard that you'll think it'll get away from you. Turns out it's a repeatable, demonstrable first gear fuelling glitch. The only one there is. Apart from that the MV's fuelling is smooth and clean and it pulls hard. Revving to its 13,000rpm redline can feel like the engine picks up revolutions slower than its peers. But whether that's true or not, the 1090 butchers its LCD speedo. 100kmph is a mere 3.3 seconds away and even with careful, conscious riding, the motocycle borders illegal speeds very easily.
The flip side of that is 100-130kmph cruising is easy and effortless. In top gear, revs fall in the 4-5,000rpm range at these speeds so the Brutale should take to highway runs easily.
The trouble spot is economy in this scenario, really. Our highway runs produced a record 12.4kmpl and that's stunningly thirsty. We don't grudge the bikes in this performance class their petrol - and the MV runs happily on regular pump gas - but a range of 285km means a lot of fill ups.
As lively and lovely as the engine is though, you keep feeling like the MV isn't special enough. That something is missing. That's because the MV's motor and gearing come together like sunshine and puppies past 140kmph. There's a creaminess to the torque up to about 180kmph that's as wonderful as a gourmet meal or a raise. There is also this sense of the torque coming from an endless reservoir that makes it deeply special.
That sense of somethings missing, then, comes from the sweet spot being a little too high up in the speed band for you to wallow in it regularly like a happy buffalo.
It's good I brought up a buffalo because now it's time we moved to the chassis. And there's no buffalo in it at all. The MV uses what is now a fairly standard solution to chassis design. The main body of the frame is a trellis which meets cast pivot plates at the back. Suspension is adjustable Marzocchi 50mm front upside-down forks and an adjustable Sachs rear monoshock. Brakes are radially mounted Brembos on a 310mm rotor (RR gets 320mm), the rear is a 210mm disc with a Nissin caliper. The totally exotic bit is the single-sided rear swingarm that exposes the split-spoke wheel beautifully on the right side of the bike. Traction control and Bosch 9 Plus ABS with Rear Lift Mitigation, and you have the picture.
The Brutale 1090 weighs in at 183kg dry, but it feels much lighter and smaller than it is. It does feel like you're sitting atop the bike on a high saddle - though getting the feet on the ground posed no trouble at all. Entering a corner, the Brutale 1090 feels small and nearly weightless. Think about turning and it is done. Firing out of corners, riding the Pirelli Diablo Rosso II's grip and the engine's torque is beautiful too. But mid-corner, the MV keeps feeling like it wants to stand up a little and you need to keep some steering pressure on until you're pointed at the exit. This is interesting because it takes nothing away from the Brutale's cornering prowess but makes cornering a little more involving than you expect. I'm still not sure whether I like this or not but I certainly paid a lot more attention in the corners than normal.
Which is a good thing because all this opinion works on good, flat-surfaced corners. In bumpy corners, the MV starts to react on the bigger bumps. As you might expect, the suspension setup is of a high caliber but it is on the stiffer, sportier side. So the MV has a taut, controlled ride over good roads that surprises you by absorbing quite a bit more than you initially expect. But there's a size of bump beyond which the stock settings cannot isolate the rider. If this were our motorcycle, we'd be hunting for slightly less compression and rebound (available both fore and aft) for a more supple, controllable ride. The MV, surprisingly, has good ride quality overall for a motorcycle of its class but the stock setup needs a bit of tuning for our conditions.
Which brings us to perhaps the strongest, most effective of the MV's equipment, the brakes. I loved them. They have a strong bite and power builds very, very fast. I suspect new riders will take time getting used to it, but they're super stoppers. With very little finger effort, you can trigger the Bosch ABS into releasing pressure to prevent a stoppie. The grippy tyres, feedback-y chassis and feelsome brakes work marvellously together.
And then became time to part with the MV Agusta Brutale 1090. It's a special motorcycle with a peculiarly sharp feel that many people will like and a few will not. The fact that it is an MV, of course, makes it more exotic than competitive Aprilias or Ducatis that you can now purchase in India.
But there is a genuine problem that every customer has to deal with outside of the newness of Motoroyale and the lack of MV Agusta dealerships in India right now. And that is the Brutale 1090's biggest weakness. The Brutale 1090's design and engineering dates to 2013 and unfortunately, it plays in a segment where the last year has seen frantic activity. The arrival of a whole gaggle of super nakeds has pushed performance higher and brought cutting edge electronics as well as ability to the segment.
And that really is MV's challenge. I'm pretty sure the end of 2016 will bring a comprehensive Brutale 1090 update - the 800 got its update at Milan in November 2015. That update will restore the 1090 to being the
hardest charging, arrhythmia inducing brutal naked motorcycle the Brutale is supposed to be. The other Italians brands cannot match the history and exotic nature of the MV Agusta brand but they can, for now, match the Brutale 1090's performance.
What makes it worse is that the Suzuki GSX-S1000, two notches removed from UJM status will match the Brutle's engine performance while the Aprilia Tuono offers so much more, even in sheep hardware terms, at just Rs 2 lakh more. At Rs 19.3 lakh ex-showroom Pune, we believe the MV Agusta Brutale 1090 is priced well. But right now, less exotic motorcycles with greater performance as well as greater value are circling. Oh man, sounds exactly like Rossi's 2016 season outlook, no?
Images by Suresh Narayanan