2011 Performance Cruiser Smackdown

MotorcycleUSA Staff | June 20, 2011

Performance cruisers – the term is considered by many as an oxymoron in the truest sense, but there is a strong argument these days to the contrary. Sure, even the most powerful motorcycle in the group will get its ass handed to it in the quarter-mile and tore-apart through corners by a five-year-old supersport, but the newest crop of performance cruisers will make any modern-day bagger look like it’s tied to the porch. This quintet of bruiser cruisers have enough power to make the men in blue lock you up and throw away the key if you’re not careful so we thought it would be fun to smoke the tires and light the fires in an effort to find out which one we’d want to lose our license on. We rounded up five true to the moniker performance cruisers and tossed in a wild card entry from Italy just to shake things up a bit.

Although the motorcycles in this test are all quite different, each one follows the performance cruiser formula with low-slung styling, massive Twin-cylinder engines and fat rear tires. From there each manufacturer has crafted their own take on the genre, creating its vision of the perfect balance between comfort, style and performance.

Harley-Davidson steps up to the plate with the VRSCDX Night Rod Special ($14,699). With a drag race-inspired design, this V-Rod is long, low and ready to take on all-comers at any stoplight. A fat rear tire begs you to drop the clutch and post your best quarter-mile time. Harley’s 1250cc liquid- cooled, 60-degree Revolution V-Twin is the most technically advanced engine in the company’s line-up featuring dual overhead cams and four valves per cylinder.

The only bike in this test that doesn’t have its cylinders arranged in a V is the Triumph Thunderbird Storm ($13,899) that features a massive 1700cc DOHC parallel-twin. The Storm is a pumped-up, blacked-out version of the standard Thunderbird and this new for 2011 model boasts a 100cc big-bore treatment for more low-end grunt when it rumbles into battle with its performance cruiser competition. And of course it sports the British builder’s signature dual headlights.

While most of the cruisers in this class tip their hand with obvious styling cues, the Star Raider S ($15,290) looks more like a custom than a performance cruiser. While still long and low, the raked-out front end and polished 48-degree V-Twin engine seem out of place when lined-up next to the other machines in this test. Don’t judge this book by its cover however; there is plenty of meat attached to the right grip and we were surprised how well this beast handles.

Since its debut in 2006, Suzuki’s Boulevard M109R has been stomping unsuspecting stop light challengers with its short-stroke 54-degree V-Twin engine. As the only bike in this showdown sporting shaft-drive and a sporty stature, it is an odds-on favorite in this test. The Limited Edition ($14,499) version were we furnished with is equipped with a new-for-2011 instrument cluster and racing stripes. With bits of GSX-R tech incorporated into the design, this cruiser means business.

The final true performance cruiser in this meeting of the muscle is Victory’s Hammer ($17,799). For 2011 this American performance cruiser gets a new 106-cubic-inch Freedom V-Twin and a refined transmission. The Hammer’s bobbed rear fender and upside-down fork hint at what this cruiser is capable of even though the styling is subdued in comparison to the others in our Smackdown.

As for that wild card we decided to throw into the mix, take a look at the all new Ducati Diavel Carbon ($19,995). Aimed at capturing sales from bikes like the M109R and Night Rod, this nearly impossible to define machine has all the features buyers of performance cruisers are looking for. V-Twin engine? Check. Massive rear tire? Check. Long and low chassis? Check. Since the Diavel is also a contender in the streetfighter and standard segments we decided not to allow its scores to count, but we left them on the chart so you can see where it would rank in comparison to the rest of the bikes.

We assembled a motley crew of test riders with varied skill levels to put all six bikes to the test in a Southern California loop consisting of freeway droning, bumpy back roads and undulating mountain blacktop. Skill levels varied from the novice skill set of our video gurus Ray Gauger and Joey Agustin to the mature and sane abilities of guest test rider Tim Muto. Then we tossed the borderline reckless madness of hired gun Brian ‘BuuS’ Steeves and the penchant for procrastination of EVS Sports’ Bobby Ali. Yours truly falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum with bouts of lunacy held in check with some conservative sensibility. Throw it all in a blender, garnish with a lime and you’ve got a smooth concoction of cruiser testing goodness.

For the hard performance data, we kept Steeves behind the bars for quarter-mile, 0-60mph and 60-0mph tests. We also decided to perform a 0-100-0mph test just because we had Chuckawalla Valley Raceway’s airstrip at our disposal, but we didn’t include it in the scores as it was mainly for our own entertainment. Fuel economy, curb weight, and dyno results are also noted. In all, 10 subjective and 10 objective categories are scored from first to last on a descending scale with a one point bonus for top ranking. Once the rankings are compiled, we tally the scores and declare the winner.

With that, let’s get into the how these rear tire abusing cruisers stack up.

MotorcycleUSA Staff