Test: Moto Guzzi California Tourer

Words: Rob Harris. Photos: Moto Guzzi (unless otherwise specified)
Words: Rob Harris. Photos: Moto Guzzi (unless otherwise specified)

On my recent foray into Europe I had the opportunity to get a Guzzi loaner for a couple of weeks to act as a mule for my trip. I did over 3,000 km of glorious Italian mountain roads, Mediterranean highway and French Alpine passes.

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Did I take the sexy V7? Or the Griso? Norge? Surely the Stelvio? I love adventure bikes after all. Nope, in an uncharacteristic move to broaden my experience, I opted for Guzzi’s new California 1400 Tourer. Yes, it’s a cruiser. No, the sky is not falling in CMG land. It’s just slightly cracked.

History

The California name first appeared in 1971, based on their V7 (750) of the time but adapted with police gear at the request of the Los Angeles police department, and then mass produced for the public the following year in 850 form (though without the bullet proof windscreen).

In the 80’s, it grew into a 1000, then up to 1100 in the nineties, where it stayed until the latest 1400 incarnation this year, being reinvented seven times throughout its history. That makes it Moto Guzzi’s longest-running and most successful model ever with over 100,000 units produced over its 40-plus years in production.

The bike is loaded with electronic goodies (traction control, ride-by-wire) lifted from Piaggio group associate Aprilia.
The bike is loaded with electronic goodies (traction control, ride-by-wire) lifted from Piaggio group associate Aprilia.

What’s New

The 1400 California is a completely new motorcycle, with a bored-out version of the V11’s across-the-frame V-twin motor (now 1380 cc), a six-speed gearbox and new shaft drive, along with a new cradle frame with elastic mounts (the motor is no longer a stressed member in order to try and control vibration), and electronic doo-dads such as traction control, ride-by-wire and cruise control.

From the frying pan into the fire: Editor 'Arris trades New Brunswick spring for snow in Europe. Photo: Rob Harris
From the frying pan into the fire: Editor ‘Arris trades New Brunswick spring for snow in Europe (though this is high up in the Alps). Photo: Rob Harris

It comes in two formats; the California Tourer and California Custom. The Tourer, as you would expect, is based on the Custom but comes with all the bits for a longer tour such as 35-litre hard bags, tall screen, wider and taller bars, accessory lights, crash bars, and a full passenger seat. The engines are the same and in the same state of tune (96 hp and 87 ft-lbs of torque), but the big differences are curb weight (the Custom is 19 Kg lighter) and MSRP (the Custom is $3,000 cheaper).

Having Aprilia as part of the Piaggio group is helping with tech development on Guzzis, with the California boasting such marvels as ride-by-wire and traction control; these being lifted from the Aprilia RSV4.

Just the thing for hauling your sweetie off into the mountains.
Just the thing for hauling your sweetie off into the mountains.

The Ride

My first and foremost concern with the California would be whether it would accommodate my godly 6’ 4” frame in comfort. First impressions were good, with decent legroom (though my riding pant’s knee pads could just touch a cylinder) and a roomy riding zone, but the seat proved to be too tight. It was stepped in fine cruiser tradition, but the step was too far forward, which meant that my arse was always pushing somewhat against it.

Rob's first order of business: Find the Rain setting for the traction control.
Rob’s first order of business: Find the Rain setting for the traction control. Photo: Daniele Torresan

Despite this,  I could do surprisingly long stints in the saddle (one day ended up a 17-hour slog, thanks to a lack of operating gas stations in the Alps) with only the back of said arse lodging regular, but not ride-limiting, complaints. I would move back and sit on the passenger seat every now and then for some relief, though I think the sight of a lanky yellow-jacketed oaf stretched from rear to front may not have helped the coolness factor.

Unfortunately, although Guzzi offer a host of accessory seats, there’s no lanky sod option, but I must stress, this was the only comfort issue I had in 3000 kms and two weeks of testing.

It’s probably a good point to mention the screen. It’s a great wind blocker (no doubt helping the comfort factor) and although it was perfectly positioned for me as I could peep over the top, smaller riders (i.e. most everyone else) will likely have issues with it as it cannot be adjusted, forcing the rider to look through it.

