Winter 2013 Bike Reviews — The Moto Guzzi 1400 California Custom and Aprilia’s Dorsoduro 750 ABS
By David Soderholm
Moto Guzzi Offers A Sophisticated
Big, tough and beautiful – what a visual impact this bruiser makes! Moto Guzzi, the oldest continually operating European motorcycle manufacturer, thoroughly revamped the California for 2013. It’s now a big beefy classically styled motorcycle that packs a surprising wallop from beneath its 1950s muscle car looks. This is modern retro design done right.
Speaking of retro, let’s go retro with Moto Guzzi history for a moment. It’ll help give us some background on this 1400.
With five different parent companies over its history, Moto Guzzi has had some uncertain times. In the early 2000s, two big things happened to put Moto Guzzi firmly on solid financial and design footing – Miguel Galluzzi and Piaggio.
Aprilia purchased Moto Guzzi in 2000. Piaggio then purchased Moto Guzzi and Aprilia in 2004. Piaggio owns seven Italian companies, one of which is now its designated halo company: Moto Guzzi. Miguel Galluzzi (the original Ducati Monster designer) went to work for Piaggio in 2006. In 2009, Piaggio invested big money into modernizing and updating plants and supporting future Guzzi model development. One of the resulting models, the Galluzzi styled California, was previewed to dealers in 2011, and is now hand-built in the newly updated plant in Mandello del Lario.
With the Piaggio money invested, the California 1400 is thoroughly modern and high tech. Moto Guzzi says the California has “the best of the most modern and advanced technology with the classic feel and elegance of the Moto Guzzi brand.” Not only is there an entirely new engine, new chassis cool Galluzzi-designed external design, but the bike also features ride-by-wire, multi-map engine control, cruise control, MGCT traction control and twin channel ABS.
From stem to stern there is a look of “oneness,” quality and muscular imposition implied in this California. Cool details abound. The headlight and taillights are a complex set of curves and different lighting technologies. The iconic engine cylinders integrate into a smoothly styled and sculpted seat/tank junction. The rims are airy and architectural with cool red Moto Guzzi badging. The high quality twin remote shocks hang their reservoirs out for all to see.
Everywhere you look it’s obvious that Moto Guzzi was aiming for excellence in its build quality. Hop on and thumb the starter and you feel as much as you hear the new air- and oil-cooled 1400cc, eight-valve engine come to life. No doubt there is some serious metal spinning beneath you, but the bike quickly settles into a loping V-twin idle that shakes the handlebars and mirrors at rest. Crack the throttle and it lurches to the right with its longitudinal crankshaft. Nevertheless, all that power spins up quick and makes the bike very responsive compared to other big V-twin cruiser engines.
Want a bark to match the bite? The California’s big, nicely styled exhaust cans ensure noise is kept in check. I think if I owned this Goose, I’d be checking the aftermarket or the Guzzi accessories page for more volume.
Settling into the seat reveals well-cushioned support and comfort. Surveying the instrument cluster gives you a plethora of easily readable information for speed, mileage, mpg, engine mapping and more. The assembly is mounted up high where it’s easily seen, thank you Moto Guzzi! Mirrors are great and the riding position is comfortable and relatively neutral by cruiser standards, if not just a little foot forward for my (non-cruiser) taste.
Pull in the clutch, toe the heel-toe shifter and off you go. Engine vibration instantly disappears with the “elastokinematic” mounting of the engine. Clutch engagement is broad and easy to use. Launching hard on the Cali will surprise you – ROARING off of a stop with a forceful gut punch of torque that pulls hard all the way to redline via its four-valve heads.
To be certain, the new California 1400 doesn’t have that wheeze typical of a big cruiser engine. This thing lunges off the block and has no problem sprinting up in speed in a quick-revving nature atypical of a cruiser. It’s huge fun and is accompanied by the coolest gear whine I’ve heard since I last hopped off of a gear-driven cam Honda V4. Character? Yeah, the California 1400 has LOADS of it.
You have three engine maps to choose from: Veloce (Sport), Turismo (Touring) and Pioggia (Rain). While each has quite an impact on character, they’re not to the degree of the changes in the Dorsoduro 750 we just tested. Similar to that bike, Veloce is highly responsive and adds even more torque down low; Turismo moves that torque up the range a little and smooths out the bottom end; and Pioggia is pretty soft, but totally rideable for its intended purpose. In Turismo, you still have full power and it seems to really fit the character of the bike without the abruptness in the Veloce mode. Of course, all this is made possible with the ride-by-wire technology.
