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"Fast Bikes", May 1, 2013

MOTO GUZZI CALIFORNIA CUSTOM

WOULD WE LIKE TO GO RIDE A BIG NEW MOTO GUZZI CRUISER? NORMALLY, WE’D SAY NO, BUT IT’S WINTER AND SPAIN IS MUCH WARMER. USUALLY...

WORDS: BENJAMIN ‘BJ’ KUBAS CRONIN

Believe it or not, the bike is BIG, even if Beej makes it look otherwise...

PICS: MILAGRO

It’d be fair to say that bikes such as Guzzi’s new California Custom aren’t usually our bag. A couple of ‘cruisers’ float our boat, one of which is Ducati’s Diavel – and this is cheating beyond all possible measure, seeing as it’s basically a thoroughbred sportsbike in drag and accompanying iffy ground-clearance.

But that doesn’t mean there’s zero attraction to bikes such as the Custom. A lot of fun can be had trying to make them dance to unfamiliar tunes. And there is pleasure, of a sort, to be had from hooning about on one – to a certain degree, obviously.

It’d also be unnecessarily snide, given our usual remit, to slate it for it not being something it ever can be. What it is, is one impressive hunk of metal in many aspects. Not only is it Guzzi’s largest ever twin, but the build quality is exemplary. It’s also a big old girl, whose visual mass is hidden by a clever and well-proportioned design.

Technology-wise, the Custom drags the cruiser class out from the stone age, as it features electronic aids like traction-control, switchable engine maps, and so on. Before you think this may be basic kit, remember who else parent company Piaggio owns... Could be there’s a teeny strand of RSV4 DNA here, for what it’s worth.

Otherwise the engine is big at nearly 1,400cc, and it’s almost unfathomably cool still. There’s something about Guzzi’s non-deviation from this format that helps keep its ‘special’ feel alive. Guzzi still has one, of a very different kind to what we’re used to, and in fairness the Custom is one of the coolest cruisers I’ve ridden.

Despite it tubbing in at 300kg, much of it melts away as soon as you’re moving and are used to where all the controls are. It takes a few minutes, I’ll admit, with a fair amount of paddling involved until I found my feet. When I did what greeted me was excellent balance, not offset at all by the transverse crank-movement. It’s there, but barely noticeable, until much later on. In fact, while admiring the plush seating position and easy steering during a vigorous ride through Barcelona’s morning rush-hour, I realised just how smooth it was. Everything about it makes riding easy, and this would go on to be the first cruiser that doesn’t see my back in spasm inside an hour. It glides along, with the fuelling on Tourismo-mode nigh on perfect. But there’s no fanfare, no typical Italian flair or shouty announcement. Those huge exhausts mean very little aural pleasure escapes at slower speeds, the combined result being an almost Japanese-like cruiser experience. Nothing is rattling or shaking, it's all just working rather nicely.

A move out onto the motorway proves one thing; which is that it’s as cold in Spain as it is in the UK. And that the butter-soft nature continues in this realm, while it blops along, allowing ample time to take in surroundings, and fiddle with the cruise-control and other gadgets on show.

Thankfully, the area is covered with interesting mountain roads, and switching to ‘Veloce’ mapping, I at last find the Guzzi I came looking for. The maps make a real difference, and now the engine finds its mojo. It accelerates and pulls just that bit harder to give the delivery an edge, one that allows the transverse pull to manifest as character finally bursts forth from the California. It’s almost a crime the engine is so muffled; I’ve no doubt open pipes would sound glorious. One slight drawback is that throttle response becomes a little snatchy, but by the same token, it also helps liven up proceedings. Every little bit, and all that...

The traction control works well on the least intrusive setting, it has a deft touch and with this much torque available, it’s welcome when roads turn treacherous. But the engine is that tractable that you can leave it in third or fourth gear, even on tighter turns, and just catapult out with barely a grumble. The chassis also rewards smooth riding, it handles surprisingly well and plastic sliders ensure you can scrape away with relative abandon.

Overcooking it a bit on one occasion proved that the chassis and brakes could handle instant panic, which I’m forever grateful for! If only it could have fixed the weather. Heading back we were stuck in traffic from hell, and then it rained. The last motorway stretch was spent mostly delirious with the joy of cruise control, allowing hands to be warmed on easy-to-hand cylinders. The Guzzi made a great ride in the dry, and entering sodden city traffic its pleasant stance eased the pain somewhat. But honestly by that point, I was so wet and cold that I’d stopped caring.

However, the Custom is an easy bike to like. You may not want one, you may never do, but it’s an accomplished effort by the Italians, regardless. It’s actually well worth the asking price (which is rare for a cruiser), and is somewhat of a grand statement given its form. There’s just one problem. I just have no clue what that statement is. Whatsoever.

ENGINE The new engine is Guzzi’s largest V-Twin, and is an evolution of its ‘Quattrovalvole’ (four valve) lump. Using the same stroke, but a bore of 104mm, capacity increases to 1,380cc. Throttle bodies are increased to 52mm, and are motorized, and linked to a brand new ride-by-wire system. The RBW inclusion means electronic aids are here, like traction-control and three different fuelling maps. New cylinder heads have four-valves each, each driven by an overhead cam. A double-ignition perfects combustion, while fuel-economy is improved by 15-20 per cent.

CHASSIS The big news with the California’s chassis is the ‘Elastic Engine’. Huh?! Well, it means fitting the motor to the frame by a series of elastic-kinematic supports, consisting of a front rocker, a bunch of rubber dampeners and two side rockers, meaning the engine can ‘shake’ around its own centre of gravity. This means vibrations aren’t transmitted to the rest of the bike, or rider. Otherwise it’s as you’d expect from a big cruiser, with everything long, massive and heavy. How Guzzi manage to make it all feel quite light on the go is testament to their, er, testers.

TECHNICAL MOTO GUZZI CALIFORNIA

ENGINE

Type | 1,380cc, oil/air-cooled, 8V, V-Twin

Bore x Stroke | 104 x 81.2mm

Compression | 10.5:1

Fuelling | Magnetti Marelli fuel-injection

Claimed Power | 96bhp@ 6,500rpm

Claimed Torque | 120Nm@ 2,750rpm

CHASSIS

Frame | Steel tube cradle

F Suspension | 46mm fork, non-adjustable

R Suspension | Dual-shock, preload, comp and rebound adj.

Front Brakes | Four-piston radial, calipers, 320mm discs

Rear Brakes | Two-piston caliper, 282mm disc

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase | 1,685mm

Seat Height | 740mm

Dry Weight | 300kg

Fuel Capacity | 20.5L

PRICE

Price | £14,166

From | Moto Guzzi UK www.motoguzzi.com 0844 967 1849

Highlights

Guzzi’s largest V-Twin

Traction-control

Three engine maps

Smart hoops

300kg

96bhp (claimed)

£14,166

TRACK 1

Pfffft! Behave!

FAST ROAD 5

It goes fast enough, Just...

HOOLIGAN 2

Unless it has an open pipe

NEW RIDER 5

Surprisingly easy to ride...

DESIRABILITY 5

When I’m 64...

Verdict 6/10

If we only tested cruisers, this would actually do quite well. It's a good bike no doubt, but not one we'd seriously consider for many years, even if it is impressive in its own right...

+ ENGINE, BUILD-QUALITY, TC AND MAPS, HANDLING

- ANNOYING 'TICK TICK' NOISE, IT'S A CRUISER...

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