This stunning Italian beauty not only has looks, but also the personality to win the hearts of many riders. Moto Guzzi has been making California cruisers since the LAPD bought it back in the 1970s and turned it into an icon.
The classic styling hasn’t changed much, but thanks to ownership by Aprilia and their parent company, Piaggio, Moto Guzzi now has access to modern technology and modern manufacturing processes that make it a quality product with high performance.
The news just keeps getting better, with an attractive price that slots in between the American and Japanese cruisers.
Like all Guzzis, it’s powered by a 90-degree transverse V-twin engine and driven by shaft.
But now Guzzi has introduced the biggest and most powerful European V-twin engine producing 71kW of power and an even more impressive 120Nm of torque.
It’s not all brawn without brain, though.
The California features three-stage traction control and three engine maps developed by Aprilia’s World Superbike champions.
There is also a comprehensive and programmable on-board computer, Brembo brakes with braided steel lines and LED daytime running lights.
All this modern technology hasn’t taken the personality away from the iconic cruiser.
It still shudders at idle and lurches to the right when you blip the throttle, but once the revs rise that strange torque effect disappears and the ride smooths out with hardly a vibration in the wide mirrors.
Throw a leg over the comfortable saddle seat and most riders will feel at ease.
The cockpit is a pleasant place to be, tucked in behind that big protective windscreen with wide handlebars and grips, a heel-toe shifter and big floorboards that float on rubber mounts to further isolate you from any vibe.
If the seat isn’t comfortable enough there is a gel version available, but after 3000km on test, my bony rear end had no complaints.
Kick the sidestand up and you feel the 337kg weight as you lift it upright.
However, it becomes surprisingly nimble as soon as you start moving and is a delight to wield through traffic, although you should be aware the panniers stick out wider than the bars.
The engine feels a little rough down low and the first couple of gears feel clunky.
It hits its straps early with strong torque from under 3000 revs where it will happily burble along in the sixth overdriven gear at 100km/h.
From here roll-on acceleration is possible without needing to drop down a gear, but if you do, overtaking maneuvres happen in the blink of an eye.
The three engine maps – veloce, pioggia and turismo – stand for speed, rain and touring. They provide full power, but different the throttle responses. These can be changed on the fly via the ignition switch.
Traction control can be turned off or set to one of three levels but only while stationary.
With traction on full it intervenes softly but frequently over almost every imperfection or slippery surface on the road. A real saviour in the wet.
Unlike many cruisers, the brakes are not biased toward the rear. The Brembo units have braided steel lines so they are strong with lots of feel and progression, while the ABS is quite effective.
A nice touch is the L-shaped tyre valves for easy inflation.
Where the California excels is in handling and cornering with excellent clearance levels for a low cruiser with floorboards.
When you do touch down the floorboards don’t make a screeching sound as they have thick hard-wearing plastic underneath rather than metal. It was still largely in tact despite lots of scraping over my 3000km test.
Those wide bars help lever the bike into the tightest of turns and the twin shocks soak up most of the bumps, although the long wheelbase means there is some wallowing in corners.
It’s stable at all speeds and in fast sweepers you can readjust your line several times without upsetting that stability.
There are a few minor concerns: for a touring bike the omission of a 12V outlet is a shame, the fuel light comes on about halfway through the fuel range (but Moto Guzzi is sorting this out), the headlight seems to let in water and bugs, and there is quite a bit of heat coming off the heads and manifold straight on to your legs.
Out on the highway the California has a commanding presence.
Hit the simple single-button cruise control, sit back in the comfortable buffet-free bubble behind that big windscreen and enjoy the admiring looks from passers by.
There is also a stripped-down Custom version available at $21,990 which doesn’t have panniers, wide bars, or windscreen.