But in recent times, changing consumer demands
and a lack of genuinely new designs have seen the legend fall into oblivion.
Things may change for the company in 1996 as "The Eagle" returns with their
latest version of the legendary Moto Guzzi California.
We picked up our California at Moto Guzzi's
newest dealer in Barcelona, Spain, Motos J.Caparros. Ours was the standard
version without windscreen, leather bags or top-case but still resplendent with
lots of chrome, comfortable seat, Bitubo forks, Brembo calipers, dual 300mm
front brake rotors, spoked wheels and a passenger back support. A classic
instrument cluster housing only a speedometer and tachometer greets the rider
along with the standard assortment of idiot lights.
In spite of a low seat height shorter riders need
not apply, as the wide seat and floorboards will only allow you to reach the
ground if you're at least 5'-8". However taller riders have complained that the
cylinder heads hit their knees, so you'll have to "try one on" in the showroom
to see how the bike fits you. Seating position is fairly comfortable with an
easy reach to the handlebars and rubber-mounted floorboards.
Despite a classic appearance and retro design the
Guzzi does possess several modern features: For years Guzzis have used a linked
braking system that operates the left front caliper and rear brake when the
lever is pulled while the brake pedal operates the rear caliper and right front
brake. Other technical highlights include Weber fuel injection and,
surprisingly, a steering damper.
The engine starts easily and soon settles into a
lumpy 1000 rpm idle that sends a buzz through the bar and mirrors. Riders who
built up Popeye forearms twisting older Guzzi throttles will appreciate the
light pull of the new California's twistgrip. The Weber fuel injection system
helps Guzzi's 2-valve 1064cc V-twin engine pull cleanly from as low as 1500 rpm
all the way to the 8000 rpm redline with no rough spots. Revving the bike to its
limit is pointless, though, as the power spread is as flat as a pancake and
higher revs just mean more vibration. Peak power can be found at a lazy 6400 rpm
where the Guzzi puts out a respectable 75 hp.
That legendary mile-wide power spread allows you
forget about shifting in city traffic as you sit back and let the torque pull
you along. Just as well because the Guzzi's stiff and imprecise gearbox
discourages frequent shifting. Once you get out of the city and find the
tranquillity of the open road you'll discover that the California is in its
element. Vibration from the engine is ever-present although more subtle than a
Harley - it isn't enough to be annoying, but you won't ever forget that you're
riding a V-twin.
Handling manners are respectable considering the
bike's intended purpose and the suspension soaks up bumps quite well.
At higher speeds the California starts to lose
its composure as its portly 552 pounds (dry) overwhelms the soft suspension
causing the bike to wallow. Further discouragement of fast cornering comes from
the shaft final drive which sends the bike rising under power and sagging under
deceleration. This is when you start to appreciate why the Moto Guzzi engineers
fitted a steering damper to a touring bike. Guzzi's integrated braking system
(similar to the one on Honda's new CBR1100XX and other Honda models) works quite
well. In a five-star emergency, a novice is likely to get in less trouble than
without it. Although we found this very useful in everyday and emergency
stopping situations, expert riders will still prefer having total control over
front and rear brakes.
The Moto Guzzi California isn't a machine that
you're likely to jump on and love straight away as some of its quirks may seem
strange and even annoying at first. But spend some time with one and the
satisfying torque, easy maintenance and undeniable personality will win you
over. If you want something a little different, ride a Moto Guzzi California;
you will never forget it.