How can I learn to ride my Cali ??

Help needed —

I bought my wonderful 1995 Cali a couple of month ago .It is an excellent bike- no issues there .

I really want to learn how to ride it safely at low speeds.

I started my riding career back in the early 1970’s on a Francis Barnet 250 then an Ariel arrow 250. I became a ‘born again’ in the 1990’s with a Cali, then Bonneville, with Yamaha Fazer and Harley sportster in the mix. So, I have had a go at a few and thought the Cali would be just right - but it is very heavy and more competent than me !!

I’ve now been out a couple of times and when I am motoring on an open road - no issues. BUT when I try to manoeuvre in small confines or even turn a sharp corner - I panic !!

The bike is big and heavy. I am almost 72 !! I love the bike and really want to conquer my fears

Does anyone have any tips on learning to ride the bike safely ?



Hi Tom, I can’t offer you any technical tips but I can perhaps reassure you that you’re almost certainly not the only person who feels this way. I’ve got a few years advantage on you at 56 but my V85 is a but unwieldy at low speeds. In and out the garage, parking spaces etc. are ‘fun’ especially with an audience and at 200kg+ it’s got the potential to be boss of me. All I can say is slow and methodical is the way, think about what you’re doing at all times and if panic sets in, stop for a while and compose your thoughts.
Maybe a few hours off road with a CBT outfit dodging cones would help?


I was going to suggest the same. These guys have specific ‘lessons’ on slow speed riding and manoeuvering. Bound to be a local ‘teacher’.


check the tyre pressure are correct
when maneuvering at low speed, use the back brake to hold you back against the throttle, its like a helping hand
and as the other say a day or a morning with an instructor for a refresher course would not go amiss

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I spent most of the 1990s living in Los Angeles and working in the film business.
Anytime filming on the street you ha to have “movie police” with you for traffic control.
These guys were all retired LA motorcycle cops who kept their old bikes, or bought one for the job, and made some extra money doing this.

Mainly in their 60’s but a few into their 70’s.
All riding Kawasaki Police 1000’s back then, just like in Chips, with the occasional Harley, and in one case a Suzuki Intruder, (but the other cops made fun of him behind his back).

But to get to the point, I’ve never seen anyone so in control of a large bike at low speeds as there ex-motorcycle cops.
They’d do demos for us crew members at lunchtime of low speed manoeuvres, doing figure eights within four parking spaces.
All done with clutch control.

As someone who has recently got a bike after a 20+ year gap, I need to try and relearn that.


Ride a Honda Valkyrie (350kgs) for a few years then your Cali will feel like a scooter! Seriously, there are some great vids on You Tube about slow speed manoeuvring. Watch them and practice the principles in a car park. Also how to pick your bike up if you drop it. Assuming you have crashbars, its worth practising this by laying the bike down on a piece of carpet and picking it up again, it gives you confidence.

Hi Tom,
I had a '96 Cali for 23 years (from new). And I experienced the same thing. Flowing corners - great. Long distance touring - great. But roundabouts? Or leave alone hairpins? I called her ‘Nellie’ because she felt like a pregnant elephant!
Eventually (like, after 15 years of suffering) I made 2 changes. 1. I had the seat re-shaped. Half an inch thicker in the front, thinner in the back, and an inch higher. Made no end of a difference for my by then suffering knees. But the biggest change came from using a different size rear tyre! Thinking that the virtually identical Cali III used a 120/80- 18, I considered the 140/70-17 fitted to our bikes to be for appearance’s sake only. So I had a 130/80-17 fitted instead of the supposed 140/70-17. Being slightly slimmer, that tyre is more rounded on the road surface. The effect was really amazing - she almost fell into corners by herself! She turns much easier, and feels in general like a lighter bike.
OK, an 1100 Cali will always be heavy - but it made an enormous difference for me. And a different-size tyre is an easy, and if it doesn’t work temporary, measure that in my eyes is worth trying out at least.
Good luck with her - she looks stunning!
I only gave mine up when I fell in love with the V85…

rapheal-glynn it is a Cali !!!

Older Guzzis have linked brakes. And the foot pedal operates the main brake - 70% front wheel, and 30% rear wheel. The hand lever operates the additional second brake disc up front, but normal braking is with the foot pedal.
Using the back brake against the throttle simply doesn’t work - you don’t have a ‘back brake’ on these.

