The 'Tweener Twins: 1100 and 1200cc Motorcycles Compared
Seven ways to big-twin-motorcycle performance and capability without the bulk--or the price. BMW R1200C, Harley-Davidson V-Rod, Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom, Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Sport, Honda 1100 Shadow Spirit and Sabre, Moto Guzzi 110
January 22, 2003
At Santa Paula, California...
At Santa Paula, California Airport, the seven contenders take a break with two beautiful biplanes, one old and one modern, supplied courtesy of Screaming Eagle Aviation
Wedged between the top-of-the-line big twins and the 800-to-900cc machines, which are perceived (probably unfairly) as inadequate for serious riders, there is a middle ground inhabited by twins displacing 1100 to 1200cc. Savvy riders know that the bikes in this range offer the performance and function of a big twin at a much less shocking price.
The class has been around since 1985, when Yamaha hogged out its Virago 1000 engine to create the 1063cc Virago 1100 and gain a displacement edge on the Harley 998cc Sportster 1000. However, Yamaha didn't get the displacement niche all to itself because that year Honda also rolled out its first Shadow 1100, which sister magazine Motorcyclist was comfortable calling "a big-displacement V." Back then, 1099cc was plenty of displacement. Only Harley's then-new 1340cc Evolution engine (available in an expansive range of three cruiser models plus the Electra Glide tourer) was a bigger V-twin.
Not everyone wants to join...
Not everyone wants to join the V-twin parade, and BMW's opposed twin offers some clear advantages, both inside and outside of the engine bay.
Though Kawasaki and Suzuki bypassed the 1100 to 1200cc class in favor of bigger V-twins introduced in 1987, the rest of the players have kept the class active for almost two decades. Harley launched its Sportster 1100, based on the new Evolution design, in 1986 and bumped it to 1203cc in 1988. The basic 1200 with relatively minor changes remains in Harley's 2003 line, which over time has expanded to also include the Sportster 1200 Custom and Sportster 1200 Sport, armed with a hopped-up engine and a slightly tweaked chassis. More recently, Harley rearranged everyone's thinking with the 1130cc V-Rod, the firm's first completely new model in over four decades. Honda also made a series of revisions and derivative models based on its 1100 V-twin, though for 2003 only two models, the Spirit and Sabre, are left. The ACE, Aero and Shadow Tourer are not in the '03 line. The popular supposition is that the new VTX 1300 is the first of a series that will shoulder the 1100s aside. Yamaha's Viragos were discarded in favor of the V-Star 1100 series, new bikes that use the same basic engine layout in an entirely new chassis with contemporary styling. There are three V-Star 1100 models for 2003, all of which use the same engine and basic chassis.
Others also joined this in-between cruiser class. In 1988, Moto Guzzi introduced its first 1100cc California model, which like other Guzzis used an across-the frame V-twin. In 2002, Guzzi offered five variants on a single engine/chassis combination in the California line. Most recently, BMW joined the fray with its 1200 cruiser in 1998. For 2002, the same basic engine and running gear was available in three different trim variations, and has been fitted to a full-dress touring variant for 2003.
Harley offers two different...
Harley offers two different familes. The venerable Sportster 1200s, represented by the Custom (in white) and the Sport (blue), are joined by the 1130cc V-Rod.
With 16 different models of these 1000 to 1200cc twins, it obviously wasn't going to be practical to gather them all for a test. Fortunately, we didn't need to. Instead we narrowed it down to just one of each basic engine-chassis combination. That meant that the BMW Phoenix could fill in for all five R1200C variants. Harley's Sportster 1200 Custom and basic Sportster 1200 use the same basic running gear, so we just signed up for a Custom, which was joined by the Sportster 1200 Sport with its unique engine and sporting-oriented frame and running gear and, of course, the completely different V-Rod. Both the remaining Honda 1100s, which have different gearing and chassis geometry, joined the herd. Guzzi's California EV was selected to represent its clan, and the Custom rendition of the V-Star 1100 family carried the Yamaha flag. That left us with a more manageable eight bikes. However, as we were preparing to depart on our test ride, we discovered that the Guzzi's fuel cap would not unlock, which meant that it stayed behind and dropped the count to seven times eleven.
Honda has tried quite a few...
Honda has tried quite a few variants of its V-twin, but the 2002 line consists of the street-rod styled Sabre (front) and the more traditional Sabre.
