Street Cred without the “wannabe”.
Moto Guzzi has more “cruiser street cred” than most people give it credit for. They’ve been around continuously since 1921; longer than anyone but Harley Davidson. But for Harley Davidson, Guzzi’s been building cruisers longer than anyone els — their first cruiser in the incarnation you see above coming out in 1967 with the V700.
Guzzi has always liked building “big” bikes, but we must adjust scale. Italy, which was Guzzi’s biggest market for most of it’s life, had production street bikes with less than 100cc for decades — a bike above 300cc was considered “big”. Guzzi was at the top of the heap early on, with production 500cc bikes that were reliable and sporting. The 500cc Falcone of the 50s is an excellent example of this, a bike with incredible reliability, to the point where an American Guzzi Club member is an original owner of two, both ridden on close to a daily basis for more than 50 years!
The current “cruiser” platform is built around the laterally-mounted V-twin motor (originally 700cc, now 1100), running through an in-line, automobile-type transmission straight through to a drive shaft and bevel-drive final. After more than 40 years, it’s a highly refined system. The motor could best be described as a “two cylinder small-block, American V-8”. This really isn’t a stretch. The cam is in the vee, there is a conventional sump, it has a hemi-head with pushrods and rockers. It also makes gobs and gobs of torque, is insanely easy to work on, and is dead-nuts reliable.
Moto Guzzi has adopted a conservative approach to development. Take a good platform, and keep refining and trimming to make it better. Though there are distinct differences, there are a lot of similarities in models that are more nearly 30 years apart:
The 2008 California Vintage
The 1972 Eldorado
Moto Guzzi was selling more bikes in the United States than anyone had ever expected, thanks to the adoption of many police organizations, including most in California and Arizona. The combination of “if it’s good enough for the Cops it’s good enough for me” and the big 850 motor made the Guzzi a very popular choice, as hundreds of current owners of these “loop frame” bikes will attest.
Guzzis build cruisers, and they have built them for a long, long time. This is no late-comer, me-too, bandwagon cruiser, built to exploit a market niche that came about from Harley-Davidson’s renaissance. These guys built cruisers because they wanted to, and have toughed it out for years when companies with better resources and larger dealer networks have walked all over them. The thing is, they never gave up, they never stopped building the platform, and they stayed true to their mission.
So what did Moto Guzzi do with this (arguments start here) most popular platform cruiser bike ever to come from Europe? The second-oldest continuously built cruiser platform in existence?
They continuously refined it
The refinements are many. Brakes are sport bike standard Double Brembos in the front and a single in the rear on the California Vintage. The 1094cc engine has a smooth, stumble-free injection system. The exhaust coming out the back meets the tough Euro-3 standards, and the standard bags are best-of-breed huge and integrated perfectly into the design. The seat is updated and integrated into the design. The windscreen has been tested to assure smooth flow around the rider, and the suspension has been upgraded with another sport bike goodie — Marzocchi hydraulic telescopic fork with rebound and compression adjustability. The rear suspension is ubiquitous twin shock, with preload and compression adjustability.
What did they keep?
The Guzzi sound is still there. It sounds like no other v-twin engine, and I have to believe that the Guzzi Engineers wanted it that way, unlike their more “me-too” cruiser late-comers. It’s kind of V-Twin, but more “small block”. Brings smiles by the bag load, and you don’t get into that “Harley patented their sound” conversation. Unique is good.
They kept the look. It looks like a Guzzi, a real, honest-to-goodness, Magnum Force police bike. They kept the handling. The Cal weighs in at about 560lbs, so it’s light and it really shows when the turns start to increase in frequency and wavelength. It’s still a torque monster, with a choice of three gears at any “happy speed”. It didn’t give in to the drag-racing-slick-rear-tire look. It’s still a Guzzi, and that means it’s not a Harley, Harley-clone, Harley-wannabe, Harley anything. It’s the anti-Harley in the cruiser market. It’s the non-wannabe.
It’s the Cruiser Bike for someone that rides a lot of sport bikes
The combination of suspension, brakes, handling and balance make this a bike for a non-cruiser-cruiser-buyer. Guzzi didn’t give in to fads, it stuck to its principles. No fat tires that affect turn-in. No huge cubic-inch motors, because without the excesses of fat tires, weight and design compromises for looks, it just wasn’t needed. The Goose will definitely go “fast enough”. If you want to do 160, this isn’t your bike. If you want to ride a bike a lot, anywhere, anytime, in a comfortable riding position that doesn’t require a kidney belt and three bottles of Advil for your sore arms and buffeted neck, this is your bike.
I approached Piaggio about running this test months ago, and we’ve both finally had the time to do it. I explained that I’d like to do a longer test, more than a couple of days, and blog about it. I told them that I was mystified why the Mandello de Lario-based company didn’t sell more of these bike than they could make, since the $15,000 price point, great looks and performance are a bargain.
I picked up the California Vintage from Piaggio’s yard on a bright Friday morning. My goal for this test is to give my impressions of the big Guzzi over a week’s period of riding. I ride a lot. My commute to my real job is 160 miles round trip, so this bike is going to get a workout. I also want to ride it to some of my regular get-togethers to gather impressions from other cruiser owners. I also want to expose the Cal to other riders that are on different mounts, those riders that are buyers.
I can’t get off this bike long enough to write about it!
My first day on the bike covered nearly 300 miles and my suspicions were solidified. I’ve been riding for four days and have finally gotten off long enough to start writing. It’s 5am in the morning, and I’m going to get back on soon. I’ve put more than 600 miles so far and have some great opinions, beginning with my impressions of the day-to-day commute, but that’s for tomorrow’s entry!