Godzilla Cruisers Shootout

We Must Flee!

story by MO Staff, Photograph by Fonzie, Created Jan. 29, 2007
Godzilla name is the property of Toho Films, Ltd.

Is bigger better?

Since we're all Americans here, we don't even have to ask that question. Of course it is.

 And nowhere is that more true than in the land of the cruiser motorcycle.

Just 10 years ago, Motorcycle.com posted its first heavyweight cruiser comparison test. Back then, "big" was 1,100cc, and "huge" was 1,500. Things have changed. Cruisers are bigger, with better Call out the Self-Defense Forces! Get out your white cotton gloves and whistles! styling, stronger brakes, more solid handling and enough torque to pull the AM/V MSC Napoli off the rocks. They also cost a lot more money. Are they worth it? Who needs a two-liter V-Twin, anyway? 

We do. In fact, we need five of them, just because we can. We dialed up our favorite OEMs and had them send over the biggest, baddest, nastiest, most-expensive mutant reptilian jumbo-cruisers they had. From Harley-Davidson came their outrageous CVO Springer, Honda sent a VTX1800C, Kawasaki rented a flatbed to bring us a colossal Vulcan 2000, Yamaha shipped in a Star Roadliner, and to satisfy all of you who whined about its absence from our Power Cruiser comparison last year, Suzuki ponied up the pony-packing Boulevard M109R. They are all big, comfortable, cushy weapons of mass destruction that are fun to ride but maybe not so fun to pay for. Which bike would we buy if we had to buy one of these? We decided to take them out on the road to find out.

After getting on the bat-phone to round up our usual crew of LA-area guest testers, we hit some canyons, freeways and city streets for some serious mileage before strapping these beasts to our much-abused Dynojet Dynomometer to find out how much torque it takes to warp a 1,000-pound steel drum. After that we tallied up our notes and votes to see what was beneath all that chrome, plastic, enamel, steel and hype to see what bike was the one we'd probably recommend to a friend, or buy ourselves if one of us magically happened to be sufficiently solvent to actually buy something like this. Big guys like to get straight to the point -- heck, Godzilla himself used to dry-swallow a few cargo ships before breakfast -- so let's cut the crap and get right to it.

The Contenders

Ebira, Horror Of the Deep: Honda VTX 1800C $12,899

It just oozes quality, unlike Al, who just oozes. When the Honda VTX 1800 was introduced back in 2000, it was the biggest thing in town, with every part emphasizing its heft and torque numbers that blew the motorcycle world's collective minds. Now it's just another big cruiser, but that doesn't mean it's a bad bike. In fact, it's an excellent motorcycle, like everything Honda makes. What makes it so good? And why didn't it win?

Honda's engineers wanted a bike that had a thumpy, powerful feel, yet was still smooth, refined and easy to ride. Starting at the bottom, they made a 41-pound twin-pin crankshaft with dual balance weights and bolted that to the biggest pistons and rods Honda ever made. It uses a 101mm bore and 112mm stroke to make 1,795cc of liquid-cooled and liquid-smooth power, delivering 89.1hp and 102.25 foot-pounds of torque to the much-abused (but still faithfully accurate) MO Dynojet Dynamometer. Dual throttle bodies feed the three-valve cylinder head, and a five-speed gearbox and driveshaft gets power to the back wheel.

The chassis is big and heavy, but still features Honda refinements and features. The tube-steel frame sets the front 130/70-18 radial tire 67.5 inches from the rear 180/70-16. Suspension duties are handled by a grande 45mm inverted fork in front, with dual shocks adjustable for preload in back offering 3.9 inches of travel. Brakes are dual three-piston calipers in front with 296mm discs, while the back gets a single 316mm disc and two-piston caliper. Front and back brakes are linked with Honda's LBS system, which activates all three calipers when a rider applies the rear brake. The big red enchilada weighs in at 734 pounds (claimed dry weight).

The "C" model offers a sporty, modern design. The redesigned flangeless fuel tank, cast aluminum wheels and low dragster-style seat look great, as does the tribal graphics and big headlamp. A big list of customizing options is also available, so you can really personalize the bike before you buy it with Honda's custom-building program.

The first impression the bike makes is a smooth, slick tidiness. Honda gets a lot of flack for making solid, good-performing machines that come off as being too refined -- bland, even. Our testers used terms like "middle of the road", "subtle", "utilitarian" and of course, "bland" to describe the styling, although Pete liked the "tough-looking" billet wheels, inverted fork and clear turn-signal lenses. The Honda has convincing looks, but it definitely doesn't stand out in this company.

On board, that utility serves the rider well, with nicely finished, solid-feeling (if a little dated looking) controls and good ergonomics. The reach to the drag bars is nice, and the seat is "the best balance between firm and soft", according to Pete. The pegs aren't too far out front, but there's still plenty of room for the tall among us. It's the "most efficient" riding position of all these bikes in Pete's opinion, and that's a good thing on any motorcycle.

Gabe thinks that helmet makes Buzz look...French. Firing the motor is satisfying, as it has a nice lumpy sound and feel to it. Power and torque are quite acceptable --"smooth and abundant" -- in Buzz's opinion, if soft compared to the other Japanese machines. But let's have some perspective here. Three-digit torque outputs can hardly be called soft on anything smaller than a sub-compact sedan, and it is so perfectly fueled and counterbalanced it's just a joy to use.

