California Vintage Review: 1000 Miles

December 20th, 200815 Comments »

The Moto Guzzi California Vintage, when first introduced in the US market, was not easy to find then, and they are still not exactly easy to find today.  Moto Guzzi dealers are not all that common here you know.  Fortunately, I live within 20 miles of a dealer that I visited occasionally over the last 10 years as I continued to dream about having another motorcycle.  I didn’t want just any motorcycle.  I wanted something unique.  Something that could last a lifetime and still be special.  I studied motorcycle magazines and read reviews for all sorts of bikes, but only a few got me interested.  I visited every motorcycle shop that I could find, but nothing really struck me as the one I had to have until I met the Moto Guzzi California Vintage.

The first time I ever visited a Moto Guzzi shop several years ago and studied actual Moto Guzzi motorcycles in person, I remember that I really loved the engines and the gas tanks.  I also remember that the Jackal was just being introduced and I had read the reviews.  They offered a special low-priced version in the US market that made it very tempting for me back then.  I didn’t have much money, but I remember it was a stripped-down model that I felt I might regret getting, and worried that I would end up spending even more than the top model to upgrade it over time so that it would have all the proper accessories and features that it should have.  So, I did nothing and continued to dream about someday owning a Moto Guzzi.  I visited that shop at least a few times a year ever since then, just to peek at used bikes and to see what the new ones looked like.

Fast-forwarding to 2008, I started to get very serious about finally getting a motorcycle.  What got me going was the California Vintage.  I took the family out with me to visit some other shops, but nothing clicked as usual.  When we walked into the Moto Guzzi shop and saw that California Vintage, we knew that was it.  In fact, my wife said “this is the bike” the instant we walked in the door, but she had no idea it was the one I went there to see.  That was amazing.

I now have 1000 miles on it and felt I had enough experience to share my thoughts about the California Vintage.  It has a few little quirks, as people seem to enjoy saying about Italian motorcycles or Italian vehicles in general.  I actually don’t really mind most of these quirks and I think that most Moto Guzzi owners also don’t mind them, well, at least most of them.

Having never owned a motorcycle that had a rocker type, or heel and toe shift lever, it took me some time to become totally comfortable with that.  I have never had to adjust the shift lever, it just has been a mental thing.  For a while, I wore small boots that are actually car racing shoes so that I could feel the foot levers better.  This helped me get used to how the shift lever and foot brake lever mechanically felt.  My feeling is that to ride a motorcycle properly, you need to become part of the machine, so I did in that regard.  When I tried wearing motorcycle style boots in the beginning, I could not feel the shift lever or the brake lever well enough to really control them how I wanted to, but now it’s no problem at all even with heavier boots.

The brake system is a linked design, meaning the rear brakes and front brakes are actuated at the same time via a proportioning valve like in a car when you use the foot brake.  Don’t be scared of this idea!  It works great and has for many years on Moto Guzzi and on other brands of motorcycles more recently.  I feel safer having linked brakes and braking is actually easier and smoother in my opinion.  The foot brake lever has been an interesting thing to learn.  It’s completely natural to me now, but at first, it was not so simple.

I’ve never had a motorcycle that had foot boards, and never gave any thought to how you have to lift your foot onto the rear brake lever when you have foot boards instead of pegs.  As it turns out, with a Moto Guzzi California Vintage, you do have a foot peg, but it’s only for your right heel.  Sounds weird, right?  To help you operate the foot brake lever, there is a short little foot peg (heel peg) about where your right ankle is.  As you begin to prepare for braking, you raise your right heel slightly and rest it onto that little peg while your right toes are still on the foot board.  To push the brake lever from that position, you simply raise your toes onto the lever while your heel remains on the short peg.  This actually is very easy to do, and it becomes second nature, but it takes a little getting used to.  Of course, you can easily just push the brake lever without doing this, but it is more comfortable and easier to have fine control of the downward pressure on the lever when you use the heel peg.  Earlier on, I had a little trouble feeling if I had my heel on the peg and not the brake linkage.  It’s totally natural now, but was strange at first.

