Open Twin Cruisers '98

The Definition of Cruising

story by Staff , Photograph by Billy Bartels, Created May. 01, 1998
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cruise \'kruz\ vb cruised; cruising 1: to be on one's way 2: to travel for the sake of traveling 3: to go about the streets at random but on the lookout for possible developments 4: to search (as in public places) for a sexual partner.

LOS ANGELES, May, 1998 -- Cruising is not about speed, high performance, and extreme handling. Cruising is about, well, cruising. Wind-in-your-hair, bugs-in-your-teeth, elemental motorcycling, the way God intended it. On a sportbike, the object is to arrive at your destination as fast as possible. On a cruiser, you are the destination. No hurry. No problem.

Sure, cruiser riders are concerned about performance and power. Witness the aftermarket, which offers pistons and cranks and fuel-injection systems by the truckload. Still, cruisers are, by and large, not purchased as go-fast motorcycles.

Cruising is a lot about styling. Let the crowd on the crotch rockets sneer, but parked at the local hangout, which bikes get the majority of attention from the chicks? True, some women do prefer sportbikes, but a sportbike is more likely to be checked out by another sportbike rider, and almost as often as not, derided rather than admired. Go to the local sportbike hangout and watch them as they circle each other's bike. On the surface, both pretend to profess admiration, but inside you know both are thinking, with smug satisfaction: "My bike will kick your bike's ass." Doubt us?

The cruiser is admired often for what it expresses -- a piece of rolling sculpture, a personalized statement on two wheels. And it is because cruisers beg to be customized that objective testing can be difficult. You will not find many of these bikes on the road in stock condition, except for the R1200C, which can be customized but with less options than the others. Also, people ride and expect different things out of cruisers -- some prefer torque and muscle, others look for comfort, and a few don't care as long is it draws attention when it's parked. It seems that the bike chooses the rider rather than the the other way around. That's what we discovered as we set out to define cruising.

1: to be on one's way

Any worthwhile day trip begins with a good breakfast. In Santa Monica, outside The Omelette Parlor, we lined up the bikes in typical cruiser fashion, at 45-degree angles against the curb, to take in their looks.

One of our testers' tastes went no further than, "Black is a good color for a cruiser."

Others dug the art deco, 1930's streamlined look of the Honda or the unique, post-modern-yet-retro lines of the BMW. As happened in every category, we couldn't agree.

Even the horsepower-hungry proponents of the Suzuki Intruder 1500LC weren't thrilled by its looks. This bike isn't simply fat, it's cartoonishly obese. In pictures, it looks big. In person, it looks huge. Sit on it and it feels even bigger.

If there were more footpegs you could fit two people on each of the seats, and still have room for another pillion passenger. Unfortunately, while American Suzuki designed the tasteful Intruder 1400, Suzuki Japan designed the 1500LC.

The result is a peculiar combination of size and confusion. It's big, because someone at Suzuki Japan concluded that in America, size matters. There's confusion because Suzuki Japan doesn't seem sure what should be covered and what should be exposed.

The 1500 LC isn't fully faired, but we get the impression that Suzuki didn't consider putting a full fairing on this bike. In addition, they forgot or ignored some of the small details that make a cruiser great. The Intruder's plastic cam covers and faux-chrome engine casings look cheesy.

A giant plate for a floorboard mount, numerous chrome cover-ups and black-painted deceptions only fool the least discerning eye. Plastic covers and chromed-over casings aside, we were disappointed that, in our opinion, Suzuki lost a wonderful opportunity to set the 1500LC apart from the rest of the Japanese cruisers. What looks like a fuel tank is actually an airbox, while the actual fuel tank resides under the driver's seat. However, instead of being creative with the airbox (see Yamaha's V-Max), Suzuki played it safe, perhaps too safe, and designed the airbox to mimic a fuel tank. While there's nothing wrong with that, we only wished that Suzuki's designers showed more creativity and followed the Milwaukee School of Design a little less faithfully.

"The two bikes that generated the most conflicted opinions about their apperance were the R1200C and the Vulcan Classic, but for completely different reasons."