Around town, the bike's heft melts away above a walking pace and the linked brakes are seamlessly useable. On the freeway, although windblast is predictably strong over 70 mph, the splendid ergos and comfy seat make it a joy to rack up mileage on. At all speeds the wide bars and solid chassis make the bike maneuverable, even sprightly.

On a twisty road, this bike is second only to the Suzuki. It felt to Pete like it had the best ground clearance (although Petey might have just been in a good mood when he was riding the VTX), and the light feel and seamless motor lets the rider get into a groove and flow with the curves. Those good ergos also let the rider get more aggressive more comfortably. The VTX tackles winding roads with the competence expected of a Honda product, with light-ish steering, well-damped suspension and a stable chassis.

...that utility serves the rider well...At the end of the day, the Honda drips with competence and value, but just isn't the machine we'd take if there were other keys hanging on the wall. As Buzz said, "at first I thought I might vote it number one just because it's similar in performance to all the others and can be had for a fraction of the price of the Star or Harley," but then he realized, like the rest of us did, that this is a cruiser, and a flagship cruiser, at that. These bikes are great because they have an outrageous presence, but the VTX1800C is "like a giant Shadow 750", according to Buzz. It just doesn't arouse any real passion; "middle of the road", according to Jack, and "just another metric cruiser" according to Gabe. Sure, it's competent, great-performing and a sure value, but we're demanding souls here at Motorcycle.com and the VTX just didn't deliver that extra level of special-ness that we need to want to own something.

Gamera: Suzuki Boulevard M109R $12,599, $12,999 Special Edition

Where's the M109R?

Shhh. It's sleeping. That's what we read over and over again in the comments made about our 2006 Power Cruiser comparison test. We left it out because...well, sometimes things don't work the way you planned them, that's all. It happens. So we built this comparison test around the M109R; we wanted to pit all the big, outrageous cruisers against one another in a jumbo, Tokyo-crushing deathmatch.

This Boulevard is a real monster. We told you about it last year in Ken Glassman's intro report, and we really have been itching to test it since then. Ken raved about the bike's power and handling; how can crossing a GSX-R with a big-bore cruiser be a bad thing?

You can go check that story out for full specs and details, but basically the Suzuki engineers started with a clean sheet of paper. It's a "modern 54-degree, liquid-cooled, DOHC, four-valves-per-cylinder V-twin displacing 109 cubic inches (1,783 cc)", according to Glassman's report, with the biggest pistons of any gasoline-burning motor anywhere. All sorts of high-tech bits keep the motor powerful and as compact as possible, including a two-stage cam drive system, dual sparkplugs, a 32-bit ECU and special piston liners for the forged-aluminum pistons. It all adds up to 106.4hp and 101.3 pound-feet of torque, with a remarkably linear horsepower "curve" that's as close to a 45-degree angle as anything we've see come out of our Dynojet dynamometer.

That motor is bolted into a pretty serious chassis. A high-tensile steel double-cradle frame keeps the two wheels 67.3 inches apart, with a driveshaft/swingarm unit on one end, a chunky 46mm front fork on the other. The hidden rear shock is preload adjustable, but the fork lacks adjustment. Brakes are jumbo four-piston radial-mount calipers with dual 310mm floating discs up front and a single 275mm rear disc with a twin-piston caliper in back. It all weighs in at 703 pounds (claimed dry weight).

The bike is finished with plenty of painted plastic covers and faux chrome, as well as some functional bits. The wheels are cast aluminum, with fat 18-inch radial Dunlops; a 130/70R18 front and a biggest-in-the-test 240/40R18 in back. There's also a 5.2-gallon tank and a nice solo seat cover, which comes off with a key so you can replace it with the included passenger seat. Hopefully the passenger isn't a copyright attorney working for Victory; the rounded back end with fat back tire looks a lot like the Victory Hammer.

Suzuki is definitely trying to be original and different, and we all heartily supported the ethos if not the execution. Although the bold, flowing lines "look good from ten paces", according to Gabe, (who also looks good at ten paces) closer inspection reveals "acres of flimsy plastic" according to Buzz, who dubbed the `Zook the "ugly V-Rod", with an "odd convulsion of shapes". The big seam on the bottom of the tank isn't too endearing, either, nor is the big,          bulbous thing behind the headlight. It's not Madura-ugly, but it's not winning any beauty contests anytime soon, although Pete appreciated the styling, saying it "epitomizes muscle bike."

Hey, you can't see it while you're riding it (unless you pass some of Buzz's plate-glass windows), and the view from the broad, cushy saddle is much better. The M109R also has a nice reach to the bars, with a markedly compact seating position. Jack thought the footpegs were far forwards, making an "odd" seating position, but Gabe liked the tight cockpit feel and "almost perfect" seat. The controls are decent as well, with a nicely-positioned control panel, but Pete and other testers thought the rear brake was set too close to the footpeg, making it uncomfortable.

Big bike, little man. The motor fires up easily enough, and is truly excellent in almost every respect. Pete liked the "threatening sound" emanating from the intake and exhaust almost as much as he liked lighting up the back end at every green light. Buzz said "you get immediate thrust anywhere, anytime you want it." The five-speed gearbox and hydraulic clutch work with creamy Suzuki precision with pronounced shaft-hopping and drivetrain lash from the back end, which is to be expected from a bike with this kind of power and a shaft drive. It's not exactly accented by what Gabe thought was "imperfect" fueling; he noted low-speed harshness from the throttle, and Buzz said it was "hard to ride smoothly" because of the touchy nature.

