MV Agusta Dragster - Two of a Kind

12 October 2016

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn’t like the look of MV Agustas, and in my view the factory is currently at the very top of its game in the design stakes. At the recent Sydney Bike Expo, the MV stand was a vision of such outstanding beauty and sexiness it stuck out like a supermodel at a librarian’s convention — and that was before the actual models showed up. For a start there’s the range of F4s, things of breathtaking loveliness in themselves but surely taking top honours at the show in terms of utter drool-worthiness in the form of the F4 RC — a bike so visually striking you could stand and stare at it for hours … or at least until the security staff ask you to stop touching it in that way. Or there’s the similarly gorgeous range of F3s in either the jewel-like 675 guise or the beefier 800cc models.

Then there’s MV’s range of naked bikes, the Brutale, of which there are six variants ranging in size from the 675 to the epic 1090 by way of an 800, all of which are angular, menacing and stunning in about equal measure. And never before have touring motorcycles, in the shape of the Turismo Veloce and the Stradale, looked more sexy than functional. Given that list covers some 17 different bikes, you’d be forgiven for thinking it would suffice, but MV has pushed the envelope even further with the incredible Dragster range. Who would have thought that chopping the tail off a B3, whacking on a 200-section rear tyre and swapping out the ‘bars and wheels could create such a bold and mould-breaking look?

During my tenure I heard it described variously as an insect, a transformer, and something that had spent too long working out in the prison yard. For all its beauty and attention to detail it’s still a thug of a bike in the flesh and it’s quite amazing how much of it is forward of the centre-line. In fact, the bike looks like most of it’s trying to crawl up onto the headstock. You feel a bit like that too when you’re on it, the small seat forcing you tight up against the tank and the rear-set ’pegs also doing their bit to push your weight forward.       

That said, the riding position is pretty comfortable and in my opinion preferable to that of the B3, given that the flatter angle of the seat and gripper material mean you aren’t always sliding back into the exact same position. I’d still have appreciated another inch or two of space between my backside and the slope up to the tiny pillion-perch though. (Yes, there is a token portion of the saddle reserved for passengers, perchance you come across any miniature-bottomed yet brave hitch-hikers who are prepared to hold on tight when the motor hits its stride.)

The head angle is a steep 23.5-degrees and the front wheel almost feels like it’s directly below you rather than out in front. Combine that with a wheelbase of only 1380mm and it’s no surprise the steering feels incredibly direct: the bike changing direction with barely any physical input and the 200-section rear Pirelli Diablo Rosso II tyre not seeming to compromise the bike’s turning ability in any way. It’s an old cliché but you feel like you’re practically holding onto the ends of the front axle rather than the handlebars: I fifty-cent-pieced my way round the first right turn away from a set of lights simply because I was putting way too much push into the ’bars.

That’s not to say it’s unstable in any way though, once you’ve re-calibrated your brain, even on long, fast bends or when hovering the front wheel above the tarmac on corner-exit, which happens frequently and easily.

Obviously the tail section, or lack thereof, is what draws your eye when you’re initially confronted with the Dragster, and MV has done a brilliant job in the way the rear light and brake-lights are integrated into the underside of the seat-unit. The numberplate and rear mudguard, mounted off the end of the swingarm, divided onlookers but frankly I think it’s a far be er solution than trying to hang all that stuff off the under-tray and thus spoiling the look of all the clear air above the back wheel. (For an even cleaner look you could easily remove the pillion pegs and bracket assembly by undoing just four bolts: my guess is it was actually designed with that in mind.)

The ’bar-end mirrors add an extra dimension (figuratively and literally) to the crazy look of the bike and after a bit of a fiddle actually don’t do a bad job of reflecting what’s behind you. What they do do a bad job of, though, is fitting between cars. As lane splitters go, this bike’s a bit of a chore as it’s just too hard to be sure how much further out than your hands the ends of the mirrors are. In fact, the right-hand one on our test bike was afflicted with a wobbly mount, which I’d bet my last quid was due to it whacking into a car once too often.

What’s more, once you’ve smacked the mirror it’s almost impossible to move it back to a useful position while you’re riding, simply because the leverage it exerts on the two-piece ’bars means you end up swerving the bike around in a pretty off-putting way, rather than actually swivelling the mirror. Talking of handlebars, the ability to adjust their sweep (effectively altering the reach for the rider) seems somewhat superfluous given the small range of movement on offer and the already excellent layout of the cockpit. Ours were generally set in the mid-position of three as neither of the other positions made much difference to the feel of the bike. The markings on the adjusters are also just for show, all of which seems like a rather flamboyant solution to an almost non-existent problem.

