Meanwhile, sneaking under the radar of fashion and fad is a style of motorcycle whose popularity is cresting largely due to its functionality: the bagger. Now, it’s true customizers are making outlandish productions out of these bikes – after all, the real estate offered by saddlebags and fairings are a poly fabricator’s wet dream and an airbrush artist’s wall-sized canvas. But the folks who ride them, really ride them, do so mainly because of their sensibility.
|[vs-jwplayer movieid="rFPFwsvi810" width="500" height="281" autoplay="0"]|
Cargo capability has established itself as a key factor for Gen X and baby boomer bikers, who prefer not to arrive at the workplace with shirtbacks soaked in sweat where their backpack rested. Wind protection is another convenient perk of the segment, and creature comforts like audio and navigation systems, cruise control, touring seats, floorboards, etc. are other advantage that mature motorcyclists – that desirable demographic saddled with disposable incomes and bad backs – often appreciate.
Harley’s Street Glide is the undisputed king of baggers, so far fending off challenges from Victory’s Cross Country and Harley’s bagger stablemate, the Road Glide, which we compared to Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1700 Vaquero in a 2011 bagger comparo. Yamaha’s cruiser brand Star Motorcycles jumped into the fray a few years back with its now-on-hiatus Stratoliner Deluxe.
These semi-dressed Japanese touring bikes came at a friendlier price point and with many of the same accoutrements of their domestic counterparts, but they couldn’t match that “American-made” panache desirable among many members of that preferred demographic. Earlier this year Honda (finally!) joined the battle with a bagger version of its mammoth highway machine, the F6B Gold Wing, a lighter and cooler blacked-out GL sure to seduce a new generation of Wingers. But will it entice devotees of other brands? The jury is still out.
Until recent years, earning “bagger” cred necessitated an upper fairing. Not so anymore. Recently, bikes with windshields such as Suzuki’s C90T B.O.S.S. and those without, like Victory’s Hard Ball, have tactfully donned the moniker, staking claims in bagger shows and publications and expanding the definition of what a bagger can be.
So with wind protection tossed out the proverbial window, what do all these aforementioned baggers have in common besides saddlebags? First of all, they’re freakin’ huge. All sport massive engines that top 1600cc and offer loads of power – and they need it to move all that poundage. All require their riders have a certain amount of strength and/or girth to operate them.
Secondly, and even more polarizing, all of these baggers cost upwards of 20 grand – a reasonable price point for their target demographic. But what’s an upstart aficionado of Bagger Nation to do?
In 2013, the industry has an answer. Introducing the new breed of light-heavyweight touring cruisers: the Honda Interstate; the previously mentioned Suzuki Boulevard C90T B.O.S.S.; and the V Star 1300 Deluxe from Star. All are smaller and lighter than the heavyweights, with engines in the 1300-1400cc range; all boast creature comforts designed to enhance the touring experience; and all cost less than $15K. Finally, whether purists consider them true “baggers” or not, all of these motorcycles are designated as “tourers” by their manufacturers, and that’s the yardstick by which they’ll be measured in this shootout.
What distinguishes them? At first glance, curb appeal. The long and low VT1300 Interstate is clearly a more stylized bike than the competition. Ditch the windshield and you’re riding a bona fide looker (or a Sabre). You can read our review of the 2010 Interstate here.
The Boulevard B.O.S.S. was introduced last fall, while a non-B.O.S.S.-ified C90T is already on showroom floors. A standard Boulevard C90 is promised by summer. With its 1462cc mill the B.O.S.S. is brawnier than the other baggers in this shootout, and for the most part behaves as such on the road. Dark components and leather-like saddlebag covers liken it to the Interstate; a bigger engine, fat rear tire and traditional touring styling set the Suzuki apart from both the Honda and the Star.
The V Star 1300 Deluxe, released in February, is the only faired bagger of the bunch. That’s a distinction Star is proud of and rightly so – neither Honda nor Suzuki claim to have even considered jumping on the batwing bandwagon. The 1300 Vee-Dee not only sports the ABS fairing, its color-matched saddlebags are easily the largest in this comparison and, at 7.6 gallons each, larger even than those on the V Star 1300 Tourer.
The similarities and differences of these three baggers go beyond what meets the eye. All have fluid five-speed gearboxes actuated by heel-toe shifters, but only the Star moves via belt drive – the others are shaft-driven. The Honda and Suzuki feature keyed helmet locks, while the V Star offers only underseat tabs. The Star counters with a hinged fuel cap; the others require you to find a place to rest the gas cap when refueling.