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Aha, I didnt realise that, My Breva has a conventional braking system
now here is a thought or more of an observation or two, now this is not meant to create an argument, just an observation over many years ( started riding in 1976 and have ridden every day, for work and pleasure in all weathers)

I meet a lot of older people coming back to motorcycling, and I am often asked for advice on machine type, as is a friend of mine a retired black rat

I am 65 in a short while, but apart from some health issues, I am fit and strong, dont smoke or drink, nor overweight, working as tradesman you need to keep fit

but when I replaced my motorcycle 20 years ago ( R80RT) i looked at a Cali, and a Breva 1100 , tried moving them about at low speed, engine off, just to get the feel, for parking and pushing in and out of the garage, i then tried the 750 Breva, perfect, a year or two later in Italy, chatting to a club member, he was riding a cali and complained of the weight when moving it around, told him to take mine for a spin
he sold his cali and bought Breva, and enjoyed two up touring much more

recently my mate was asked by a chap in his late 70s about buying a motorcycle, now this chap had not ridden for something like 30 years, and only then an occasional sunday rider, advice was given, and an offer to take him up to the Enfield dealer to try a new twin ( light easy to move around and ride , docile even) super scooter, V7 guzzi , new smaller range of Triumph/BMW/ etc

Bloke goes out and buys a massive Honda Africa twin ???
that will never get ridden off road, has way too much power, is tall and heavy, and the chap will end up dropping it, its a given , social cachet ? he lives in a nice house in a very affluent area or frightened off looking like a novice ?

Again I was asked last year about a motorcycle for an older rider, fairly wealthy chap, but a bit portly, not tall, too much screen time and driving every where rather than walking ( range rover )
I suggested either a super scooter, which he could handle and easily touch the ground, or a V7/Enfield twin/ Honda CL500 or 750 Hornet, or one of the BMW singles, I explained why, ( his experience of motorcycles was a 250 in the 70s)
I also said, visit our local training school for a couple of days training ( bikes provided) start on the 125 then work up,
that old management thing and social cachet took over though, he bought a new BMW GS, then cheekily asked me if I would go out for a ride with him, I very politely pointed out, that his machine was bigger than mine, and if I rode how I normally rode he would get into trouble, well I took him out for most of a day, and it was a disaster, frankly he was dangerous, out of control, only the ABS and handling thing saved him from losing it several times, and I had to be quite curt about his total lack of skill , and the fact that the machine was too big for him
I told him to book a riding course with our local motorcycle school, and then do the BMW off roading course
now I am not a physiologist just an observer of fellow human beings, but it does seem to be that we can often choose a motor vehicle for the sort of person we would like to be or the image we want to project ? oddly my trick cyclist rides a 125 scooter everywhere ?
now when I purchased my Breva, I had a work related injury , so I sat down with a sheet of paper, and wrote down exactly what I needed from a motorcycle
a line down the middle
positives on one side
negatives on the other

its how I was taught to make difficult decisions

and I found that I only needed about 40 horses, small, easy to maintain , as I would rather pay my mortgage than big garage bills
and low insurance tyre wear etc
20 years later I can still ( well not until he chemo is finished) ride my guzzi)

Kawasaki ER5
Honda 500
Suzuki 500
Ducati Monstro 600
Harley Davidson 883
Motor Guzzi Breva

The ER5 was nearly my choice, a fantastic under rated over engineered motorcycle, my mate Northern Monkey 6 foot 4 of brickie has owned several and worn them out, riding to work and across Europe
I liked the Honda but it didnt quite gel
The Suzuki was good, but if the SV with the curves in blue and white had been available it would have been love at first sight
the Ducati was nice and light, but pillion accommodation and high service costs put me off

