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Barrus Launch Malaguti

Dick Henneman - March 2004


At the beginning of this year, Barrus announced that it had been appointed the UK importer and distributor for the range of scooters and small motorcycles manufactured by the Italian Malaguti company. There's a good symbiosis in this tie-up, as both are long-established family-owned engineering firms, Malaguti starting up in 1930 building bicycles, and EP Barrus first importing American engineering goods and equipment way back in 1917.

A few years ago Barrus set up a vehicles division and began the import and distribution of the Moto-roma range of small motorbikes, quads and buggies, and the new deal with Malaguti is seen as a logical extension to this business. So when Barrus invited the press along to their Bicester HQ to look at their full range of vehicles, and more importantly try them out, what self-respecting journo could possibly refuse such an invitation.

Although the name Malaguti first appeared on the UK roads back in the early 1970s, in recent years the brand has become exclusive almost to the point of invisibility! Barrus plan to change all that, and they have the engineering know-how and experience to make it happen. Malaguti are already well-known for their quality engineering and product design, and to this Barrus brings a company that has supplied into the demanding military and marine markets for many years, with the systems already in place for the, support, spares and logistic operations that can dramatically reduce the time that any piece of equipment is out of service.

The core of the Malaguti dealer network is already in place with more to follow over the next few months, and a comprehensive spares inventory has been set up, that dealers can access using the same systems that give next-day-service to the MoD and the RNLI. This is backed up by a full spares holding from Malaguti in Italy that can be delivered direct within 24 hours.

So much for the organisation and backup infrastructure, but what about the bikes themselves? Having drunk the coffee and eaten all the biscuits, it was time to leg it off to a nearby airfield and get down and get dirty - as they say. The Barrus transporter had got there before us and unloaded an array of 2 and 4 wheeled toys to play with; it was like watching a bunch of 6-year olds being let loose in a sweet shop while the owner's at lunch.

Strangely enough, for a bunch of hacks that are fed a regular diet of litre superbikes with racetrack handling and outrageous power outputs, the bike that almost everyone liked the most was the Malaguti XSM, a 50cc 2-stroke Supermotard. Perhaps it was the kick start, maybe the 6-speed gearbox that you had race up down incessantly in order to keep the motor screaming in its powerband, that took us all back to days of our pimply youth. It certainly wasn't the top speed, but no one could fault the handling which gave an excellent ride, the long-travel Paoli forks soaking up the bumps but at the same time not diving excessively under braking. Not bad, when you consider the weight of some of the "16-year old" riders involved. Pulling a stoppie at the end of the race to the chippy has got to be worth some street cred! However, wouldn't an XSM125 or even an XSM250 be interesting?

By comparison, the Moto-roma MRX125 was a much less frenzied ride. The single-cylinder 4-stroke fired up at the touch of a button and pulled cleanly through its 6-speed box. This trials-type bike is a serious alternative to the 125 "learner-legal" fare, although its high seat height and firmer suspension means that it won't be ideal for the short of leg. But with dual-purpose tyres as standard there's no reason for you having to stick to the tarmac to be first in the queue for a large cod and chips.

For the young "twist 'n' go" aficionado, Malaguti produce a range of 50cc scooters that are mechanically similar but cover a range of different styles. We all had our eyes on the very tasty Ducati Corse Capirex model in the showrooms, but had to be content with an F15 Firefox for our laps of the airfield. This was a very sweet-handling machine that soaked up the bumps of the less-than-perfect surface of the old airfield, and the little water-cooled motor pulled cleanly all the time. And the lcd instruments have got to be worth a few brownie points. For more oomph, the Phantom Max 125 will get you to the shops even quicker, and would be more than capable of some medium-distance commuting work. Although powered by a 125cc single-cylinder 4-stroke engine, this is still a small machine that could be hustled through the city traffic with ease. But if you want to get there even faster, then the Phantom Max 200 has the larger 200cc engine in exactly the same sized package. Both these scooters have good ride and handling characteristics, although the space available meant that we couldn't get anywhere near the top speeds that they are capable of. However, we plan to test all three scooters as well as the MRX125 and the XSM50 in the very near future, so keep an eye on these pages for the full story.

Malaguti also produce a 400cc scooter, the Madison, but this won't be launched until later in 2004, when it will fully comply with the latest Euro-2 emissions regulations that all the other models in the Malaguti line-up already meet.

And now it was time for something a little different.

Barrus had laid on three different quad-bikes for us to play on, with engine sizes ranging from 100cc to 250cc, one of which was even road-legal. These were all a complete hoot, once you'd got used to the thumb-operated throttle, the fact the front wheels pivoted around the handlebar axis, and that you had to seriously hang off the inside of the quad on the corners to get round at any sort of speed without the feeling that the whole thing was going to turn over. Even then, two-wheeled cornering quickly became the norm. At this point, I think it's only fair to say that the guys from Barrus had obviously had a lot more practice at riding quads than most of the rest of us! You could possibly surmise that they even lay on these kind of events just so that they can play around on the things.

Last up were three buggies, a number quickly reduced to two when one of the "gentlemen of the press" made an over-enthusiastic turn on the grass and rolled it onto its cage. The single-seater 125cc-powered one was my favourite. Its "semi-knobbly" tyres gave excellent grip on the tarmac, and full-power cornering even in the wet only induced a small amount of oversteer. On the grass however it was lock-to-lock fun. And don't forget that this buggy is road legal!

The two-seater only had an extra 25cc of capacity, and with two adults on board seemed to be lacking a bit in the "get up and go" stakes. A 250cc engine would make all the difference! In spite of this it was still an immense amount of fun, but just make sure that the driver and passenger are on very good terms, as the cockpit is a little cramped.

At this point we'd ridden everything that was available, and although the day had started overcast but dry, the drizzle had turned to serious rain. As lean angles lessened and the mud thickened, we felt that we had done our bit for journalistic integrity, and the rain trickling down the back of the neck had made a big dent in the fun-factor ratings. It was time to return to Barrus's offices for what we felt was a very well-earned lunch.

A big Thank You to Karen Williams and everyone else at Barrus for laying on an excellent event, and for putting up with all those egos trying to wreck a very good product.


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