2001 Power Cruiser Comparo

In search of enlightenment and two-wheeled bliss.

Torrance, California, November 1, 2001

We haven't picked a rational winner for a major shootout so far this year. What fun is that? If you just want to read the OEM's marketing hype, draw up a spreadsheet and pick a new bike without any real-world input -- for instance, actually riding and living with the bikes -- well, what are you doing here? We like to keep shootout bikes for a couple months, letting their features and flaws seep into our collective consciousness over time, and it's amazing what one can discern from actually riding a group of motorcycles back-to-back, especially so with a bunch of cruisers, where evaluating is almost purely subjective.

Mind you, this is a bit of a tangent, but bear with us a while longer, it's important: We have, many times in the past, pontificated that we pick bikes based on the ones we would realistically own. This basically melds the fun factor in with price, and we go from there. But (and this is the point) we do so independently: without influence from OEMs, advertisers or even -- and this tends to be quite unpopular at times -- you, the not-so-gentle, often-brand-loyal reader.

Feeling pretty smug with ourselves after Kawasaki's ZX-6R won the AMA's 600cc Championship this year -- the same bike you'all hammered us for selecting to win our 600cc test this year because it was the most comfortable and offered excellent performance (Vindication!), we entered this test thinking it'd be an easy, popular win. Sadly, considering the brutal flaming we'll soon be subjected to and the heated arguments over the outcome of this test, that just wasn't to be. Nothing, it seems of late, is ever easy.

"Here's what happened: After our first ride on Harley-Davidson's awesome new V-Rod, we all thought it would walk away with this test."

We decided to include this incredibly crappy shot just to keep your expectations in line. Don't gripe unless you've donated..

Editor Plummer has always voted for Harleys to win cruiser tests, Minime thrived on the attention the bike generated, and Calvin fell in love with the wickedly fast power of the bike. Things started turning sour when Plummer found out that we'd ordered up a V-Max, the bike he has listed as his favorite sportbike for the past five years. Seemingly not a big deal, but then we got wind of the horrid price gouging going on for V-Rods, and were dismayed. Still, everything looked on track  Minime and Plummer split the V-Rod/V-Max debates with first and third place votes, respectively, both really liking Kawasaki's Mean Streak, which we all felt was the most polished, easiest-to-ride bike in the test. Then, as he did in the aforementioned 2001 600cc Shoutout when he picked the ZX-6R over the bike we all thought would win (Honda's F4i), Calvin threw in a curveball: He voted the Mean Streak first. As did several Guest Testers.

Don't move! Wild Greaseballs approaching the bait, shiny motorcycles. Moments later MO staffers leapt out, netted and tranquilized them. Hey, we've gotta eat somehow ...

"It's a great bike," we all quipped. "Truly astounding, does everything well and looks great, too."
Then, the votes were tallied.
"It effing won?" stammered Plummer, incredulous that the Mean Streak could win.
"This can't be," cried Minime, despairing. "The Beef Steak (as the Kawasaki is commonly referred to around MO) can't beat the V-Rod, it's lame. We'll be tarred, feathered and outcast! Possibly beaten!"

A debate raged -- we considering changing the rules so it won't win. People wanted to change their votes after casting them. Al Gore got robbed! In the end, we resolved to hold to our ideals, and not bow to our pathetic egos -- being motojournalists, the "coolness" of the job is really all there is; if you saw our paystubs, believe us, you'd understand that. And probably cry a little on payday.

And so it came to pass that, on this first day of November, 2001, the slowest bike in our Power Cruiser shootout won. People are going to file nasty complaints. We're starting to wonder what's wrong with us. But, as much as it pains us, we're sticking by the Kwacker for this one. Ruffle the feathers, we say. Buck the system, down with the man, we fought the law and the law won. Read along and find out why.

Fourth Place: Honda VTX
Quicklook: {MSRP $12,499 || 88.3 bhp || 96.5 lbs/ft}

It's a pretty motor anyway, big, ultra-torquey and throbbing, shiny and hot to the touch as it quivers powerfully between your legs while you straddle it, riding it, you nasty bi... um. Hm.

Plebians have been clamoring for something that has, well, 'nads, but also brakes and goes around corners pretty well, too. Disappearing are the slow, clunky chrome things of yore, replaced with models that actually go forward with a respectable degree of rapidity. And so begins a new era of enlightment for the masses.

Honda's VTX is what Big Red believes to be the epitome of this new metric cruiser ideal. It boasts class-leading power numbers and tonnage, though it also comes standard with back-of-the-pack brakes. If you're willing to overlook some things in favor of the sort of gargantuan torque that leaves chunks of pavement behind, there's always the VTX to satiate you. With nearly 100 foot-pounds of torque at the rear wheel, and a size that makes it a Hummer in a group of economy cars, the Honda just begs for sixth gear from of 30 mph right on up into the triple digits.

Veer left Cap'n! She's on the reef! You don't so much turn the VTX as you change course. It's a big bike that demands a lot of respect -- and room.

Huge numbers aside, some people just couldn't come to terms with the Honda. A number of riders who have thrown a leg over the VTX mention that it seems as if Honda engineers built one of the all-time great cruiser motors, neutered it with an all too eager rev-limiter and installed it in anything that would keep costs down. This is unfortunate, really, as the VTX deserves a chassis with componentry more befitting its awesome oomph. The brakes, for instance, feature a non-adjustable front lever (only one in this test) and are linked rear-to-front (we hate linked braking, by the way), and, compounding the braking peculiarities, overall stopping power is lacking. A big bike needs big brakes. Maybe Kawasaki will have some spare binders laying around someday. Honda ought to do some e-Bay bidding for them.

On the highway, the motor thrums along nicely, providing a constant though mellow reminder as to the severity of the explosions and the rotation of the mass occurring beneath you. On smooth highways, the VTX does things as well as any other. Once the road turns less than perfect, however, the thing begins to wallow about, and the rev limiter seems to be constantly kicking in: "every time you feel like it's just starting to really get up and go, it bounces off the limiter, leaving you jerking for another gear," commented Plummer of the VTX's engine. "It's frustrating in the extreme, and the icing on its demise -- there was nothing I really like about the VTX, and a lot of things that just don't seem to work well, the big three being the engine, chassis and brakes." The front end and the rear both seem undersprung, though the rear is most in need of some loving.

Flowing through a series of long sweepers, the bike behaves most admirably, relying on its huge wheelbase and raked out front end to keep stress levels down. It's only when the pace escalates and the road tightens up a bit that the big VTX starts meandering about, searching for lines through corners that differ from what the pilot had initially planned. The Honda touched down its pegs quicker than any other bike here, sometimes dragging them even in parking lots. Thankfully, there is a lot of peg to drag before any hard parts grind, eventually touching down about the same time as the Mean Streak.

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