First Ride: 2016 Moto Guzzi California Eldorado

Guzzi replicates one of its most famous and desirable models, the Eldorado.

They say: Drawing from the past to the future along the path of technological evolution and stylistic continuity. We say: Don’t over-think it. It’s an Eldo.

Moto Guzzi continues to refine and expand its California big-cruiser lineup, facing off the arresting Audace (see 2016 Moto Guzzi Audace First Ride here) with something you pretty much always expected (hoped?) Guzzi would do: replicate one of its most famous and desirable models, the Eldorado.

This newest California Eldorado—heir to the 850cc full-dress version that debuted in the States more than 40 years ago—dives headfirst into the retro theme, with classic touches like chrome inserts on the fuel tank, aluminum spoke wheels wearing tubeless whitewall tires, and a plush, outsize saddle with passenger grab rail and removable pillion, sitting just 29.1 inches above the ground. (An optional low seat drops height by 20mm, to 28.3 inches.)

Other wayback bits include elegant double pinstripes on the tank and fenders, full rider floorboards, and a buckhorn handlebar. In addition to ABS and the standard electronics suite found on all Californias, the new Eldorado has cruise control as standard equipment. Like the first Eldorado (and the Ambassador before it) this is a plush, comfortable motorcycle, meant for open roads and long days in the saddle.

The new 16-inch spoke wheels run fat-ish whitewall tires (130/90 front, 180/65 rear), framed by fuller fenders and long, chromed mufflers that extend nearly past the rear tire. The smoother lines of the tank and fenders integrate with the shrouded shocks, a full plate-size rear tailight, and classic round turn signals. There are no bags here, but accessory units can easily be added; think of it as a custom touring model, or as a boulevard bike in stock form.

Up front, the Eldorado runs the amoeba-shaped polyelliptical light equipped with LED running lights (like the Custom and Touring models), distinguishing it from the Audace's circular solo unit. Both bikes have their instruments contained within a big solo gauge mounted atop the headlight, displaying an analog rev counter with multifunction speedo in the middle, and warning lights along the periphery.

On the Eldorado, you sit lower than the Audace, with generous floorboards beneath your feet and the comfortable pullback handlebar. Hit the starter, and roll it on; the power comes smoothly and easily, with the torque peak of 88.5 pound-feet coming a touch earlier (2,750 rpm) and in mellower fashion than it does in the Audace.

Ironically, this plusher, softer model feels much easier and more fun to ride than the supposedly performance-biased Audace. What's more surprising is that the two bikes have nearly identical chassis geometry—wheelbase, rake, trail, and suspension travel are all essentially identical. The big differences are that the Audace rolls on a 200mm-wide rear tire and the front is 130/70-18 compared to the Eldo’s 139/90-16. These changes, along with a different handlebar shape, completely change the character of the California chassis. Where the Eldo is nimble and relatively quick turning, the Audace is more reluctant.

As you'd expect, suspension is softer on the Eldorado but it never felt overmatched and we didn't bottom it out, even on some particularly nasty bumps flying down the autostrada. And because the controls are more accessible on the Eldo, the already well-sorted Brembos felt that much more responsive when frenetic Italian drivers closed in around us. While the Eldo definitely has the vintage styling cues down, it’s worth remembering that there’s a thoroughly modern motorcycle under all that—solid chassis, powerful brakes, torque-rich engine.

Like the Audace, the Eldo also employs ride-by-wire multi-map electronic management with three engine management maps: Turismo (touring), Veloce (sport) and Pioggia (rain). Similarly, the traction control (referred to as MGCT) can be adjusted to any of three sensitivity levels. At this intro, both bikes also sported Guzzi's new multimedia platform, MG-MP, an option that allows you to link the bike to your smartphone and then to the web. Once you download the free app to your smartphone and mount it on the bike, it becomes an onboard computer, letting you view parameters including speed and revs, engine power and torque, average fuel consumption, and more.

And there's that modern/vintage dichotomy at work again. How many bikes can you say carry forward such classic styling—and their own styling, not something borrowed—with a really good, modern motorcycle? Moto Guzzi has managed to preserve everything we like about the California 1400 series, fire-hose it with authentic retro styling, and yet preserve its functionality.


A new styling package on Moto Guzzi’s thoroughly modern California 1400 chassis.
[Honda][] Stateline, [H-D][] Fat Boy (or Heritage Softail), [Star][] Roadliner
PRICE $15,990
ENGINE 1380cc, air/oil-cooled 90° V-twin
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 96.0 hp @ 6500 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 88.5 lb-ft @ 2750 rpm
FRAME Steel double-cradle
FRONT SUSPENSION Sachs 46mm fork; 4.7-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Sachs shocks with adjustable spring preload; 4.7-in. travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs with ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo two-piston caliper, 282mm disc with ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 32.0º/5.7 in.
WHEELBASE 66.7 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 29.1 in.
CLAIMED WEIGHT 692 lb. wet
With its comfortable riding position, easy road manners, and retro good looks, the Eldorado doesn't disappoint.