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2012 Women’s Cruiser Shootout

Monday, May 21, 2012


The ranks of women riders in the motorcycling community have grown steadily in the past decade. It’s an industry trend that has not gone unnoticed by the major motorcycle OEMs, which have developed and marketed models specifically for female riders. MotoUSA has asked industry insider and long-time advocate of female riders, Jan Plessner, to evaluate the latest crop of motorcycles from a feminine perspective. The former PR and marketing maven for Kawasaki USA, Plessner brings more than 20 years of motorcycle industry experience in a series of motorcycle comparison reviews for MotoUSA readers. The following 2012 Women’s Cruiser Shootout is evaluated for, and by, women riders, with a follow-up test of the most female-friendly Sport/Street offers on the way. Enjoy! – Motorcycle USA Editors

The Premise
 
Videos Our Sponsor
2012 Honda Shadow Spirit - Womens Cruiser Shootout Video
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The 2012 Honda Shadow Spirit impressed our testers, will it impress you? Watch the 2012 Honda Shadow Spirit video.

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2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom - Womens Cruiser Shootout Video
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The Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom is Kawasaki's entry-level cruiser. Watch the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom video to see how Team Green stacks up against the rest.

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2012 Triumph America - Womens Cruiser Comparison Video
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The Triumph America was a unique entry in the 2012 Women's Cruiser Shootout. Check out the 2012 Triumph America video.

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2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster SuperLow - Womens Cruiser Comparison Video
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Think the 2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster Superlow has what it takes to impress our testers? Check out the 2012 Harley-Davidson Sportster Superlow video.

After munching down a bean and cheese burrito at our favorite Mexican joint, I asked Motorcycle USA Digital Media Producer Justin Dawes if MotoUSA would be interested in a “Women’s Motorcycle Shootout.” Considering I had just come off an 18-year assignment where I really only sampled one Japanese brand (Kawasaki), I felt I was overdue and anxious to experience what the rest of the industry had to offer.

I told Justin I would go online with the mindset of a novice or intermediate average-height woman and pick out the top five bikes that piqued my interest. He said it sounded like a good idea and ran the concept up the MotoUSA flagpole. Before I knew it, we had the green light.

Bike Selection 

I didn’t want to spend time on the super small entry-level platforms. We were looking for the bikes in the next class up; the motorcycles a woman with riding experience would appreciate. Next up was a night on the Internet I will never forget. Some people play fantasy football or baseball online. Well, this was more like fantasy motorcycle shopping, and it was a blast. 

I made a list of all the motorcycle manufacturers that offered bikes in this fantasy class, including all the metric bikes plus Ducati, Harley Davidson and Triumph. For the next few hours, I studied the complete model line-ups of each brand and eventually zeroed in on things like seat height, curb weight, engine configuration and general styling. I figured if I could reach the ground at 5’3” (okay, five foot two and a half, plus puffy hair), then for the most part the majority of women out there should be able to appreciate and relate to our model selection.

Wow – What a Surprise!

There are a lot of motorcycles that are potential choices for women who are really getting serious about motorcycling. Oh darn. In order to really do the MotoUSA readers justice, two separate comparison tests were necessary. We would test cruisers one day and sportbikes another. As both model lineups developed, so did a natural MSRP ceiling of $9,999. For this review we will deal exclusively with sub-$10,000 cruisers suitable for female riders.

After some checking on product availability in Southern California, the cruiser mix was determined. We would be testing four models: Harley-Davidson SuperLow ($7999-$8,499), Honda Shadow Spirit ($8,240), Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom ($8,699) and Triumph America ($8,299-$8,599). It should be noted that MotoUSA did attempt to secure a Yamaha scooter and a Suzuki Boulevard to add to the mix, but the loan pool gods were not shining upon us this time.

Within a few weeks, the bikes would arrive at the MotoUSA offices in sunny Southern California and the next step was to determine who would would be our test riders.

Selecting the Lucky Ladies

I don’t know about you, but if someone called me out of the blue with the offer to sample $40,000 worth of sparkling new motorcycles, I would have no trouble clearing my schedule. As predicted, the responses I received were quite positive across the board. It was very important to recruit a good cross section of female test riders and we didn’t want to just have racers, stunt riders, or anyone currently associated with a particular motorcycle brand. We wanted real world riders with a few miles under their belts.

The Cast of Characters

As it turned out, we managed to round up a terrific collection of riders, each with many years of riding experience. While we all shared a serious passion for two wheels, we all owned a very different point of reference.
Jody 2012 Womens Cruiser Shootout.