On the road, the bike reveals its sporty, nimble nature. It's no surprise Kevin Schwantz was at the press introduction for this bike; it really has a lot of sportbike DNA in there. It turns lightly and quickly, is dead-stable on high-speed sweepers, and in general bests most of these bikes, handling-wise. There's even a reasonable amount of cornering clearance. The only real quibble is the suspension, which we found to be hard; "on anything less than perfect pavement, the ride can be very jarring", said Pete. This seems to be a trend with driveshaft-equipped bikes, yet another reason why belts should be universal on cruisers.

You certainly can't fault its road manners, brakes or motor. The brakes are as good as you'd expect, with more than enough power to overwhelm the front tire, but Pete noted a slightly "wooden" feel to the lever. This is probably because the long wheelbase, rearward weight bias and heavy weight of a cruiser limit the effectiveness and feel of any brakes, regardless of how fancy they are.

Riding back home from a nice two-lane road, the M109R takes good care of its rider. Wind protection is ample, vibration is a soothing thump at freeway speeds in top gear, and the seat coddles you. It's a great way to rack up miles, ready for any kind of road. So why did it finish a close third to the Harley and Kawi? You certainly can't fault its road manners, brakes or motor. You can live with the niggling FI issues, and the price is the lowest here. But the styling and attention to detail are more mid-priced than flagship cruiser, which changes this bike from an object of desire to just another collection of techno-wonders. If you want ultimate power, braking and handling the GSX-R1000 is the way to go, but a cruiser has to look as good as it goes. That's a tall order for something that goes as good as this, but it can be done. Just not this time.

Mothra: Harley-Davidson CVO FXSTSSE Screamin' Eagle Softail Springer $24,995

How can anybody hate Harleys? The boys from Milwaukee make a lot of motorcycles every year, and since they use but three motors and four basic chassis configurations, they probably make more of any single model than any other manufacturer. That means no matter how much you snarl or no matter how long a chain you have on your wallet, there will be another 10 or 20,000 long-chained-snarlers riding around on an identical machine. What to do?

Harley-Davidson thinks they have the answer with their Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) division. Since 1999, the CVO people have been satisfying America's need for custom bikes by building factory custom bikes loaded with custom paint and generous helpings of performance and cosmetic upgrades from the H-D accessory catalog. While the bikes are priced substantially higher than the stock models          they're based on, the total package is significantly less than it would be if the customer purchased a standard bike and souped it up part by part.

We figured a CVO bike would be Harley's ultimate expression of outrageous, mutant bigness, and the Softail Springer was what they had on hand for us to test. The CVO guys start with the counterbalanced 96 cubic inch (1,584cc) Twin Cam motor, give it a silver powder coat and chrome treatment and punch the bore out to 101.6mm, for a new displacement of 110 cubes (1,800cc). Compression gets a teeny .2 boost for a 9.3:1 ratio, and the electronic sequential-port fuel injection gets a Stage One Screamin' Eagle air cleaner. Aside from the chrome slash-cut mufflers and a hydraulic clutch, the rest of the motor is pretty much standard, with the new six-speed transmission and other improvements that make the new Harley Big Twin lineup so nice to ride. It's good for 81.46hp and 95.58 foot-pounds of torque on the MO Dynojet Dyno.

I got yer brakes right here, pal! The chassis is standard Softail; mild tube steel with a steel swingarm and hidden twin shock absorbers. However, the vintage-styled stock spoke wheels and fenders are ditched for groovy chromed Revolver wheels (a 21-inch front and 17-inch rear) and a cut-down front fender. The rear shocks get the lowering treatment too, reducing the back end to a bone-jarring -- but fashionably low -- 3.24 inches of travel. The front fork is the technologically-advanced (for the 1930s) leading-link fork that looks more delicious than any front end short of Scarlett Johansson's. The front brake -- upgraded with a steel-braided brake line -- is a chrome-plated single-piston caliper gripping a 292mm floating disc.

The rest of the bike gets all kinds of fancy features. There's a leather two-up seat, chrome accessories too numerous to list, a cool mini tachometer mounted on top of the internally-wired chromed drag bars, an even cooler LED fuel gauge set into a chrome panel in the tank, and a flush fuel-filler cap. A keyless security system, which uses a fob to let the bike know when the rider is on the bike, comes standard, along with a special CVO ignition key. The package weighs in at 694 pounds dry (claimed), costs $24,995, and they will make just 2,500 of them, in three different colors.

Pete thinking, "How much will they pay for an American baby in Russia? Parked with the mob of production bikes, the CVO "certainly makes the others look Japanese," said Motorcycle.com contributor Buzz Walloch, and Executive Editor Alfonse "Fonzie" Palaima laughingly agreed. Pete said that "at least in any visual respect, we have a winner." It really does trump every other bike in the test visually, with "incredible" paint (even though Buzz didn't care for the "cliché tribal flames"), deep, rich chrome and nicely-proportioned lines. Buzz says it's the kind of bike "people speed up on the freeway to get a closer look" at, "and when you're on it, you hope you roll by some plate-glass windows" to admire yourself. "Top of the heap, of course," said Harley-loving Fonzie. Even Jack, whose taste tends more to the utilitarian, was seduced: "Wow! A beautiful bike with that Springer front end, low seat and          green/yellow metal-flake paint job; and I'm not a fan of green." Gabe admired the "clean, well-done styling", but was surprised by passenger footpegs that looked like afterthoughts; they contact the muffler when they are folded up all the way.

