2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring Ambassador Review - Motorcycle.com
The all-new California 1400 takes a page out of Moto Guzzi’s lineage of cruiser and touring models from the past. Headlining news is its engine, the largest-displacement 90-degree V-Twin ever offered from a European manufacturer.
Back in the late-‘60s, the Guzzi factory in Mandello del Lario was developing a new police motorcycle based on the V7 platform, with assistance from an LAPD officer who requested bulletproof windscreens. It was the start of Moto Guzzi’s golden era in terms of financial success, and production numbers quickly rose to more than 40,000 vehicles rolling out of the Italian factory after the LAPD deal.
More than 40 years later Moto Guzzi is on the rise again after a hefty 42 million euro investment by Piaggio into a new factory and new models. The 2013 California 1400 Touring has been almost five years in the making and can be considered the first big new model as a result of that investment.
Moto Guzzi’s all-new 1380cc V-Twin with its trademark longitudinal mount is without a shadow of a doubt the number-one reason to look into the new California 1400. The powerplant uses the same stroke as the previous California’s 1151cc mill but uses a massive 104mm bore to punch it out to 1380cc. Claimed crankshaft output is 95 hp at 6500 rpm and 88.5 ft-lb of torque at just 2750 rpm.
Its cylinders beat back and forth suspended in the frame like a heart in a human body. The innovative elasto-kinematic engine mount reduces vibration from the big air-cooled Twin to a minimum. The engine shakes a lot but only around its own center of gravity, almost completely separated from the frame.
I sat in the large and instantly comfortable black leather seat with classic white leather sides. The footboards gave my legs enough space, which is a big comfort upgrade form the old California Vintage model. The seat height is 29.1 inches, but a 28.3-inch conversion is available.
Because of all that torque available at low revs, the California is a very easy thing to get going from a standstill. Rolling away from traffic lights is ultra-smooth, and both the clutch lever and six-speed gearbox operate with ease. The big California 1400’s power is immense, and I can’t imagine any other manufacturer with such a satisfying punch from an air-cooled 1.4-liter engine. There are hardly any vibrations, and the burly motor sounds fantastic even in muffled standard version, spoiled somewhat by driveshaft noise.
Those big cylinder heads stick out by the nature of the longitudinal-vee Guzzi design, and there is some serious heat thrown off just below a rider’s knees. Ambient temperatures on our ride ranged from cool to moderate, so radiant heat never got too uncomfortable; However, I can imagine the heat dissipation from the big air-cooled cylinders could be an issue in hot weather. The California’s large floorboards enable moving your knees out and into a cooling breeze.
The big windscreen on the Touring model we tested wasn’t bulletproof but certainly built in very thick plastic with an aluminum chromed frame that kept the screen sturdy even at high speed. Placed on each side is a small wind deflector, which helps keep most of a rider’s upper body sheltered at higher speeds. Leaning in slightly achieves even greater wind protection.
The California’s handlebar is traditionally mounted, enabling customers to fit a different handlebar should they wish to do so. Another first on any Moto Guzzi is the cruise control, which is a great comfort feature for long journeys. It works very smooth and it only takes a small tap on the brakes or clutch lever to disengage it.
Guzzi has created a new set of instruments for the California. At its center is a huge 5.9-inch analog tachometer which incorporates a digital speedometer on a black background. The display includes ambient temperature and the three available riding modes: Turismo (Touring), Veloce (Fast) and Pioggia (Rain). Integrated into the riding modes are different parameters for power delivery and traction control. TC settings can also be adjusted further in the menu. To adjust riding modes on the move, you have to shut the throttle and use the starter button to highlight the desired riding mode.
The Turismo setting is preferred for smooth throttle and torque response, and it also reduces the amount of engine braking compared to the more beastly Veloce setting. Since the V-Twin engine delivers an ox-like torque response over a large powerband, there’s no need to rev it past 5000 rpm.
According to Moto Guzzi Product Manager Gianluca Di Oto, air-cooled engines have an inherent limit of about 95 horsepower per liter while complying with emissions regulations. He adds that thicker engine walls and clever engineering will keep air-cooled engines going for a long time yet. Guzzi claims a 15% improvement in fuel economy over the smaller previous motor.
The California benefits from the latest antilock-brake system, safely reining in the bike’s considerable 743-pound full-up weight. Up front is a double 320mm disc set-up clamped by radial-mount Brembo calipers, while a large 282mm disc is used at the back wheel, and they prove to be superbly powerful. The biggest Guzzi rolls on Dunlop D251 tires, a 130/70-18 front and a 200/60-16 rear.
The California’s handling through twisty road sections is surprisingly good, certainly better than what you think you’d get from a big touring cruiser. The wide handlebar gives good control, and pushing the big California from side to side is easier than it looks. I might be stating the obvious here, but the 1400 is a much bigger motorcycle than previous California models. It’s not easy to make a motorcycle handle well with a long 66.3-inch wheelbase, but Guzzi has done it.
Suspension is plush and comfortable, but more so at speed than during slow cruising. At low speeds, the suspension doesn’t soak up potholes and sharp bumps as well as I’d like for this type of motorcycle. Bring the California up to speed and the suspension is near perfection in terms of execution and comfort. The suspension set-up is a 46mm front fork and double shocks at the rear.
Colors available are the black Ambassador as tested and the white Eldorado, taking name cues from old California models. In addition to the included panniers, a top box perfectly integrated into the new California design can be fitted as an accessory.
With the new California 1400, Moto Guzzi is providing a fantastic package. The Touring version is both practical and powerful whilst it handles really well. My main minuses are the heat from the engine and the noise from the driveshaft. Otherwise, the California 1400 is near Touring Cruising perfection.
The new California provides an involving ride and it sounds great. Comfort levels are up there with the best, which instantly makes the California 1400 a touring monster. The California 1400 now stands as much more than just a quirky Euro cruiser alternative. It’s a real contender and maybe even a Big Twin touring killer.
|1380cc Quattrovalvole = Mama Mia! Very high comfort levels Superb handling and great brakes||Excessive heat dissipation to legs Cardan noises Harsh slow-speed suspension action|
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