Moto Guzzi California Touring | Short Shift

Elvis, Your Guzzi Is Ready

By Thomas Kinzer, Photography by Kevin Wing

The ergonomics feel great, with room to move around and adjust your riding position during a long day. The bike is big—as in more than 40 inches wide at the saddlebags and 764 pounds with a full tank. As you would expect, at parking lot speeds the bike is a bit of a handful. What you might not expect is how heavy the front end feels at those speeds, making it seem like a bicycle carrying a 12-pack in its handlebar basket when I was first riding it out of the shop.

Fortunately, the sensation disappears completely once you exceed a walking pace. “Nobody designs a motorcycle to handle well in a parking lot,” was Editor-in-Chief Cook’s response. Once on the road, the bike handles nicely, with the neutral responses typical of the earlier, Tonti-framed Moto Guzzis. The new Cali has quite a bit more cornering clearance than I expected. The floorboards also have nylon feelers under them allowing you to easily distinguish between a warning scrape and the more serious sound of hard parts touching down. The suspension works well, managing a compromise of comfort and performance, and is actually better damped than some bikes that describe themselves as full-on sport-touring models.

If the suspension out-performs its cruiser-based touring competition, the brakes absolutely blow them away. My old T3 has triple Brembos and one of the first linked brake systems ever produced. For its era, it has excellent stopping power and decent feel. Carrying on that braking performance tradition, the new California has sportbike-level brakes—dual 320mm discs with four-pot, radial-mounted Brembos up front and a single disc in the rear squeezed by a two-piston Brembo—all controlled with state-of-the-art (non-linked) ABS. The California also offers traction control, with three levels of intervention. Each is pre-programmed into the riding modes and can be adjusted independently or turned off completely. Supposedly, the system uses algorithms developed by Aprilia’s World Superbike effort.

All of this modern technology blends gracefully with the Art Deco-esque styling and elegant control surfaces and displays. Although large, the single instrument has a nice layout with an analog-style tach on the outer edge, a digital mph and menu display in the center, and various indicator lights along the bottom. Everything in the motorcycle-to-rider interface has a Zen-like simplicity. A few things are simple to a fault, such as the process of switching among the three riding modes. This requires ignoring the red herring “mode” button and pressing the starter button instead. Maybe the fault is mine for not reading the owner’s manual ahead of time, but I don’t make a habit of seeing what the starter button does on an unfamiliar, running motorcycle.

I really appreciated the cruise control, which uses a single button and single indicator. Flashing means it’s on but not set, solid means it’s on and set. Press the button and hold to toggle it on or off, press the same button briefly to set. That’s it. Much better than fumbling with a variety of buttons laid out to mimic the needs of a car’s cruise control.

Beyond function, Moto Guzzi obviously put effort into the form of the California. I garage my bikes in an open loft with an art gallery that sees light foot traffic, so I’m in a unique position to get feedback from non-motorcyclists about the bikes I happen to have in the space. In terms of appearance, most new bikes fall into the usual categories and seem more or less invisible to the cagers who browse the art sculptures—much like when we’re riding them. I rarely get comments unless a motorcyclist comes through.

With the California, nearly everyone who saw the bike had an opinion about its styling. We’ve all figured out by now that the bike’s styling is polarizing, but I’ve noticed that seems to be the case only with motorcyclists. Non-riders absolutely love the look of the bike, especially the swooping lines. Whether you love the styling or hate it, this is a surprisingly competent and elegant touring machine.

Don’t be surprised if you start moving camp, either. A couple of staffers have reported that the styling was “growing on them,” myself included. I prefer the Ambassador Black over El Dorado White, but those color choices and the beautiful front end on the California have me fantasizing about seat fitments and nacelle fabrication for the dash to make the retro bike most of us Guzzi weirdos really want: An El Dorado. If the California is any indication of the care, attention to detail, and delicate balance of form and function Moto Guzzi would pour into such a project, I think I’ll just hope and wait.

By Thomas Kinzer
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