Moto Guzzi California 1100I and variants
The Moto Guzzi California has had the unfair criticism of representing a marketing exercise designed to steel some of the thunder of a certain Milwaukee motorcycle brand. It has to be said that none of this was helped by the name chosen by the marketers at Guzzi’s Mandello HQ, all those years ago.
Of course, there can be no doubt there are Harley design cues inherent in the bike, and offering a European cruiser gave Harley-leaning buyers another option, but the California gains its own identity and credibility due to the length of the bike’s production run. Indeed, the first Cali landed right back in 1972, known as the 850 California.
The bike featured the then-new Tonti frame. Engineered by Lino Tonti, it offered an up-to-date structural backbone for Tonti’s V7 Sport of 1971.
Incredibly, the hugely talented engineer designed the engine for the V7 Sport as well. It’s a shame we’ll never see that sort of project freedom again.
Tonti’s frame was built with racing as its focus, with the goals of mass centralisation, lighter weight and compactness.
The frame is especially light and strong, and remains in use to this day in modified form through parts of the Guzzi range.
The California underwent many model changes and simultaneously attempted to hop categories via add-on factory goodies as standard, a cornerstone of the California right up until the present day.
For currency, we’ll deal with the 1100 and 1100i. Strangely, you could buy the carbed model up against the injected one for the full five years of the run, before the launch of the EV in 1998. Strange at times, those Italians…
Significant milestones along the way saw the EV introduced in 1998, running through until 2006 when the Vintage Cruiser took over. The retro-cop-bike Vintage represented a huge leap for the Cali with a whopping new price of $27,990 and a heap of up-spec goodies including driving lights, hard saddlebags, chrome fenders and large-diameter chromed crash bars fitted front and rear. You see, the Californian Police Department made use of the Cali for some time (well, they only had H-D with which to compare it), and identifying with that history was not a bad idea if the Yanks were going to ever get fizzy about the bike.
To keep showroom interest in the Cali, Moto Guzzi hit the market with many model tweaks and accessory-based badge identities.
The following may go some way to clearing this up:
From 1994-98, the model was known as the 1100i, the bike getting fuel-injection for the first time. From 1998-06 it was designated as the EV. Alongside the EV was the EV 80 which ran until 2003.
Mixed in were the EV Touring (2001-06), the Special Sport (2001-02), the Spec Sport Aluminium Cruiser (2003-06), the Spec Sport Titan (2003-06), the Stone Cruiser (2003-06), the Stone Touring Cruiser (2003-04) and the Vintage Cruiser (2006-12).
We hope you got all that because there will be questions later.
The bike makes use of an air-cooled, 1064cc, two-valve, 90-degree V-twin, good for 54kW (72hp) at 6400rpm and 94Nm at 5000rpm. There’s the Tonti frame and the Magneti Marelli fuel injection gives the old donk modern fuelling characteristics. Of course, Guzzis are known for feeling ‘different’ (the first time you rev the bike at lights and it falls to the right it will get your attention), and low-speed operation is a bit of a lumpy affair, but it is a near-perfect match for the chassis, in delivery and look.
The area where the Cali really excels is in its handling. Guzzi has been at this motorcycle manufacturing gig for a while now, and the engineers at Harley-Davidson must have stared out the window into the traffic on many an occasion wondering how those damned Italians had managed to build something that made the H-D offerings seem positively cumbersome.
Nimble steering from seemingly lazy geometry numbers, nice but not absolute top-end, rebound adjustable twin shocks, 45mm rebound and compression adjustable Marzocchi fork (with a hefty fork brace) and a neat shaft drive, coupled to the delightful Tonti frame arrives at a bike that is totally happy in its skin, and nobody gets off a Cali whinging about handling.
Linked brakes have been the subject of controversy ever since their debut but the fact is if they are ever going to work it will be in the cruiser configuration due to better rear-brake effectiveness. The Cali’s work a treat. These comprised twin 320mm discs up front gripped by Brembo four-piston calipers, and a single 282mm disc in the back gripped by a Brembo twin-piston caliper. Again, it all seems a bit like luck but it’s anything but. It’s all about intelligent design and Moto Guzzi has been getting that right for a long time.
DEVIL IN THE DETAIL
What hasn’t been as healthy a report card for Guzzi over the years has been the issue of fit and finish. You’ll be out with the metal polish to maintain that shine, and running around the bike with a set of spanners won’t hurt either.
Another quibble is the five-speed gearbox. Nice ratios, but that’s about where the romance ends on the tranny front. Imagine placing your boot in a bag of spanners and waving it about a bit. Both the noise you’ll hear and the feeling you’ll experience is what it’s like on the Cali. Pretty damned rough and clunky, and a bit of a low point. Well, a lot of a low point actually. It’s tough, though, and will never break, if that’s any consolation. Seat height varies a bit between the models, but it does a fair job of suiting a wide range of riders.
The position places a fair bit of weight on the butt, with the feet placed forward, bumps transfer to the kidney area.
This is an issue with all cruisers and the Cali doesn’t have it alone.
The footboards are an acquired taste – you’ll love them or hate them. They are nicely rubber-mounted so vibes that can be a bit of a Guzzi bugbear don’t intrude via the feet.
The same can’t be said for the ’bars, however, and at cruising speeds the buzz can be a bit annoying.
Reliability is reasonable but there are a few things to take into account.
In particular, noisy tappets can require cam and follower replacement and you’ll be heading to the bank if that’s the case. Final drive seals are another area of concern.
Slightly off-beat, the California calls for a degree of commitment. There will be a lot of people who simply won’t get it.
They’ll think you couldn’t afford a Harley-Davidson. But for those who understand subtlety and individuality, you’ll be sought-after company. For what it’s worth, Guzzis are cool in our books.
Then there’s the bike’s sheer road competence. These things handle and clearance is good (for a cruiser). In short, if you’re looking to move into a more comfortable option but haven’t given up on the thought of a bit of spirited running, the California presents as a better option than many traditional cruisers.