The Vulcan Classic is very conservatively styled. Basic black was our test model, with wide bars and chrome accents to set off its dark looks. Everything on the V-Classic is presented tastefully, finding a nice balance between flash and subtlety. Kawasaki even went to great lengths to widen the frame and pull the radiator back into obscurity. But being a motorcycle styled with restraint, while we didn't find it unattractive, we weren't awestruck. A little too Milwaukee, perhaps. The dual air boxes look exactly like a Harley Big Twin airbox. The fender struts look like a Xerox copy of Softail struts. While it isn't exactly original, it is a safe, and at least from the Kawasaki's point of view, wise approach. Kawasaki estimates that the V-1500 Classic will be their best-selling motorcycle in North America.

In contrast, the BMW R1200C might be the Kate Moss of motorcycles. Traditionalists find the bike ugly, while the fashion conscious think the bike looks stunning. And it always grabs attention. Park it and watch a crowd develop. On the Sunset Strip, a starlet riding in the passenger seat of her poseur boyfriend's Mercedes literally crawled over her boyfriend to give a staffer a thumbs up and a wide polished-teeth smile, while "Slick" nodded nervously, rolled up the tinted windows and sped away angrily. For the most part, you can stamp "chick magnet" on the side of the R1200C.

Overall, its unique looks and superb fit-and-finish, coupled with BMW's usual attention to detail, allowed the R1200C to score high in this category. While BMW's R1200C Cruiser was a huge hit on the runway with the fashion crowd, the kings of the highway were the Dyna Wide Glide and the Honda Aero.

Like it or not, the fact remains that Harley is the template for this class, and while other manufacturers try not to admit it, styling cues still emanate from Milwaukee. Our bike, a 95th Anniversary Edition model, has classic and restrained lines.

Although Dyna models are perhaps the most difficult Harleys to customize, it still is a Harley, and it dials into an enormously extensive aftermarket, the breadth of which blows away anything else in this shootout.

The sleeper in the styling category was the Honda Shadow Aero. Everyone, from the horsepower junkies to the Harley diehards, admired the Aero's blend of 30's art-deco, white-walled tires, streamlined profile and the well-crafted balance it made between tradition and individuality. The Shadow Aero is the least Hog of the Japanese cruisers.

When we reviewed the Honda Shadow ACE in the '96 Five Fat Bike Shootout, we wrote that "compared to the other machines in the test, the (Shadow ACE) seem(s) like a parts bin special... The headlight is decidedly Japanese curved, and the rider's eye view is peppered by seemingly randomly-placed instruments and idiot lights... The exhaust pipes really don't follow such a simple path as it appears: Instead they are routed in and out of the chrome covers. Black paint hides the details... Style is the most important thing to cruiser owners."

Style may not the most important thing to all cruiser owners, but it is very important to most cruiser owners. With the Shadow Aero, Honda has recognized this fact. The speedometer and idiot lights are located on the Hummell-inspired headlight. A trick two-into-one exhaust pipe looks much better than the convoluted system found on the ACE. Machined fork brackets and footboards, spoke-wire wheels, and chrome is found in in the right proportions in all the right places. Black paint isn't needed to hide anything. The difference between the Shadow ACE and the Shadow Aero is like the difference between buying a suit off the rack and a suit from a tailor. You wear one because you have to, you wear the other because you want to.

2: to travel for the sake of traveling

Our test route took us from the beaches of Santa Monica to the snow-covered peaks of Angeles National Forest, then back down to the mean streets of L.A. for a little boulevard bruising. We figured the variation of city streets, open highways and mountain twisties would best simulate the type of riding most owners will do.

Right off the bat, testers began to narrow their lists. Paul Harrell refused to ride the BMW 1200C for more than a couple miles, noting a distinct lack of low-end torque and an aversion to the sideways rotating mass of the crankshaft and driveshaft.

Everyone raved about the postage stamp pillion that folded up into a back rest, except of course, our pillion tester. If you plan to do a lot of two-up riding, plan on ditching the stock seat for the larger, but fixed-position, pillion seat, or else get used to sleeping alone.

The R1200C, weighing only 580 pounds wet and sporting a 64.9-inch wheelbase, was the lightest and most flickable bike in this test. Steering was very precise, although the swept-back ape-hangers did make steering twitchy. The instrument panel is laid out well and all the idiot lights were easy to see and read.

The R1200C has two flaws, serious enough for two testers to rank this bike last. The first is the foot peg position in relation to the protruding, opposed twin cylinders. Unlike BMW's other Boxers, where the foot pegs are swept back, the pegs on the R1200C are farther forward, placing the riders feet under the cylinder heads. Most testers didn't notice, but one tester was disconcerted enough to place the bike dead last for this fact alone. Another tester had issues with throttle response. In order to qualify for cruiser duty, BMW increased the bore and stroke, decreased exhaust and intake valves and altered the intake tract to provide for more low-end torque.