We spent a leisurely three days cruising the 1100s around some of Southern California's more scenic roads and towns. Our ride spirited us north up Pacific Coast Highway toward Santa Barbara with a side trip through the Santa Monica Mountains, then took us inland to Ojai and Santa Paula to time-travel at the nicely restored train station and the Santa Paula Airport, where we sidled up next to a couple of biplanes for photos and peered into the old hangar where Steve McQueen used to keep his bike collection, sometimes even sleeping with it. The roads ranged from freeway, to open highway, to uncrowded back roads, to meandering ribbons of asphalt spilling across mountainsides, to scenic main streets in little towns away from the beaten path and back to city streets. We stopped and enjoyed unexpected waterfalls that somehow manage to keep running despite California's prolonged drought, and we sweltered while video crews from the Speed Channel asked us to make "just one more run" past their cameras for a piece on "Motorcyclist TV." Of course, the bikes also saw daily duty, running us to work or out for a relaxing evening or weekend rides. By the time our core testing crew was done, each of us had a pretty solid idea of which bikes were our favorites.
There are two very similar...
There are two very similar versions of Yamaha's V-Star 1100 air-cooled V-twin, and we chose the more comfortable and traditional Classic model.
A motorcycle introduces itself the first time you walk up to it and fire it up for the first ride. Its willingness to start and respond to throttle gives a sense of the engine's personality, and as you settle into the saddle, you get your first impression of how it will fit you. The Sportsters come to life a bit reluctantly, demanding choke unless warm, then shaking and spitting for a bit until warm. By contrast, the V-Rod lights when the starter is punched and, thanks to fuel injection, idles immediately and smoothly. The BMW is also injected but often requires a bit of cranking before it catches. When it does, the bike wants to lean to the right slightly in response to the engine torque reaction. The Yamaha usually starts without choke unless it is a cold morning and is ready to go immediately. Both Hondas usually want some choke but warm pretty quickly.
With no left side on its swingarm,...
With no left side on its swingarm, it's unique front suspension, and a luggage carrier instead of a passenger saddle, the BMW Phoenix stands out in a crowd.
The ergonomics and riding positions start to separate these machines. The V-Rod, resplendent in its anodized alloy bodywork, with its radically foot-forward and slightly leaned-back rider posture represents one extreme The Sportster Sport is the other end of the class, both in terms of style and its slightly sporty statement. The Sport's rough-hewn purebred American style greets the rider with its pegs somewhat rearward, a low and narrow handlebar and a canted-forward riding position over the small fuel tank. The BMW Phoenix catches the eye with its unusual suspension and frame arrangement, the absence of a swingarm on the left and a unique black and yellow paint scheme. It offers its rider a wide, low-rise bar, a broad solo saddle backed up by an unusual luggage carrier behind it, and footpegs kept somewhat rearward by its projecting cylinders. In keeping with its broad, comfortable style--emphasized by full fenders and a fat tank with the speedo atop it---the V-Star Classic has forward-set floorboards and a broad saddle along with a wide, medium-rise handlebar for a position that emphasizes comfort. The older Shadow Spirit is a bit of a blast from the past with its chopperesque brief fenders, forward footpegs, a high, buckhorn-style bar and a wide scooped two-piece saddle backed up by the only passenger backrest in the group. The Shadow Sabre also wears its pegs forward, but the bar is lower and flatter, the fenders deeper and the saddle narrower and one piece. Ergonomically, the Sportster Custom comes back closest to the V-Rod, with the footpegs well forward, narrow bar on risers, and a seat that is narrower than any but the V-Rod's.
Yamaha's uncovered drive shaft...
Yamaha's uncovered drive shaft adds a neat touch. As on the BMW and Hondas, the shaft causes a bit of rise and fall but needs almost no maintenance.
As you get into traffic, you get a feel for the drivelines. Our V-Rod, an early 2002 model, shifts somewhat stiffly, a trait which has reportedly been corrected on later production machines. The BMW clutch can be abrupt and creates some clanking in the drivetrain, thanks to an abundance of lash, significantly more than the rest of the bikes, even the others--Hondas and Yamaha--that also have shaft final drive. The BMW also resisted finding neutral sometimes, a trait shared by the Sportsters when they were hot. The only bike of the seven with floorboards, the Yamaha Classic, has heel-toe shifting. Those shaft systems also produce some jacking, lifting the rear ends when power is applied and dropping them when they are closed, but again it's most noticeable on the BMW. All seven are pleasant to drive away from lights, whether it's a full-throttle dash to get the jump in traffic or a slow, smooth departure aimed at keeping a passenger comfortable.
