Moto Guzzi California Vintage – Day 6 – Time to take ‘er home.

This is the sixth in a series of articles about living with and riding a California Vintage from Moto Guzzi.  The previous one is here.

I knew this day would come…

Ok.  It’s not my bike.  I’ve shared that.  I had less time with it than the Breva 1200 Sport.  I took the Breva back, loving the bike, but I knew that it had to go on, eventually, to a happy owner.  This time it’s different.  The Guzzi got under my skin.  This bike is the “girl you take home to Mom”.  I wasn’t ready to let go.  

I woke up early and decided to take the bike from Northridge down to Newport Beach in Friday Morning Rush Hour to have lunch with a college buddy.  I hadn’t really experienced the center of Los Angeles in very heavy traffic, and I figured that I-5 at 9am would be a perfect crucible.

This isn’t a short trip.  Over 70 miles on LA’s inner city freeway into the heart of Orange County.  I would be traveling across areas that are some of the busiest in the US.  Names like East LA interchange, where the 110, 10, 5 and 60 all meet in a pasta bowl of roads, and further south, the “Orange Crush” near Disneyland beckoned.  I would definitely be doing some lane splittin’ today.  I hoped that the big, police-bike-inspired Guzzi was up to its heritage.

For a Cruiser, the Guzzi isn’t exceptionally wide.  The seat is pretty mellow, really, and the bags don’t stick out further than the handlebars, as far as I could tell.  The mirrors protrude slightly further, but not so much.  Ride height is perfect for heavy traffic.  You sit up high and can look all but the largest SUV drivers right in the eye.  When you’re in the canyons between them, this and a good set of headlights is definitely a plus.

The day started out warm and proceeded to heat up to the typical, Santa-Ana winded Indian Summer day that is famous in the region.  I can’t believe I moved from Phoenix for the cooler temperatures of Southern California only to find this.  If you’re off the beach, you’re in the desert.  Don’t let anyone fool you. A great test for the bike.  Stifling hot, heavy traffic and a big cruiser.  Not as much fun as canyon carving, but if you live in LA or any big city, considering the purchase of this wonderful, big Guzzi, you sure as heck want to know that it can live in traffic in tough conditions.

Off I go.  Once onto the 5 South, I cruise in comfort until I reach the northern reaches of downtown LA.  Traffic is backing up.  I began to weave between the well-spaced cars as they moved along at 45-55 mph.  Absolutely no problem.  If anything the front windscreen was too efficient in that it moved the air around me instead of through the vents in my jacket.  I continued as the traffic deepened and the myriad ramps of the East LA interchange approached, signaling that stopped traffic and real, slow-speed splitting was in my future.

As I worked my way through the traffic, I noticed that I was splitting through cars like butter — only the narrowest of passages had me slowed or stopped, and this had a lot to do with the Cal being “someone else’s bike”.  Lane splitting is a  black art that involves profiling the vehicle/driver combinations around you, spotting goof balls on cell phones, putting on make-up (sharp objects near your eyes at speed?  stupid!), or even reading the paper.  It also involves people looking back and forth in their rear view mirrors making eye contact with you.  These are the real scary ones, because you don’t know if they are going to move out of your way or commit Assault with a Deadly Weapon.  ( a long but interesting discussion on lane splitting is here be sure to read the comments!).

So I take it easy.  Hey! I’m on a cruiser.  There are a few squids that I let by, happy to risk a little more.  I’m 47, taking my Friday off, and headed for lunch on a bike given to me for a week.  I’m sure as hell not going to screw this up, the ’09 Guzzis are coming out and I want my butt on them as soon as I can arrange it!

The roads widen and smooth out into Orange County.  Big HOV lanes, smooth roads and I’m in business all the way to Newport Beach.  Arriving off the 55, I realize that my buddy, Dean, has moved his office.  I call, and he’s in a meeting.  I need to get gas anyway, as I want to fill up the tank before I return the bike. 

Newport Beach has the loooonnnnngggeeeesssstttttt lights in the country.  It feels like there’s a separate signal for every friggin’ lane, turn and direction.  Thank God I’m early, because it takes me 40 minutes to get through the lights on the surface streets to the Tustin outskirts, where I finally find a gas station.  I don’t think that there’s a gas station within the confines of Newport beach, and if there is, it must be camouflaged so only the locals know about it.  

Time to bring up two things to remember about living with the California.  One, the tank is kind of on the small side.  I KNOW that it says that it holds 5 gallons, but I’ve ridden it 25 miles with the reserve light on and still only put about 3.8 into it.  Jeeeeezzzussss!  Can the Engineers at Guzzi give us our 6 gallon tanks back from the 60’s?  With these wonderful bikes turning 43 mpg, we’d have some RANGE!  The seats and riding position are comfortable enough for two-plus hour stints, let’s make some tanks that extend the ride.

Secondly, while riding in traffic, I had the spot lights on as well as the main beams.  This draws a lot of power.  When I stopped for gas, the battery turned over like it was awfully low.  It could be partly because the bike gets infrequent use and the battery wasn’t maintained well, but I think it had to do with idling for 45 minutes in Newport traffic.  If you’re sitting in traffic for any length of time, shut the auxiliary lights off.

Ok. Rant over.  Had a nice lunch, a few laughs and realized that Mall Food in Newport Beach is very different than the Post-Nuclear-Battlefield food that is served in the East San Fernando Valley Shopping Centers.  Time for the final ride up the 405 in rush hour traffic to the California’s final stop.  