Coupled with fuel-injection, the throttle response is abrupt, to say the least. Again, most testers didn't seem to mind, noting that short-shifting helps smooth out the twitchy throttle responses, but one tester was so annoyed that he ranked the R1200C last.

Both of our female testers disliked the Intruder, but for different reasons. Our pillion tester thought the stock passenger seat was too high, exposing her to too much windblast, and our female rider as well as a few other testers, felt that the big bike was too much to handle.

"Our more squidly testers, AMA Pro Thunder points runner-up Paul Harrell and free-lance motojournalist Kerry Ward, loved the Suzuki's immense power and torque and forgave any handling deficiencies because of its ability to lighten up the rear wheel and lay big, smokey burnouts."

The Intruder needs that kind of power because it has to move a 700-pound motorcycle with a 67-inch wheelbase. Because it's big and heavy it handles like any big and heavy bike, great for straight-line touring but somewhat overwhelming in tight traffic and city streets.

The Vulcan and the Intruder, ready to duke it out.

The consensus was that the Dyna Wide Glide had neutral handling, although one tester complained that it felt vague. Believe it or not, the Wide Glide was the second lightest bike in the test, weighing in at 640 pounds, 20 less than the sleek Aero and 60 pounds less than either the Intruder or Vulcan.

Ground clearance was good, and the only bike with greater ground clearance was the BMW. Steering isn't heavy, and the mini-apes helped to toss the big Hog around, even though the thin 21-inch front wheel tended to track within the rain grooves on the freeway. Power and torque, even stock form, is more than adequate.


In order for this bike to pass noise and emissions regulations, the exhaust note has been muted, so if you're looking for that familiar Harley rumble, a new set of pipes may be the tops on your list of aftermarket parts. The Aero's handling received mixed reviews. Some liked its "almost-drives-itself" handling manners, while others would have preferred more feedback. A universal complaint was the lack of power from the single-pin crank, 1099cc V-twin engine. Apparently, size does matter. With a pillion passenger aboard as we rode through the Angeles National Forest, at an altitude of about 2000 feet, the Aero wheezed and puffed along at under 50 mph while trying to climb a not-very-steep hill.

"Perhaps the most telling testimonial about the rider-friendliness of the V-Classic was that the only female rider, also the smallest person in the test, ranked the Vulcan 1500 Classic first."

This distinct lack of power raised questions about the suitability of the Aero for two-up touring duty. On the streets and in the mountains, the Vulcan was universally well-liked. Light handling in the tight stuff, while only slightly wobbly at speed, the V-Classic is a very balanced motorcycle. One tester did not like the slight on-off throttle jumps. As with the similarly equipped ZX-9R, we aren't sure if it's the K-TRIK throttle position sensor or this particular tester's style because no other tester logged any complaints. Still, everyone was ecstatic that the Vulcan is finally equipped with a five-speed transmission. Its formerly class-leading horsepower and torque (the Suzuki's awesome motor does everything a little stronger) responds on demand, and the suspension feels plush but not too soft.

A 120-pound woman feeling secure riding a 700-pound motorcycle: go figure. This supported our observations that the V-Classic probably offered the most balanced package -- power, handling, comfort and style -- of any bike in this test. The ergonomics were very good, and it shared honors with the Honda and Harley as the winner in overall ergonomics and comfort. Its low seat height, 27 inches, gave Heather the confidence that both feet would touch the ground at a stop, a big concern for smaller riders.

While the clear-cut handling winner was the Vulcan, we argued over long distance comfort. Some liked the scooped, supportive seat of the Harley-Davidson, or the upright, neutral position of the Honda. The Kawasaki and Suzuki fell to the back of the pack in this category, although we did note that the Suzuki was better suited for long distance riding than through congested city streets.

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3: to go about the streets at random but on the lookout for possible developments

The obstacles encountered by the average cruiser rider aren't so much things like sand in the middle of a particularly gnarly, decreasing-radius, negative-cambered turn, but oil, potholes, and cool places and major Betties you see out of the corner of your eye. These obstacles may not require SuperSport brakes and suspension to sucessfully navigate, but when your friend decides, for no apparent reason, to make a sharp, left turn into a road-side bar, they do require enough stiffness and binding power to keep you upright and in one piece when you try to follow.

