MOTO GUZZI CALIFORNIA AUDACE | Bike Tests | Latest Tests
With the California Audace, one of the world’s oldest marques has shown it is ready to speed into the future.
Unleash your dark soul. Be the outlaw. Rebel. So goes Moto Guzzi’s kitschy marketing mumbo jumbo in reference to its all new blacked-out streetbike, the Audace. But don’t let that put you off – this arm-wrenching hot rod has some serious twisting force to back up the hype, and its dark knight styling contrasts heavily with the stigmatised genre of chrome-dipped cruisers.
Since its humble beginnings in post-war Europe in 1921, Moto Guzzi has earned a reputation for making bikes with raw, muscular power, and it now has a track record spanning almost a century. Most recently it has released several new models in the ‘California’ range, all of which boast modern motorcycling performance cloaked in a retro theme that is a throwback to the marque’s 70s heyday. Except for the Audace – the black sheep of the California family. It represents a very modern, urban take on the classic bike, and is visually the toughest model on Moto Guzzi’s current card of roadsters.
Despite its thuggish and raw exterior, the bike is actually equipped with a host of modern technology that improves the ride quality, and allows the rider to apply the power of the inspirational 1380cc air and oil-cooled 90º V-twin engine to greatest effect. The ride-by-wire engine control system offers three different modes which are then displayed on minimalistic dash under the Italian labels of turismo (touring), veloce (sport) and pioggia (wet). Each offers unique characteristics in power delivery to inspire confidence when navigating under different conditions.
There’s also Moto Guzzi Controllo di Trazione (MGCT) that kicks in at three levels of sensitivity. Level 1 is the least intrusive but it’s not until you turn the system off that you really appreciate just how efficient the MGCT is at keeping the Audace’s 121Nm of torque in check. An explosive amount of power runs through the oversized 200mm section rear tyre, so it doesn’t take much provocation to make it squirm under load, or spin up in the wet.
For the true technophiles among us you can also take the option of downloading Moto Guzzi’s Multimedia Platform (MG-MP) application which effectively pairs your motorcycle to the internet via bluetooth. This allows you to access the owners manual and use navigational software that logs parameters such as lean angle, gear selection, and rpm for post-ride analysis on your smartphone.
Moto Guzzi has made a wise decision to incorporate these features into the bike but it’s the heritage, the heart, and that neck-wrenching style that will push most buyers over the line. When you ride the Audace you will be astonished by the attention it elicits from passers-by. Maybe it has something to do with the massive transverse cylinder heads that punch through the bike’s silhouette or that dark, brooding carbon look that is topped off with a menacing cackle from the stubby megaphone exhausts. One thing’s for sure, Moto Guzzi aficionados aren’t the only ones tempted from the shadows to admire this bike. Having no chromium plating anywhere, the Audace is almost like the anti-Christ of the glittering cruiser genre. And people liked that – a lot.
Some stopped, many would stare, and if I pulled over or even just made eye contact, they would approach to openly reminisce about their personal experiences with this beloved Italian marque. On one occasion during the test I actually returned to the Audace to find people taking photos, such is the amazing appeal of this motorcycle straight out of the crate.
On longer trips the Audace works a treat. Despite the stretched out riding position, and no screen to protect you from the wind, I felt right at home blasting down the open roads for hours at a time. The wide, low 20.5-litre fuel tank will facilitate a healthy stretch of highway hammering, and with or without a pillion the Audace delivers smooth throttle response and abundant power.
There is a rubber mounting system used on the frame to reduce vibrations, however, the longitudinally mounted mill seems to conspire with a heavy flywheel to generate big vibes through the bars and pegs when you’re standing still or rolling slowly. This is certainly one of the endearing features of the bike, an example of its character, but it can also make the bike feel a little unsettled during low-speed manoeuvres. The Audace also has a tendency to run on below 3000rpm due to the ride-by-wire engine mapping. This ‘reinstatement’ of fuelling can catch you off guard and send you into corners with a higher entry speed than intended, but is likely better than the alternative of choppy deceleration as you near idle speed.
Moto Guzzi has added some aggression to the riding position by removing the foot platforms used on the El Dorado and opting for a rubber-lined foot peg that is far enough forward to provide a laid-back seating position, but also positive enough to use to your advantage when attacking the curves. Although the flat drag style bars make you feel like a bad lieutenant when you’re cruising the suburban sprawl and letting the addictive 1380cc powerplant loose, they also have the undesirable by-product of stretching out your arms and reducing leverage for turning in. This is frustrating when you know the Audace can happily slice through curves and reach reasonable angles of lean before the pegs start to touch down. When I tried to remedy this by sitting further forward on the seat, my knees collided with the massive cylinder heads that emerge from underneath the fuel tank, which indicates that repositioning the footpegs, or installing a different pair of bars with extended risers set back from the triple tree, could be the solution.
If you’re into solo riding the pillion seat can be removed, and you can play to your heart’s content with the adjustable preload and rebound on the rear shock to give it a sportier feel. The front brakes are equipped with continental two channel ABS and twin 320mm discs that offer reasonable initial bite and progressive feel. They do an admirable job of bringing this sizeable machine to a halt – at around 320kg total wet weight that’s no mean feat. The Audace also comes standard with cruise control, which is a welcome addition for those that plan to eat up the miles on this beast, although it’s not as easy to use as others I’ve seen. If it was my ride, I’d swap out the stubby megaphone pipes and Euro 4-approved catalytic converter for an aftermarket exhaust system to free up some more power and liberate the spine-tingling rumble, which is one of this big ‘Guzzi’s greatest features.
Riding this bike can indeed transform you into the road rebel that Moto Guzzi promises Audace owners they will be. It’s a capable machine that was meant for riding, no doubt, but it’s also a bike to be seen on. Sure, the matt black finish is a bit of a magnet for dirt, and the cruise control didn’t stack up to the electrickery standard I’ve become accustomed to, but it has massive street credibility and no former or future Moto Guzzistas will be swayed by those minor details.
The Audace is both an icon and a statement without going over the top. It’s bold and offers a unique and inspiring engine note that only a configuration of this type can deliver. If you have attitude and absolutely must own the biggest, blackest Guzzi on the road then this bike was made for you.