You can’t accuse a Moto Guzzi
of lacking character. Of course, character can be a double-edged sword if a manufacturer focuses more on building charismatic motorcycles than concentrating on performance. And while Moto Guzzi’s roots may hark back to 1921 and its California model has been around since 1971, the latest rendition of its cruiser motorcycle, the 2013 California 1400 Custom, sheds any stigmas of antiquity the brand may have had. It’s not every day you come across a cruiser with high-end rider aids like traction control, variable engine maps, ABS, cruise control and a ride-by-wire throttle system as standard equipment.
Fret not, Guzzi loyalists. The company didn’t entirely abandon its roots. The 2013 California 1400 Custom sports classic styling and when you thumb the electric starter button it greets riders with that familiar Guzzi character. Its transverse V2 engine with a longitudinally-mounted crankshaft creates plenty of shake, rattle and roll in the bars at idle and the right-side twist from the rotating crankshaft is also still present when throttle is applied, but get it rolling and the California’s quirkiness at idle quickly dissolves. The 1380cc rigid-mounted Twin serves as a striking focal point of the motorcycle and the crowns of its cylinder heads peeking out below the tank cut-outs gives the bike an imposing presence.
Before setting off, riders can select from three riding modes: Veloce (Sport), Turismo (Touring), and Pioggia (Rain). After firing the California 1400 Custom up, press the red starter button to the right and hold it down for a second, then release. The engine mode display in the speedo gauge will have a bar around it, then tap the starter to cycle through the engine maps.
In Veloce mode, its 104mm pistons drum inside the 81mm bore like a Neil Peart solo. In its full-power setting the California springs to life, throttle response snaps, it launches with authority and pulls like a mule. Wringing out first gear will jet you up to almost 50 mph in a flash. In Veloce/Sport mode, more torque is available earlier in the rev range similar to the engine output of its American counterparts. Set on Turismo it tones the throttle down a notch and hits its sweet spot at a higher rpm. Instead of a snappy drum roll, it’s more about smooth roll-ons and mid-range power as the arm-stretching hit of Veloce is tamed down. We did notice the bike lugs a bit under 2000 rpm in this mode when we let engine speed dro
The California 1400 Custom's traction control gave us peace of mind when we decided to take it off the beaten, paved path.
p down in sharp corners and tight switchbacks. Click it in Pioggia and the syncopated beat of the big pistons drums even lighter. Output is cut down noticeably, throttle response and rev is lighter yet it doesn’t totally neuter the bike. The mode does its intended job well, keeping wheel spin down for adverse conditions and is a useful tool for getting acclimated to the feel of the bike as well.
The MGCT, as Guzzi calls its traction control system, likewise has three modes, indicated by 1-2-3. It is activated by the Mode button situated in a control housing on top of the left handlebar. The button toggles through standard fare, from a clock to trip meters, but has a MGCT setting as well. Once it is illuminated on the display, hold the Mode button down a sec then you’re able to adjust the traction control settings. It is during hard launches and hard braking that the effectiveness of the traction control is most evident. Off the line, it keeps the back wheel from spinning out so the motorcycle just hooks up and goes. During hard braking, it keeps the bike upright, in line and steady. Its presence alone is reassuring on our Oregon roads that are often littered with gravel and dirt in turns, residuals from spring rains and winter sanding.
But that’s part of the beauty of the roads of our homegrown testing grounds. They provide real-word hazards that will quickly point out a motorcycle’s strong points or deficiencies. Heading out of a small logging community called Cave Junction on our way to the Oregon Caves, the California 1400 Custom is powering up the increasingly steep roads with little effort, even with the added weight of a passenger on back. Moto Guzzi lists power numbers at 89 lb-ft of torque at 2750 rpm while its peak of 96 horsepower doesn’t hit until 6500 rpm, the California’s higher revving nature one of the areas it differentiates from most American V-Twins.
