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.

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.

EVOLUTION
An engine highly evolved from the “big block” Guzzi V-twin mates to an all-new chassis clothed in styling both completely unlike yet still evocative of M-G’s best-selling bikes from three decades ago.

RIVALS
Harley-Davidson Road King, Honda Interstate, Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad, Star Road Star Silverado, Suzuki Boulevard C90T B.O.S.S.

TECH 
Price$17,990
Engine typea/o-c 90-deg. V-twin
Valve trainSOHC, 8v
Displacement1380cc
Bore x stroke104.0 x 84.2mm
Compression10.5:1
Fuel systemEFI, ride-by-wire
ClutchDry, single disc
Transmission6-speed
Measured horsepower77.5 bhp @ 6500 rpm
Measured torque70.2 lb.-ft. @ 2300 rpm
FrameTubular-steel double-cradle
Front suspensionSachs 46mm fork
Rear suspensionSachs shocks with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping
Front brakeDual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
Rear brakeBrembo two-piston caliper, 282mm disc with ABS
Front tire130/70R-18 Dunlop D251
Rear tire200/60R-16 Dunlop D251
Rake/trail32.0°/6.1 in.
Seat height29.1 in.
Wheelbase66.3 in.
Fuel capacity5.4 gal.
Weight (tank full/empty)764/732 lbs.
ColorAmbassador Black, El Dorado White
AvailableNow
Warranty24 mo., unlimited miles
ContactMoto Guzzi USA
257 Park Avenue South,
4th Floor New York, NY 10010
212.380.4400
www.motoguzzi-us.com

VERDICT 4 out of 5 stars
Guzzi has cracked the code on high technology and refinement without losing its essential Guzzi-ness.

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By Thomas Kinzer
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