Jacqui Madelin meets an old friend with a new look

Parked in a line outside Riverhead's landmark tavern, the bikes make it clear Moto Guzzi is no one-trick pony.

For though all are linked by that across-the-frame V-twin and a few sometimes faint nods to classic lines, there are markedly different flavours here.

Only two are new. The latest California is a chunky cruiser with pinstripes and old-style teacup running lights - plus LEDs and modern electronic engine and traction aids.

Next to it, the updated Stelvio is a dual-purpose machine, a mighty chunk of metal built on heroic lines but fondly remembered by this writer, for whom its predecessor proved the ideal mount for long-distance swervery to the Burt Munro rally in Invercargill.


Alongside them the Griso muscle bike, the Nevada classic runabout and V7 variants are unchanged, though the cafe racer spin-off with chromed tank and number boards was certainly eye-catching in the early spring sun.

My first mount was that Stelvio, and since my last ride the $26,990 dual-purpose 1200cc tourer has had updates to the fairing and headlights, a bigger fuel tank, and tweaks to the engine control and cooling for better throttle response.

Though it's a tad wide and tall for my height, the 820-840mm seat let me get my toes down - just. But pull away and you'll appreciate this bike's strengths, the side-to-side vibe from that transverse engine mount imparting a characteristic beat and giving mountains of torque for pulling out of the plentiful corners of our back-country route, the wide bars imparting confident control, and the whole plot more than capable of shrugging off he patches of unmarked roadworks gravel we encountered.

But for tourers it'll be the plush, yet compliant suspension that most impresses, for it ate up the lumps and bumps we encountered on this brief taster ride.

Next, the $14,990, 750cc Nevada - a soft-focus armchair of a bike with classic looks, a torquey if relaxed motor and an unstressed character that will suit a sunny coastal cruise, the daily commute or a winter between-towns tour with equal ease.

It was the seventh-generation California I couldn't quite get a handle on. It certainly looks impressive. There's enough chrome here to keep a flock of magpies focused for years, a cruiser-style sweep of extravagantly curving bars, a capacious seat, footboards and highway pegs.

There's all the comfort and laid-back California style you could wish, along with the 1.4-litre engine with its 120Nm of torque at 2750rpm, its traction control and its three power-output options, its LED daylight running lights and those generous, 35-litre panniers.

The $28,990 touring version is the first to arrive; the stripped-back custom will follow at $26,990.

If your first glance has you thinking CHIPS you'd be right - the California entered the LAPD fleet in 1970. Unfortunately it didn't quite engage those who tried it at this taster of the Italian range, in part because the back-roads swervery that had suited the V7 and Stelvio was a little tighter than is ideal for anything with footboards.

The intermittently loose surfaces were better approached on a bike with footpegs beneath your butt for better control rather than stretched waaaay forward, and both tall and short folk found bending round the protruding cylinders to rapidly reach brake and gear lever too awkward for any brisk manoeuvres.

But this engine's a goody. Forget the 71kW power peak, all that torque shrugs off the 337kg heft, and I suspect I'd feel differently with an open road, an overnight destination and perhaps a bit more time aboard.

I look forward to trying it on home roads and over a more extended timeframe.