More lane splitting, lots of bumps (the 405 is unbelievably rough) and final arrival.  I get here one week after picking it up, only 10 miles short of 1000 miles total.  I really rode the bike hard, enjoyed it thoroughly and left with a sweet taste in my mouth.  Time to go home and negotiate with the wife…

12 thoughts on “Moto Guzzi California Vintage – Day 6 – Time to take ‘er home.

  1. So, how’s the negotiating coming along, eh?

    One thing you didn’t mention among all your thoughts about ‘cool’ (on purpose?) is that there’s at least one famous owner of a (white) Cali Vintage. Ewan McGregor.

    And as a separate thought: I’d suggest you read up on the meaning of the old Italian term sprezzatura. I think it’s relevant.

  2. I knew that Ewan had a Loop Frame, didn’t know about the Cal Vintage. I think Ewan’s cool because he really rides. He take a camera along with him a lot, but the money goes to charity. That’s cool, too.

    sprezzatura? Thanks. I’ll look it up!

  3. As owner of three Guzzi I enjoyed the article. I have a V 50, a V 65 and a T3. I enjoy each but am thinking about a more modern version. This article has all but convinced me that my next purchase should be the Cal Vin.

  4. Fabulous series of essays on the Cal Vintage, Danilo! I just put a new ’07 black-and-white on my driveway yesterday (!) and have already run the first tank almost empty…everything you say about the bike is true…I used to live in LA and know that PCH route and Neptune’s Net, etc. very well. The CalVin is the perfect bike for such roads. I’m south of LA now, near Sandy Eggo. By the way, there are two fairly recent Harleys in my garage that will probably be gathering a bit of dust, now that the Vin is here. This bike is distinctly different than any of the 20+ bikes I’ve owned over the years. Being 56, I should have lot of riding left in me(!) and I feel the Vin will be my serious long-haul machine and true daily driver. How could it not be, since all the accolades you have heaped on it have the “ring of truth?” Thanks again for your wonderful, non-biased writing. By the way, this is my second Guzzi- the first was a 750 Breva, that got traded in the deal on the Vintage. Baby Breva was a fine machine, just not in the same league as the V.

  5. I came across your website and enjoyed both series of reports on the Breva 1200 and Cal vintage. Personally, I was suprised that the Cal Vintage was your favorite, but that’s probably because I’m not a cruiser type. I’ve ridden a Road King, Sportster Custom 1200 and a Rocket III, and didn’t really care for the feet forward controls. I also didn’t care for the lack of handling. The one thing I prize most is handling and cornering, even over power. I do like my power also, since I ride with some sport tourers that like to GO. I re-read your articles again and noticed that you commented on the handling and standard riding position of the Cal Vintage compared to other cruisers, and how a non-cruiser type might like one. Now I’m thinking I should look outside the box a little bit, since I might miss “THE bike” I might fall in love with. I went down today to check out the Moto Guzzis and I’m thinking I’m going to add it to my short list of new choices, along with the Breva 1100 and Norge, which I thought are awesome. I realize the Cal Vintage isn’t probably as fast as the other two, but do you think it can corner as well as the Breva and Norge? Did you think it could keep up with the Breva 1200 you tested in the twisties?

    I hope you can help me narrow it down.
    Thanks for the tests articles!


  6. They are completely different bikes. I think the Cal Vintage will completely dominate any other cruiser you’ll encounter from a sportster to a bagged up Roadliner. The Breva 1200 is a seriously hard-charging canyon bike, that, unfortunately, was a one-year model, seriously I think it was a prototype to test the bits and pieces on the Stelvio which is, in my opnion, a Breva 1200 with off-road gear. I think it depends on what you want to fill out your needs. I ride long distances and commute, and my standard mount is a Ducati ST2, and my weekend fun bike is a ’72 Guzzi Eldorado. I commuted on the Eldo to the tune of 13K miles this year, but I wanted a newer bike with more brakes and the like.

    The Breva 1200 would need to be bagged up and “geezered” a little to make it a good tourer or commuter, and if you went that direction you’re looking at a Norge. I personally like the docile steering geometry of the Vintage, lower CG and very standard-like riding position, plus for a cruiser it’s very light. I base my buying decisions on what I’ll be doing with the bike 70-80% of the time, and then a quick gut-check as to whether it will fill the bill over the other 20-30. For me it’s the Vintage, but if I were buying for the 20-30 I’d go with a Griso/Norge/Stelvio. I still might punch the button on a Norge — but now the V7 is here, and nimble, light and sexy are nice things to have too!

    Hope this helps. I like to explain my thought processes so you can extrapolate from there.


  7. I’m going to be visiting my daughter in Santa Barbara in April and want to check out the CalVin while I’m visiting. Which dealership in the area would most likely have one in stock?

  8. Great review, much better than anything the “pros” would publish in the bike mags. I saw a guy go by on one in the Texas hill country last fall. I do think I am going to get a Guzzi one of these days, and probably a Cali. Those things are truly old school, with a modern bent. Thanks.

  9. Hey Danilo,

    nice to see, that people in the US like the Moto Guzzi California very much. I am the owner of a California Evo. When Guzzi released the Vintage, i loved the old-fashioned look very much. But i realized, that guzzi used the old steel-wheels of the Jackal – which is bad if you use the bike in winter. Rust never sleeps…

    So i decided to change the look of my California.

    Ride safe.
    Thorsten from Germany – not far away from Nuerburgring.

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