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  • December 30, 2013
  • Dirck Edge
  • Chris Rubino
  • 66 Comments

The Tale of Two Guzzis: MD Rides the California 1400 Custom and the Griso 8V SE

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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66 Comments

  1. Brian says:

    Not a big Guzzi fan, but that Griso somehow appeals to me…

  2. Clarke Johnston says:

    Both bikes are attractive. The California looks great, with a “right” sized rear tire and that beautiful mill. Too bad that Kawasaki and Suzuki didn’t advance their respective Mean Streak and Marauder 1600 lines. (I know, both terrible names for pretty good looking and not badly equipped bikes) Instead, the public opted for heavy and slow bikes from those manufacturers, ala the massive Vulcan 2000, the extra heavy Nomad 1700, and the equally ponderous C90 cruisers. Why in the heck does a cruiser have to weigh the better part of 800 pounds and steer like a Carnival Cruise boat? Yamaha/Star had good bikes with the Warrior, and still do with the Raider, though it’s also festooned with ugly pipes, goofy tank, and too much chrome. I hope that Guzzi does well with the California, it’s a step in the right direction! Bravo!

  3. Boris says:

    The transverse-mounting of the Guzzi V-twin makes for a unattractive look, but at least the bike’s ergonomics don’t involve hoisting the rider’s butt up into the stratosphere. Kudos to Moto Guzzi for maintaining “standard” seat position.

    • Fangit says:

      “the Guzzi V-twin makes for a unattractive look”

      Wow, I find it to be the most attractive of all layouts! I have owned a couple of Guzzis but not currently. I have always hoped that Guzzi would truly modernize their engines and gearboxes and then I would have the ultimate bike for me. They have been getting better but still a way to go yet.

  4. Jay Lange says:

    Guzzis, Victorys, my Honda VFR800i, my K1200R, my DR-Z400SM (street tires, remember), as well as my 05 Sportster Lead (er, I mean, Low) are all too high for my 29 inch inseam accompanying my 5’10″+ frame. The answer to dump-itis? A 2010 GL1800 [low-down flat 6 coupled with mass-centralized gas tank] that comes up off the sidestand more easily than even the F6B sibling.
    Don’t take my word for this; simply venture out to your largest Gold Wing dealer [not necessarily your largest Honda motorcycle one] and try the sidestand test….

    Top Heavy
    High Centers of Gravity
    Placing gas tanks up high (remedied in some bikes such as BMW F series and V-Rods as well as those cramped-up-riding-position Buells and some vertical-twin Hondas and the Yamaha VMax) is a turble [thank you Charles Barkley] idea.

    Cheers ‘n Beers

    Jay Lange

    • Dave Richardson says:

      Yeah Jay and get this: those Guzzi engineers are so stupid they actually built a transmission to offset the engine about 1.25″ HIGHER in the frame, instead of positioning it right in line with the transmission, like on BMW R bikes and Gold Wings. Why go to all that trouble just to be wrong? Hmmm. Maybe there’s more to weight positioning than simply ‘low is better’ and maybe ‘mass centralization’ has reason to be closer to the roll center of the bike. Oh, and these same engineers also design Aprilia sport bikes, which have won 5 WSBK championships in the last 4 years. So a solution for dump-itis? No, but it does have reason.

  5. Artem says:

    Ken Wahl was always better then Tom Cruise.

  6. Richard says:

    wish i had bought a 1200 sport when i had the chance…no longer available in Canada

  7. John says:

    A V7 Griso would be just right by my standards.

  8. Richard says:

    Yup…im a Guzzi nut…owned or ridden just about every other brand…Guzzis have a character that is very addictive once you start riding them…..I also have a KTM SuperDuke that will out perform my Guzzi in every category…almost perfection…..thats not why i ride it….makes me feel good…also the quality is top knotch…enough said.

  9. Vrooom says:

    80 hp is slightly less than 95? While I’m not a cruiser guy, those are good looking bikes. But MC of the year? Not for me.

    • Fred M. says:

      “But MC of the year? Not for me.”

      Don’t you think that such decisions are best left to those who have actually ridden the bike?

  10. Roberto says:

    I really do admire Moto Guzzi and the California 1400 (my favorite is the Stone) but with so many new models released this year, I have to wonder who else invited you to a European release?

