First Ride: MV Agusta Brutale 675

Although affected by rain, the first test of the new Brutale 675 was in a way appropriate, for this is no superbike to be polished and kept for sunny Sundays. First impressions straight from Italy

Photography: Milagro

We’re only about half-an-hour into the afternoon’s ride when spots of rain on my visor confirm what the ominously black sky had suggested: we’re in for a big storm. Before long our group of eight riders is cowering in a café as lightning splits the sky. Eventually the downpour eases, but we splash back to MV’s factory with no more chance to ride the Brutale on dry roads.

The rain-affected test was annoying, but in a way the mixed weather was appropriate. Unlike some previous MVs this is not some exotic, expensive superbike to be polished and kept for sunny Sundays. The Brutale 675, in the Italian company’s own words, is “the MV Agusta for Everyone”. It’s a down-to-earth naked middleweight intended to broaden MV’s appeal — and generate a vital increase in sales.

Everything’s relative, mind you. This bike is still very much an MV Agusta, even if it has no fairing, a medium-sized engine, simple suspension and a distinct lack of carbon-fibre or magnesium. The squat shape penned by Massimo Tamburini more than a decade ago still has an air of elegant menace in this latest form, as adapted by Fabio Orlandi at MV’s CRC design centre in San Marino. A distinctively curved headlight remains a feature, though this bike has a trio of stubby silencers in place of the four-cylinder Brutales’ two longer pipes.

The 12-valve engine is closely based on the unit from the F3 that was released earlier this year. That means it keeps the short-stroke dimensions (79 x 45.9 mm, compared to the 74 x 52.3 mm of Triumph’s Street Triple rival) and also the contra-rotating crankshaft layout that MV claim improves the bike’s agility by reducing inertia. The design hid oil and water pumps inside the cases to give a clean look, although some hoses and wires are still visible on each side of the engine.

As you’d expect, the naked roadster gets some changes to soften its delivery from that of the peaky F3. New pistons have flatter tops, reducing compression ratio from 13 to 12.3:1. New cams give less lift and duration. The valves are the same size as the F3’s, but made from steel instead of titanium, as this engine doesn’t rev so high. Its maximum power output is 20 PS lower, at 109 PS, and arrives 2,000 revs earlier at 12,500 revolutions per minute. Torque is more evenly spread through the range, to a maximum of 65 Nm at 12,000 RPM.

The chassis layout also follows that of the F3, retaining the sports bike’s frame with its combination of steel tubes and aluminium swing-arm pivot sections. The single-sided aluminium swing-arm itself is also unchanged. However, although the Brutale keeps the blend of Marzocchi front and Sachs rear suspension, it replaces the F3’s multi-adjustable components with cheaper items giving less potential for fine-tuning.

Apart from that exhaust system this Brutale’s profile is almost identical to that of the four-cylinder models. But this bike is smaller in more ways than just capacity. Its wheelbase is 50 mm shorter at 1,380 mm and its shorter fuel tank moves the rider closer to the handlebars, which are slightly lower and more angled down. This bike’s 810 mm seat height means its rider sits 20 mm nearer the ground.

That’s important, not least because this ‘MV for Everyone’ is very much aimed at woman riders too. “That was Claudio Castiglioni’s idea,” said Paolo Bianchi, the company’s technical manager, of the former president who died last year. “He wanted to open MV up to a larger profile of riders, including women, so he put a lot of emphasis on a low seat height.”

The seat is also quite narrow and so will allow most riders to get both feet down with ease. The Brutale felt very light and manoeuvrable as I climbed aboard at MV’s Varese factory. Its motor fired up with a raspy three-cylinder sound from those silencers, the rev-counter bar flicking across the top of the compact digital instrument panel then settling to an idle while I fiddled with the ride mode button on the right handlebar.

Like the F3, the Brutale has a sophisticated electronic set-up incorporating ride-by-wire throttle control plus four riding modes and adjustable traction control. I began on the ‘Normal’ mode, which gives a medium setting for the eight-way adjustable traction control. The ‘Sport’ mode sharpens throttle response and backs off the TC; ‘Rain’ does the opposite and ‘Custom’ can be set however you like.

The first few minutes’ ride were going to be an important test, given that the F3 has been much criticised for its low-rev fuelling — arguably even more important on a naked roadster. MV say they’ve already sorted that problem with an ECU update that is naturally incorporated into the Brutale. The new bike certainly responded cleanly to the throttle as I followed MV’s lead rider, Umberto, out of the factory gates.

It was immediately clear that this motor was in a very different state of tune to the F3 unit, which isn’t too interested below 6,000 RPM and really prefers to be spinning at 10,000 RPM or more. By contrast, the Brutale pulled happily from low down, the bike’s lack of weight helping it to growl forwards pretty urgently when I tweaked the throttle with the tacho bar reading 5,000 RPM or less. There was no need to keep the revs up as I’d have needed to astride the F3.

