It’s kinda funny when I look back on it. Swanky downtown Los Angeles location, circa June 2013. Cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are served. Then someone finally pulls the wraps off the guest of honor: the early-release 2014 Star Bolt. Star employees beam with shameless pride about the new model bike that seems little more than a ripoff of the long-existing Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster.

In true Japanese fashion, however, Star built a better performing version of the original, at least in my opinion, and I comment to this effect in our 2014 Star Bolt Vs. 2013 Harley-Davidson 883 Iron shootout. Sales of Star Bolts over the last couple years seem to support my two-cents, as the model’s become one of Star’s best sellers, and for 2015, Star saw fit to grow the range by introducing the Bolt C-Spec.

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What does this new performance bobber have to do with the likes of a power cruiser such as Suzuki’s Boulevard M50? That’s exactly what Evans Brasfield and I are contemplating over coffee the day we finally get these two together for a photo shoot. Besides being only $100 apart in MSRPs and a 137cc difference in displacement, the two otherwise share few things in common. It’s this disparity on which we’re focusing.

The distance between these two is empirically measured in their dyno runs, courtesy MotoGP Werks. The Bolt uses its displacement advantage to thump out 14 pound-feet more torque and six more horsepower.

The distance between these two is empirically measured in their dyno runs, courtesy MotoGP Werks. The Bolt uses its displacement advantage to thump out 14 pound-feet more torque and six more horsepower.

At the heart of each spins a V-Twin engine, but a 15-degree difference in the splay of their SOHC 4-valve V-Twin engine configurations separates the traditional 45-degree Vee of the M50 from that of the 60-degree angle of the Bolt’s Twin. Does it matter? Not really. Even Harley’s own Street 750 uses a 60-degree Twin instead of its own traditional 45.

What’s more important here is style and the mindset each bike brings to its owner.

“These two bikes appeal to me in two different ways,” says Brasfield. “The C-Spec latches on to my git ’er done persona that just wants to work my way through traffic and get to my destination as quickly as possible. The M50 appeals to the part of me that has spent so many years on more traditional metric cruisers. While the styling of the Boulevard, with its fat tires and inverted fork, is geared towards the muscle cruiser segment, the riding position is just on the aggressive side of an upright cruiser perch.”

The seemingly sportier of the two, the C-Spec grinds footpegs earlier than that of the M50. This is largely due to the footpeg mounting bracketry which must clear a fat section of exhaust pipe. The meager 2.8 inches of rear shock travel doesn’t help either.

The seemingly sportier of the two, the C-Spec grinds footpegs earlier than that of the M50. This is largely due to the footpeg mounting bracketry which must clear a fat section of exhaust pipe. The meager 2.8 inches of rear shock travel doesn’t help either.

Both bikes utilize a 5-speed transmission – Evans and I were looking for a sixth gear on either bike when running down the freeway at 80 mph. The Suzuki powers its rear wheel via a shaft, while the Bolt’s drivetrain uses a belt. Both are nearly maintenance free (especially compared to a chain), but the shaft of the Suzuki certainly contributes to that bikes heftier curb weight: 590 lbs vs 547 lbs for the C-Spec.

The Bolt certainly feels top-heavy, though, and it doesn’t like to transition as quickly or as smoothly as the recumbent Boulevard does. Chalk this up to the leverage supplied by the M50’s wider, pullback bars exerting force on the smaller diameter front wheel: 16-inch vs. 19-inch on the C-Spec.

It’s heavier and longer, but don’t let its beach cruiserness fool you – the Boulevard M50 is a sporty mid-displacement power cruiser.

It’s heavier and longer, but don’t let its beach cruiserness fool you – the Boulevard M50 is a sporty mid-displacement power cruiser.

We both liked the comfort provided by the Suzuki. Its wide, nicely padded seat and upright torso positioning makes long hours easy. The pegs are forward, but not to the extreme of similar cruisers. The Bolt demands a long reach to the clip-on handlebars, forcing a rider to snug up to the front of the seat, which turns upward at the seat/tank juncture, crowding your man jewels. At freeway speeds, however, you can relax your stance and slide back in the seat.

More problematic than the M50’s forward placement of its footpegs are where the Bolt’s footpegs reside in relation to where you want to place your feet at a stop or when wheeling the bike forward or back in a parking situation.

“My 32-inch inseam legs do feel a bit cramped with the peg location, and the pegs get in the way when putting my feet down at a stop,” says Brasfield of the Bolt’s footpegs. footpegs. I hope I hope someone in the aftermarket figures out a way to make some rearsets for the C-Spec to help the ground clearance and lower a rider’s body position to match the clip-ons. Then again, they would probably interfere with the passenger footpegs you have to buy if you want to carry someone.”