Connected to the California 1400’s engine is a cruiser chassis that really knows how to dance. This big Goose is Brooklyn Bridge-stable in a straight line or while carving through a corner. The bike feels like nothing will push it off line. Nevertheless, it’s surprising how willing it is to corner – turning in and carving as nicely as a 700-lb. cruiser can.
In fact, Moto Guzzi must already know how it handles as they included replaceable sliders on the floorboards! Suspension is plush and well damped with a stout 46mm fork and the aforementioned remote reservoir shocks out back. Both are preload and rebound adjustable and do an excellent job of smoothing the bumps.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the braking system on the California 1400. Remember that this big cruiser likes to hustle. As a result, it needs good binders. Thankfully the brakes are more than up to the task of converting kinetic energy to heat with a set of genuine radial-mounted Brembos clamping down on 320mm discs with steel braided lines up front and another Brembo caliper and disc mated with a steel-braided line in back. The brakes are forceful and controllable at all times and the ABS is unobtrusive and works well, ultimately adding to the safety of the rider.
Hopping off the California 1400 for the last time and reflecting on my experience brought a smile to my face. For its intended purpose, Moto Guzzi nailed it with this thing. Forceful, tech savvy and sophisticated, they created a muscle cruiser that does it all well.
Buon lavoro Moto Guzzi!
By Kevin Kocur
Dancing with Aprilia’s Dorsoduro 750 ABS
I love Italy. Actually, I love things that come from Italy. It’s hard to dispute that this wonderful country produces some of the best food, wine, cars and motorcycles anywhere on the planet. Now there’s one more to appreciate: the Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 ABS.
If you think the Dorsoduro looks familiar, you need only look at its sibling, the Shiver. We road tested the Shiver a few years back and I absolutely loved that bike. But is the Amore still there?
Both bikes share a hybrid steel trellis/cast frame section and the same, wonderful 749.9cc liquid-cooled 90° v-twin. Featuring fuel-injection, double overhead cams, with four valves per cylinder, and a compression ratio of 11:1, the Dorsoduro’s flavor is good for 92hp at the crank and 60.4 lb.-ft. of torque, a slightly different figure from the Shiver’s 95/59.7 offering.
Unlike the Shiver, the Dorsoduro’s styling is more aggressive. Jumping on the popular Supermoto bandwagon, the seat is high and flat – as are the bars – the front fender is high, there’s a small (but effective) headlight up front and not much behind the rider, save for a single taillight tucked in between the twin, underseat stainless steel exhaust mufflers.
Climbing aboard and settling onto the seat, you’ll find your tush roughly 34 inches from the ground. Now, owning two bikes with taller saddles, I’ve grown accustomed to not flat-footing. Plus, the view from this saddle is a nice one. The instrument cluster looks great, featuring a large tachometer, multi-function LCD screen and the usual host of indicator lights. Time to ride!
Thumb the starter and listen to the whump-whump-whump as the bike idles. The tach does its sweep and lights flash on and off. Modern fuel-injection ensures a quick start and no stumbling off the line. Clutch pull is light and the bike snicks effortlessly into gear. The front brake can easily be modulated with one or two fingers. The sound of the 749cc V-twin is intoxication and just gets better as the revs climb.
Now moving, you’ll feel the 43mm male-slider forks and 17-inch aluminum wheel wrapped with 120/70 ZR 17 rubber. In the rear, the beefy, cast swing arm hugs a 6 X 17-inch aluminum hoop, wrapped with an impressive 180/55 ZR 17. Single rear shock has adjustment for both preload and rebound. Dual 320mm discs with Brembo four-piston radial calipers up front and a single 240mm disc/single-piston caliper, in back, handle stopping duties. Twin-channel ABS insures perfect braking.
There are three different modes for engine management: Touring, Sport and Rain. Touring is obviously the most-rounded and I found it perfect for commuting and general riding. I did run Rain mode, after picking the bike up in the rain, and everything definitely settled down a bit. Rain mode also makes the bike a little harder to launch and engine braking is reduced. Sport mode is just an animal, with the fly-by-wire throttle offering instant feedback. I switched to Sport on a commute home and it just wanted to loft the front tire every time I left a stoplight. They should just refer to it as Lose Your License mode.
