One trend that is obvious right now is that after years of inflating engines and curb weights, little cruisers are again in vogue. Much to the chagrin of heavyweight specialists like H-D and Victory, the market is enamored with sub-1000cc machines, especially the smallest at 250-500cc. But where is that really coming from? Is it price, weight, or overall size? Suzuki is truly hoping price is the biggest factor in that equation, as they introduce the M90, a heavyweight priced like a middleweight. For some there's a big barrier going from four digits to five, and the M90 sits astride that line at an MSRP of $9999.
Somewhere in the '90s the cheap Japanese cruiser gave way to some fine machines that were only a couple thou shy of American metal. The more premium bikes initially were a reaction of the inability (or unwillingness) of a certain manufacturer to make enough bikes to meet demand. What's fantastic for today's rider as the pendulum swings back the other way is that you can now get an inexpensive Japanese cruiser that is a premium ride.
There was a huge gap in the middle of Suzuki's M-series of muscle-styled cruisers from the $7000-ish M50 to the more than double-displacement of the M109R at $13000-ish. So Suzuki's Boulevard team built a bike to split the difference. In case you're a little hazy on your English/metric conversions, let me help you out: the M90 is a 1500cc machine. Suzuki's longstanding philosophy for developing new machines has been to look at the competition's models and do whatever the mission was better and cheaper. So its fitting that with the M90, they have a machine that will outperform most 1500s while coming in under the price of most 1300s.
Fans of the M109R will cotton to the 90 as it's a virtual visual twin in most respects. There are some important differences, however. The M90 has a triangular hardtailesque swingarm to the 109's straight swingarm. The swingarm and the exposed sections of frame (non-existent on the M109) are of nicely finished large-diameter tubing that gives a very beefy appearance. In fact, the elementalness of the unshrouded frame on the M90 may be more appealing to some than the swathed-in-plastic appearance of the M109R. The lack of cover-up does lead to an exposed radiator, which for some is a total buzzkill. Despite the slightly less-styled appearance it retains the Suzuki GSX-R-inspired lines of the big M to the point where the casual observer won't be able to tell the two apart.
Amoung its nicer features,...
Amoung its nicer features, the M90 sports an at-a-glance gauge setup. The speedometer and LCD sit just in front of the triple clamps and underneath the headlight nacelle, while the indicator lights are at the top edge of the fuel tank with everything visible in a single glance.
On a more practical level, the M90 is a bit shorter in wheelbase than the M109 (66.5 in. to 67.3 in.), which along with a narrower 200mm rear tire (still biggest in class), makes it a bit more nimble than its big brother. The instruments are more abbreviated than the 109 as well, dropping the tach, but stuffing the speedo (with clock, digital fuel gauge, and trip meters) into the headlight shroud, with indicator lamps on the uppermost edge of the tank, so everything is visible with a full-face helmet on (for those, like us, that swing that way). While the M109R has radially-mounted front brake calipers, the M90 does not. However, it does still have dual twin-piston calipers pinching full-floating disks up front and a single twin-piston floating setup out back as well. The fuel tank is the same wide, arched shape as the M109R's, but like all else about the bike, scaled down slightly from 5.2 to 4.8 gallons.
Though a twin to the Boulevard C90 in displacement and configuration (bore and stroke: 96 x 101mm, single overhead cam, etc) it is an all-new engine. With four valves to the C90's three, a narrower valve angle (in a redesigned head), coated cylinders (not cast iron inserts), and dual spark plugs, the M90 is built for performance, and according the internal Suzuki dyno charts we were shown, it results in a motor with more overall torque and horsepower, as well as a wider spread of torque throughout the rev range. The M is also equipped with Suzuki's dual throttle valve. While not the full-on electronically-controlled "fly-by-wire" some of the other manufacturers have gone to, it is a combination of a cable-controlled valve along with one controlled by the ECU for a bit more complexity, but also more direct rider control, than true FBW.
When sitting on the M90 it fit my 6' frame in a very neutral manner, so it's probably stretched out for shorter riders (but not badly) and perhaps cramped for taller folk. The bar is a pullback drag style, but falls right to hand. The seat has a sloped rear-section that slides you forward, limiting how much of the seat can be used and how much you can move around on it. It was never uncomfortable but we never did more than 100 miles at a sitting on it, either. Overall ergonomics are smaller by a smidge from the M109R, with the seat closer to bar and pegs, but ironically, the seat height is a half inch higher at (a still very low) 28.2 inches. The controls for hand and foot are somewhat generic, but the buttons are shaped with a subtle styling touch that helps ID them when first riding the M.
Gear: Helmet: HJC FS-15 Jacket:...
Helmet: HJC FS-15
Jacket: Vanson Model B
Gloves: Vanson Saturn
Boots: Red Wing
The M90's suspension could best be described as aggressive. Our first impressions of it riding in a town setting, with streets not in the best state of repair, was somewhat harsh, with the bike bouncing over stuff, not soaking it up. Hitting the backroads and highways, it started to make sense, as the tight settings made for a very composed ride at speed. Aggressive riders will like how much fun the bike can be when ridden hard, while easy cruisin' types might wish for a little more plush in their ride. It's not long before a hard-ridin' type will start dragging the footpeg feelers, but thankfully that's all that drags for awhile. We were hoping that the rear suspension would be easily adjustable for different situations, but the rear preload setting requires the removal of the rear wheel, and should probably only be done by a dealer.
The rubber-mounted engine is well-mated to its chassis, with a wide, easy-going powerband that helps the M90 just chug out of corners-or snarl out of them if you're so inclined. It's got a very smooth shifting transmission that is almost irrelevant, as the engine's wide ranging power pulls at just about any rpm. Throttle response is sharp, changing with your right wrist with no delay or bogging. The 1462cc lump is very docile for those shy on the throttle, but will also lay a black stripe down the road if you rev it and dump the clutch. Not that we'd condone such behavior, but the forgiving chassis refused to get squirrely even when we got a little stupid. The clutch pull was very moderate and neutral, helped by a clutch assist unit like the one found on the Hayabusa sport bike.
While Suzuki may get questioned by some for making a pricepoint version of the big M, it's actually a bike that offers its own set of charms. With less urgent power and lighter steering it's less work to ride, the smaller ergoes will also appeal to many, as will the less-is-more styling. Obviously folks who aren't fan of either the Boulevard M's George Jetson styling aren't right for this bike, nor those in need of a lot of polish on the details. But it is a 1500 for under $10k, is it not?
Since we're not racing (and this isn't Sport Rider magazine), look forward to tests based on dollars (and sense) instead of displacement in upcoming issues. We look forward to a real test of the Boulevard M90 with bikes at a similar price to see what shakes out in the sub-five-figure club.
2009 Suzuki Boulevard M90
Colors: Black, Blue, Red
Type: liquid-cooled 54 degree V-twinvalvetrain; SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1462cc, 96.0mm x 101.0mm
Compression Ratio : 9.5:1
Fuel Delivery: Fuel injection
Transmission: 5-speed; multiplate wet clutch
Final Drive : Shaft
Front Suspension: Telescopic inverted fork, 5.1-in.travel
Rear Suspension: Single damper, 4.3-in travel, preload adjustable
Front brakes: dual 290mm discs, 2 piston caliper
Rear Brakes: 275mm disc, 2 piston caliper
Front Tire: 120/70-18 M/C 59W
Rear Tire: 200/50-17 M/C 75W
Wheels: cast aluminum
Overall length: 94.1 in
Seat Height: 28.2 in
Wheelbase: 66.5 in
Fuel Capacity: 4.7 gal
Wet Weight: 723 lb (claimed)