Suzuki is bringing on the beef with its largest displacement classic cruiser to date, a 1783cc 54-degree V-Twin tuned for plenty of low-end power.
The wind whipped with Santa Ana's fury through the canyons of the Cuyamacas. A lesser bike would have been at the mercy of the elements. But luckily Suzuki's been thinking big . Heavyweight cruiser big. And it has its sights set high with the release of its 2008 C109R
, a wide-tanked, big-fendered classic cruiser with styling Suzuki claims is inspired by American muscle cars of the 1960s and early '70s.
"The C109R is the biggest competitor to a Harley that we've ever had," said Vice-President of Suzuki North America, Mel Harris.
Which emphasizes what I mean by big. He didn't single out Kawasaki's Vulcan or Honda's VTX - they're shooting for the top dog in the North American market, Harley-Davidson itself. We tested the results of Suzuki's efforts recently on a 130-mile journey through Anza Borrego State Park and the Cuyamaca Mountains, a journey that started at sea level and topped out with a climb over a 6000-ft mountain pass.
Gripping the wide pullback handlebars tight and giving the light-actioned clutch lever a squeeze, a lengthy straight after a serious climb in altitude allows me to finally shift into fifth gear and get up to cruising speeds. The ride is smooth and I admire the motorcycle's high state of tune. The rubber-mounted 109 cubic-inch engine gives off nominal vibrations, an effect of its single counterbalancer and assisted by using off angle crankpins . The powerband is broad, good enough for between 50 to 55 mph in first gear, and fourth gear easily gets me over the century mark.
With GSX-R1000 technology at its disposal, Suzuki
engineers used similar downdraft intake ports for the C109R's mill. Which is a good thing, because not only is the 1783cc engine Suzuki's biggest effort in the class to date, but it's got monster 112mm aluminum-alloy pistons that are touted to be "the largest, compared to any gasoline vehicle engine running on the ground." But despite their impressive dimensions, the slipper-type pistons are still relatively lightweight. Suzuki spent a lot of effort keep weight down on the mill in a multitude of ways, including using a compact cylinder head design with a two-stage cam chain drive system and by using components like lightweight shot-peened molybdenum connecting rods.
In developing the C109R's powerplant, it would have been easy for Suzuki to adopt the engine established in its popular M109R power cruiser. But it was looking for a little more pop down low. To achieve its goal, it altered its crankshaft for a claimed 15% increase in crank inertia that boosts power low in the rpm range. It also has different timing on the intake cam that aims to boost low-to-mid range power. The real-world application means it was lively at the throttle and the power delivery was fairly consistent. Response was solid in the lower end and lighter near the top, and for me the meat of its power delivery was between 5000 and 6000 rpm. This falls in line with its claimed peak of 114hp at 5800 rpm.
Suzuki had the 'big' picture in mind while creating the 2008 Suzuki C109R, a package that includes a big engine, tank, bars, fenders and tires.
The electronic fuel injection system on the C109R provided seamless delivery and I experienced no glitches during my time in the saddle. This is no surprise since it's equipped with Suzuki's Dual Throttle Valve (SDTV) system. The system uses two butterfly valves, one linked to the throttle cable and one controlled by the motorcycle's Electronic Control Module that also work to give the C109R increased low-end power.
The long straightaway gives way to a series of tree-lined twists and bends. A sharp right-hander and a 15 mph sign says it's time to break down for the corner, giving me reason to grab a handful of brakes. The 290mm dual discs on the front are a little soft by themselves, considering the bike is pushing over 700 lbs (no weight is given yet for the C109R, but the M109R weighs in at 703 lbs). Fortunately, the front gets help courtesy of the C109R's combination braking system. It's not a true linked system because only the rear is linked to the front. Step on the rear brake pedal and not only do the twin pistons clamp down on the rear's 275mm disc, but it engages the middle piston of the three piston arrangement on the front. The result is strong, controlled stopping action. I hit the rear brake hard trying to get the brakes to lock up, but was unsuccessful. The brakes bring the bike to an even halt and do an excellent job of keeping the bike firmly under you.
