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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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?
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.
“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|
|Quality, Fit & Finish||78.8%||76.3%|
|Strange Bedfellows Spec Sheet|
|Star Bolt C-Spec||Suzuki Boulevard M50|
|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|
|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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