By now, you know that MD has named Moto Guzzi’s California 1400 Custom as Bike of the Year. We reported from both the European launch and the California launch, and we had no fewer than three experienced test riders sample this groundbreaking Moto Guzzi.
We also know the Griso well, and most recently tested it with the 8-valve engine. The Griso, in our opinion, is one of the most beautiful motorcycles currently available. It is unique, modern and classic looking all at the same time.
The Griso with the 8-valve engine, such as the new SE we tested, is a fast motorcycle. It is a big bike with a long wheelbase and conservative steering geometry weighing in at close to 490 pounds dry. It puts out roughly 95 hp at the rear wheel with peak torque in the low 70s. The new bike we tested feels even more refined than the 2009 8V we previously rode.
As we have already stated, the Griso is gorgeous to look at, with all the style you would want from a pure Italian. This bike does sacrifice some corner carving ability for freight train straight-line stability. The target customer, quite frankly, should be quite happy with the handling of the Griso 8V SE, but riding it after testing the new California 1400 makes it feel ponderous and reluctant to turn in.
Our test riders unanimously praised the California 1400’s handling. Yes, this is a big heavy bike with cruiser looks, but Moto Guzzi Californias have always handled well, and the latest iteration is the best so far. It has a lively, nimble feel that belies its looks and curb weight.
In the engine department, the California 1400 makes slightly less peak horsepower than the Griso (roughly 80 at the rear wheel), but the surprisingly light flywheel effect (this bike spins up quick) and the nearly flat torque curve between 2,000 and 7,000 rpm (with more than 70 foot pounds available almost everywhere) make the California 1400 a blast to ride in the City. Yes, you can slice-and-dice city traffic on this big machine and use its engine to squirt between obstacles.
The Griso, of course, has a more traditional, “standard” riding position that many riders may find more comfortable (although the lack of wind protection will make you pay at highway speeds). The California 1400, on the other hand, has a seating position more familiar to cruiser enthusiasts with a feet-forward/reach-for-the-bars requirement that frankly will not suit every rider. Nevertheless, one of our test riders took the California on a 500 mile trip to Northern California without significant complaint. The seat, for instance, is firm and well shaped.
All is forgiven when you slip the California into its “Veloce” ignition map and twist the throttle. The California 1400 has all the character we know and love about Moto Guzzi bikes, without many of the annoyances. The gearbox shifts confidently and with far less effort than some past models, and the fuel injection is mapped to perfection. The engine is also mounted in a unique fashion to significantly reduce vibration that might bother the rider, without removing the wonderful feel Guzzi engines send into your body.
I have heard many dedicated sport bike riders who have tested the California 1400 come away impressed, if not wanting to buy one. “Surprising” just begins to describe what it is like to ride this bike and many enthusiasts will unfairly dismiss it due to its cruiser appearance.
The Griso is an older Guzzi in many respects, despite much improved fuel injection, transmission and brakes. It feels solid, and it is so good looking that it deserves to be popular, but it lacks the refined feeling of the new 1400. The Griso does not have the instant torque down low as well, needing to be revved out to take advantage of its engine performance.
Both bikes stop very well, and feature radial mount Brembo 4-piston calipers. The fully-adjustable suspension on the Griso is good, but it doesn’t feel as good as the suspension on the California 1400, which is more supple and controlled even when hustled.
As we stated in our initial riding impressions, the California 1400 offers good cornering ground clearance for its class, although you don’t need to be Marc Marquez to scrape the floorboards. It will take a fairly brave and aggressive rider to scrape hard parts on the Griso, on the other hand.
The bikes also differ in price, with the Griso having an U.S. MSRP of $12, 690, while the California 1400 Custom is priced at $14,990. Moto Guzzi has been around a long time, but the California 1400 Custom is one of the first bikes developed from scratch while the marque has been owned by Piaggio. If you haven’t thought about Moto Guzzi, the California 1400 deserves a look, unless you are strongly opposed to the cruiser-like styling. You could find it a category busting machine, just as MD and many test riders have. The Griso, on the other hand, brings you the traditional Guzzi quirks with the added performance of the 8V engine and than inimitable style almost universally praised by enthusiasts and journalists. Follow this link to Moto Guzzi’s web site for additional details and specifications. You can also follow the links earlier in this article for MD’s description of the technical details of each model.