Despite its raked-out front...
Despite its raked-out front end, the V-Rod is handy in traffic, thanks to its narrow handlebar and responsive handling from its light and low weight.
Traffic also tests steering ease. None of these seven is a handful to herd around at low speeds, but the BMW requires the least muscle at the handlebar, thanks to its modest overall weight, low-effort steering geometry and its wide handlebar. The Yamaha's wide bar also makes steering light. Harley's Sport has more responsive steering geometry than its sibling, and the light weight of the V-Rod also makes it more manageable than its radical rake might suggest. However, if you are squeezing between lanes of traffic, the 32.3-inch wide BMW handlebar and the extra four inches of mirror projecting beyond that, make the BMW your last choice. The V-Star is slightly better, though still not as handy in tight spaces as the Sportster Sport or V-Rod, both narrow bikes with narrow handlebars.
If there is a uniform weakness here, it is suspension compliance, and it shows up quickly on bumpy Los Angeles surface streets. No matter which of these machines you're piloting, a solid, sharp-edged bump means you are going to get jolted uncomfortably. In general, the problem stems from limited travel and too-soft rates. Different bikes have different shortcomings. With their shock preloads stiffened, all three Harleys do better on moderate bumps, which come through harder on the BMW and Yamaha. In particular, small sharp bumps overwhelm the BMW's rear suspension. The Hondas, especially the Spirit, are the most comfortable over a wide range of bumps, though they, like the rest, are not up to large sharp bumps.
Get Out On the Highway, Lookin' for Vibration
Harley's Sportster engines...
Harley's Sportster engines vibrate more than the others. This hot-rodded Sport motor also pinged during acceleration or while climbing hills.
Escaping city streets for faster-moving roadways, you will notice the two Sportsters' vibration immediately. Both bikes shake quite hard under load, making them unpleasant to rev to redline. Some riders also felt the vibration's magnitude was unacceptable at legal highway speeds. The Sport shakes a bit harder, making it less comfortable, but the Custom's mirrors blur far worse, obliterating your rear view at most speeds. One rider said that the vibration made the Custom "unrideable because of the vibration through the bars." A few riders also complained mildly about the BMW's lower-magnitude but higher-frequency vibration. Most of the nine riders who rode all seven bikes rated the Sabre and V-Rod as the smoothest bikes, but there were no complaints about the Spirit or V-Star.
Other sources of discomfort take a bit longer to assert themselves, but ergonomics get to you almost as quickly as vibration. Different riders have different issues. For example, average to tall riders felt crowded by the Sportster Sport's high pegs, which they wished were farther rearward. Smaller riders were likely to complain about the long stretch forward to the V-Rod's pegs, but less so with the other three feet-forward bikes---Harley Custom and both Hondas. They also had a hard time grasping the handlebar levers of the Harleys. Though we liked their leverage at low speeds, the wide bars on the BMW and the buckhorns on the Spirit were less popular on the highway, where they demanded more pressure to hold your position against the wind. The little flyscreen on the Phoenix does virtually nothing to alleviate this. Because they lean you on the wind, the lower bars on the Sabre and the Sportster Sport made friends at highway speeds, and the Yamaha Classic riding position worked pretty well, though, as with the Spirit, a windshield would improve it. A few riders appreciated the flexibility offered by the floorboards on the V-Star Classic.
Although less common on recent...
Although less common on recent production bikes, back rests are still quite popular with passengers, and only the Honda Spirit comes with one.
Uncomfortable saddles, like that of the V-Rod, assert themselves quickly. After a bit longer on the bikes, we heard about the Harley Sport's saddle, then, after an hour or so, the first complaints about the Sabre's and Custom's seats would arrive. Most riders gave high marks to the seating accommodations of the other three bikes. The BMW's is wide and roomy enough for most pilots, especially when paired with somewhat rearward pegs that permit you to take some weight off your hiney. The Spirit's saddle is also roomy, deeply padded and wide. The V-Star Classic's saddle had a good shape and size but is a bit soft, and heavier riders find the bottom in a couple of hours. The editor also complained that the lip on the V-Star's saddle left a lingering pain in her bony butt.
