“Handmade in Italy.” Those words make us think of luxury and quality. Leather shoes and handbags, sunglasses and optical frames, ceramics and glass, textiles, and the list goes on. Also included, of course, are cars and motorcycles. Moto Guzzi continues the proud tradition of Italian artisans in its historic factory in Mandello del Lario, hand building the California 1400 motorcycles first presented at the 2012 EICMA show in Milan and the 2016 EICMA show promises more for 2017.
Combining classic grace with modern technology, the California 1400 Touring and its bad-boy sibling, the California 1400 Custom, represent an artesian tradition that has put Moto Guzzi on a top tier among world motorcycle brands.
Let’s talk about firsts. The 1380 cc engine in the California 1400s was a record-setting engine size in Europe for a V-twin motorcycle. While it is considered upper-mid range here in the states, it is quite big for a European bike and delivers plenty of torque low, low in the range — which I expect to see in a cruiser.
The low center of gravity makes the weight manageable and overall, the bike is very easy to handle.
The Touring, equipped with a “Patrol” windscreen, engine and saddlebag guards, eight-gallon hard saddlebags, high-performance exhaust and plenty of chrome bling, gets a tech-infusion with cruise control, the MGCT traction control system and two-channel ABS. The multi-map Ride-by-Wire accelerator lets you choose rider modes between Touring, Sport and Rain to set engine response according to riding conditions.
To say the California 1400 Custom is just the Touring minus the windscreen and saddlebags wouldn’t be doing it justice. The Touring’s bad-boy sibling goes boulevard bruiser with a new sport saddle and drag bar handlebars to create a relaxed, low-slung slouchy rider triangle for that cruiser look and feel. I haven’t seen evidence that the Custom will be with us for 2017 and that’s a shame if that’s the case.
Seat height — 29 inches standard or 28.3 inches with the low-seat option — is a tad tall for a cruiser, but not too much so. The low center of gravity makes the weight manageable and overall, the bike is very easy to handle.
Instrumentation is clean and easy to read and let’s not neglect to mention the elegant LED rear lighting molded into the fender to keep the lines unfettered by conspicuous taillights.
Guzzi laid the foundation of the California range with a double-cradle frame constructed of steel tubing. In an effort to mitigate the vibrations from the transverse-mount, V-twin lump, engineers blessed the bones with a rubber-mount system that floats and isolates the engine from the frame.
The steering head is set at 32 degrees, and even though Guzzi doesn’t come right out and say it, an offset in the tripleclamp adds another 6 degrees to that for a total steering angle of 38 degrees. You will be hard pressed to find a current production bike with more rake than that, and even Harley-Davidson ’s Breakout — a bike meant to emulate American chopper culture of years past — only sports a 35-degree rake.
So, I am here to tell you MG really pushed that front wheel out there, though the bulkiness of the rest of the bike seems to mitigate much of the visual impact one would expect with such an angle. All this leaves us with 6.1 inches of trail that makes for a stable, straight-line ride, though you can abandon any thoughts of carving hairpins like a sport, it ain’t gonna happen.
Some of this aforementioned bulkiness can be attributed to the massive, 46 mm front forks with blackout upper fork shrouds, proof that black isn’t necessarily as slimming on machines as it is in clothing. This look is bolstered by the 18-inch, 130/70 front tire that is wider than many full-size bikes run even on the back, and the 16-inch rear tire is fat indeed at 200/60.
The front forks provide 4.7 inches of travel sans adjustments, and the rear shocks float the back on 4.3 inches of travel. Now for a curiosity: MG used rear shocks with rebound and spring-preload adjustments on the Custom — the cruiser version of the California — but slapped non-adjustable shocks on the Touring model, a decision that seems about bass-ackwards to me considering the disparate purpose of each ride.