As the road to the Oregon Caves ascends, pines stretch skyward as the ribbon of asphalt snakes through the thickly layered forest. To our right a doe comes out of the brush with the smallest spotted fawn I’ve ever seen in tow. The deep-seated note of the California 1400 Custom halts the mother deer in her tracks, eyes darting for an angle of escape but her legs momentarily frozen. We’re cruising along at almost 60 mph when there’s that instant when you don’t know whether she’s going to bolt in front of you or shoot back into the forest, but thanks to the California’s big twin 320mm discs and Brembo radial calipers, we’re down to 15 mph by the time we pass the duo. Having dual discs on a big cruiser is an exception instead of the norm despite the fact that the niche is comprised of the biggest, heaviest bikes around. The California’s brakes are very powerful, particularly the Brembos on the front with its four piston arrangement that really dig in. During full-on emergency braking tests, we were impressed with how quickly the tandem can bring the bike to a complete, controlled stop. We like that the ABS isn’t as intrusive as other cruisers and the only pumping sensation is on the front brake lever.
Heading back into town on Hwy. 199, we’re barely aware of any unevenness in the road as we cruise along at 65 mph. With a stout 46mm front fork sporting a generous 4.7-inches travel and twin rear shocks with both preload and rebound adjustability, the California’s suspension makes for a smooth, enjoyable ride. The rider-friendliness is facilitated by a
The 2013 California 1400 Custom is rock-solid through sweepers and is easy to manuever at parking lot speeds, but it carries a lot of its weight low and forward and will fall-in slightly on tight turns.
fuss-free transmission as the clutch and six-speed gearbox are nicely sorted. It requires a firm clutch pull, but only takes a short tug to get it to slip through gears. First clunks into place during engagement, otherwise it performs smoothly. We noticed occasional jacking from the shaft drive, but nothing alarming.
“The Moto Guzzi California’s suspension is supple and makes for an extremely comfortable ride. It does an admirable job damping a big, heavy bike. I wouldn’t describe the California as sporty, per se, but it can hustle way better than a 700-pound cruiser should thanks to the suspension,” agreed Motorcycle USA’s Managing Editor, Bart Madson.
Because at 709 pounds, it is a heavy bike. Surprisingly, this doesn’t prohibit the California from sticking like glue through sweepers and doesn’t require manhandling at parking lot speeds. The engine is a load-bearing member of the frame and the bike feels like most of its bulk is carried low and forward so it does fall into corners on some of the tighter radiuses. Its floor boards are up high and allow plenty of clearance when banked over.
The Moto Guzzi California is what you’d expect for a motorcycle designed by Miguel Galluzzi. It melds classic with contemporary, all infused with Italian machismo. The classic is displayed in its upright riding position, floorboards, and traditional cruiser lines. The contemporary begins with its futuristic-looking headlight and extends to the LED strips formed into the rear fender. The flake of the paint pops under full sunlight, the black lacquered wheels spin hypnotically, and it’s muscular front and back, from the thick fork tubes to its 200mm rear. The view of the instrumentation from behind the drag-style bars is clean and tidy and four-way adjustable levers are always a good thing in our book. While the metal tank and accompanying cut-out shrouds are what you’d expect from a $15,000 bike, the plastic fenders aren’t.
Being equipped with cruise control as a standard feature is a bonus. On the California 1400 Custom, it engages with the press of a button on the right handlebar and being able to rest our wrists on long stints is always appreciated. The fact that an indicator blinks on the dash when activated but not engaged is a bit tiresome though. The calibration of the fuel sensor light seems a tad off, too, because the low fuel light comes on early and often. We pushed the bike to its fuel limits to see if the reading is accurate and at one point the fuel bar completely disappeared but the bike kept running before one bar reappeared. We did discover that it chugs gas as we only averaged 31.22 mpg during our time in the saddle.
In spite of a few slight nuances, the 2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom is one impressive ride. Our Managing Editor Madson sums it up well.
Moto Guzzi ups the ante in the cruiser market by equipping its 2013 California 1400 Custom with a host of high-end electronics, including traction control, variable engine maps, ABS, cruise control and a ride-by-wire throttle system.
“The California really is a beautiful bike, designed by Miguel Galluzzi - the man who penned Ducati’s Monster. It’s funny that the two most interesting new cruiser models in recent years are both Italian. But where the Ducati Diavel is only nominally a cruiser, with in its feet-forward stance mated to Superbike performance, the California is a true cruiser in form and function. The Moto Guzzi delivers a refined performance package and will appeal to riders that want an authentic cruiser riding experience.”
Competitively priced at just under $15,000, making if four grand less than the aforementioned Diavel and on-par with Harley’s Dyna models, we’d be concerned if we were a competitor. The California brings the Italian marque kicking and screaming into the 21st century. And that’s a good thing.