Still, regardless of which mode you choose, the bike is a delight to ride (OK, maybe not in Rain) and begs to be pushed farther than my abilities would allow.
Wait. Did I write “delight”? Well, almost. The seat is brick-like and, during even a normal commute, my derriere became uncomfortable. I’d consider re-doing the seat for serious commuters or for the occasional day trip. But, since fuel capacity is a meager 3.7-gallons, this is obviously not the first choice for a touring bike. Although, more frequent gas stops would welcome a chance to get off the seat. That being said, the Dorsoduro is a little more purposeful. Track days are more its thing. The ride isn’t too firm and the ergonomics are great, with wonderful, upright bars and pegs ever-so-slightly to the rear. Like most Supermotos, there’s almost zero wind protection save for the handguards. The front fender wasn’t much for keeping water from flying everywhere during rain, including spitting it up in front of the headlight.
The transmission is among the best I’ve experienced, with solid shifts that remain smooth as silk. I never missed a shift and I found neutral with no effort at all. Twist the throttle more and watch the tach climb to 10,000rpm, after which a red light on the dash flashes angrily, as if yelling “Shift! Shift!” Snap off the gas, there’s a little crackling from the exhaust. This just adds to the grin factor. There is so much win to this bike:
Overall, the bike is stable and capable in pretty much every situation that I subjected it to. Commuting was a blast, I took it on the freeway a lot, and now I’m torn whether a Dual Sport or a Supermoto is more fun to ride in city. On one hand, a true Dual Sport thumper is generally built like a brick, sports a 21-inch front wheel (great for potholes, unlike delicate 17-inch cast rims) and long travel suspension for tackling some of the … er, “less than ideal” roads here in the Twin Cities. On the other hand, stump barkin’, freakin’ Italian V-twin, FTW! I think I can actually hear my DR350 weep a little from that declaration.
But it has a dark side. No surprise, there is a huge hooligan factor with this bike. It makes you want to do bad things. Very bad things. Every stoplight becomes a challenge. It’s really hard to restrain yourself from leaving a light, front wheel hoisted towards the sky for all of the world to see – or, at least the people on Lyndale Avenue S. I can see myself as Bart, in the opening sequence of The Simpsons writing, repeatedly, on the blackboard “SW Minneapolis is not my personal Fun Zone.”
So, bottom line: the Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 ABS is, in general, a hoot – extremely fun to ride and stunning to look at. When I get to review a bike, there are those that I love, those that I hate and couldn’t wait to return and those that I could easily justify owning. Despite having a seat that feels like an upholstered brick, and a paltry fuel range, those are things that I can either change or live with. I could easily see myself dancing with this Italian lady. After all, some of the best things come from Italy.
Moto Guzzi’s 1400 California, A Tech-Rich
Who says racing doesn’t improve the breed? It does, and now the same also holds true in the cruiser category.
The Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom punches way above its general class, sporting high-level superbike technology in a cruiser form. Ride-by-wire, multiple engine map modes, ABS and traction control are about as trick as things get right now at the pointy end of the motorcycle stick.
Many bikes look really good from one or two angles. Not the California 1400, which has many good viewing angles that draw you in, eliciting further contemplation of the fine work of designers. Thankfully, fanatical Italian attention to style is apparent from every angle, with stylistic details abounding from tank/cylinder junction to red lettering on the rims and sparing cockpit presence.
The California 1400 actually comes in two styles – the power cruiser Custom version ($14,990) and the Touring version ($17,990). The achingly beautiful Touring model offers, among other features, stylish hard bags and a plex fairing evoking the best elements of the 1970s Moto Guzzi Ambassador model.
Swing a leg over the 701-lb. California 1400 Custom and you’ll find Moto Guzzi appears to have spent a great deal of energy on the ergonomics of this bike. Yes it has the typical cruiser seating position – in that there is only one place to reside, with no movement available fore or aft – but it’s a sporty position (for my 5’8” frame) and control placement and design feel great and prove to be an extension of your body. Flick around your fingers and you’ll find all controls feel light and precise, like on a sportbike.
