Moto Guzzi California III


Make Model

Moto Guzzi California III


1987 - 89


Four stroke, V twin, longitudinally mounted, OHV, 2 valve per cylinder


948.8 cc / 57.8 cu-in
Bore x Stroke 88 x 78 mm
Cooling System Air cooled
Compression Ratio 9.2:1


2x 30mm Dell'Orto carb


Battery coil
Starting Electric

Max Power

65 hp / 47.4 kW @ 6700 rpm

Max Torque

79.4 Nm / 8.1 kgf-m  @ 3200 rpm
Clutch Twin plat dry type


5 Speed 
Final Drive Shaft

Front Suspension


Rear Suspension

Dual Koni shocks 5-way preload

Front Brakes

2x 300mm discs 2 piston calipers

Rear Brakes

Single 275mm disc 2 piston caliper

Front Tyre

110/90 V18

Rear Tyre

120/90 V18

Dry Weight

250 kg / 550 lbs

Fuel Capacity

25 Litres / 6.6 US gal

Consumption Average

17.7 km/lit

Braking 60 - 0 / 100 - 0

12.5 m / 39.8 m

Standing ¼ Mile  

14.2 sec / 144.8 km/h

Top Speed

163.6 km/h

It's August 1975, and Bike I is celebrating its first I anniversary as a lull I blown monthly I magazine. The issue's big I Honda advert is for the new ('115001 twin, a bike whose main attribute is that it has long since been forgotten. Elsewhere, long-haired columnists write about President Nixon and about Pink Floyd's latest concert, while a less well-known group called Team Bike recount the tale of their double-engined Norton dragster. A youthful Ogri looks a though he should be wearing short trousers for what is only his 28th appearance, though the stubble is already in place on our hero's chin.

And in the middle of all that lot is a test of the Moto Guzzi California. Guzzi had new importers in Britain in '75, we're told, and "among the interesting variety of shaft drive, transverse V-twins was the 850 California with fat buddy seat, footboards, screen and panniers that made it look like Italy's answer to the Harley Electra Glide."

Watergate tapes and the 'Wish You Were Here' album are just scratchy memories now, of course. The final foul 500T has doubtless been consigned to the wrecker's yard complete with its hideous brown seat, and in the last 14-or-so years the likes of Nixon, the Floyd, Norton and even Ogri have all departed (before making comebacks of one sort or another). But the Cali has never been away. Always more of a tourer than an American-style cruiser despite its name and its cow-horn handlebars, the big Guzzi has barely changed at all while most two-wheeled life around it has been transformed.

That lumpy old aircooled, pushrod-operated shaft-drive motor did gain a bore and stroke increase in 1982, it's true, growing from 844 to 949cc to drive the California II. A slightly different bend on, the bars, a pair of cast wheels and some bigger panniers were virtually the only other mods deemed necessary to get the Cali through the following seven years - no pratting about with 16-inch wheels and suchlike on this Guzzi - and once again the time has come for radical change.

Enter the California III, complete with handlebars shaped just like the Mkl bike's, optional wire wheels (£130 extra) and slightly revised panniers. Okay, so the new bike's paint scheme and seat are also a bit different,but you get the idea: what we're looking at here is basically a mid-1970s motorcycle. Christ, that's nearly as old as McDairymaid.

And a very pleasant one, for all that. Its competitors might be far faster, finer and more efficient than ever before but the Cali retains a unique charm that is obvious the moment you climb aboard.

From the rider's perch on the low, wide seat the bars are high, their ends twisted right back to run almost parallel with the bike itself. You press the button, the starter motor engages with a worrying crunk and the bike rocks to the right as the big slugs in the cylinders in front of your knees begin slapping up and down to turn the vast flywheel.

A tickover you don't need the tacho; the engine's lazy beats can be counted easily enough by ear. Lift left boot off its board to engage gear, synchronise movement of the heavyish clutch and throttle, and the California III chugs-and-vibrates away before smoothing out as the revs rise, just as Guzzis always have. The meaty motor has enough grunt to encourage short-shifting, with heel on the rocking gearlever, through a five-speed box that won't tolerate being hurried any more than will the bike itself.

