Moto Guzzi California Motorcycle Owners News, Reviews and More
This long term review of the Moto Guzzi California Vintage is written after riding 8900 miles on it over the past two and a half years. Q: How has the Guzzi held up so far? Would I buy the same bike again if I could start over? A: Very well, and yes!
I really became hooked by the California Vintage months prior to my buying it. I’ve got the ’07 and there is no difference between model years, at least nothing noticeable. I personally prefer and appreciate older-style, lower-tech, mechanical things. This motorcycle has all that and does it with Italian style.
If you look close at the photo of me on the bike, you’ll notice my tail light is tipping slightly downward because the tail light bracket had failed just the day before the photo was taken, just as I was finishing up this article. I had to temporarily secure mine with zip ties and a rag stuffed between it and the rest of the bracket. Luckily, I’ve carried a bunch of zip ties in my panniers since I was a motorcycle marshal last year, and that helped me get home from work that day.
The picture was taken when I rode to my Guzzi dealer to have him see what happened, but since he’s not a Guzzi dealer any longer, I’m left to fixing it myself, which is fine by me. A downside to being a Guzzi California Vintage owner in the USA is that dealerships are few and very far between. This is a concern, but the bike is not difficult to work on if you’re mechanically inclined. The Moto Guzzi California models generally have very well stood the test of time regarding their reliability and ability to accumulate high mileage, with few exceptions.
Electronics and simplicity:
Electronics on the bike are minimal compared to other types of new motorcycles. Fuel injection is by Magneti-Marelli and is fed via two Weber throttle bodies, two fine names in motoring and motorsports. Guzzi California models have been fuel injected for many years, ahead of several other brands. If you do want to plug in electronic gadgets, there is a 12 volt accessory outlet, but it is located on the left side of the bike and the users manual recommends against riding with things plugged in there.
The 350 Watt charging system is less powerful than most modern touring bikes and it takes quite a bit of rpm to achieve that. In fact, just keeping the stock 55 Watt auxiliary lights on while riding at lower rpm will indeed drain the battery. Makes me want to ask why Guzzi chose 55 Watt bulbs as standard, but why ask. A simple an inexpensive swap to 35 Watt bulbs cured that problem many miles ago for me, and has for many other California Vintage owners too.
Gauges are analog with black background and bright red needles. I like them and they continue to work well for me, including the analog trip odometer. I like having to twist the reset knob to reset it rather than push some touch screen for a digital display – that’s just me.
One feature I have not really used is the flash-to-pass headlight switch. I usually flash my auxiliary lights when I need to. Doing so always seems to get driver’s attention, and in fact, I had someone pull over immediately after I did that, but that certainly was not my intention. Speaking of attention getting, the 4-way flasher system that I installed still is working great. Of course, I rarely use it, but I feel much better knowing I have them. This should be a mandatory feature on all new motorcycles in my opinion.
I’ve had to spend very little to keep it going, mainly just for the normal oil and filter changes. I use the term “normal” loosely since the required 10w60 full synthetic racing engine oil is certainly not what I consider as normal oil. You’ll have trouble finding it for the California Vintage, and it costs more than $12 per liter, but that’s life when you ride an exotic (ok, maybe just slightly exotic) motorcycle.
You can read and see more about how to change the engine oil and filter in an earlier article I wrote. I also wrote about how to change the gear oil in the transmission and rear drive. At least the required grade of gear oil is fairly inexpensive and easy to find. I’d say it is a good bike for a person that likes doing routine maintenance themselves, but doing oil change on the California Vintage does require more time and effort than you might expect.
Slightly more complicated to do, but still a good do-it-yourself job, is changing the air filter. I replaced mine with a standard UFI original equipment filter for about $12, but K N Filters makes one for it too, and I plan to try theirs next.
The Guzzi California riding experience:
Riding the California Vintage on rural roads is where I have had the most fun on it. It handles well and predictably, with plenty of brakes to keep things in check. The character of a Moto Guzzi v-twin is one that likes higher revs than a Harley or some other v-twins. It’s not a good practice to lug this Italian machine along in a lopey sort of American v-twin way. If you do, you’ll feel that it just isn’t meant for that.