The Harley dealers made me feel uncomfortable, lots of male bonding and macho stuff, and strutting and posing, tassels and using American words and dressing like cowboys, it was all a bit surreal, and all about social cachet and how much you spent, I had arranged to try both the 993 and 1200
so they give me an Arnie replica, off I go, the thing shook like a dumper truck, had loud pipes, and people kept looking at me , I dont like that, it truly handled like a truck, funny at first, but useless in traffic, to big too fat too noisy
and of course too expensive, although i had more than enough money to buy it outright, had they have given me a standard Glide, then I would have most likely bought it , as they are easy to paddle around ( I ride a friends one to keep it in order while he is away)
so next stop , Jim at Streffords
liked the cut of the mans jib, his honesty, he sat my wife down and gave her tea and biscuits, told me to take it out for at least an hour
quarter of an hour later I am back, he looked worried, did it disappoint ?
nope its perfect, 2 miles up the road I am enjoying the ride, and not worrying about the bike, as the older writers used to say, all controls fell easily to hand, I
chose a machine still in its crate ( I still have the wrapper) paid up in full, and collected it a few days later, I have never regretted the decision either
its handling braking etc, are far in advance of my poor skills, and its never let me get into trouble, even once when riding across the Alps, through tiredness I did something silly and it steered me out of trouble without input from me as if a guiding hand took over

Now I will be the first to admit I have in my younger stages bought and owned some large motorcycles, a nice K100Rs that looks small these days, a K100RT a K1100LT , the latter two were used for work, so mainly had panniers crammed with specialist tools and kit, and did big miles , the Rs was the best though on a long fast ride down to Kent in the middle of a storm that pulled trees down it stayed rock steady at speed, but once I changed job, I sold the machines and went to a smaller twin, then the Breva
So in essence, as the machine has linked brakes, rather than risk damaging it and yourself, why not sell it, and find something lighter that you will enjoy ?
V50 , V7 range,

my mate the ex black rat, for many years after retiring, was an instructor/examiner for several riding schemes, many times he has had to stop a test because the rider was not in control or frightened of the machine, and in one case he visited the dealership to ask why they had sold a 160MPH machine to a chap who had last ridden and passed his test on a 250 in the 70s ?
the machine was exchanged for a 500cc one without financial loss and the rider was much more confident, and passed his advanced test

oddly Women do not seem to suffer from this problem ?
Lots of Ladies and girls who asked me for advice, listened carefully and then discussed the choices with me, and enjoy their riding
as a father of two grown up daughters I am used to giving impartial and honest advice !

now please dont shoot me down in flames, I did ask my trick cyclist about his choice of machine, and he said, at the prices I charge I dont need to impress any body !!!
i just want to commute to work cheaply and easily, and not waste money, I suspect he has paid his mortgage off many years ago, I jokingly asked him what car he owns, expecting him to say a range rover or a Porsche , A ford Focus estate great for shopping easy to park , and blends in


Nice bike Tom,
Plenty of good advice about training above.
I also have a Cali like yours and I very much doubt you will master tight turns but you can improve with practise. There are 4 things conspiring against you.1.The linked brakes as previously mentioned. 2. The saddle - doesnt allow one to swivel, as one needs to do for u-turns 3.The high bars turn into one’s body and 4. The footboards dont really allow for the balls of ones feet to swivel.
I have dropped my Cali twice now trying slow sharp turns the " proper way". I love the bike for the reasons you say but I turn it around like a wus. So be it.


Tom, I’m 72, but had vertigo this February after first covid attack. Breezed the covid, but week after, life fell apart. My brand new carbon wheels could not be used. Took month to balance on bicycle again.

Tell your mind, when riding slow, your feet will reach the ground. Seat height low on those unless your a midget.

Basically ride it as often as possible. Find empty car park and slowly drive around it.

Life begins at 70. Take it to Switzerland when confidence up. We only take memories not the saved monies. Ride, ride ride.



Coincidentally Im in Switzerland. Rode the Splugen pass this morning. Stick to Tescos carpark for practice!


Thank you all for your support. Clearly I am not the only owner of a Cali who is struggling. All responses have been positive and I am greatly encouraged by the suggestions you have all made. This is why I bought my Cali and returned to the Club .

I am going to learn to ride my bike.

I may be something of an oddity here, my primary passion is for restoring classic cars ( Rileys, Rovers, Humbers, Jaguar, Saab - oh and a Morgan !!) and anything large has not yet defeated me - The Humber Pullman weighs just over 3 tons, is 18 feet long with a 4008 cc side valve engine !! - not environmentally acceptable delivering an optimistic 11 mpg !! But I love them all

I am in contact with my nearest instructor ( who, incidentally I believe to be a Guzzi rider ) and will hopefully arrange an appointment over the next week or so for guidance and tuition.

