The mid-70 degree air swirled past the cop-style windshield and gently around the riders while grips pulsed pleasantly under leather gloves. With the heat of the inland valleys behind and the promise of cool, slightly humid air along the beach, the Moto Guzzi’s chrome reflected a brilliant blue sky and wispy clouds that movies and television would have us believe make up every day along America’s southwestern coastline.
True to form, the deep blue of the ocean waves, adorned with surfers, broke onto the shore as teens with tan skin and sun-bleached hair clustered around cars artfully changing from bathing suits into street clothes under the towels wrapped around their bodies. With the motorcycles’ front wheels pointed north up the Pacific Coast Highway, this was California Touring – 1400 Guzzi-style.
To this idyllic scene, Moto Guzzi brought a week’s worth of international motorcycle journalists to experience the California dream on the marque’s 2015 version of the California 1400. While the big 1400 is functionally unchanged from last year, Moto Guzzi is still quite proud of the fact that the reimagined California was its first all-new motorcycle in many years and stands as a symbol of Guzzi’s new approach to designing motorcycles. This is not without good reason, since a California of some ilk has been in Moto Guzzi’s model line since 1971, lasting through nine model iterations.
Since we tested and were quite fond of the California 1400 Custom in late 2013, we thought it was high time to see what its fraternal twin, the Touring model, was like. The Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring isn’t loosely based on its Custom sibling; the models are virtually identical. What differentiates the 2015 Touring and Custom options is the color (Rosso Amaranto (Red) for Touring and Blu Zaffiro (Blue) for Custom). The rest of the differences are directly related to touring. The bagger has a pair of 9.2 gallon saddlebags and some tip-over protection in addition to a windshield. The seat was upgraded for touring duty, and the dual shocks lost their remote reservoirs, presumably to make room for the bags.
What people who had the opportunity to sample the previous incarnation of the California immediately notice is that the bike’s proportions feel completely natural. Gone are the cramped ergonomics – most noticeably the peg location and the odd nubbin that the rider was expected to place a heel on to activate the brake pedal.
Credit the change to Miguel Galluzzi, Piaggio Advanced Design Director, who, perhaps because he stands 6’ 5” tall in a world where the average height is much shorter, appreciates when a motorcycle’s ergonomics fit properly. Regardless, during the casual conversations at this introduction, Galluzzi let an interesting tidbit drop: The old California – a cruiser, mind you – was constructed around what was previously a sportbike chassis.
No better distinction can be drawn between the way Moto Guzzi historically designed motorcycles and the new, Galluzzi-influenced method. Gone are the days of building bikes by rearranging and adapting existing parts. If they want to build a motorcycle that does something new, the bike needs to be built to fit the idea. Not reworked to fit the parts. While standing in a parking lot at Paradise Cove, watching Guzzi’s video crew interview the journalists after an Italian-paced, beyond leisurely lunch, Galluzzi said in an understated – almost off-hand way that still didn’t mask the underlying pride in the accomplishment – “The engine cases on that bike are the only two pre-existing parts.”
While there is obviously a bit of hyperbole in the statement – certainly some fasteners and other similarly mundane pieces hail from the parts listing of previous Guzzis – the iconic 90-degree V-Twin was always the best part of the old California.
Thumbing the starter delivers a shudder that settles into a lumpy idle, causing gyrations of the chassis and everything attached to it that would make even the most ardent Harley aficionado envious. Amazingly, the engine smooths out when actually moving, and by the time highway speed is reached, thanks to the “kinematic engine support system” which keeps all engine components (even the exhaust and intake) isolated from the frame, the vibration is nothing more than a pleasant pulse. With tons of torque off the line, the grunt of the engine makes quick work of any surrounding traffic – if the mood strikes you. Otherwise, the mill is happy to loaf along until you decide to wick it up a little. The transmission shifts smoothly, and selecting first from neutral gives the solid-sounding thunk that many cruiser riders find endearing.
The ride-by-wire (RbW) of the California is fairly unusual among cruisers, allowing choices of three levels of traction control, three riding modes and rudimentary cruise control. Although this perfect SoCal riding day presented no opportunities to test the rain mode, we did test the two other options, Veloce and Tourismo, to see how they affected the riding experience. While the response in Veloce was snappier, it exhibited an abruptness that characterizes some RbW systems. In some instances, particularly at lower rpm, the amount of acceleration did not feel directly linked to the movement of the wrist. Since there’s no peak power penalty, only softened power delivery, in Tourismo mode, it provided the most enjoyable experience in the city and on the winding two-lane roads where smooth throttle application is rewarded.