Unlike the Interstate, both the V Star and B.O.S.S. feature locking saddlebags, but the Suzuki’s are always locked – you must use the ignition key whenever you want to open them. This is especially irksome once you’re geared up and idling, then realize you want one more swig from your water bottle before pulling away. None of these quirks are deal-breakers, but it can be the little things that drive us bikers crazy, dontcha know.
Finally, the Interstate is the only bagger in this shootout to offer anti-lock brakes (a $1000 option), and none of these bikes offer cruise control. Curious omissions, but ones we’ll wager will likely be remedied on future releases.
To sort out all these highs and sighs, Editor Kevin Duke, Content Editor Tom Roderick and I flogged these baggers in the hills and on the streets, comparing our notes and contrasting their features. As in all our Shootouts, the Motorcycle.com staff put together a Scorecard by which to judge these three light heavyweight baggers.
Turn the page to find out what we learned.
Fine Bike, Unfortunate Name
When comparing bikes, the key is to stay true to the purpose for which they’re intended. Obviously, as fun as it might seem, comparing sportbikes to cruisers isn’t viable or valuable. But when OEMs give their bikes common designations, such as tourer or dual-sport, the bell sounds and the Motorcycle.com challenge is on.
And that’s how the Honda Interstate came up short in this shootout. We wanted to like the Interstate; we really did. It’s a fine-looking cruiser with many positive qualities. Our recently published review of the Interstate succinctly nailed its pros and cons. The Honda eschews a bit of function for maximum form on several levels, and the result is many of its curbside pluses end up being highway minuses.
The engine was not the culprit. Honda’s 1312cc mill was strong and eager to pull through its powerband, and even won an impromptu roll-on test; at 65 mph on a flat stretch of Highway 101, the Interstate pulled away and left the Star and Suzuki pretty much side-by-side, their pilots jaws dropping in surprise. On twisty two-lanes the Honda held its own despite its floppy, chopper-esque handling; it never fell so far behind on the curves as to be unable to catch up on the straights. The Honda came in third in the Engine category of our Scorecard, but just barely.
Its looks were not to blame, either. The Interstate scored 28 out of 30 to win the Appearance/Fit & Finish category – with “Chaps” Roderick awarding it a perfect 10 – and came in a close second in the Cool Factor section. “It’s got a boulevard-cool profile; remove that windscreen and you’ve got a real ladykiller,” Roderick notes. And we all agree the Interstate’s straight-cut dual chrome pipes delivered the most appealing exhaust sound of the three.
Honda also did well in the Braking and Tech sections of our scorecard. Its brakes were nearly as good as the Star’s and significantly better than the Suzuki’s, and the availability of an optional anti-lock braking system (our Interstate was thusly outfitted; the accessory adds $1000 to the MSRP) helped it come out at or near the top in these categories.
So let’s get this straight: it’s not the powerplant. It’s not the curb appeal. Stopping power is as good or better than the competition. So why doesn’t the Interstate live up to its name? Roderick put it best: “All the attributes that make the Honda the coolest-looking of the three conspire against it when it comes to comfort,” Tom surmised. And who are we to argue with a guy in chaps?
According to Honda’s website, the Interstate is Honda’s “long distance operator” – but touring involves more than just comportments. A bike built for the long haul needs to provide hours of comfort in the saddle, and that means not only amenable ergonomics – a healthy, wide chunk of foam doesn’t hurt – but suspension and handling characteristics that can carry bike and rider (and often passenger) confidently for long periods of time and over varying types of terrain. On its namesake highway, a passer-by will likely have a far more positive impression of the Honda Interstate than the bike’s rider.
“It feels more like a chopper than a proper touring cruiser,” Duke points out, noting that at 70.3 inches the Honda’s wheelbase is 3.8 inches longer than the Star’s and 4.4 inches longer than the Suzuki’s. He also noted how the Honda’s chassis seems to flex more than the others when hitting bumps while leaned over and notes it feels especially ungainly in slow-speed maneuvers, hindered partially by the Interstate’s wide and low beach bar. Finally, the ’State’s suspension is on the soft side, occasionally bottoming out on bumpy back roads.
Another victim of style? That sexy contoured fuel tank. The component that most visually distinguishes the Interstate from the other baggers in this test holds, at 4.4 gallons, a half-gallon of fuel less than the competition. While Honda’s spec sheet touts 46 miles per gallon for a total range of over 200 miles, we were lucky to make 175 miles on any of the several tanks we poured into the Interstate.
