2005 Suzuki Boulevard First Ride

MotorcycleUSA Staff | February 8, 2005

Okay, let’s say you’re a well established motorcycle manufacturer, with a strong lineup of cruiser bikes with well-known names, and you can boast of a loyal following and a solid reputation. You want to freshen up your existing motorcycle lineup and expand your sales in the ever growing cruiser market to reach buyers who may not be as familiar with your product offerings as you think they should be. Also, you’ve got lots of new products in the pipeline that you will be introducing regularly over the next few months and years, which fill new niches in the marketplace.

You’ll need to decide if you want to utilize the existing model names, or introduce new model names. If you use existing names, it might be confusing to the public, and may not get the full impact of a new model. If you use new names, it might be hard for people to figure out where the new models fit within the entire product line.

So what would you do? Well, if you’re American Suzuki you make a bold, decisive move. You scrap the old names and place all your cruiser bikes under one new umbrella brand name and designate each one with an alpha numeric moniker. That lets your buyers know exactly where each motorcycle fits in the hierarchy of the new brand and what cruiser niche it will occupy in the marketplace.

Suzuki invited the press to Las Vegas to attend its June dealer meetings, joining Suzuki’s dealers to witness the birth of its new cruiser brand called Boulevard. No more Intruders, no more Marauders, no more Volusia, and no more Savage. From now on, all of Suzuki’s current and future cruiser motorcycles arriving in dealer showrooms beginning in August as 2005 models will be called a Boulevard, with a letter and number designation.

It is truly a bold move because the model names mentioned above have a rich history and an excellent reputation. The mid-’80s saw the introduction of the Intruder 700 which combined classic V-Twin design with modern engineering touches like liquid-cooling, and shaft drive. The 1987 Intruder 1400 earned its reputation by being the largest V-Twin production engine available at the time, touching off the displacement wars in the cruiser market. The 1997 Marauder 800 became one of Suzuki’s best selling cruisers ever in its first year. And the Volusia 800 was last year’s best selling motorcycle in its class.

So while it seems like a big step to scrap the venerable names, American Suzuki vice-president Mel Harris explained that the rewards down the road will far outweigh the short-term risks. The new Boulevards will keep the Suzuki DNA of advanced technology, strong power and performance, low weight, nimble handling and strong value while continuing to develop and expand upon those attributes with each new offering.

The Las Vegas area provided the perfect locale to test out Suzuki s new cruiser line.
The Las Vegas area provided the perfect locale to test out Suzuki’s new cruiser line.

Suzuki is powering this new launch with a multi-million-dollar ad campaign to take the message to the buyers. The advertising tag line is “Choose your Boulevard,” and with five Boulevard models to choose from, and a lot more on the way within a few months, that seems like the perfect theme to launch this entirely new brand.

Harris sees Boulevard as much more than a renaming of motorcycles, however. It’s a true brand launch that will incorporate new Boulevard in-store displays at their dealerships, accessory parts, and a large selection of Boulevard clothing. Market research shows that cruiser buyers look for a lifestyle approach to their motorcycles, with the clothing and accessories a big part of the cruiser experience.

Being able to select from a wide variety of saddlebags, windshields, and chrome parts to personalize one’s bike, as well as have the leather, textile, and sportswear clothing to go with it, is what that segment of the marketplace looks for. Heck, one only need look to Harley-Davidson’s 900-page accessory catalogue that is as thick as a Chicago phone book to know that the accoutrements that go along with the motorcycle are not only an important part of satisfying the customer, but it is also a major source of revenue for the company.

Fortunately, Boulevard will make it easy to understand their model lineup. The alpha (letter) tag will either be an S, C, or M designation. S will stand for Sport. Those motorcycles will have small, tire-hugging front fenders and bobbed rear fenders for a stylish sporty look and feel. The C designation will stand for Cruiser, with the classic full-fendered, wide tank look. The M designation will stand for Muscle, and the emphasis on those bikes will be power and performance. The M’s styling cues will incorporate blacked out engine and transmission treatments, as well as wheels and other touches. A fourth sub-model will be the T designation that will be attached to the cruiser models, which will stand for Touring. Boulevard will package some of the most popular touring accessories like a two-up seat with passenger backrest, full-size windshield with wind deflectors, saddlebags, and price them lower than one would have to pay if purchased separately.

