I’m totally seduced by the maturity of the Guzzi’s design. It’s gorgeous. Shafts of light bounce off gleaming curved chrome and shoot starbursts onto the black, lacquered panniers. Finely-spoked wheels and exposed, polished cylinder heads add the kind of ultimately pointless but oh-so-mouth-watering character that some bikes are completely devoid of.
The two-toned stitched seat compliments the tank’s lustrous paintwork and the screen extends well above this bike’s aftermarket – and useless – mirrors. The high handlebars dip towards a central, refreshingly simple circular display, with a rev counter arcing above a fuel gauge, speed, time, temperature and gear selection.
It also shows which riding mode you’re using. In Italian. Veloce, Turismo and Pioggia replace Sport, Touring and Rain.
Herein lies a problem. These modes are operated by the starter switch, which I casually flicked to one side while cruising up the motorway. It was the wrong side, and the engine promptly snuffed it. There’s nothing like accidentally hitting the engine kill switch in the fast lane to teach you a lesson.
As is often the case with riding modes, you tend to find one that suits you and you stick to it. Veloce works for me, quickening the response, fine tuning your enjoyment without tipping it over the edge. Turismo is pleasantly gentle and Pioggia is best reserved for a torrential downpour.
The California Touring has about 20bhp and a whisker under 30lb.ft less than Honda’s GL1800 Bagger and you can feel that deficit on a back to back ride. In isolation it’s fine.
The low-down torque (peaking at 2,750rpm) and flexible nature of the engine doesn’t naturally deliver adrenaline spikes, but that’s not to say the Guzzi can’t be ridden with spirit.
The Italian fuel gauge is a little temperamental though. One minute it’s registering almost full, blink and it drops to two bars in an instant. Economy wise, the California is good for about 42mpg, which isn’t great for a bike in this category but that’s not surprising considering its size and lumbering 318kg weight.
The riding position is comfortable and easy and the weather protection around your torso is actually pretty effective. It’s not exactly a sensory deprivation tank but on hot days it’s a bonus. The screen is just high enough to deflect the worst of the windblast without creating uncomfortable turbulence.
The Guzzi is far more agile than its kicked-out forks and long’n low stance implies. U-turns in narrow two lane roads are achievable once you’ve accrued a little faith, and although the suspension is on the soft side it is still pretty planted.
And now: the engine. The air-cooled (naturally), 90-degree engine is the biggest the Italian brand has ever produced, and it punches and throbs just as a 1400cc twin should. The 95bhp, 88.5lb.ft twin cylinder engine may not be hugely powerful, but it has plenty of charm, the power deliver is smooth and predictable it and dips characteristically to the right on stationary throttle blips. It also pumps out heat at knee height.
If touring in style is your thing, you can’t go wrong with the California 1400 Touring. It’s one of the most beautiful bikes Moto Guzzi has produced for some time and is bound to make a mark in this segment of the market and put Moto Guzzi back on the wider map too.
Of course, beautiful isn’t always practical, so don’t expect to fit your full-face helmet in those panniers. At least you can leave them unlocked while you ride which is great for quick pit stops.
It might not be the most obvious choice for a tourer, but it’s up there with the best of them on merit. It’s a different kind of merit, but the 1400 Touring manages to stir emotions in a deliciously unique way.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Moto Guzzi California 1400 Touring, from £16,132 on the road.
Engine: 1,380cc air-cooled, 90-degree v-twin producing 95bhp @ 6,500rpm and 88.5lb.ft @ 2,750rpm.
Transmission: six speed sequential manual gearbox with overdrive, shaft drive.
Weight (kerb): 318kg.
Seat Height: 740mm.
Fuel capacity: 20.5 litres.