When Italian motorcycle manufacturer MV Agusta first announced the 2010 Brutale, there were some who questioned whether it was rational for MV to attempt an update that made the bike less, ahem... brutal. We decided it would be best to wait and see the bike in person and live with it for a while before making any such judgments – particularly since judging a vehicle solely by its spec sheet almost never has any real merit. And we're certainly glad that we did.
Upon our first few minutes with the new Brutale 990R, we had developed an initial gut reaction: From the instantly recognizable styling to the raspy exhaust note of its heavily revised inline four-cylinder engine, the 2010 Brutale is every bit the sense-tingling naked bike that its predecessor was.
This revelation, though, raises a couple of questions. Is the new Brutale too much like the old Brutale? If so, is that really such a bad thing? And finally, would the new influx of cash and the corresponding watchful eye of current (though probably not much longer) owner Harley-Davidson equal a watered-down Italian experience? To borrow a phrase from the marketing types from The Shack, You've got questions... We've got answers. Read on for enlightenment.
Photos by Jeremy Korzeniewski / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.
Let's take our usual walk around the new-for-2010 Brutale 990R to take in all the details. At first glance, the casual observer may see very little clues that MV's new naked sportbike is in fact all-new. A closer inspection reveals that nearly nothing is carried over from the last generation. MV claims that over 85% of the 2010 Brutale is new and not interchangeable with the 2009 model, but it still might take a ride or two to prove the new one is sufficiently different from the old. Whether this seemingly carry-over design language is good or bad is up to individual tastes.
As far as we're concerned, the old Brutale was still one of the most visually stimulating designs on the market, and so the fact that the made-over 2010 model looks so much like the previous generation is anything but a bad thing. Further, the more time we spent, the more the unique details and updates jump out at you... so much so that we found ourselves just staring at every angle while conducting our photo shoot as the sun went down behind the mountains. It wasn't until we unloaded our memory card that we realized we had taken over 300 pictures in just one sitting.
On the other hand, we imagine that there is a sizable portion of the population that doesn't want their brand new motorcycle to look anything like its predecessor, especially when said predecessor has been around for nearly a decade. For that contingent, the new Brutale had better offer something to make it stand out from the crowd – namely, an unforgettable riding experience. If that's the case, we come bearing very good news. The 2010 Brutale 990R accelerates, stops and flicks from side to side with an authority that proves the 2010 edition has totally earned its name. On the other hand, it's also significantly more comfortable and accommodating than the first-generation Brutale. Yes, we know that sounds oxy-moronic, but bear with us.
Swing a leg over the 2010 Brutale 990R and you'll find your posterior gently resting on a surprisingly comfortable perch. Yes, it's pretty high up there at nearly 33 inches off the ground, but the reach to the handlebars is now much more comfortable and natural than before, and the pegs have been relocated so that your legs don't feel too cramped. Further refinements to the basic naked package include slightly relaxed steering geometry (a 24.5-degree rake and four inches of trail, for what it's worth) and a 56.6-inch wheelbase made possible by a swingarm that's 20 millimeters longer and 2.2 pounds lighter than before. All of these updates add up to a finished product that's just a wee bit easier to handle than the last Brutale.
That's all well and good, but how does it perform? Twist the key to the On position and you'll be greeted by a chorus of chirps and whirs as the bike's on-board computers go through their initial start-up routine. The dashboard combines a suitably large analog tachometer on the left with a digital display at the lower right of its dial. A much larger rectangular LCD screen displays all manner of important data, including speed, gear indication, water temperature and a chronometer that keeps track of lap times. Once the electronic gadgetry informs you that all is well and good in Brutale Land, it's time to thumb the starter button.
The heavily updated engine fired up easily and reliably every time while in our hands. Fueling seemed pretty good both at docile speeds and when hammering the throttle with aggression, though it responds a bit more violently at part throttle than you might initially expect. Crucially, the 2010 Brutale sounds as if it has extreme antisocial tendencies, and that's even more true as the revs rise. And rise they will, often and with authority. Just as with every one of the 15,400 Brutales sold since its introduction, MV's proprietary inline-four revs from idle to redline with almost as much vigor and verve of a racebike. We didn't get the chance to sample the larger 1078cc model, but we can say with absolute conviction that the 998cc powerplant in the 990R offers up plenty of punch for a bike with the Brutale's lack of bodywork and sit-up-and-beg riding position.
A handful of throttle in first gear from anything over 4,000 rpm will lift the front wheel a few inches off the ground in an extremely controllable fashion, and that rubber won't touch the ground again until you back off the throttle or shift to second for an encore performance. A similar application from the right wrist at anything near double digits on the tach in either of the first two gears will give you a very clear look at the clouds above. Best to keep your right foot hovering over the rear brake to keep those 139 horsepower and 78 pound-feet of torque in check.
The dual front discs with four-piston Brembo calipers combine with the single rear disc and four-piston caliper to provide extremely strong deceleration force, excellent modulation and zero fade despite repeated hard stops. Although the uplevel 1090RR comes with Brembo Monobloc calipers clamping down on discs that are 10 millimeters larger in diameter, we can't imagine any rider finding fault with the binders on the lower-spec 990R we tested. Similarly, the 50-millimeter forks from Marzocchi, which are fully adjustable for compression, rebound and preload, are beyond fault when set up properly for the rider's weight. At the rear, a Sachs shock is adjustable for preload only and we'd say it adequately props up the rear end, but doesn't seem quite as sophisticated or supple as the fork.
Lean angle on both sides is plentiful and the Pirelli Diablo Rosso tires were sufficiently sticky. We never noted any hard parts touching down despite plenty of abrasion on our knee pucks. We're not quite sure what to say about the Brutale's electronic traction control, other than to note that we never felt the need to adjust the bike's computer out of Race Mode or to mess with the eight-way traction control. In any case, we didn't ever sense any evidence of a loss of traction. While a proper session at the track would surely tell the entire tale, we'll just assume our consistently good rear grip means the traction control system worked as designed since we know for sure the bike has sufficient power to slide the rear at will. What we did notice, however, was the unfortunate lack of a slipper clutch, which does come standard on the more expensive 1090RR. When scrubbing speed and downshifting on the 990R, there's a notable amount of tire chirping out back and even a small bit of chatter when getting really aggressive.
In addition to the slipper clutch, which should really be standard fare for a bike of this ilk, there are a few things we'd change about the new Brutale. First, we wish there were less of a style compromise between the 990R and the 1090RR. To our eyes, the color palettes offered on the latter are much nicer than those of the former. We'd also like to see the testa rossa (that'd be the red engine head) standard on the 990R as it is on its pricier brother, as it just screams Italian exotic. Less important, but slightly annoying, was the red on the passenger seat didn't quite match the red of the bodywork. But we're splitting hairs, here.
Beyond those admittedly minor demerits, we love ourselves some Brutale. Yes, it is indeed less frenetic and easier-going than its forebear, but we're putting those attributes firmly in the Positives column, not the Negative. The newly refined machine is just as engaging as it ever was, the styling of the Brutale still stands up to our critical eyes and the updates made to the bike's ergonomics make it a much more inviting option in the face of stiff competition from the likes of the Ducati Streetfighter and Triumph Speed Triple. Finally, we think the $15,000 asking price is pretty damn attractive for what you're getting.
So, the 2010 MV Agusta Brutale somehow manages to live up to the performance heritage set by the original model while also offering useful improvements that make it easier to live with. As they might say in Italy... Mamma mia, ma che bella machina!
Photos by Jeremy Korzeniewski / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.