It can satisfy sport-riding urges if you feel the need. The Tonti frame was intended for that when it was designed so many years ago, and it still is doing the job today. The exhaust song of the Italian v-twin at 4000 rpm and above is extremely satisfying to say the least, and that is through the factory exhaust system. I see no need to modify this bike’s exhaust. LaFranconi and Guzzi did a great job together on this in my opinion.
Riding on the open freeways at 70 or 75 mph is fine, but the experience is much more dull for the senses. There is buffeting at that speed. If you plan to ride the California Vintage on freeways most of the time, you’ll want to swap the stock windshield over to one that is an inch or two taller, especially if you are around 6 feet tall like me. The stock windshield is very well suited for 55 mph range in my opinion.
Also related to long distance freeway cruising, the position of the California Vintage engine guard bars are not well suited for attaching “highway pegs” for those that like their feet up and legs stretched out forward. You certainly can mount them, but the mud-guards may get in the way of their bar clamps. Once again, this is not a problem for me since I don’t do many freeway rides where I would need those pegs, but I do occasionally wish to straighten my knees a bit. When I do, I just rest my leg up on top of the engine guard bar for a few minutes.
Riding with an adult passenger could feel a little cramped if you both are larger people. I normally ride single. When I do have a passenger, it is my 10 year old son, and of course he is easy and fun to ride along with. We have a great time together on this bike just buzzing around the country roads without traffic.
I liked the California Vintage when I was looking for a new bike because it had what I felt was a “good” passenger seating area. With guards in front of the hard bags, and a large seat for the passenger with wrap-around bars to grab onto there if needed. Also, the foot pegs have some shielding from the rear wheel and are not near any hot pipes, there is no chain or belt to get caught in.
The Givi trunk, which mounts with incredible ease on the Cal Vin’s luggage rack, also provides a passenger something to rest back against. It is a perfect place to store a helmet or an overnight bag. My son is happy and secure with his space on the California Vintage and that is exactly what I needed. I’ve been considering changing the rear pegs to foot boards, but the pegs have good rubber damping on them while all the aftermarket passenger foot boards I find that might fit don’t have any real vibration damping.
Tail light mounting bracket failure at 8866 miles:
I ride to work about 20 miles each way. I had already finished most of this article when after I arrived at work one day and noticed my tail light was hanging from the electrical cable! I had been keeping an eye on it since I bought the bike in ’08 because I had read about other owners that had failures with their tail light bracket, but saw no indication of cracks prior to this.
When the tail light housing was apparently bouncing around without my knowledge, it caused the red lens to crack at both of the screw holes. I discovered the red CEV lens comes from a series of Aprilia Scarabeo scooters. The license plate holder on my California Vintage actually says Aprilia on it in small print too, which is fine with me, but a little odd I guess in terms of brand management. Anyway, I’ll order a new lens from a local Aprilia scooter dealer since my dealer and Moto Guzzi have apparently separated. That is a bummer for me since the next closest dealer is 3 hours away.
A little research on Google will show you this has happened to several of us 2006 thru 2008 California Vintage owners. Apparently the bracket has been reinforced starting on the 2009 California Vintage.
I was considering to swap it over the “coffee can” tail light, which looks a bit comical to some, to a standard dual tail light housing from a California Stone or a Jackal or EV. I kind of like that look for some reason. However, when I examined a used one of these lamp housings up close, I quickly saw it is very prone to cracking and turn signal mounting failures due to the flimsy plastic base it has that attaches to the rear fender. I canceled that idea, and eventually installed a much nicer looking stainless steel tail light assembly originally intended for a 1930’s Ford pick-up truck!
Air cooled v-twin and ethanol in gasoline:
During the summer, it does get pretty hot here in the Carolinas and so does the Guzzi California Vintage air-cooled 1064cc v-twin engine when I’m stuck at traffic lights. The only reason I realize it is getting a little too hot is that I will hear it start to ping or rattle a bit just as I pull away from a long idle. That goes away almost immediately once I get air flowing again. I’ve always used the highest octane gasoline, whether it really needs it or not; however, all the gasoline in my region has 10% ethanol in it.
