2004 Moto Guzzi California EV Touring Motorcycle Test

A midwinter motorcycle ride on Moto Guzzi's Italianized full-dress touring cruiser motorcycle. By Mark Zimmerman.

I've always found myself oddly attracted to Moto Guzzi motorcycles, yet at the same time a bit wary of them. Kind of a yin-yang thing caused in no small part by some of their oddball quirks. On the one hand you've got legendary reliability, a strong, easily maintained engine and driveline and a certain flair for style that only the Italians can ever really pull off. On the other hand you've got those Weird-Harold linked brakes (yeah, I know lots of manufacturers use linked brakes. I don't like those any better) and what might possibly be, at least from the standpoint of my own ergonomic inclinations, the worst foot controls in motorcycling.

Understand then that I was a bit hesitant when Moto Guzzi offered me a new California EV Touring to ride in this year's Crotona Midnight Run. But then the last time I'd ridden an EV I'd liked it just fine, and whatever quibbles I had with some aspects of the design, I knew it wouldn't let me down when the going got tough. Besides, the Touring comes with some very nice standard accessories: heated grips, a windscreen and decently sized hard bags. All good things to have on a ride that starts at midnight in February. So after about 30 seconds of serious thought, I grabbed the keys and ran.

Truthfully, the first few miles on the EV had me wondering if I'd made the right decision. Those damn foot controls nearly drove me nuts. Believe me, any gears I managed to engage on the first attempt were purely accidental. Stopping with the rear brake was simply out of the question. The pedal was awkward to reach and hard to modulate. Clearly a bit of adjustment was required. A little spanner work put the shifter where I could at least use it, and I placed the foot brake to a position that wasn't so uncomfortable. In candor, once the pedals were adjusted I suppose I could get used to them. But the reality of it is that the lower controls need a complete redesign, preferably by someone who's ridden one of the floorboard-equipped bikes from H-D or any of the Big Four, or at least has roughly humanly proportioned dimensions. With careful adjustment and the right technique they can be made to work, but frankly, it takes dedicated Guzzistis to put up with them in standard trim.

On that same note, linked brakes are something I've never really developed a taste for. Considering the majority of roads I'd be on while riding the EV were likely to be at best sandy and slippery, and at worst covered with snow and ice, a linked brake system, especially one without ABS, would seem to create more problems than it solves. Fortunately, for the most part the roads remained dry, and my arguments against linked brakes remained largely theoretical.

Other than those two issues, there is a lot to like about the EV. The 1064cc V-twin revs a little slow, but it pulls like Jack the Bear, especially in the midrange. The engine management package is superb. When it comes to fuel injection MG has really done its homework, and it shows. The bike started easily despite the cold, even when the temperature dropped into the single digits, and it immediately settled into a consistent idle, with none of the snorting, spitting or stalling that plagues some other bikes. There was no lean surging or any other indication that the mapping was less than perfect.

The transmission is still a bit on the agricultural side, but it shifts much better than any of its predecessors. It's still possible to miss a gear change here and there, but that's mainly due to the balky shift mechanism.

Once underway the EV handles quite well. It's a bit firmer than most cruisers, but likely the best-handling member of the club, at least until Ducati starts building one. The bike steers accurately, holds its lines well and has a light, taut feel that belies its cruiser moniker. On the open highway it feels planted and stable at high speed, high speed of course being a relative term when you're riding the thing in below-freezing temperatures all night. Dedicated Guzzi riders tell me they routinely drag the high floorboards on these things, though I'm not sure that's something to be proud about.

While my stint on the EV took place in midwinter, riding the EV during Mother Nature's worst isn't as tough as it sounds. The weather protection is first-rate for a cruiser, and not at all bad by touring-bike standards. The small fairing/windscreen and foot guards block more wind than you'd think, and the heavily valanced fenders keep the muck and mire at bay. When you factor in the heated grips, why it's practically as easy as taking the car.

In the end, the California EV Touring is a good, if slightly flawed, motorcycle, especially if you like your cruising with a sporting flair and some touring capability. It has that indisputable Italian bike cachet as well, if that sort of feature is important to you. Now if they'd only fit decent foot controls to the thing...

2004 Moto Guzzi California EV Touring

Suggested base price: $13,490
Standard colors: Red/Black; back/chrome;blue/chrome; dark silver/black
Extra cost colors: NA
Standard warranty: 12 mo., unlimited miles
Website: www.motoguzzi-us.com

Type: Air-cooled, 90-degree transverse V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 1 intake valve, 1 exhaust valve per cylinder, operated by pushrods, hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1064cc, 92 x 80mm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Carburetion: EFI
Lubrication: Wet sump
Transmission: Dry single-plate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft CHASSIS
Dry weight: 573 lb
Wheelbase: 61.4 in.
Overall length: 93.7 in.
Seat height: 30.7 in.
Rake/trail: 29.5o/ 4.26 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 2.50 x 18 in. front, 4.00 x 17 in. rear
Front tire: 110/90 VB18 tubeless
Rear tire: 150/80 VB17 tubeless
Front brake: 2, 4-piston, double-action calipers, 12.6-in. discs
Rear brake: 2-piston, double-action caliper, 11.1-in. disc
Front suspension: Marzocchi 45mm, 5.5 in. travel, adjustable damping
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.5 in. travel, adjustable for preload and damping
Fuel capacity: 5.01 gal.
Handlebar width: 32.0 in.

Battery: 12v, 16AH
Instruments: Speedometer,tachmometer, odometer, warning lights

_Additional motorcycle road tests and comparison tests are available at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com. For a complete listing of the motorcycle tests available, see the _Motorcycle Cruiser Road Test Finder.

The Ev Touring poses on a cold New York day.
Ergonomically, the foot brake is just wrong. The small nub is where your heel is supposed to rest while braking, so you have to left your heel, then move your toe to the pedal. And this lever operates both front and rear brakes.
Guzzi cruisers put their instruments up in front of the bar, where you don't have to look away from the road to see them.
The brawny 45mm Marzocchi fork legs are rigid and offer adjustable damping--not your typical cruiser fork.