RideApart Review: Moto Guzzi California 1400

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You know the typical cruiser compromise: riding one means you achieve a certain image, a certain experience, but at the expense of everything else that makes riding a motorcycle so fun and so practical. But, what if we were to tell you that it’s possible to have all your cruiser character, all your cruiser image, just in a package that doesn’t sacrifice handling, performance, safety or comfort? You can do that with this new Moto Guzzi California 1400.

What’s New
It’s probably easier to list what isn’t new: the crank case.

The first new product of a $50 million investment in the brand by its Piaggio Group parent company, the California ditches much of what used to be Guzzi tradition. The new, larger motor is now rubber-mounted to reduce vibration. Since 1971, thanks to a man name Lino Tonti, Guzzis used their motors as stressed members in the frame.

While the direction and extent of its movement is controlled by special rods, this method of vibration reduction can be seen as a bit of a cost cutting. By losing the engine as a stressed member, the frame has to become heavier and stronger. A balance shaft could have killed vibration without adding much weight, but would have necessitated the added expense of new cases.

At 710lbs ready to ride and fully fueled, the California is no welterweight, but that does still come in at 100lbs less than the equivalent Harley, the Road King.

The California is also considerably more affordable than that model, starting at just $14,990 to the Hog’s $17,699.

And the Guzzi has one other thing that every other cruiser on the market doesn’t: the brain of SBK Championship winning Aprilia RSV4. That means this cruiser uses a ride-by-wire throttle with switchable riding modes and three-position traction control. It also has ABS as standard.

That new, 1,380cc motor is created by fitting larger pistons onto the block of Guzzi’s existing 1,151cc air/oil-cooled v-twin. Outright torque only grows modestly from 80 to 88lb/ft, but the overall engine character become much more relaxed and flexible as peak torque shifts from 6,400 all the way down to 2,750rpm. Power actually decreases from 110 to 95bhp, but again also shifts down the rev range from 7,500 to 6,500rpm. The result is a flexible, torque, easy-going motor that’s still capable of a serious turn of speed.

There’s two models of California: Custom and Touring. They’re the same bike, the Touring just adds a screen, running lights and hard bags for a questionable $3,000 premium.

LED running lights bring a literally dazzling modern touch to an otherwise timeless design.

The Ride
Departing Santa Monica in busy Friday afternoon traffic, we eventually headed up into Malibu’s famous canyon roads, even hitting the infamous “Snake.”

Splitting is often discouraged on launches due to liability concerns, but sitting in that traffic for nearly an hour, in 80-degree plus temps, proved a good test of the big Guzzi’s user friendliness. Where most air-cooled cruisers could edge towards overheating in these conditions, the California remained even tempered and easy to ride. Event crawling along, making a few inches progress between complete stops, its on-paper weight was offset by a low center of gravity and natural balance. Unlike most cruisers, the controls are easy to reach, relatively light and aren’t subject to binding or grabbing as things heat up.

Things became much more fun once we turned off the congested Pacific Coast Highway and onto Malibu Canyon Road. Its flowing corners are where the California is most at home, making easy use of its torque to maintain what’s actually a fairly impressive pace.

Like other Guzzis, the California excels in that ever-elusive “feel” stuff. Thank the longitudinal crank and quality suspension components for that. The result of the tires, suspension and brakes communicating what they’re doing in a completely uninterrupted fashion is immense confidence. Even with your feet forward and your hands high up and out in front of you.

The California’s floorboards are sheathed on the bottom with nylon sliders. Think Ducati Hypermotard 1100. They’ve got enough clearance that they won’t go down in sweepers, but on tight corners such as those found on The Snake, they definitely will. In fact, the bike is happy lifting its boards enough that the frame occasionally touches down. At least when you ride like a 32-year old speed freak more used to dragging knees than hard parts.

But, even with that frame dragging on the ground, the front end still delivers confidence and stability, never once feeling like it’s about to be lifted off the ground. With that confidence, I was able to tackle a road that’s challenging for most sportsbike riders with real aggression and at a pace that would have left most of those riders eating my dust.