Passengers unanimously and emphatically preferred the Sabre over all the others, because of its backrest, decent footpeg position, and deeply padded, relatively roomy saddle made it significantly more comfortable and secure than the others. The V-Star and Sabre were favored over the Sportsters, which drew fire for their vibration. When one passenger balked at climbing on the V-Rod with its tiny passenger pad that actually slopes backward, we pointed out that it was better, at least, than the Phoenix, which has no passenger seat or pegs, just a luggage platform. She looked at both and replied, "I'm not so sure that's true."
The Sportsters, including...
The Sportsters, including the less-sporting Custom--both do well in corners because of good cornering clearance and offer plenty of feedback.
The forward footpeg position of the V-Rod also became an issue while working these bikes out on some of the mountain roads we traveled. If they put the arch or ball of their foot on the pegs, riders typically dragged their heels in corners. One also had the experience on the Sabre. In some situations--if you are wearing boots with sticky soles, for example---this can cause the heel to catch on the pavement and jam the rider's ankle or knee. It's best to rest your heel on these pegs. Cornering clearance was good on most of the bikes, though the folding floorboards of the Yamaha drag relatively easily, and the BMW's sidestand touches down fairly early in left-handers.
However, other handling issues got more attention. Every rider who rode the V-Rod through a sweeper for the first time remarked on its tendency to drop into the turn slightly, but all quickly learned that accelerating all the way through the turn kept the steering fairly linear and that the bike did not require much muscle to change directions. The most common complaint was the vague feedback from the front end on most of these bikes, caused by soft suspensions and light rebound damping rates. This was rarely identified as an issue on the Sportsters, especially the Sport, and the Sabre evoked the most complaints about "soft steering" and vague feel from the front end. The V-Rod and the old Spirit were rated nearer the top for steering precision and feel, with the BMW and Yamaha below them. Overall, the Sportster Sport lives up to its billing, with most riders naming it as their preferred weapon for a twisting roads because of the steadiest handling, most precise steering, and great clearance when leaned over.
Despite its tough-guy profile,...
Despite its tough-guy profile, the Sabre is just a modest performer, getting a boost from lowered gearing. Its brakes were also unimpressive.
Cruiser buyers who still believe that displacement equates to power are likely to be rudely surprised by the horsepower produced in this group. By now most motorcyclists know that the V-Rod is a for-real hot-rod. Harley's high-tech twin, which can consistently turn in standing-start quarter-miles under well under 12 seconds, will out-run any other two-cylinder cruiser, even those like the Honda VTX with almost 60 percent more cubic inches under the tank. But the most of the rest of these machines are also a match for some of those much bigger twins. All except the Yamaha will get through the quarter in the 13-second bracket with speeds in excess of 90 mph. Don't choose off one of these bikes if you ride one of those lazy big twins like an Intruder 1500, Road Star or Vulcan 1500, all of which are about a second and over five mph slower at the end of 1440 yards. Even Kawasaki hot-rod Mean Streak might get embarrassed by one of these innocuous-looking "little" twins. If you are looking for bang for the buck from a twin, and "bang" is shorthand for "acceleration," then these machines are much better investments than the big twins.
Of course, it's easier to coax speed out of some than others. The Sportsters' relatively heavy flywheels and strong vibration make them seem a bit reluctant to cooperate with high-rpm tomfoolery, though, if you can stand the shaking, the Sport is second-fastest in the group. The BMW very narrowly edges the Honda Sabre and Spirit and the Sportster Custom, in that order. The V-Star 1100 loafs at the back of the pack, a relaxed three-quarters of a second behind, or about a quarter-second quicker than a 1600cc Road Star. When you want to sprint, the tachometers of the V-Rod and Sportster Sport are welcome equipment.
BMW R1200C Phoenix: $15,100,...
BMW R1200C Phoenix: $15,100, 601 pounds (with a full 4.5 gallons of fuel), 1170cc air/oil-cooled opposed twin, 5 speeds, shaft final drive, 65.0-inch wheelbase, 29.1-inch seat height, 37.5 mpg, 13.78-second, 94.0-mph best quarter-mile acceleration.