  11. Dennis Hill says:

    The California 1400 could almost get me on a cruiser, but range per tank is a killer

  12. Doyle W. says:

    I also considered the R1200R before I bought the Griso. The head said BMW, the heart said Guzzi. I’ve owned many BMW’s over the years and still have a 2002 R1100S Boxer Cup Prep. None of them have the feel and sound of the Guzzi. There is no rational reason for the Guzzi over the BMW, but once you’ve ridden one you either “get it” or not. It isn’t a bike for everyone, but it sure is great.

  13. Cage free says:

    I own a 12 Griso and love it. It is a motorcycle pure and simple. The traction control, anti lock and ride modes are ME. The fact that I can do a valve adjustment in about a half hour is a real plus and one of the reasons I was drawn to Guzzi over some of the other Euro brands. Besides Ducati’s are as common as HDs in So Ca.

  14. VLJ says:

    If I were ever to consider a cruiser, this new California would certainly top the list, along with the Diavel and a V-Max. Obviously those last two aren’t really true cruisers, but oh well.

    Oh, and maybe a Valkyrie, too. Had Honda not royally screwed up the styling with the new one, turning it into a plastic-enshrouded elephant seal, that’d likely be my first choice. Since they did ruin its looks, however, yep, the California would by my pick for something in a true cruiser vein.

  15. motowarrior says:

    From reading the article, I can tell that these are two nearly ideal motorcycles. Now if they only did away with those noisy and smelly internal combustion engines and replaced them with electric motors, they would be perfect!

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “Now if they only did away with those noisy and smelly internal combustion engines and replaced them with electric motors, they would be perfect!”

      BLASPHEMER…!!! IDOLATOR…!!! (charlton heston voice)

    • KenHoward says:

      Electric motors are great; batteries-dependent, no.

      • dino says:

        Yeah, but the LONG extension cords are hard to find.

        Electric motors can be fun, but Fossil Fired engines are more quirky and soulful (speaking of Guzzi’s?)

  16. Gronde says:

    I’m not buying the part about sport bike riders wanting to buy a California after riding it. I think they might consider a reliable version of the V7 cafe racer with 8 valve heads and 100 hp at the rear wheel. Nope, I ain’t buy’in it.

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “I’m not buying the part about sport bike riders wanting to buy a California after riding it.”

      re: “Nope, I ain’t buy’in it.”

      okay okay. I’ve scheduled a 2nd test. the press fleet will be up at Laguna next Saturday 8am. be there. first one to drag boards thru rainey wins.

  17. denny says:

    IMO Griso would gain immensely if that ‘blooming’ exhaust system was reduced to more flat, single muffler unit. Then I would start wet-dreaming about it.

  18. GuyLR says:

    Very nice bikes but I want to see Guzzi apply some new 8 valve heads to the small block 750 to add about 10hp to it. Put that engine in a couple of lightweight versions these bikes, sell them for under $9K and I’d likely be a buyer.

  19. Tom R says:

    I still fondly remember riding a friend’s 1970s-era Guzzi a almost three decades ago. It was a unique and pleasurable experience, and I am glad that they are still around. Think I will go check out these latest versions…and I don’t care that the nearest dealer is 70 miles away. I just consider this a bit of “exotica tax”.

  20. Eric says:

    If MG would de-cruiserfy the California—give it a neutral riding position and a bit morte ground clearance—I’d want one bad

  21. drbyers says:

    More guzzi coverage??

    I like the Griso ALOT, but this place has become an old man’s site. Not everyone wants to read about Guzzis all the time.

    • Gary says:

      Then don’t read (or complain) about the coverage. I enjoy reading about bikes OTHER than the main streams all the time. Bring on the Guzzis, Hyosungs, Brammos, Zeros, Benelli’s, etc.

    • Tom R says:

      How does this make MD an “old man’s site”? Do you believe that most readers do NOT ride around on an R6 with the crash-damaged fairing panels removed?

      • Gronde says:

        They both look like cruisers to me and qualify as “old man” bikes. I do like to read about all kinds of bikes, but have little interest in heavy, slow and expensive geezer type machines.

        • Norm G. says:

          re: “They both look like cruisers to me and qualify as “old man” bikes.”

          from human history the wise men have coined a phrase…

          “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” – Author unknown

        • Scotty says:

          Me either – right I’m off to fit a nitrous bottle to my RCV212 as its just too damn slow….

        • Maynard says:

          Hey Gonde,
          If you don’t fall off that plastic coated crotch rocket you’re so fond of, you may hang around long enough to appreciate one of those “geezer machines”.
          At 64 I suspect I’ve been riding longer than you’ve been alive.

