They only come in red.
That's right, these three models, all competitively priced and equipped, are only available in the glorious cop-attracting color you see here. With a little give-and-take on the specs, and looks and price, they basically court the same rider... and apparently that guy likes red. They're all within 100ccs of each other, all are belt-driven, all have metal fenders and no unsightly tank seams, all for the guy who wants a full-sized bike with the bare minimum of touring amenities. Did we mention they're red?
NEW VS. OLD
This was intended to be a leather bagger comparison. We tried to keep the prices close, and aimed for the mid-heavyweight displacement of 1600-1700ccs, staying away from the true heavyweights and the 1200-1300 class. As for the other contenders: Honda's 1300 doesn't even get to this neighborhood, while Suzuki brackets it top and bottom, and Harley's philosophy is that if you're getting a touring bike, you're stepping up to near $20k... or you can put saddlebags on your cruiser from the P&A catalog.
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Classic...
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Classic LT
Star Road Star Silverado ...
Star Road Star Silverado S
Triumph Thunderbird Special...
Triumph Thunderbird Special Edition
Both the Vulcan 1700 and Thunderbird were introduced recently, and both reflect a need to maximize R&D budgets in trying times. They both represent each company's full-size cruiser, but both also have a sibling of bigger displacement; those almost ludicrously big machines seem vestiges of an age of abundance. As flagships, they fulfill multiple roles, from standard cruiser to full-boat tourer. In the case of the Kawasaki, all four versions of the 1700 appeared last year simultaneously. The LT represents the briefest touring version of the rig, adding a sissy bar, bags and a shield to the standard Classic, but is otherwise unchanged.
Triumph's just-introduced SE is the first tweak on the Thunderbird. It includes not just the de-rigueur shield, bags, and backrest, but also throws in floorboards for rider and passenger (the original model has pegs), a luggage rack, and a touring seat. It's a $2500 premium over the base T-Bird, but that lands it right in the middle of this bunch. Star's venerable Road Star Silverado S completes our trio of Motos Rouges. We would have preferred the base Silverado, which would have priced out in the middle of the test, but we received the higher-spec S model, which swaps hard bags in for the softies on the base model, and adds chrome bits. Compared to the base Road Star, the Silverado also adds a shield and a sissybar to the mix.
The old man of the group, the Star sports an air-cooled engine and five-speed transmission, which along with the hidden shocks and bubbly 16-inch wheels, harkens back to well, the 90s. Though the Road Star family gained EFI and a few extra cubes a few years back, it's definitely showing its age. But that's not always a bad thing with cruisers, as that kind of stability allows the aftermarket to produce all kinds of goodies for a bike, something the two youngsters will have to earn over time. At just a year old, Kawasaki's Vulcan Classic LT is the next oldest bike. The Vulc has a liquid-cooled engine and 6-speed transmission, sports a thick-tire stance, and is embellished with studs on its leather and two-tone paint on its sheet metal. Triumph's Thunderbird is the newcomer. Introduced as a late-release 2010, the T-Bird SE fills a niche that hasn't been seen in awhile; a custom/sporty cruiser with 'boards and bags, rather than a "classic". Like the Kawasaki, it runs a liquid-cooled DOHC engine and six-speed transmission, but deviates from the others with a parallel configuration to its twin cylinders. Not to worry, it's still got that lumpy V-twin sound.