Fire the bike up and at idle there is a left/right rocking couple similar to the Harley-Davidsons fore and aft rock. All big twins are visceral, but the longitudinal crank transverse cylinder layout always seems super alive. Maybe because I can see it moving left and right beneath me.
Once underway, the flattish drag style bar keeps weight fore enough to tip the balance significantly toward handling rather than posing. Considering the potency of the torque laden motor under full-twist acceleration, this forward body cant is important, as it gives you the purchase you need to keep from rag-dolling foolishly off the back of the bike.
The big Guzzi’s light action clutch isn’t a Lobsterclaw™, and some amount of skill and interaction with the machine will be necessary, but the transmission is generally slick and precise as you click up through the six gears.
One attribute I did find was that the heel/toe shifter is almost necessary to guarantee solid engagement on full throttle upshifts. Luckily, the shifter’s location doesn’t limit your range of available foot positions as much as it normally does on a floorboard-equipped cruiser.
Which brings us to the California 1400’s three pre-programmed engine output options: Veloce (Fast), Turismo (Touring) and Pioggia (Rain).
The Cali never strays far from its powerband in any of the three modes.
In fact, most cruiser riders could ride with the Pioggia map forever and never think the bike is underpowered.
Clicking into Veloce really wakes the bike up, delivering the California 1400’s full 96hp and 87 ft-lb and changing the engine’s character from adequately powerful to something much more responsive … like riding flat-slide carbed race bike – abrupt on/off and best suited to riding like you are on a mission. A serious and very focused mission.
As a result, the Veloce mode demands a very sensitive throttle hand and is definitely not conducive to a beginner’s hamfist. And herein lies the beauty of the MG engine experience – the slightest amount of throttle movement creates a pronounced throttle steer effect. Roll on and it drives the line wider, roll off and it decreases your line. In linked, high speed, gentle curves, throttle steering is almost all you need to guide the bike.
Moto Guzzi riders out of necessity need to be smooth. You just can’t slap that much reciprocating engine mass around without it having effects in other areas of handling. The big slugs changing direction in there bores don’t suffer fools kindly. Chopping the throttle abruptly echoes loudly in the bikes handling. In Turismo this effect is less noticeable and in Pioggia it is much less noticeable.
Sportily sprung via its adjustable dual remote-reservoir rear suspension, the California 1400 is agile and provides taught, balanced handling instead of a disappointing boatish/wallowy float. Even with the 18-inch front wheel and 200mm big rear rubber, ease of turn in is very acceptable.
The floorboards fold and have plastic replaceable bottoms that chatter noticeably to warn you of the impending lack of lean angle. Unless you are not very smart, when the floorboards do finally touch, they touch at an angle that will be questioning the validity of what you are trying to do on the street with a cruiser.
The front brakes – 320 mm dual Brembo radials – are a welcome addition from the sportbike world and totally necessary on a machine with this much mass. As heavy as cruisers are, all cruisers should have brakes this good. Triggering the ABS keeps the entire package in place.
Finally, I found fuel consumption from the 5.4-gallon tank was vigorous at around 32mpg or about 130-140 miles per tank.
Moto Guzzi has been fighting motorcycle mundanity since it started making motorcycles. Yet, while the company has for the past few years quietly churned out interesting, competent, practical and stylish machines, it seems the Italians have found there are many ways, now, to skin a cat.
Looking at the big picture, the difference in technology (traction control, power modes, ABS) between the current Moto Guzzi line and the company’s past endeavors is mind-boggling. The way I see it, the refreshing design of this new entry into the big-bore cruiser market should be fueling worry in the established V-twin Establishment.
The 2013 Moto Guzzi California 1400 Custom sells for about $15,000. Backed by a two-year unlimited mileage warranty with one-year free roadside assistance, this is an amazing amount of bike for the money.
Aprilia’s 750cc Giggle Factory
In smiles per miles, the Aprilia Dorsoduro 750 ABS ($9,999) is off the charts. Welcome to the Italian giggle factory! If having fun while maintaining usability on the street is your goal on a motorcycle, you would have a hard time doing better than this Aprilia. Never have I smiled and chuckled so much while riding a motorcycle for MMM.
The first things you’ll notice when walking up to the smaller of Aprilia’s two Dorsoduro models are the appearance and apparent quality. From the scowling headlight and sexy front end to the beautifully done exhaust and swingarm, the ‘Priller is a home run all the way. In the Fluo Red color scheme, it looks aggressive and ready to do business. Excellent job Noale!