I also found the bags were a little on the small side. They had decent capacity, but they had a small opening that meant everything had to be placed in or taken out individually in order to get it to fit.

If you're selling a bike for these roads, it needs to be able to turn handily. Photo: Rob Harris
If you’re selling a bike for these roads, it needs to be able to turn handily. Photo: Rob Harris

But what about handling? I must admit I was somewhat concerned about how the bike would behave in all those European narrow, high-speed twisties. My experience with cruisers has usually meant the suspension bottoms out or is overly stiff and corners come with ill-handling, sparky touchdowns that fray the nerves and stymie the point of motorcycling.

Rob was happy to find the dual rear shocks and telescopic forks up front provided decent suspension.
Rob was happy to find the dual rear shocks and telescopic forks up front provided decent suspension.

Despite the old-school twin-shock setup in back, with non-adjustable telescopic forks, I had no complaints about the suspension. It was soft enough to keep me comfy, yet hard enough not to wobble like a drunken Scotsman mid-corner.

I slowly pushed the California more and more, each time until I was riding it to within 80% of a more suitable machine’s ability. Handling was simply astonishing for a machine of this style and weight, the only real limitation being the reduced ground clearance thanks to the large (but foldable) floorboards.

One incident en route to Tuscany saw me shoot past a car in a short straight and then lean more and more and more into a gentle corner that hid its true switchback nature. Honestly, I thought I was about to make a trip into the weeds but the California (albeit with much screeching and an entertaining spark show for the riders behind) kept its line all the way around.

The Guzzi has an oil cooler, with independent oil pump and a thermostat-controlled fan.
The Guzzi has an oil cooler, with independent oil pump and a thermostat-controlled fan.

As if to further state that they can make a cruiser that works, the California’s fitted with a big pair of 320 mm discs, along with Brembo four-piston radial calipers.

What, proper brakes on a cruiser? Whatever next?
What, proper brakes on a cruiser? Whatever next?

I’ve never understood why some cruiser makers seem to think a heavy bike doesn’t need good brakes. It may be because Guzzi isn’t defined by the cruiser, or perhaps their relation with sister company  Aprilia, but it’s just what the doctor ordered.

You still need to give them a good squeeze to stop pronto, but I knew if I entered a corner just a tad too fast, I could give that good squeeze and the Cali would shed speed quickly and in a very controlled manner.

They’re also equipped with ABS which although you can get a moment of squeak as the wheel locked before the ABS kicked in, I found it to be subtle (no pulsing) and when in Veloche mode, I found it kicked in surprisingly often.

As if to emphasize the motor even more, the tank has been cut away to make room for them.
As if to emphasize the motor even more, the tank has been cut away to make room for them.

A big set of jugs

Enough chat about comfort; what about the motor; the very soul that defines Moto Guzzi? The California is not a light motorcycle and it needs some V-Twin grunt if it’s to satisfy the cruiser raison d’être, and boosting the motor from 1100 to 1400 has worked well.

Rumours abound that Moto Guzzi is planning to water-cool this motor.
Rumours abound that Moto Guzzi is planning to water-cool this motor.

Yes, it rattles and shakes around, but since it isn’t a stressed member of the chassis, few of those discomforts actually get back to the rider. The massive spread of torque enables the Cali to pull well off idle. It was as happy to be chugged around or revved out.

Open her up and you’re propelled forward with a strong push all the way up to the 7,000 rpm redline. The amount of push depends on the power mode selected. The bike comes with three options; Turismo (touring), Veloce (sport), Pioggia (rain).

I found I generally left it in Turismo mode unless I wanted to try and keep up with a bunch of Italians on sport tourers – then I’d use Veloce mode. This frees up all the power and makes for a surprisingly agile motor with a good turn of speed, whereas Turismo mode just takes the edge of it.

If you ever find yourself unloading a California from the back of a van onto a rather wet cobblestone street of downtown Milan, then you’ll want to set it to Pioggia mode. If you’re riding on wet cobbles, surrounded by crazy Italian drivers in a city with seemingly no legible road signs, having the option to castrate a very torquey motor is a blessing.