We were not particularly impressed with the suspenion on the Harley and the Suzuki. The Wide Glide's front end made occasional clunking noises over dips in the road, and both the Suzuki and the Harley were sprung soft, comfortable for long distance riding but making the bikes slightly overwhelmed in the tighter stuff.

The Harley's brakes are up to the task, although we wish they were a bit more progressive. The 1500LC's brakes worked very well. It is easy on the Suzuki to lay down serious rubber.

The Harley also made decent burnouts, but not with the ease and vigor of the Intruder. If you are looking for a smokey-rear-tire cruiser, look no farther than the 1500LC.

We preferred the suspension on the Aero and the V-Classic. The Vulcan's suspension felt a little tighter, yet still as plush as the Aero's. Both bikes have good brakes, single disc front and rear, although neither bike can match the BMW in these departments.

Where the Aero and Vulcan are good, the R1200C is advanced. With their patented Telelever wishbone front end, a single-sided Monolever swing arm at the rear, and ABS brakes, the Beemer offers a level of high-tech sophistication not found on the competition. But be prepared to pay for it. Opt for ABS, and you'll pony up $14,290.00. Sure, our 95th Anniversary Edition Dyna Wide Glide lists at $15,695, but the Dyna, at least for the foreseeable future, will increase in value. The Beemer will probably retain much of its value, but we doubt that it will increase.

4: to search (as in public places) for a sexual partner

By and large, they don't go as fast as a ZX-9R, nor do they handle like a 916, but they look cool and chicks dig them. In this category there are only two real competitors, the Dyna and the R1200C. The Honda is a beautiful bike with the coolest exhaust note in the test, but, like its Japanese brethren, it simply isn't exotic enough to make the opposite sex hot and bothered. The V-Classic has a great personality, but we admit to being a little shallow. And the big fat Suzuki has a body only a mother could love.

Perhaps because the BMW name plate seems to scream "I-am-a-good-provider-mate-with-me," the little girls were all over this bike. Intially, they were attracted at first sight, but after hearing those magic three letters -- B-M-W -- they could scarcely stay dry, at least until they took a ride on the postage stamp pillion seat. And what can you say about the Harley? Much to the chagrin of many non-Harley owners, as well as a few MO staff members, when someone discovers that you ride motorcycles, "Harley-Davidson" is one the the first words out of their mouths. With any H-D, you're talking about the Jack Nicholson of motorcycles. It's old, it's idiosyncratic and it's kind of slow, but its an American institution, way cool and chicks still go crazy. Harley-Davidson, when you absolutely, positively have to score with someone in the room, accept no substitutes.

VotingEveryone has a different definition of cruising, and our testers are no exception. Look at the results below, and you'll see that four different bikes received first-place votes and three received last place votes. A first place vote received an extra point.

For Paul Harrell, cruising means torque, and although he never saw the numbers, he ranked the bikes accordingly. Kerry Ward, a free-lance writer, also ranked bikes by torque, although as the resident Harley nay-sayer, and there's always one in every bunch, he ranked the Harley last. Erick Stangg, a musician from Hollywood and a poseur extraordinaire, picked the Harley first, of course, since image to him is everything. Heather Napier was more concerned about comfort and stability and less interested in picking up chicks. She chose the most balanced motorcycle in the test, the Kawasaki. Billy and Mark, MO staffers, ride their share of fast sportbikes, so when it comes to riding cruisers, they made styling a priority. Money did factor into the equation, influencing Billy to choose the Honda over the Harley and Erick to choose the Honda over the BMW. Mark rationalized that he'd finance the difference between the Honda and the Harley since, if and when he ever became bored with with the Wide Glide, he'd always be able to sell it with a slight increase in value.

Paul Kerry Erick Heather Billy Mark
1 Suzuki Suzuki Harley Kawasaki Honda Harley
2 Kawasaki Kawasaki Honda Honda Harley Honda
3 Harley BMW BMW Harley BMW Kawasaki
4 Honda Honda Kawasaki BMW Kawasaki Suzuki
5 BMW Harley Suzuki Suzuki Suzuki BMW

We don't choose cruisers as much as cruisers choose us. Price, style, performance all factor in an equation that is very subjective and highly personal. Only two points separated first from third place and it's fair to conclude that six different testers might have yielded different results. But that's the beauty of cruisers: Everyone can form their own definition of cruising.

Impressions:

Billy Bartels, Associate Editor Five Thousand Dollars.