Given the 701-pound curb weight of the Custom, and the 742.9-pound curb weight of the Touring, it comes as no surprise that MG opted for dual front brakes on this ride. A pair of four-pot, opposed-piston Brembo calipers pinch the dual, 320 mm, front brake discs, and a twin-pot, piston-and-anvil Brembo caliper binds the 282 mm rear disc with ABS to serve as the first line of protection for your contact-patch integrity. In short, the factory gave you all the tools you need to slow and control the great mass of the California 1400s.
Impossible to miss, the 90-degree, V-twin engine comes in the typical, transverse-mount configuration that leaves the heads and valve covers exposed on both sides of the bike. The 1,380 cc engine is large by European standards, though most Americans will consider it mid-sized, at best. Still, the power output should be sufficient for most any cruiser or touring rider, regardless of their “rider culture.”
At a mere 2,750 rpm, it generates 87 pound-feet of torque…that is power you will definitely feel in the seat of your pants.
The mill cranks out 96 ponies at 6,500 rpm, not bad for a V-twin, but the real news is in the torque numbers. At a mere 2,750 rpm, it generates 87 pound-feet of torque, and even with a fueled- and mounted-weight pushing half a ton, that is power you will definitely feel in the seat of your pants.
Waste heat is handled two different ways. Traditional air-cooling fins dissipate heat from the heads and jugs, while an oil cooler complete with thermostat and forced-air fan moderates the internal temperatures.
An electronic, ride-by-wire throttle controls the 52 mm throttle body, while three separate engine maps deliver different power curves to help the rider manage variable riding conditions. Additionally, a traction-control system intervenes when it detects wheel slip and acts as the second line of protection for the contact patch. Between the induction management and the catalyst in the two-into-two exhaust, the new California 1400 engine meets EPA and CARB emissions standards.
A six-speed, overdrive-ratio transmission drives the rear wheel via MG’s double-cardan driveshaft — typical for the brand — and a single-disc clutch comes with a compensator that helps smooth out the power pulses from the mill.
MSRP on the 1400 Custom is $15,490 and comes in Basalt Black (Nero Basalto), Sapphire Blue (Blu Zaffiro) or Gray Mercury (Grigio Mercurio). The 1400 Touring runs $3,000 more. For the Touring, you have your pick of Eldorado White (Bianco Eldorado), Ambassador Black (Nero Ambassador) or Red Amaranth (Rosso Amaranto).
When looking for a competitor with roughly the same size engine, I think of the V Star 1300 Tourer from Star and the Boulevard C90T from Suzuki. They each have a cruiser version, though the V Star 1300 wasn’t carried over to 2016. When looking more closely at the two competitors, though, I picked the V Star because it seemed more ’tourer’ and less like a boulevard bruiser with a fairing and bags. Does that make sense? I guess it doesn’t have to. Salient point is, I went the V Star.
Both models provide the basics for touring with windshields, saddlebags and full, two-up seats, but with a decidedly different approach. The California, though ostensibly a made-for-the-U.S.A model, maintains an Italian flair with its overall look, while the V Star follows a more typically American formula. While the differences are myriad, the most glaring would have to be the engine arrangement. Star orients its V-twin engine fore-and-aft, rather than side-to-side, for a more typical slice of apple pie.
Once we look at the engines themselves, Star starts to slip a bit. While Moto Guzzi threw some top-end features on the California, to include traction control and multiple engine maps, the V Star comes pretty much vanilla without any such features. A few years ago, I may have given Star a pass on this, but as the ubiquity of these technologies increase, I confess that I am starting to expect them on bikes in this, the 12-to-20K price range. Heck, I can think of a few bikes below 10K with said features.
In addition, the California gets a six-speed transmission where the V Star gets only five, and Star makes no mention of an overdrive ratio, so I feel it’s safe to say the California will be a bit less frenetic at highway speeds. All the better for reaching your destination without feeling as though you had been put through a wringer.