Motor is now housed in a double cradle frame instead of being a stressed member.
Motor is now housed in a double cradle frame instead of being a stressed member.

There’s also adjustable traction control, but since I wasn’t on a racetrack or trying to steer with the back wheel on gravel roads, I just left it on in standard setting, safe in the knowledge that if I did grab too much of a handful of throttle I would be most likely saved from trying to right the beast in front of a chorus of blaring Fiat horns and snickering supermodels.

Hard cornering resulted in scraped floorboards. Photo: Rob Harris
Hard cornering resulted in scraped floorboards, though you can see that the fixed  mount also touches down which is a little worrying. Photo: Rob Harris

Overall I found the motor to be an absolute pleasure, whether gingerly winding my way through a wet Milan or booking along the Autostrada through hill and over valley along the Mediterranean coast like a foreigner who couldn’t get a ticket. Often I found myself buzzing along in fourth (the Cali revs up to the 7,000 rpm redline without fuss), only to realize that there were two more gears to go, with sixth a very mellow low rpm pull at highway speeds.

Perhaps the only thing that I didn’t like was the gearbox, which felt like the only old school part left. It’s not terrible, but it did need a firm boot and changing down would give an audible “Ker-Klunk” in fine cruise tradition. The clutch was a tad on the heavy side too – not a problem on the highway, but noticeable if stuck in town.

The windscreen could be a bit tall for most users, but Rob found he could see over it easily.
The windscreen could be a bit tall for most users, but Rob found he could see over it easily.

The downer bit

The Tourer comes with an alarm system that needs to be deactivated by pushing a button on the key fob otherwise the bike won’t start. Sounds simple enough, no? Well, during a late-night gas stop, the alarm wouldn’t deactivate and the bike wouldn’t start.

Despite the bike's good handling, its weight still required some prudence when flogging it through the corners.
Despite the bike’s good handling, its weight still required some prudence when flogging it through the corners. Photo: Rob Harris

I tried everything, until in a desperate attempt to save me having to grab a taxi and head to the uber-expensive town of Cannes to find a ‘cheap’ hotel, I decided to pull all the fuses one last time. The alarm squeaked and I quickly hit the start, which worked, to my gleeful schoolgirl-like high-pitched yelp and clapping of hands.

It had been a rather stressful two-hour process, and was not isolated to the one incident, occurring a couple more times (all in gas stations oddly), and only fixable by wobbling the fuse around until the alarm squeaked. I’m assuming that it was merely a defective fuse holder, but it was almost enough to ruin my France excursion.

Fuel Economy

The California’s tank has a capacity of 20.5 litres, though I’d find that the reserve warning would tend to come on with five litres or so still to go, which had the effect of making me a tad nervous of running out of gas.

However, in mixed riding conditions the fuel economy delivered was not bad, returning 14 km/l (7.15 l/100 km) or 33.2 mpg for our US readership (that’s close to 40 mpg for the guy in the UK that reads us). That gives a range of 287 km, plus or minus 20 km, depending on how hard you rode.

That's a stainless steel exhaust and a  	200/60 R16 rear tire.
That’s a stainless steel exhaust and a 200/60 R16 rear tire.

Conclusion

You may have gathered I’m not a cruiser type; I prefer function over form. Give me an ugly bike that rides well and it’s not so ugly anymore. Give me a pretty bike that doesn’t handle, stop or even offer any real comfort and it’s a crap bike, no matter how the pretty chrome sparkles.

The bike's gauges offer a combination of analogue and digital displays.
The bike’s gauges offer a combination of analogue and digital displays.

The California is probably the first cruiser that I’ve ridden that I could actually see me owning at some point in the future. Sure, the seat doesn’t accommodate my stature, there’s floorboards and they do scrape (albeit without lifting the rear wheel) and it weighs an unfathomable 337 kg wet, but it works.

The motor shakes and rattles but it has real power and a sea of torque. The chassis and suspension hold it all together brilliantly, even in some pretty gnarly twisties and the brakes, brake (what a notion).

Guzzi have made a bike that should have the executives at the MoCo shaking in their boots, especially with a $18,490 price tag that puts it $1,500 below a comparable Road King. But with little dealer network and an MG on the tank instead of HD will sadly probably make the California a relatively rare sight on North American roads.