The Cali is just about as far removed from something like a banzai 250cc racer-rep as it's possible to get on two wheels, and in its own way (and if you're in the right mood) it's just as enjoybale. Eighteen-inch wheels, 5501b of weight and a enough wheelbase to give Motad's man cramp winding out his dyno roller to line up with its tyres all mean that steering the Cali brings to mind skippering an America's Cup yacht. The tiller-like bars need a good hoik to change line but once committed the latest California is solid and stable; not quite a racer, perhaps, but impressive for the big old boat it is. Aided by the standard-issue steering damper, it barely shook its head through one series of lOOmph A3 sweepers that has brought on seasickness aboard a few more modern vessels.

Moto Guzzi's traditional linked Brembos ensure that nautical similes thankfully don't extend to the Cali's stopping ability. Its foot pedal, as always, works the rear disc plus one of the front pair, with the handlebar lever bringing in the second disc. As ever, stopping with the latter alone was like trying to crack a coconut with your bare hands; but also as ever, stamping on the pedal brought the bike sharply and undramatically to a halt. The system has been much praised over the years and works as well as it ever did, at least on a heavy lump like this. My only real complaint was that using the high pedal necessitated first lifting your right boot from its board to the small footpeg above, which would cost precious time in an emergency.

The Pirelli Phantoms gripped well enough, despite their narrowness by current

big-bike standards, and the Cali's blend of good suspension and decent ground clearance meant that the bike sailed round even the tightest of bends. The combination of non-adjustable forks and Koni shocks kept things feeling reassuringly firm without compromsing the traditionally plush armchair ride that provoked Bike's 1975 tester to gush "without doubt the most comfortable bike I've ever ridden". The old one-and-a-half person buddy seat worked a treat, it seems - but only unitl you added a buddy. On the Mklll it's gone, replaced by a plain black king-and-queen job that gains in two-up practicality what it loses in style. The big screen remains -in fact it's now slightly wider -giving surprisingly effective wind protection (in combination w'th the engine's coverage of your legs). It even manages to look cool on the Cali whereas most of its ilk appear the tackiest of add-ons.

Generous grab-handles further pamper the passenger, and the rest of the USS California is pretty well decked-out. Panniers were useful, even if they did leak water overnight and were too small to hold a full-face lid; both stands are easy to use; clocks and switches have thankfully moved into the '80s, at least, though the lack of a reserve tap and our bike's broken tripmeter reset button forced reliance on the typically pessimistic fuel warning light. Luckily the tank is still refreshingly huge, at 5l/i gallons, even if its classical green lines have been swapped for something owing its styling to a bowl of plum crumble. Forty-plus mpg economy means that the tank, like the seat, is good for up to 200 miles at a stretch.

Even the mirrors were millpond-smooth at most engine revs, including the 85mph/five-grand-in-top cruise that the big Guzzi felt as though it could happily handle for another 14 years. Most of the time I was content to stick to that speed, too, peering over the top of the screen (shorter riders would have to look through) and rumbling along contentedly with the wind buffetting my head slightly, the cylinder heads tickering away busily below, the tacho needle nowhere near the seven-grand yellow zone, let alone the 8000rpm redline.

As it headed home towards Dorset, though, the Cali seemed to pick up like a marathon man sighting the Olympic stadium. With the long M3 drone behind it and a tailwind filling its plastic spinnaker, the Guzzi rattled up to a ton without my even noticing it and seemed to want even more. Before long I was sitting on the A31 at something approaching the bike's 115mph top whack, watching the sun drop over the New Forest's scrubby grassland and wishing more long winter journeys could end as comfortably and enjoyably as this. (Britain's new Mediterranean climate should also take some credit for this )

Three Cross also import the more modern-looking version of the California III, which wears a sharp-styled full fairing, new instruments (including clock and voltmeter) and switches, Le Mans style Bitubo forks with adjustable damping, and a large top box to match its painted panniers. At £5995 it's £900 more expensive than the unfaired bike, though, which goes much of the way to explaining why it hasn't sold as well, at least in Britain.

The other reason must be that much of the traditional, old-fashioned California's charm comes from unpretentiously dated looks that attract you or repel you but never mislead you. Guzzi"s brochure pictures a pair of old-style Calis parked up on the shore of Lake Como, the bikes' riders watching a car ferry as it steams off into the distance. The Guzzis have missed the boat, aptly enough, but you get the impression the riders aren't too worried. After all. there is plenty of time, The California will still be around and barely changed, when ever the ferry get back,

Source Bike Magazine 1988