A storied motorcycle factory sits on the southeastern finger of Lake Como in a town that proclaims itself “La Citta della Moto Guzzi” – the city of Moto Guzzi. Mandello del Lario, Italy is where the magic has been happening for 100 years.
More than a century ago, two World War I Italian aircraft pilots and their mechanic—Carlo Guzzi, Giovanni Ravelli and Giorgio Parodi—envisioned creating a motorcycle company after the war, despite coming from different socio-economic backgrounds.
Their plan? Guzzi would engineer the bikes, Parodi (son of wealthy ship-owners) would finance the venture, and Ravelli would promote the bikes with racing. Guzzi and Parodi (along with his brother Angelo) formed Moto Guzzi on March 15, 1921. Tragically, Ravelli died days after the war's end in an airplane crash. His legacy is commemorated by the eagle's wings that form the famous logo.
In the late `90s, I was working for a start-up titanium bicycle company with visions of motorcycles filling my narrow Dayton, Ohio garage. Cash was burning a hole in my pocket, and in my mind’s eye I was burning fuel on the back roads of Springboro like Steve McQueen through the German countryside in The Great Escape. I was a 33-year-old motorcycle neophyte, but with permission granted from my young family I took the motorcycle safety course before hunting for that first bike.
As I’ve written before about that elusive Honda CB750, there were several makes I was considering. I was set on an affordable and serviceable 1970s machine, and Ohio had plenty of gems to choose from back then. When I inquired pals about Moto Guzzi, my friend Sky Yaeger—then the product manager for Bianchi USA—dismissively called it a ‘poor man’s Ducati’. Heartbroken, I put buying a Goose on hold.
Fast forward to late December 2013. I was doing some communications consulting for Greg LeMond, and the gig paid well. My Mountain View, California garage was missing a motorcycle by this time (but was bulging with 32 bicycles), and a quick Craigslist scan turned up a 2004 Moto Guzzi California Stone cruiser with 8,800 miles for $3,400. Cash in hand, we checked it out on a cold December afternoon in San Francisco and I drove it home on CA-280. Eighteen months later a 2004 V11 Sport Ballabio joined the Stone, so my son and I would have matching powerplants and tank capacity for extended California adventures.
Since then, I’ve met and ridden with several Guzzi owners, a select few who’ve become friends. I’ve asked them to explain how and why they chose the brand established a century ago by two Italian aircraft pilots and their mechanic.
“I got my first Guzzi in 2016, a 2014 California 1400, and I bought it because it was cheap!” my Sunday Moto Club riding pal and CNC machinist Brian Mock explained. “I had been looking for a small block Guzzi for a while with no success. Then one day this 1400 pops up on Craigslist at a great price. I remembered reading a lot of great press about the 1400's so I figured why not take a look.
“My first impression was ‘this thing's a hippo’ and it was!” he said. “But after a short test ride I was hooked. And for the price I couldn't pass it up. It weighed 700 pounds, but once you got it rolling it seemed to lose 200 of them. It had good power, handled really well for its size, and it had character oozing from its cylinder fins. I was pretty happy with it for a couple years, but my thirst for a small block still needed quenching. In the end I sold it for a few hundred dollars more than what I bought it for, so it was definitely worth it!”
“After selling the 1400 it took another year or so before I found my current Guzzi, a 2016 V9 Bobber that's customized to look more like a V7. It has a V7 tank, seat, side covers, top triple, bars, and several other things to complete the look. I bought it with the suspension already upgraded with cartridge inserts in the forks and Öhlins shocks.”
“It's a blast to ride! It has just enough modern—fuel injection, slick shifting transmission, good brakes—but it's still raw,” Mock added. “The engine doesn't purr, it sounds mechanical. It shakes and snorts when you blip the throttle. You feel every engine pulse when you accelerate hard. That’s the thing with Guzzis: they're often described as having a ton of character, and it's true. The bike feels alive underneath you. To me, it's what a motorcycle should feel like.”
