Whatever may be causing shifts in the bike market-at-large (more female riders, economic woes, etc.), makers are taking notice, and appear to be adapting at least part of their product lines. The V-Star 950 and its sub-eight grand entry price is one example. Harley got a head start on things last year with the stylish and short inseam friendly Nightster, a bike that doesn’t sacrifice looks or displacement (1,200cc) despite costing less than10 big ones.
Before we even turn the calendar to ’09, Suzuki steps to the plate to take a crack at filling the gap that Mel Harris, Vice President of American Suzuki Motor Corporation, says existed not only in the market, but also in Suzuki’s own product line.
The 2009 Suzuki Boulevard M90, the company hopes, provides the look and feel of the burly M109R power-cruiser without the possible intimidation that may come from a 101 ft-lbs and 106 hp (as tested in our Godzilla Cruisers Shootout) 1,800cc V-Twin like the 109.
No copy cat
Astute Suzuki fans may be ready to point fingers and shout, “parts-bin bike,” wondering if Team S simply took the Twin out of the more classic-looking C90 cruiser and clothed it in the 109’s sporty style. Not so, says Suzuki staff. Calling it an “all-new engine,” the M90’s powerplant shares similarities, but in fact has a number of differences from its laid-back C90 brother.
First and foremost, the M90’s 1,462cc (96 x 101mm) Twin is set at 54 degrees (like the 109), and is a four-valve-per-cylinder unit whereas the C90 is a 45-degree three-valve although both bikes have a Single Overhead Cam actuating the valves. Also, the M has a slightly shallower valve angle (40 vs. 48-degrees) and smaller exhaust valve diameter. Since the C90 is a three-valve, its one exhaust valve will need to be larger although both bikes share 33mm intake valves.
Additionally, the M90’s pistons compress fuel-mixture at a ratio of 9.5:1 compared to the 8:5 of the C. Other differences include valve covers that are separate of the camshaft housing for allegedly reduced top-end mechanical noise. Piston cylinders have also been coated with SCEM, Suzuki Composite Electrochemical Material, a friction and wear-reducing coating derived from Suzuki’s racing efforts. The valve-train layout and higher compression were chosen to more closely resemble power characteristics of the big boy 109R.
Suzuki’s Dual Throttle Valve (SDTV) is utilized on a pair of 42mm fuel-injection throttle bodies where the C90 feeds its jugs with a single 36mm SDTV.
The Boulevard M90 is a five-speed with shaft final-drive. Gear ratios are marginally different from those in the C90’s five-speed box, but still favor long freeway runs where the M90 can really stretch its legs like a touring bike. A new location for a mechanical damper reduces the number of shafts in the engine, thereby shortening engine length 50mm.
Not Build-a-Bear, but close
The overall objective for the M90 was clearly set out from the beginning - it should offer the style and feel of the M109R, yet not be intimidating for the rider of their pocketbook. Team S passed three design concepts in front of focus groups, letting customers influence design direction with final refinements finished off by Suzuki.
Engineers went to great lengths to achieve the sound for the M90, spending lots of time in sound labs, and purposely tuning the top muffler for high-frequency and the bottom muffler for low-frequency notes. It worked. The bike has a throaty rumble at idle with just the right amount of power-pulse note as you row through the gearbox. You won’t mistake it for a 45-degree Harley, but it seems unique among many Japanese cruisers in this displacement category.
From afar, the M90 and M109R look like the same bike since only a couple minor details separate one from the other. On the M90, the rider sits only less than an inch closer to the bars with the footpegs 1.1-inch closer than on the 109. The 90’s wheelbase is less than an inch shorter than the 109’s.
Historic Monterey, CA, and the unmatched coastal beauty of Hwy 1 south of Monterey was enhanced all the more by exceptionally-mild early-November weather, making an ideal backdrop to ride Suzuki’s latest addition to the Boulevard line.
