You don’t need a gigantic engine and a five-figure MSRP to get your hands on a real cruiser.
At least that’s the conclusion that shot to mind while sipping an espresso during our 2010 Middleweight Cruiser Shootout. It was a horribly un-biker-ish moment, our four test riders milling about the ubiquitous chain coffee house drinking foo-foo, fancy drinks. One was even eating a cookie for crying out loud! The guys from Wild Hogs
could’ve swooped out and stomped our sissy guts, much less a real renegade biker troupe.
The situation had us laughing at ourselves – we were a just little too close to the Disney-movie version of bikerdom. Even I wanted to beat myself up. After all, what sort of self-respecting cruiser rider rides a little “sissy bike” and drinks Americanos? Shouldn’t we be getting up the morning after a bar-house brawl somewhere, gulping black day-old coffee trying to remember what the hell happened?
Lucky for us, a real biker pulled up. His American Twin roared with aftermarket pipes, all shiny and chrome, studded saddlebags, tassles… the whole shebang. It was a special edition Harley of some sort, at least 25-30K, probably more with all the accessories. He took off his half-shell with the full do-rag ensemble immaculately placed to mask the receding hairline. Pitching the bike, excuse us, his hog on the sidestand, he swaggered inside the chain on his wallet jingling with each step. For all we know our bad hombre was ordering a Green Tea cappuccino with extra whip cream. Whew… Maybe we’re more typical than we first thought.
See, there’s image, and then there’s reality: The reality is you don’t need 2000cc to cruise around town and tour the backroads of Nowheresville, USA. The reality is you don’t need to rob the 401K to make a down payment on a respectable cruiser either. The reality is the chasm between tiny 250cc entry-level rides and the monster 1600cc+ crowd holds an entire stable of mid-sized offerings, with some quite respectable.
Our four test bikes motored across the freeways and backroads of California, in our quest to find out which middleweight cruiser best delivers a big bike feel without the hefty MSRP.
We sampled four such rides, all under 1000cc and $8400. The Harley-Davidson
Sportster 883 represented the American Twin market, pitted against three metric rides in the Star V Star 950, Kawasaki
Vulcan 900 Custom and the new-for-2010 Honda
Riding through the urban streets, freeways and backroads of Southern Californian, our testing process included dyno runs, weights and observed fuel efficiency. Rider opinions factored heaviest in our rankings, our testers evaluating road performance of the engine and chassis, along with even more subjective assessments like appearance and grin factor.
In the end, we discovered four bikes with four distinct personalities. Each will appeal to select riders looking for a fun, affordable entry to the cruiser ranks. Let’s take a closer look at what these price-point steeds have to offer.