2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring
The big-bore touring market has another heavy-hitter in its ranks. This new addition does the California name proud with a spanking engine and great handling
The California 1400 Touring is a seductive motorcycle – period. The engine oozes character, it’s comfortable, is sensational on the eye, has plenty of technological flair, and is just about vibration-less – while still holding onto that signature Moto Guzzi tremble at idle.
The $24,990 1400 Touring is an all-new machine for Moto Guzzi, so there will be high hopes that it can repay parent company Piaggio with plenty of sales. Australia probably won’t be one of the key drivers – the touring market just isn’t a big one here – but in other key western markets there are immense windows of opportunity for the bike to really make an impact. If that happens, it will add even more cachet to the California name, which began with full-scale production in 1971 and since then has spawned about seven models and four different engine configurations: 750cc, 850cc, 1000cc and 1100cc.
And now we can add a 1380cc engine into the mix, with the Mandello factory using the existing 1151cc Quattrovalvole engine – found in such bikes as the Norge and Stelvio – as a donor and adding a “record-breaking” bore of 104mm. They are seriously big pistons, and the hike in capacity via an increase in bore means that Moto Guzzi didn’t have to redesign the bottom end of the engine, which would have been an expensive exercise.
Big pistons generally don’t require too much prompting to generate lots of buzzing, so Moto Guzzi’s solution is to introduce a concept it calls “Elastic engine”. The system basically bypasses using the engine as a stressed member and introduces rubber mounting in concert with three separate ball-jointed rockers.
The end result is that the engine bounces and burbles around in its own hemisphere, and it really does isolate the rider from all those shenanigans. I was lucky enough to be handed the keys to the California 1400 Touring at the same time as I was heading out of Melbourne to help at my son’s school camp at Wilson’s Promontory, and in every riding situation possible – urban, highways, byways and twisty roads – there was only the slightest hint of vibration. And that means no complaints about the mirrors.
But as Moto Guzzi points out, the California has forgotten its past, and “at a standstill the bike maintains. its pulsating soul”. That’s code for a shudder and shake, but it then disappears once the clutch lever is let go and bike begins its spritely forward thrust.
With the vibration isolated inside the “elastic” bubble, the engine is an absolute jewel. It responds from the bottom end with a steely punch, and then reaches its maximum torque of 120Nm at just 2750rpm. After that, it continues its aggressive march and only tails off slightly until it reaches its power peak of 96hp at 6500rpm. After that, well, who cares really, as by then you’re really up and going, all in a smooth and enjoyable manner.
If you then want to drop the tempo down a notch, there’s always the overdrive top gear to sit back and relax – and to give the Dunlop D251F hoops a break.
There is a lot of heat emanating from that hulking engine though, and that was particularly felt when I was trawling through peak hour traffic on my return to the Victorian capital. The ambient temperature wasn’t high, but the slow pace of riding meant that heat was becoming an issue. In the middle of summer, it could become a problem.
Moto Guzzi has opted for one Magneti Marelli 52mm throttle body to look after both cylinders, fed through longer intake tracts to increase torque at low rpm. The cylinders are massive, eating into the fuel tank’s real estate.
The California 1400 Touring’s ride-by-wire technology allows three different modes to be selected — Turismo, Veloce or Pioggia (no English here!) — and there’s also traction and cruise controls to complete the electronic collection. I spent most of my time in Veloce, but the throttle response is quite strong so there’s no ‘shame’ in trimming down the tempo a little in one of the other modes. As for traction control, it’s just there and I didn’t really think about it too much, which was the same deal for the ABS.
One little annoying feature is that the traction control light flashes on the instrument panel when it’s on without being activated. I like a clean, uncluttered dash, so it just may be a function of my quirky nature, not the Guzzi’s. I am not a huge traction control user anyway, so I only really used it a few times to gauge its efficacy more than anything else.
Moto Guzzi claims the fuel economy is 15-20 per cent better in 1380cc guise compared to the 1151cc version, which is just as well as I was only able to achieve an effective range of about 230km from the 20.5-litre tank. That’s not ideal for a touring machine, especially as there was no passenger on board and the panniers were only filled with light cargo.
At one stage I limped into a service station just in time – but with a huge smile after a brilliant stretch of twisty roads consigned fuel consumption to a secondary concern. For a bike that weighs in at 322kg wet, the 1400 Touring is one of the sweetest handling tourers I’ve sampled, and feels a lot lighter than it actually is.
The handling is just so neutral and the only time it gets a little distressed is when it has to push through a succession of bumps through a turn, with some understeer the inevitable result as the dual Sachs shocks fight to regain composure. But that’s no surprise, as the wheelbase is a rangy 1685mm after all. But the 1400 then responds to some gentle nudging on the bars to get it back on track, which shows just how manageable it is for a big bike.
And the grips are nice and soft, too, so no sore hands.
The 35-litre panniers are easy to use, but are not waterproof so you’ll need to buy the accessory internal liners to take on that function. Other standard features on the 1400 Touring include the windshield, ancillary lights, LED daytime running lights, engine guard, pannier guard kits and alarm.
Back on less demanding roads, the California 1400 Touring — available in black or white — is extremely comfortable, producing that feeling of really being cocooned in the cabin. The screen is non-adjustable – a mistake, as is the absence of any power plugs – but thankfully is fixed at a good height.
It’s not often that big-bore tourers surprise you with their vitality, energy and chutzpah, but this bike is one of them. There are a few underwhelming features – or lack thereof — but they are small fry in the scheme of things. Instead, dwell on the positives: the bike just offers so much for the rider, with that strapping engine the real cause celebre. It’s also comfortable and is a delight to throw through corners.
Very compelling indeed.
SPECS: MOTO GUZZI CAIFORNIA 1400 TOURING
Type: Air-cooled, 90-degree V-twin
Bore x stroke: 104mm x 81.2mm
Compression ratio: 10.5:1
Fuel system: Electronic fuel injection
Final drive: Double Cardan joint
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