1997 Middleweight Cruiser Shootout
We traveled through hills, up the coast, cruised the drags, and rode across great deserts. At the end of our long and winding road we picked Honda's 1998 ACE 750 as our favorite mount. But what about our other worthy adversaries?
Suzuki's Marauder is a fairly original ride, with love-it-or-hate-it looks and a cool set of inverted forks. Low-slung, powerful, and second (or first, depending on where you live) cheapest in the test, it looked to be a strong contender for the win. However bad ergonomics and poor carburetion conspired to keep the Marauder at the bottom of the heap. With ample aftermarket support and 17 years of development under its belt, one would think Yamaha's Virago 750 would claw its way up the stack a bit higher than fourth. Alas, humans are social animals and funny looks and jeers from our peers hurt even our most hardened magazine weenie. Before you pass judgment on us as a bunch of fashion conscious sissies consider that, not counting looks, Yamaha's Virago was not the smoothest, most comfortable, or the best handling (these being the Honda, Kawasaki, and Harley respectively). A facelift and a little refinement, and you might see this bike on top of the pile this time next year.
Hopefully Kawasaki will follow the lead of other manufacturers and develop a bike with a bit more of its own identity. Despite this glaring flaw, the Vulcan's strong engine, smooth ride, and great ergonomics catapulted this bike to third, edging the Virago by one vote. Who knows, with even just another inch of ground clearance. . . .
Harley's Sportster is as elemental as a bike gets, excepting perhaps its distant cousin the Buell Lightning. It's an engine with wheels and controls. With versatility that can make it anything from a canyon strafer to a full-boat boulevard cruiser to a seventies chopper, or just refined and kept in its original incarnation, plus its lowest sticker price, H-D's 883 Sporty almost wins this shootout. Just a bit too much character in stock form keeps it out of first.
Honda's ACE is, simply put, a complete package. Its unruffled power delivery, solid construction, smooth lines and knock-out looks won our hearts. If aftermarket support is lacking now, hold on tight, it won't be for long. At $6299 for the standard model and $6599 for the deluxe version, this bike should sell by the thousands.
Did we find that cruising nirvana, that ever-elusive nothing? Well, yes we did, but only on the ACE 750. H-D's 883 Sportster was a close second due to its potential as a platform for customization, but in stock form it lacks. The rest just didn't measure up. The best defense for our top picks were found in the squabbles we got into when it was time to head home, where the Honda and the Harley got nabbed first and everyone else got stuck with the others.
1. Brent Plummer, Editor-in-Chief
The Harley rules 'cause you can modify it to suit your personal tastes. All the other bikes in this test combined can't match the aftermarket support for H-D's smallest machine. Further, our 883 was the only bike with a semblance of ground clearance; I actually milled the entire sidestand off the Kawasaki in an afternoon of lazy back road riding. Honda's ACE is surprisingly cool, they've modified it just like many finished Big Twins end up, but it's kinda slow and that's hard to fix because there's little aftermarket support. On everything else, I felt like a wussie -- the Kawasaki and Virago would've been okay if they'd come in "manly" colors, it seems to me that Big Twin Harleys are the only bikes that look cool in day-glow green or maroon.
2. Billy Bartels, Associate EditorHalf the fun of a cruiser is looking back after you park it and getting that knot in your throat that it's your bike back there. Walking away from the Vulcan and the Virago I just covered my face and strode quickly away. The Vulcan for its blatant cloneliness, the Virago for its rico suave 80's disco look.
I actually liked the Marauder, I just didn't like riding it. It's like the bikes of 20 (and more) years ago: It has potential, you just have to be willing to make parts to realize it. With a real set of pipes and some jetting the bike could be a rocket. Call it third.
I come from a unique position testing the 883 -- I own one. While the current model 883 is better than what I started with (a 1987 model), mine -- at 80 horsepower -- is clearly superior in its modified form. But I have to admit, neither is as good a cruiser as the stock ACE 750. While the 883 can go quite a way (with the right modifications) towards being a total cruiser and is more versatile, it would take more wrenching than I feel like doing to make it as good as the purpose-built Honda.
3. Gord Mounce, Associate Editor
To me, cruising is an emotional sensation. I dig the bikes that make me feel like riding, even if I have no particular destination in mind. These motorcycles all have lazy powerbands and mushy suspension, so you're left to choose the one that you have the most fun with.
Thus, for me, the Honda is it. It looks awesome and is really fun to ride. Second comes the Harley; it scores points for being the easiest to modify. Third is the Kawi, which has great looks, although its ground clearance is the worst of the bunch. Fourth is the Virago. Its styling is seriously dated, but it has a great ride and good performance. In the final spot is the Suzuki. Although it is cheaper than the competition (other than the Harley), its poor ride and cost-cutting details put it at the bottom of my list.