After climbing onto the leather saddle and grabbing those slick custom billet grips, the bike is easier to haul upwards than most of these big bikes. The saddle isn't too hard, and boasts a seat low enough for Gul Mohammed to ride easily, which -- when combined with the comfortable reach to the drag bars -- puts the rider perfectly in control. Hopefully you have that alarm key fob in your pocket, otherwise the bike will be chirping and shrieking at you until you get off and run away.

The bike starts up easily, and rewards the highly-entertained rider with a very nice sound through those slash-cut shotgun duals that will unfortunately not be loud enough for most of you Harley faithful. The hydraulic clutch engages smoothly, as does the re-worked transmission. The motor is "sweet," according to Buzz; "it rips away from stoplights with easy burnouts", and is plenty powerful, especially given the chassis and brakes, but in this company it's noticeably down on power. Still, it's a great cruiser motor, as well as the most `authentic'.

It delivers all the torque and power you need to rip away from stoplights and propel you swiftly up freeway ramps and out of corners, but suspension and brakes are the limiting factor. The lowered rear shocks deliver horrible jarring shocks to the lower back when you're unlucky enough to hit a big I-405-sized divot or rut at freeway velocities. "Ow!" was a frequent quote from the mouth of Editor Ets-Hokin, and he noted some serious back pain that went away as soon as     he mounted a different bike. The "suspension offers a pretty harsh ride, but I guess that's part of the overall, retro theme" posits Managing Editor Pete Brissette.

The big chrome springs up front make squeaky bedspring noises, but the front end works OK if you don't push it too hard. However, where it does have limits is with that single-piston, single-disc brake. "It's OK to be in a hurry, as long as you're not in a hurry to stop" offered Gabe, but the brake system is far from dangerous or inadequate; the rear brake offers plenty of power and feel, and the front gets the job done if you give it enough digits. But still, let Buzz tell you: "it likes to go but doesn't like to stop." You have been warned.

Luckily, motorcycles are about going, and the CVO is reasonably competent going around corners. Ground clearance runs out predictably early, but as long as you don't push it too hard -- or maybe don't push it hard at all -- the bike will go ...this bike is best suited for cruising the strip and looking good... through corners dutifully enough. Pete thought that "despite the 21-inch front wheel, the Springer changes direction quite easily", and the long wheelbase and good Softail frame keep things stable enough. That lowered rear and antiquated front are the price of fashion, though, and overall, to quote Pete, "this bike is best suited for cruising the strip and looking good...extended freeway time or excessive amounts of twisting roads really are outside of the scope of the Springer's design."

Some of us wondered if the CVO wasn't out of place in this company. But Gabe disagrees; "there are plenty of buyers out there who want the biggest, most-expensive bike around, and this is the biggest-displacement motor Harley offers." For those buyers, there is no replacement for displacement, and that big "110" sticker on the air cleaner speaks to the importance of big numbers. It's big, beautiful to look at and is a practical, user-friendly everyday ride, especially if your everyday ride is on smooth, low-speed pavement.

However, it's down on power compared to these other beasts, has a very narrow focus and is below average when it comes to suspension action and braking. That plus 25 gees is the cost of style, we suppose, but despite making Fonzie the happiest guy in LA for a few weeks, this is not a bike for somebody looking for a good all-around cruiser. However, it had enough flash, good performance and pizzaz to beat out the more practical-minded Suzuki and Honda. Given the bike's limitations, it's a surprise it tied for second place with the Kawasaki, but like ladies' shoes, it seems that the more expensive and desirable a custom bike is, the less practical and comfortable it is in actual use.

Still, the CVO really isn't that bad to ride and made a pretty impressive showing. Things might have been different for Harley-Davidson if we had tested the VRSCX, but that's no Godzilla-bike. That bike is more like Ultraman.

PAGE 2 Rodan: Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 Classic $12,999

So you want big, do ya? Think you can handle something truly car-sized, eh? Kawasaki decided to give us everything we asked for and then some when they brought the big Vulcan 2000 out in 2004. This is kind of what Gabe was thinking of when he came up with the "Godzilla Cruiser" concept in a scotch-fueled frenzy; a bike built mostly to show how big a V-Twin motorcycle could be.

The supposedly logical people of Vulcan started with an immense flywheel and single-pin crankshaft connected to 103mm pistons working a 123.2mm bore. The motor is liquid and air cooled for maximum reliability and classic cooling-fin looks. The transmission is a five speed -- do you really need more gears with these displacement numbers? -- with a cable-operated clutch. Final drive is by belt, exhaust is slash-cut staggered shotgun duels, and big pushrods keep the valves in order. Power is quite impressive, with 95.74hp and 120.87 foot-pounds of torque on the hapless Motorcycle.com Dynojet dynamometer. Said torque hits its "peak" (if you can call a gently-rounded curve a "peak") at 3,000 rpm, and since the rev limiter kicks in before 5,250 rpm, the torque and power curves never cross. Can you say "tractor"?

This means we will need a big chassis and we get one. It's a steel tube double-cradle design with an additional box girder in the spine, and a huge triangulated steel swingarm that bolts to a big monoshock adjustable for preload and rebound damping. The front fork is a 49mm conventional unit that locates a cast aluminum 16-inch wheel 68.3 inches in front of the back wheel. The rear wheel is also a 16-incher, and tires are radials, with a 150/80-16 in front and a 200/60-16 in back. Brakes are 300mm discs in front with four-piston calipers, and a two-piston caliper and 320mm disc brings up the rear.

