Long before the glamorous center-stage unveiling of the California 1400 at last year’s Milan show, Moto Guzzi knew that its new V-Twin power cruiser had the potential to restore the image of one of the greatest names in the history of motorcycling. Spending the money to bring this new machine to market was an investment worth making.
Pillar of the whole project is the California 1400 Touring because it accurately targeted a specific segment of the market: lovers of classically styled, comfortable and well-equipped, but not overloaded, grand-touring motorcycles. The competition in this class is tough, starting with none other than Harley-Davidson, the undisputed number one, but the return, in money and image, can be worth the effort.
Now, the California 1400 Custom extends the range to a more accessible price level: $14,990, $3000 less than the Touring. Basically a naked version of Touring, the Custom has a narrower, lower handlebar and Sachs shocks with 10mm more travel, equaling that of the unchanged 46mm Sachs fork. The rest of the rolling gear is the same. The most notable difference is the substantial reduction in curb weight, owing to removal of the Touring components. At 701 pounds, the Custom is 42 pounds lighter than the Touring.
Nothing has changed in the engine department. The massive 1380cc, 90-degree, transverse V-Twin comes in exactly the same state of tune as the Touring, producing a claimed 96 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 87 foot-pounds of peak torque at 2750 rpm. The full electronics suite found on the Touring is also on duty here.
A cold, cloudy but dry morning welcomed me at the Moto Guzzi factory in Mandello, where I took delivery of the California Custom prepared for my test. Having good knowledge of the roads in that area, I hit the freeway going north, with Lake Como on my left side, a few hundred feet below.
On the sweeping curves of the freeway, the California Custom felt perfectly at home. While the lack of the excellent Touring windshield left me exposed to the brisk air from the Alps, it made the bike completely indifferent to the not-too-friendly crosswinds. The heavy steering geometry (32 degrees rake, 6.1 inches trail) returned a solid, reassuring feeling, with no delayed response.
I left the freeway after some 40 miles and started up an alpine road to check the handling qualities related to the weight loss. Because the roads were dry, I set traction control on its least-intrusive number-one setting and power-delivery mapping to “veloce” (fast). The 200/60-16 rear radial took perfect care of the massive torque delivered by Guzzi’s largest-ever V-Twin.
This alpine roads offer a nice mix of tight corners and sweeping fast ones, as well as rather steep grades. Once again, I was positively surprised by the agility of a chassis that, by the numbers (wheelbase spans 66.3 in.), should not make you feel at home on a twisty mountain road. But the Custom was even more agile than the Touring I rode last November on a slightly less-demanding road. The great flexibility of the engine reduced the need to use the six-speed transmission to enjoy a spirited ride.
ABS-assisted Brembo brakes never missed a beat, and the longer shocks extend lean angle. Cornering clearance had to be watched, mainly because the bike leans rather eagerly into corners while the under-footboard feelers do not send strong signals when they contact the tarmac; next up would have been a solid part of the frame.
A very nice ride ended in a really miserable way. As I returned to Mandello, the skies opened, and the photo shoot had to take place in the rain. While the California Custom is a capable and pleasant multi-purpose roadster, the Touring, with its heated grips and windshield, would have been a better choice in the cold and wet conditions. If I were forced to choose between the two models, I would sell one of my wife’s rings and go for the California 1400 Touring.