“I’ve ridden three Moto Guzzi’s in my time, starting with a couple 2004 1100cc models: an upright California Stone and a more sporty V11 Sport Ballabio,” Red Rock Coffee barista and artist Henri Boulanger explained. “The third was our buddy Brian’s badass V9 that I rode around the block all too briefly one sunny afternoon.
“I’ve been lucky to throw a leg over many motorcycles in the nine years I’ve been riding, but it all essentially started with a Guzzi,” he added. “One of my very first motorcycle experiences after getting my license involved a slow, tight turn, a tipping point, the sickening sound of a turn signal snapping off, and an adrenaline rush that only comes from dropping your father’s 570-pound cruiser.”
“I’ve never lifted a bike off the ground faster than that retrospectively hilarious day. Shaken by that spill, I initially gravitated to the more aggressive (albeit lighter) V11 and had a blast on my first big moto trip from the San Francisco Bay Area down CA-1 to Solvang with my dad in June 2015.
“On the way back we encountered such strong winds on 101 north that we were tucked against our tanks, leaning somewhere near twenty degrees into the gale while going dead straight. It was so bizarre and insane that we simply pinned it at 90 mph to get through it more quickly.”
“We eventually sold the V11, and in the years since I’ve really come around to the sturdy California Stone. A cross-country trip on a 700-pound Harley Sport Glide made our humble Goose feel absolutely nimble, and the throaty swell of power unleashed by the rumbling transverse V-twin has certainly influenced my riding style.
“To shift, you essentially stomp on the heel-toe bar and savor the satisfying ‘ka-thunk’ as you drop into gear,” he explained. “The posture is relaxed, the geometry is comfortingly stable, and a custom red Corbin seat solidified it into a reliable steed that’s carried me through the 115-degree Mojave Desert to Las Vegas and back, not to mention the myriad winding roads that make the Bay Area such an amazing place to live as a rider.”
“It doesn’t whir smoothly through the gearbox like a naked liter bike, nor does it bound like an antelope-esque dual-sport, but it does make me feel like I speak the road’s language, conversing with the esses, ups, and downs. I absolutely love the Guzzi that’s been there for me since the beginning and waited patiently for me to be ready. Every motorcycle offers something different, educational, and fun, but for me a capital ‘M’ Motorcycle is a 2004 Moto Guzzi California Stone.”
John’s first Goose
“My first and (so far) only Moto Guzzi is a 2000 Quota 1100 ES,” custom car and motorcycle designer John McInnis said. “I knew I had been wanting to add a Moto Guzzi to the stable for at least three years after seeing my old boss's bike, a 1971 Moto Guzzi V7. I was immediately drawn to their simplicity, much like my attraction to Harley-Davidsons.”
“Two cylinders, two valves per cylinder, and a bunch of cooling fins,” he added. “They're such a beautiful expression of functionalism. So much of their form comes from being a visual mechanical diagram of exactly how they work.
“This coincided with my recent desire to own an adventure bike. After a little research, I found Guzzi made the Quota and the search was on. I found mine being sold by a guy in Oakland who got it from the original owners' Maserati mechanic. The original owner had passed on and left it with his mechanic. It looked like it had seriously only been street ridden, so after giving the guy $3,500, I started planning a trip with my friend Lance into the boonies of Nevada to pop the Quota's off-road cherry.”
“The desire to own such an odd duck bike really is one of those things you either get or you don't. It's not fast, it’s not glamorous, it’s kinda heavy, and it leaked oil when new; but something just feels right when you're riding it. I had to sell a Ducati Hypermotard in order to make room in my garage for the Quota, and a lot of people give me a strange look when they hear that. But this bike is so much more enjoyable. It really feels like it's your friend along for the ride rather than a beast you're trying to tame.”
“No buyer's remorse. Usually I turn bikes over quickly, but I don't think this one will be up for sale any time soon.”
Next time you’ll read about the two vastly different Guzzis San Francisco designer Hugo Eccles created, with his insight and history behind each build.
What’s your Moto Guzzi story? Share in the comments below.