The numeric part of the equation will refer to the engine size in cubic inches rather than in cubic centimeters. So, just like BMW or Mercedes automobiles, it will now be easy for buyers to identify what each model name means and where it slots in the Boulevard lineup.

Right now, Boulevard is offering three Sport models, the S40, S50, and S83. For those readers without their metric conversion charts handy, that equates to 650cc, 800cc, and 1400cc engine displacements. Two cruiser C models are available, the C50 and C90 (800cc and 1500cc respectively). Spokesmen for Suzuki hinted that an M50 model should be out shortly, and even a big-bore M model in the very near future.

The C90 boasts style as big as the Twin that powers it.
The C90 boasts style as big as the Twin that powers it.

With about a dozen or so journalists from motorcycle magazines and other media outlets on hand, Suzuki unloaded a tractor trailer full of motorcycles so that each one of us would be able to sample the complete product line. We left the Paris Hotel on the Las Vegas strip early in the morning and headed north to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Early morning temperatures were in the low 80s. Fortunately, I packed my Teknic cool vest to wear under my Triumph Raptor mesh jacket. That combination kept me cool and comfortable even as the temperatures rose throughout the day, at least until the ride back in the late afternoon when the thermometer hit 105 degrees. The locals will always tell you, “but it’s dry heat.” That just means that at 60 mph, the rush of dry heat on your face make you think you’re riding into a blast furnace! But I digress . . .

Since I rode all the motorcycles, we’ll start with the Boulevard S40 and move up the food chain from there. The S40 is a 650cc air-cooled single-cylinder 4-stroke. It is an updated version of the old Savage. I was surprised at how smooth the single cylinder engine ran, even when pressed hard. The power was more than ample to scoot away from stop lights and traffic, and it will cruise comfortably at 70 mph.

Once on the winding roads of Red Rock Canyon, the light, 352-lb (claimed) motorcycle was a pleasure to play with in the turns. The drag bars have a very short spread, so they don’t provide too much leverage, but the bike turns in easily and has good cornering clearance to lay it over. The clutch and brake levers require a very light pull effort, and the 5-speed transmission shifts very easily. The single hydraulic front disc brake and single mechanical rear drum brake are adequate for a bike this size. The low 27.5-inch seat height and light weight makes this an excellent entry-level motorcycle. If one compares it to the Buell Blast, which has only a 30 cubic-inch single-cylinder engine that doesn’t run nearly as smoothly, the S40 is a more versatile starter bike. And at a list price of $4,399, the S40 is several hundred dollars less expensive.

Next, I rode the S50, which is powered by an 800cc liquid-cooled, 45-degree V-Twin. Obviously you get a lot more boost from this engine, especially in the low- and mid-range torque curve. The dual-pin crankshaft smoothes out the vibes while silent-operation cam chains with automatic tensioners reduce noise and maintenance requirements. The smooth shifting 5-speed with hydraulic clutch transmits the power to the pavement via a low-maintenance shaft final drive.

The S40 is an excellent choice for beginners.
The S40 is an excellent choice for beginners.

This is a fun bike for sporty cruising. The engine feels stronger than its size might imply, with enough grunt to squirt out of a turn and power you on to the next one. The dual 5-way preload-adjustable shocks and telescopic front fork do a good job at smoothing out the bumps and pavement irregularities. It turns in nicely, but again the narrow flat drag bars don’t offer a lot of leverage. On the plus side, you would think that the mirrors mounted on such narrow spread bars might show you more of your own shoulders than you’d like, but as on the S40, they are mounted high enough to give you a good view of what is behind you.

