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My date with the MV Agusta Dragster 800 RR

She's an absolute blast to ride once you get used to her quirks

Getting the best out of the Dragster requires skill, balls and restraint. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

If there’s one country I’d want to be reborn in, it would be Italy. It has great food, beautiful landscapes, fantastic coffee, Monica Bellucci and, of course, its cars and bikes are top of the heap.

Which isn’t to say they’re perfect. Last year, I borrowed a boutique Italian roadster thinking it would be a blast. Not so, because I wanted to return it within an hour of struggling with it on the road. The engine heat was roasting the family jewels, the clutch doubled as an exercise gripper, and the transmission bucked and kicked in protest at low speeds. The dirty little secret behind most high-performance bikes (especially exotic ones) is that they’re only fun to ride when you’re going fast. Anything slower—like making your way through Manila traffic on the way home or to the Sunday meet—is a torment.

The semi-aggressive riding position works for most situations. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

So, when Motostrada, the distributor of MV Agusta, offered me a week with the Dragster RR, there was a little bit of hesitation on my part. On one hand, I was setting myself up for potential discomfort. On the other, it’s a freakin’ Dragster! I made my way to the showroom in Caloocan and got a short tour of the place before Gilbert Sy Chan, the technical services manager, briefed me on the bike.

Long press this button to flip through the engine modes: check. Fold the side mirrors because they stick out really wide: check. There is no fuel gauge, but a low-fuel light will come on when you’re down to 4L: check (seriously, I really don’t get why they can’t put a gauge on a bike with top-shelf components).

The triple-cylinder engine is smooth and intoxicating, and the heat is tolerable. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

Fire up the triple-cylinder motor and savor the mellifluous rasp of the exhaust note as you gingerly make your way along EDSA. The company also sells a version of the Dragster with the Smart Clutch System.  It does away with the need to constantly work the clutch lever once the gear is engaged, but the demo unit doesn’t have it. It does have an up/down quickshifter, which relieves some of the fatigue of shifting, but stoplights and stop-and-go traffic are a minor workout for your left hand.

There’s also a big gap between first and second gear, so a tentative tap with your left boot will likely push it into neutral rather than upshift. On occasion, the transmission will also be reluctant to disengage from first gear.

Many fine details abound on the Dragster. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

While I’m taking all these mental notes and filtering through traffic, I feel the left mirror hit a divider reflector. Whack! I think I’m going to get sick as I check the mirror and yes, there is now an inch-long scuff mark. I knew I should have folded those like Gilbert said.

Finally, even with a semi-upright position and raised handlebars compared to the lower stance of the Brutale, riding it slow quickly gets tiring on the wrists. The position of the rear brake lever is also too close to the foot peg, so covering it with your foot gets tiring unless you’re in a full-on attack position.

The saddle is artfully done, but it gets tiring on long days. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

But jeez, if you wanted a commuter, you’d just get yourself a Vespa. Once you’re out on the open road, or better yet, a nice, quiet locale full of twists and turns, the Dragster is intoxicating. At the 6,000rpm mark all the way to 12,000rpm, the raspy exhaust note turns into a screaming howl that just goads you into going faster and faster. The transmission comes into its own as you bang through the gears.

Top speed is quoted at 244km/h, and we’re inclined to believe it. We didn’t have the chance to safely wind it out on a track, but the way it accelerates is simply thrilling. You can be lazy with the ratios, and it will claw its way up a steep hill in fifth or sixth gear without protesting. Or you can really stretch each cog and feel how it builds power so smoothly and strongly. The smoothness of the power delivery is just amazing.

Intake scoops contribute to the sonorous howl at high speeds. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

The suspension has multiple settings for rebound and compression, and so does the steering stabilizer, but I simply kept the factory adjustments. As is, the ride is expectedly firm, so much so that small pavement ripples were jarring my bladder. The Brembos deliver surefire stopping power as expected, but the Pirelli Diablo Rossos are definitely fair-weather tires.

The tank holds 16.5L, but you must get a fill-up ASAP when the low-fuel light comes on. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

On our wet video shoot, even just a little too much throttle on a slick road was enough to slide the back wheel. So it’s good that the bike has a six-axis inertial measuring unit for lean-sensitive traction control and ABS, because the last thing I want to do is crash a P1,300,000 bike. Flipping through the various modes on the dash and setting them just right is worth a few minutes. Once you’re all set, and on the right road, all the little discomforts are forgiven and the Dragster becomes an extension of your body and soul.

Truthfully, we all kind of expect this from a bike that costs this much. Of course, it lives to be ridden hard. Of course, it’s a little painful to ride. And don’t even think about how much this’ll cost to maintain if you think seven figures for a motorcycle is already too much.

The compact dash is highly visible under all lighting conditions. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

You can’t help but stare at it and marvel at the sheer audacity of the thing. The way those triple exhausts flare back like a hot rod, making you wonder how tough it must have been to shape them in the first place. Or how each spoke is artfully laced into the rim and hub. It probably doesn’t make the bike any faster or handle any better, but it’s a thing of beauty.

The side mirrors stick out prominently. Be careful when filtering. PHOTO BY SAM SURLA

Stylistically, the familiar silhouette is shared with other nakeds like the old Ducati Monster and the KTM Super Duke, but the functional intake scoops, the organic sensuality of the mini fairings, and even the shape of the tank all help to create a distinctive style. Take no prisoners.

Perfection is an ideal that all men strive for, and although the Dragster isn’t quite there yet, what a gloriously imperfect beast it is right now.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.