Cruisers & Performance Cruisers

By Chuck Hawks

Call them sport cruisers, power cruisers, performance cruisers or whatever you like, the hottest class of street bikes are the high performance cruisers. Bikes that not only look stylish, but also can back up their show with real go.

The majority of the e-mail I get from Motorcycles and Riding Online readers involves questions about what new bike in a certain class or of a certain brand I would recommend. This is the cruiser article in a series that will be updated annually and is intended to answer some of those questions before they are asked.

If I were in the market for a new cruiser, it would be one of the models that offers improved performance, and in the descriptions that follow I even come right out and tell you which one is my personal favorite. What follows is a kind of survey, by brand, of the cruisers I'd consider.

The Dyna Super Glide Sport (or FXDX in Harley code) is the best performing of all the Twin Cam 88 Harleys. Its blacked-out engine and transmission, triple disc brakes with 4-piston calipers all the way around, cast alloy wheels, performance tires, and adjustable suspension give it performance credentials lacking by the other big H-D's. In fact, despite Victory's claim to the contrary, the FXDX was there first and pretty well pioneered today's popular sport cruiser category. It is my first choice among all of the big street bikes, and the model I actually ride myself.

The liquid-cooled, 1099cc, SOHC, V-twin powered Shadow Sabre isn't the newest or the biggest or the fastest Honda cruiser, but it may be the most versatile, and it is priced right. It is also a good-looking bike by almost any standard, and comes with dual spark plug cylinder heads, good looking alloy wheels, and chromed forks. The Sabre avoids the overweight look and feel of the VTX series and the pig-wide Valkyrie series. Its a machine that can make the commute to work or a weekend spent exploring back roads enjoyable, yet is not too small for the occasional long distance ride on the Interstate. Like I said, versatile.

The liquid-cooled, SOHC, 8 valve, 1470cc Mean Streak may not be the most powerful power cruiser on the market, but it is a well-balanced big bike with upgraded performance and handling. These include EFI, Kawsaki's K-TRIC ignition, triple disc brakes, inverted 43mm cartridge type front forks, and fully adjustable rear air shocks. If you can overlook (or replace) some of the cheesy plastic trim parts, this bike has a lot of potential for Kawasaki Vulcan fans.

Moto Guzzi
The California series has been on American roads for many years. Long before most other brands realized that cruiser buyers want good handling and performance from their bikes as well as style, Moto Guzzi was providing it without fanfare and almost unnoticed. The latest Guzzi California model is the Special Sport Aluminum, which sports an air-cooled, fuel injected, 1064cc 90 degree V-twin with final shaft drive. This silver bike has Brembo triple disc brakes with front 4 piston calipers for stopping, and 45mm front forks and twin rear shocks for handling. 74 horsepower and 70 ft. lbs. of torque move the 552 pound (dry weight) Sport down the road. Now that an infusion of capital has revitalized Moto Guzzi's American operation, we may be seeing more of these bikes on the road--and especially on winding roads!

The Intruder 800 (805cc) and 1400 (1360cc) are truly oldies but a goodies. Using the same basic liquid-cooled, 8 valve, SOHC, 45 degree V-twin power plant as the 805cc Marauder, the Intruder 800 offers higher performance than its fatter running mate. The 6 valve, SOHC, 45 degree V-twin Intruder 1400 is thin and nimble compared to its fat and phony Intruder 1500 running mate, and sports shaft final drive and many custom touches. Both models come with 60 spoke laced wheels and elctronic ignition. And despite their crypto-chopper styling, the 800 and 1400 Intruders are easy and controllable bikes to ride that offer good performance and do everything well.

The Bonneville has to be the best news from England in many years. Despite their nostalgic Britbike good looks, all Bonneville models are modern bikes with powerful brakes, a lively engine, and modern suspension. A new variation is the Speedmaster, a street racer version of the Bonneville America. The Speedmaster comes with cast alloy wheels, triple disc brakes, black engine and transmission cases, flatter handlebars, and a gunfighter seat, so it is easy to tell from an ordinary America model. The relatively narrow vertical twin engine gives the bike more lean angle than most cruisers, and its 790cc's will power the Speedmaster out of corners with aplomb.

The Polaris Victory Vegas is the latest and best of the Victory models. Some three years in development, the Vegas features an up-rated 1507cc Freedom engine, a new frame, 43mm front forks, aluminum swing arm and vertical monoshok, belt final drive, stretched gas tank, plenty of chrome, flush mounted LED tail light, and a multitude of slick custom styling touches. This is the best looking Victory so far and, like all Victory motorcycles, it is made in the U.S.A.

The Road Warrior combines cruiser looks with serious performance capabilities. The high torque, air-cooled, fuel injected, 1670cc, V-twin engine with dual spark plug heads has power on tap for every need. And the aluminum double cradle frame, 41mm Inverted front forks, triple disc brakes with four piston front calipers, and belt final drive are a step-up from most other cruisers. So are the performance tires mounted on three spoke cast alloy wheels. Big, good looking and powerful aptly describes Yamaha's top of the line performance cruiser.

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Copyright 2003, 2004 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.

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