The single drum rear brake set-up and single disc front brake work well, especially since the S50 is claimed to weigh only 443 lbs. The single disc also lets the handsome spoke wheel stand out. The rubber, a 100/90-19 front and 140/90-15 rear, provides enough grip for spirited riding. The one-piece saddle adds to the sleek look and is all-day comfortable, aided by a relaxed riding position. There are lots of chrome accents all over the $6,499 bike, and the sound from the exhaust is a mellow rumble. The big-bore S83 is my favorite bike of the Boulevard lineup. It combines everything I look for in a motorcycle: strong power in a smooth motor, light weight, aggressive chopper-like styling, trim waistline, comfortable ergos, and excellent handling characteristics. It even has a nice roarty sound from the dual exhaust, especially under hard acceleration.

The 83 cubic inch (1400cc) air/oil-cooled, 45-degree V-Twin with 3 valves per cylinder and twin carbs is a potent powerplant. The dual-pin crank, even without a counterbalancer, keeps this Twin running smoothly and allows for a compact design. There is plenty of low- and mid-range torque for top-gear roll-ons for quick passing on two-lane or highway roads. The power comes on strong in a linear fashion and throttle response is “right now!”

The claimed dry weight of 535 pounds means that the S83 is a delight in tight curves or long sweepers. Side-to-side transitions require only light pressure on the pull-back handlebars, and steering inputs are also easily accomplished with pressure on the pegs. Lean angles are better than most cruisers allow, and this motorcycle tracks throughout the turn without need for mid-course corrections if you’ve chosen the right line going in.

Single discs front and rear are adequate. I’d prefer a dual disc set-up on the front, but as it is, the stock brakes have excellent feel and a progressive bite that makes them easy to modulate. And like the hydraulic clutch, the front brake lever only requires a two-finger pull.

The bias on the suspension settings are firmer, rather than boulevard cruiser, but never feels harsh. The dual shocks out back are adjustable for preload, and the front fork soaks up bumps well yet still remains firm in the turns. Front-end dive under hard braking is moderate. The frame feels stiff and solid.

A closer look at the C90.
The 83 cubic-inch S83 gets with the program in a hurry.

The clutch and 5-speed transmission operate smoothly, although clutch take-up is at the very end of the lever’s travel. Power runs to the rear wheel by way of a low-maintenance shaft drive. There is some noticeable jacking effect when getting on or off the throttle hard, but it doesn’t upset handling to a major degree.

I like the riding position a lot, with the pegs placed a bit forward, and the bars on risers that pull them back to the rider in a comfortable position. The mirrors are well placed for a good view, and the speedometer is a smallish round dial set just ahead of the bars where it’s easy to see. The one-piece saddle is sleek, comfortable, and offers some lower back support. It won’t win any friends for two-up duty, but this bike isn’t meant for touring.

Lots of chrome eye candy is evident on the S83. The 60-spoke chrome-plated aluminum wheels sparkle in the sun, as do the rear shocks, fender struts, airbox and transmission covers, and cylinder heads. The chrome front fork guards keep the road grunge off the tubes and will decrease wear on the seals.

Styling is always subjective, but I think the S83 is a great looking bike. The clean lines of the 3.4-gallon teardrop gas tank flow into the shape of the saddle which then complements the abbreviated rear fender. A reflector is integrated into the tail light for a clean look to the rear of the bike. The wiring is neatly routed, and the fit and finish of this bike is excellent.

This is a really enjoyable motorcycle to ride and rewarding to ride hard. This is what the new Harley-Davidson Sportster Custom should have been. The S83 is more powerful, weighs less, is better handling, and is much more sophisticated than the Sportster Custom while costing $1,000 less. This is the Boulevard that I’d most like to have sitting in my garage. Of course, it wouldn’t stay in the garage for long, as it begs to be out on the road.

Now it’s on to the C models, and Boulevard has a pair of cruisers that satisfy the middleweight and heavyweight segments quite nicely. The C50 is the replacement for the Volusia 800 that has been so popular since it was introduced two years ago. The folks at American Suzuki were smart enough not to mess with success, so they left the new motorcycle pretty much the same. The major change is the introduction of electronic fuel injection lifted from Suzuki’s famous GSX-R sportbikes. This helps the liquid-cooled, 8 valve, V-Twin achieve exceptional low-rpm power and torque.