The rest of the bike is furnished with lots of thick chrome, paint and other nice features. There's a huge speedometer with big numerals on it, a thick, soft seat with a 26.8-inch seat, a very thoughtful passenger seat with low pegs, and a big buckhorn handlebar. The tank holds 5.5 gallons and the whole bike weighs 750 pounds (claimed dry weight). Lift with your legs.

We all liked the styling, which is muted and tasteful if a little boring. However, Buzz recognized the wisdom of sticking "with a formula that's worked for a long time". He admired the deep cooling fins and oil lines on the side of the motor, although we wondered about the odd-looking crinkle finish on the engine cases. Still, Pete wished for a "little more flash" to "make this bike stand out" in this company, and Gabe thought such a giant of a bike deserved a little more originality in its styling; "it's like the Jolly Green Giant wearing a dark-grey business suit."

Oil lines: Nice! Weird crinkle finish: Not so nice! Getting on board almost requires a gangplank and reinforces the overall sense of scale the bike imparts. The seat is low, but the bike is so wide it feels higher. The bars are also mucho wide, making them hard for little Gabe to reach, although nobody else complained about them. The seat is good, though, and the floor boards promise lots of comfort. "It feels right once you're saddled up," said Buzz.

Starting the bike up is almost like the curtain coming up on a Wagner opera. There is a rumble, a roar and a clatter as the huge parts churn to life with a rich sound. Blipping the throttle makes the chassis squirm as the flywheel tries to pound the chassis into the earth with its gyroscopic effect. Once underway, the motor is easy to modulate with a light clutch and good fueling. Click it into any gear -- what does this thing have, five, six cogs? It doesn't matter -- and you can "lumber along effortlessly," as Pete reported. Opening the throttle hard leaves dark stripes in intersections (and maybe in your shorts) and is endlessly entertaining. Is 120 foot-pounds of torque worth having? We're amazed that someone who shelled out $11.94 to read this magazine would have to ask that question, and you didn't, did you? Anyway, to answer that question, yes.

...what does this thing have, five, six cogs? It doesn't matter...

Unlike the Boss Hoss Gabe rode last year, the chassis can handle the power this monster motor makes. Once rolling, the bike is "light on its feet," according to Pete. It "steers and changes directions quickly and with little effort; very deceiving for such a large machine." Gabe agreed, saying it could "get around corners much better than I expected", hampered only by limited cornering clearance (but what else is new?). Still, as Buzz says, "it's a longgggg machine and if you start tossing it around in corners, the heft and length will remind you this isn't a sportbike."

What it is is a big, heavy, comfortable cruiser that works well as a package and is very satisfying to ride. It reminded Buzz of his Grandma's 1968 Chrysler New Yorker; big, soft, heavy and effortlessly powerful. It fosters a lazy, relaxed riding style born of confidence and knowledge that when the road straightens out or the signal turns green, there isn't much with chrome and floorboards that can touch you. The brakes are competent enough, the suspension is very well-damped and compliant, and steering, while not exactly light, is     low-effort enough to not spoil the easy-handling illusion. Just don't try to keep up with a Supermoto at Streets of Willow and everything should work out fine. Carrying a passenger or touring would also be nice with this bike.

So there you have it; a multi-purpose cruiser that hides that functionality and practicality under a gianormous 2,053cc motor. The fact that is has such a big motor enhances, rather than takes away from its usability, and that's the mark of good engineering, which is why this bike unexpectedly tied for second place. Al said it best (which is rare for Al): "Great-sounding and fun bike overall."

Godzilla: Star (Yamaha) Roadliner S (2006 Tested) $14,980 (Charcoal/Bronze) (2007 - $14,780)

Some researchers at the NIH just found that a head injury can stop your need to smoke...but in this case, it's the other way around. So, you had enough big yet? Here's some more. Yamaha wanted their Star brand to have a real luxury flagship product, something to show off their engineering and marketing prowess, and they knew a big motor in a big bike would do it best. We sent Pete to the intro in 2005, and Gabe checked out the touring Stratoliner version of it soon afterwards. We also compared it to some other "flagship" bikes that year, where it was the clear favorite over the Triumph Rocket III and Harley-Davidson Road King.

What makes it so good? Well, having a good engine doesn't hurt. This one is a nice blend of high and low tech to make it powerful, efficient, attractive and reliable. The air-cooled 1,854cc mill uses pushrods and twin counterbalancers to keep things smooth, yet "authentic". Fuel injection and four valves per cylinder -- along with a 9.5:1 compression ratio -- help to show 89.96hp and 109 foot-pounds of torque on the ol' dyno. A five-speed transmission and hydraulic clutch keep the ratios selected.

The chassis is unique in this company. It's the only one made of light, rigid aluminum, with the swingarm using the "controlled-fill" casting technology Yamaha developed for their more sporting machinery. It puts 67.5 inches between contact patches and weighs in at just 37 pounds. The suspension is a 46mm fork You'll be coasting on a wave of force and never meet Mr. Rev Limiter. and a preload-adjustable hidden rear shock. Wheels are cast aluminum and are protected by modern tubeless radials, a 130/70-18 front and a 190/60-17 in the back. If only they were whitewalls. The brakes look old-fashioned, but in reality are dual monoblock four-piston calipers clutching 296mm discs in front and a 320mm disc in back.