The Factory Tour

Since I had to drop the California off at the Moto Guzzi factory in Mandello Del Lario at the end of the test, I’d asked my Guzzi handler, Daniele Torresan, if I could get a quick tour of the factory that has been churning out the famous brand since 1921. Daniele, being the kind soul that he is, took a day off work to meet me there and show me around.

A Guzzi V7 gets a dyno run at the factory.
A Guzzi V7 gets a dyno run at the factory.

The factory is located on the shores of Lake Como. It’s an idyllic spot, nestled in the southern foothills of the Alps and a somewhat unusual a place to find a motorcycle factory (though rumour has it any previous attempts to move the factory to a more suitable location have been fiercely fought by Guzzi loyalists and factory workers).

The California Touring 1400 has extra lamps for illuminating late-night rides.
The California Touring 1400 has extra lamps for illuminating late-night rides.

Despite being owned by the Piaggio Group, the Mandello Del Lario factory is dedicated purely to their Moto Guzzi brand and consists of two production lines: one for the bigger bikes such as the California and 1100 lines, and one for the smaller V7 line (which BTW, is Guzzi’s best seller, making up about 40% of all sales), and employs a total of 110 locals.

The production lines make batches of bikes per each country’s demands on a quarterly basis based on the numbers that each country’s dealers/importers demand. So say Canada ordered 50 California’s, the line would finish the previous country and then start on the Canada order, building in the various Canada specific requirements, such as lighting and bilingual stickering.

The original California!
The original California!

Total capacity for the factory is 10,000 units a year, which the factory was at in 2006, just before the market got hit by the worldwide financial crisis. Nowadays it’s at a more modest 7,000 units.

The factory is also home to the official Guzzi museum, a quaint but complete record of Guzzi’s history – both production and racing. Trouble is, since it’s inside the factory wall it’s only open during the limited factory hours (and that doesn’t include weekends) although Daniele informed me that a new building on the outside is underway to accommodate tourists.


GALLERY

Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.

Cali-1400-engine_fr

It's like a perky version of a Boxer motor

Cali-1400-engine_Rr

Rumours abound that Moto Guzzi is planning to water-cool this motor.

Cali-1400-engine_side

That's a six-speed gearbox on back.

Cali-1400-engine_top

The top view of the motor.

California-III-rhs

The California went through several stages (mostly a tad ugly).

California-Touring_front-wheel

What, proper brakes on a cruiser? Whatever next?

California-Touring_jugs

As if to emphasize the motor even more, the tank has been cut away to make room for them.

California-Touring_lsf

Rob was happy to find the dual rear shocks and telescopic forks up front provided decent suspension.

California-Touring_lsf2

The bike is loaded with electronic goodies (traction control, ride-by-wire) lifted from Piaggio group associate Aprilia.

California-Touring_lsr

That's a stainless steel exhaust and a 200/60 R16 rear tire.

California-Touring_rsr

The Touring version also has wider bars than the Custom model.

California-Touring-ride_lhs

The Guzzi has an oil cooler, with independent oil pump and a thermostat-controlled fan.

California-Touring-ride_lsf2

The windscreen could be a bit tall for most users, but Rob found he could see over it easily.

California-Touring-ride_rsr

Just the thing for hauling your sweetie off into the mountains.

Chassis

Motor is now housed in a double cradle frame instead of being a stressed member.

V7-Police-rhs

The original California!

Italy

If you're selling a bike for these roads, it needs to be able to turn handily. Photo: Rob Harris

floorboard-scraping

Hard cornering resulted in scraped floorboards. Photo: Rob Harris

prudence

Despite the bike's good handling, its weight still required some prudence when flogging it through the corners.

Cali_arty

The Guzzi handled twisties surprisingly well for 'Arris. Photo: Rob Harris

factory_Cali_line

Here's the factory line where the 1400s get assembled.

factory_!400_motor_assy

A Guzzi motor gets bolted together at the factory.

factory_V7-dyno

A Guzzi V7 gets a dyno run at the factory.

Wet-delivery

Rob's first order of business: Find the Rain setting for the traction control.

