Last Wednesday I was at a Pro Italia event that featured Miguel Galluzzi. I've spent time with Miguel and his wife (she rides a Ruckus around Pasadena) previously and wanted to talk to him a bit more about the California 1400 as I'd scheduled to borrow one from Thousand Oaks Guzzi (Vespa) on Friday and take it to the Rock Store for the Friday crowd to see. He asked me to let him know what I thought. Below is my email back to him.
So today I borrowed the demo Custom from Thousand Oaks Vespa/Guzzi and rode it to the Rock Store. I put a total of around 50 miles on the bike today; some freeway, some canyon, some surface streets. I expected the bike to handle well, and to be a Guzzi. What I was not prepared for was just how well it performs, how smooth it is, how quiet it is and how much I like it.
I should digress a bit and tell you that besides my ’07 Norge, which I dearly love, the bikes I have in my garage include a Honda Shadow 750 ACE and a ’98 EV that I’m storing for a gentleman from the Netherlands. These are sort of my baselines for cruiser types of motorcycles. I’ve ridden Harley-Davidsons and while I like the looks of them, I do not enjoy the riding experience. Somewhat the same for the EV. It runs well at 70MPH but lets you know that it’s running hard. Not smooth at all. The heal and toe shifting on the EV leaves a lot to be desired. The gearbox is clunky and you really have to use the heal shifter to upshift. While it handles well, it does not feel “comfortable” when being pushed around Mulholland Highway. The Honda likes 55-65MPH and is not really happy at 75-85. Again, it is not a machine that is built for cornering, but rather for highways and sweepers. Now my Norge is my standard for pure riding enjoyment, and my ’88 Kawasaki Concours is my fall back when the Norge is out of commission for whatever reason. The Honda Helix is a scooter. What can you say about scooters? That’s a whole different kind of two wheeled fun.
Back to the ride.
Leaving TO Guzzi, I made an immediate right turn onto the freeway. Great acceleration – it’s deceptively fast and quick. I was amazed to find myself in excess of 80MPH before shifting into 6th
gear. The bike is smooth – smoother than my Norge and definitely smoother than the EV or any H-D I’ve ridden. The mirrors were rock solid. Those same or similar mirrors on the Norge vibrated to the point of not being usable, which is why I switched to the 1200 Sport mirrors. Shifting is wonderful. Both heal/toe and conventional shifting were a breeze. The gearbox is very smooth – not a missed shift all day – and positive shifting as well. I think it may be smoother than the Norge, but I’m not sure. I gave the cruise control a try. It takes a bit to get it to engage with the gloves I was wearing (lightweight leather Alpinestars similar to their SP-S Leather Glove if it matters), but once engaged it was spot on. Very impressive, but I worry that heavier gloves would have a difficult time engaging the cruise. Turn around and head back down the 101 to Las Virgenes Road and Mulholland Highway. I was running in Touring mode and Traction Control 1. For today, this seemed perfect. Good power control and nice overall feel. I did put it in sport mode for a while, but I think one would have to be more comfortable with the bike, or not worried about being over enthusiastic, before it really worked well. I could see sport mode being nice for running a bit harder, but for cruising the canyons it was too abrupt in power delivery. The difference was most noticeable during downshifting and initial acceleration.
One thing that I found very surprising, was how quiet it was. Much quieter than either the Norge or my Concours. It didn’t feel like I was getting so much wind noise as to block out everything else, it just seemed quieter than I expected. Nice. Also, the dash board/gauge cluster was readable even with the sun shining directly on the gauge – not like the Norge which is unreadable a good percentage of the time.
The Custom felt very stable and planted at all times. There was no drama, the bike just went where it was pointed. I found that I was riding only 3-5MPH slower than I would be on the Norge when I’m cruising and enjoying the sights rather than playing keep-up with my friends on their Ducattis, and the California wanted to go faster and be pushed harder. I did get the floor board pucks down a time or two, but it never felt as if I was in danger of losing control. I think if I owned one for a while, the speed difference would disappear. Very reassuring.
When I got to the Rock Store, I did an initial pass at about 4500 RPM in third then returned to the parking lot and put her on display.
Everyone had positive things to say about it. The Harley guys did a lot of pointing and poking and asked a bunch of questions. Most were familiar with Guzzi and several had owned one at some point. While these guys were pretty much died in the wool H-D riders, they still said good things about the bike and were impressed with the lack of vibration compared to their steeds. The California 1400 will definitely outrun those guys from the get go, and roll on acceleration from 70MPH in 6th
gear was pretty even initally, then the 1400 started pulling ahead. I think the Custom compares quite favorably with the Fat Boy or the Dyna series. Handling is certainly much better, and price wise, it’s a bargain compared to the Fat Boy. I'm anxious to thy the Touring as that is my target. I suspect is will give the Road King some serious competition for those who are not married to teh H-D brand. There was one guy with an old Eldorado who asked a lot of questions and will probably be test riding one next week. Boy, is he in for a shock.
The sport bike guys were interested more from an academic perspective and were curious how it handled as most of them know me on the Norge. I doubt any converts were made from that bunch but I could see interest. The sport touring guys were all very interested in it, even though they professed to be not cruiser guys. Most of these riders also have a vehicle for riding with the wife/girlfriend, etc. and thought this could be a contender – which is where it is on my list.
There were three little – ok, two little and one big – things that bothered me. The big thing was that I don’t have one in my garage (I’d prefer the Touring version however). The little things were the blinking cruise control light when the cruise is on but not engaged. This is probably not much of a concern and I can’t see riding the bike in that condition for very long. The other is the turn signal indicator. I prefer one light for each direction. Neither is a deal breaker, just something to get used to.
I like the lighting, as did most people. I’d love to get it out in the evening and transition to night to see just how good that lighting really is. I suspect it puts out a lot of usable light as it is very bright in daylight.
Styling got more positive comments. No one disliked the look. It really looks much better in the flesh. The fit and finish is excellent and was commented on a number of times.
Sadly, I had to take the bike back to Thousand Oaks – I’d have love to have kept it for a long weekend and put some serious miles on her.
In short – WOW! I think this is going to be a big winner for Guzzi.
The other things of interest (at least to me) is the width. I don't know how wide a Harley is with bags, but the Touring 1400 is just about the same width as the Kawasaki Voyager - roughly 39". The rails around the bags is a bit wider than the handlebars, so that will be an adjustment, as the Norge for all practical purposes is not any wider at the bags than the bars. I think what makes it look so wide is nothing up front for comparison. If it had a bat-wing fairing, I'm sure it's wouldn't seem wide at all.
The other thing was gas mileage. As shown on the computer, the 1400 at steady state, cruise control on, flat freeway and 65 MPH was in the high 30s. My average for the day was 29 and a bit. My Norge has a running average of 39.7 over the last 12,000 miles. I suspect the mileage will get better when the motor is broken in, but I don't know how much.
I wish I had a spare $18K to spend on one. Anyone have a nice infrastructure project they need handled? I'm sure I can bring it in for around $18K in consulting fees plus expenses