In terms of braking ability, money talks in this class. The BMW and the V-Rod have the preferred brakes. The Beemer gets points because it offers the security of anti-lock on top of brakes that are already strong and quite controllable. The modest reduction in front-end dive provided by the front suspension design drew some positive notes, but most wished for more. For sheer braking power, the V-Rod is tops, and its radial tires offer the tenacious traction needed to exploit them. The Hondas got the lowest marks, with the Spirit rated the worst. The front brake offered less power than the other bikes in the class, and some remarked that the rear brake was too sensitive. The Sportsters have the typically high-effort front brakes of Harleys, and the front brake levers are a stretch for smaller hands. However, the Sport brakes can produce power and its higher-traction tires help make the most of that.
H-D Sportster 1200 Custom:...
H-D Sportster 1200 Custom: $9425, 513 pounds (with a full 3.3 gallons of fuel), 1203cc air-cooled 45-degree V-twin, 5 speeds, belt final drive, 60.0-inch wheelbase, 28.0-inch seat height, 46.3 mpg, 13.76-second, 95.0-mph best quarter-mile acceleration.
Owning one of these machines shouldn't be too expensive. Though the Yamaha and V-Rod turned in fuel-consumption figures below 35 mpg a time or two, even they would deliver better than 40 mpg during less intense riding. The Sportsters make up for their limited (3.3 gallons) fuel capacity with the best fuel mileage in the group. With 50 mpg or better normal for highway use on the Harley 1200s, we felt comfortable going 130 miles between fill-ups. The BMW and Sportsters need premium fuel, though the rest are happy (and perform at least as well ) sucking regular.
Though nothing broke, the Sportster Sport suffered the most problems. It detonated more than any bike Motorcycle Cruiser has ever tested (including previous examples of the same model) when ever called upon to accelerate under load, such as up a hill or in a tall gear. It was worse on hot days, when the Custom also detonated a little bit. By the end of the test, the Sport also became reluctant to idle, and it was oozing a small amount of oil from the right-side engine cases, though not dripping or using enough to require replenishment. The BMW shed one of its clear-color front turn signal lenses. We have had two V-Rods (one with the factory hop-up kit) to beat up since their introduction, and except for a shredded rear tire on one, they have been trouble-free, which isn't always the case with all-new designs.
H-D Sportster 1200 Sport:...
H-D Sportster 1200 Sport: $9425, 526 pounds (with a full 3.3 gallons of fuel), 1203cc air-cooled 45-degree V-twin, 5 speeds, belt final drive, 60.2-inch wheelbase, 29.1-inch seat height, 47.1 mpg, 13.36-second, 95.8-mph best quarter-mile acceleration.
A number of minor features on these bikes drew appreciative comments, and there are some items that we wish would go away. In the former category are the BMW's heated grips, which offer two heat ranges through a switch on the handlebar. On the other hand, we hate the bike's three-button turn-signal system, and the rest of its generally confusing handlebar switch layout. The Beemer's rear wheel would be the easiest to change because of the one-armed swingarm. The Phoenix's luggage platform seemed like a good idea at first, but there is nowhere to attach tie-downs and the platform is pretty narrow. Though we'd prefer single-switch operation, Harley's turn signals do have the best self-canceling scheme, which senses when you have turned or changed lanes. We also like the handy oil dipsticks on the Sportsters and the fact that you don't need a key to open the fuel tanks. The V-Rod, which provides access to the under-seat fuel tank just by turning the ignition lock one notch past off is the second-best arrangement. The Spirit's saddlebag guards are welcome when you throw saddlebags on the bike. The Sabre just has one guard on the left; apparently Honda doesn't feel that with its fuller fenders there is enough room on the right for a bag to swing into the wheel.
Of course, the most important "feature" for many cruiser buyers is appearance. To a certain extent, you get what you pay for. The pricey BMW and V-Rod have the nicest finishes here. The Phoenix looks elegant and sophisticated. The V-Rod is sexy and cool. In the under-ten-grand price range, the V-Star Custom got top marks for its fit and finish and big-bike style. The Sportster Custom had some adherents, but also put off some riders with its occasionally crude details. Some saw the appeal of the businesslike style of the Sport. Despite its flamed paint (actually decal) job, the Sabre didn't make a particularly strong visual impression on anyone. Our riders universally considered the Spirit's appearance un-spirited.
What You Pay, What You Get
H-D V-Rod: $17,995, 620 pounds...
H-D V-Rod: $17,995, 620 pounds (with a full 3.7 gallons of fuel), 1130cc liquid-cooled 60-degree V-twin, 5 speeds, belt final drive, 67.5-inch wheelbase, 27.1-inch seat height, 47.1 mpg, 11.88-second, 113.1-mph best quarter-mile acceleration.
