Photography by Kevin Wing...
V-Rod vs. VTX1800 vs. Valkyrie vs. Magna vs. Mean Streak vs. Warrior vs. V-Max
Use the term "performance cruiser" in a room full of motorcyclists, and somebody will tell you it's an oxymoron. True, if you use 180-mph sportbikes as a yardstick, our musclebikes come up a bit short on the performance end of the equation. But you'll also find cruiser aficionados who will tell you that if it performs, by (their) definition, a motorcycle can't be a cruiser. That characterization describes cruisers as motorcycles meant merely for lazy trolling, the way God intended motorcycles to be ridden. You might also detect an undercurrent of annoyance that you're riding a bike that's faster than theirs.
Even if they cloak themselves in a mantle of distain for undignified displays of acceleration, somewhere deep inside every motorcyclist is a speed freak, waiting to break free and grab a big handful of throttle. They might not like to admit it, but we all believe that you simply can't be too rich or too fast. That applies to cruisers as much as any other vehicle. You can wax poetic about style, comfort, sound, and chrome all you like, but no one will say no to a slightly harder kick in the ass when you pull the trigger. Of course, if you disagree there are some pretty cool-looking scooters out there.
So a performance cruiser melds the couth and cool of a cruiser with a lot more punch. That combination puts substance behind the bad-bike attitude adopted by some custom builders but rarely backed up by real punch when the light turns green. Riders of 600cc sportbikes hunt these guys for breakfast. Though performance cruisers have been around almost from the moment the Japanese manufacturers discovered the attraction of American styling (remember the V65 Magna?), the last year has seen a new generation of power cruiser in the form of the muscle twins--Honda's VTX, Harley's V-Rod, Kawasaki's Mean Streak and Yamaha's Warrior. Each has taken a different approach to blending hard-hitting power in cruiser ergos and style.
Honda adopted the old American adage that there is no substitute for cubic inches with its 1800cc monster. In a seeming role reversal, Harley went with a V-twin of modest displacement but made horsepower with rpm and efficiency, then wrapped it in a lightweight, high-tech style with a dragracing emphasis. Kawasaki simply hot-rodded its Vulcan 1500, upgraded some components, and styled it with a performance attitude. Yamaha also hopped-up its existing big twin, but then it infused the rolling stock with some sportbike spirit in the form of an aluminum frame and sportbike suspension and brakes. Then it gave its creation a sleek, ready-to-rumble look.
But these new-breed twins aren't the only cruisers with the souls of hot rods. The traditional way to pump more power out of a motorcycle has been to put more cylinders into it. Three multi-cylinder musclebikes have been leading cruising's hit parade since this magazine was founded in 1996. That year Honda raised more than a few eyebrows when it wedged a nicely tweaked version of the 1500cc inline six from its Gold Wing touring bike into a cruiser platform to make the Valkyrie, one of the most distinctive motorcycles on the road today. Not that Honda was without a performance cruiser even then. It had introduced the first V4-powered Magna cruiser 20 years ago, and the current version of that model is now in its 10th year (an eternity for Honda). But the 750 Magna remains one of the most potent cruisers on the road. And then there is the Yamaha V-Max, which like the Valkyrie is powered by a souped-up version of an engine originally built for a touring bike, now discontinued. Since it first started wrinkling asphalt in 1985, its 1200cc V4 has set the standard for cruiser power and performance, and its somewhat overwrought styling is a statement of rolling probable cause.
Naturally, we wanted to round up all seven of these bad boys and settle who was the nastiest of them all. (No scooter owners on our staff.) These bikes epitomize the performance cruiser, making a visual statement as well as black stripe when leaving. You could make a case that other bikes, the Suzuki 1400 Intruder for example, have the acceleration to play in this club. But none of the bikes are presented as musclebikes and none have the potential to be a contender for the cruiser performance crown.
This wasn't going to be the usual Motorcycle Cruiser comparison test. We were going to focus on which bikes kick butt and which just kick back. Acceleration and speed were the big dogs here, though we were interested to a lesser degree in related aspects of performance such as brakes, suspension control and handling. Some of the stuff that we make an issue of during more civilized comparisons no longer mattered. Passenger comfort? Passengers just slow a bike down. Chrome quality? Not an issue. Fuel economy? Didn't even measure it. If you need to know about those sorts of things, read a previous test. Along the way there we'd get some lessons about efficiency versus displacement, styling versus control and the effects of weight on performance.Here is how they finished, starting from the back of the pack.
The first bike on the trailer was the Mean Streak. From the beginning, Kawasaki's muscle twin was obviously in over its head with this crowd. Though we like the motorcycle (as the big twins comparison in our April issue will confirm), its musclebike status is more a matter of marketing than motor. It simply lacks the power to play in this league.
Kawasaki actually tweaked the chassis and the styling more than the engine when it drew the Mean Streak from the Vulcan 1500 Classic and didn't even boost the displacement. Year in and year out, the Vulcan 1500 Classic has always been one of our favorite big twins, but it has always finished near the back of the pack in performance contests with its peers.