And if flamboyant is your bag, welcome to the even more stunning RR version. Don’t underestimate this bike by assuming it’s little more than a paint job and some snazzier wheels — this is a very different machine to the standard Dragster. For a start there’s the motor. You get 104kW at 13,100rpm on the RR, which is 11kW more than the standard model, as well as 86Nm at 10,100rpm rather than 81Nm at 8600rpm, all of which adds up to a much more exhilarating delivery, especially at the top-end where the RR has extra revs to play with.

This improvement in performance has been achieved in part through a fully redesigned airbox and a more efficient exhaust system, but crucially by the addition of an extra injector per cylinder over the standard model. As soon as you fire up the bike it sounds and feels different. For a start it has a much deeper and more muscular-sounding exhaust note which is nicer on the ear than the somewhat raspier sound of the standard version and hints at the extra performance to come. More importantly, though, is the big decrease in vibration and improved smoothness of the delivery. Not that the standard version suffers too badly from unwanted vibes — it’s just that the RR is very noticeably better and the riding experience enhanced for it. Jumping back on the standard version, it suddenly felt harsh and tingly, whereas the RR feels buttery and smooth.

On the road the extra performance is readily noticeable, especially when you start using the top third of the available rev range where the performance is electrifying and the throttle response immediate and precise. The fuelling overall remains as excellent and glitch-free as ever.       

Set at level three of eight, the traction control got much more of a work-out on the RR than it did on the standard model (you can feel it gently bogging the motor as it tries to slow the rear wheel), but this bike will still happily chuck the front wheel into the air on corner exit without too much coercion and o en while still cranked over. Luckily the inclusion of the adjustable CRC steering damper helps keep things under control when the wheel goes light or comes back down to earth still crossed up. Keeping the motor buzzing does require a bit of cog swapping through the shortly spaced gears, but this is made even easier on the RR by a quick-shifter that allows for clutchless down-shifts as well as up (if you’re in Sports map).

This feature alone is pretty much worth the price of admission. Piling into corners, hard on the brakes while banging down the ’box, all without bothering your left hand, is a total blast and utterly addictive fun. It even works surprisingly well at town speeds if you want to arrive at the lights in style. If you’re going to have a quick-shifter for down changes, it’s almost obligatory to employ a slipper-clutch, and luckily the RR comes with that too, helping make corner entry even more controllable.

The dash is also different on the RR, and we’re told will be appearing on the standard model in due course. It’s a back-lit LCD display and apart from being easier to read, also offers a much cleaner layout than the somewhat jumbled collection of fonts and sizes of the older version. I particularly found the tacho easier to view in my peripheral vision and all the information on the display is now easier to take in at a glance. Finally we have to come back to the cosmetics. The paint scheme is fantastic; that Candy Red is used to great effect throughout the bike and even the stiffly set-up USD Marzocchis are anodised to match, as is the instrument binnacle, the top of the fork legs and the wheel hubs.

And what wheels. Fitting a cast rim to traditional wire spokes is a first in the motorcycle world and like every other design feature on this bike is done to great effect, especially as the nipples at the wheel rim are also colour-matched. Dynamically, neither of these bikes is far removed from the B3 model on which they’re based (tested in ARR #119). They make the absolute most of that great three-cylinder engine, handle brilliantly, have superb brakes and suspension, perfect fuelling and tons of electrical sophistication in terms of engine maps, ABS, traction control and a host of other adjustable performance parameters via the fly-by-wire engine management system.

If I was looking for things to whinge about it’d be the excessive amount of heat that comes off the bike by your left thigh and the fact that the preload adjuster on the top of the right fork leg is practically impossible to get to. Other than those minor gripes it’s a hard bike to fault and given the choice of a Dragster or a B3, I’d take the former. And of the two models on offer it’d be the RR. You can’t help but feel pretty special riding this bike; not only is it truly incredible to look at (and trust me, the slack-mouthed gawping of onlookers will confirm this time and time again), but it backs up its show-ponyness with outstanding performance across the board.

What’s not to love?