That's the number that made my decision in this contest. I like the Dyna Wide Glide the best. I'm just not convinced that it's five grand better than Honda's Aero. I know lots of customizers, and I know the kind of absolute wizardry you can purchase for fifty bills. You can probably get the motor gone through, too, and get the Hamster drive fitted out to about 60 horse and 80 foot pounds.

Also I think it sucks that the BMW ended up in last place, but nobody liked it enough to put it first and a few testers hated it enough to place it last. It's a gorgeous machine, people treat you like a celebrity, and you spend your days answering questions about the thing, but really it's like riding any other boxer twin, except this one has a laid back riding position.

The other two just weren't my thing.

Mark Hammond, Managing Editor

Sugar tastes better than Nutra Sweet. I'll order a dark Guiness Stout over the best light beer any day. Joe Cocker sings better than John Belushi. Leather is better than that synthetic stuff. Grass beats astro-turf. The Beatles rule, Oasis sucks. Dale Earnhardt kicks ass, Jeff Gordon is a wimp.

There is only one Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Jack Nicholson and Led Zeppelin. Real breasts are better than silicone. There are Harley's, then there are motorcycles.

Paul Harrell, Pro Racer, AMA #147

I liked the sound and motor response of the BMW, and the looks, sort of. I did not like the ABS. It pissed me off. What kind of motorcycle company gives you a bike with none of the basic tools for destruction? The drive lash was funky. It seemed like when you snapped the throttle closed, the rear wheel would turn slightly, but it could just be the rotating mass decelerating. A large problem for me were the foot controls. They are positioned directly under the cylinders, and it seems like in a close-call situation, you might have to go looking for them.

The Aero looks good and rides smooth, but that's it. The motor seems to have five hamsters in it, when you grab another gear, you get another hamster. Great first bike for learners if they are intimidated by mopeds. The Wide Glide looked good, rode okay and the motor was smooth. No big complaints. The narrow tires seemed to follow the cracks in the road more than the others. The front brake could have been a bit more progressive. Just a good old Harley, like a good old dog, or steady girlfriend.

The Kawasaki has great looks, good brakes, strong power, and is stable in the corners. This would be a great every day bike. It was a close call between the Suzuki and the Kawi, but i made the Suzuki my first pick. This bike has power! It has brakes, enough to lock a wheel. In the corners and on the highway, the Intruder has great suspension and steering geometry. It can turn on a dime and give nine cents change. What does this mean to me? The first two words are: STUNT BIKE. The third word is: BURNOUTS. This is a bike to ride every day and ride f$%&ing hard. I love it so much that I want to throw it down the road.

Erick Stangg, Musician

Let's just get this straight right from the outset: This is a four-bike shootout. The Harley is not included because the Harley is the paragon by which all of the other bikes are judged, and there is no argument to that statement. This category would not exist if not for H-D. The other manufacturers like to spooge on about the nostalgia and history they have lovingly crafted into their motorcycles, but it's all lies. Forty years ago, when Harley-Davidson was making bikes that would inspire generations, Honda was offering the Super Cub, and the other Japanese manufacturers weren't even that creative. If you know anything about bikes then you know the Super Cub has about as much to do with chrome and black leather as Leonardo DiCaprio has to do with straight sex.

"Handling is wonderful and the styling as well as the tank badge"

So when Kerry blathers on about horsepower this and adjustable rebound that, and it being a travesty of motorjounalism to pick the Dyna first, I would ask him, and anyone else like-minded, once they had gotten over their delusions of knowing anything about cruisers, to take a trip on down to Sunset Boulevard amidst a sea of black spandex, long locks, scarified chests, tattooed extremities, and pierced unmentionables, to do a quick head-count of all the tricked-out Suzukis and Kawis. It'll be a brief excursion for them so they'll have plenty of time to scoot on back to me and beg my pardon. Boulevard junkies know what's cool; which is why Japan has a minimal effect on the air quality in Hollywood.

Now that it's been established that anyone who disagrees with me is a moron, I can state my considered opinion about the copy-bikes. The BMW rules. It's the only original non-Harley. Handling is wonderful and the styling as well as the tank badge, coupled with some well-placed words and devastating charm, will land you an elite tour of the most sought-after bedroom mirrors in Hollywood. However, I placed the Honda higher because of its great price, its custom aftermarket, and the fact that it simply is, Harley-copy and all, a kick-butt bike. I have to reluctantly admit Honda did a fine job. As far as the Kawi and the Suzuki go, who cares? I chose the Kawi above the Suzuki because it looked less like a ride at Disneyland and had a smoother tranny, although I admit I would have an easier time riding an "Intruder" than a bike named after an alien race from Star Trek. Dork city. Yeah, I know the Kawi's named after a Roman god, but as any Boulevardette will tell you, "Whatever!".

