First Ride: 2001 Moto Guzzi California Special review

For 30 years the Moto Guzzi California has always been the cornerstone of the Guzzi range. The 'Cali' has survived by doing what it does best: laid-back, cruising in the finest American tradition



Brings new meaning to 'plug and play'

It's been kind of hard to categorise for the last few years though, as it has moved along a bit from its original seventies raison d'etre of being just a cruiser version of the cafe racer V7 for the voracious US market.

Guzzi now seems to want to make various versions of the Cali to suit different people and different budgets in a bid to emulate Harley's success of marketing over common sense.

Don't blame them, either. So, this year you have the California Jackal Stone at one end of the price margin at £6299 (minus one front disc) and the California EV at £8250. The beast I managed to swing a leg over, the California Special Sport, sits nicely in the middle at £7299.

All three bikes can be made unique, just like those machines from Milwaukee, by ordering a plethora of shiny bits and pieces that would make any self-respecting motorcycling magpie go mad.
Nice thinking Guzzi.

Look at the Cali and you know what you're gonna get. Pull-back bars, classic looks and those two huge cylinders which insult anyone you dare go head on with on the road; pure, laid-back, unashamed pose.

The 1064cc 90-degree fuel-injected vee-twin motor is the heart of the Cali and it really is an impressive lump. The updated fuel-injection shows few signs of glitchiness at low revs and 74bhp twangs you towards the horizon without hesitation.

It's torquey too. You can pull 40mph in top (five gears on the Calis, unlike the V11's six) at a shade over 2,000rpm and it would soon punt you up to speed, albeit with a fairly swift rattle and jiggle of the old fillings.

But the sound did it for me. Like a big V8 Chevy, listening to it gave me the horn quicker than an 0898 call. This tickling of the auditory senses replaces the buzz of speed that you look for on other bikes. Whereas the national speed limit signs out of villages are greeted by throttle jockeys with a grin and a lurch to warp speed, I was looking forward to the 30 limit signs and a built up area, to see who would turn their heads to look at fat ol' me and the Cali cruise majestically through.

The gearbox is easier to use than on the foot-boarded EV I rode a couple of years back, but it is still a bit short of anything Japanese. You've also got a heel-toe arrangement for the gears, if you want to use it. I didn't.

One big positive, is that for the first time ever on a Guzzi, I could trust the neutral light. It's a welcome relief not to have to cringe at traffic lights, in anticipation of a boot up the arse into the car ahead as you release the clutch. It's certainly an improvement, no surprise then to find that gearbox mods are part of the updates for 2001.

Brakes are as awesome as ever. Guzzi's linked brakes work better than anything from any other manufacturer. Grab a handful of front and you're working the right front Brembo disc only, hit the rear pedal and you have the rear and the left front disc. Simple and it works, especially as most cruiser riders use the rear pedal more than the front. Once criticism was that one finger on the front lever trapped the rest of my pinkies and the lever isn't adjustable.

Weather protection could be improved with a screen (a must if you wanna tour...) but the clocks did a remarkable job of keeping the wind off your face up to around 90mph, although that was a bit too quick to catch my reflection in shop windows in town.

But when you do catch your reflection you see better paintwork and chrome that's as thick as the Earth's crust, certainly better than the Calis of old. Other small improvements include a more comfy seat, new switch gear and updated rear shocks.

Guzzi has shrewdly hedged their bets with the three Calis. Personally, I'd look at the cheaper two of the three; they provide a lot of metal for your money.

As Moto Guzzi is now owned by Aprilia (also based in northern Italy) new investment should see some exciting things happen in the Guzzi range; my strongest advice would be to keep one model in the range sacred - the Cali.

Verdict
The Sophia Loren of the Italian bike industry gets better with age. Quality has improved, but check out all three models to see which suits your style and your wallet.

SPECS

TYPE - CRUISER

PRODUCTION DATE - 2001

PRICE NEW - £7299

ENGINE CAPACITY - N/A

POWER - 72bhp6400rpm

TORQUE - 69lb.ft@5000rpm

WEIGHT - n/a

SEAT HEIGHT - n/a

FUEL CAPACITY - N/A

TOP SPEED - 124mph

0-60 - n/a

TANK RANGE - N/A

It's been kind of hard to categorise for the last few years though, as it has moved along a bit from its original seventies raison d'etre of being just a cruiser version of the cafe racer V7 for the voracious US market.

Guzzi now seems to want to make various versions of the Cali to suit different people and different budgets in a bid to emulate Harley's success of marketing over common sense. Don't blame them, either. So, this year you have the California Jackal Stone at one end of the price margin at £6299 (minus one front disc) and the California EV at £8250. The beast I managed to swing a leg over, the California Special Sport, sits nicely in the middle at £7299.

All three bikes can be made unique, just like those machines from Milwaukee, by ordering a plethora of shiny bits and pieces that would make any self-respecting motorcycling magpie go mad.
Nice thinking Guzzi.

Look at the Cali and you know what you're gonna get. Pull-back bars, classic looks and those two huge cylinders which insult anyone you dare go head on with on the road; pure, laid-back, unashamed pose.

The 1064cc 90-degree fuel-injected vee-twin motor is the heart of the Cali and it really is an impressive lump. The updated fuel-injection shows few signs of glitchiness at low revs and 74bhp twangs you towards the horizon without hesitation. It's torquey too. You can pull 40mph in top (five gears on the Calis, unlike the V11's six) at a shade over 2,000rpm and it would soon punt you up to speed, albeit with a fairly swift rattle and jiggle of the old fillings.