          • butcher says:

            Well Maynard, you’re not really proving him wrong. (Don’t mind me though, I drive a Ural when I’m not on my sv650)

          • Gronde says:

            Sorry, but I don’t ride a plastic coated crotch rocket. Guess again if you will.

        • Butch says:

          Gronde, I guess you’re not old enough to appreciate a variety of bikes, or perhaps haven’t accumulated enough wealth to own several bikes…as some of us “old men” have. I can tell you that after a weekend at the racetrack with my RSV4 or hitting some hare scrambles trails with my Husky, a nice cruise on my Guzzi to dinner with my girlfriend is a pleasure. If that makes me a geezer in your book, fine. Just don’t try to keep up with me on my other bikes youngster.

          MD reviews a variety of bikes, because many of us enjoy the variety of riding options that motorcycling offers.

        • Richard says:

          Us old guys have all been through the crotch rocket phase young buck…i assume youre still hanging on for dear life and attracting the fuzz…go for it..less of the “old” we could probly teach you a thing or 2 bout riding a knife on 2 wheels

  22. Sam SW Missouri says:

    Guzzi, Where are the Dealer’s in the heartland?????

    I have to drive 160 miles north or 150 miles west to find a dealer. South and east, I have no idea? This lack of dealer’s doesn’t inspire confidence, especially to “iron out the kinks” of a new bike, which I hear they require more than the typical JAP bike. A minimum 300 mile round trip for the first service is also a bit far.

    I love everything in their lineup but no dealer’s, no sale!

    • MGNorge says:

      You know Sam, I had a look, since it had been some time since last looking at it, and it appears Guzzi’s dealer network has expanded a fair bit. It had had always been sparse with some dealers hardly that as they were small garden shops, etc. that happened to have a few motorcycles stuffed out back. New Guzzi management did some pruning and it now appears there’s fresh blood in their dealer line-up. Get into the Heartland and they most likely are spread more thinly than on the coasts. Should Moto Guzzi’s popularity come up that will change. A dealer with few sales isn’t going to last long.

  23. Buckwheat says:

    Agree that these are two of the most beautiful bikes on the road, and I hope they lead Moto Guzzi to a stronger market share and presence in the North American market. Their lack of wind protection limits their practicality; would love to see Guzzi design custom windscreens that are effective but still look great.

  24. LarryC says:

    Like most Guzzis, the Griso benefits from some judicial owner tweaking. The turn-in is improved by raising the forks in the clamps a bit. Guzzi thoughtfully provides reference rings inscribed in the tubes to aid in the process. The procedure is covered in the manual. My two valver was sensitive to tires too, hampered by the stock Metzlers. A new set of Michelin Pilot Roads transformed the handling. A little extra preload at the rear improves things too, helping the overall attitude of the bike. The Griso could really stand a rear shock upgrade, something I’ve not wanted to shell out an extra $1000 for yet.

    Getting rid of the gigantic muffler for a lighter, sweet sounding Termignoni saves pounds, improves looks and helps distribute the power and torque more evenly throughout the power band. A “canisterectomy,” removal of the charcoal canister behind the oil pan on the right side, smooths out the idle. Although it saves only a couple of pounds, it makes the bike look 75lbs lighter by opening up the area behind the oil pan. Removal of the one way tank vent valve prevents a vacuum from forming in the fuel tank and also helps eliminate low speed surging.

    Even after these improvements the Griso’s handling, it feels decidedly vintage. It tends to wander a bit in corners and could be easier to hold on line. It’s remarkable to jump on my 955 Tiger after getting off the Griso. The Tiger feels like an absolute sport bike in comparison. Still the Griso is immensely satisfying to ride. The seat is surprisingly good for a passenger too, despite its diminutive size. Well placed footpegs help, passenger ergos are good. And there’s nothing quite like that small-block V8 sound, especially with the Termi muffler.

    • Gronde says:

      So by the time you replace the tires, shock, exhaust system and fix the wandering steering in the corners, you’ve dumped enough $$$ into the bike to buy a nice Ducati. Why not just pull the trigger on a Duc and have the bike you’re trying to build?

      • Scotty says:

        Because it wont be a Guzzi? If we had to explain it you wouldn’t understand. :-)

      • VLJ says:

        Or, better still, a BMW R1200R (air-cooled or otherwise), which is a much closer rival to the Griso: horizontally opposed twin cylinders, shaft-drive, similar power, weight, wheelbase, seating position, style, overall mission, and, most of all, tradition.