Finally, the Dyna. It looks beautiful, it handles with grace, it is the real pushrod twin with the real Big Twin purr, and it is the authentic bodice-ripping bike. It makes beautiful women coo and forget that they don't live at your place. Nuff said.

Kerry Ward, Free-lance Squid

It's simple. Intruder. Vulcan. Beemer. Aero. Hog. Let me explain. My criteria for rating a cruiser motorcycle is simple: evaluate all available machinery according to cruise-worthiness, factor in the look and feel of the bike, stomp through the gears once or twice, and compare price of admission. So let me state for the record: In my opinion, awarding the Harley best of test is a travesty of motorjournalism. As a matter of fact, forget all the other stuff you've read here thus far. Purge your minds. Get the real story. Go renegade and join me in helping the Hog buy the farm. From this point on, I'm staging a rebellion.

Now here is the truth of the matter: The Dyna Wide Glide just didn't do anything for me. A decent bike? Sure, but not a cruiser. A cruiser is planted on the pavement, deliberate in its actions, a chunky and charismatic piece of hardware. Even the lethargic Honda, a bike wholly unfettered by character of any kind, is a better choice than the Hog if merely by virtue of price and those spankin' whitewall tires.

"I liked riding this thing. Low slung, torquey, wide bars, all the right elements and bad-ass black to boot."

I was convinced the R1200C was going to be the number one bike, so I saved it for last to ride. Riding the thing was a huge letdown. Kind of like finding out those giant chocolate Easter bunnies are hollow. For something as exhaustively engineered as the BMW is, the thing is a steaming pile. Big points awarded for the look of the thing and departure from the staid cruising-twin formula, though. I wanted to like this thing so bad. Honest I did. Unfortunately, I had to start it up and ruin everything.

That leaves the last two heavyweight contenders, weighing in at 1500cc's a pop. In the green corner is the Beast from Kawasaki Heavy Industries. I liked riding this thing. Low slung, torquey, wide bars, all the right elements and bad-ass black to boot. However, the Intruder has the best suspension, the thing feels like a cruise ship, imperturbable and stately. The powerplant registers the highest rating on the meticulously calibrated seat-of-the-pants-o-meter. A cruise ship must also have dramatic, clean lines and boast monster power; the Queen Mary didn't have to downshift to make time and outrun every Bavarian U-boat on the high seas. The Suzuki is unsinkable.

Heather Napier, Token Chick

I look for a bike that was a good handling, powerful, and comfortable one that I knew that would respond in the demands of Los Angeles traffic, so I pikced the Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classici first. One look at this bike and I thought UGH! I have to ride this hunk of metal, but when I got on it the size wasn't even a consideration. This bike handled well. It responded in the turns hugging the road, kept my initial line, and gave me power out of the corners. It was comfortable and smooth and can evoke confidence in the most timid of riders.

Although some of our testers compared this bike to a hamster-driven chariot, I thought the Honda Shadow Aero had adequate horsepower and it was by far the best-looking bike of the bunch. It handled well and accelerated nicely on the freeway. The white wall tires and chrome made people really take a look at it as it went by. The Harley handled well, it shifted smoothly, and was okay on acceleration, but it did nothing for me. The BMW R1200C was a disappointment. It handled like s#!t and wobbled on the freeway. Short shifting was necessary and there was such a power delay that I swear a Yugo passed me. But the bike looked great. Still, it's a BMW, so how could it handle so poorly? Or was it that I couldn't get it to handle? Either way cars pulled up next to me checking out the bike. Still, I was very disappointed.

I hated the Intruder and did all I could to avoid riding it. It was top-heavy, ugly, and had such a lousy feel that I was dying to get off it at the soonest possible moment, which wasn't a problem because there were plenty of people that wanted to ride it. If you are not into skids and burnouts then this bike is not for you. On every little turn you felt like the front end was going to pull you down. The throttle had a loose feeling. I was never comfortable on this bike and not being comfortable shows in your riding.