Mounted behind that stretched tank is the lowest, narrowest, thinnest seat of the bunch – and by far the hardest, so in addition to requiring constant, er, rider adjustment over the course of a long run, it also transmits the most amount of engine vibration. And its scooped shape forces the rider into one position and insists he remain there. Worse, the passenger “seat” is a barely-there pillion pad. “The Interstate’s pillion section is not just narrow, but it slopes rearward,” Duke says. “This bike should come with one of those shirts that reads: ‘If you can read this, the (passenger) fell off.’”
Kevin, the most height-challenged of our test riders at 5-foot-8, also derided the Interstate’s windscreen, noting he was buffeted at a level far more intense than on either of the other baggers. It wasn’t quite as unbearable for Chaps, er, Roderick and me, both about 5’11”, but it definitely provided the worst wind protection of the three.
Ultimately, in the Ergonomics/Comfort category of our Scorecard, which takes into account the seat, pegs, riding position, wind protection – anything that affects rider well-being – Honda’s self-proclaimed long-distance operator got walloped, netting just 18 out of 30 possible points. Neither of the other two touring-cruisers received a score less than 25.
A touring bike also requires creature comforts. Note to Honda: floorboards, saddlebags and a windscreen alone do not a tourer make. In both appearance and practicality, these accessories seem to have been simply bolted on to a base-model cruiser, in this case the Sabre, and the recipient rewarded with a different name and designation. Both the bags and windshield can be removed, but they’re not of the quick-detach variety. You’ll need some tools.
Ah, those funky little saddlebags – another feature of the Interstate that seem designed for charm rather than pragmatism. Visually, they certainly contribute to the bike’s slim silhouette and lean profile, but any I-State owner desiring to do real, long-haul motorcycle touring should immediately start shopping for some kind of additional strap-on cargo. The stock saddlebags simply won’t hold more than a long weekend’s worth of clothing and gear.
The Interstate’s bags feature a nifty hidden trigger-style latch on their inside front, just above the passenger footpeg and next to the side cover. But here’s the thing: There’s no locking function. At all. It’s an innovative latch system, to be sure, and virtually undetectable unless you know it’s there and what you’re looking for – like, say, anyone who happens to read this story or watch the video accompanying this shootout. And remember: the bags aren’t readily detachable. So the question becomes, will you feel secure leaving your property inside them at a rally, bike show or lunch stop, hoping no one knows how to open the stock saddlebags on a 2013 Honda Interstate?
“Stylistically, the Interstate is halfway blacked out to suit contemporary tastes, but it seems a mite confused, fitted with so many chrome components,” Duke says. An unfortunate on-road side effect, he notes, is all that chrome brightwork visible from the cockpit also reflects annoyingly in the windshield.
It’s important to say that all of these grievances are directed at the bike’s designation as a tourer. As a cruiser, it’s a fine ride with a ton of eyeball appeal – but then, so is the $12,250 Sabre. But for the long haul, especially when stacked up against its competitors in the light-heavyweight-touring cruiser segment, the $14,240 Honda Interstate ABS we tested is rather like a high school graduate who’s forced by his folks to enroll at his father’s med school alma mater, when all he really wants to do is hang around by the beach and meet chicks. Like parents projecting lofty aspirations on an underachieving child, Honda has put its light-heavyweight tourer in a position to disappoint by foisting unreasonable expectations upon it.
After a day in the saddle, the three of us debated over who should ride the Interstate home. Problem was, we all argued against it. For the record, I lost.
When Suzuki pulled the wraps off the Boulevard C90T B.O.S.S. back in November, Motorcycle.com was among the first publications to evaluate the bike, calling it a “beast” and a “bottom-heavy muscle tourer.” After extended time aboard the biggish bagger, I stand by that assessment. The B.O.S.S. is a traditional cruiser-tourer wrapped in a shroud of black.
“Its menacing, blacked-out paint scheme is a more badass than cool,” Roderick admits, “but if that’s what you’re into, the Darth Vader of touring-cruisers certainly emits its own flavor of cool.”
In this shootout, the big, bad B.O.S.S. lives up to its name. Its 1462cc powermill is larger, and at 800 pounds it’s at least 10% heavier at the curb than the other bikes. “The C90T feels like a bike a half a class bigger than the others,” Duke says. “That’s a plus for larger riders who want to chase horizons, but it’s a minus for diminutive pilots who plan to use a T-C for around-town riding,” he adds, keeping in mind the target bagger demographic.
