The best Moto Guzzi California of all time, with the most brazenly suited to the philosophy of this bike and a cocktail of cutting-edge solutions and references to tradition to make an impression.
Ask me everything but not to be objective, the writer is the least suitable person to draw up the virtues of this motorcycle. The risk is of excessive enthusiasm. California, for me who have “lived” intensely for over a decade, means frozen rain, torrid regions, endless transfers. But it also means arriving and finding a friendly home, it means friendship, sometimes some suffering, it means transforming it into a bed to take a nap and even into an alcove where you can make love. California means above all tens and tens of thousands of kilometers. It means attracting attention, kidnapping hearts. Stay away from California because it’s a bewitched motorbike, if you win you’re fucked, you’re his, you belong to him.
California is the smiling side of Moto Guzzi, that of eternal American optimism. The beautiful adventure began in Los Angeles in 1970. Moto Guzzi, or rather its V7 engine, was the exception that confirms the rule in a period of engines that punctually left you at the roadside. Dynamo and automotive distributor (the initial project was to equip the Fiat 500), a noise that filled the heart and that engine block – which then seemed gigantic – well inserted in the cradle of the chassis very reliable and full. “Congratulation”! The V7 succeeds in imposing itself on an American police force. For the first time the “cops” will travel on a motorcycle that was not born in Milwaukee. These are the years in which everything that comes from the USA is “cool”, blue jeans, Coca Cola, ideas, music: the dream of “stars and stripes” is the best. In Moto Guzzi they understand that the setting designed for the police, and then for American fans, would also become Italian and European. These were years of epoch-making changes: Moto Guzzi gradually lost its utilitarian soul, strengthened its amateur sports spirit (the V7 Sport was defined as a compass for the precision and stability of its chassis when cornering) and acquired that of the tireless traveller. Over time, the Moto Guzzi California, in its various versions, makes steps forward and a few steps backwards. After the first version, probably the best in many respects, comes the outfitting derived from the 850 T3, considered by many a little ‘posh compared to the road version. So for almost all the 80’s the California II dominates, an excellent bike, with its 950 CC engine and standard equipment as a real cruiser. The California III and its evolutions gradually led to technological improvements, but among many enthusiasts the impression remained that the drip tank was too large and the two-storey saddle was an unknowing interpretation of the “yankee” style.
But now everything changes: in Moto Guzzi they have understood that the California must be inspired only by itself, that forty years of existence could be enough to consider this model as “acquired” among the legendary motorcycles. The wait was not in vain, what Moto Guzzi now offers is a California that combines 100% the best of the original class with the best of technology applied to motoring. The result could only be a very high-profile product, a luxury vehicle, a price list in hand, but really where price is of relative importance, because the value of California is destined to remain unchanged over time.
Let’s enjoy the view of this motorcycle. Nostalgics like myself immediately recognize details that are precise knife plunges in the most romantic sensibility: the saddle, the tank tight between the cylinders, the big speedometer, the forks with the covers, the drip bags, the wraparound mudguards, the sides, the flat valve covers, the alloy wheels, the footrests with the balance controls… There is a bit of all the best that California has been able to express over the decades. But the operation of recognition is lost as you approach and with the eye you look in depth: here you risk to have really made a masterpiece. Gentlemen, here is the largest European V-twin ever produced in Europe… A California 1400 with a tug torque, 120 Nm at just 2750 rpm, MGCT traction control and multimap Ride by Wire technology, with the possibility of selecting three different delivery curves: Touring, Fast and Rain. The double cradle chassis is also completely new, with silent blocks to eliminate the transmission of engine vibrations to the chassis and the final shaft drive redesigned to be fluid and silent. We can also forget some aesthetic distortions of the past: California once again stands out for its attention to assembly, painting and detail. It returns to be the queen and pride of Mandello del Lario where it is built piece by piece!
Details that count
Don’t think it was easy for the designers to perform the miracle. For example, to make the proportion of the tank (yes, it’s made of metal: no plastic, for God’s sake) so harmonious and at the same time give it a capacity of 21 litres, it was made with a central body and two side panels, on which the eagle is not just a decal but a recessed element. The tank is shaped so that the thermal groups come out visibly from this. The fork is well tilted, increasing the wheelbase by about ten centimetres (now it is 1685 mm) and represents the realization of the dream that all the riders who love this model have always had. As well as the rear wheel fitted with a 200 mm tyre wrapped in a generous mudguard. From the future, instead, comes the double LED light unit that also integrates the direction indicators. The front headlamp also breaks with tradition: with its poly ellipsoidal shape, it is equipped with daytime lighting with DRL LEDs, an absolutely exclusive device that makes it immediately recognisable. Inspired by the California II, the light alloy wheels are back, which reproduce its style. However, the measures change: as mentioned, the rear is a 200/60-16, while the front is a 130/70-18.
Another hymn to nostalgia is the fork with the telescope stem covers that the first California had, as beautiful as it is not very functional compared to today’s standards. Don’t worry, it’s just about the look, inside there’s a 46 mm fork perfectly tuned for the mass of this bike.
The cockpit almost stuns as it combines design and technology.
