California Cool Makes a Comeback: 2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400

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Featuring an enlarged, completely new 1,380cc version of the Moto Guzzi V-twin — the largest European twin ever, Guzzi says — the just-released California 1400 certainly has lots of presence.
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Tester James Adam Bolton takes the new 1400 through its paces in southern France.

Featuring an enlarged, 1,380cc version of the Moto Guzzi V-twin — the largest European twin ever, Guzzi says — the just-released Moto Guzzi California 1400 certainly has lots of presence.

Design details include the neat way the front rolled edge of the seat joins up with the gas tank, the thin/thick white pinstriping on the tank, the V7-like big single instrument face, and the curved, shaped-by-the-wind panniers. Expected features without which a Guzzi California couldn’t be a California include footboards, heel-and-toe gearshift (adjustable to just toe if you prefer), barn door Plexiglas fairing, and a black and white cowboy seat with distinctive chrome grab rail. There are no spoked wheels, but whoever designed the cast wheels did a good job of mimicking spokes.

The big engine, adorned with new and distinctive “toaster” rocker covers, vibes and rocks around its own center of gravity when you start it, but that all stops as soon as you accelerate away, and doesn’t subsequently intrude at any speed or rpm, as the new “elastic-kinematic” rubber supports and rockers between frame and engine do their job. With a claimed 96 horsepower available, the 8-valve engine is smooth and powerful, but draggin’ away from the lights isn’t what this engine is about.

What it is about is opening the ride-by-wire throttle in any gear and using the ample torque, a claimed 88.5ft/lb ready to be laid on the tarmac at just 2,750rpm. With smooth fueling from the single 52mm throttle body, the torque’s very usable. In fact, at a press intro in France, I spent most of my time aboard the 1400 in either third or occasionally fourth gear, riding the kind of fast minor roads that Guzzis are so good at, giving the footboards a good scraping on tighter, twistier roads. The big Guzzi acquits itself so well on all of these, it would seem obvious it would sit lazily in sixth gear on a long straight highway, cruise control activated (a first for Guzzi) for day after day — it is designated the California Touring, after all.

The California’s sure-footed road manners are in its DNA. Even on skinny tires, my 1976 T3 Cali does what you want it to and does it well because of its stiff and stable Tonti frame and low center of gravity. But with a 57.9-inch wheelbase (1,470mm), the T3 is considerably shorter than the new Cali 1400, which is long at 66.3 inches (1,685mm). The 1400’s chassis is still a double cradle steel frame, but lightened considerably, and it breaks with Guzzi tradition as it doesn’t use the engine as a stressed member, using plates and rubber mounts to attach to the big engine.

The 46mm forks (designed to echo the early V7’s front end) are plush and stable, especially in conjunction with the twin front Brembo 320mm discs and 4-pot calipers. The brakes on the 1400 are superb and require little rider effort. Along with ABS and traction control, you feel confident in the ability to pull up fast, which I had to do when a little old French lady just stepped out into the road on a fast corner. The engine mapping is easily changed on the go from Veloce (sport), to Turismo (touring, as the Italian suggests) or Pioggia (rain), which softens the overall response for wet conditions and takes away a bit of initial snatchiness riding around town. I was slightly concerned about the width of the 35-liter panniers and their crash bars while filtering through traffic, but it wasn’t too bad, and the decent mirrors help.

It’s not all perfect, however. This is one big bike, and although it has a low seat height of just over 29 inches, at 5 feet 10 inches I have to be careful paddling around with my feet when maneuvering at a standstill. I can’t understand why they haven’t included a long, sprung sidestand like the one on the T3 California; be sure that 743 pounds of 1400 Cali ain’t going to topple over on you, as it did for me on a very gentle incline after leaving it on the puny sidestand.

Other niggles: I found the rear shocks a little harsh — maybe they’d work better with a passenger, for whom there is plenty of room on the excellent and comfortable seat; the alarm key fob looks like a cheap last-minute afterthought; the transmission a little whiney and the gearbox, though smooth, is still Guzzi clonky; the screen is non-adjustable — I found myself looking either through it or peering over the top, though wind protection is generally good; and even in temperatures in the mid-60s F, I found the heat radiating from the big ol’ cylinder heads to get a bit bothersome at standstill. How they’ll be in Sicily at 100 F, I can only imagine.

For those who can afford it — European pricing stands at €19,500, or approximately $26,000 — the California 1400 is possibly the ultimate expression of a Moto Guzzi model with 40 years on its shoulders. MC

Read about the orginal Guzzi California T3 in 1979 Moto Guzzi: An Italian Motorcycle that’s California Cool.

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