Interestingly, the B.O.S.S.’ greater power and mass don’t impact its ride the way you’d think they would. The 150-plus extra cc’s of displacement certainly give the B.O.S.S. a leg up on the competition, nearly lifting it out of the light-heavyweight class. Unfortunately that power advantage is nominal, perhaps due to (or maybe because of?) how much bigger and heavier the bike feels under the rider. “Having the largest engine in this trio isn’t readily apparent,” Duke notes. “The Honda chugs along nearly as strongly at low revs, while the Star feels livelier at the upper end.”
Tom raved about the B.O.S.S.’ bottom-end grunt, but found its throttle action jittery at highway speeds. “Throttle application is a little herky-jerky when carrying higher RPMs,” he says. “Otherwise, Suzuki’s 54-degree Twin pounds out loads of usable, low-RPM torque.” And remember, in our roll-on test the B.O.S.S. and V Star ran pretty much even while being left in the lighter and lower-geared Interstate’s dust.
So the bagger with the biggest engine is only slightly stronger and barely faster than the others in our Shootout. Curious. Now, what if that same bagger also carries the most heft? You wouldn’t think it would sport the best handling and suspension of the three – but that’s precisely what we discovered.
The B.O.S.S. came out on top in our Handling category, narrowly outpacing the Star, and its fine suspension won that category handily. Unsurprisingly, none of these baggers overwhelmed in either department, but the B.O.S.S. was the best of the bunch in both. Its 31-degree rake makes for responsive maneuvering, and its suspension, while not preload adjustable, is ideally suited for the motorcycle.
“Somehow, although the heaviest of the three, Suzuki managed to suspend its bike the best,” Roderick points out. ”The B.O.S.S. is comfortable on the freeway and taut when navigating back roads. For aggressive canyon riding the Suzuki is a blast when competently throwing its weight around. The taut suspension can hustle it down a twisty, but the weight is apparent. By comparison, both the Interstate and V Star, while pillow-like cruising freeway slabs, are mushier in the corners.”
Another area in which the Suzuki bested its counterparts is transmission, and it was unanimous: we all gave the B.O.S.S. perfect 10s in this category. “Cruiser transmissions are typically clunky and loud, but the C90T demonstrates that’s not a prerequisite,” Duke says. “Shifting gears is a low-effort and precise operation in the Suzuki,” he added, noting that what feels like tall gearing keeps the B.O.S.S.’s engine vibration at highway speeds at a lesser level than the other baggers.
Roderick credited Suzuki’s reputation for building fine transmissions. “From sportbikes to cruisers, Suzuki transmissions almost always deliver buttery-smooth operation, and this remains true with the C90T B.O.S.S,” he said. “All bikes should shift as easily.”
The Suzuki also scored high marks for its touring saddle. “The B.O.S.S. seat is wide and comfortable,” Roderick says, “and its foam density strikes a good balance between firm and soft.” Duke also lauded the B.O.S.S.’s posterior comfort, even while noting the bike “suffers ergonomically by its wide fuel tank that splays apart a rider’s legs. And disappointingly,” he adds, “that massive tank doesn’t actually provide a useful increase in volume.” It’s true: the B.O.S.S.’s portly tank holds 4.8 gallons of fuel; the V Star’s narrower, less intrusive one manages to squeeze in 4.9 gallons.
In our opinion, what set the B.O.S.S. apart from the competition was also its downfall in this shootout. The larger motor doesn’t fully justify the bike’s extra mass; that is to say, it’s bigger and heavier than either the Honda or the Star, but when stacked up against these other light-heavyweight baggers, its girth and heft outweighed whatever advantage the larger engine brings to the fight. The B.O.S.S. was superior in many facets, but it was not significantly better in the one where it could have had a clear edge.
Suzuki also failed to counter the B.O.S.S.’s outsized mass as it relates to the C90’s brakes. “The bike’s weight can overwhelm its one front disc,” Roderick laments. The Suzuki came in dead last in this category on our Scorecard.
The B.O.S.S., we agree, also would have scored better in this comparison if it had utilized a proper fairing rather than just a plain windshield. The contoured windscreen does its job as well as can be expected, deflecting the elements better than the Honda’s. But when compared to the benefits the batwing provides the V Star Deluxe, the B.O.S.S. just doesn’t measure up. It should be noted the B.O.S.S.’s instrumentation is excellent for a tank-mounted dash, though, providing accoutrements the other touring cruisers overlooked.
