Moto Guzzi California Vintage - First Ride

La Leggenda Ritorna

Retro, Metro Euro-Tourer
My past dalliances with Moto Guzzi cruisers have generally been pleasant affairs, so when I got wind of the California Vintage, I was pretty keen to pile on the miles. Based on appearance alone, the new touring mount looked like a blast to ride.

Introduced to the European market in 2006, this touring version of the venerable California custom made its way to the USA last year. The California has been one of Guzzi's most reliable sellers for decades, and because the long-struggling Italian manufacturer traditionally had only enough resources to gussy up a few models at a time, this one took on the role of Euro-cruiser as much by accident as by design.

Now that Piaggio is signing the checks, however, Guzzi is living large. The California Vintage is shot through with styling cues cribbed from the past, such as the spoked wheels, chromed steel fenders and classic black paint with white pinstripes. Touring accoutrements include the chrome-rimmed saddlebags, luggage rack and medium-height windshield framed by auxiliary fog lights.

The Vintage got some mechanical upgrades as well, not least the 1064cc V-twin swiped from the Breva 1100. Newer bits include a less shaky crankcase, lighter pistons, an upgraded hydraulic valve train and fuel injection, which helps the bike achieve Euro 3 compliancy.

Settling atop the bike's 30-inch-high saddle, the slightly pulled-back wide bar is well within reach. But beneath the urbane faade lie Marquis de Sade ergos: Awkward floorboards folded my knees nearly to my rib cage (and I'm a stubby guy), while the transverse cylinders stymied any attempt to stretch my legs. Sub-6-footers can probably live with the seating position, but anyone with an inseam over 31 inches will cry uncle. Guzzi says this arrangement maximizes cornering clearance, but I'm not buying it-the floorboards could easily be an inch lower.

Once underway, the loping 90-degree V-twin ushered me down the road with little drama and minimal shaft effect. The claimed 74 bhp is adequate for casual cruising, and in the twisties the Vintage is much more agile than most other bikes of its ilk. Conservative steering geometry translates into good stability and neutral handling.

The engine's loping cadence felt odd below 4000 rpm, partly due to tall gearing. Passing usually entailed a downshift, which wasn't always a simple proposition because the heel/toe shifter was maladjusted. While I could generally gear up by pushing down with my heel, the front of the lever was too close to the floorboard to hook my toe underneath. I also had to lift my right foot clear of the 'board to depress the brake pedal; forget about modulating it. Moreover, the gearbox displayed vague action, especially when trying to click into neutral.

On the road, the Magneti Marelli sequential fuel injection was about on par, though there was some noticeable on/off hesitation and on a few cold mornings the engine proved hard to start. The conventional Marzocchi fork soaked up big hits admirably, but the standard-issue, preload-adjustable twin shocks occasionally dropped the ball on sharper whacks. No question the Brembo brakes are up to snuff, even though I'm usually not a fan of linked brakes (one front disc is activated by the rear brake pedal). I routinely got upward of 35 mpg, so the 5-gallon fuel tank should easily stretch close to 200 miles.

As for the luggage, while the saddlebags are attractively shaped, nicely integrated, waterproof and fairly capacious, I had trouble aligning the latches for secure closure.

In the end, the Vintage is a well-intentioned blend of retro looks and modern function. Going to California, it turns out, doesn't require an aching heart after all.

Tech Spec
A stylized take on the original V7 California ridden by '70s LAPD motor cops.

With its Italian styling and transverse 90-degree V-twin, it's arguably in a class of its own.

Price: $14,990
Engine type: a-c, {{{90}}}-deg. V-twin
Valve train: {{{OHV}}}, hydraulic adj.
Displacement: 1064cc
Bore x stroke: 92.0 x {{{80}}}.0mm
Compression: 9.8:1
Fuel system: EFI
Clutch: Dry, single-plate
Transmission: 5-speed
Claimed horsepower: 74 bhp @ 6400 rpm
Claimed torque: 60 lb.-ft. @ {{{5000}}} rpm
Frame: Tubular-steel double cradle
Front suspension: 45mm Marzocchi fork with adj. compression and rebound damping
Rear suspension: Twin shocks with adj. spring preload
Front brake: Dual Brembo four-piston calipers, 320mm discs, linked
Rear brake: Single Brembo two-piston caliper, 282mm disc, linked
Front tire: 110/90-VB18 Metzeler
Rear tire: 140/70-VB17 Metzeler
Rake/trail: 29.0/4.6 in.
Seat height: 30.7 in.
Wheelbase: 61.4 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 580 lbs.
Colors: Black/white
Available: Now
Warranty: 2 yrs., unlimited mi.

A tastefully done retro-tourer, but its European styling and Dom Perignon price tag won't suit most Americans' Budweiser palates.

They Say: The California is one of those industrial design objects that have left their mark on our history.
We Say: So is the Baldwin 4-4-0 steam locomotive.
The Guzzi's snazzy bench saddle gets props for touring comfort with a vintage vibe.
Keeping the nostalgia intact is an old-school round taillight, flanked by two bullet-like turn signals.
Vintage black-faced dials adorn the instrument panel, which is tucked behind a medium-size windscreen.