Jody “Shark Bait” Hemingway is a four-foot, eleven-inch graphic artist, expert Scuba diver and now ultrasound technician. Jody started her riding career on a moped when she moved to the West Coast from Philadelphia in the mid 90’s. She had the least amount of inseam and experience, but she had little trouble keeping up with the group.

Vickie 2012 Womens Cruiser Shootout.

Vickie “Captain” Norton is a second-generation motorcyclist who has been riding since before she could drive. A tall, unassuming blonde and Michigan native, she enjoys riding on and off the road. She is a Captain for a major U.S. airline with nearly two decades of commercial experience. She does aviation accident investigations in her spare time, loves the water and plays in a band.

Jan 2012 Womens Cruiser Shootout
“Jet Ski” Jan Plessner is a first-generation motorcyclist who was specifically warned as a child to stay away from “those dangerous motorcycles.” She started riding street bikes in the 90’s after joining Kawasaki’s Government Relations Department. She served as the PR manager at Kawasaki for the past eight and a half years and has since moved on to tackle a variety of other industry-related adventures.


Tania 2012 Womens Cruiser Shootout.
Tania “T-Satch” Satchwell started riding with her older brothers on the farm in New Zealand where her father quickly realized she was fast for her age. They started racing as a family and after a few years of hard work, she earned the 2001 U.S. Women’s Motocross National Championship and a stack of trophies. Now retired from women’s motocross racing, Tania is competing on bicycles, teaching dirt and street MSF motorcycle classes and studying to be a personal trainer.

Sarah 2012 Womens Cruiser Shootout.
“Super” Sarah Schilke is the first female to serve on the Motorcycle Industry Council’s elite Board of Directors. She has held several key posts around the industry and is now the U.S. PR and marketing director for Schuberth North America. Sarah’s company makes the only motorcycle helmet specifically designed for women – the Schuberth C3W. I am looking forward to testing this gem down the road and a couple of the gals were fortunate enough to test one of the Schuberth helmets during this shootout.

The Ride 

Our riding weekend included regular stops to switch bikes, take notes and soak in the experience in our search for the best female-friendly cruiser. We started on the Southern California freeways before transitioning to a nice two-lane highway that curves though Northern San Diego County. The best stretch of riding included serpentine mountain roads surrounded by stunning green backdrops and ample blue So-Cal sky. Unfortunately, on the way back, we hit our share of congestion during the Friday night return rush hour – a perfect opportunity to sample these bikes in their real-world commuting roles.

A lot of joking around, plenty of laughs, an abundance of photo stops and video captures, smooth asphalt and sunshine made for a near-perfect day of testing.
2012 Womens Cruiser Shootout horsepower.
2012 Womens Cruiser Shootout torque.

Testing and Scoring

The Motorcycle-USA.com crew know how to conduct a shootout. I’ve put on press events for nearly a decade and these guys know their stuff inside and out. Each of the four cruisers would be graded first through fourth-place in nine pre-determined subjective categories by each of our five female test riders. In addition, each motorcycle would earn a similar position and score for the nine preset objective categories.

All the first place finishers would earn 10 points, second would earn 8, third place translated to 7 points and 6 points was awarded for fourth.

Each test rider was also asked to back up every score with a written statement about why they liked or disliked that particular characteristic of the bike. Some test riders had a lot to say about a lot of things, while others were more prone to keeping it short and sweet.

We tallied up the scoresheets to reach our final bike rankings. I hope you will enjoy the read and find the information useful.

2012 Harley-Davidson SuperLow Photos
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2012 Triumph America Photos
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2012 Honda Shadow Spirit Photos
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2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
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2012 Women's Cruiser 0-60
2012 Women's Cruiser 0-60
2012 Women's Cruiser Braking
2012 Women's Cruiser Braking
2012 Women's Cruiser 1/4 Mile
2012 Women's Cruiser 1/4 Mile
2012 Women's Cruiser Weight
2012 Women's Cruiser Weight

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Comments
EQUALOPPORTUNITYRIDER   June 14, 2012 11:44 AM
A few questions about the bikes under review please:
1. If a 750cc Honda was included at the bottom of the displacement ladder, then why was the Suzuki C50 at 805cc not included ?

2. With the highest displacement bike being the Kawasaki at 903cc, why was the Star V-Star 950 at 942cc not included when it is less than 40cc more ?