Regarding the ethanol in gasoline, I’ve heard, read, and witnessed people with Guzzis that have had their bike suddenly stop running due to the fuel hose in the tank swelling and becoming disconnected. The apparent issue is that the original equipment fuel hose material is not compatible with ethanol, or so I have been told. Thankfully, my Guzzi dealer was well aware of this issue and changed mine before I rode it home brand new. I had no clue at the time, and it wasn’t until several months later that I found out it had already been taken care of. Carl treated me well.
Tires, tubes and air pressure:
The original equipment Metzeler Lasertec tires (not tubeless due to the Route Borrani Milano Italian spoked wheels) are still holding up well at 8900 miles. By the way, when a Moto Guzzi won the Tourist Trophy 1937, it was on Borrani wheels. Motorcycle tires sometimes last less than 6000 miles, so I feel fortunate that I still have sufficient tread on these, but I do take it easy when I ride. I imagine getting about one more year out of them. They are ok as far as tires go, I can’t complain.
This Guzzi California always tells me when the front tire pressure starts to get even just a few psi low. There is no warning light or anything, but I start to feel a tiny steering wobble show up during deceleration, and also I detect a slight difference in corner handling. As soon as I top-off the tire pressure to the factory spec, that wobble issue goes right away every time.
If I let the rear tire pressure get a little low, I generally don’t notice it, but I do check them often. With the California Vintage spoke wheels, the spokes and brake discs can make using a tire quite difficult to do. I bought a 0-60 psi air pressure gauge that has a short angled fitting on it continues to hold the reading after you remove it from the valve stem. If I hold it just right, I can hold it on the valve stem to get the reading, but it takes some maneuvering.
Note: I eventually got a set of Bridgestone BT-45 tires installed to replace the stock Metzeler Lasertec tires.
How about the linked brakes?
The factory triple disc Brembo brakes have been excellent. Riding a bike with linked brakes has actually been extremely easy to adapt to. In fact, now that I’ve had this luxury, and I do consider it as a luxury, I would not want to be without this type of braking system.
Other (non-Guzzi) riders look at me like I’m from outer space when I answer their questions about it. Maybe its because I’m not a “track-days” rider, or maybe just because they never experienced linked brakes. It works so naturally that it isn’t anything you notice or even think about. That’s the beauty of it. This of it as a sort of poor-man’s ABS.
I stop with confidence, and never have to have to consider what proportion of front versus rear I am applying. I’ve never had the brakes lock on me during hard braking, although I imagine the front would if you got too carried away with it.
Ergonomics of the California Vintage:
Ergonomics on the Moto Guzzi California overall continue to work fairly well for me as a 6 foot tall 165 lb rider with 33 inseam. I sometimes wish the windshield was about an inch taller, but just when I’m riding above 60 mph. The seating position is like a traditional standard motorcycle with a big wide seat that is comfortable enough. Seat height is a bit tall, so long legs are helpful.
I would like to stretch my legs forward a little on longer rides, but the engine guard and lower fairing panels are in the way of doing that. I’ll get a set of positionable highway pegs to mount someday so I don’t have to alter the lower panels.
With the v-twin sitting sideways, the left cylinder sits a little closer to the rider than the right one. The little black guard on the left cylinder head meets against my upper shin. I’ve become used to feeling it there, and it really doesn’t bother me. It is held on with a couple of the valve cover screws, so it could be removed in about a minute if you wanted to.
Handlebar size, width, angle and height is almost perfect for me. If I could alter one thing about the handlebar, I’d position the grips at less of an angle perhaps. I notice slight pressure towards the lower outside edge of my palm than I do across the entire palm. I’m really getting nit-picky here, it is not really an issue for me. As you can see (or read) I struggle to find faults with this bike!
Having a center-stand is great. I love having the option to put it up on the center-stand, and I do it a lot. In fact, I use it every night because the bike takes up less space in the garage that way. The shiny chrome side stand is among the longest, and I think coolest, ones you will ever find on a stock motorcycle. The bike leans over onto it a fair amount, so when parking is tight, the center-stand is the better option. Once you learn how to do it, it actually is easy to get it up onto the center-stand in one smooth motion without too much effort at all.