A great motor and great chassis deserve eye-popping styling, and the `Liners have it. Inspired by Art Nouveau and Art Moderne styling from the 1930s and `40s, the Roadliner has low, swoopy lines and chrome accents that suggest power and grace. A huge radio-dial-style speedometer glares up out of the 4.5-gallon fuel tank, and fender supports and the big chrome bar match the theme. It all weighs in at 705 pounds (claimed dry weight).

Most of us liked the styling -- a lot -- but Buzz thought it went "a little too far." He thought the way everything came to a point made it look like "Dirk Diggler's motorcycle... a little too busy after a while." But Gabe thought the styling was a "great way to keep the classic Americana theme without being too Harley-derivative, and Pete has described the Roadliners as being "real lookers...classy...discrete."

What isn't controversial is the quality feel and comfort of the bike. This is no budget bike, and it has the expensive, custom feel that Harley owners traditionally cherish. The switches feel solid and smooth, many parts are chromed or polished, and in general everything has a heavy-duty, well-made feel. The seat is broad, flat and soft, while still being supportive, and the floorboards and big bar put you in a perfect riding position.

The motor feels great, with character, refinement and power in equal dollops. Fueling is just right, and drivetrain slop is held to a minimum by a tidy transmission and efficient belt drive. The hard rear tire will smoke and spin quite easily when the throttle is twisted at a stop, and the bike just leaps ahead, giving you that "magic rush that only huge torque can provide," according to Buzz. It's so smooth that redline comes up fast, but keep the bike in third or fourth gear and troll along. You'll be coasting on a wave of force and never meet Mr. Rev Limiter.

The chassis is also good. It's unobtrusive, with only the big, floating floorboards and rubber-mounted bars reminding you you're on a cruiser. "Hooray for the belt drive and modern suspension," sayeth Gabe, and the Hairy One is right; this bike feels lighter than it is, steering quickly and easily. Buzz says the "big Star is a wonderful bike to ride. The aluminum chassis really works well with the monster motor." It doesn't have the fast, almost frantic feel of the Boulevard, but a rider feels very much in control and can have a     good time wearing out floorboards on a twisty road. It's also easy to handle in traffic and around town.

Freeway comfort is of course very good, limited only by a small-ish fuel tank and the cruiser curse of too much weight on the tailbone. But this bike is still a great traveling companion, with the ability to profile around town, hustle through the twisties or drone along the freeway in complete comfort.

That's why the Star won by a wide margin. Pete, Al and Gabe all picked it first, citing quality, reliability, performance, value and comfort. Even Jack and Buzz, who felt it wasn't quite convincing as an object of desire, still acknowledged its plush ride and stellar handling. Fonzie was excited at the wide array of customizing parts available for Star motorcycles, and Gabe just likes nice things he can't afford. The Roadliner offers a nice blend of Japanese performance, American styling and a dash of 21st-century glitter, and if Godzilla is a fearsome monster, who in the end can be tamed and serve humanity, the Roadliner is the scaly radioactive beast in motorcycle form.

Page 3

 The Conclusions

We planned this comparison test with plenty of tongue-in-cheek. After all, we're not really cruiser people (well, except for Buzz and Al, but they dabble), seeing huge bikes like this as being a trifle excessive.

But we found that they were good, practical, economical machines that would be easy to live with day in and out.

Living With the Monsters

Le Freak/So Chic Keeping a giant radioactive mutant as a pet is probably prohibitively expensive; imagine having to take five tons of radioactive lizard poop to the toxic waste dump every day. However, servicing these five bikes is pretty reasonable. We called some local shops to see what time and parts costs would be through 30,000 miles. We figure the average service rate is about $90 per hour; the shops we talked to may charge more or less, and your local mechanic will hit you up for a different amount, depending on how many six-packs you've brought him over the years.

In any case, our "cost of service" is an estimate we calculated to give you a rough idea of service costs for these bikes and are not official rate quotes from any OEM or motorcycle dealer, so don't complain to us if your local guy charges you more. We will, however, take credit if he charges you less. We look out for you.

CVO Springer

Ray at Dudley-Perkins Harley Davidson Buell in South San Francisco, CA told us the CVO, despite having a souped-up 110-inch motor, still uses the same basic service schedule as all the other Big Twins. After a 1,000-mile break-in service, it gets a visit to Dr. Dudley every 5,000 miles. All the services are about three hours, with roughly $100 in parts.

Cost of Service to 30,000 miles: $2,200.

Average Fuel Economy during Motorcycle.com Testing: 39.47 mpg.

Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 Classic

Jonathan at Del Amo Motorsports told us that the Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha get very similar services. For the Kawi, the 600-mile service is a 2.5-hour job, with about $50 in parts. At 4,000 miles it gets another 2.5-hour service, with about $130 in


parts. At 8,000 it gets a more basic 1.5-hour check with $50 in parts, and this cycle is repeated through 40,000 miles when the hydraulic valve train finally gets an inspection.

Cost of Service to 30,000 miles: $2,250.

Average Fuel Economy during Motorcycle.com Testing: 35.76 mpg.

Suzuki Boulevard M109R

The Boulevard's service schedule is similar to the Vulcan's, except its more-sophisticated motor needs a valve check every 16,000 miles. That requires 3.5 hours, which would really only add another hour to servicing times to 30,000 miles.

Cost of Service to 30,000 miles: $2,340.

Average Fuel Economy during Motorcycle.com Testing: 33.93 mpg.