Two annoying photoshoots that only resulted in virtually unusable photos (sorry for the press shots being used in their place) later and I informed the Guzzi guys that we’d be splitting on the way home. So it was back out on to the PCH and through traffic at what’d be my normal pace on any bike all the way back to Santa Monica.

What’s Good
The handling! Seriously, you won’t believe you’re riding a cruiser. While outright pace is going to be a bit lower than that of a sportsbike, feel is actually superior to many current Japanese performance bikes. The California has light, neutral steering that just rolls into corners, tracks a line with utter stability, then lets you rocket out on that fat torque curve.

Don’t worry about those fairly unimpressive numbers making the engine boring. Air-cooled twins are about making smooth, rapid progress, not turning every straight into a drag race. There’s more than enough torque here to maintain a very healthy pace through a twisty canyon road. And, if you really do want to drag race, it’ll spin the rear tire away from the lights with full throttle. If you have the traction control switched off…

Which brings us to the electronics. In a fit of national pride, “Pioggia, Turismo and Veloce” stand in for the ride-by-wire’s “Rain, Touring and Sport” modes. You’ll end up using Turismo most of the time as it delivers full power and smooth throttle response, but Veloce noticabley sharpens things up to the point of abruptness while Pioggia blunts both outright power and response for slippery conditions.

Traction control, again based on the smooth, indiscernible intervention of the RSV4, can by set to three levels of intervention or completely off. I spent most of the day in the lower level, which still allows some slip, without letting things get too sideways. Big bikes like these have a ton of momentum, so the little helping hand is much appreciated, allowing you to take serious liberties in complete safety.

The front end is all about safety too thanks to the standard ABS. No shudders or jutter here, it just brings you to a commanding halt. Brakes are front biased and use powerful radial calipers, unlike most other cruisers, meaning you can two-finger the right lever to trail them through corners. They really do deliver sportsbike-like levels of feel, control and power.

Comfort, too, is solid. I’ve never adapted to taking all the weight off my feet and legs and directing it through my spine, but only experience minor back discomfort on the tightly sprung, well-damped Guzzi. Anything else all shiny and v-twiny typically causes spasms in my lower back. It’s also far, far, far superior to the previous California; tall folks fit as well as short.

Miguel Galluzzi’s design is a masterpiece, appearing timeless where every other entry in the segment is either a shameless throwback or awkwardly futuristic. The Harley crowd is going to be able to relate just as well as the blind people who were once told the Diavel is a good looking bike and believed that.

>The California’s mechanical components reek of both quality and function.

What’s Bad
LED brake lights and turn signals on the rear pretty much disappear in direct sunlight.

You’ll be able to do way better in the aftermarket with a $3,000 budget than the Touring model nets you. The bags are extremely well integrated, but come one, that’s an entire Cleveland CycleWerks bike worth of premium.

The stock bars are going to require too much of a reach for shorter riders.

The Custom’s pillion accommodation is…not good.

What Others Say
“Putting this mighty cruiser through its paces is a pleasure. The new double-cradle, steel frame feels impressively solid as matched to a huge 46mm Sachs fork and twin rear shocks. Although a bit heavy at the bar for walking speeds, the Custom becomes light to steer and very predictable once you’re traveling over 10 mph, offering terrific feedback and stability around town, on the highway, and best of all, on the tangled backroads where big cruisers can often feel like a ton of work.” — Cycle World

“It’s a delight to ride, with a fabulous sound to support its laid back, muscular motor, it’s comfortable and it handles beautifully… a thoroughly seductive motorcycle.” — Kevin Ash

The Verdict
The California 1400 has all the looks, character and presence you could ever want from a cruiser, but rides like a real, 21st century motorcycle. Handling and brakes aren’t just safe, they’re genuinely good, even when compared to performance-oriented motorcycles, but that big v-twin’s rumble and quirkiness still conveys that primal motorcycle experience in an incredibly emotive way.

That’s a combination other segment busters like the Ducati Diavel lack, the California is just as good at being a throwback as it is a way forward.

RideApart Rating: 8/10

Gear
Helmet: Schuberth S2 ($700)
Suit: Aerostich Roadcrafter Tactical ($897 before custom work)
Boots: Dainese Café ($260)
Gloves: Racer Sicuro ($240)

  • Justin Henry

    You guys wear expensive gear…

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Cheaper than hospital bills.

      • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

        Exactly.

    • Bruce Steever

      My thoughts on the math: get a cheaper bike and spend your budget on gear when you start.
      $4,000 bike plus $2,000 worth of gear is much better than a $5,500 bike plus $500 worth of gear and a $36,000 hospital visit.

      • http://twitter.com/TheVeeTwin Damo Von Maciel

        $2,000 can get you a great all weather capable helmet, a high end safe leather jacket, decent boots and a few pairs of kevlar pants.

        Plus the gear often outlasts the bike. I ponied up the cash for a fully armored Vanson Leather’s jacket about 8 years ago and even after a 30mph crash it looks almost new. Best $500 I ever spent.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001291173072 Fizzy Fox

          Yeah, but you won’t LOOK COOL cruising back and forth from Intelligentsia to Wurstküche!

          Haha!

    • Chris Davis

      Still $900 less than the bags, lights, and windscreen option.

    • Kevin

      Ask him about the time he wore jeans.

  • Chris Davis

    Harley’s spent a long time digging themselves into a hole. It may have taken a while, but the competition is starting to bury them.

  • the antagonist

    If I were going to buy a cruiser, this would be at the top of my list. Several other riders I know have expressed similar positions. But I’m not going to buy a cruiser. Neither are any of them.

    This bike seams to appeal to non-cruiser riders. I wonder how it will fair with people who actually buy cruisers. (Well, I hope.)

    • KeithB

      I have been trying to get my wife to move on from her Virago 1100 and get something more “modern”. This might do the trick!

  • http://twitter.com/Jericho7 Josh Manning

    WHOA!

  • http://twitter.com/Ricardo_Gozinya Ricardo Gozinya

    How is the Road King this bike’s primary competitor? Wouldn’t a Dyna or Softail be more likely, especially vs the Custom? And from the description of the Touring, it sounds more like a Dyna Switchback than a Road King.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Honestly, this isn’t a competitor to any Harley model (wasn’t aware there were more than 3 models of HD…) in that it actually works as well as a motorcycle as it does as a rolling vibrator.

    • Porter

      I agree. You don’t need to have ridden either to see the obvious similarity between this and the Dyna. I’m not a cruiser guy at all, but apart from the tractor engine the Guzzi doesn’t have all that much to differentiate it from a HD. Notwithstanding expensive maintenance schedules and a good deal of hipster panache.

  • JI

    the custom model.. Does it come with cruise control?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      They both do, standard.

  • Soph Tsangarakis

    I want, would be a great second bike for those long hauls.

  • Kevin

    Holy crap… valve adjustments every 6250 miles. That’s kind of a bummer right there.

    • KeithB

      Yes, but look where the valves are. Only bike easier to adjust would be a BMW twin.

      • Theodore Teo

        I beg to differ: I used to ride an R100G/S PD, yes, I’ll get to the valves, but kneel and work on the vales looking downwards. For my Guzzi, I can sit on a little stool/milk carton and the valves are facing up and a little tweak and that’s it. Comfortable, easy-peasy. And through little things like that, I know my bike inside and out. I ain’t a mech either. Just an engaged rider.

    • HammerheadFistpunch

      Valve..adjustments? What happened to the hydraulic lifters used on the California?
      The more I learn about this bike the less I like it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/mark.trimmer.5 Mark Trimmer

      Part of the enduring quality of this bike is the human involvement. If you don’t like adjusting valves, you probably arent interested in this type of bike anyway. The valve adjustment are very easy. Perhaps you should look for an used Nighthawk 750, Burgman Scooter or one of the new CTX700 Honda Automatics…it will suit you much better.

      • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

        Oh snap, it’s on.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Sweeney/501437288 Scott Sweeney

        The shear lack of mechanical understanding and avoidance of maintaining your own machine among a large percentage of riders these days bothers me. A simple valve adjustment should take even a moderately skilled tech an hour, tops. The pride and understanding that intimate knowledge of whats going on between your legs is a beautiful thing. *pun. The savings from doing your own maintenance alone can save you hundreds per year which can be spent on gear, trips and fuel.

