This post originally appeared on Top Dead Center.

The cruiser market in America is a wildly competitive place, but still feels surprisingly unimaginative. Freeways are dominated by heavy, chrome drenched beasts that seem to have more to say about the past than the future. Harley-Davidson is the obvious 800-pound (probably more?) gorilla in the room, but a number of manufacturers have been steadily gaining steam in recent years. The second re-birth of Indian Motorcycles under Polaris has yielded some truly excellent machines, and even Ducati has waded into the fray with the Diavel and XDiavel muscle cruisers.

Now, it’s Moto Guzzi’s turn their MGX-21 Flying Fortress, an Italian take on a uniquely American idea. Before we start – how’s that for a name? It’s both epic and faintly ridiculous, a sentiment you could actually use to describe the entire bike. The MGX is based on the California, the company’s stylish and comfortable chrome cruiser. Essentially, Guzzi took all the good bits from the California, ratcheted up the performance a few notches, and smothered the whole lot in blacked-out carbon fiber and sinister style.

**Another aside: clearly, there is something in a name. First, Guzzi apes the name of the most American of states, and then uses the iconic B-17 Flying Fortress as inspiration. Playing on our heart strings, eh, Guzzi?**

Like every Moto Guzzi before it, the MGX is quirky. What’s decidedly not quirky, however, are its performance characteristics. Rather than compete directly with HD and the like by copying the traditional American big bike blueprint, Guzzi put performance at the core of the MGX. This gives it an aggressive distinctness in what is otherwise a rather monochrome sea of studded leather, loud pipes, and skull-caps.

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One of my favorite features of the MGX is how well it changes direction. At one point I went to an empty Home Depot parking lot to familiarize myself with its low speed handling. While it certainly felt heavy, it was far easier to maneuver than I was expecting. That big front wheel fought initial turn in, but the bike came around once it was leaned over and committed.

It’s on the open road where the MGX really shines, though. The ride is planted and composed and feels particularly good at highway speeds when all those fairings and windscreens come into play. It also handles quick left-right transitions with surprising ease, and good ground clearance means you can really exploit the MGX’s sweet handling.

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Supporting that handling is one of the bike’s most interesting tid-bits: remote pre-load adjustment (on an 800-lb bagger!) for the rear suspension. Controlled by a small knob near the motor on the right side of the bike, it’s a unique party trick that speaks to the sporting bent in the MGX’s DNA.

Braking is another of the MGX’s strengths. Feedback from the lever is reassuring, and there is immediate bite when you clamp down. Large 320mm Brembo disks are squeezed by four-piston calipers up front, the rear brake is a 280mm disk with a two-piston caliper, and stainless steel braided brake lines round everything out.

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That brings us finally to the engine. Oh lordy, there’s nothing quite like a Moto Guzzi transverse v-twin. It was interesting having the engine’s physical presence be such a visceral part of the riding experience, what with those massive cylinders protruding out of the bodywork like they’re trying to escape. Because of that unique engine layout, the whole bike is constantly squirming and shaking like Chubby Checker doing the Twist.

Power output from the 1380cc air-cooled 90-degree two-cylinder is a healthy 95 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque. Throttle pickup is a little snatchy, but isn’t a deterrent to riding the big Guzzi low and slow. When it’s time to step on it, the motor responds willingly with ample power for nearly every riding situation.

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One other thing the Flying Fortress gets right are the aesthetics. Looks are wildly subjective, but it’s hard to argue that the MGX is an unattractive machine, or at the very least a boring one. Much of the bike looks and feels plastic-y at first, but that’s real carbon fiber on the tank, saddle bags, front fender, and gigantic 21” front wheel. The double-bubble windscreen, slick daytime running lights, and bat-eared front fairing give the MGX an intimidating and distinct head-on look.

Its those red cylinder covers, though, that are my absolute favorite part. The splash of red crackle-coat finish against the backdrop of raw carbon fiber and black paint is positively righteous. Mama mia!

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Quirkiness typically comes with drawbacks, however, and the MGX is no exception. First, the ancient looking graphics in the gauge cluster. When a dashboard reminds you of the graphing calculator you used back in high school algebra, that’s not great. In fact, there’s an overall feel that somehow the MGX is stuck in era gone past, even with all its modern accouterments. Second, there’s a serious lack of soul-stirring sound from the exhaust. I want this bike to snarl and growl when you pin it, but it simply doesn’t. On a positive note, a quick YouTube search reveals that removing the exhaust baffles make it sound lightyears better, so that’s good. Price is also an issue for the MGX - it stickers at nearly $22,000, no small sum even for a big bagger, never mind one with no real pedigree.

Are any of those deal breakers? If this kind bike is your thing, probably not.

So, what really is the MGX, and is it worth it? It’s not a motorcycle that offers the creamy refinement of an Indian, nor is it imbued with the gusto and brand power of a Harley-Davidson. It’s also quirky and not without fault, but if you’re looking for a far-from-traditional cruiser with genuine performance chops, that also happens looks like something Darth Vader himself would ride, the MGX-21 Flying Fortress is a peerless choice.

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Many thanks and much respect to Seacoast Sport Cycle in Derry, NH for the opportunity to ride and review this bike. SSC is a full-service dealer with incredibly knowledgeable staff and a wide array of motorcycles and gear to choose from.