Obviously the extremes in price, style and finish sharply separate the bikes in this group. A rider looking at a V-Star or Sabre isn't likely to also have the V-Rod on his list, and visa versa. The 'Rod and BMW are probably in their own separate classes for most riders or likely to be measured against comparably priced bigger-displacement bikes--where they still stack up very well.
Though one staffer named the BMW his choice, the rest of our core testers focused on the bikes with four-digit list prices. The Sportster Custom got one vote, and one of our guest testers, a sportbike rider, named the Sportster Sport as his pick. However, most riders picked the V-Star Custom as the top choice for its excellent comfort, clean, elegant style and all-around competence. In effect, it is a bargain-priced big twin, with the power and most of the style of a bike 50 percent bigger. Most of these riders also listed the plain but pleasant Spirit as second choice, generally with a mention that it's the most affordable bike here. It is also the top choice regardless of price if passengers are a regular part of your riding.
Big twin riders will continue to boast about the size of the machine between their legs, but these bikes prove that it isn't how big it is but how it performs. If you are more interested in cost-effective cruising than paying for piston-enlargement pills, your dollar will go farther---and often faster---with one of these in-between twins.
Honda Shadow Sabre: $8199,...
Honda Shadow Sabre: $8199, 612 pounds (with a full 4.2 gallons of fuel), 1099cc liquid-cooled 45-degree V-twin, 5 speeds, shaft final drive, 64.6-inch wheelbase, 27.2-inch seat height, 45.5 mpg, 13.88-second, 93.3-mph best quarter-mile acceleration.
Andy Cherney: The 1100s are overlooked bunch and it's a shame, because you get a lot of motorcycle for the price.
If value is what you're searching for, then look no further than the V-Star. Fat, fully fendered and finely finished, the V-Star feels more like a big twin than a middleweight. Its anemic motor is the first clue the you're not riding a Road Star, but the V-Star's well positioned ergos and planted stance make you feel especially confident anyway. You can do a lot worse for $9000.
But I'm more interested in performance and versatility, and the BMW Phoenix best nailed those qualities for me. A compliant front end and fearless steering always make me grin, and the ABS brakes bring it to a stop no matter what. Sexy running lights, fuel injection and a peppy motor make the price of this premium package almost justifiable.
After that, it's a long drop to the rest of the herd. The V-Rod has an engine par excellence but that's all. Both Sportsters are spirited mounts in the canyons, that they shook my dentures loose. And the Hondas, while attractively priced and well built, are simply uninspiring. If you can't come back from ride with a little inspiration, then why bother?
Email Andy Cherney at Andy.Cherney@primedia.com.
Honda Shadow Spirit: $7999,...
Honda Shadow Spirit: $7999, 593 pounds (with a full 4.2 gallons of fuel), 1099cc liquid-cooled 45-degree V-twin, 5 speeds, shaft final drive, 65.0-inch wheelbase, 28.7-inch seat height, 42.9 mpg, 13.86-second, 94.8-mph best quarter-mile acceleration.
Jamie Elvidge: If there's one thing 2002 brought to the world of metric cruisers, it's an awareness that not only can apples be oranges, but these days you might find the bananas in the same crate with kumquats. What? It's the fact that so many of the new cruisers (and motorcycles in all venues) are breaking out of the old molds. Harley's V-Rod is just one example (a kumquat) of an 1100 V-twin that doesn't resemble its classmates.
There's nothing universal about this group except displacement, not output, only capacity. For me, it's the bike that most resembles the classic cruiser concept that excites me the most: Yamaha's buxom V-Star. There are 1100 V-twins that offer superior power and several that will corner the chrome off the V-Star. But it's the only bike in the group that makes you feel like you're cruising--'57-Cadillac-with-the-top-down cruising.
Next to the Star, I prefer the Honda Shadow Spirit for its good nature, adaptability, and bargain price. It's a do-all bike, a trait of which I'm fond. Of course I like the sporty Sport in the corners and the V-Rod for showing off, just like everyone else. Like a good old apple, the V-Star packs a lot of wholesome stuff in an efficient package that doesn't cost a whole lot. And you know what they say: A ride on a classic cruiser is a day...
The Editor's mailbox answers to Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.
Yamaha V-Star Classic: $8199,...
