2014 Moto Guzzi 1400 California Test Ride

King Of California?

I should have known something was up. Last time we had a Moto Guzzi in the mag's test fleet (just a few months ago), I ended up being pretty impressed with the overall competence of the thing, especially considering its user-friendly price point. Sure, the V7 Stone's fueling was glitchy and suspension iffy, but I had to admire the Italians' progress with the venerable brand in a relatively short time (with lots of help - and $54 million in cash infusions -- it should be noted, from parent firm Piaggio, who took over the reins in 2004). But we hadn't ridden a California model since 2006, when we took the Vintage model for a spin out to Americade.

A New Breed

Seven years on , and the newest version of the California -- now 1400cc - might as well have been made on Pluto, so different is it in every sense from the 1200 of yore. During the pre-ride press briefing, Styling Chief Miguel Galuzzi (officially, the head of the Piaggio Group Advanced Design Centre in Pasadena, California) offered some insight into just how important this bike is to Guzzi:

"The California 1400 is a balancing point between tradition and the future. The design was intended to be reminiscent of the traditional California design, with the sleek lines of the fuel tank, the curved handlebar, the chromium passenger grab handle on the Touring and the long mudguards. At the same time the new 1400 was to be more modern, more comfortable... and more sumptuous than the previous model. So a style was born which tends, I believe in a balanced way, toward tradition which we did not want to forget, and the innovative and advanced spirit that a modern day Moto Guzzi must have. The engine which is so typical of Moto Guzzi became a true aspect of design...so (we) trim back the tank side fairings, in order not to cover the cylinder heads. In the view from behind: the two cylinders can be seen exploding from the fuel tank. This is a clear representation of the bike's character, an ultra modern cruiser, splendid to ride at low speeds, but also ready for a bold and fun ride at a moment's notice."

Guzzi also says the 2014 California 1400 is the most technologically-advanced cruiser on the market today and a quick look at the marketing brochure pretty much confirms it: It boast the largest twin cylinder engine made in Europe; three-level traction control; Ride-by-Wire technology featuring three different power output curves [ Turismo (Touring), Veloce (Sport) and Pioggia (Rain)], electronic cruise control; LED daytime running lights; and what Guzzi calls The Elastic Engine - a rubber bumper support system fitting the powertrain to the frame.

The new California is available in two versions, Custom and Touring. The California 1400 Custom dispenses with unnecessary accessories and chrome overkill, but it's still a looker with a minimalist design that includes trick details like an information-rich digital instrument readout, ABS and traction control, frenched-in rear taillights and a trippy elliptical LED headlight.

The new Touring makes a hard styling and function split from the base model Custom, with its broad leather two-tone saddle, a tall "Patrol" windshield, chrome fog lights, 35-liter panniers and chrome crash bars around the bags and engine. It retains the spirit of the Guzzi California designed for the LAPD back in the day, which also got tricked out with an oversized saddle, bullhorn handlebars, platform footrests and endless swaths of chrome protection. Since then, we've seven generations and four engine capacities (750cc, 850cc, 1000cc, 1100cc) through various iterations of the model.

I had a chance to ride the Custom briefly (with an even shorter stint on the Touring) in the hills around Malibu California last month and came away with some very positive impressions of the new machine.

California Dreaming

For a big bike -- it looks much bigger than its 1400cc moniker would suggest -- the California makes nice use of sleek design cues to minimize its bulk, with integrated curves and angles in what are usually visually awkward places. It caps the classical elements with a mix of high-tech details-things frenched in LED taillights and ABS brakes. Fit and finish is first class, with lots of metal surfaces and fine textures.

Once aboard, the first thing you realize is there's no getting away from the brand's trademark transverse 90-degree V-twin engine, a layout Guzzi has employed since the 1960s. The cylinder heads' V-shape juts out from the sides, while the crankshaft runs lengthwise on the bike, which is what gives Guzzis their gyroscopic effect under throttle. The crankshaft rotation rocks through the chassis, with the bike leaning to the right when you hit the throttle. It's no big deal once you get used to it, but first-timers will probably find themselves wondering what's up. The very cool cylinder cutouts framing the heads under the gas tank serve to draw your eye down, and you'd think they cut into fuel capacity, too, though the quoted 5.4 gallon number seems like plenty.

But the main show on the California is still a big V-twin, this one bored out from 1,151 to 1,380 cubic centimeters -- the largest displacement of any European V-twin, according to Guzzi. Eight valves and overhead cams are further augmented with all that modern engine management technology. Kick her into gear (the California now has six of them instead of the five you're used to, and feel the massive burst of grunt -- 89 pound-feet of torque at 2,750 rpm and a claimed 96 horsepower (at 6500rpm, redline). You still get a shaft drive connected to the rear wheel by means of Guzzi's CARC system (the drive shaft is inside the single swing-arm).

In parking lot maneuvers the bike's weight is apparent, but get 'er going and the feel is solid and balanced, even at very low speeds and in tight turns. The balance is superb, and rolling on the throttle smooth things out appreciably. The new rubber mounting system quells the quakes efficiently, and only minute buzzing comes through to the bars. At idle the bike's shuddering and vibrations reminds you you're on a Guzzi, but release the clutch and throttle up, and all is quiet with the world again.

During our mountain route, the bike was perfectly planted through sweepers, with easy shifting and decent ground clearance. Even merging onto the freeway, the new Cali was more than up to the task, motoring happily up to sixth gear, blowing easily past 80 mph.

MSRP for the 2014 California 1400 Custom ABS is $14,990, while the 1400 Touring ABS will run you $17,990. Now that Ducati says it has a Touring Cruiser in the lineup - yep, the Diavel Strada, according to them -- we'll be looking forward to an interesting matchup this summer.

For a more in-depth riding report on the new Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom, see Motorcycle Cruiser's July issue, on sale May 25th. A report on the Touring will be out the following month.

For more details about the new 2014 Moto Guzzi California 1400, visit www.motoguzzi-us.com.

2014 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring/Custom

MSRP $17,990/$14,990
Colors Black, white / Black, grey
Warranty 2 years
Engine
Type air/oil-cooled 90-degree v-twin
Displacement, bore x stroke 1380 cc, 104 x 81.2 mm
Valve train 4 valves per cylinder
Compression 10.5:1
Fuel system EFI
Transmission 6-speed
Final drive shaft
Chassis
Overall length 96.2 in.
Wheelbase 66.3 in.
Wet weight 743 lbs./ 709 lbs.
Seat height 29.1 in.
Rake/trail 32 ° / 6.1 in.
Front tire 130/70 R18
Rear tire 200/60 R16
Front brake Dual 320 mm discs; 4-piston Brembo calipers
Rear brake 282 mm disc; 2-piston Brembo caliper
Front suspension 46 mm inverted telescopic fork; 4.7 in travel
Rear suspension Dual shocks(preload-adjustable) ; 4.3 in. travel
Fuel capacity 5.4 gal.
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