2001 Power Cruiser Comparo
In search of enlightenment and two-wheeled bliss.
Here we are, five years since the awesome V-Max lost our MuscleBikes shootout -- where I voted it first -- and I'm flamin' angry (again) that it didn't win (again). So, I'm gonna rant.
Once upon a time, I built my own 500cc two-stroke racer out of an H1R engine, GSX-R chassis components and a GPz550 frame. I won races on it, and believed that I was enlightened -- at the time I new, to the core of my being, that two-strokes were clearly superior to all four-strokes. Light and powerful with God-I-Love-It doubling of the power in 1,000 rpms, I was forced to learn how to carry massive corner speed, brake like a demon, and you better believe big-time throttle control was part of the game. What more could you want? Later, I wedged a 140 bhp, 800cc H2 engine in my racebike, ran mid-nine-second quarter miles, gave up on winning in (and out of) turns, and wheelied my way to victory. Nothing like winning on the straights to usher in a new era of enlightenment. Man, I was 21, and I surely knew everything.
At that time, I hated all four-strokes, especially BMWs, because Beemer owners thought they had great-handling, fast bikes. They lived in the glory years of Reg Pridmore. But I respected Harleys. That they were clunky and leaked oil and reminded me of my two-stroke (which had similar clunky-looking air-cooled fins and, while it didn't leak oil and ran on the death's edge of leanness, it did smoke at warm-up like only a cold, piston-port two-stroke with 201 degrees of exhaust timing can). More than that affinity, I went to West Virginia University which, in the late 1980s, was the undisputed King of American party schools. There's probably never been, nor -- in this litigious society -- ever will be a no-holds-barred, four-year party such as the likes of WVU at that time.
"The V-Max was everything a metric cruiser should be: wicked fast, sporty-for-a-cruiser pegs, and the flip-up seat to refill the gas tank was too cool. "
A big part of life there, for me at least, was hanging in the biker "scene" with "real" working-class bikers. Most of them rode Harleys, they all knew how to rebuild every aspect of them, they respected that I could give them a 200-yard head start in the quarter mile and still beat them, and not even a ZX-10 could best me down the Grafton Road. I was accepted, and they gave me free beer when they had it (which was, like, all the time). I, in turn, would pick spare tires out of the junk heap at the race track, fit them on my racer, and pop them for yucks. I guess I had sideshow value. At that time, I was unaware that sportbike weenies, such as me, were supposed to look down at Harleys, or that Harley guys didn't care what you rode, they accepted all bikers as brothers, although with the ephemeral "if you have to ask, you don't understand" ideology of _knowing_ that Harley riders were superior.
Later, I started MO, and rode a VFR750, the first four-stroke I'd ridden that power-wheeled without dumping the clutch. And I fell in love. Four-strokes finally made sense to me. Then I rode a four-valve Beemer, and I even liked them. I understood that lower maintenance and environmentally friendly emissions are a good thing. Speed ruled, four-stroke sportbikes were acceptable, two-strokes were king of the hill, Harleys were okay -- original, if nothing else -- and metric cruisers were clones. Although the latter didn't break down, they were a notch below on my respectability ladder. Truly, in 1996, I knew I was enlightened.
Along comes the V-Max for our now-ancient Five Fat Uglies on Five Fat Bikes test. The V-Max was everything a metric cruiser should be: wicked fast, sporty-for-a-cruiser pegs, and the flip-up seat to refill the gas tank was too cool. I voted it first, and was pissed when it didn't win. This was the epitome of a metric cruiser, a genre I was now sold on. At that time, I liked everything, but still felt clones were clones, and, in every cruiser test to follow until this day, while I respected metric v-twin cruisers, I always voted Harleys in first place. They rarely won the overall shootouts (which also pissed me off, it sucks when the bikes you want to win rarely win in a magazine that you founded!), but my votes always made sure they placed well. Heck, I even really like Beemers, and rode a scooter with a silver basket bolted to the back.
Enter today. After walking 1700 miles this year on the Pacific Crest Trail, I had a lot of time with my thoughts, and I've come to feel that, overall, I know nothing about anything, was never "enlightened of opinion" and value my freedom more than anything else. Freedom, to me, is the ability to do what I want, when I want. Simply put, it's freedom of time. In today's society, it means the financial means to just screw off on no notice for months at a time. Keep this in mind as I ramble on.