Yamaha V-Star Classic: $8199, 645 pounds (with a full 4.5 gallons of fuel), 1063cc air-cooled 75-degree V-twin, 5 speeds, shaft final drive, 64.8-inch wheelbase, 28.0-inch seat height, 38.9 mpg, 14.50-second, 90.3-mph best quarter-mile acceleration.
Art Friedman: I arrived at my favorites by a process of elimination. I'm not about to pay $20 grand for a bike anytime soon, so the V-Rod is out, even if it was comfortable. My wallet doesn't think the BMW is worth its stiff asking price either. The Sportsters shake too much, though I might be persuaded if one was done XR-style. They are off my list too. The Sabre was just a bit awkward, especially with my favorite passenger, my wife. We seemed to develop an unfamiliar helmet-banging routine on this bike for some reason; it doesn't happen on other bikes.
That left two bikes worth considering. My family favors the Spirit, because it does the best job of treating passengers with respect. I was more comfortable on the V-Star Classic, however, and also find it prettier.
The question around our house these days is: Who gets the deciding vote? Or more accurately: Does Dad get to veto their unanimous choice of the Spirit?
Find Friedman at firstname.lastname@example.org or Art.Friedman@primedia.com.
David Tong: Objectively, I think I can go along with the group consensus here and agree that from a purely dollars-and-sense perspective for the majority of riders, the Yamaha V-Star 1100 works well and does what they'd expect for a "cruiser." It's "big," soft, comfy, and even sounds okay. But...
I like something a tad leaner 'n meaner in my bikes, which is why I'd vote for the Sportster Custom with my own dollars if I was in this market. To me, the functional gain from having a crisp handling response from the helm, a hinge-free chassis, the greater ground clearance around corners, and yes, even the vibes (to a point) spell m-o-t-o-r-c-y-c-l-e to me that no amount of flame stickers, fat fenders, and chromed plastic will. There's a good combination of flash and dash I find quite appealing, though I certainly wonder what the boys and girls in Milwaukee have in store for the long-overdue Sportster redux that's been rumored for years. Sport-Rod anyone?
Guest tester David Tong has been riding for 23 years and answers email at email@example.com.
MIA: MOTO GUZZI CALIFORNIA 1100
Moto Guzzi's EV was supposed...
Moto Guzzi's EV was supposed to be included but was stopped by a stuck gas cap at the start of our ride.
This had started out to be an eight-bike comparison, but when we stopped to get fuel a few blocks into the ride, the Moto Guzzi California EV's gas cap would not unlock. Our choices were to delay the whole process and try to fix it, attempt to break in, or abandon the EV. We left it behind.
We'd ridden it enough to know have a good idea of what we were missing. Guzzi's across-the-frame 90-degree 1064cc OHV air-cooled V-twin makes a good turn of power, past heavy flywheels and plenty of torque reaction. Smooth at cruise, it shakes some during acceleration. The fuel injection gives predictable throttle response. The suspension is superior to most of the other 1100 twins and cornering clearance is plentiful. The riding position is acceptable, and the seat is pretty good. The appearance isn't mainstream but it does have its adherents.
But the EV's fatal flaw is its poorly executed floorboards. It's as if the floorboard designer never met the control engineer. Most heel-toe shifters can be operated simply by rocking your foot, but the EV requires you to completely reposition your foot when you go from upshift to downshift--very awkward. Things are worse at the brake pedal, which operates the quite powerful linked brakes. If you try to operate the pedal with your foot on the board, the brakes are far too sensitive and hard braking is a dangerous. A small nub has been provided to rest your heel on during braking, but this means you must lift your foot off the floorboard, put it on the footpeglet, and then address the pedal, which is slightly less sensitive when approached thus. Good thing too, because you have been rushing toward to what you wanted to avoid during this maneuvering. Still, braking was a bit dicey if there was anything less than perfect traction. Not the sort of thing likely to make us pick this $11,990 machine as one of our faves in this class. We aren't fans of linked braking, but we understand its virtues, particularly if control is better.
If you are attracted to one of Guzzi's cruisers, we'd suggest one without floorboards, perhaps even without linked brakes. We enjoyed riding the $8495 Jackal in 2000, which we think is a much better machine than the Calfornia EV. By the way, the engine powering all Guzzis gets an upgrade for 2003, with more power and hydraulic lifters to reduce maintenance.
The problem with our Moto Guzzi turned out to be a stuck lock in the gas cap.