Getting it down off the center-stand is also fairly easy. On flat surfaces, a quick forward body motion while simultaneously pushing forward using both feet gets it right down quick and easy. Not easy if you parked facing up-hill! If you have short legs, then I suppose the center-stand and the side stand could both give you some trouble. The pivot for the California Vintage side stand is forward of the left foot board, and with the side stand being so long, it takes some effort to reach and hook it with your left foot to pull it up. It can be a little embarrassing, but sometimes it takes me a couple tries if I go about it too lazily.
Italian v-twin and good vibration:
Starting the 1064cc fuel injected v-twin when cold involves using a little lever located on the left handle bar above the clutch lever. That lever works like a choke, even though the bike has fuel injection. If the engine is cold and you don’t use the lever, it will take more cranking to before it fires, and it may take a couple tries. Using the lever, it fires right up from cold. When the engine is warm, I don’t need to use the “choke” lever. It’s one of those things that you have to remember to turn off all the way before you take off. When it is not all the way on, the engine sounds the same as when it is off. The lever does not have any real spring return, so at least on on mine, I have to manually push it back off all the way to make sure it is off.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had some small issues with vibration. Vibration overall is good on this bike. Good in the way of feeling that you are riding a v-twin. The long chrome cover on the lower left side near the foot board, is suspended on a few mounts. It was touching part of the engine or frame, and after several weeks of a small, but irritating vibration noise, I finally figured out that was the culprit. I gently tweaked it so it would clear everything and problem solved. I had taken it off for cleaning some time ago, so maybe I didn’t get it positioned perfectly when I re-installed it, who knows.
Another slight vibration nuisance was caused by the left mud guard (for lack of a better description). This is the body panel that is fastened to the left engine guard bar. There is a sort of extension, like a little diving board, at the very bottom that can just tickle the rest of the bike with the vibration of the engine running. The right side guard is shaped differently along the bottom, so it does not have the same issue. Anyway, I removed the screws that hold it to the bar, slipped in stainless steel washers between the panel and the chrome bar, and re-fastened it. That provided just enough forward spacing that the panel can no longer touch anything to vibrate against. Another easy solution.
I had the heel-and-toe shift mechanism nut loosen up on me, almost all the way off! Since I re-tightened it, it has never come loose again. I didn’t do anything special, just tightened it back down, no Loctite. I keep an occasional eye on it, but no further problems to report regarding vibration except for that darn tail light bracket that I mentioned earlier in the article.
The luggage space in the hard bags on the California Vintage is fairly generous and easy to live with. The opening is a little narrow, but is plenty deep. The lids hinge forward and have a locking latch at the rear. Some caution is needed when opening the lid since there is nothing to prevent it from swinging forward and bouncing against the chrome guard located just in front of it. I’ve done that a few times accidentally, but was lucky not to cause any damage to the top of the lid. All it needs it a cable or strap to limit the open distance just beyond top center. I have not done that modification yet, but have seen it done very cleverly on a California Vintage owned by Guzzi Jim in Florida.
Because the side bags (panniers) can not hold a full-face helmet, I added a Givi top case model E350, the day I purchased the bike. The luggage rack, standard on the California Vintage, was a perfect fit for mounting the Givi plate. It allows me to quickly and easily unlock and remove the trunk anytime, and it locks back on as easily too.
I’ve had two minor issues with the side bag latches. (They are standard Southco latches, and Southco has a good reputation for industrial machinery latches and handles.) One latch has tended to pop open by itself during riding. When that happens, the lid stays shut, but not firmly enough to keep if from vibrating. The vibration caused a tiny chip in the paint. Since then, I keep that side locked when I ride.
Just a few weeks ago, the other latch (the left side which I use the most) almost fell off when I went to open it after I arrived to work. It had always felt easier to open than the other one since new. The four flat head screws that fasten it to the bag had all loosened, but didn’t fall out. So, I simply tightened them back down firmly and all was fine again. Now, when you open and close this latch, it has the exact same feel as the other side does.
