You immediately realize there’s something different about this bike when you notice its more aggressive, almost sporty stance. At 708 pounds, it’s the lightest in our test and it’s also the only one of these machines that was based upon a sportier touring bike—an Italian machine designed for use in the Alps and environs rather than America’s more wide-open roads. Its 90-degree, air/oil-cooled V-twin motor is mounted across the frame rather than in line with it, and its massive heads protrude from the fuel tank like bulging muscles. At “only” 1,380cc (84 cubic inches) it offers the least displacement here, yet it generates the greatest horsepower. Start it and notice how, with its orientation, the grips pulse side-to-side with the motor idling.
The bike’s throttle-by-wire system offers three riding modes. In Veloce (Fast) mode, throttle response is instantaneous and the bike feels sprightly and quick. Turismo (Touring) mode provides the same power output, but softens throttle response. Pioggia (Rain) mode is positively somnolent, and when we tested the touring version of this bike in last September’s issue, horsepower and torque dropped from 87.7 and 78.5 lb-ft in Veloce to 67.2 and 70.4 in Pioggia mode.
The seat is wide and has a cushiony feel, the bar is wide and its twin rear shocks offer more than 20 rebound damping settings. The settings are useful, but shock action is harsh and I was unable to dial in a luxury ride as offered by the other bikes.
Where I really noticed the Custom’s true nature was coming down my favorite twisty road. Its 87.7 peak horsepower is generated at 6,500 rpm, considerably higher in the rev range than the other bikes, and the motor feels lively all the way through in the Veloce mode. Adequate cornering clearance is a bonus.
Its powerful anti-lock braking system with a pair of 320mm front discs and four-piston calipers is a comforting backup. Consider that it generates the most horsepower of any bike here and weighs the least, and you’ve got a potent package. The price paid, however, is that its 37.2 mpg fuel mileage was the lowest in our group, partly because it invites the rider to tweak the throttle. However, on the highway, the Guzzi provides cruise control for sailing along. The California 1400 Custom offers unique styling and approach with Italian flair and a more sporting ride.