Cruisers & Performance Cruisers

By Chuck Hawks

Call them cruisers, power cruisers, sport cruisers, the new standard motorcycles or whatever you like, these are the hottest selling street bikes. Cruisers not only look stylish, but the best of the breed can back up their show with real go.

If I were in the market for a cruiser, it would be one of the models that offers performance along with style. What follows is a kind of survey, by brand, of the cruisers made since the turn of the 21st Century, new or used, I'd be willing to ride myself.


The Dyna Super Glide Sport (or FXDX in Harley code) was and remains the best overall performer of all the twin cam, air cooled 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 subsequent big twin Harleys. In fact, the FXDX pretty well pioneered the sport cruiser category. It is my first choice among all of the big street bikes and the model I have ridden since Y2K myself.

Want a newer motorcycle? The liquid cooled, 76 cu. in., DOHC, fuel injected V-Rod has been the Harley-Davidson performance cruiser of choice from its introduction in 2002 to the present day. It is reliable and fast. To paraphrase the Buick commercial, this is not your father's Harley-Davidson. Like all modern H-D's, final drive is by trouble free, long lasting belt. The various V-Rod models have set the standard for modern performance cruisers since they first hit the street.


The liquid-cooled, 1312cc, SOHC, V-twin powered Sabre isn't the newest, biggest or fastest Honda cruiser, but it may be the most versatile. It is also a good-looking bike and comes with dual spark plug cylinder heads, five spoke alloy wheels and plenty of chrome on the motor.

The Sabre avoids the overweight look and feel of the pig-wide Valkyrie series power cruisers. It is 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.


Kawasaki's 2014 Vulcan 900 Custom is their minimalist cruiser and probably the most attractive. It is noticeably lighter than their 1700 behemoths and looks it. The 903cc, liquid-cooled, SOHC, 8 valve, V-twin delivers plenty of reliable power.

The 900 Custom may not be the most powerful cruiser on the market, but it is a well-balanced machine and Kawasaki's response to the legendary H-D Sportster. It offers a lot of potential good times to 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. Moto Guzzi has never been a big seller in the US, but their California cruisers have been in the line for so long that they are not totally uncommon and good used examples are occasionally available.

The latest Guzzi California model is the 1400 Custom, which sports an air/oil-cooled, fuel injected, double ignition, 1380cc, 90 degree V-twin with final shaft drive. This bike has Brembo triple disc brakes with front four piston calipers for stopping, a double cradle tubular steel frame and 46mm front forks and twin rear shocks for handling.


"Boulevard" is the name of the Suzuki cruiser line, replacing the more minimalist Intruder semi-choppers. Personally, I liked the Intruders better, especially the Intruder 800 (805cc), which was easy to ride and performed well. Fortunately, Suzuki sold a lot of Intruders over the years, with the 800 and 1400 models being the most recent, so good examples are still available on the used market.

Among the generally overweight Boulevard models, the slender S40 is an iconoclast. It is a relatively lightweight, crypto-chopper style bike powered by a 650 (652cc), air cooled, OHC, vertical single cylinder motor and belt final drive. The lure of a big single lives on in the S40, truly a different type of cruiser. The remaining specifications are mundane, but the totality of the machine is not. The S40 is unique, not only in the Suzuki cruiser line, but in all of motorcycling.


The Speedmaster is a relatively lightweight sport cruiser based on a version of the air cooled, fuel injected, DOHC, 865cc, parallel twin Bonneville motor. The Speedmaster comes with lightweight cast alloy wheels, disc brakes, black engine and transmission cases, flat (also black) handlebars and a gunfighter seat. The relatively narrow vertical twin engine and decent suspension gives the bike more lean angle than most cruisers and its 61 bhp is sufficient to power the 550 pound Speedmaster out of corners with aplomb.

Among Triumph's 2014 heavyweight cruiser line is the hot performing Thunderbird, recently reviewed by Motorcycles and Riding Online's David Tong. This bike is powered by Triumphs big 1597cc , liquid cooled, DOHC, vertical twin that is rated at 92 bhp and 108 ft. lbs. of torque at the crankshaft. A double cradle frame, 47mm front forks and dual rear shocks (not to mention adequate ground clearance) ensure good handling and triple disc brakes with four piston front calibers and ABS handle the stopping chores. The Thunderbird is one of the best, all-around performance cruisers on the market today.


The Polaris Victory line is made in the USA, directly challenging class leading Harley-Davidson on their home turf. Make no mistake, these are big motorcycles. (See David Tong's review of the Victory Vision touring bike to see just how big.) As of this writing (2014) there is no entry level or medium displacement Victory motorcycle.

Nicely styled with a streamlined look, the Victory Judge is billed as a muscle cruiser. Featuring an air/oil cooled, OHC, four valve per cylinder, 106 cu. in. V-twin motor and a six-speed transmission, the Judge provides 110 ft. lbs. of torque to get things rolling. A rigid frame, 43mm front forks, aluminum swing arm and vertical mono shock keep things under control. Other desirable features include belt final drive, five spoke cast wheels, stretched gas tank, pull-back handlebars, black engine cases and exhaust system, LED tail light and custom styling touches.


The V-Max has been Yamaha's power cruiser for a couple of decades. For 2014, the 683 pound (wet weight) Mad Max features a fusion of sport bike technology and bad-ass cruiser style.

At the heart of the V-Max is its 1694cc, liquid cooled, DOHC, four valve per cylinder, 65-degree V-4 motor. The icing on this mechanical cake is downdraft 4-bore EFI , YCC-T "fly by wire" throttle and Yamaha's YCC-I intake technology.

Other performance goodies include a lightweight aluminum chassis, cast aluminum swing arm, five speed transmission, slipper clutch, triple wave-type brake discs with six piston front calipers, ABS, fully adjustable 52mm inverted front forks and fully adjustable rear mono shock. It is the meanest looking bike on the road, a wolf in wolf's clothing. Don't mess with Mad Max!

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Copyright 2003, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.