Alpine_snow

From the frying pan into the fire: Editor 'Arris trades New Brunswick spring for snow in Europe. Photo: Rob Harris

California-Custom-lsr

The Custom is a bit more trimmed-down looking.

California-Touring_lsr2

The Touring 1400 is $3,000 more expensive than the Custom.

California-Touring_clocks

The bike's gauges offer a combination of analogue and digital displays.

California-Touring_lights

The California Touring 1400 has extra lamps for illuminating late-night rides.

California-french-road

Words: Rob Harris. Photos: Moto Guzzi (unless otherwise specified)

It's like a perky version of a Boxer motorRumours abound that Moto Guzzi is planning to water-cool this motor.That's a six-speed gearbox on back.The top view of the motor.The California went through several stages (mostly a tad ugly).What, proper brakes on a cruiser? Whatever next?As if to emphasize the motor even more, the tank has been cut away to make room for them.Rob was happy to find the dual rear shocks and telescopic forks up front provided decent suspension.The bike is loaded with electronic goodies (traction control, ride-by-wire) lifted from Piaggio group associate Aprilia.That's a stainless steel exhaust and a  	200/60 R16 rear tire.The Touring version also has wider bars than the Custom model.The Guzzi has an oil cooler, with independent oil pump and a thermostat-controlled fan.The windscreen could be a bit tall for most users, but Rob found he could see over it easily.Just the thing for hauling your sweetie off into the mountains.Motor is now housed in a double cradle frame instead of being a stressed member.The original California!If you're selling a bike for these roads, it needs to be able to turn handily. Photo: Rob HarrisHard cornering resulted in scraped floorboards. Photo: Rob HarrisDespite the bike's good handling, its weight still required some prudence when flogging it through the corners.The Guzzi handled twisties surprisingly well for 'Arris. Photo: Rob HarrisHere's the factory line where the 1400s get assembled.A Guzzi motor gets bolted together at the factory.A Guzzi V7 gets a dyno run at the factory.Rob's first order of business: Find the Rain setting for the traction control.From the frying pan into the fire: Editor 'Arris trades New Brunswick spring for snow in Europe. Photo: Rob HarrisThe Custom is a bit more trimmed-down looking.The Touring 1400 is $3,000 more expensive than the Custom.The bike's gauges offer a combination of analogue and digital displays.The California Touring 1400 has extra lamps for illuminating late-night rides.Words: Rob Harris. Photos: Moto Guzzi (unless otherwise specified)


SPECIFICATIONS

Bike  2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring
MSRP  $18,490
Displacement  1380 cc
Engine type  Air/oil-cooled transverse V-twin
Power (crank)*  96 HP at 6,500 rpm
Torque*  87 ft-lb (120 Nm) at 2,750 rpm
Tank Capacity  20.5 litres
Carburetion  EFI
Final drive  Shaft
Tires, front  130/70 R18
Tires, rear  200/60 R 16
Brakes, front  Dual 320 mm stainless steel floating discs, Brembo radial calipers, four horizontally opposed pistons
Brakes, rear  282 mm stainless steel fixed disc, Brembo floating two-piston caliper
Seat height  740 mm (29.1 in); optional 720 mm (28.3 in)
Wheelbase  1685 mm (66.3 in)
Wet weight*  337 kg (743 lbs)
Colours  Black
Warranty  Two years, On year roadside assistance
* claimed  

5 thoughts on “Test: Moto Guzzi California Tourer”

  1. The signs in the opening picture, I’m guessing they mean “Put on your pope hat” and “Right turn ahead” .

  2. Other than that massive oil cooler, and maybe the rear lights, it certainly looks nice – I’d love to try one. But that said, putting aside all the subjective stuff that cruiser / touring riders often look at first (looks, feel, sound), it’s missing well out on torque (about 20 ft. pnds. on a dyno) and range vs. the Road King you mentioned. The RK has a lower seat height too, likely better low speed handling, I’d guess a better CVWR, better accessories and aftermarket – all stuff that matters to this market. So I’m not so sure Harley is shaking in their boots as you said…

  3. “wobble like a drunken Scotsman”?

    And what do you base that on, you
    Sassanach git?

    Oh. We’ve met? Never mind ….

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