Heavyweight Cruisers, 1996

Five Fat Uglies on Five Fat Bikes

4: Honda Shadow ACE

Honda's ACE (American Classic Edition) has been with us for a couple of years now, apparently long enough to build up a following amongst cruiser fans. It happens to be the only motorcycle in the test (except for the Fat Boy) to be built in America. Paradoxically, it is the least American in many ways. The headlight is decidedly Japanese curved, and the rider's eye view is peppered by seemingly randomly-placed instruments and idiot lights. It's odd that, compared to the other machines in the test, the Honda should seem like a parts bin special, since Honda went to an awful lot of trouble with paint finishes. No less than ten solid and two-tone color schemes are available. We got the white and yellow one (Pearl Yellow and Pearl White, according to Honda). To our jaundiced editorial eyes, the best looker has got to be the ACE in basic black. 

There are fewer complaints in the engine department: Although this is the smallest engined V-twin in the test, the 1099cc, three valve per cylinder liquid cooled motor punches out torquey performance, at medium speeds in the rev range. Like the Kawasaki and the Harley, the Honda uses hydraulic valve-lash adjusters that do away with the expensive task of routine valve adjustment.

The seat, though, isn't in the same comfort class as the best. The padding is on the soft side, and doesn't allow the rider to feel planted. The seat was an acquired taste for most editorial behinds. Handling is occasionally erratic in bumpy turns and rough roads, but then, as many enthusiasts will no doubt remind us, it's not a sport bike. The 41mm conventional forks do possess a large helping of trail, however, helping the all-important freeway stability. Rear tire is a 170 section 15 incher, exactly the same size as the Suzuki, while the front is shod with a currently fashionable 16-inch balloon. Another characteristic it shares with the Intruder is the provision of footpegs, rather than boards, for the rider's feet. Brakes are good, a single disc on each wheel capable of stopping the plot in a reasonable distance.

The Shadow, in common with most other of the cruisers here (except, of course, for the domestic model) uses a fair degree of fakery in its makeup. The engine is liquid cooled, despite the prominent cooling fins. 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. To be fair, the Kawasaki has an even more convoluted exhaust system. What are we saying here? Price has its importance, and the Honda joins the Suzuki in the sub $10,000 bracket, but style is the most important thing to cruiser owners. And the ACE isn't keeping up with the leader.

5: Yamaha Royal Star

Someone had to come last: and if it wasn't for the price tag, it may not have been the Yamaha. But at $13,500, we felt that the motorcycle must offer outstanding value. And we're not yet convinced.

Okay. The Yamaha Royal Star has had the most press ever of any motorcycle tested at Motorcycle Online. We've tested it on its own and compared it to the domestic competition. We were getting so sick of the damn thing, we asked Yamaha for an 1100 Virago to test for this comparo. But their response, reasonably enough, was that the Royal Star is competing in the market place against these bikes, so why shouldn't it run with them? And besides, we could have one with a different color scheme, and more virgin floorboards to scrape. How could we resist?

Actually, comparing the Yamaha against the other cruisers in their intended environment, the subtly twisting canyons of downtown, and the road to the beach, showed us the strengths and the weaknesses of this still-new cruiser. It's built for a new generation of cruiser riders, and it's built to be big. In fact, if they make motorbikes any bigger than this, they're going to have to breed a new generation of Schwarzenegger clone riders to control them.

It's engine wasn't the biggest, but it was the only four cylinder in the test (the others were all V-twins), meaning that it gave good throttle response but had a distinct lack of torque down in the rpm basement, which is where most cruiser riders keep their beasts. You gotta give it one thing though: It does exude that cruiser style. But not one of the Motorcycle Online fat guys is yet fat enough.


Cruiser Specificatons

Manufacturer:  Honda
Model: 1996 VT1100C2 Shadow American Classic Edition
Price:  $9,499
Engine: sohc, 3-valve, V-Twin
Bore x stroke: 87.5mm x 91.4mm
Displacement: 1099cc
Carburetion:  36mm CV
Transmission:  5-speed
Wheelbase: 65.0 in.
Seat height: 28.7 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 573 lbs.

Manufacturer: Kawasaki
Model: 1996 Vulcan 1500
Engine: sohc, 4-valve, V-Twin
Bore x stroke: 102.0mm x 90.0mm
Displacement: 1470cc
Carburetion:  36mm Keihin CVK
Transmission:  4-speed
Wheelbase: 63.2 in.
Seat height: 28.3 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 557 lbs.

Manufacturer:  Harley-Davidson
Model: 1996 FLSTF Fat Boy
Price:  $13930
Engine: ohv, 2-valve, V-Twin
Bore x stroke: 88.8 x 108.0
Displacement: 1340cc
Carburetion:  40mm Keihin CV
Transmission:  5-speed
Wheelbase: 63.89 in.
Seat height: 25.75 in.
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal.
Claimed dry weight: 631 lbs.

Manufacturer:  Suzuki
Model:  1996 VS1400GLPT
Price:  $8,399
Engine:  ohc, 3-valve, V-twin
Bore x stroke:   94mm x 98mm
Displacement:   1360cc
Carburetion:  36mm Mikuni BDS front, 36mm Mikuni BS rear
Transmission:   4-speed
Wheelbase:  63.8 in.
Seat height:  28.9 in.
Fuel capacity:  3.4 gal.
Claimed dry weight:  533 lbs.

