Moto Guzzi California Touring | Short Shift

Elvis, Your Guzzi Is Ready

By Thomas Kinzer, Photography by Kevin Wing

They say: “The new ambassador for the Moto Guzzi brand.”
We say: “This could be the rebirth of the marque.”

There’s been quite a bit of talk about how the new Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring is inspired by the LAPD police bikes of the 1970s. Since I actually ride (and tour) on an old ‘70s Moto Guzzi LAPD bike, the boss thought a Guzzi guy’s perspective sounded like a good idea. We’ll see about that.

Since the original 1971 GT, the California has resurfaced in quite a few configurations, the most popular version being the Tonti-framed 1975 T3 California, which shares almost every component with my ’78 LAPD 850-T3 except the police-specific seat, windshield, and radio box. Starting in 1987 with the California III, through to the 2011 California “90th Anniversario,” the California model was largely a styling exercise.

Not so with the new California 1400 Touring. This machine has been purpose-built as an all-new interpretation of the original California, intended as a capable and thoroughly modern touring mount. In design aesthetic and mechanics, this is an entirely new motorcycle, a pretty big deal for a small “boutique” manufacturer like Moto Guzzi.

The engine is the largest ever built by the factory on the sunny shores of Lake Como. It’s an all-new, four-valve-per-cylinder engine with single overhead cams and a total displacement of 1380cc. Does that say torque? It does to our dyno, where the Cali hit its peak torque of 70.2 lb.-ft. at just 2300 rpm. Horsepower climbs the graph smoothly, peaking with 77.5 at 6500 rpm. The torque and the relatively heavy flywheel typical of Guzzis means you’ll have all the grunt you need exactly when you need it. I was able to easily perform low-rpm, roll-on passes without wondering if I was going to clear oncoming cars in time.

The Magneti-Marelli electronically controlled fueling—yes, ride-by-wire on a Guzzi—is predictable and smooth, even in Veloce (Sport) mode. Turismo (Touring) and Pioggia (Rain) are the other available modes. The bike has tons of loping Guzzi character at idle, but is extremely smooth and quiet at speed. The Kenny Loggins “yacht rock” level of smoothness can be attributed to Guzzi’s “floating engine” design that isolates the entire powertrain via rubber mounts. The mufflers are even rigidly mounted to the frame and breathe through flexible couplings.

I’m aware that restrictive pipes are a necessary regulatory evil these days. Most would consider the California’s decibel levels perfectly appropriate for a polite gentleman’s touring bike, but I can’t stop wondering how beautiful the song would be if this 1400cc Italian V-twin eagle was let out of its stainless steel cage. Fortunately, Moto Guzzi has already developed a wide range of accessories for the California, including “race-only” mufflers that work with the OEM fuel mapping.

The six-speed gearbox is well behaved, shifting predictably with good feedback via a heel-toe setup that is a pleasure to use. It allows you to actually rest your foot on the footboard, with the heel shifter just aft and slightly raised from the board. The front is positioned to allow you to get your toe underneath if you don’t want to use the heel shifter. Since my old T3 has a heel-toe, I have no such aversions, but it was nice not to have to lift your entire leg up off the board for each shift, and be able to move your foot around on the board.

Wind coverage is typical for a bags-and-windshield touring cruiser, so expect your legs, hands, and upper arms to be exposed. At 5-foot-8, I had almost no helmet buffeting from the windshield, and the top lip was in my line of vision only if I slouched. Another staffer noticed a mild high-speed vibration in the windshield above 70 mph that could become annoying, but I didn’t encounter it.

By Thomas Kinzer
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