Honda VTX1800C

Did you say I was a ___ ? (Complete this sentence, and the best caption gets a Motorcycle.com T-Shirt.) A call to Matt at the East Bay Motorsports service department revealed pretty standard recommendations for a Japanese-built cruiser. The 600-mile break-in service is three hours and requires about $40 in parts, and that's repeated at 4,000 miles. However, valves need a check every 8,000 miles which means a 4.5-hour service and $50 in parts, including plugs.

Cost of Service to 30,000 miles: $2,915.

Average Fuel Economy during Motorcycle.com Testing: 39.57 mpg.

Yamaha Star Roadliner

The Star is a star when it comes to being easy to service; the valves don't need inspecting until 40,000 miles, so servicing it is the same as the Kawasaki.

Cost of Service to 30,000 miles: $2,250.

Average Fuel Economy during Motorcycle.com Testing: 38.14 mpg.

Well, something about you reminds me of my ex-wife, but ditch the kid and we'll go back to my place anyway. At the end of the day, we all want to ride. And after we've gotten the phone numbers at the bars and impressed all our friends at the Burger Barn, we still have a big, expensive bike we need to clean, maintain, make payments on -- and ride. The ride is the thing, like on any other bike, and these bikes surprised us with how liveable they are.

But practicality be dammed! If the CVO Springer is just too uncivilized to have as an only ride, then the Honda is just too bland to make the owner feel like he really has something special. The Suzuki performs like a champ, but has looks that keep it from being taken too seriously. The Kawi is pretty awesome -- and we know that word gets used too much, but the Vulcan 2000 is really awesome -- with all that torque and flickable heft, but it is just a few points shy in the zowie department to take the prize.

Nits and Notes

  • The Springer's security system is effective but can be annoying if you have a bunch of guys switching bikes around. It's guaranteed, every time we have a Harley on one of these tests, that when we switch bikes one guy gets left behind on a Harley that won't start when one of the other guys goes roaring down the road with the fob in his pocket. And if you try to mess with the bike when the fob isn't nearby, the "Smart Siren II" will make you feel extremely dumb by making a sharp, piercing whistle not unlike a parakeet on a steroid-and-coke jag for two or three minutes. It's loud.

  • The Suzuki has adjustable shocks, but they don't give you an adjustment tool. There is plenty of room for one under the seat, though.

  • The Star' drive belt has "DO NOT BEND" stamped on it, which confused us. We bent the belt a lot with no ill effect.

  • The Roadliner's massive speedometer is like having a TV on your gas tank at night. Fortunately you can adjust the intensity of the light so it's not distracting.

"What We'd Buy" Table
How the testers would spend their own money.
We scored the bikes 6 pts. for 1st, 4 for 2nd, 3 for 3rd, 2 for 4th and 1 for 5th.


Al "Masaji the Fisherman" Palaima

Buzz "Hideto" Walloch

Jack "Emiko" Straw

Pete "Daisuke" Brissette

Gabe "Professor Tanabe" Ets-Hokin


2006 Yamaha RoadLiner 1900







2007 Harley Davidson FXSTSSE Screamin' Eagle Softail Springer







2007 Kawasaki Vulcan 2000







2007 Suzuki Boulevard M109R







2007 Honda VTX1800C







That leaves the Star Roadliner. It has a motor that is 95% as wonderful as the Kawi's, with a better chassis and less weight. It's also as good-looking a cruiser as any Japanese factory has built to date, with an imposing motor and classy touches everywhere.

At $14,780 it's not cheap, but Fonzie thinks these bikes will hold their values better than some Japanese cruisers have in the past. But beyond resale value, the Star is a well-made, classy bike that will make the owner happy, and that's what's important. 

What I'd Buy

Cruisers. They're everywhere these days. And they only seem to be getting better and better. I'll admit that I'm not much of a cruiser fan, but each new crop of these relaxed rides make a better case each time to become one.

The land monsters that Editor Ets-Hokin rounded up for this test do a good job of fooling the eye. Only one of the five really looks like it's all business. Two of them share a more classic look. Still another strikes a good balance between looking tough and being practical. And the remaining steed is in a league of its own; at least in one respect.

I say they fool the eye because judging solely by their appearances you'd never expect them to handle, accelerate and brake as well as they do. The growth of the cruiser market has caused most manufacturers to re-prioritize their bread-and-butter lines. But they haven't done so just for the sake of having a robust number of cruisers to their name. Quite to the contrary, many OEMs have done a very good job of blending the look and feel that consumers demand with performance that is downright surprising.

Of this collection, I found picking a bike that I'd buy with my own coin a little harder than I suspected. Every time I climbed aboard a different bike for the first time I found something that I thought made me like it more than the bike I had just ridden.

... the remaining four can't quite steal me away from the RoadlinerBut in the end I guess I'm just a creature of habit. I came full circle back to the motorcycle that I had ridden more than a year earlier when it was first unveiled to the public. As far as I'm concerned the remaining four can't quite steal me away from the Roadliner. I know that its look has proven to be controversial, but to me it takes the classic cruiser look to a new high for mass-produced bikes. The old is new again with its streamline-era-inspired looks. But this bike is far more than what's on its surface. The rigid, all-aluminum frame provides excellent stability and its light weight allows it to change directions effortlessly -- at least for a cruiser. The monstrous engine runs smooth and strong, the brakes work more efficiently than some sport bikes I've ridden, and the exhaust is perfect to my ears -- throaty and threatening without being annoying. And, they've made passenger accommodations more than a leather sheath stapled to a steel fender.