I pick my line for the next corner as the 240mm Bridgestone rear anchors me steadfast to the road. The sharp turn ahead of me requires a solid push on the inside grip and turn-in isn't acute, but is comparable to other cruisers in its class.
The big-boned design of the bike - wide tank, wide bars, and wide rear tire mean it requires a little extra radius to execute U-turns and a few toe taps will be necessary initially until you acquaint yourself with the bike's center of gravity.
Running up and down the C109R's gears, the five-speed constant mesh transmission shifted smoothly. A friction damper built in between the second driven gear and the driveshaft meant there was no clunkiness in higher gears, and even the inevitable clunk between first and second that is a trademark of the large-geared V-Twins was barely noticeable. In combination with its shaft drive, the C109R runs and shifts with calculated efficiency.
I did have a concern that the gearbox was slipping out of first into neutral. On two different occasions I went to make a left hand turn only to twist the throttle on a disengaged clutch. I quickly realized that it wasn't the transmission though. I had knocked the bike out of gear myself while I had the clutch lever pulled in because the back of my size 11 boot was catching the heel shifter. The C109R has floorboards that tie into its classic theme to go along with its heel-toe shifters, but there wasn't a lot of room to spare for my foot. It's fairly easy to inadvertently click out of gear, but could easily be remedied by switching out to standard foot controls.
A large analog speedo sits atop the five-gallon fuel tank and was easy to see while in motion.
The C109R's seating triangle is configured for a spine-friendly, upright riding position. The reach to the chrome-plated bars is slightly lower than shoulder level and my knees sat at an almost ideal 90-degree angle. The padded leather seat meant comfort was never an issue. The seat is long so it gives riders of varying heights enough surface area to shift around and find the spot that suits them best.
Showa units smooth out road imperfections for the C109R. A conventional Showa 49mm fork has a claimed 130mm of travel. On the backside, a cast, truss-type swingarm gives it a hardtail look, but a concealed 46mm Showa is tucked away to spare you the rigors of a rigid ride. The rear is 7-way preload adjustable. Over the course of our ride, I didn't experience any wallow from the suspension and the setup made for pleasant miles without any occasions where I hit the bottom of the travel.
As for fit and finish, the C109R is consistent with what you'd envision a cruiser should be. Though the fuel tank is said to be five-gallon size, it looks even wider. A chrome console houses an analog speedo that's easy to see while in motion. The wide, shiny pullback handlebars complement the bold tank. Dual slash cut mufflers sweep off the right side and there's plenty of requisite chrome between the fork, engine, and pipes to sate the most discriminating cruiser riders.
Suzuki enlisted the help of focus groups to help decide on styling cues. This brought about changes in the prototype, like beefing up the rear tire to its current 240mm dimensions and switching out the bulky looking taillight to a smaller LED. It also resulted in slimming down the fenders (which are still pretty dang big), altering the shape of the headlamp, and deciding to use a wider, muscular fuel tank.
And while the black and maroon options of the C109R are attractive, the blue and white two-tone option of the touring version, the C109RT, really pops. For an extra $1200, you get the sweet two-tone paint job, a giant shield of a windscreen, leather bags, a custom-style studded seat and passenger backrest. The windscreen gave me leverage against a strong headwind that buffeted me rudely on the C109R. It also had a healthy collection of bugs on it that would have otherwise zapped me in the visor. Try to piece these out separately and you'll see that the touring upgrades are a bargain. You also get the convenience of having them factory installed.
Suzuki's entry into the heavyweight cruiser market comes at a precarious time. According to Harley-Davidson's financial report, the heavyweight motorcycles' segment showed a 14% decrease in sales in the first quarter of 2008. It's priced in the middle of its Japanese competitors at $13,799, with the 2008 Vulcan 2000C coming in the cheapest at $13,049 while the 2008 Star Roadliner S is the spendiest at $14,980. Its styling is unmistakably classic and beautifully crafted, but so are its competitors. It's an ambitious aspiration, but the battle for "King of the Classic Cruisers" will not be easily won. But even Mike Tyson came in as an underdog in his first fight as a virtual unknown. And Suzuki is ready to slug it out with the best of them.
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