THE rhythmic pulsing set in as soon as the starter fired up the California’s 120Nm, 1400cc V-twin. The awakened beast was shaking gently at idle, smoothing out nicely as I ride away.
With gobs of torque available down low there’s no need to rev the ride-by-wire fuel-injected beast anywhere near its peak output of 96hp at 6750rpm. As the revs ride the rubber engine mounts soften the buzz reaching the nether regions, producing a relaxing ride on Italy’s biggest V-twin. I’m struggling to enjoy the audio though, the pleasant exhaust growl stifled by the legalities we suffer from these days, but at least that’s easily fixed.
Your eyeballs can feast, too. The quality touches abound, from the mirrors to the grips to the rocker covers to the wheels… everywhere really, the California oozes quality and cool.
I SETTLED into the seat, turned the key and pressed the starter. I was shoved by a strong thrust, like being belted by a crocodile’s tail. I was pushed and pulled momentarily then a rhythmic pulsing, like a ‘living thing’ breathing, and the Custom idled beneath, awakened. Clutch in, and first is acquired with a plush and gentle thump. I ride away. The engine is smooth off idle, and the gear changes are too.
Warm now, we visit the middle of the rev counter, bliss! Smooth globs of torque hurl me at the horizon, engine just keeps giving as I feed it gears. Wonderful! Max’ torque arrives at 2750rpm, 120Nms of it, but go even further and the whole experience amplifies and continues. Peak power arrives at 6500rpm, 96hp. Engine has bulk grunt and revs nicely too. The standard pipes begin to growl and it’s time to hang on…..
The torquey, smooth revving unit cleverly assisted by Moto Guzzi’s version of ‘isolastic’ mountings, delivering a blend of visceral and refined responses, simultaneously. This baby has heaps of character, and plenty of go.
The Custom runs a ‘gunfighter’ style seat, comfy enough for the pilot, but perhaps less so for the pillion. The running boards still allow a fair amount of lean and are designed to fold when grounded, optional rather than mandatory. ’Guzzi cruisers have always had pretty fair ground clearance and brakes. Gone are the famous ‘linked brakes’ set-up. Replaced by modern ABS. The Brembos are truly powerful with excellent feel. I loved the engine and the brakes. There are other modern electronic elements too… Moto Guzzi has equipped the bike with a 3-mode traction package which includes cruise control. Poggio = Wet (CHECK THIS I THINK IT SHOULD BE “Pioggia” – the Italian word for “rain” – dp ); Tourismo = Dry/cruising; and, my favourite, Veloce = Huge grin on your face, awesome fun! I left this Custom in Veloce mode most of the time because I’m a hopeless child who can’t resist the temptation and fun this mode provides!
Similar but different
This bike has a sister bike, the ‘Touring’, and serious touring, two-up is certainly its forté, however the Custom ought to cope with standard pillion duties, no? No. This Custom was a rough rider when some truly ordinary roads were encountered two-up. The super-pillion was in distress, and voicing her opinion as we crashed along, through a series of never ending potholes and road repairs. The worst offenders were those long dips with a sharp vertical exit generating significant impact to both occupants. I have no doubt a combination of the Touring’s seat and a serious look at the rear springs themselves or their preload settings, would quickly tune out this aberration. Certainly the rest of the bike’s performance was too good for me to accept the rear shock settings weren’t awry, and fixable. Sadly the tool kit with its C spanner was absent and time demanded the bike’s return so I didn’t get the chance to tune out the harshness. The remote reservoir twin shocks are adjustable for preload and rebound damping. On reasonably smooth road, OK. On expressways, fine.
Like a Lyrebird
Moto Guzzi’s owners Piaggio Group invested $50million upgrading models and their factories. The Custom is festooned with beautiful detailed touches. Screen printed brushed alloy ‘rocker boxes’, the bike has overhead cams, but is styled to reminisce, the beautiful wheels, brake and clutch reservoirs, levers, grips, and running light equipped headlight. To say nothing of the distinct incursion of the heads into the formed space integral with the tank. It’s all different and hi-qual’. Moto Guzzi has a range of accessories including a number of gel and leather comfort seats, top boxes, racks and other goodies. DPM, De Pretto Moto, provide the Custom’s bling, and the stuff is again, quite beautiful. Galluzi himself saying “details make the motorcycle.”
Big twin rocker
Let’s revisit that engine. Roller rockers, 4V, OHC, twin plug, injected, 1400cc. It goes REALLY well when provoked. Despite this ‘Guzzi claim a 15-20per cent improvement in fuel efficiency compared to the previous generation 1200s. An awesome feat. No doubt the overdrive tall sixth gear has a part to play here. This bike is a naked power cruiser, with a full touring sibling. Neither bike is a lightweight, however at 318 kilos wet and rollin’, the Custom ain’t as heavy as many in this group. It handles, stops and goes pretty darn well, albeit with some fine tuning needed to optimise rear suspension behaviour. I found the ‘bars excellent when ‘head down’, but a tad closer would be nice for general riding. The rev counter instrument takes some aero cues from the headlight and the result is reasonable progress through the air stream despite the absence of a screen. Also, the rev’ counter and speedo are integrated. Two instruments in one, with the emphasis on the rev’ counter. Cool.
In a nutshell
The 1400 California Custom is a detailed delightful shafty with a 200 section rear tyre, low seat ‘n’ fwd controls, an imposing engine, in more ways than one. Build quality and attention to detail, wonderful. A torque monster that revs like a sportsbike, the way it ‘passes the ball’ from its torque-centric heartland onward to its smooth rev-ability higher in the rev’ range is simply fantastic, and, it throbs at idle and goes like stink…. so ‘character’ abounds. Combine the beautiful (ABS) brakes, integrated MGTC 3-mode (Veloce is best!) ‘interventions’, with the fuel injected 4V OHC 1400cc’s grunt, cool styling, detailed finish and it’s a desirable, intriguing, unique, fun motorcycle! Now, pass me that C spanner.