I have asked for an advert to be put in ‘market place’ for a 1995 seat base. The suggestion made of adapting this seems sensible - when I sit on the bike, the front seat dimensions push my legs apart making reaching the ground a challenge ( I am 5’ 9") maybe by narrowing the front of the seat base and lowering the height slightly, I will feel more secure. I don’t want to change the rear tyre as I have only just paid for a new one - the original being too wide for the frame.

I will try slow, gentle movements around the drive and local roads. Living in the far North of Scotland has benefits for clear roads (other then the motorhome brigade ticking their boxes on the NC500 by visiting Dunnet head - around 150 per day at a recent count !!)

Once again, thank you all for the support, it is good to know that others have also struggled - Switzerland ?? maybe a little too far just at the moment … but maybe in the future…



I am surprised that the locals are not using the camper vans for target practise up there !!!
we seem to have reached critical mass for camper vans, everybody is converting vans into motorhomes round here, and a friend who works up near the NC500 regales me with tales of their stupidity
I like the sound of the Humber, Bernard Law Mongomery always rated them highly, as for the environment, its lasted this long, and when I visit London and see some lump of lard waddle into a Q8 to drive to the shop, or a range rover taking a women 500 yds to the hairdressers, then I know where the real pollution is coming from !, ps I have a Morris Oxford for my sins, owned it nearly thirty years, after being let down by various bull artists, who had arranged to carry out some repairs, I am doing it myself once my health improves, even bought a jig to rotate the old girl on, no point in laying underneath a car to weld is there !

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Russ at Roadcraft Nottingham has some great free videos.

Some low speed specific ones:

How to ride slowly

The Jellyfish

Hope that helps!


Hi Tom,
The answer is yes you can. I have a similar bike , I am 73, riding since 16. First, sit on the bike and make sure you are really comfortable with the settings, close you eyes and put your hands where you think they need to be on the bars, bring them forward or back for the best position. Sitting central on the bike helps you to control the bike easier. Check your tyre pressures, modern tyres have a different strength of side wall, don’t use the manual but ask your tyre distributer what pressure is need for the tyres you have fitted, most makes will state a different psi, my V85 rear needs 42 psi.
I took a “ride to arrive” course with the police some years ago, I couldn’t do the tight cones until they taught me, dead easy now, stick with it and enjoy your riding.
Bob Smith.


Tom, I’m 72 and ride a Stelvio.
I had vertigo in February this year after easy attack of covid. The vertigo meant literally struggle to walk round hose for a few weeks.
My £1,000 carbon bike wheels that had just arrived stayed in box.

But, with persistence, month in, back on motorbike. Yes when moving they self balance. But like you, are slow turns, not happy.

Tell your brain, your feet are near the road. Your seat height is low, lower than Stelvio.

Find empty factory car park at weekends and practice slow manoeuvres. Confidence comes with practice.

I was so happy when I cycled my first 30 mile run.
At our age, it’s use it or loose it.

So, ride ride ride


Oh yes. The tyre size. Despite Metzeler supposedly being one of the 2 original fitments (alongside the Pirelli MT08 / MT09), they simply will not fit. I think Dunlop aren’t much better, I once had to use a craft knife to remove the bead on the side wall to make it clear the swingarm. But essentially every brand worked for me - apart from Metzeler. And considering the front one wore very unevenly, adding to the handling issues, I’ve stayed away from that brand ever since. The Bridgestones were very good. They fit fine, and work well on wet and dry roads (BT45, nowadays BT46). They are slightly smaller overall (speedo overreads a little more), and they don’t last as long as the Pirellis, but they are a lot cheaper and don’t white-line.
Re the seat width: It is not the width of the seat that pushes your legs apart, nor does the seat have to be lower (it is quite low already). The problem is the running boards. They make you spread your legs so much, which in turn requires more length. Try and sit on a model with standard pegs and the same seat (e.g. late 90’s Stone or Jackal) - you will be amazed by the difference. (I found a set of bottom frame rails and levers off an old G5 to modify the son’s Cali 3, all these parts are freely interchangeable between the Guzzi big-block models)

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There is a great car trimmer here in Essex, affectionalty known as “Mike the Seat!” but I am sure that there are similarly talented individuals near you who could remove the seat cover and alter the foam to suit your own requirements and then recover the seat with the original covering.

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I am in my mid 70s and have recently bought a 1400 touring California. It is also a heavy bike but very maneuverable once moving.
I did a Bikesafe day, which was very instructive and did wonders for my confidence.