The California Touring’s handling is about what you’d expect from a cruiser with a 66.3-in. wheelbase. Stable is the operative word. The shaft-drive effect that causes some bikes to jack up under acceleration and drop under deceleration is essentially nonexistent here. Although the wide, slightly pulled back bar offers plenty of leverage, the California rewards smooth inputs where the bike is bent into a turn rather than snapped. It exhibits a slight delay during abrupt handlebar inputs, like that of swerving to avoid an object, revealing a bit of chassis flex. Still, the bike always goes where you point it.
The dual shocks are adjustable for preload and rebound damping but lack the remote reservoirs of the Custom. However, the Touring’s suspension carries it well, offering a more compliant ride than the Custom – which, when the road got bumpy, was appreciated.
Where the Touring prefers less aggressive steering inputs, the same could not be said of its radial-mounted, four piston Brembo calipers. They relished being put to the test. Coupled with dual 320 mm floating discs, the Guzzi has tons of braking power when the rider needs it. All cruisers – especially those weighing in around 750 lbs. – should have this much, easy-to-control stopping capability. Oh, and there’s ABS, to boot.
Speaking of boots, the floorboards offer a great platform for shuffling feet on longer rides. The brake pedal is well placed and not too high for it to be covered when necessary. As with other floorboard-equipped bikes, the underside of the boards touch down first. Replaceable, plastic plates make the first contact, but shortly thereafter, specially shaped feeler bolts signal that the hard limits are approaching. At this point, riders won’t want to press the issue much further or they can expect the front end to start folding in as the tire gets levered off the ground. (This is the voice of experience, here.)
The California Touring’s riding position is all-day comfortable for a 5’ 11” rider. The bar places the rider in a slightly forward lean with the hands comfortably apart. The flat seat offers room to move around and appears to be narrow enough at the front to accommodate shorter riders comfortably, too. The optically correct windshield is below the line of sight for a rider of my size, and unlike many motorcycles with cop-style windshields, no helmet buffeting is felt, even at highway speeds. The windshield, however, doesn’t look as easy to remove as those on other similarly equipped cruisers, and because of the excellent wind protection, around town cruising can get kind of toasty – particularly on the backs of the thighs.
With 9.2 gallons of storage space in each saddlebag, riders should have enough room for a two-up weekend away. While the bags’ locks require a separate key from the ignition, the convenient front hinge allows for easy loading. The bags can also be kept unlocked for easy access during a day’s ride. Oddly, Moto Guzzi chose to leave the highly visible, front-mounted hinge satin black instead of chrome. The bags’ tip over bars do wear chrome, offering both style and protection.
Although a single day on the 2015 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring isn’t enough to give a full review of the motorcycle, the broad strokes do stand out. The new color choice for 2015 is a rich pearl red, Rosso Amaranto, in addition to the previous Ambassador Black and Eldorado White. The engine performance is solid, and the brakes will best most other cruisers. Handling is also good though shortchanged in ground clearance.
While the California Touring’s $18,490 MSRP compares favorably to some Harley-Davidson models, other Japanese offerings retail for significantly lower prices. Still, Moto Guzzi is aiming towards the premium end of the scale with bonus features of adjustable performance modes, traction control and ABS – all while delivering impressive fit and finish. The California 1400 Touring is a bike that should appeal to more than Guzzi-philes. Rather, any cruiser rider, who wants something different from the typical V-Twins other manufacturers produce, should take a long look at the Touring.
|+ Highs ||– Sighs |
|2015 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring Specifications|
|Engine Type||Air/oil-cooled, transverse mounted, 90° V-Twin|
|Engine Capacity||1380 cc|
|Bore x Stroke||104 mm x 81.2 mm|
|Fuel System||Phased electronic Multipoint sequential injection|
|Horsepower||96 @ 6500 rpm (claimed)|
|Torque||87 ft-lb. @ 2750 rpm (claimed)|
|Clutch||Single-disc with integrated anti-vibration buffer|
|Frame||Steel tubing, closed double cradle with elastic-kinematic engine mounting system|
|Front Suspension||46 mm hydraulic telescopic fork|
|Rear Suspension||Dual shocks with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping|
|Front Brakes||Dual 320 mm stainless steel floating discs, Brembo radial callipers with 4 pistons|
|Rear Brakes||282 mm stainless steel fixed disc, Brembo floating calliper with 2 pistons|
|Front Tire||130/70 R 18”|
|Rear Tire||200/60 R 16”|
|Curb Weight||701/743 lbs|
|Fuel Capacity||5.4 gal|
|Electronics||ABS, cruise control, traction control, rider modes|
|Colors||Blu Zaffiro, Rosso Amaranto|
|Warranty||2 year unlimited-mileage warranty. 1 Free Year of Roadside Assistance provided by Road America|