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Helen Rossiter, Pillion Tester and Gratuitous Babe

For the first time at MO we asked a pillion passenger for comments since it seems as often as not cruisers have passengers on them. For the record, Ms. Rossiter has been pillioning for about ten years. Her votes did not affect the outcome of the test, since most owners of these bikes will make modifications, but we feel she has valuable input as to how these stock bikes fair with a pillion passenger. Besides, she graciously posed on the bikes.

"The Harley and the Honda are close."

The Harley had a decent seat, and the sissy bar made it easy to relax my lower back. The seating position on the Honda was the best though, and the bike felt smooth. At first I wasn't wild about the forward pegs, but in the end it was more comfortable over long distances. The seating position on the BMW Cruiser was nice, too, (with the pegs a bit forward), but the tiny pillion made me feel like I was on a bicycle, dropping it to the back of the pack. The Kawasaki had a nice, wide, soft seat, but I caught a lot of wind at higher speeds. I rank it third behind the Honda and the Harley. The Intruder had a really wide seat, so big I got lost in it and slid around. Also, the rear seat is set so high, it really hangs you out in the wind. That, along with the the stiff shocks that made me feel every bump and dip, had it fighting for last place with the BMW.

BMW R1200C Cruiser
The R1200C attracted attention wherever we went. Its impeccable detail and gorgeous styling turned heads and won friends.
Due to the long wheelbase, BMW chose their old Monolever single-sided swingarm for this model. Unlike the modern Paralever, the Mono does not stop the bike from experiencing "shaft-effect."
The award for best high-speed handling goes to the Beemer. Its wide tires and advanced suspension allowed us to rail it through the corners.
You can see right through the R1200C. Pretty cool, huh?, Every piece is finished like a part on the Space Shuttle.
The rider seat is firm and comfy, especially with the backrest up. However, passenger seat is a bit Spartan, although our pillion tester liked the seating position.
The BMW's large tank allowed for a long cruising range. The bike averaged 38 miles per gallon.
The well-presented instrument cluster is attractive and easy to read. The key is a work of art.
The R1200C isn't as quick off the line as the competition, but once underway it leaves the rest behind.


Specifications:

Manufacturer: BMW          
Model: R1200C Cruiser                 
Price: $12,990 (w/ ABS $14,290)                 
Engine: Opposed four-valve boxer twin                
Bore and Stroke: 101 mm x 73 mm       
Displacement: 1700cc          
Carburetion: Motronic 2.4 Fuel Injection          
Transmission: Five Speed           
Wheelbase: 64.96 in (1650 mm)            
Seat Height: 29.1 in (739 mm)          
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gal, w/.1 gal reserve (17 L, w/.4 L reserve)        
Claimed Dry Weight: 528 lbs (239.5 kg)   
Measured Wet Weight: 580 lbs (263.1 kg) 
Peak Measured Torque: 64.4 ft-lbs @ 2750  
Peak Measured HP: 56.7 @ 5000      

 

Suzuki Intruder 1500LC
The LC was not a big hit with our pillion tester.
Stylistically, the Intruder got lost in the crowd. Suzuki might become Japan's biggest importer of Chromium with the LC.
The LC has an absurdly torquey motor, but then it's a very big boy and needs that extra kick in the ass.
The seat is even bigger than it looks.
Some liked the Suzuki's handling while others didn't like the effort required to lean the big boy over. At 5'8", Heather is an average-sized rider, yet look at the reach the Intruder required.

 

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Suzuki          
Model: VL1500LC Intruder                 
Price: $9,899                 
Engine: air-cooled SOHC twin                
Bore and Stroke: 96 mm x 101 mm       
Displacement: 1462cc          
Carburetion: Mikuni BSDR 36mm          
Transmission: five-speed constant mesh           
Wheelbase: 66.9 in (1699 mm)            
Seat Height: 27.6 in (683 mm)          
Fuel Capacity: 4.1 gal (15.5 L)        
Claimed Dry Weight: 644 lbs (292 kg)   
Measured Wet Weight: 700 lbs (318 kg)  
Peak Measured Torque: 78.8 ft-lbs @ 2000 rpm 
Peak Measured HP: 57.8 @ 4500 rpm      

 

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic
Black is a good color for a cruiser. And retro-American looks sell bikes, right? You bet!
Wide bars and an aggressive rake made the big Vulcan easy to handle.
The flared seat, rear fender, and staggered pipes complement each other in a nice, if not exactly ground-breaking style.
Even though it weighs as much as the Suzuki Intruder, a low seat height, comfortable ergonomics and rider-friendly handling make the Vulcan a hit with our smaller testers.
The chrome pinstripe along the fender is a nice touch.
Formerly the biggest and torquiest engine in its class, it now takes a back seat to the Suzuki.
Last year's Open Cruiser champ is still a tough contender, and finished only two points out of first place.

