Godzilla Cruisers Shootout

We Must Flee!

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.

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