        • orthorim

          I’d rather spend an hour riding. But hey it’s up to you isn’t it?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Sweeney/501437288 Scott Sweeney

            Uh, or a full day or more of riding lost while your bike sits in the shop waiting to be worked on.

            • orthorim

              That would be true if all I did was sit on my hands all day. Most days though I work, and during that time the bike can be in the garage.

              • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Sweeney/501437288 Scott Sweeney

                Oh, I didn’t think of the weekend only situation. My bike is my main mode of transportation and recreation, so it’s ridden just about everywhere and every day.

      • http://www.facebook.com/michael.howard.9889 Michael Howard

        Do you enjoy getting “elbows-deep” in the guts of the computer you’re using? Getting inside the case, maintaining, upgrading, and customizing it is one of the great joys of computers. People who don’t maintain their own computers should stick with typewriters and the postal service.

        • orthorim

          As a software developer all I have to say: No. I love a computer that works out of the box and where enough care was taken in both hardware and software design such that I never have to touch it.

          If I like to build cabins it doesn’t mean I also like to fabricate hammers.

  • mid40s

    Wes, how is the heat on your knees with the heads being a few inches away?

    • Justin Turner

      I can comment on this, having ridden Guzzis in most conditions. If you wear proper gear, it isn’t an issue. If you run down the street for Smirnoff Ice in your 4″ board shorts, you’ll get a friendly reminder that you’re saddling an explosion. In the cold, they will keep your legs warm in a tight tuck, and work as glove warmers at stops. In all weather, its cool to have your engine right there interacting with you, you can feel its presence in a tangible way.

      • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

        Yup.

  • Gbarfoot

    So someone asked in your teaser article………..after riding both this and the goldwing f6b which one do you like more and why?

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      The F6B. It doesn’t handle quite so well, but I prefer that motor and its touring comfort. Mid-mount controls > forwards.

  • Stuki

    Per website specs, it’s 40+ inches wide. Going by specs alone, that makes the Goldwing seem like a slender lanesplitter…..

    Since you were getting down a logjammed PCH though Malibu at “normal speed” (normal for someone used to an RSV at that, I assume?)…. is the measurement of the outer corners of wide mirrors or something, and hence not representative of the bike’s “effective width”? Or did you just happen to be riding on a day where everyone else was in Miatas with their mirrors folded? Someone nurturing a swollen knee, from going down after getting hooked by a car mirror, splitting on a 20 inch wide road bike wants to know :)

    Beautiful looking bike, though! Like you, I do have back issues with the riding position on cruisers and scooters, but that Guzzi does look like it’s “Hand built in the factory in Mandello del Lario (Como, Italy)”, as their web blurb goes.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Yeah, that’s probably at the mirrors or something, doesn’t feel terribly wide. I mean it’s a big bike, but in the same way an R1200GS is, so still very manageable in traffic.

  • carbon

    Hey Wes, good review, and on a cruiser! /slaps own forehead/

    Some issues:

    • The Harleys that really suck in stock form are the Sportsters. I had to put Ohlins on mine to dull the pain to my back.

    • How long has it been since you tested out a Harley touring machine? A Road King (or my fav, the Street Glide) has rear air shocks that ride like a friggin’ Caddy. A 1690cc (103ci) engine. Available ABS 4-piston brakes, dual disc up front. Ride-by-wire throttle and cruise control (no traction control, though). And bags so you can carry all your extra do’ rags and various other pirate gear. :) A detachable-in-5-sec windscreen (patented mechanism, seriously, it’s cool. All Harley windscreen have this detactable feature). A 26.7 in. seat hight. Tubeless tires optional. EFI fuel injection. Rubber-mounted engine. And they redesigned the frame a couple years ago so it doesn’t suck as bad.

    • The Guzzi touring AND California models are listed as 742.9 lbs wet (not 710lbs, that’s the dry weight). The Harley is 811 lbs wet.

    What sucks about Harley is the weird “lifestyle” thing. Seriously stupid.

    C’mon man. It would be a great feature to have you actually test a Road King or Street Glide. Even if you hate it.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      We’ve actually just brought on board a cruiser editor who will be expanding coverage in that direction as we move into RideApart. Stay tuned.

      • Mykola

        So “never and won’t” on point two.