Another thing that is a little different on the Moto Guzzi California is that it has a short little choke lever on the handle bar next to the clutch lever.  I knew that Moto Guzzi has had electronic fuel injection for many years, so I was a little puzzled when I first saw the choke lever.  It acts like a fast idle device that helps you start and keep it idling when it’s cold, a choke.  It works great, but now it tends to vibrate itself to the off position right away unless I hold it.  It probably can be tightened, but I don’t have to use it very often, so I never remember to check to see if I can snug it up like when it was brand new.  Not a big deal.

The California Vintage seat is very comfortable for me.  I am 6 feet tall and find the seat height perfect.  I think this motorcycle’s seat could easily comfort a much heavier and larger person without any problem.  It is relatively wide, pretty firm and actually very comfortable.  My only complaint about the California Vintage seat is that you are really asking for trouble if you take it off.  To remove it, you use the key to turn the lock located near the 12V power outlet on the left side of the bike.  The key lock gave me the impression that the mechanism for the seat would be a good one and perhaps easy to use.  I was very wrong.  The key unlocks the seat, but you have to lift the rear to pop it loose.  There is no hinge, so you have to remove the entire seat from the bike.  I’m disappointed with that.  For the cost of this motorcycle, and the caliber of motorcycle it is, it should have had a hinged seat for convenience.

Under the seat is a small storage tray to hold the special Moto Guzzi tool kit that comes with the Guzzi California.  I actually don’t keep it there because I know how difficult it is to get the seat back on.  There is a steel ball on a post that sticks up into a socket in the underside of the seat, and there is a tongue under the front of the seat that fits into a slot under the gas tank.  So to re-install the seat, you tilt the seat down in the front to get the tongue under the gas tank and you try to feel that the ball on the little post is aligned with the socket towards the rear underside of the seat.  But, you really can not feel that.  Then you push down as hard as you can, using your fists or whatever, to try to pop the seat into position.  You are actually pushing down onto the seat to try to engage the lock claw (like in a car door) and that ball into the socket.  It is very hard and very frustrating to do.  At the dealer, it took 3 guys to do this when they were first showing me the bike.  The owner of the dealership had the right touch and he got it back on pretty quickly after the other two couldn’t get it at all.  I have done it once in six months. I’m going to install remote connections for the battery so I can connect it to a battery maintainer during the off-season in hopes that I won’t have to mess with that seat mechanism again.

Some of the things I like best about the California Vintage are the windscreen, the auxiliary lights, the handle bars, the fuel tank, the foot boards, the center stand, and the exhaust system.  The windscreen is not too large and works very well.  It has nice stainless brackets and fasteners and has not given me any problems.  The auxiliary lights are very bright and have classic style chrome housings.  They will start to drain the battery if kept on very long, so I’ve learned to use them sparingly and only while running at sufficient engine speeds.  It seems the alternator is still undersized even though it was increased for the California Vintage.

The handle bars appear to be the same as on other Guzzi California models. They are a substantial diameter and are at a very comfortable position and angle for me.   The fuel tank is one of the things I love about Moto Guzzi California motorcycles.  The raised shape is absolutely beautiful, the size is right and the locking filler cap is very easy to use with one hand and works well.  The low-fuel light is easy to see and comes on when there is plenty left to make it to a station.  There is no fuel shut-off valve, which worries me slightly, but that’s just because every motorcycle I ever rode before has had one.

The foot boards seem to be perfectly damped to get rid of vibration and I’m always amazed by how they don’t vibrate.  They are not insanely over-sized like on some other brands.  Some people have written that they think they are mounted a little to high, but I think they are good where they are.  On my Vintage, the front edge of the left foot board rubs just slightly against fairing that is mounted on the crash bar and causes a little vibration noise at idle.  I could probably resolve that by adding a small washer to space the fairing forward just a little, but I have not been annoyed enough to do that yet. ( Update:  Since writing this, I added the washers and the problem is solved.  It was an incredibly easy fix).

