2003 Guzzi Titanium
The Moto Guzzi California Titanium is the latest version of the venerable Eye-talian company's attempt to wrest a few cruiser-dudes away from the usual American or Metric brands.
This year's Titanium edition - they also have Aluminum and Stone models with less frills and an EV touring model with obligatory bags and larger fairing (will they be offering a Platinum? frickin' Uranium?) - is update of the base California, which has been with us in various forms since the 80s. It's basically a cosmetic package over the base Stone bike, with sleek grey, err, titanium paint, brushed-aluminum bars and risers, the Guzzi linked brake system, and a small matching fairing capping the front end.
Why, you ask, should anyone buy a cruiser from the country of Ducatis? Well, as they say, if you have to ask, go buy a Harley.
It's different, dammit...a good thing in the vast, bland chrome-and-billet world of McCruiserdom. Still has a charismatic Vtwin as a cruiser should, but one that's mounted across the frame rather than lengthwise like all the others. Differente è buono!
(Whoa...that's it for my Italian language interjections. Why, I wonder, do all the motojournos in the print rags insist on peppering every Italian bike story with little bits of Italian, like anchovies on a pizza? Why don't they pop in some pithy, descriptive Japanese phrases in stories on bikes from Japan? Oh, you say, not many westerners speak Japanese? So what! Obviously not many motojournos speak Italian, either. OK, end of rant....)
Like Harley's mill, the Guzzi Vtwin has been updated very little in its 30-plus year existence (not counting the discontinued Daytona four-valve variation). Thus, the Titanium feels and sounds just like my buddy's restored `74 Eldorado. Hit the starter button and the strangely automotive-sounding motor clicks and whirrs, quickly firing up the injected engine. Loooong-legged she is, with super tall gearing and that lopey torquemonster 1064cc Vtwin. That characteristic sideways shake and lopey feel, like each piston powerstroke propels the bike 25 feet forward, is still part of the Guzzi experience. And that's cool with me, as it will be with those who spring for the Titanium, or any Guzzi for that matter.
What's not so cool is the clunky tranny and long-throw shift lever, which seems to find more neutrals than cogs without a slow, deliberate foot. I found the key to positive gear selection was a firm stomp on the rear arm or `heel' section of the shifter (another similarity to the old Eldorado); not exactly the fastest way to upshift, though.
While we're on a bitchy, nitpicky roll, let's discuss the Guzzi's other flaws. The mirrors, while giving a decent rear view, vibrate into blurriness at just about any speed. The idiot lights are exactly that; in daylight they're almost invisible, set deeply as they are in the nicely-finished dash plate. (Guzzi doesn't have a monopoly on crummy lights however; I notice that the BMW Rockster and Ducati Monster also mount similar smoked lenses over their lights, which might look cool but renders them effectively unreadable in sunlight). The forward-mounted kickstand seems like it's a yard long, and requires a hefty shove to deploy.
And the riding position...aarrrgghh! I know cruisers are never the most comfortable bikes, good for about 45 minutes of boulevard-trolling whilst their riders check themselves out in shop windows, but the Titanium does nothing to improve that sad state. The high-ish, flat bars are comfortable enough but combined with the low, dished-out saddle and strong pull from the engine make for a hellaciously painful lower back and arms after less than an hour, especially at freeway speeds where the stance pits you against the wind in a losing battle.
The Guzzi's linked Brembo Gold Series brakes, however, are sportbike-strong and give nice feedback. The link system, a Guzzi thang for years, is fine for novices but since I depend on the front brake by habit it's a bit strange feeling, especially when coming to a halt as the front lever engages only one caliper and doesn't really bite til you apply the rear pedal. I wish buyers could opt out of this system....
Wish I could get a lighter clutch too. While not the Popeye-forearm-builder of some other Italian steeds, the Guzzi is definitely on the firm side, although the feel is good and it doesn't grab like the ol' Eldorado, working as it does with just a single-plate, automotive style system.
Quibbles aside, the Guzzi has real cruiser cred, with the right macho, rumbly sounds emanating from the splayed, twin exhaust pipes, and lots of blacked-out and deep-chrome bits to highlight its beautiful chunky Vtwin lump. The aim is a look of quality, which the Guzzi achieves handily. I'm not entirely sure what to make of the little bikini fairing surrounding the headlight, but it does keep a bit of wind off your chest. Not enough to make the riding stance any more bearable, however.
Other extras found on the Titanium California include a 12v accessory plug and no-maintenance hydraulic valve lifters, a good idea on any pushrod engine. Guzzi is offering a full line of bolt-on accessories for its cruisers, including soft and hard luggage, removable windshields, crash bars, and other goodies. Check `em all out at www.motoguzzi-us.com.
Since the cruiser mentality is ostensibly about being `different' and even `rebellious,' Moto Guzzi is counting on a few folks actually walking the walk, breaking from the herd and stepping out on its new Titanium. And good on `em, too. Viva Italia! (just had to say that...).