2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring | Test

2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring Review

Forty-two years ago a distinguished, but financially struggling, company brought out the first of a long line of cruiser motorcycles with the model name California.

Its longitudinal V-twin powerplant and shaft drive saved the company, becoming the basis of police motorcycles from Italy to – you guessed it – California.

With the Los Angeles Police Department and California Highway Patrol upholding the law on Americanized versions of the stately Ambassador 750, Moto Guzzi sensed an opportunity and a North American civilian edition – the California – was born.

Over the decades, the California grew in displacement and the 1100 came into being in 1994. By the 2000s, the bike was sold as a retro machine, with names like Vintage and Classic appending. The final 1100 – the 2011 California 90 Limited Edition – was certainly an unusual machine, though one that we thoroughly enjoyed riding.

After letting the California name take a breather for a year, Moto Guzzi brings it back with a vengeance with an all-new machine that boldly brings the historic form into the modern day. Taking on all comers in the increasingly popular cruiser/tourer category, the 2013 California 1400 Touring is a motorcycle to be reckoned with.

Sharing the same ownership as Aprilia, Moto Guzzi taps into the motor technology offered by the World Superbike Championship winning company for the 1400. Yes, the California is still air-cooled (with a huge oil cooler) and just a single cam controls each headís four valves, but computers have their say, too.

Ride-by-wire starts the ball rolling, and allows Moto Guzzi to give the 1400 three interesting digital advantages. The first is the cruise control. It operates smoothly and intuitively – in part thanks to its freedom from mechanical operation – and a single oversized button on the right handlebar is the sole control.

A bit of a surprise is the choice of three power curves – Veloce, Turismo, and Pioggia – all displayed in the Guzzi’s native Italian on the California’s new highly functional and readable tach/clock combined display.

Veloce (“fast”) offers full power and quick revving; Turismo (“touring”) has full power with the motor spinning up more slowly; Pioggia (“rain”) handles slippery conditions with less power and snail-slow rpm advance. While this is normal stuff on sport bikes, it is definitely something new for a cruiser/tourer.

The big shocker is the choice of three levels of traction control, something we aren’t even sure we really need. Our testing was in dry conditions, though we did pass through a mossy paved water crossing and a short gravel-covered portion of road. In both cases, we were in Turismo and the most restrictive traction control setting. If it kicked in, we didn’t feel or hear it. However, we might be singing a different tune on a greasy Los Angeles freeway on the first rain after a long dry summer.

Choices and advanced features are welcome, yet the success of a motor is in the ride. Here, the California 1400 Touring is a remarkable winner. Moto Guzzi’s latest Quattrovalvole motor has huge 104mm pistons sliding through the 81mm strokes left over from the 1100 engine. This over-square configuration favors higher revving and top-end performance.

At the other end of the powerband, there is a single 52mm throttle body with long intake passages that enhance low-rpm torque. The result is a motor that cranks out its maximum torque of 89 ft. lbs. early on at 2750 rpm, and if you let it rev up to 6500 rpm (500 short of the redline) you will be rewarded with 96 horsepower.

The practical aspects of this design play out nicely – you have great roll-on power that allows you to pass on the highway without shifting out of the overdrive 6th gear, plus you can avoid shifting frequently, as there is plenty of rev-out.

The magic ratio is 4th gear, which works flawlessly from 30 mph to about 100 mph. A 50-mile ride through the mountains on a fairly open two-lane road can be done without a single shift.

On the subject of shifting, Moto Guzzi reworked the clutch and the Cardan joint to smooth things out considerably. Gone is the traditional big V-twin transmission clunk; replacing it is a smooth, positive engagement using the easily operated heel/toe shifter.

The California’s floorboards have a traction-enhancing flexible insert to isolate the rider from the vibrations of the motor, which itself is now rubber-mounted.

At a stop, the motor bounces around noticeably in the frame, and low-frequency waves cause the bars to dance. Once underway, the vibrations virtually disappear, as the chassis and motor work in perfect harmony.

Also harmonious is the handling and the powerplant. Just as the engine – the largest displacement V-twin out of Europe – is both torquey and sporty, the chassis is a willing participant regardless of your riding style.

Without any doubt, riders who like to push the bike along will be enthusiastic about the California 1400 Touring. Owing to its Italian heritage, the big bike is impressively nimble on twisting roads.

Suspension action is firm, though not the least bit harsh. This gives a great feel for the road, regardless of the situation. You never feel isolated from the task at a hand, and no one wished for a softer ride. Turn-in is effortless; just a shift of body weight gets the job done, which allowed Moto Guzzi to fit handlebars that are purely designed for comfort, rather than leverage. Mid-corner corrections are instinctive, giving the rider even more confidence.

Stability isn’t unduly sacrificed. You aren’t quite riding on rails, though if you set a path the Guzzi will follow it, unless you initiate a change. Straight-line high-speed stability is fine up to 90 mph or so – plenty for a touring cruiser.

The windshield looks short and your eyes will peer over it, while there is plenty of protection from the blast. Thanks to adequate shield width, your body doesn’t suffer, and the swept back angle sends most of the wind over your helmet without front-end buffeting. We hit some nasty crosswinds on the California Touring and the chassis refused to be unsettled. This is ideal for both touring and sightseeing.

Bag capacity and interior shape are very good, though the side of the lockable lid will slightly restrict the size of what can be fit into the bag. The organic shape of the hard bags works perfectly with the rest of the styling. At a gas stop, a rider on a competing marque was impressed. “That is nice,” he said with a bit of envy.

Given how unusual the previous California was, it is amazing how conventional the California 1400 Touring is. Yet, with its longitudinal V-twin and sporting performance, the new Guzzi has that touch of individuality many of us crave in a motorcycle.

If you’re looking for a touring cruiser that makes you part of a large brotherhood of brand-aware riders who will flash a thumbs up at every turn, the 2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring is not your bike. However, if you want a motorcycle that is different, yet completely satisfying, this machine demands your attention.

This story is featured in the May/June 2013 issue of Ultimate MotorCycling magazine — available on newsstands and good bookstores everywhere. The issue is also available free to readers on Apple Newsstand (for iOS devices) and Google Play (Android). To subscribe to the print edition, please visit our Subscriber Services page.