In a reversal, the V Star wins the price battle decisively — as long as you can live without the fancy engine- and traction-controls. At only $12,390 MSRP, the V Star rolls at around two-thirds the price of the $18,490 California 1400 Touring and at least a portion of that 18-plus grand is the quality you get in a bike handmade at the factory in Italy. To be fair, those are nice features, but only you can decide if they are worth the extra gadgets and a dose of name recognition, I’m still on the fence in that respect.
My husband and fellow writer, TJ Hinton, says, “Though I realize many will find this an arguable point, I never really learned to love the California range. It’s a little chunky for my tastes, and as much as I like the current mid-size line from MG, such as the Scrambler and the Cafe’ Racer from the V7 II family, I’m just not really “feeling it” so much for the Cali. But hey, if everyone liked the same things, how boring would life be, yeah?”
“Let me start off by saying that I really like Moto Guzzi bikes. If Moto Guzzi was a person, I’d bend him over backwards and give him a great big, wet kiss right on the mouth. Even though it doesn’t have as much grunt as some of the American-made cruisers, the 1400 engine opens up beautifully in every gear and if it weren’t for the butt-hugging cantle on the seat, you could get twisty enough to drive the bike right out from under you. The California 1400s are elegant, classy bikes that look so Italian and perform awesomely on the road.”
|Type:||90° V-twin engine, 4-stroke, 4 valves, double ignition|
|Cooling:||air and oil with an independent cooling pump. Oil radiator with thermostat controlled fan.|
|Engine capacity:||1380 cm³|
|Bore and stroke:||104 x 81.2 mm|
|Compression ratio:||10.5 : 1|
|Maximum power:||71 kW (96 HP) at 6500 rpm|
|Maximum torque:||87 ft-lb – 120 Nm @2750 rpm|
|Fuel supply / Ignition:||phased electronic Multipoint sequential injection, Magneti Marelli IAW7SM; “ride by wire” Ø 52 mm throttle body, IWP 243 Magneti Marelli injectors, double oxygen sensor, integrated management of 3 engine mappings, traction control, cruise control|
|Spark plugs:||NGK LMAR8F, 2 per cylinder|
|Exhaust system:||stainless steel, 2-in-2 type, three-way catalytic converter with double lambda probe|
|Type approval:||EPA and CARB|
|Gearbox:||6 speeds with final overdrive|
|Final drive:||double cardan joint and fixed bevel gear seat|
|Clutch:||single-disc with integrated anti-vibration buffer|
|CHASSIS / SUSPENSION / BRAKES:|
|Chassis:||steel tubing, closed double cradle with elastic-kinematic engine mounting system to isolate vibrations.|
|Wheelbase:||66.3 in – 1685mm|
|Trail:||6.1 in – 155 mm|
|Front suspension:||Ø 46 mm hydraulic telescopic fork, with radial calliper mounting brackets|
|Front wheel travel:||4.7 in – 120 mm|
|Rear suspension:||swingarm with double shock absorber with adjustable spring preload and rebound damping.|
|Rear wheel travel:||4.3 in – 110 mm|
|Front brake:||dual 320 mm stainless steel floating discs, Brembo radial callipers with 4 horizontally opposed pistons|
|Rear brake:||282 mm stainless steel fixed disc, Brembo floating calliper with 2 parallel pistons|
|Front tire:||130/70 R 18”|
|Rear tire:||200/60 R 16”|
|Length:||96.2 in. – 2445 mm|
|Width:||40.5 in. – 1030mm|
|Height:||57.4 in. – 1460 mm|
|Saddle height:||29.1 in. – 740 mm (Opt: 28.3 in. – 720 mm)|
|Minimum ground clearance:||6.4 in. – 165 mm|
|Custom:||701 lbs. – 318 Kg|
|Fuel tank capacity:||5.4 gal. – 20.5 litres|
|Reserve:||1.3 gal. – 5 litres|
|Custom:||Nero Basalto, Blu Zaffiro, Grigio Mercurio|
|Touring:||Bianco Eldorado, Nero Ambassador, Rosso Amaranto|