      • Zachary Laughrey

        I think this is actually good journalism. I know how you guys feel about cruisers in general and I always felt you may have been biased against them before the test ride. Well done on trying to maintain neutrality

  • atgatthd

    “Miguel Galluzzi’s design is a masterpiece, appearing timeless where every other entry in the segment is either a shameless throwback or awkwardly futuristic.”

    True that. Finally, a fresh cruiser design more McQueen than Hasselhoff.

    • Porter

      Please. This one is as shit-faced and bare-hairy chested-on-the-floor-eating-cheeseburgers as any Harley or Victory ever was. Don’t let these guys fool you: It’s all Hoff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001291173072 Fizzy Fox

    I agree with the “ride to ride, not to wrench” sentiment. I actually enjoy wrenching on my bike, even if it’s just minor adjustments. But lately I just don’t have the time (or the space) and I’d rather be out riding when I can scrape a few hours together. The last thing I feel like doing is tinkering when I could be riding.

    Some of us can wrench and do have “an intimate knowledge of what’s going on”, but we don’t feel like it. I have an excellent mechanic and when I don’t have time, I pay him to keep things up to snuff. Some of us have the $ to pay a mechanic once in a while and STILL buy the gear we want.

  • http://www.facebook.com/philip.heung.1 Philip Heung

    “The Harley crowd is going to be able to relate just as well as the blind people who were once told the Diavel is a good looking bike and believed that.”

    Ha ha ha…good one! Love the looks, but it’s too much bike for my shortie size and where I live (Hong Kong). Now if MG could update the Griso SE with a modern electronics package, I’d be all over that!

  • Robotribe

    I think the fact that ANY manufacturer has my attention with a cruiser is worth the praise alone. I’ve owned everything from scooters, dirt bikes, to sport bikes, and this is the FIRST time a cruiser has my attention. It’s a curiously attractive bike.

    Ask me tomorrow and I’ll blame the gin.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jose.manuel.12327 Jose Manuel

    Hummm?, If You ride a Custom and work 70+ h/w and on top of that have a family…. I think you will not have to worry too much about reach the 6250 miles too soon…, You are right! the valve adjustments aren’t hard and it would take less time than POLISH your chrome, maybe wrench your bike would work for you like therapy in order to appreciate the true spirit of motorcycle.

    The comment from Mark doesn’t look rude to me, the Nighthawk, the Burgman and the CTX700 are machines with really low maintenance also very fine machines, I don’t see anything wrong with the Burgman…

    But your comment about the Burgmans it seems more rude for the people who own that kind of machines like me. Anyway I can see your knowledge about motorcycles are limited like your knowledge about mechanic.

    Like you say “C’mon dude it isn’t necesary That kind of comments”…. You aren’t better rider or more tough by ride a Harley or ride a Burgman, We share the same road.

    Grow up and ride safe!

    • http://www.facebook.com/mark.pascuzzo Mark Pascuzzo

      Just a heads up. It doesn’t mean you have to adjust then. It means you should check them. After a few checks without adjustment yo just ride it. You will hear it when it needs adjusting. I picked mine up a week and a half ago and igot rid of my v rod. So much of a better built bike the Guzzi is. Like night and day. I have an Aprilia’s falco also. Over 30,000 miles and have never adjusted a valve. Stopped checking 20,000 miles ago.

  • Lawrences

    I’m going to wait for the new Indian before I decide.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      That’s going to be a $25k+ CVO rival.

  • http://www.facebook.com/miggiddymatt Matt Self

    I have a 2004 California and I love it. I’d love to get this one as an upgrade if they had a dealer less than 200 miles from me that could stay open for more than a year. That’s a big difference between one of these and anything else in my area.

  • Mario C.

    The fenders on this new Guzzi are made in plastic… And for
    another guy the new bike stalled when the complicate electronics refused to
    start after a fuse blown in the middle of nowhere, dark and rain included.
    Strange appeal to the cruiser crowd.

    • http://RideApart.com/ Wes Siler

      Fuses can blow on any motorcycle. It’s a good idea to pack a couple spares if you’re headed into the middle of nowhere.

  • ronzorelli

    I love this bike. Love it.