2014 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom – Serious Heavyweight Contender
Quirky and peculiar best described the last edition of the Moto Guzzi California series, one with a storied history over 40 years in the making.
That’s not to say we didn’t like riding the previous iteration of the California, because we certainly did. Its idiosyncrasies and classic European styling made it stand out in the cruiser world, though its odd ergonomics and relatively small 1064cc motor kept most riders from considering it for purchase.
Someone in Mandello del Lario must have grown quite tired of the existing California, as the old tooling seems to have been sold off and an all-new California built to replace it. At the same time, a decision was apparently made that the replacement would be a much more main- stream motorcycle, yet remain unmistakably a Moto Guzzi.
All it takes is a quick glance to see that Moto Guzzi’s iconic engine design, which dates back to 1967, has been retained. Cruisers have to have an air-cooled V-twin, right? Okay, this one has an over-head cam and four valves, not to mention a transverse crank and shaft drive — it’s Italian, not American!
The California 1400 Custom’s new 1380cc motor — the largest-ever V-twin from Europe — is a huge improvement over the previous powerplant. Bumping up the peak output by 24 horsepower is an obvious difference, and you can really feel it at high revs; redline is an aggressive 7000 rpm, thanks to the defiantly oversquare configuration.
However, the big change is the muscular torque produced early on — 89 ft/lbs at 2750 rpm. Suffice to say, the new California 1400 Custom has little to do with the California 1100 it replaces, so let’s just move on and abandon comparisons.
If you are the type of rider who likes a little stoplight competition among friends, you will find a great sleeper in the California. Piaggio has supplied Moto Guzzi with the latest in engine electronics, and it turns the Guzzi into a shockingly fast motorcycle from a standstill.
You are presented with three power curves — Pioggia (rain), Turismo (touring) and Veloce (fast) — and they make a huge difference in performance. With so much torque down low, the California is ready to ripple asphalt from a start.
If you have selected the Veloce mapping, then it will spin through the powerband at a pleasantly alarming pace, with lots of overrev, and the heel/toe shifter changes between the six ratios authoritatively.
Unexpectedly for a cruiser, the California Custom also has adjustable traction control, and it works. Accelerate aggressively with the traction control for the 200mm Dunlop in the most intrusive position, and you will feel it kick in. This is accomplished gently — it feels as if you are rolling off the throttle.
With some experimentation, you will find the right level of traction control (it can be turned completely off) to match your stoplight style, maximizing the Guzzi’s capabilities. You won’t want to take on a Ducati Diavel, Star VMax, Suzuki Boulevard M109R, or Triumph Rocket III, but everything else is fair game. You will find it takes quite a bit of self-control to ride around in Veloce without taking advantage of the motor’s prowess.
Drop it into Turismo — easily done by pressing the starter switch with the motor at idle — and the California Custom mellows out nicely. There is still that strong- yet-controlled pull off the bottom, but you don’t get quite the mid-range push.
The top end rush is still there, making it great for freeway riding and passing. The temptation to ride hard is removed, and a relaxing ride is the reward.
In crowded conditions, I found the Pioggia setting to be appealing. If you there’s no room to rev it, why not just pad down the motor as much as possible? A clear road can still be exploited, as the California Custom is not slow in Pioggia — it is just more controllable and relaxed.
No matter which engine mapping you choose, fueling is flawless and smooth. There are no hiccups, hitches, surges, sharpness or any other bad habits that take away from the riding experience.
Such an outstanding and entertaining motor needs a chassis capable of exploiting the power at hand. The team that worked on the handling of the California Custom was as effective as the engine crew.
The aforementioned 200mm-by-16-inch tire gives the California a nice solid base from which all the rest of its good habits emanate. The back of the bike also gets a pair of remote reservoir shocks that are tuned for handling rather than pure comfort (the California 1400 Touring gets simpler softies). The shocks aren’t adjustable, other than for preload, but the spring rate and damping rates are spot-on.
Up front, there is no letdown. You get 46mm forks and a 130mm wide 18-inch wheel. The combination of a fattish tire with a large circumference is a winner. The feel of the front end of the Custom is very much like an upright standard, even though it weighs in at over 700 pounds with gas in the 5.4-gallon tank.
Just as you can look for patsies at stop-lights, if you get comfortable on the California Custom, you can ride the canyons as hard as any cruiser (and best unprepared riders on sport bikes). That beefy Dunlop loves to stick, there is generous cornering clearance (even with forward floorboards), and the motor stands ready to pull you away from corners with authority. Drag- style bars put you in a good position for fast riding with full confidence in how the Custom will behave.
A 66-inch wheelbase and 38 degrees of rake mean nothing happens quickly; you can’t cut and thrust, but corner speed can be high, and wise use of the six-speed transmission can reap great rewards.
Over-cook a turn and the dual radially mounted Brembo calipers up front will bail you out, along with a strong rear brake — simply apply appropriate pressure with your hand and foot, and know that ABS is there as back-up.
Riding the new California Custom, it is easy to become a fan. Everything works right, and the rubber-mounted brute of a motor has that nice bounce at idle and smooth feel once underway. The engine is on display like no other, and the rest of the styling is an ingenuous melding of classic on modern.
In the past, you had plenty of excuses for passing the California by when considering a motorcycle for cruising. With the all-new 2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom, this unique Italian machine demands consideration as a road-burning mount — it is a serious heavyweight contender in a competitive segment of the motorcycle marketplace.
- Helmet: Bell Rogue
- Eyewear: Liberty Sport Trailblazer
- Jacket: River Road Roadster
- Gloves: RSD Barfly
- Jeans: Joe Rocket Denim 3.0
- Boots: Tour Master Nomad
Photography by Don Williams