 

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Kawasaki          
Model: Vulcan 1500 Classic                 
Price: $11,590                 
Engine: 4-stroke V-Twin, SOHC, 8-valve                
Bore and Stroke: 102 mm x90 mm       
Displacement: 1470cc          
Carburetion: Keihin CVK40mm w/K-TRIC tps         
Transmission: 5-speed           
Wheelbase: 65.4 inches (1662 mm)             
Seat Height: 27.6 inches (701 mm)          
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gal (15.9 L)        
Claimed Dry Weight: 644 lbs (292 kg) 
Measured Wet Weight: 700 lbs (318 kg)  
Peak Measured Torque: 77.4 ft-lbs @ 2750 rpm  
Peak Measured HP: 53.6 @ 4500 rpm      

 

Honda Shadow Aero
Why is she smiling? It's either the Aero's good passenger ergonomics or the vibrations of its single-pin crank V-Twin engine.
The 1100cc powerplant of the Aero was the smallest and wimpiest in the test, but since the Aero tied the Intruder for least-expensive bike in the test, all was forgiven.
Clean lines and finish rival the BMW. What you are not seeing is the speedo, which is mounted on the headlight. If you wear a full face helmet (yea, right) you will appreciate this.
Upright seating and easy handling are appreciated, but a few thought it rides like being on "auto-pilot."
A Hummel. Possibly Honda's inspiration for the Art Deco-styled Aero.
Wire-spoked wheels and fat whitewalls impressed everyone.
Kerry Ward illustrates just how well the Aero "drives itself".
A gigantic collector muffler and chrome-covered shocks add to the Aero's distinctive lines.

 

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Honda          
Model: Shadow Aero                 
Price: $9,699 Black,  $9,995 Two-Tone                
Engine: Liquid-cooled 45 degree V-twin                
Bore and Stroke: 87.5 mm x 91.4 mm       
Displacement: 1099cc          
Carburetion: 2 36mm CV          
Transmission: 5-Speed           
Wheelbase: 66.1 in (1679 mm)             
Seat Height: 28.5 in (724 mm)          
Fuel Capacity: 4.2 gal w/.6 reserve (15.9 L w/2.2 L reserve)        
Claimed Dry Weight: 622 lbs (282 kg)   
Measured Wet Weight: 660 lbs (299 kg)  
Peak Measured Torque: 65.9 ft-lbs @ 2750 rpm  
Peak Measured HP: 47.1 @ 4750 rpm      

 

Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide
Not as flashy, bold, or self-consciously nostalgic as the others, but the Wide Glide is still the epitome of cool.
Comfort was good for both passenger and pilot.
H-D's standard compliment of controls was enhanced for '98 with a check-engine light.
Several testers agreed that the stock seat, with the built-in back rest, was most kind to your hind.
Somebody should tell Harley that if they hide the reflectors under the fender rails, cars can't see them. Get real.
Harley does with real air-cooling fins, a real air cleaner, real rocker covers, real pushrods and a real cloisonne 95th-Anniversary emblem.
We cheated. In 1996, after riding the Wide Glide to Sturgis and back, we said, "Why didn't we have this for the Open Cruiser Shootout? It would have won!" Guess what? Here it is at the top.

 

Specifications:

Manufacturer: Harley-Davidson          
Model: FXDWG Dyna Wide Glide                 
Price: $14,775 ($14,990 pearl, $15,300 two-tone,
$15,675 95th Anniversary Edition)
Engine: 45 degree V-twin air-cooled                
Bore and Stroke: 3.50 in x 4.25 in (88.9 mm x 108.0 mm)      
Displacement: 1340cc (80 cubic inches)          
Carburetion: 40mm CV          
Transmission: 5-Speed           
Wheelbase: 66.1 in (1679 mm)             
Seat Height: 26.8 in (681 mm)          
Fuel Capacity: 5.2 gal (19.7 L)         
Claimed Dry Weight: 598 lbs (271 kg)   
Measured Wet Weight: 640 lbs (290 kg)  
Peak Measured Torque: 68.7 ft-lbs @ 3000 rpm  
Peak Measured HP: 51.8 @ 4750 rpm      

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