Norcal Guzzi

Way-Kool Kalifornia Kafe

Meet Dennis from Northern California. Loving husband, father, and chemical engineer with more than 35 years in the gas and oil industry. Dennis is also a very passionate and enthusiastic Guzzisti.

After gazing at Ben Part's famous “Zagato Guzzi” (you remember; that ripped cafe' in the Davida ads with the cool aluminum tank and Katarina, looking back with Amsterdam in the background?) Dennis decided to pick up a 2002 V11 Le Mans and fell in love with the character of the legendary Italian v-twin engine. Another bike which caught his fancy was the Transconti-equipped Moto Guzzi endurance racers, with their extra-capacity tanks and exposed metal look.

So, from this initial inspiration, Dennis started dreaming of a round-head Guzzi, stripped of all excess baggage and molded into his own version of a cafe-racer. A bike that he could build himself, with his own hands and skills and right from the pages of the book Shop Class as Soul Craft. A bike that ultimately would have nice details like a tail light from a ’38 Ford, blue-colored Cavi fuel lines and all of the other neat little touches that personalize a machine and make it distinctive.

I rode with Dennis when I lived in Freemont when he asked Nolan and I which Moto Guzzi would be an appropriate starting point and we suggested the round barrel G5 tourer. Nearly a twin brother to the Convert automatic, G5s are somewhat plentiful and the 949cc 'small valve' twin responds very well to just minor tweaking. Soon after, Dennis located one in the Midwest that was reasonable with an engine built by noted Guzzi wrench Ace Mallot. A splendid chap, Ace relayed to Dennis the modifications he completed including: bench flowed heads, high compression pistons, 36mm Dell’Orto pumper carbs, steel timing gears, lightened flywheel and a hotter cam. A great start for a bike with a hot rod heart.

Dennis rode the bike a bit before taking it down and admitted it ran great, but the transmission appeared to need some attention. So, another Guzzi mechanic named Charlie Cole went over the gearbox, aligning and replacing a few gears, then rebuilt the rear drive which as it turns out, was completely gone. Now both the engine and transmission were sorted to Dennis’ satisfaction.

Throughout the project, Dennis claims his biggest challenge was to be patient and to source his parts very carefully. Since he was on a budget, he didn't want to throw money at the bike just to speed things up. And while he invested more than he originally planned, the process was slow and methodical.

For the custom, aluminum gas tank he turned to Terry Baker, who Dennis initially asked to build a Transconti-like endurance tank. When the time came Terry talked him out of it, claiming the Transconti endurance tanks sit awkwardly on the frame and are not suited well for the street. The results are obvious, and the tank Terry ultimately fabricated for him looks fabulous. The seat pan came from Germany's Friedhelm Lammers who Dennis reports is great to deal with and was very responsive.

Owner fabricated items include the tank badge, tail light bezel, battery-holder, under-seat electrical compartment, license plate bracket, fenders, headlight brackets, dash and seat pad. An obvious point of pride, the workmanship displayed throughout the machine is excellent. Dennis also shortened the frame and added threaded bosses to hold on all the bits without lots of tabs. The Mistral exhaust is secured with custom brackets, rather than the usual extended/attached to the rear-set configuration.

The swingarm was customized by noted San Francisco Guzzi racer and wrench, Ed Milich. Dennis reports that Ed and Todd from GuzziTech were a big help and also provided him with the rear shocks. Bormi Parts provided the beefed-up battery plate. The G5 came with Bitubo dampers and they were already in excellent condition, but Dennis replaced the pitted fork tubes with new ones.

The original springs were way too heavy on the rough back roads that run through NORCAL, and even more so with the overall weight loss of the bike, estimated about 100-lb! So, Progressive springs seem to fit the bill for now, although Dennis would like to run the bike on the track someday to reevaluate the suspensions on a fast smooth surface. The rims and spokes are from Buchanan’s of Azusa, California. In the business of making custom motorcycle wheels and spokes for more than 50-years, they are the best in the business. Dennis toured their facility and reports that Kenny and team are great to work with. The rear rim is offset slightly to run a wider tire, which is currently a 120/60 Michelin Pilot Power. On the current 17” rims, the profile is the same as the stock 18” cast wheels, but Dennis says they are a lot stickier, which of course, is better!

Dennis threw away the stock wiring harness, as electrical problems are sometimes the “Dark Gremlins” of Moto Guzzi owners. In the end, and with the help of Carl Allison and others from the forum, Dennis fabricated his own wiring harness and said he is most proud of this achievement. He saved ten-more pounds by going from a stock wet battery to an Odyseey Dry Cell, then replaced the auto-spec Bosch starter with a lighter, leaner Valeo unit. Overall electrical demand with few lights, LED turn signals and the custom dash is managed quite well by the standard alternator.

The front brakes, (now delinked), are Brembo four-pots. The disks are from Yoyodyne. The calipers and new front master cylinder came from a Ducati 900. The rear brake is a stock Guzzi Brembo with drilled rear disc and a V11-type master cylinder. Brake lines are custom stainless steel and with metal pads, making sure the Guzzi stops efficiently and quickly.

Noted Guzzi author, rider, and mechanic from the Pacific Northwest, Greg Field helped Dennis with the hydraulic clutch conversion. It took a little fettling to source a heavier clutch return springs to counter the great resistance of the hydraulic slave cylinder and restore the free play when the shift is cycled, but it works well now and it matches the easy clutch pull of his V11 Le Mans. The look of the master cylinders on the handlebars and lack of cables is a nice touch.

Dennis reports he is very happy how the bike turned out, and from the photos, it’s obvious that there was a lot of time and thought put into this project. The engine is very strong and sounds like a Guzzi should. The overall look and feel matches what Dennis originally envisioned, and you can imagine all the great compliments and thumbs up he gets at the stoplights or down to the famous NORCAL gathering place; Alice's Restaurant. Dennis says the bike is not about perfection, but rather attention to detail. “Perfection” he states, “Takes serious money.” Witnessing the bike in person and looking again at the photos, I'd say Dennis has met his objective. JJ Cerilli