Another thing you immediately notice is the bike’s height. With a 34-inch seat height, this sucker is tall! The great thing resulting from that is how open and spacious the riding triangle is. You have a ton of legroom and a commanding, comfortable and alert riding position. It really helps your situational awareness in traffic and helps contribute to your safety.
Settling in to the cockpit, you notice a firm but fairly wide seat that’s surprisingly comfortable. You grasp well-positioned grips on a tapered aluminum bar and notice how well the mirrors are placed. Vibe free and free of elbows, they give a great view of your six. Looking at the instruments brings more positives. An analog tach is flanked by a nicely backlit red LCD screen. It’s pleasing to look at, well placed and full of useful information that’s easy to access. Have fun with that adjustable shift light and lap timer.
The Dorsoduro 750 ABS is powered by a 749.9cc liquid-cooled longitudinal 90° V-Twin. Key the starter button and you’ll be a little surprised that there are stock cans under the seat. An intoxicating beefy bark greet you from the beautifully crafted exhaust as you rap the throttle, setting the mood for the ride to come. The volume is surprising, and how Aprilia managed this sound and still met EPA is a mystery. But, hey, I’m not complaining! It just adds to the personality inherent in this mid-size giggle factory.
Speaking of personality, Aprilia gives you a choice of three very different and distinct personalities on the Dorsoduro by way of its Tri-Mode mapping. All three maps are easily accessed (even when rolling) anytime the throttle is closed. In this case the maps are Rain, Touring and Sport. Never have I ridden a muti engine map motorcycle that has a more dramatic impact on a riding experience than this Aprilia.
In Rain mode, you have a very numb throttle and what feels like 20hp knocked off everywhere – making it almost as compliant as a scooter. Switching to Touring offers up max horsepower, but delivers it in a very mundane manner.
In contrast to the rather docile first two setting we have Sport mode. Clicking into that engine map shrouds the Aprilia in an angry red MotoGP wanna-be mist along with a harder edged bark from the exhaust. Amazingly thrilling, the bike in Sport mode pulls like it has more than it’s claimed 92hp and 60.4 lb.-ft. of torque as it charges forward and lifts the front end at every opportunity. For me, on this raucous hooligan, it was Sport mode all day every day – let the giggling commence!
Reigning the speed back in is the job of the excellent braking system. Aprilia outfits the bike up front with a set of 320mm wave discs clamped by a pair of radially mounted Aprilia branded calipers and fed by stainless steel lines. A 240mm wave disc in back is mated to a single-piston caliper and a braided line. This is really top shelf braking hardware, and when you throw the anchors out you’ll be amazed at how well it all works. It’s not just the power, but the feel that is astounding. The front tire and road talk to you through the lever, relaying the exact amount of braking traction available. That combined with the seamless Continental-supplied dual-channel ABS lets you be pretty aggressive with your braking. Endo Fantastico!
Moving onto the Dorsoduro’s suspension and chassis brings more good news. The fully adjustable 43mm inverted fork and off-set lay-down single shock absorber control the chassis well whether on smooth or bumpy pavement or when diving into turns. The rake helps make the steering light and communicative. While the somewhat short wheelbase doesn’t allow the bike to track all that well at high speeds, it gets the job done just fine. Wind protection at speed also is surprisingly good, with that angry looking headlight shell and handguards keeping the air moving away from all of your most important bits.
So it’s all smiles right? Well … no. The giggle factory does produce a couple of frowns. One results from the limited range afforded by the 3.2-gallon fuel tank. Even with a decent mid 40mpg figure, you’ll be looking for a gas station around every 100 miles. I know it’s on par for the category, but unlike many competitors this Aprilia can tour and commute really well. It really limits it in that role. Another frown comes from the lack of storage and tie down hooks for bungies, luggage, etc. Thankfully, after doing a little research I found that issue was easily addressed through the aftermarket or Aprilia itself. A number of options are available.
Otherwise the Dorsoduro 750 ABS is a super sub-$10,000 Italian. Beautiful to look at and thrilling to ride, it’ll coax a smile and an over-the-shoulder glance every time you walk away. I know it did for me.
There is only one Aprilia dealer in Minnesota, but the folks at Leo’s South in Lakeville are excellent. Thanks for the help guys!