Loctite would have helped, but these take a 2 mm hex wrench and would likely strip the hex if I ever tried to remove them after using Loctite. I’ll check them occasionally now that I am aware of this.
A dry clutch and shifting the Guzzi:
Shifting continues to be a breeze. If I’m on the highway, I sometimes find myself searching for a non-existent sixth gear, but it really is not needed. She hums right along at about 3200 or 3300 rpm at around 70 mph. The gears are easy and smooth shifting. The heel and toe shifter works very well for me. This is my first bike with a heel and to shifter and I continue to like it. It is one of those things that you use without thinking. When I first was getting used to it in the first week I had it, I found that if I tried to actually think about whether I need to use my heel or toe, I would shift it the wrong way.
The clutch on the Guzzi is a dry clutch. That means it is not in an oil bath. That also means it can get hot if abused. I don’t abuse my clutch and have had no problems with it. The biggest workouts I ever gave the clutch was when I took the MSF Experienced Rider Course when I first got the bike, and more recently when I volunteered as a Motorcycle Marshal for a large bicycling event for charity. It held up just fine through both of those events and I’m sure it is capable of many, many more. It doesn’t rattle anything like a Ducati dry clutch does. It actually is very quiet. If you listen very carefully you just might be able to detect it when you have it squeezed.
How about that Skunk seat?
I mentioned removing the California Vintage seat. I don’t like the way the seat attaches. The mechanism is fairly simple, but needs improvement in my opinion. The underside of the seat is plastic and there is a metal rod attached to it that has to align with a cable operated spring-loaded latch mechanism on the frame of the bike. The seat latch unlocks using the ignition key at a switch located below the left side cover. The key just barely rotates when unlocking it, and I suppose someone could break their key thinking the lock mechanism is stuck (I have not). Well, the unlocked seat comes off easy enough, but getting it back on and latched properly has always been incredibly difficult and frustrating to do on mine.
I remember the day I picked it up new at the dealer when it took 3 of those guys to get the seat to latch back on after they showed me how easy it was to take it off. After witnessing that, I only removed the seat when it was absolutely necessary (another good reason to install a Battery Tender plug on the bike). A long time afterwords, I discovered that the latch mechanism was cocked at a slight angle, causing a little misalignment with the mating rod that is built into the seat bottom. After I adjusted the position of the latch mechanism on the frame, I was able to greatly improve the alignment and now it is much easier to re-install the seat.
Maybe it was never right, and it could have been made worse after so many tries to get the seat on in the past. Anyway, I avoid removing the seat and that is why I don’t store the Moto Guzzi tool kit (comes with the bike) on the intended tray under the seat. I hope the new California 1400 has a better method of latching the seat.
Well, for a long term review, I don’t blame you if you think this was pretty boring to read. Sorry about that folks, it is a great bike and has been very easy to live with. What more can I say? As you saw, the few issues I tried to muster up are incredibly minor. The California Vintage is not a GoldWing, and it is not a Beemer. It is sportier than it looks, has more features than a lot of others, and does not pretend to be something that it is not. I’d say it is everything it needs to be and has nothing more than it needs. No fat tires, no gigantic engine, no extra bits to make it look bigger. It is an enthusiast’s motorcycle, as Cycle World once described it in their “Battle of the Baggers” article.
What to expect for the first service:
As with many bikes these days, expect to pay a significant bill for having the first service performed at the dealer. Expect to pay about $450-$500 range. A short number of miles after the first service was performed, I developed a significant oil leak from the left valve cover. It remains a mystery how the valve cover gasket was not properly installed, which I then discovered had obviously caused leak, but it was a simple and inexpensive fix which I chose to do myself.
How to summarize the California Vintage?
This motorcycle continues to be pure joy for me without any exaggeration whatsoever. Moto Guzzi hit a home run with the California Vintage in my book (except for the tail light bracket). I feel as if I did too since I am so fortunate to be the owner of one. I fully intend to keep this motorcycle as long as I am able to ride, and I imagine after that I will still keep it as my own piece of fine Italian mechanical art!