Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring Motorcycle Review New Motorcycles…

20 Apr 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring Motorcycle Review New Motorcycles…
Moto Guzzi California Stone Touring

Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring Review

Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring

Better late than never! Eight years after scooter company Piaggio purchased the bankrupt Aprilia Group in December 2004, and with it acquired the historic Moto Guzzi trophy marque, the first all-new Guzzi model to appear under Piaggio ownership was unveiled at the Milan Show in November. This was in the form of a born-again upscale version of its legendary California custom tourer, with the first of the 600 such bikes planned for production in 2013 already in dealerships around the world.

The new Moto Guzzi California 1400 is available in two versions, a full-dress touring model complete with plexiglass highway patrol screen and twin non-detachable 35-litre hard panniers which can be locked, but won’t however hold a full-face helmet, and the more stripped-down Custom musclebike variant that’s essentially a Guzzi streetfighter. Each comes with footboards, twin rear shocks, and chrome-backed running lights masquerading as spotlights, and is powered by a re-engineered version of Guzzi’s traditional air/oil-cooled transverse V-twin motor with shaft final drive, which at 1380cc is the largest capacity twin-cylinder engine ever produced by a European manufacturer.

As such, it’s the fruits of four-and-a-half years of development at Piaggio’s Noale-based motorcycle RD centre, including more than one hundred thousand kilometres of test mileage. That’s resulted in a stylish, sophisticated blend of old and new, combining cleverly updated traditional looks and a modern re-interpretation of Guzzi’s trademark classic engineering platform.

This incorporates a ride-by-wire (RBW) throttle with a choice of three different modes, plus three-level traction control, cruise control and ABS, all as standard in each case for the first time on any Moto Guzzi model. This is the two-wheeled gran turismo equivalent of today’s Maserati Quattroporte – a model whose 50-year life span almost exactly matches the California’s – retaining the same essential character as its 1960s ancestor in delivering modern performance coupled with period chic.

Like the four-wheeled Italian gentlemen’s express, the new Moto Guzzi Touring has real presence both visually and in terms of performance (of which more than lives up to the looks). It’s worth mentioning that at 10,000km/6000 miles the service intervals are well spaced out.

The chance to sample the California 1400 Touring came via a 200km ride in winter sunshine along the French Riviera’s Côte d’Azur. Seeing the gleaming, chrome-laden Ambassador Black bike (it’s also available in Eldorado White) for the first time, it looked completely at home flaunting its modern art deco styling alongside the jet set’s parked Ferraris and Aston Martins.

Slide aboard the plush two-tone 740mm high seat (there’s a lower 720mm option) and the view from the bridge is ultra-distinctive, with the cylinder heads seemingly bursting out of the sides of the big 20.5-litre fuel tank that’s pinstriped in white. It was immediately noticeable that, for the first time I can ever recall on a Moto Guzzi streetbike, my knees didn’t try to make friends with the cylinders.

With lots of room on the feet-forward footboards to stretch out, it’s a really comfortable riding stance. On the move, though, the height of the non-adjustable screen was just wrong for me as an average-height rider – its top neatly bisected my vision, producing the same sort of slightly giddying effect as an old pair of bifocal glasses. There’s an optional 25mm lower screen as an accessory but I reckon they should make that the default version and the taller one an option.

Raising the screen any higher leads to stability problems at speed, apparently.

That apart, the 1400 Cali is a relaxing and enjoyable bike to ride, in spite of its substantial 322kg dry weight that’s partly occasioned by the fact that everything you see on it is the real deal. Those shiny crash bars wrapped round the engine are real chrome, not plastic, plus that’s a metal, rather than a plastic, fuel tank. But the Guzzi is easy to control at low speeds in spite of its bulk, thanks to the ultra-precise RBW throttle and light and controllable clutch action.

Plus the weight’s carried down low, so it rides bumps well at speed, as well as steering surprisingly easily and pretty quickly for such a long wheelbase bike. However, one downside of a low-slung motorcycle is that you’ll scrape the footboards relatively easily in exploiting the California’s capable handling – a fact Guzzi has anticipated by lining the underside edges with plastic scuff strips.

Fortunately, the bike’s heavy enough that you won’t lever the rear wheel off the ground and unhook the tyre any too easily. Guzzi’s engineers are proud of the fact that the California offers five degrees more lean angle either side than the model it has in its sights, the Harley-Davidson Road King.

One thing’s for sure, though: there’s no way you’ll ever exploit the potential grip provided by that hefty 200-section, 16-inch rear tyre without grinding through the floorboards and decking the exhausts! OK, so it’s there for its form rather than its function but it doesn’t even work very well as a design statement due to the fact you can’t see the fat tyre very well even from behind thanks to the Cali Touring’s hard luggage that shrouds it.

Maybe on the stripper Custom model it might make more of a show. Still, I couldn’t truthfully detect any sign of it heavying up the steering, as you might expect such a big rear tyre to do. This is probably a function of the good leverage you get from the wide, pulled back, cowhorn handlebar, whose width also allows the chrome-backed mirrors to give a good rear view of something other than your shoulders.

The California 1400 has an anti-theft device that’s very much an aftermarket add-on, rather than the kind of keyless security we now take for granted in all American cruisers, as well as an increasing number of Triumph and BMW models. For a start, you still need to stick the key in the ignition – but then you have to grope for the little sender unit housed in very cheap-looking moulded plastic, that’s attached to the key ring.