3. Why was it more of a custom style cruiser than a classic style ?(such as the Kawasaki Vulcan 900; be it the Classic or SE version)

We all know that a taller and narrower front tire effects handling and stability in certain ways as we all know that a smaller and wider front tire effects handling and stability in certain ways. It is not a thorough evaluation of the Kawasaki Vulcan 900 if only the custom version is reviewed.

I have test ridden every one of these bikes with the exception of the Honda because even for me, it is just too small and cramped.

The HD Sportster (all versions of it that I tried) is like riding a street legal minibike in that it is so thin and light and shakes so much while you have almost leaning angle before scraping its pegs. It is all about I ride a Harley on these bikes as they are ugly and uncomfy to the nth degree.

The Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom is exactly as the women stated: excellent with a lot of power and comfort and a solid / planted feel. You do get a bit of belt whine and the rear pulley is hideous, but it is an otherwise fabulous bike as is its Classic or SE version.

The Triumph America is an awesome bike to ride being that it is a parallel twin at 865cc and is extremely smooth riding and comfy. It has the solidity and stability of a big bike with the maneuverability and handling of a bike its size. The twin exhaust is nice too along with the fit and finish being the classic British way.

The unincluded Suzuki C50 at 805cc is an easy to ride bike that is very comfy and spacious. While its rear drum brake is not the most responsive and it is a bit limited on oomph and you have to shift quite often due to its lower engine size, it is a great looking bike without too much vibration.

The other unincluded Stat V-Star 950 at 942cc is a highly fun bike to ride as it is the highest displacement of the sub-1000cc cruisers. It also offers Star's exceptional fit and finish and customizing options with a highly sporty and invigorating feel and appearance.

While my little blurbs are hardly thorough and are not professionally qualified, that gives you a hint of what they are like in addition to the reviewers' evaluations who did an excellent job at all of them.


EQUALOPPORTUNITYRIDER   June 14, 2012 10:37 AM
For the record, I also value and appreciate a woman's perspective on many topics especially my wife's as I am married and the father of our two young boys, or as in this case; the perspective of several skilled, experienced, and technically competent women with professional credentials in this industry. Often times, women will notice aspects of something that men are oblivious to even when those aspects may be crucial in nature or functionality, etc. However, to classify or categorize a particular model of motorcycle, regardless of its genre, as being for or mostly for women is to "almost" or "practically in application" limit and restrict it to women, and that is not only incorrect, it is also uncalled for. I benefited from the initially very small size and light weight of a Suzuki 250cc bike for taking the rider course on to get my license here in PA. However, after test riding 42 models of cruisers from seven manufacturers in less than two years and another five models of touring bikes from a few of those manufacturers, I found that it is often times easier to handle a larger and somewhat but heavier bike than a smaller displacement one regardless of the brand or model. While it may be fun and part of the experience to shift up and down, I do not like having to do it as often as is needed on smaller displacement bikes with less range of speed per gear. Victory, for example, uses very large and potent 106ci engines in all of the cruisers and with the way they offer them with mid-mount foot controls, pull back handle bars, and very low seat heights, they are equally well set up for men or women; yet they do not classify or market their bikes for or primarily towards either gender of consumer. Good for Victory.
EQUALOPPORTUNITYRIDER   June 14, 2012 08:32 AM
Hello,
While I fully appreciate the generality and validity that women may be smaller and shorter in frame size and weight and have less upper body strength and other typical female physical characteristics with the resultant valid difficulties in finding a good fitting match in a cruiser, or any type of bike for that matter, I do not appreciate that these models of cruisers are now categorized as being for or mostly for women or better suited for women riders. Many men are not tall or strong or long legged or have a long arm reach or are heavy in weight, so a cruiser such as any one of these along with other smaller displacement ones are often times what works for men of that description; men like me. Does that now mean that if we have one of these bikes or are considering one or are best fitted for one of them that we have or will have a "woman's" cruiser instead of just a cruiser ? Now that your article has categorized these models are for women, and while motorcycles are inanimate objects, they have now all been emasculated in a sense since the article lists them for women. I like some of those models and fit well on some of them. Does that make me less of a man or less manly of a rider now ? How about a second, and an all male review of these same cruisers for men that are small stature as many of us are ? Then reclassify these cruisers as cruisers and not cruisers for women.
Pattied   June 3, 2012 05:50 AM
I really enjoyed this bike comparision. I've been riding 10+ years. In fact, I am getting ready to purchase a cruiser and was already debating between two of the bikes that are in the shootout. One of them is the Triumph, and I was pleasantly surprised to see you had this bike in the test.