Even though the California Vintage comes with a long shiny chrome police-style kick stand, I like to use the center stand most often.  How many baggers come with a center stand?  It is incredibly easy to put this Cali up on the center stand in one smooth, easy motion.  The kick stand tends to slide on the pavement, and while I know it can only slide so far, I just done’ feel confident using it.  I do like the way it looks though, especially when I see older California models with their poorly painted and rusty looking kick stands.  I’m not sure if the Vintage’s chrome kick stand would fit older Guzzi Californias, but it would make for a nice upgrade for them.  One thing about the center stand, you need to watch out for your pants on your left cuff so that they don’t get caught on it while riding.  There is a foot lever that sticks up behind your left heel, and I have had my pants hang onto it before.  That’s a scary feeling when your getting ready to put your left foot down at a stop.  As with all motorcycle riding, we need to make sure we wear the proper clothing so these sort of things won’t happen.  The Italian-made Lafranconi exhaust note is just perfect for my tastes.  It is not loud, but is deep and mellow. The sound of power really comes to life at about 4000 rpm. I can’t imagine it sounding any better.

The California Vintage handles really well for me.  The tires are not big according to today’s standards, but neither is the entire motorcycle.  At 1064cc, it has a smaller engine than most bagger motorcycles and weighs significantly less than most others in it’s class.  The stock Lafranconi exhaust is tucked in nicely and won’t drag or scrape anything.  There seems to be sufficient spacing between the bottom of the panniers and the pipes and there is no sign of heat damage or discoloration under there.  Another nice thing about the exhaust is that you don’t have to do anything special to avoid hot pipes because they are well shielded were needed and are out of the way.

I have not messed with the steering damper, but it’s there if I need it and I like that.  Really, how many other baggers do you know of that come with a an adjustable steering damper?  Speaking of adjustable, the adjustment knobs on the top of the fork tubes are great and easy to adjust while riding.  I like a mildly firm front compression adjustment, but when I have to cross really bumpy railroad tracks, I lower it back down and float right over them, then I simply turn it back up.  I really like having that adjustment within such comfortable reach.  I love that Moto Guzzi keeps some of the sport-bike features like that on their California motorcycles.  The rear suspension is adjustable for damping and compression, but I never have felt a need to adjust it.   I have heard people talk about Moto Guzzi motorcycles and their shaft drive system causing some jacking motion.  I think they are talking about something from decades ago, but they seem to still talk about it like some urban legend.  Moto Guzzi does not put the CARC system on their California models, and I don’t see why it would be needed on this motorcycle anyway.  Maybe an expert rider or racer would feel differently, but I don’t run this motorcycle full throttle and am not interested in modifying the engine for additional power, so I’m fine with the stock shaft drive and rear suspension combination as Moto Guzzi designed it in Italy.

The gauges are clean, simple and I like their style.  In bright sunlight, the neutral light can be hard to see if the sun is hitting it just right, but aside from that, I really like the gauges and am glad Moto Guzzi stayed with the classic look they have.

Let’s talk about the side bags or panniers as some like to call them.  I think they are elegant and nicely made; however, I am disappointed with Moto Guzzi’s choice of hinge for the lid.  Why on such a fine motorcycle they chose plastic hinges for the pannier lids, I really don’t know.  I can only think it is because they wanted to keep the cost low.  They blend in nicely, but act flimsy.  The lids open from the rear of the motorcycle and tilt upward towards the front.  They don’t stay open on their own due to gravity, so you have to use one hand to hold it open or else it will fall towards the front of the motorcycle and bounce several times against the nice chrome bar in front of it.  When this first happened to me, I instantly thought I ruined the lid.  Fortunately, I caused no damage or scratches.  It needs a linkage, a cable, or something to limit how far it can open just past top center so it will stay open without having to hold it.  The black plastic hinges are probably durable enough, but they make the pannier lid wobbly open.  There are obviously better standard hinges on the market that Moto Guzzi could have specified to join together such beautifully sculpted pannier pieces.  Anyway, the Southco brand locking latches on the rear of the panniers are a better grade and are plated metal, but they are not adjustable.  One latch clamps a little better than the other, but since they are non-adjustable, there’s not a lot I can do about that.  The looser fitting one actually has popped open a few times while riding.  Both times, I didn’t notice it until later.  I now make it a habit to lock them with the key before I ride.  At least the panniers lock with a key and they do look good on the California Vintage.

