When it came time to rank these cruiser motorcycles, it struck us how the class is less about raw performance than personal preference. Some test riders found the Kawasaki the best performing bike, but felt the Star’s alluring lines trumped any disadvantage on the street. Then there were intangibles with the Harley that can’t be replicated by its metric rivals (not
Take your pick... With these cruiser entries its less about raw performance than identifying which ride melds best with your personal tastes in comfort and styling.
the least of which, for some consumers at least, being its Made-in-America status). If we’re giving advice to our buddy on what bike to buy, it would be to pick the one that best suits their tastes. We only hope we’ve described them well enough to help readers figure out which fits their style best. (Read the 2010 Middleweight Cruiser Shootout For My Money picks below the rankings to see what our test riders would pick if it was their hard-earned cash on the line.)
That said, we don’t conduct comparison tests to twist our hands saying everyone’s a winner, like some recess game of kindergarten kick ball. We handed out scoresheets and our test riders sent them back. Overall ratings divide into two categories: performance data and test rider opinion. The hard data includes: dyno results for peak torque and horsepower courtesy of Mickey Cohen Motorsports
; curb weights measured on our own scales; range based off fuel tank size and observed fuel efficiency (intended to reward larger fuel tanks – which are penalized in curb weight); and base MSRP.
Test riders rated each bike’s performance in nine categories, most self explanatory, with a few exceptions: Engine is broken into two cats with on-road performance (power delivery, fueling, throttle response) and personality (overall character and feel, including engine/exhaust sound). Appearance is a completely arbitrary judgment based of our admittedly limited four-rider test pool. Grin Factor is yet another personal assessment of that hard-to-describe quality about a bike that plain puts a smile on your face. Bikes earned scores based off their ranks within each categories, the points awarded in a 10,8,7,6 descending order. But enough with the explanations, here’s the final rankings:
Honda Shadow Phantom – Fourth – 100 points
While it finished at the bottom, the Honda Shadow Phantom sounds great, feels comfortable in the saddle and delivers surprisingly brutish styling.
The Honda’s stout look and sound highlight its offerings in our comparison. The 745cc V-Twin’s performance didn’t match its competition, but its biggest drawback was the wallowing feel in the handling department at high speeds and the comparison's weakest braking package. While the Shadow’s ergos felt smallish to our testers, the seat is thoroughly comfortable, as is the reach to its handlebar (which looked great too). An overall plush ride, those enamored with the Phantom’s looks (and one of our testers flat out found it the most attractive ride in our testing troop) won’t be disappointed with its cruiser performance, in spite of its finishing order in our comparison.
Star V Star 950 – Third – 109 points
The stalwart Harley-Davidson Sportster took a strong finish in our comparison thanks to its distinctive character.
The Star’s third-place ranking doesn’t feel right, as it’s such a well-rounded package. No question it’s a fantastic bike – looking amazing and delivering more than enough performance from its V-Twin to keep riders happy. The pitiful ground clearance, however, doomed its handling capabilities, holding it back in our eyes. That said, the Star was either at the top or near the top in all our testers For My Money selections. Pick up another random sampling of test riders and we would not be at all surprised to find the Star heading the scoresheet.
Harley-Davidson Sportster 883L – Second – 112 points
The Harley’s move up to second would have come as a shock had we taken a straw poll at the beginning of our comparison test. Before hopping on the bikes, the Sportster looked too different, too small. And while its petite ergos were the most panned, the little Sportster won over the grudging respect of the testing crew throughout the ride. The sound and raucous personality of its air-cooled Twin are the highlight, and by the end of the test our rider’s estimations of its styling progressed from dismissive, to “it’s not bad”, to “I kind of like it.” A little more ground clearance and roomier space in the cockpit, with a taller handlebar, and the Sportster would have been even more appreciated. As it is, the 883 Low scored a great finish, with its $7K pricetag making it all the more enticing.
Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom – First – 123 points
Looking at the scorecard, the Kawasaki’s dominance on the dyno certainly aided its case for the shootout win. However, the Vulcan really shined on the open road where its handling, along with competent brakes and larger ergos,
The Kawasaki Vulcan topped not just our scoresheet, its very nearly swept our test rider For My Money picks as well.
meshed best with our tall test riding crew. While the styling wasn’t rated the best, it does sport a rakish look worthy of its custom moniker. All the plusses add up to a design that more than makes up for the small premium for its highest MSRP. When the points were tabulated, the Vulcan’s win was unchallenged.
2010 Middleweight Cruiser Shootout - For My Money
Bart Madson, Motorcycle USA Managing Editor: Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
“For me it’s a toss up between the Star and Kawasaki. Ultimately, I’d give the Kawasaki the nod simply because of its better ground clearance and ergonomics. I value rider comfort, above almost all else, though I must admit the Star looks the most fetching of the test by far. As for a dark horse candidate for my FMM pick, I kept finding myself drawn to the Honda. Had I ridden that bike all by itself, I’d be quite satisfied with it. As for the Sportster, it’s finishing position surprised me a little. Yet, it does deliver a certain character that can’t be found in the other machines, though I’d have to get one with larger ergos as the diminutive low was way to cramped for my tastes.”
Adam Waheed, Motorcycle USA Road Test Editor: Star V Star 950
Had Adam picked the Kawasaki as his For My Money selection, a cheap pun would have worked for this photo. As it stands our Road Test editor chose the Star V Star 950.
“Although it wasn’t my favorite in any one category, besides appearance and build quality, I would pick the Yamaha. I love the way it looks and its top-end biased engine. It’s also the largest feeling motorcycle in this comparison and feels like a much more expensive bike than the others.”
Ray Gauger, Motorcycle USA Video Editor: Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
“For my money, I would buy the Kawasaki. It seemed to be the most middle of the road as far as looks, handling and power. The Yamaha is too big and sluggish, where as the Harley is too small and cramped. The Honda was good as well, but it lacked the overall quality of the Kawasaki. The Vulcan was comfortable enough for the long rides, but still had the riding position, handling and throttle response to attack some curves if you felt the urge.”
Joey Agustin, Videographer: Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
“If I had to pick one of these bikes to buy with my own money it would probably be the Vulcan, I felt most comfortable and cool on it. I liked its power and handling. It had a good tone to the exhaust. The seat was very easy on my rear end and the seating position was pretty nice. I loved the look of this bike. It was the one that caught my eye right away when I first saw all four bikes parked next to each other before the comparison. With its stellar looks, comfortable ride, and great power and handling, The Kawasaki Vulcan stole my attention. They've got my money.”