Moto Guzzi California | First Ride

A Famous Name Resurrected for a New Machine

By Roland Brown, Photography by Milagro

Moto Guzzi created the first California in the early 1970s by fitting a V-twin roadster with cowhorn bars, buddy seat, windscreen, and saddlebags, just as American importers had originally done to create a bike for the Los Angeles Police Department. Not just for cops, the California remained in production through three capacity increases and seven revisions. Discontinued in 2009, it had been Guzzi's most successful and longest surviving model, selling more than 100,000 units and often keeping the firm in business.

One glance at this Touring model-there's also a naked California Custom as well-will tell you that despite the familiar styling cues it's a completely new bike. Guzzi's design team, led by none other than Miguel Galluzzi (who shaped Ducati's original Monster), has done a fine job of bringing the California image up to date. The overall look is a blend of traditional and modern elements. Sculpted, polished aluminum cylinder heads jut out below the embossed eagle crests on the shapely fuel tank.

At 1380cc, that resolutely traditional air-cooled, 90-degree engine is the biggest that Guzzi has ever produced. It gets its extra capacity from a wider, 104mm bore (and unchanged 81.2mm stroke), but the aim is flexibility not top-end power. The Cali's maximum of 96 horsepower at 6500 rpm is 6 bhp down on the 1151cc unit, but the torque peak of 88 lb.-ft. is roughly 15 percent higher, generated at just 2750 rpm. Electronically, this California is a much more sophisticated machine than its predecessors, incorporating cruise control, traction control, and three engine modes named Veloce, Turismo and Pioggia instead of Fast, Touring and Rain.

Defying the computer age, the big motor whirs to life with a trademark longitudinal-crankshaft shimmy, then settles to a juddery 1400 rpm idle. But the feeling changes once under way. The twin-cradle steel frame holds the shaft-drive powerplant in a new "elastic engine" system that uses rubber mounts and three rocker arms to reduce vibration to a very low level once the bike is moving.

For such a big, heavy machine-a claimed 743 pounds ready to go-the Guzzi is easy to ride. Its fat tires (18 inch front, 16 in. rear) and locomotive-like 66.3 in. wheelbase help it to balance, yet steering feels remarkably light. You don't need Schwarzenegger-like muscles to govern this California, despite its kicked-out 32 degrees of rake and substantial 6.1 in. of trail.

A low-effort ride-by-wire throttle also contributes to the feeling of effortless control, in conjunction with the plush suspension and well-mannered injection system. With the engine in its middle, Turismo mode, delivery is very gentle. Veloce sharpens the response without making the Guzzi resemble anything more aggressive than a big, cuddly panda. Pioggia really is for rain, with more intrusive traction control. The motor's broad torque spread means there's little point in revving it hard or making frequent use of the new six-speed box, which is precise but typically slow.

That flexible character encourages gentle riding, but the Cali is happy to stretch its legs when requested. At an indicated 70 mph, the engine is spinning just 3500 rpm in the overdrive top, halfway to max revs. At an indicated 110 mph with more to come, the Cali feels stable and relaxed while offering a fair degree of comfort behind the screen.

On winding roads, the Guzzi reminds me me that the old California was always a more capable all-rounder than its American cruiser image suggested. But it can't lean very far before running out of ground clearance, well before the Dunlops reach their limits of grip. At least there was no doubting the power of the Brembo brakes, complete with very efficient ABS-the only surprise is that Guzzi, which pioneered linked disc brakes four decades ago, didn't combine the front and rear systems this time.

Those old 1970s V-twins were highly regarded for their long-distance ability. Guzzi says this motor is between 15 and 20 percent more fuel efficient than the existing eight-valver. The digital display showed the Cali averaging 33 mpg during the press event, which should allow a useful range of more than 150 miles from the 5.4-gallon tank.

A broad rider saddle seems comfortable enough to match that range, and while the top-loading side cases open easily and have fair capacity, riders wanting to store a helmet will need one of the two accessory top boxes. Other accessories include alternative grips, handlebars, levers and seats, plus passenger floorboards, and numerous chromed parts.

That long accessory list is another indication of how much effort Moto Guzzi has put into the California during more than four years of development. Apparently its unveiling was delayed while its designers made a few final changes, including reworking one of the tank badge eagles so both looked in the direction of travel. It's a small detail, but typical of their approach-and appropriate, too. This all-new motorcycle brilliantly blends classic Guzzi style with modern technology. The California is not just one of the most functional and visually daring Moto Guzzis in many years, it's the model with which the old Italian firm takes a big and significant step forward.

Tech Spec

Evolution

The original '70s LAPD bike gets a bigger motor and modern electronics including power modes, traction control, and ABS.

Rivals

Harley-Davidson Switchback, Honda Interstate, Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad, Star Stratoliner S, Victory Cross Roads

Tech
Pricena
Enginetypea-c 90-deg. transverse V-twin
Valve trainSOHC, 8v
Displacement1380cc
Bore x stroke104.0 x 81.2mm
Compression10.5:1
Fuel systemEFI
ClutchDry, single-disc
Transmission6-speed
Claimed horsepower96.0 bhp @ 6500 rpm
Claimed torque88.0 lb.-ft. @ 2750 rpm
FrameSteel, double-cradle
Front suspension46mm Sachs fork
Rear suspensionSachs shocks with adjustable spring preload
Front brakeDual four-piston Brembo calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brakeTwo-piston Brembo caliper, 282mm disc with ABS
Front tire120/70-18 Dunlop D251
Rear tire200/60-16 Dunlop D251
Rake/trail32°/6.1 in.
Seat height29.1 in.
Wheelbase66.3 in.
Fuel capacity5.4 gal.
Claimed curb weight743 lbs.
ColorBlack, white
AvailableSpring 2013
Warranty24 mo., unlimited mi.
ContactMoto Guzzi USA
257 Park Avenue South, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10010
212.380.4400
www.motoguzzi-us.com
Verdict
(4 of 5 stars) A modern and lovingly built execution of a famous Guzzi nameplate.

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