The 83 cubic-inch S83 gets with the program in a hurry.
The 83 cubic-inch S83 gets with the program in a hurry.

The fuel injection system features Suzuki’s Dual Throttle Valve System to maintain optimal air velocity in the intake tract for smooth throttle response at low rpm, and high torque output. An automatic fast-idle system facilitates cold starts while a 32-bit ECU provides precise control of ignition timing and directs the multi-hole injectors for quick start-ups and excellent drivability under all conditions. The EFI system receives input from the gear position sensor, air and water temperature sensors, and the intake port sensors to deliver efficient power and enhance fuel economy. Dual-offset crankpins keep the motor running smoothly and vibration free. The staggered slash-cut exhaust looks great and emits a deep full-bodied rumble. The C50 will give you as much performance as any motorcycle in its class.

Just by looking at the C50, you’d think it carried a larger motor, since it’s a full-sized motorcycle. It’s 98 inches from tip to tail, so there is plenty of room for a rider and passenger to stretch out. The generous 65.2-inch wheelbase affords a comfortable ride, aided by a meaty 130/90-16 front tire and a 170/80-15 rear hoop. A tall 5th gear means highway cruising feels relaxed. The handlebar shape places the controls right where you’d want them, and the bars offer good leverage without being too wide. The floorboards are comfortably placed just a bit forward, and the heel/toe shifter and brake pedal are in the right spots for easy use. The wide seat is comfortable and sits at a low 27.6 inches above the ground. It feels even lower because the front part of the seat tapers off where it meets the 4.5 gallon gas tank, on which the speedometer and warning lights are housed in a chrome nacelle. The speedo also incorporates an LCD fuel gauge and clock.

The brakes are able to bring down this 542-lb bike from speed with moderate lever and pedal effort. The transmission is smooth, and each shift is positive and well damped. The shaft drive puts the power down smoothly and all the components are well sorted out.

Suspension chores up front are handled by large telescopic forks with polished aluminum sliders and stainless-steel stanchion-tube covers. Out back, the truss-styled swingarm gives the hard tail look with a hidden 7-position preload adjustable shock. The ride feels solid yet compliant, and is tuned for relaxed cruising. The C50 handles itself well on the curvy bits, but the whole character of the bike made me want to dial it back to enjoy the scenery that the Red Rock Canyon provided. The cruisers gave me the chance to appreciate the red layered striations in the rock formations that gave this area its name. And that’s what cruising riding is all about; see and be seen.

C50 is a an excellent mid-size offering from Suzuki.
C50 is a an excellent mid-size offering from Suzuki.

The “be seen” portion of the equation is also a strong point of the C50. It’s an attractive motorcycle with full fenders that sport a little upsweep at the trailing edge of each one. Brightwork is everywhere from the large multi-faceted headlight to the rear fender struts. The engine heads are chrome and the large signature air cleaner cover stands out to make a statement. The spoke wheels with chrome rims add to the classic cruiser look.

Anyone looking for a middleweight cruiser who wants strong reliable performance, and a comfortable easy-to-handle motorcycle that can be fun to ride cross town, or cross country, should check out the Boulevard C50. And At $6,799, the C50 is as easy on your wallet as it is on your eyes.

The big dog in the Boulevard lineup is the C90. It replaces the old Intruder 1500. As with the C50, Suzuki maintained all of the strong points of the old model but added the same electronic fuel injection system to the 6-valve air/oil-cooled V-Twin that they installed on the C50. Again the excellent system works flawlessly to deliver smooth power and plenty of torque right up the rev range. The main difference is that with the 90 cubic-inch motor, you really get the full effects of the power rush when you crank on the throttle. Passing in top gear, or any gear for that matter, is quick and easy. And the throaty sound from the dual staggered exhaust let you and others know you’ve got a potent powerplant underneath you.