I feel I’ve mentioned the M90’s near-identical appearance to the big M109R too much already, but approaching the 90 the similarity is hard to shake, until you lift it off the sidestand. Suzuki’s participation in the newly-formed Ministry of Honesty coming out of Japan these days reveals a bike that weighs a claimed 723 lbs wet (41 lbs less than M109R, 18 lbs more than C90).
The M90 is surprisingly easy to lever off the stand for a 700 lbs bike, which is aided by the friendly 28-inch seat height. Though the 4.8-gallon tank appears massive from any angle, the general appearance of the M90 being a bike-too-big evaporates from your mind after the first couple of intersections. The M90 isn’t the typical lumbering cruiser. When you realize that the 17-inch rear tire is 200mm across, you find yourself all the more impressed by the light-steering.
Balance isn’t a word I use often, if ever, to describe a motorcycle’s handling, but it seemed unavoidable for the way the M90 feels at all times. About the only limitation is ground clearance. Yet even when pummeling the hopelessly short footpeg nubs into the pavement the double-cradle steel-tube frame continues through the arc without the slightest bobble or protest. Helping here, too, is the supple yet taut 43mm inverted KYB fork and hidden (for that rigid-frame look) 46mm KYB shock. I’ve ridden much more expensive bikes with far less quality of ride.
Overall ergos should be enticing to most riders, including folk well under six feet tall, many women, or anyone looking for a bike bigger than what they may have started out on. Reaching for the drag-style bars and foot pegs from the wide saddle that was neither too firm nor too squishy, put me forward just enough to allow me to attack bends in the road, yet I never felt stretched. The bike doesn’t come with a windscreen, but I had no complaints of excessive buffeting.
A pair of Tokico two-piston sliding-pin calipers squeezes a set of 290mm floating rotors, and though not offering heaps of feel, are more than sufficient to reel in the M90. A single Tokico two-piston sliding-pin caliper clamps on a floating 275mm rotor out back.
The tranny is what we’ve come to expect from Japan: nearly perfect. Only some minor resistance to shifting in the lower gears was experienced, but only ever at low rpm. Otherwise, I could upshift and downshift without the clutch and without a hiccup from the gearbox. Clutch pull was firm but not difficult. Gearing was suited ideally to the power of the engine, and fifth gear was such that it felt more like an overdrive.
Indeed, the new Boulevard M90 from Suzuki leaves little room for complaint, but I can always find a thing or two…
For a bike that will certainly catch the attention of many women riders who often have slightly shorter hand reach then many men, I wonder why no adjustable clutch lever to match the adjustable brake lever. Speedo location atop the rear of the headlight nacelle makes assessing speed a snap, but placement of the idiot light panel (Neutral, signals, oil, etc.) on the forward portion of the chrome tank console was nearly invisible from inside my full-face helmet. I lost count of how many times I realized my indicator was still on long after I had turned. And I wasn’t the only one, as I saw various editors cruising in a straight line, not a turn in sight, oblivious to the flashing amber lamp on their bike. At a minimum, a lean-angle sensor would be an easy fix to endless blinking.
There’s an acre of mirror-finish chrome, but there’s also a few plastic-y bits as well as some rather industrial, “undesigned-looking” bolt-on metal parts. And I have to think that, at little to no cost to the consumer, Suzuki could have provided some type of stylish radiator shroud for the M90 like that of the M109R.
Regardless of these nits, the M90 is a very functional motorcycle. It has enough styling cues to get the attention of non-biker passers-by, has ample power, is agile, comfortable, and it does all this for $1 less than 10 grand.
The Honda VTX1300 ($9,899 to 9,999), Harley’s 1200cc Sportsters ($9,799 to 9,999), or Star’s V-Star 1300 at $10,290, are all bikes in the M90’s sub-10Gs sights. There’s a good chance a lot of consumers will pull the trigger on an M90 and put those others out of misery. As I continued to dwell on the M90’s competition, I realized it really doesn’t have any. Most other cruisers have either a smaller engine, cost more, or both. Market gap filled!
• Helmet: HJC FS-15 Surge MC5