Johannesburg - The superbike market has gone into virtual hibernation with slow sales, but there’s a burgeoning interest in “character” bikes such as naked streetfighters, cafe racers, and supermotards.
If it’s character you’re after, MV Agusta’s new 800 Rivale oozes the stuff. The spec sheet says it weighs 178kg (dry) and produces 92kW of power, which to the well-versed observer denotes an alluring power-to-weight ratio, but it still doesn’t fully describe the exuberant nature of this Italian two-wheeler.
The Rivale 800 is basically a naked sports bike with a strong hint of motard due to a lot of the weight being shifted frontwards. Its aggressive styling, power delivery and overall demeanour remind me of a boisterous doberman.
WHEELIES ON DEMAND
The three-cylinder 798cc engine is the same one used in the Brutale street bike, and feels more high-spirited than its 92kW output suggests. Yank the throttle and the power goes berserk, and I was surprised (read: mildly terrified) at how easily the front wheel hoiks skywards.
Accompanied by one of the loudest wails I’ve heard from a factory-fitted exhaust system (wonder how they got that past Europe’s decibel nannies), the easy-revving engine will happily reach a heady 12 000rpm, where its peak output is produced. However, such fuel-wasting treatment isn’t really required because there’s heaps of low-down torque.
FLY BY WIRE
The Rivale will reach 245km/h, according to the factory, but this is mostly academic as you won’t spend much (if any) time at such velocities due to the absence of any fairing or wind protection. The fun here is in the rampant acceleration, and this fun-level can be set to your liking with a choice of three engine maps: Rain, Normal and Sport, which affect the response of the fly-by-wire throttle.
The latter is the most aggressive and great for track use, but it’s too snatchy for start-stop riding about town. The Normal or Rain modes, while still exuberant, make for more progressive and user-friendly throttle response in traffic.
An electronic speed shifter function lets you shift gears without using the clutch or releasing the throttle for track work, and you can switch this on and off on the all-digital display.
There are also eight traction-control settings, depending on your skill and testicular fortitude levels, which you can select to your liking via handlebar controls.
Surprisingly, with all this other tech, there’s no onboard computer to show fuel consumption or range on the digital display – not that there’s much of the latter available with the fuel tank being just 13 litres in capacity.
Like the power delivery, the styling’s all naked aggression. The Rivale was voted the most beautiful bike of the 2012 EICMA motorcycle show in Milan, and it’s a mean-looking machine with its mechanical bits on display like some apocalyptic metallic beast. There’s some beautiful detailing, including an arrow-shaped headlamp and three vertically stacked tailpipes. MV Agusta describes its styling as having “harmonious and discordant lines, tense yet voluptuous, bordering on futuristic” and for once a press release (if you excuse the excessive PR fluff) is more or less spot-on.
The bike’s also aggressive in terms of its ride quality, being quite choppy on uneven tar.
An upright seating position puts no weight on your wrists and the seat is very hard - and this is coming from somebody whose butt is no stranger to a mountain-bike saddle. It’s no long-distance cruiser, that’s for sure.
But is it ever nippy. A very short wheelbase is paired with a notably long swingarm and suspension that’s adjustable for spring preload as well as hydraulic compression and rebound damping. It has a supremely quick-turning and flickable nature, and I rued the fact that I didn’t get a chance to try it out on a racetrack, where I think it would really find its mojo.
Very powerful Brembo brakes bring it all to a very brisk halt. Up front a pair of front 320 mm diameter discs are gripped by twin four-piston radial callipers, and the rear has a 220 mm diameter disc mated to a two-piston calliper.
It’s a real rush and one of the most barking-mad bikes I’ve ever ridden, but it’s not for beginners. This one can bite if you don’t respect it.
Yours for R159 900, including a two-year unlimited mileage warranty.
MV Agusta is imported by Cayenne, South Africa’s largest motorcycle dealer with stores in Kyalami, Umhlanga, Bloemfontein and Cape Town. - Star Motoring