But in recent times, changing consumer demands and a lack of genuinely new designs have seen the legend fall into oblivion. Things may change for the company in 1996 as "The Eagle" returns with their latest version of the legendary Moto Guzzi California.
We picked up our California at Moto Guzzi's newest dealer in Barcelona, Spain, Motos J.Caparros. Ours was the standard version without windscreen, leather bags or top-case but still resplendent with lots of chrome, comfortable seat, Bitubo forks, Brembo calipers, dual 300mm front brake rotors, spoked wheels and a passenger back support. A classic instrument cluster housing only a speedometer and tachometer greets the rider along with the standard assortment of idiot lights.
In spite of a low seat height shorter riders need not apply, as the wide seat and floorboards will only allow you to reach the ground if you're at least 5'-8". However taller riders have complained that the cylinder heads hit their knees, so you'll have to "try one on" in the showroom to see how the bike fits you. Seating position is fairly comfortable with an easy reach to the handlebars and rubber-mounted floorboards.
Despite a classic appearance and retro design the Guzzi does possess several modern features: For years Guzzis have used a linked braking system that operates the left front caliper and rear brake when the lever is pulled while the brake pedal operates the rear caliper and right front brake. Other technical highlights include Weber fuel injection and, surprisingly, a steering damper.
The engine starts easily and soon settles into a lumpy 1000 rpm idle that sends a buzz through the bar and mirrors. Riders who built up Popeye forearms twisting older Guzzi throttles will appreciate the light pull of the new California's twistgrip. The Weber fuel injection system helps Guzzi's 2-valve 1064cc V-twin engine pull cleanly from as low as 1500 rpm all the way to the 8000 rpm redline with no rough spots. Revving the bike to its limit is pointless, though, as the power spread is as flat as a pancake and higher revs just mean more vibration. Peak power can be found at a lazy 6400 rpm where the Guzzi puts out a respectable 75 hp.
That legendary mile-wide power spread allows you forget about shifting in city traffic as you sit back and let the torque pull you along. Just as well because the Guzzi's stiff and imprecise gearbox discourages frequent shifting. Once you get out of the city and find the tranquillity of the open road you'll discover that the California is in its element. Vibration from the engine is ever-present although more subtle than a Harley - it isn't enough to be annoying, but you won't ever forget that you're riding a V-twin.
Handling manners are respectable considering the bike's intended purpose and the suspension soaks up bumps quite well. At higher speeds the California starts to lose its composure as its portly 552 pounds (dry) overwhelms the soft suspension causing the bike to wallow. Further discouragement of fast cornering comes from the shaft final drive which sends the bike rising under power and sagging under deceleration. This is when you start to appreciate why the Moto Guzzi engineers fitted a steering damper to a touring bike. Guzzi's integrated braking system (similar to the one on Honda's new CBR1100XX and other Honda models) works quite well. In a five-star emergency, a novice is likely to get in less trouble than without it. Although we found this very useful in everyday and emergency stopping situations, expert riders will still prefer having total control over front and rear brakes.
The Moto Guzzi California isn't a machine that you're likely to jump on and love straight away as some of its quirks may seem strange and even annoying at first. But spend some time with one and the satisfying torque, easy maintenance and undeniable personality will win you over. If you want something a little different, ride a Moto Guzzi California; you will never forget it.
Manufacturer: Moto Guzzi Model: 1996 California I.E. Price: $12,800 (Spain) Engine: Air-cooled, OHV 2-valve, transverse 90 degree V-twin, 4-stroke Bore x stroke: 92 x 80 mm Displacement: 1064 cc Carburetion: Weber Fuel Injection Transmission: 5-speed (Cardan shaft) Wheelbase: 61.4 in. (1560 mm) Seat Height: 31.5 in. (800 mm) Fuel Capacity: 4.9 gal. (18.5 L) Claimed dry Weight: 552 lb. (251 Kg.)