Now, the point of this diatribe: Harley makes the Man-Rod, and it's cool. Some of the fit and finish seems cheap and tacky to me, so I wouldn't have voted it first anyway. But I digress. With four valves and water cooling, it enters the power cruiser market. This means it goes head-to-head with the V-Max, in a niche that the V-Max carved out. At an MSRP of $16,695 and a realistic price of $30,000 plus -- coupled with the V-Max being faster with better brakes and (this is a scary thought) better handling, I just can't justify the expenditure, regardless of how much money is in my bank account. Nor can I recommend that you get fleeced just to own one: I'll wait a year or two or more for the used bike market to drop out from under Harley (which seems it is starting to do), and the resultant price-gouging and over-MSRP selling to stop, then I'll consider a 'Rod.
"Sadly, I liked it. I only say sadly because, next to the Man-Rod, the Mean Streak has the second worst name of the decade."
Even worse is that the "Beef Steak" monicker seems to have stuck. Loved the colors, the ride, the shifting, the engine. If Harley had ever made a two-valve bike this good, sportbike squids would probably give them respect.
But the name? Gimme a break. Trust me, I'm as diverse as they come: I've hired a gun-toting Korean and Minime, who likes country rap. I figure that, the more "diverse" a person is, the more "different" your lifestyle is, then the higher the fun factor to hang around you (although I really don't get the country rap thing). So, if I wanted to be a homos-on-bikes, I'd be down with the name, but my own strange socio-sexual identity doesn't line up in that camp, thus I found myself fibbing to my friends, "Yeah, it's the new Kawasaki Vulcan cruiser. Pretty cool, eh?" I hated lying to them, and hated being put in the position to fear being heckled for riding a Beef Steak.
But hey, if I was a lesbian, and as far as you know I just might be one, I'd really dig the name. So it's all a matter of perspective, and mine is more jaded than most. It's the easiest to ride, too, so if you're thinking of moving up to a large bike and fear displacement (despair not! about 70% of bikers I've met fear big power, it's strangely common, and personally baffling. There's nothing like third-gear, uncontrollable wheelies on a 310-pound, 140bhp two-stroke down Summit Point's straightaway!), this is the bike for you.
I just can't put my finger on it, but I really disliked it. Which is strange, as I like Hondas more than most, certainly more than Calvin. Heck, the VFR800 tops my all-time favorite bike list (R1s second, any current 1000cc UJM bike third), I had my four-stroke epiphany on a Honda. And my uber-hot friend Heather rode a Honda scooter, so I have fond memories of meeting the beautiful people on a Honda. Everything just seems wrong on the VTX -- once the power really gets rolling, the rev limiter bumps in. Its heavy. It's slow for its displacement. I didn't like the fit and finish and especially the dash layout.
It lacks soul.
What can I say? It rules. Loved riding it. It's the cheapest power cruiser and also the fastest -- by a lot. So I voted it first.
I like the riding position, which seems to be the killer for the majority of people, so, yes, the majority of people won't like it. But I'm still voting it first, and the Beef Steak second. I'll concede that the Beefy is the best all-around bike here for the money, but picking between the two is easy: Sit on a V-Max at a dealer, if you can stomach the riding position, get one. Otherwise, if you're a stinkin' rich RUB, get a Man-Rod, you won't be disappointed. Otherwise, the Beefy is the bike to have.
"As far as I'm concerned, there are only two (count 'em - two) bikes in this test. Kawasaki's Mean Streak and Harley's V-Rod are the only cruisers I've ever really enjoyed." As far as I'm concerned, there are only two (count 'em - two) bikes in this test. Kawasaki's Mean Streak and Harley's V-Rod are the only cruisers I've ever really enjoyed. And of the two, the V-Rod is a man's machine. It takes muscle to fling it through the twisties, the suspension is sportbike stiff and the motor will stretch your arms. It's even got its own unique look to it, though it's every inch a Harley. So what if they won't be available for a few months and the price is completely insane? I couldn't even afford half of the cheapest bike in this test, anyway. If going is more important to you than stopping, and you dig the occasional shot of adrenaline, there's only one real choice here. Besides, penny-pinchers shouldn't be worried about procuring a new cruiser anyway.
I voted the Mean Streak first for one, and only one, reason. Price. Thats it. Nothing else. For me, it's almost as good as the V-Rod except for the power output. Frankly, the price difference more than makes up for the power difference, hence my decision.
The VTX is not bad as a cruiser, and in all honesty, it's kinda fun to haul it around through corners. But once you have to get on the brakes, you realize that the only thing small on the machines is the brake lever. Get back on the gas, and the shaft lets you know that power is being transfered down to the ground. To its credit, the motor is really strong. Alas the low rev ceiling puts a damper on engine fun.
The V-Max was fun because it's fast. After all, it's cool to be able to out accelerate 600s off the line. However, the styling does absolutely nothing for me. The fuel filler hole is in a very stealthy position and the fuel reserve switch is kinda neat. The vented rear brake is trick. But thats about it.