“It’s the only bike with a fuel gauge and a GPI, both quite visible,” Duke reports. “Moreover, it also allows seeing time and odo/trip displays at once, while the other bikes require toggling through each individually.”
After a day switching off between each of these baggers, the three of us could only envision what a more fully realized touring machine the BOSS would have been had Suzuki added, or offered as an option, a distinctive, contemporary batwing rather than just bolting on an outmoded windshield.
That’s not to say for $13,999 it’s not an impressive package. The B.O.S.S. is still smaller, lighter and far more reasonably priced than any of the heavyweight semi-dressed touring machines mentioned at the top of this story. Still, it makes us wonder what might have been. With the Boulevard C90T B.O.S.S., Suzuki went bigger and badder than the other motorcycles in the segment. But it could have also gone better.
Star’s V Star 1300 Deluxe is truly in a class by itself. Not to disparage the other baggers in this shootout, but the Vee-Dee is the only light-heavyweight touring-cruiser in the game with a molded batwing fairing like the ones the big boys sport.
“The Deluxe’s batwing fairing makes it distinctive in this group,” Duke says, “providing wider wind protection and a classy visual appeal.”
As I pointed out in my March review, the V Star 1300 Deluxe cribs the look, dimensions and amenities of a heavyweight bagger, but does so with a 1304cc engine, keeping its weight and cost low. The seat height and wheelbase are comparable to the aforementioned Stratoliner Deluxe, but the V Star 1300 Deluxe’s light weight and low price adds maneuverability and a wide range of rider accessibility to a segment that’s often, ahem, weighed down by Baby Boomer stigma.
Look, it’s not an overwhelming ride or a groundbreaking technical marvel. Rather, the Star won this shootout by performing well in nearly every category on the Motorcycle.com Scorecard. Star has provided Bagger Nation with an affordable, quality bagger that most any motorcyclist can afford. It’s comfortable and fleshed out, with touring standards like copious cargo capacity, roomy floorboards and nice passenger accommodations, in addition to the obvious wind protection advantages a batwing provides.
“In a group of budget-minded touring-cruisers,” Tom says, “Star’s zumo with GPS navigation, XM satellite radio and two fairing-mounted speakers stand out against the technology-devoid offerings from Honda and Suzuki.”
But beyond the batwing and its benefits the other tourers here cannot claim, the V Star 1300 Deluxe also delivered on riding and technical merits. Its dual front discs handily gave it the best Braking score of the three. Thanks to a light clutch pull, plush seat, wide levers and the wind protection offered by the batwing, the bike’s performance in the Ergonomics/Comfort department proved superior as well, netting 29 out of 30 possible points.
“With the best wind protection of the group and the second best seat of the group I could easily spend the most time aboard the V Star,” Tom says. “And if I’m doing the long haul to Sturgis, the zumo, with its XM satellite radio, would make a nice traveling companion.”
Beyond winning the above categories outright, the Star performed consistently well up and down the roster, earning a solid second place in Engine, Transmission, Handling, Suspension and Instrumentation. It had zero third-place finishes on our Scorecard, suffering only in the Tech category because of the lack of optional ABS and cruise control – demerits it shared with the Suzuki. In the end, the Star achieved the highest overall marks on the Motorcycle.com Scorecard, notching 86.25%, while the Suzuki earned 80.89% and the Honda, 70.29%.
Let’s be clear: the Vee-Dee wasn’t without its foibles. We lamented the obvious placement of the evaporative emissions box hanging out like a wart. And some riders might like its windscreen to be a few inches shorter. And we all wish Star offered ABS and cruise control as optional equipment on the bike. But as for serious beefs, the Star was involved in fewer discussions among the jury than the other two bikes.
At $13,690, the Vee-Dee boasts the lowest MSRP in this comparison, although the base-model Honda Interstate without ABS is cheaper, at $13,240. The Star’s value proposition is striking, considering it offers true bagger styling, the best wind protection and largest saddlebags in the group, plus the navi system the others lack.
The V Star Deluxe’s value becomes even more outstanding when you consider how well it performed versus the competition. All day long, Kevin, Tom and I kicked around the pros and cons of the Interstate and the B.O.S.S., pointing out benefits of one and the drawbacks of the other at every stop. Meanwhile, the V Star 1300 Deluxe just led by example, doing it all and delivering the goods with the quiet confidence of a class leader.
“The Deluxe is a very well-rounded package, with few nits to pick,” Duke concludes. “It feels Goldilocks-y – a nice balance between the chopper-esque Interstate and the bigger-boned C90T.”