Manufacturer:  Yamaha
Model:  1996 Royal Star
Price:  $13,500     
Engine:  dohc, 4-valve, V-Four
Bore x stroke:   79mm x 66mm
Displacement:   1294cc
Carburetion:  Four 28mm Mikuni BDS
Transmission:   5-speed
Wheelbase:  66.7 in.
Seat height:  28.2 in.
Fuel capacity:  4.8 gal.
Claimed dry weight:  673 lbs.


1. Andy Saunders, Editor

You have to be in the right mood to ride cruisers. I get impatient, desperate to get going. I'm a terrible cruiser rider. Just watching that needle hover around the 55mph mark, mile after mile, eats away at my impatient soul. Okay, some people like that, and how can I argue. Sometimes I can get in that relaxed mood of not having to be anywhere at any specific time, just taking the time to enjoy the ride, enjoy the view, feel the thud-thud heartbeat of the big loafing pistons a few inches away from my most sensitive parts. It's like fishing, I suppose. I've never yet heard a fisherman satisfactorily explain the fascination of the sport. Same with cruisers. If you want to ride slow, the best one to get is the one with the slowest engine. And right now, that's the Kawasaki. If you want resale value and street credibility, you know which one to buy. If you want economy, perfomance and light handling, what are you reading this for?

2. Brent Plummer Editor-in-Chief "    

Arf arf, Motorcycle Online has gone to the dogs." Someone wrote that in a recent story we published, and I have to agree. So let me be the first to flame Editor Saunders: What's the matter with you! How could you pick a clone over the Real Deal. A clone is a clone is a clone, no matter how much it looks like the original. When it came time to vote, the Harley was tied dead even with the Kawasaki. Saunders exercised Editorial Priviledge, breaking the gridlock and giving the number one spot to the Vulcan. The new Kawasaki is a total and complete rip-off of a Harley, right down to the tank emblem that's a spitting image of H-D's. Ick. I liked the old one better.

Sure, I'll concede that the Kawasaki is far superior to the Harley in stock form. Much smoother, it stops better and goes better. Heck, it even turns better. But so what? Who rides a stock cruiser? The Harley aftermarket has more stuff available than all other brands combined. Isn't that what cruisin' is all about -- standing apart from the crowd, forging your own identity and doing your own thing? "If you have to ask, you don't understand." Back when I was a sportbike weenie, that phrase annoyed me to no end. But then, one day, I understood. Walking out to a Harley testbike, I asked my girlfriend to come with me. "What are we riding," she asked.

"A Harley."

I was preparing for the usual tirade of whining -- you know, 'this sportbike is too uncomfortable, it takes too long to get to the canyons, and once there the fun is oh so short. Then it's grind back through traffic, butt perched high, back and knees aching.' Instead, all she said was "okay," and hopped right on. In that instant, it dawned on me: Once you throw a leg over a Harley, you're where you want to be. It didn't matter where you're riding or how fast or if there is traffic, you're cruising on a Hog and happy as could be. Get it? A Harley is the destination, so the destination is Harley. Fully understanding all the circular logic and rhetoric, I was suddenly in the know.

3. Tom Fortune, Managing Editor    

I would've picked the Suzuki Intruder to win this comparison hands down -- if it weren't so damn ugly. It was the best performer overall for me, but falls to second place because of lack of style. Big-bore cruisers' talents aren't just going slowly and comfortably, they must look cool doing it. The Fat Boy certainly has the looks, but vibration and mediocre performance relegated it to third on my list. Only the Kawasaki did everything an open-class cruiser should and do it well enough to make it my top choice. And I guess if it's got to look like a Harley, the Vulcan Classic does it better than any of the others. 4. Billy Bartels, Graphic Designer

This story should be called: "A Fat Boy, and some bikes that want to be one." It exemplifies why Harley riders (mostly) don't read mixed- brand magazines. A cruiser is about style more than anything else, and when Harley took a bold step in 1989 and introduced a very different motorcycle into the world -- the Fat Boy -- the rest of the manufacturers (except Suzuki) waited to see if it would sell, then duplicated Harley when it did. Now I must admit that, in bone stock form, I liked the Intruder the best, but then I like the H-D Softail Custom that it emulates better than the Fat Boy anyhow. The Suzuki handles great, has monster power, and they put some very nice finishing touches on it. Would I buy it? No, but I have my prejudices. Next the Fatboy. The lack of chrome, spit and polish make it a perfect canvas for the customizer, and for less than $1500 you can get 15-20 horses and a completely different look out of it. It has better resale value than anything here, and most importantly, babes dig Harleys. After this the distinguishing characteristics disappear. The Vulcan is big and heavy and the most blatant ripoff, but is smooth and torquey, so I give it third. The Shadow ACE had more irritating vibration than any stock bike I have ever ridden, and handles rather poorly, so it is fourth. Lastly the Royal Star. What can I say that hasn't already been said? I wish we could have gotten a Honda Valkyrie for the test, it's not a ripoff and supposedly has a hundred horsepower.

5. Pat Russell, Pat the Mechanic

I guess I just don't have a cruisin' kind of spirit. Every time I ride one of these bikes anywhere -- except around town -- they just don't deliver what I'm looking for. So it's hard to pick a clear winner, but it would be either the ACE or the Fat Boy. They are both good around town, but the Fat Boy has a more visceral feel that seems to take you back in time a bit. On the other hand the Honda out-performs the Harley quite easily.

The others? They either don't have the feel or the performance or both. The Intruder is fast, but is a bit clumsy at lower speeds and the rear suspension is too mushy. The Vulcan almost seems too smooth, and is not as easy to maneuver. Then there's the Royal Star; nice feel, good motor and outriggers for floor boards.


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