        When I was recently shopping for a new bike following a long illness-related hiatus from riding, I dearly wanted a Guzzi 8V. I’ve never owned an Italian bike, and I loved the looks of the green model with the brown seat. So classy. Then I sat on it, and studied every little bit of it. I learned all its specifications.

        Couldn’t do it. Other than funkier looks, a higher “cool factor” and a lower price, the Griso is bettered by the R1200R in virtually every respect. The 1200R is faster, torquier, more comfortable, better handling, better braking, and far more versatile. It can easily be made into a long-distance tourer or a “B Group”-level track-day bike, or practically anything in between. ABS, traction control, heated grips, a centerstand, TPS, an ambient temperature gauge, a gear indicator, a much larger fuel capacity and higher fuel mileage, a greater dealer network, a better warranty, etc. It even uses a metal gas tank, perfect for magnetic tankbags, while the Griso’s smaller tank is plastic. The list goes on and on.

        As much as I wanted the Guzzi, I bought the BMW. Just under a year later I swapped it for a ’14 Street Triple R, but that’s another story.

        • richard says:

          i see your point….however its not why you buy one…guzzis are fairly simple technology compared to the BMW…its also the character of the ride…very different n a “cool factor way”.Bmws and all they’re electronic gadgetry…..no character…Harley owners love the product…you dont understand why until you ride them extensively…they too have character and a unique feel about them….forget the stereotyping…its all about the ride…some of us are looking for something different than most…its not always about performance or perfection…or electronic gadgetry…..old school feels good…..always wanted to ride a street Triple R..cool bike. i do see your point regarding comfort…my V11 has upright bars and a corbin seat…comfort is not an issue and it rails corners well for a heavier bike…also a topic of conversation every time i park…drives me crazy sometimes …lol

          • VLJ says:

            There really isn’t much in the way of electronic gadgetry on the R1200R. ABS and traction control are the main additions, and neither affect the basic ride at all. The Roadster is fairly stripped down and simple. Even so, it’s still faster, torquier, better handling, better braking, AND more comfortable than the Griso. And, yes, safer.

            Superior performance paired with superior comfort? Hard to argue against that.

            Since they’re both air-cooled, opposed-twin shafties with similar engine capacities, I don’t see any enormous difference in ride character, either. Yes, the Guzzi’s mill has a lumpier cadence, but it’s not like comparing a Duc to a GSX-R. In terms of feel, the Boxer and Griso motors are more similar than dissimilar.

            The main thing that makes the Griso cooler is its looks, plus its relative exclusivity. Strictly in terms of the ride, however, the BMW has it covered in nearly every way. When it comes right down to it, the quality of the ride is much more important to me than looks or exclusivity.

          • VLJ says:

            Correction: opposed twin vs horizontal V-twin.

      • LarryC says:

        Maybe Scotty sounds like a Harley rider, but he’s right. I’ve got six bikes in the garage and owned over 100. If I wanted a Ducati, it would be there. I’ve ridden a number of them with an eye to buy, but never felt strongly enough about any on them to make the jump. Especially with their current lineup, there just isn’t one that appeals to me enough to own. I’d ride a Multistrada, but I’d need a bag over my head cuz it’s so effin ugly. Besides, the mods I’ve made to my Griso aren’t things that one might not do to any bike, are they? Don’t you buy tires for your bikes? My Metezies were worn out. I didn’t spend any money on the Guzzi that I wouldn’t have dumped into a Duc. Many of the mods are free…you just have to know what to do.

      • MGNorge says:

        I have to say for a bike of its type my ’08 Norge felt like it was on rails. Very confidence inspiring and that’s with the stock Metzlers which many replace with other rubber they feel is better. I like Ducatis but I don’t think I ever was trying to cinch up to one by buying a Guzzi. Go ride one, then tell us your thoughts.

      • Richard says:

        guzzi is way more reliable over the Duc..trust me i speak from experience…$$$

    • Norm G. says:

      re: “The Griso could really stand a rear shock upgrade, something I’ve not wanted to shell out an extra $1000 for yet.”

      do it. shell it. you can’t take it with you.

    • Maynard says:

      Thanks Larry for your insightful “Griso tweaking” report.
      I’ve lusted after one since they first came out.
      Gotta a fix for that pesky melting plastic oil cooler cover ?
      I may start shopping for a good used one now.

  25. sl says:

    I am going to try to buy a 2015 bike. Moto Guzzi would make my day if the would update the Griso next year.