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Both bikes sport single front disc brakes with twin-piston calipers. The Bolt’s wave rotor looks cool, and while it does provide more initial bite than the M50’s, both leave something to be desired in the braking department. At the rear the C-Spec utilizes a disc while the Suzuki a drum brake.

In the sound department, the C-Spec emits a nice V-Twin rumble while the Boulevard sounds as though you’re on the receiving end of one of two cups connected by string. We honestly can’t say we’ve ever heard slash-cut mufflers sound so meager.

Styling-wise, the two bikes represent opposites of the cruiser spectrum. While commentary on this attribute is more subjective than most, both Evans and I agreed the Suzuki lacked imagination, even for a cruiser of traditional values.

“I’ve got to admit that something about the M50’s styling leaves me a bit cold,” says Evans. “It hits all the right elements: chrome, slash-cut duallies; the fat tires; sculpted fenders and headlight housing; broad, comfortable seat; and pulled-back, slightly dragish handlebar with angled risers. Still, I’m missing the personality. It’s as if the bike were designed by spreadsheet and not from the creative heart.”

061015-strange-bedfellows-suzuki-boulevard-m50-_M1D0405061015-strange-bedfellows-star-bolt-c-spec-_M1D0331

We prefer the M50’s traditional analog gauge (left) over the Bolt’s digital instrumentation that can be hard to read in direct sunlight.

Both bikes exhibit suspension qualities commensurate within their price range, but Evans did have this to say about the Star: “The suspension is the best of the Bolt bunch, but it still comes up short in travel (2.8 inches in the rear), particularly on rough pavement. A couple good kicks in the ass’ll have you watching for potholes around town.”

Two more things about the C-Spec that had us unimpressed is its limited fuel capacity (3.2 gal.) and the fact that it doesn’t come stock with passenger pegs. Really, Star, you’re gonna make owners pay to purchase passenger pegs for a bike with a passenger seat?

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Suzuki Boulevard M50

+ Highs

  • Sportier than it looks
  • Daylong comfortable riding position
  • Passenger pegs included
– Sighs

  • Bland styling
  • Bland sound
  • Bland brakes

Unlike the Bolt, which Star pretty much nailed right outta the box, it took Japanese OEMs years to perfect the traditional American cruiser personified by heavyweight models from Harley-Davidson and vintage Indian Chiefs. Original Viragos and Shadows from the ’80s were good first attempts, but were missing the bullseye. The American propensity to favor style and sound over performance befuddled Japanese engineers. When models such as Honda’s Shadow A.C.E. arrived – complete with single-pin crank engine architecture – H-D and the public took notice.

The cruiser craze of the ’90s and early 2000s saw evermore heavyweight models from Japanese OEMs, then the audacious chopper trend came into play and was promptly terminated by the financial blight of the Great Recession.

In our present day recovering economy, the Bolt represents the less-is-more, cafe racer en vogue with the hipster crowd, while the Boulevard M50 harkens back to the traditional cruiser it took so long for the Japanese manufacturers to perfect. Both are solid examples of the current diversity of what’s available in the cruiser market.

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Star Bolt C-Spec

+ Highs

  • Cafe retro cool
  • Nice stock sound
  • Easily customizable
– Sighs

  • Less sporty than it looks
  • Limited fuel range
  • Top heavy

“I don’t consider this test a shootout in which we’re trying to choose a winner within a certain subsection of cruisers,” says Brasfield. “Rather, we’re riding these two bikes to highlight how broad the middleweight cruiser class has become and what a rider can purchase within a $100 price range – which is pretty cool. For less than $9,000 you can have some widely divergent styles yet fairly comparable performance, and since looks and attitude are so important – and so subjective – in the cruiser class, this variety of choices is a very good thing.”

