2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom Review
The Mandello Custom
Moto Guzzi’s California Custom is a no-frills, stripped-down version of the California’s Touring version we tested a couple of months ago. This new Custom model uses the Guzzi’s all-new 1380cc engine in a package with enhanced handling capabilities. The 90-degree V-Twin is purported to kick out 88.5 ft-lb of torque at just 2750 rpm and 96 horsepower at 6500 rpm. Our Euro correspondent recently tested it in Barcelona where he says “each red light meant a drag race was on!” –Ed.
Compared to the California Touring, the Custom is a much tighter and better handling beast. First of all, the Custom has shed a whopping 48.5 pounds from losing its windshield and assembly plus the bags at the back. The front end of the Custom feels particularly solid, with controls via a new drag-type handlebar.
The 29.4-inch seat height is still on the comfortable side for the rider but obviously less so for the pillion as the “sport” seat follows the lines of the rear fender. The riding position is still a conservative, fairly upright position with a slight inkling forward. Moto Guzzi could have gone a bit further here and made the riding position even more aggressive without hurting the rider’s comfort levels much. The same big comfy footboards from the Touring are also in place for the Custom.
The double rear suspension is new, with the twin shocks featuring remote reservoirs. They raise the rear end for a more front-biased ride compared to the Touring. The California Custom front end with its massive 46mm fork and double Brembo radial calipers is possibly the best front end on any cruiser or custom bike. It feels plush and tight at the same time and extremely sure-footed for this type of motorcycle.
While aboard the Custom at Barcelona’s many light crossings, horns starts growing on my crash helmet and it’s a drag race to the next set of lights. Dumping the clutch in first, there’s an instant and massive drive forward. It happened to be a wet morning on my first ride and, despite the massive 200-section Dunlop D251 rear tire providing lots of grip, this is where the traction control comes in handy.
I must admit that traction control on a cruiser isn’t what I’m usually looking for, but on this morning it was brilliant and added peace of mind. I had the traction control set to level 2 and engine map to Pioggia (Rain) and you can then keep a fully opened throttle over wet white lines and manhole covers without worry in a straight line. The Pioggia engine map is comfortable for easy cruising when you don’t need a full rush of power. Brembo ABS brakes bring the Custom’s 743-pound curb weight to a stop quickly on both dry and wet surfaces.
Changing from the Pioggia to Turismo or Veloce engine maps is easy, using the starter button to switch them. Lowering the traction control setting to level 1 is more of an operation, as you need to go into the menu buttons whilst standing still. In level 1, the TC allows a fair amount of rear wheel slip, which is always fun.
On my second day of riding, I switched between the Custom and the Touring while we rode up into the mountains surrounding Barcelona for some cornering testing. Here the Custom really excels over the Touring – the raised rear suspension provides better ground clearance, and the lighter weight and better front end provides a much sportier ride.
On the motorway leaving Barcelona on a cold morning, I found myself on the Custom wishing I was on the Touring with its windscreen. The longitudinal trademark Guzzi V90 provided a bit of shelter and warmth to my legs, which turned the situation on its head from the last time I was on the California Touring in fairly hot weather. Now I cherished the extra heat dissipation that I criticized when riding in hot temperatures. The Custom has better mirrors, and, really, the Touring should win that one.
The choice between the Custom and the Touring should be a practical one, but the enthusiast in me goes for the Custom because of the fantastic handling and plush ride everywhere but on the motorway where it’s the Touring all the way. The Custom is also faster because of the lighter weight and hence a bit more fun around town and a lot more fun in the mountains. The Custom’s front end feels like it belongs to a completely different bike despite having the same components. It’s all about the raised rear ride height and the shedding of weight over the front.
Back in town again the Custom is king. The clutch is light and the turning radius is brilliant for such a big motorcycle. Balance is very near to perfection, allowing me to roll to a complete standstill and be still for a little while before putting a leg down. I really like this, but can’t help but wonder if Guzzi have missed out on a trick where they could have gone more extreme in a few areas such as the riding position to create an uber-cool city poser, H-D style.
But that’s not quite the Italian style, and if there’s something they are afraid of, it’s people complaining about handling and brakes. Hence, the Custom is a brilliant motorcycle but very ready for the custom shop should one wish for a more controversial and personalised style. Ape hangers would look great on the Custom!
In terms of finish, the fuel tank cut-outs are great, and the Custom looks particularly muscular. The LED lighting both front and back creates a very distinct styling, and the Custom looks great at night cruising through the city. The double chromed exhaust is attractive, and the Custom’s shorter rear fender shows off that big 200mm rear tire in all its glory. The wheels have Moto Guzzi painted in red on them and they look the business. But as with all Moto Guzzis, it is, of course, the prominent V90 engine that is the main attraction.
On the downside, both the front and rear fenders are made of plastic, which isn’t cool at all.
The California Custom is something new from Moto Guzzi and is a very impressive package. Traction control, ABS, ride-by-wire are all great functional electronics that you’ll learn to depend on. Its MSRP in America is $14,990, fairly reasonable for a big-inch cruiser loaded with technology not offered by its rivals. The Touring version is $3000 pricier.
The Custom’s biggest demerits are its plastic mudguards, which put it down a notch compared to American cruisers. Who wants to repaint plastic mudguards in the custom shop?
The California Custom’s handling is terrific, thanks to the best cruiser front end in the business. The radial Brembo brakes are nothing less than fantastic. The low seat height and comfy saddle and an easy-to-reach drag bar are great stuff.
With the Custom, Moto Guzzi has created yet another great motorcycle. Now all we have to do is wait for people to start customising them properly. We can’t wait to see the results.
2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring Ambassador Review
2011 Moto Guzzi California Black Eagle Review
2011 Moto Guzzi Norge 1200 GT 8V Review
2012 Ducati Diavel Cromo Review
2012 Star Raider SCL Review
2012 Yamaha V Star 1300 Tourer Review