Starting the California Vintage’s beautiful v-twin engine has always sounded a little like the battery does not have enough juice.  It always starts, but it sounds to me like it is cranking a little slower than it should.  Someday I hope to compare that to another Guzzi California, but there’s not a lot of them around.  The Moto Guzzi Norge, on the other hand, fires up instantly without even hearing it crank.  It actually amazed me to witness that. My Vintage cranks with a lumpety-lumpety-lumpety sound before it fires.  The sound does seem to match the bike, but still it always sounds like it might not start.  It probably is just a weak battery since my motorcycle, while purchased brand new in 2008, is a 2007 model.  They are all the same, but I imagine the battery was probably more than 1 year old before I put into service, but I have not tested it because of the seat mechanism as I explained earlier.

To summarize the California Vintage so far, it’s like a best friend.  I somehow feel as if I have always had this motorcycle even though I have only had it a short time, but it’s always exciting to think about and to ride.  It is smooth, comfortable, and easy.  Not everyone has one and it is not the same as any other motorcycle.  It is not burdened with heavy oversize features to make it look bigger, but it rides two very comfortably.  It’s light enough to easily push or walk it in and out of tight parking spaces without any problem.  Oh, I forgot to mention that I wish it had a helmet lock, and perhaps an alarm, but with a respectable, classic police-style motorcycle like the Moto Guzzi California Vintage, I don’t think many people will mess with it.

Update: I followed up this initial review with more details that I include in my California Vintage review at 3000 miles.

About John Clay

John Clay is the author of MotoGuzziCalifornia.Com. He and his family reside in North Carolina in the United States. A graduate of the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Experienced Rider Course, he enjoys riding and maintaining his Moto Guzzi California Vintage. John participates in local charity rides and also served as a volunteer motorcycle marshal for one of the largest annual bicycle charity event in the Carolinas.

» has written 53 posts

15 Comments

  1. […] the California Vintage, the dial on top of the left fork tube adjusts the compression rate.  The dial on top the right […]

  2. […] like fun riding, but I tend to baby my California Vintage and can’t imagine riding on dirt or gravel roads with it.  Now if I also had a Stelvio (note […]

  3. […] not sure why the Moto Guzzi factory does not install 35 Watt bulbs in the California Vintage auxiliary lights instead of 55 Watts, other than for Wattage bragging rights, but this is something […]

  4. […] There were a handful of us with our Moto Guzzi Californias, including Frank with his nice blue/blue V11, a white EV, and my black ‘07 California Vintage. […]

  5. Anthony says:

    Hi Steve. I picked the Cali Vintage up on Monday Nov 9th 2009 and last week it had its’ first 500 mile service here in North Wales UK . For the first 450 miles I found it had enough low down grunt (even two up) to change gear at around 2000 rpm without labouring, and it pulled strongly up to a self limiting max of 2800 rpm. For the next 50 mile stretch I took it to 70mph which equated to 3500 rpm in top gear; and at this speed the engine really smoothed out, (the V twin thump tended to be inaudible in the windrush) and pulling like a train gave me the feeling that I could ride forever; even head on into a hurricane. The large screen does an excellent job of keeping the wind off my chest (and face with visor up) and although the horizontally opposed V Twin cylinders prevent me from stretching my legs forward aka previous Harley, the seating position even two up has been perfectly comfortable on the the couple of 200 mile trips done so far. The upside of aforementioned leg room restricting horizontally opposed cylinders is that these same cylinders, coupled with the standard equipment leg shields do a great job of keeping the wind off my lower legs and feet…which is great for real world riding on chilly days here in the UK. Two points worth mentioning: One is that the locks on the panniers tend to be a bit fiddely and two is that although the Guzzi manual says to change the oil in the shaft drive at the first service; the dealer doesn’t actually do this, saying that Guzzi says it is not necessary until the next oil change. A friend of mine who is a motorcyclist and specialist oil seller says that this is ok as the oil in a shaft drive doesn’t work as hard as the oil in a gearbox, and BMW ‘apparently’ follow the same procedure. As far as passenger comfort is concerned; Val says the only extra required to make it more comfortable on a long tour (France, Spain etc next summer all being well) is a sissy bar and pad. Anyway, whilst riding around; never before have I seen so many admiring glances look my way so having deduced that it’s not me they’re looking at I reckon it must be more to do with the Guzzi. That’s all for now..hope you get yours soon and will keep you ‘and anyone else reading this” posted on the latest California Vintage dreaming.