Strange Bedfellows Shootout Scorecard
Category Star Bolt C-Spec Suzuki Boulevard M50
Price 99.0% 100%
Weight 100% 92.7%
lb/hp 100% 81.6%
lb/lb-ft 100% 69.3%
Engine 81.9% 78.1%
Transmission/Clutch 85.0% 81.3%
Handling 73.8% 72.5%
Brakes 68.8% 65.0%
Suspension 71.3% 73.8%
Technologies 45.0% 45.0%
Instruments 61.3% 70.0%
Ergonomics/Comfort 70.0% 80.0%
Quality, Fit & Finish 78.8% 76.3%
Cool Factor 88.8% 75.0%
Grin Factor 80.0% 73.8%
Overall Score 79.0% 75.8%
Strange Bedfellows Spec Sheet
Star Bolt C-Spec Suzuki Boulevard M50
MSRP $8,690 $8,599
Type 942cc air-cooled 4-stroke, V-twin 805 cc, 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, liquid-cooled,, 45-degree V-Twin
Fuel System Fuel Injected Fuel Injection
Valve Train SOHC, 4-valve SOHC
Horsepower 49.1 @ 5300 rpm 43.5 @ 6100 rpm
Torque 57.3 @ 3100 rpm 43.0 @3200 rpm
lb/hp 11.1 lbs 13.6 lbs
lb/torque 9.5 lbs 13.7 lbs
Transmission 5-speed multiplate wet clutch 5-speed constant mesh
Final Drive Belt Shaft
Front Suspension Telescopic fork, 4.7-in travel Inverted telescopic, coil spring, oil damped
Rear Suspension Dual shocks, 2.8-in travel Link type, oil damped, coil spring
Front Brake Wave-type disc, 298mm Disc
Rear Brake Wave-type disc, 298mm Drum
Front Tire 100/90-19M/C 57H 130/90-16 M/C 67H, tubeless
Rear Tire 150/80-16M/C 71H 170/80-15 M/C 77H, tubeless
Wheelbase 61.8 in 65.2 in
Seat Height 30.1 in 27.6 in
Measured Weight 547 lbs 590 lbs
Fuel Capacity 3.2 gal 4.1 gal
Tested Fuel Economy 45.1 MPG 42.8 MPG
Available Colors Envy Green, Liquid Silver Glass Sparkle Black, Pearl Glacier White
Warranty 1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty) 12 month unlimited mileage limited warranty

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  • George

    Suzuki needs to bring back the VX800.

    • kawatwo

      I second that. VX was a beautiful bike.

  • Goose

    I don’t have anything useful to say about this test but I got a big laugh out of all the conversation about the Star’s foot pegs. Drag in corners? Run under/ outside the exhaust? Needs rearsets? I had 70s flash backs, sounds just like my R5, RD350 and RD400 from the dark days of Disco. It seems Yamaha/ Star is a little slow on the uptake, like 40 years slow.

  • Alexander Pityuk

    It would be nice to have engine displacement noted higher in the text please. I’m not very familiar with cruisers, so i’ve read the entire article without knowing what it is all about :)

  • Auphliam

    Saw a Bolt in person for the first time the other day. It was pulling in to a parking lot as I was walking through. At first glance, I could’ve sworn it was a Sportster. It wasn’t until I was leaving that I noticed it was a Bolt. Very nice looking bike. If I were in the market for something like that, it would be hard for me to take a Sporty over it.

  • D Worms

    “Power cruiser such as Suzuki’s Boulevard M50”? No. The M109R is a power cruiser. The M50 is just a cruiser.

  • RandleMcMurphy

    The Bolt has the clip ons but, they keep the “keep things as low as possible” mindset that HD embraces. Why not put some decent 5″ travel rear shocks on this which would improve the ride and elevate those pegs up a bit? Seems Yamaha went for looks more than actual performance but, it would surely look just fine with it raised up a tad to accommodate those shocks and make this a nifty bike IMO.

  • mybluestar

    How can I say this unoffensively, but clearly articulate what this evaluation means to us bike riders.
    Bull shit, very poorly done, waste of time reading it.

    • Evans Brasfield

      Please see the Returns Department to have your time refunded.

      Thank you for sharing.

      • spiff

        Ha! Lol

  • John Woods

    Yeah, bit of an odd comparison. I was hoping for (the more obvious) C-Spec vs. Thruxton.

  • Kevin Polito

    You wouldn’t want to hear the Suzuki with louder pipes. The split-crankpin, even-firing configuration gives a disconcerting lawn tractor sound. The Honda VTX1800 had the same problem.

  • Gabriel Owens

    I just don’t like any of the Suzuki cruisers. while Yamaha/star seems to hit it outta the park on every bike they build.

  • Michael Mccormick

    I don’t understand Yamaha using reservoir rear shocks with only 3.9″ of travel. If they are doing the cafe thing a higher seat height and some suspension travel would help. Harley did a better job with the XLCR and more recently, the Xr1200x. Yamaha’s R3,FZ09, and FZ07 show what they can do. The C spec is just a cruiser that doesn’t look like one – a styling exercise without rear pegs. Must be for new riders who haven’t seen the Duc Scrambler

  • Kevin Polito

    Bikes with less than 4 inches of rear suspension travel are out of the question for those of us who enjoy food.

  • Archie Dux

    I would rather be on a bike that’s comfortable for me rather than a bike other people think I look cool on. The Bolt is just as cramped as a Sportster. Suzuki for the win.