SWM Grand Milano 440 Review – Norton, Indian and Brough Superior are just the most obvious motorcycle marques to have been revived in the last few years, and when names like Francis-Barnett and New Imperial are experiencing rebirths it makes you wonder why no one’s resuscitated BSA. Triumph doesn’t count – it’s been around so long in Hinckley form that it’s become part of the furniture.
Of course, it’s only brand names being revived – no one is suggesting that venerable workers are being persuaded out of retirement, or ancient, mothballed factories breathed back into life. But the pull of these old names is such that this doesn’t seem to matter very much.
The Brits and Americans don’t have a monopoly on evocative names from the past – the Italians have their fair share as well. FB Mondial is on the way back, and you’ll have noticed that SWM was relaunched last year. It has a shorter heritage than any of the other reborn brands, but certainly means something to anyone involved in trials and motocross in the 1970s and early 80s. Until now, the new generation SWMs have been little more than rebadged Husqvarnas, but these latest bikes are really more significant for the company’s future, having been designed in-house.
Both of them use a new-old engine – a 445cc air/oil-cooled single whose bottom-end owes something to the Mash 400 built by Shineray of China, which in turn was based on the old Honda XBR, if you can remember that. The sohc four-valve top-end has been designed in-house, but bears a resemblance to the Rotax single of the 1980s, and the whole lot is assembled at SWM’s factory in Varese, Italy, though some bits undoubtedly come from China. The motor might look as if it’s straight out of a time when phones were the size of house bricks, but it’s been brought up to date with fuel injection, and SWM says it won’t have any trouble meeting Euro 4.
With 35bhp at 7000 RPM, SWM Gran Milano 440 is also well within the A2 licence power limit. The single will be powering a whole range of retro SWMs, of which the cafe racer Gran Milano and street scrambler Silver Vase are the first two. Both use a basic tubular steel twinshock frame, though the Gran Milano is more of an old/new mix, with fully adjustable USD forks and top spec Brembo four-pot front caliper clutching a 320mm disc. It doesn’t have ABS, but that will be coming by the end of the year, to meet Euro 4.
SWM Gran Milano 440 – On The Road
The SWM Gran Milano 440 looks the part of a modern-retro cafe racer. There’s not a square centimetre of chrome on it, just lots of satin or matt black with a bronze tank, tailpiece and alloy rims. The overall effect is pretty purposeful, and detailing apart it could have stepped straight out of the 1980s; it makes you want to climb aboard and head for the horizon.
Do that, and you find a fairly uncompromising riding position, reaching forward to the wide and lowish bars, while the footrests are high, so the long-legged could feel cramped. It’s not as bad as it sounds though, not putting too much weight on your wrists at low speeds, and the seat is soft, comfy and supportive.
The air-cooled single fires up readily – it’s not mechanically noisy, but removing the rearmost baffles (fully legal, the importer tells me) gives quite a bark from the twin stainless steel pipes, and the whole engine has a gruff and gritty sound to it, rather than being super-refined. Ride the SWM Gran Milano 440, and you soon feel that the rough edges could do with sandpapering smooth. The test bike’s gear-change was stiff (though it had covered little more than 100 miles from new) and the clutch quite heavy.
On top of that, the transmission wasn’t really happy at low revs, chattering and complaining in the higher gears at less than 3000 RPM (about 40mph in the top gear of five). Get out of town though, and the SWM Gran Milano 440 starts to make sense. Claimed power is modest, and there is no torque figure, but there’s plenty of the stuff lurking within those black engine cases – open up at 4000 RPM in second, third or fourth and it leaps forward, easily fast enough for overtaking and for fun on twisty roads.
The five-speed box is geared quite low, so you can stay in top on the twisties. Vibration does come in from 5000 RPM upwards through the bars and footrests, blurring the mirrors, and even the white-faced speedo and rev counter join in, but the SWM Gran Milano 440’s single seems happy enough to carry on up to an ignition cut out at 8800 RPM. Someone obviously didn’t tell the instrument supplier, as the red line is at 10,000. This is a naked bike, so you do get battered by the wind a bit at an indicated 75mph, though the lowish position means you’re not strung out like the proverbial barn door.
Still, the SWM Gran Milano 440 isn’t really about motorway cruising, and it has all the right ingredients to be fun on the twisty stuff. SWM claims a dry weight of 145kg, which sounds improbably low to me, but the bike certainly doesn’t feel like a heavyweight when you’re on the move. The Golden Tyre GT260s have an odd blocky tread pattern, and the front is a widish 120/70-17, which might account for quite heavy steering at low speeds.
But it soon lightens up once you get going and the SWM Gran Milano 440 turns in easily and feels secure once you get there. The unbranded rear shocks did the job well enough on standard settings, likewise the Fastace forks, which felt smooth and well damped. The importer likes to point out that the front stopper is the same one fitted to Norton’s Commando 961, and it’s certainly powerful enough to cope with the SWM’s far lower weight and performance. The rear too is good and progressive.
The SWM Gran Milano 440 comes with a solo seat and colour-coded hump (which incidentally is made of metal, not plastic, as is the front mudguard and side panels) but a real bonus is that every bike has a dual seat kit as part of the deal. You get everything you need in a box – seat, pillion footrests, grab-rail and even a new separate rear light. It’s not a quick clip on job (the importer reckons about 30 minutes to fit) but it’s nice to have in case partners and friends want a go on the back.
Instrumentation is limited to the rev counter and speedo (the latter with small mph figures), but that’s really all you need on a bike like this. I managed 73.9mpg but 60-65mpg is probably more realistic, giving well over 250 miles from the big 22.5 litre tank.
The SWM Gran Milano 440 is a worthy new contender among mid-range retros. It has a few rough edges (and I’d like to try one after 2000 miles to see if the gear-change had freed up a bit) but it feels well put together, has a two-year warranty and a good spec.
SWM Gran Milano Specifications and Price
Engine : Single-cylinder, 445cc, Air/oil-cooled
Peak Power: 35 HP @ 7.000 RPM
Transmission: 5-speed, Chain Final-drive
Frame : Tubular-steel
Kerb Weight : 177 kg
Wheelbase : 1.410 mm
Front Tyre: 120/70 – 17in
Rear Tyre : 150/60 – 17in
Fuel Capacity : 22.5 Litres
Seat Height : 809 mm
Price : £4999