The instrumentation is enclosed in a circular dial of 150 mm in diameter that recalls the first version of Krk, which in the golden years of motoring “Made in Italy” was almost identical on the V7 Police, Fiat 500 and Alfa Romeo Spider. But the reference to the past ends up in the idea of a large circular instrument. Here is the scale of the analog tachometer obtained along the outer circumference and the full matrix multifunction display suspended in the center. At the ends of the handlebars with ox horns are the coated knobs and electric blocks where, on the right, for the first time on a Moto Guzzi, it is possible to activate the cruise control.
The first impression I had when I left the dealership with my California II for the first time was the vibration between my legs, leaving the clutch and accelerating, a feeling of power, of physicality, which while on the one hand it is difficult to deny, because part of the soul of the bike itself, on the other hand over long distances cause great fatigue. Another aspect to be archived in the album of memories, it seems, now that the concept of “Elastic Engine” has been introduced, which sets new standards in terms of ride comfort. The engine is, in fact, fixed to the frame by means of an exclusive system of elasto-cinematic supports composed of a front connecting rod, two side connecting rods and a series of rubber pads that allow the engine to oscillate, filtering all the vibrations and preventing them from being transmitted to the bike. We will console ourselves by seeing the “iron” vibrate when it turns at a minimum with the bike stationary, resting on the traditional large side crutch. The frame is a high-strength tubular structure characterized by the oversized steering head and large section swingarm. Fork travel and inclination are highway cruisers and allow you to support cruising speed in comfort. With a low centre of gravity, the saddle is 74 centimetres from the ground. In this way, even in urban traffic, the agility and lightness of this bike will be a further surprise. Goodbye full braking: for decades we have been discussing with friends the usefulness or not of this very automotive components, but little motorcycle. The ABS system has put the last word to the discussion, with the peace of mind of comfort advocates and purists with a magical touch on the brake levers… The electronic braking control system acts on Brembo radial calipers with four opposed pistons, working on a pair of 320 mm perforated floating discs at the front and 282 mm rear discs, on which a Brembo floating caliper with two parallel pistons acts.
A heart so big
The well-tested “Quattrovalvole” became part of the California legend, but it fits in well: it maintains the same stroke as the 1151 cc, but with a bore that allows you to reach the cubic capacity of 1380 cc. An engine for a 96 horsepower pure torque “muscle bike”, in short, which not even too veiledly conceals a real redesign. The eye immediately falls on the polished aluminium valve covers: it was not since the 70’s that they were seen as beautiful as standard among the big Guzzi. The power is supplied by a single Magneti Marelli throttle body 52 mm in diameter and equipped with a motorized drive, which replicates the advantages in terms of fluid dynamic performance, obtainable from the single Y-shaped manifold, now coupled with new long intake ducts that increase torque at low rpm.
The electronic management of the multimap ride by wire engine debuted on a Moto Guzzi, and in the custom segment. This technology allows you to choose between three engine management maps: Touring, Fast and Wet. A solution not even imaginable a few years ago. Now we can choose the character of the engine by differentiating the delivery of the engine torque and the management of the engine brake.
But that’s not all: the dynamics of the vehicle are made safer by the latest generation electronic traction control device (MGCT), which can be set to three levels of intervention to increase active safety without compromising performance and driving pleasure.
The mixture and exhaust are regulated by four valves per cylinder, with very low friction control and double ignition to ensure perfect combustion, just as the two lambda sensors make the mixture to the cylinders uniform in all operating conditions, with consequent improvement in fuel consumption and harmful emissions. All these new features mean that fuel consumption is 15-20% lower than that of the 1200 cc “Quattrovalvole” engine. Important news also in the transmission: the gearbox, now with six gears, helps to optimize the perfect delivery in every situation; the clutch is a new single-disc dry plate with integrated coupling and reduced drive load, and the final drive shaft transmission, resized to transfer in a fluid way the powerful torque of the engine, is aesthetically intriguing.
Born to be wild?
How do you feel, good or bad? Cops or outlawed? Untiring travellers or bikers with their motorbikes stripped and a bag of luggage? Whatever your mood, there’s a California for you and a pretty impressive range of accessories for the Guzzi house. The Touring is the full option, the kilometer grinder points the finger on this model without even thinking about it. The beautiful two-tone saddle, the “Patrol” windscreen, the additional chrome headlights, the 35-litre side cases, the chrome paramotors and suitcases make the Touring bikes to eat with your eyes. The only doubt that will devour the enthusiast is the choice between the two evocative graphics: the Eldorado, white with dark ornamental threads on the tank, inspired by the versions of the California Highway Patrol or Ambassador, which expresses the classic black with white threads similar to the versions of the origins, type V7 and 850 California.
Minimal as tradition dictates, the Custom version. The “wild” will have between his legs a thoroughbred horse with a distinctly Italian-no character. A two-seater saddle with the “Aquila” hot stamped logo, a drag bar handlebar for a low, backward ride and a pair of rear shock absorbers with a well exposed external tank. The graphics are minimal: mercury grey and basalt black, like the black lacquered alloy wheels with the Moto Guzzi logo in red and the black rear-view mirrors. Politically incorrect, it will be ready to accept all the challenges until the last meeting of the season, because this is the most stable and safe custom bike you have ever tried!