Test Ride: Moto Guzzi Stone

0
58

Words: Andrew Boss Photos: Richard Seck
Back in 1961, Bo Diddley sang “I look like a farmer but I’m a lover” in the song You Can’t Judge a Book by its Cover. At the same time, somewhere in Italy, an employee of Moto Guzzi was probably assembling the father of the motor that now lives in the California Stone. A bike, that on initial viewing, looks like it’s not going to do anything well. But don’t judge a book by its cover.

The California Stone is basically a rebadged Jackal with a makeover. Power is provided by a 1064 cc, transverse (from left to right instead of front to back) v-twin motor. You could say it defines Moto Guzzi – originating in the 50s when it was used to power 3-wheeled military vehicles, it still remains the Guzzi cornerstone, even as they celebrate their 80th anniversary this year.

An obvious feature when you first look at it, is its matte finish of Porphyry Grey – Porphyry being a type of rock (and hard to pronounce). Actually the colour options also include Slate Black, Flint Orange and Limestone White – thereby all cleverly following the Stone theme, even if they did just add a stone type in front of the colour. The finish gives the bike a suede look, last seen on 1950 Mercury lead sleds, but gaining popularity again on motorcycles today. Guzzi compliment this finish with a brushed-down effect on the polished surfaces of the pipes and gas cap.

As installed in the California Stone, the motor kicks out 74hp at 6400rpm, with a peak torque of 70ft/lbs at 5000rpm. What that really means is a motor that will lay some whoop ass on most non power-cruisers. Cracking the throttle from idle, I felt eighteen again, as the bike twisted to the right like a big block in a ’66 Chevy. Ah yes, those were the days. ‘Born to Run’ blasting on the 8-track – blissfully ignorant of how cruel the world really is …or some similar analogy.

However, surprisingly it doesn’t have gobs of low end, but more of a muscular midrange that hits with a solid “BWAHHHH” from the airbox. Oh man, this thing sounds good on the pipe! I rode the Stone like a hooligan most of the time, just to get that pull on the bars and that great sound – I just couldn’t help myself.

While power can still be had in the upper revs, it does tail off a tad quickly. I had to work really hard to hit the rev limiter which, once hit, left the Stone crying death and spitting out a load of sparks from the pipe, sufficient to scare off woodland creatures for some distance. Excellent!

The fuel injection system didn’t falter at any throttle opening or closing. However, starting in zero degree weather required a few attempts before the beast would snort into life. I think this was the Stone’s way of warning me that it’s too damn cold to ride today.

The Stone’s mill is coupled to a reworked five speed gearbox. Its claimed new attributes being much smoother, and quieter shifting. I can’t argue with that claim – going from neutral to first was much quieter than the last three cruisers I tested, and all up-shifts were quiet and sure. But, (there’s always a but) I found false neutrals several times when shifting back down. Especially between 5th and 4th and even more so between 3rd and 2nd (although they were found smoothly and quietly, I might add!).

Fifth gear is tall enough to be a pseudo overdrive. It gave the Stone a very long legged feeling, although required downshifting to fourth for quick highway passing. Or maybe it was just my subconscious wanting to wring the motor out another time.

Power is transferred to the rear wheel by the standard Guzzi shaft drive. It didn’t influence the ride to any great extent, except on the missed downshifts, which would result in the bike giving a weird kind of twist to embarrass the author.

With the across-the-frame V configuration, the bike feels quite narrow when seated. Despite being 541lbs (30lbs heavier than the Vulcan and Spirit that we tested recently), it doesn’t feel heavy at low or higher speed.

Seat height is a lowish 737 mm (29″) which is in the cruiser ballpark. With an overall length of 1560 mm (61.4″), and a rake of only 28 degrees, you have the ingredients for a much better handling cruiser than most of the standard offerings.

The frame looks kind of dainty in a spindly sort of way, which may explain a slight unease in the bike when navigating those all too frequent pavement ruts that follow the direction of travel.

Thankfully, the Stone is very agreeable at corners with ample clearance, thereby avoiding that cruiser tradition of being wrenched out of your riding bliss by grinding pegs and a shower of sparks. To keep the front end compliant, a steering damper is stock fitting, although it wasn’t keeping all the oil inside.

Overall riding comfort was good. The seat is wide and decently padded. The rear suspension, described imaginatively in the Guzzi specs as a ‘swing arm with two hydraulic shock absorbers’, gave a smooth ride over the spots where other cruisers punished my spine. Black finished 45mm forks damp the front end.

On the control side, the levers, grips and switchgear are of good quality, although clutch action is heavy and a lot of ‘stop and go’ riding cramped my left hand a bit. The speedo didn’t quite seem right – a crude comparison test with a Ford F-150 as my speedo calibrating device, suggested the Guzzi’s might be up to 10km/h too high at 80km/h. It didn’t return to zero mph when stationary either.

Guzzi’s claim a maximum speed of 124mph (a tad under 200 km/h). On CMG’s Plan B test facility (funded largely by Ontario taxpayers), I got the likely inaccurate speedo to 110 mph before fear, denial, anger and finally, compliance, kicked in.

The heel/toe shifter required too much thought when figuring which part to use, while wearing my usual size 10 boots. When photographer Seck suggested I try a pair of his size 11 boots, both toe and heel wedged perfectly in-between the shifter parts, resulting in a desire to ride to a hardware store for a hacksaw to ‘adapt’ the shifter back to a more conventional style.

So, it goes good and handles well and I’m usually one to nit-pick so that brings us to? …..The brakes. The single 320mm disk and four-piston Brembo caliper up front has all the (in) sensitivity of Editor ‘arris on deadline day.

Even though the good folks at Bavarian Motosports bled them prior to my test ride, they required some pulling to get to bite. Halfway to the bar though, and the brakes started their job in earnest. I find that sometimes, that first half-inch of movement feels a lot longer – spoken as a heterosexual male with no innuendo I assure you.

The rear 282mm disk with two-pot caliper didn’t distinguish itself as bad or good, which I guess can be both bad and good.

Just to dispense with the remaining poopy bits, the sidestand is grossly long and awkward. The crank sensor had a minor gasket leak and the mirrors are kind of unusable if the bike is running. Also, a bolt fell out of the one of the ignition coil mounts.

In the all important appearance department, the bike generated a lot of talk. With the unusual matte finish, the unique motor configuration and non-cookie cutter bodywork, I got a thumbs up from a natty ‘Bay Street type’ on, well, Bay Street as well as from a scary ‘How much fer yer daughter?’ type in a dump truck.

So, to bring this thread to some conclusion, although I initially thought the bike looked tame, it’s all in the riding though folks, and this thing was fun, fun, fun. If the brakes were on par with the handling and power (maybe better pads?), and the quality control was bumped up a notch, it would make an excellent all-rounder.


Some additional detailed shots …

Overhead.
Gauges!
Arse end.
Ludicrously long sidestand.

 

Bike

California Stone

MSL

$13,185.00

Displacement

1,064 cc

Engine type

Transverse sohc v-twin, air cooled

Carburetion

Fuel Injection

Final drive

Five speed, Shaft drive

Tires, front

110/90 VB18

Tires, rear

140/80 VB17

Brakes, front

Single 320 mm discs with four piston caliper

Brakes, rear

Single 282 mm disc with two piston caliper

Seat height

737 mm (29″)

Wheelbase

1,560 mm (61.4″)

Dry weight

246 Kg (542lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Slate Black, Porphyry Grey, Flint Orange, Limestone White

Join the conversation!