Open Twin Cruisers '98

The Definition of Cruising

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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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