Strange Bedfellows - Star Bolt C-Spec Vs. Suzuki Boulevard M50 + Video

Tom Roderick
by Tom Roderick

Two extremes of cruiserdom in the sub-$9k price range

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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?

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.

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

CategoryStar Bolt C-SpecSuzuki Boulevard M50
Quality, Fit & Finish78.8%76.3%
Cool Factor88.8%75.0%
Grin Factor80.0%73.8%
Overall Score79.0%75.8%

Strange Bedfellows Spec Sheet

Star Bolt C-SpecSuzuki Boulevard M50
Type942cc air-cooled 4-stroke, V-twin805 cc, 4-stroke, 2-cylinder, liquid-cooled,, 45-degree V-Twin
Fuel SystemFuel InjectedFuel Injection
Valve TrainSOHC, 4-valveSOHC
Horsepower49.1 @ 5300 rpm43.5 @ 6100 rpm
Torque57.3 @ 3100 rpm43.0 @3200 rpm
lb/hp11.1 lbs13.6 lbs
lb/torque9.5 lbs13.7 lbs
Transmission5-speed multiplate wet clutch5-speed constant mesh
Final DriveBeltShaft
Front SuspensionTelescopic fork, 4.7-in travelInverted telescopic, coil spring, oil damped
Rear SuspensionDual shocks, 2.8-in travelLink type, oil damped, coil spring
Front BrakeWave-type disc, 298mmDisc
Rear BrakeWave-type disc, 298mmDrum
Front Tire100/90-19M/C 57H130/90-16 M/C 67H, tubeless
Rear Tire150/80-16M/C 71H170/80-15 M/C 77H, tubeless
Wheelbase61.8 in65.2 in
Seat Height30.1 in27.6 in
Measured Weight547 lbs590 lbs
Fuel Capacity3.2 gal4.1 gal
Tested Fuel Economy45.1 MPG42.8 MPG
Available ColorsEnvy Green, Liquid SilverGlass Sparkle Black, Pearl Glacier White
Warranty1 Year (Limited Factory Warranty)12 month unlimited mileage limited warranty
Tom Roderick
Tom Roderick

A former staffer who has gone on to greener pastures, Tom Roderick still can't get the motorcycle bug out of his system. And honestly, we still miss having him around. Tom is now a regular freelance writer and tester for when his schedule allows, and his experience, riding ability, writing talent, and quick wit are still a joy to have – even if we don't get to experience it as much as we used to.

More by Tom Roderick

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2 of 16 comments
  • Kevin Polito Kevin Polito on Jun 23, 2015

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

  • Archie Dux Archie Dux on Sep 14, 2015

    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.