The C90 is a great choice of motorcycles if you are a tall or large rider. The generous 66.9-inch wheelbase not only means you’ll get a smooth and comfortable ride quality, but there is a generous amount of space for rider and passenger to enjoy. The large comfortable seat gives one plenty of room to move around in, so on long runs you’re not locked in to one seating position. Larger riders will also appreciate the full-size floorboards positioned to allow long legs to stretch out comfortably. And the wide spread of the handlebars won’t cramp your arms either. This is a true boulevard cruiser and a great long-distance partner as well.

Despite its generous proportions, the C90 doesn’t feel ponderous on the road, or even while pushing it around the parking lot. It carries most of its weight down low and is very well balanced. If it were a football player, it would be more of an athletic linebacker than a hulking offensive guard. That athleticism is evident when touring through curvaceous roads where the handling is quite satisfying. It’s no sportbike, to be sure, and the floorboards will touch down long before the suspension reaches it full capabilities, but you can still enjoy an aggressive jaunt when the mood strikes. And when tooling around at a relaxed pace, the well-damped 41mm front fork and preload adjustable link-type rear end provides a comfortable ride quality that is, well, Boulevard smooth. A beefy 180/70-15 rear tire and a 150/80-16 front tire mounted on custom-looking machined-aluminum wheels also contribute to the solid plush ride.

The S83 made its debut on the stage in Las Vegas.
The S83 made its debut on the stage in Las Vegas.

Dual hydraulic discs up front provide excellent stopping power with moderate lever effort, while a single hydraulic disc out back has excellent feel and won’t lock up easily. Once again the Suzuki transmission operates smoothly, and the quiet shaft final-drive means no maintenance chores.

The tanktop instrument panel is handsome, and the electronic speedometer has a LCD screen for the odometer, dual tripmeters, fuel gauge, and clock. Other nice features include a helmet lock, and all Boulevards have a little yellow button on the front side of the left switch housing so you can use your index finger to flash the high beams at oncoming traffic or to get the attention of a driver in front of you when you pull out to pass. And another nice amenity is the 4-position adjustable brake and clutch levers, which comes in handy for smaller hands or when switching from light summer gloves to bulky winter gloves. On the downside, none of the Boulevards offers self-canceling turn signals, a major pet peeve of mine. There is no reason for any motorcycle not to have that feature. Evidence of that was with a dozen or so seasoned motorcycle journalists cruising around town in a group, you could always see somebody’s turn signal flashing blocks after a turn was made. When I pressed the Japanese engineers about that in the press conference, their English comprehension and vocabulary skills mysteriously went south on them and I never did get a straight answer. Oh well, maybe next year.

The C90’s classic cruiser styling is very much like its C50 sibling. The same long, sleek, low profile is evident. The fenders have the matching swept back upturn at the trailing edges. The soft triangular shape of the chrome air cleaner is a signature feature of the C series bikes, as is the staggered slash-cut exhaust. The C90 is just bigger and brawnier.

The C90 deserves to be a major player in the heavyweight cruiser market. It is a wonderfully thought-out motorcycle that does everything well. And when you compare features from one bike to the next, the thing that really sticks out is the value. The C90 retails for a very modest $10,399. That’s a lot of motorcycle for a little money.

All Boulevards will benefit from the already large selection of parts available from the Boulevard accessory catalogue. Suzuki had a few models set up with chrome luggage racks, swingarm covers, engine guards, fender trims, light bars, windshields, and a variety of hard shell leather-covered saddlebags to illustrate the possibilities that exist for buyers to personalize their new bike. And the aftermarket companies will also jump on the Boulevard bandwagon, and begin making parts to suit the new brand.

Only time will tell whether the lifestyle Boulevard brand will catch on. Branding is a long and arduous process that can’t happen overnight. It took Harley-Davidson over a half century to build their brand image, and some missteps under the AMF corporate banner nearly destroyed it. So, even though the new Boulevard logo is attractive, I doubt that it will be seen tattooed onto forearms all across the country. But from what I saw in Las Vegas, they’re off to a very good start.

Learn more about the Boulevard Brand by visiting the Suzuki website at www.suzukicycles.com

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MotorcycleUSA Staff