  6. […] you start, get yourself  a new oil pan gasket and filter.  The engine oil is specified in my 2007 California Vintage user and maintenance book is 3 liters of Agip 4T Racing SAE […]

  7. Steve says:

    Anthony, keep us posted on how you like the 2009. The wait to purchase a Cal Vintage is killing me. I’ve heard a few bad reviews lately but most of them are nothing but praise.

  8. Anthony says:

    Hi. Thanks for writing your review, it was interesting to read and has clued me up on a few things. I’ve just traded in my 2003 Harley 1200 Anniversary Sportster Custom which I’ve owned from new for a new White 2009 Moto Guzzi California Vintage. I had no intentions of selling the Harley as I’ve been very happy with it but this Vintage Cali got me hooked on looks alone….it was a must have so hence the trade in. I obviously haven’t got anything to report on the Cali as it is not yet in my possession but I’ll keep you posted if that’s ok and keep a watch on any updates that you post. Thanks. Anthony.

  9. John says:

    There are no differences between these model years. Yes, the oil pan needs to be dropped for oil changes, but it is very easy to do yourself at every 6000 miles per the manual, and is not a big deal at all. My original battery is still working fine. I learned not to run the fog lamps all the time, and since I limited my use of them, no problem starting. Some lower watt bulbs would be good to change to if you want to run them all the time.

  10. Kerry says:

    I came across your review. Im considering this motorcycle. I can get one at a good price from my dealer either an 07 or 08. Any differences between the two years? Also I heard but havent confirmed that changing the oil is a BIG hassle, that you have to actually drop the pan to just change the oil filter. Is that true? One last question have you replaced your battery and if so did that fix the slow sounding turnover? Its such a beautiful bike.

  11. Steve says:

    Thanks for posting this review. I am looking to pick up this model myself but have to wait at least a year to pay down on my Honda before trading. I’ve been looking at this bike in pictures for a year and just recently visited a dealership to actually see and sit on one. This is absolutely the bike for me. I ride exclusively (no car) and so need something to match the reliability of my Honda…but also something I can ride cross country on when i am ready. Mostly, I just really love the look.

  12. Russ says:

    I have a 2002 Harley Electra Glide Ultra Classic which I love dearly, but I can’t get over the good looks of the Vintage. I am leaning that way. Any body with a California Vintage want to trade for a Harley?

  13. Tim says:

    I am thinking about going from my BMW R1200C to either the Ducati GT1000 Classic or the Guzzi California Vintage. After reading your review, I am leaning towards the Guzzi. I just need to make it down to the dealer and check them out. As far as not having a helmet lock neither does my 1200C but there some very nice aftermarket ones that bolt on under your license plate and will hold 2 helmets, which is what I put on my BMW.

  14. John says:

    Portland,
    Thanks for visiting MotoGuzziCalifornia.com, and thanks for your question. I am still very happy with my California Vintage. I went on two short rides over the weekend and I love this motorcycle. I recently had the first service done on it because the miles dictated that, but I have had no problems.

    If I wanted to, I could have probably complained about a few very tiny flaws in the chrome, or perhaps that I had to stick a washer between the left engine guard fairing and the engine guard bar itself to keep the bottom rear edge of the fairing from vibrating against the front edge of the left foot board, but these things are nothing in the big picture of this motorcycle.

    If you like the classic bagger style and want a pure motorcycle, I highly recommend this one. It is pretty nimble, lighter than it looks, and a true joy to ride.

    If you want a big cross-country highway touring bike that has a lot of luxuries and you want to power all your heated clothes and other electrical accessories, then maybe the Norge would be a better choice for that.

  15. portland guzzi guy says:

    hey,

    Im thinking of moving to a CA vintage. Are you still happy with your Guzzi ?