So, if I ever jump into the cruiser crowd, the Star Roadliner just might be the bike that would make me take that relaxed, easy-going leap.

-Pete Brissette, Managing Editor

Gabe looked at me oddly while I donned my Nolan. "You realize you're wearing an open face helmet." I didn't realize we were going to abandon sunny Orange and San Diego counties to ride up into LA's first snow storm since 1962. Fonz had the Doppler showing us where the eye of the storm was and he took us right there.

At the first gas stop I dashed inside the Quicky Mart to warm my frost-bitten face when I realized something. You get a better feel for these bikes when you don't have the chin bar blocking your view of the styling of the tanks, instruments, headlight nacelle and other parts. That gives me a fresh perspective a full-facer would have blocked.

It'll buff out. Really, trust me, it'll buff out. The Harley didn't have the punch or brakes of the others but dang it felt good once we got off the freeway and onto some meandering curvy roads. It's just has a pure American Hot Rod feel to it with the right vibrations and perfect paint and chrome; all eyes gazed upon the Harley at every stop. I'm still not spending 25 grand for it though. I'd rather buy a stock Dyna and put the 110 kit on it and leave all the chrome doodads in the box. Oh and one more note: When we stopped for coffee in Malibu to warm up, a nattily-attired Malibu cougar waltzed up to us and asked, "Are those your Harleys out there?" None of us corrected her. 'nuff said.

The Suzuki was the cheapest of the bunch and powered through traffic like the fat bully shoving all the other nerds out of the way to be first in line at the Grand Opening of the new Star Wars movie. He may have the best seat in the house but he's still a dork. Memo to Suzuki: You've got the goods with this motor and chassis but get some stylists in there stat!

That leaves me with Grandma's New Yorker. I was torn in both directions by the Star and Honda. One seemed trying too hard to be groovy while the other didn't care. Both offer excellent performance. The Yamaha is a little more spendy due to the fancy phallic look.

That leaves me with Grandma's New Yorker. What's not to like about a 440 cubic inch V8, or a 2,000cc V-Twin for that matter? The Kawasaki had a great feel to it and a wonderful view over the fuel tank and through the bars and swooping headlight. It made me smile and I had visions of being on the open road on it with a curvaceous passenger tucked warmly behind me.

If you're gonna ride a Godzilla Cruiser it might as well be the biggest, and my money says it's the Vulcan 2000.

-Buzz Walloch, MOron-at-large

I am a small man. Many small men have a complex about being small; Napoleon, Pol Pot and Paul Simon come to mind. But I like to think I don't have a problem with it. In fact, I'm comfortable in small spaces, like small cars, and even occasionally enjoy being picked up and carried around by large women. But I digress.

My point is that I had no need of a large motorcycle like these behemoths. My first instinct was to dismiss them as being SUV-like penis extenders designed to get attention for people who cannot attract attention otherwise. Riding them around for a while showed me how wrong I was.

These things are fun. They really are the essence of why cruisers are the numero uno type of streetbike sold in `Merica. They have a commanding presence, iron out bumps and deliver a stellar ride while make shifting mostly unnecessary. Also, as each manufacturer's flagship product, they have luxurious levels of build quality you don't really see in other models. They are versatile, too; good around town, as good as most other cruisers in the twisties, and are just luggage and a windscreen away from being competent tourers or commuters.

So what would I do if I had to pick one of these? Well, it wouldn't be the Harley, that's for sure. This CVO is an amazing thing; powerful, fun to ride, with a Cameron Diaz meets Courtney Love sort of that is hard to explain but very charming nonetheless. But it's torture on the back to ride, rougher and slower than the other machines, has really bad suspension and is priced like the collectible bike that it is.

The Honda and Vulcan wouldn't get the privilege of hosting my hairy little ass either. The Honda is a wonderfully-engineered machine that also represents superb value. Like many Hondas, it does everything just well enough to amaze you with its technical brilliance, but does nothing to really endear it to you. The Kawi is a brutal hulk that works way better than I thought it would but is really too big and heavy for what I like to do with/to a bike.

It's a big cruiser that appeals to little people with big feet and bigger hearts. When I first rode the Yamaha and the Suzuki back-to-back I instantly knew this would be a contest between these two bikes. The Suzuki really does act like some kind of jumbo sportbike and is a hoot to ride. It turns and brakes like a GSXR, while possessing power and torque usually found in switching yards. But the cheesy plastic and styling-of-the-future turned me off. I'm not that traditional, but this kind of styling needs to be really tastefully done, and there is too much frippery to be convincing.

We said it back in 2005; the Roadliner is an impressive bike that handles, brakes and goes like something much smaller and lighter while having clean, stylish looks. It's also reasonably priced and easy to customize. It's a big cruiser that appeals to little people with big feet and bigger hearts.

-Gabe Ets-Hokin, Senior Editor

Engine Counterbalanced, Air-cooled TwinCam 110B engine Engine 1795cc liquid-cooled 52-degree V-twin Engine Four-stroke, 52-degree V-twin, dual cams, eight valves

Horse Power


Horse Power


Horse Power

Torque 95.58 Torque 102.25 Torque 120.87
MSRP $24,995 MSRP $12,899 MSRP $12,999
Engine 113-cubic-inch (1854cc) air-cooled pushrod 48-degree V-twin Engine 1783cc, four-stroke, liquid-cooled, V-twin, DOHC, 4-valves

Horse Power


Horse Power

Torque 109 Torque 101.30
MSRP $14,980 MSRP $12,599

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