The only time I wasn’t quite so impressed was on pulling away from a standstill, when the Brutale required a bit more co-ordination of throttle and clutch than it should have done for a smooth getaway, suggesting fuelling just off idle could still be improved. As we followed the road heading north along the bank of Lake Varese through the villages of Calcinate and Gavirate, the triple’s slow-speed running was also marred slightly by a slightly vague gear change, though I didn’t miss any shifts.

Out on the open road, though, the Brutale was brilliant: strong through the mid-range and revvy enough to make it addictively rapid as I flicked through the gears, wind tugging at my neck thanks to the upright riding position and minimal protection from the instrument surround. There’s a barely noticeable torque dip at about 6,500 RPM, but then it kicked hard, storming to over 150 km/h on a couple of short straights, with all the smoothness you’d expect of a 675-cc triple and a typically tuneful three-pot howl from the exhaust.

Naturally, this bike can’t match the top-end hit of power that made the F3 such a blast on track, but it was quick enough for a naked bike even without being thrashed to the 13,000-RPM limit through the gears. MV claim a top speed of 225 km/h, which sounds about right although on our ride there was no chance to check that out. What was for sure was that this amount of power in a light, naked chassis made a great combination for rapid road riding.

Handling was super sharp, too — as agile and responsive as you might expect of a wide-barred bike that weighs just 167 kg dry. The Brutale steered with delicious ease at low speed, as I discovered at the first roundabout, within minutes of setting off. Lead rider Umberto — a rapid former racer — indicated left and cranked into the roundabout. I assumed he was going to take the third exit and was poised to follow… when he carried on, then took the next exit down the dual-carriageway we’d just arrived on.

Fortunately, the Brutale needed only the lightest of nudges on its bars to adjust my line and keep going round the roundabout, then carve right in hot pursuit. Perhaps, that contra-rotating crank really does contribute to its outstanding flickability. Like the standard Street Triple, the Brutale has fairly simple suspension, with shock pre-load providing the only potential for adjustment. That wasn’t a problem, because the MV was set up sportily firm, with the 43-mm Marzocchis and the Sachs rear shock keeping both ends well controlled.

The Brutale stayed stable at higher speeds, after we’d reached Gemonio and turned east on the sweeping SS394 main road. By this time I’d switched to the ‘Sport’ mode, which can be done on the move with a press of the button, and was using the MV’s sharper throttle response to help fire the bike out of the smooth curves. I’m not sure I’d bother with ‘Sport’ often in normal road riding, but it’s a worthwhile option, especially for anyone planning to take the MV on a racetrack.

We weren’t doing that but instead turned right again at Rancio Valcuvia and headed south through the zigzag, forest-lined roads of a national park. Here the Brutale’s light weight and agility starred again, along with its near-infinite ground clearance and decent grip from Pirelli’s Angel ST tyres. The MV was easy to flick into hilly hairpins, though at times the triple seemed slightly nervous and couldn’t quite match the standard Street Triple’s wonderfully neutral, rider-friendly handling.

There was no shortage of braking ability, thanks to a familiar Brembo blend of 320-mm discs and four-piston radial callipers. Shame ABS isn’t available at least as an option, though. That thought occurred to me after those first rain drops had turned into a storm that cut short our photo session and sent us heading in search of cover at the nearest village while thunder rolled around the hills.

At least the weather gave me an excuse to try the ‘Rain’ mode, which gave a slightly softer throttle response and set the traction control on maximum for the slippery streets. I didn’t try to provoke the system and didn’t even notice it working. But traction control is surely a feature worth having, perhaps more so on a middleweight likely to be ridden by less experienced riders.

As for other practical features… well, the Brutale’s not great, but it’s no worse than most rivals in what, let’s face it, is by definition not a very practical class. There’s hardly any weather protection; both parts of its seat are fairly thin and the fuel tank holds a just-about-reasonable 16.6 litres. There are no useful accessories such as heated grips or purpose-designed luggage either, though you can add a quickshifter.

None of which would put me off, because, as the Street Triples have shown, the other thing about this class is that it’s arguably the most fun on two wheels and also very good value. Crucially both those things are also true of the Brutale 675. Well, at least it’s considerably less expensive than the F3, so is by far the cheapest route to MV Agusta ownership.

Compared to its British rivals the Brutale is more expensive and perhaps not quite as suitable for less experienced riders. It’s subtly sharper, more aggressive naked middleweight that brings a touch of Italian style, performance and attitude to the division. Even this MV Agusta is not really for everyone, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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