You must squeeze one of the two buttons under the small, fiddly moulding to disable the anti-theft cutout. But the problem comes if you switch the engine off for more than 30 seconds, as when waiting in line for a free pump at a service station. The anti-theft activates, which means you must grope for the button with your gloved hands. This is very hard to find, and even harder to press when eventually you do so.

This crude, old-fashioned system demeans a bike with such valid pretensions to quality, so Guzzi must ditch this pronto and install a keyless security system – Harley or Triumph could show them how! Oh, and fuel consumption was 7.2L/100km over the course of my long day’s ride, in case you were wondering. I reckon that’s pretty good for such a big, heavy bike, especially riding the Guzzi in the inevitable stop-start traffic.

Thumbing the Cali’s starter button and blipping the throttle at rest produces the same left-to-right shakes as on any other Guzzi V-twin. But almost as soon as you move away and pick up revs, the big engine smoothes right out, and above 2000rpm there’s zero sign of any undue vibes.

Moto Guzzi California Stone Touring

Wind the throttle wide open, and that’s when you realise the California 1400 speaks Italian with a Brooklyn accent – its chilled-out custom aesthetics can’t quite disguise the fact that, despite looking so cool, it’s eager to motor and ready to race. From 2500rpm upwards, it muscles its way in a totally linear and mightily muscular mode towards the soft-action rev limiter – especially in Veloce mode on the three-way RBW mapping, when everything happens with more zest and eagerness. In spite of the fact that peak torque comes at just 2750rpm – and that there’s so much of it – the big Guzzi motor is happy to build revs, and as it does so you’ll note there’s no undue rattles, no pings of detonation, and no hiccups as displayed by some previous modern Mandello products when asked to rev hard.

Indeed, selecting the Veloce mapping on the go via the starter button with the throttle firmly closed, delivers notably crisper throttle response and acceleration out of a third gear turn than in Turismo default mode. The new 1400 engine’s extra cubes have restored the torque that was removed by the advent of Euro 3 emissions compliance rules from the previous generation of Moto Guzzi two-wheeled tractor engines, necessitating the fitting of six-speed gearboxes to bikes previously happy with just four.

Now the wheel’s turned full circle, and Guzzi’s engineers have responded by choosing a very clever set of ratios for the 1400 motor’s six-speed transmission. I found that you need only use the bottom four gears in normal riding – which means most of the time you stay in third or fourth, with all that torque – because the top two ratios are long-legged overdrives aimed at covering fast, straight stretches in relaxed mode.

Sixth gear is a rangy 1:0.8 ratio so that 160kph is reached at just 5000 revs, a little over two-thirds of the way to redline. That’s as shown on the very legible digital speedo in the centre of the Cali’s single round instrument. This is wrapped by an analogue tacho round the outside, and there’s a wealth of digital data you can access by scrolling through them via the switch on the left ‘bar.

There’s no sign of instability at those ton-up speeds, and I reckon the California 1400 would be a great long distance ride IF I could find a screen the right height! The muted rumble of the exhaust note is beautifully mellifluous. It’s not a Ducati, in spite of the same cylinder angle, and it’s also deeper and more sonorous (and frankly more muscular-sounding) than the smaller Mandello motors it has now joined in the Guzzi catalogue.

Both clutch and front brake levers are five-way adjustable, and the radial front brakes work very well, slowing what is a big heavy bike down from high speed without any trace of a snatchy, unduly fierce response at any time. The California’s hefty weight probably helped there, though it may also be a reason why the softly-damped suspension sometimes had it wallowing around fast, undulating bends. But the payoff for that is a high level of ride quality for a twin-shock motorcycle, in turn reducing fatigue and adding to enjoyment.

It’s taken time for it to happen but finally we have a new Moto Guzzi that lives up to the expectations inspired by its heritage. Italy’s oldest existing motorcycle marque (OK, Gilera is older but today makes only scooters) has the richest back catalogue in global motorcycling, with bikes like the legendary V8 500cc GP racer rubbing tyres in the Mandello factory museum with the 98kg four-stroke tingles that won successive 250/350GP world titles, the wide-angle 500GP V-twin that invented this engine format 35 years before Ducati, and the glorious Le Mans transverse V-twin sportbikes.

Guzzi even invented the single-sided swingarm a quarter of a century before ELF claimed to, with the Galletto runabout. For too long of late Moto Guzzi has languished in the shadows, starved of the investment – and, yes, the understanding and appreciation – of its brand values on the part of successive owners. Finally it seems that Piaggio management has woken up to the fact that they have a genuine potential to earn good profits from a brand that until now they seem to have scorned.

If the California 1400 is the first stage in Moto Guzzi’s long haul down the comeback trail, it’s a very fine beginning that displays an implicit understanding of those brand values – as well as looking cool and classy, it’s also an excellent ride. Let’s hope there’s more to come from Mandello using this platform as the basis for development.

Moto Guzzi is on the way back at last. It may never again build 46,487 motorcycles in a single year, as it did in 1971 – perhaps by no coincidence, the first full year of California production! – but the debut of the new California 1400 seems certain to augur well for the future. It’s a good enough bike that it deserves to.

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Moto Guzzi California Stone Touring
Moto Guzzi California Stone Touring

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