With that kind of heritage and little real hot-rodding, Kawasaki's performance cruiser entry never really looked like a contender during Musclebike Madness Month. Sure enough, the Mean Streak was the only bike of the seven that couldn't run in the 12s or break 100 mph at the dragstrip. In fact, at 13.76 seconds through the quarter, it didn't even get close to the under-13-second/over-100-mph run that defines a superbike. Yes, the Meanie did manage to pull away from the Magna in top-gear roll-ons, but with almost twice the displacement, it should have some sort of power advantage over the 750.
It got better marks in other performance areas, though without power to exploit them, braking and handling are kind of empty issues. All riders gave the dual three-piston-caliper front brake, which has the biggest discs here, high marks and some listed them as their best of the bunch. Suspension performance and steering ease and precision were also scored highly, though cornering clearance is not remarkable. But none of that, nor its good ergonomics, ultra-smooth shaft-drive power train, compliant ride, easy-to-interpret tach and speedo, or other nice parts, helped lift the Mean Streak out of the cellar. Nice guys finish last in this game if they haven't got power.
We know several knowledgeable riders who have bought Mean Streaks and love them, but none will tell you that it is a fast bike. It may be powerful for a Vulcan, but in this crowd, the Mean Streak is just a pretender.
Yamaha created its muscle twin by cranking up the volume on its traditional cruiser engine from the Road Star, then mating it to perhaps the most advanced chassis in cruiserdom. The lightweight alloy frame rides on suspension components lifted from Yamaha's cutting-edge R1 sportbike.
Framed by that sort of technology, the air-cooled, OHV narrow-angle V-twin seems incongruous, and in fact the engine sort of lets the team down. Despite a number of power-enhancing changes and more displacement from the mild-mannered Road Star motor, it's still basically a pretty tame powerplant, though the pulse beating through that huge muffler can sounds potent enough to give V-twin enthusiasts chills.
Even though it's pumping 1670cc, the Warrior's pushrod V-twin is no powerhouse. It has less poundage to push around than some of the other bikes here, but it still lacks enough thrust get it moving very fast. It barely broke 100 mph and 13 seconds at the dragstrip, and even the Honda Magna, with less than half the displacement, squirted ahead of it in this classic American test of performance. The Warrior managed to collect a few power points with its fifth-best top-gear acceleration performance.
With all that sophisticated hardware in the chassis, one would expect it to be a top contender in chassis performance. Sure enough, the brakes wield the power that the engine is missing, and the chassis is rigid with a well controlled ride. But our ardor for the chassis suddenly cools when we lean it over in a corner. No one here can make it track precisely around a corner or even get it to carve a smooth arc. Constant inputs are required to keep it going the direction you want, a failing we attribute to the tire profiles, which seem to be on slightly different arcs when leaned over. The fact that cornering clearance is modest almost becomes a non-issue because of these odd steering manners in bends. Finally, the very foot-forward riding position and the shape of the handlebar make the bike awkward when we try to ride it fast.
In the end, the Yamaha's primary strength may be its curb appeal. If it's better to look fast than to be fast, the Warrior is a winner. Without even exploiting the techie draw of the alloy frame, Yamaha's styling team managed to make the bike an undiluted statement of aggression. And that deep, solid exhaust beat provides audible confirmation that this street fighter is ready for battle. Just be sure to pick your fights carefully.
Honda's monster V-twin brings bragging rights for maximum displacement. Just saying that it's packing 1800cc will elicit raised eyebrows and low whistles and make the uninitiated step back and give it another long look. That bigger-than-life liquid-cooled long-stroke 1795cc V-twin has a 125cc advantage on the next-biggest bike here, the Warrior. Breathing a fuel-injected mixture through three valves per cylinder, it appears to pack the technology to ensure that it will blow the side panels off the competition. It's nestled in a frame that is as long as the V-Rod's with a 67.5-inch wheelbase, and the low muscular lines of the VTX promise to deliver a whupping when the throttle cable is jerked.
But there are good and bad things about being big. Though its size makes it roomy and stylishly stretched, it also makes it heavy. It was startling to discover that the "simple" VTX twin is 20 pounds heavier than the massive-looking six-cylinder Valkyrie, the second-heaviest ride in this group. All that weight is just anti-power, since some of the power is consumed just hauling that extra tonnage. As a result, the VTX's performance figures don't live up to those big displacement numbers.
There's nothing like getting edged out at the lights by a bike of the same brand that's armed with just 42 percent of the displacement (over 1000cc less!) and leaves an extra $5000 in your jeans when you buy it instead of the VTX. The VTX couldn't quite overcome the inertia of all those pounds off the line to run down the Magna in the quarter-mile, though it was going 2.2 mph faster than that pesky 750 at the end of the strip. The VTX got to show its muscle more effectively in our top-gear acceleration measurements, where it eclipsed all but the V-Rod and V-Max. We suspect it would have done even better if the test was conducted at higher speeds.
Weight is also a liability when you are trying to stop or turn. Though most riders grumbled about the linked actuation system for the brakes, they provide great power and surprising levels of feedback. You also get a lot of feedback--too much of it--from the suspension. Bigger bumps hammer you through the rear end, and the ride can be herky-jerky on concrete-slab roadways. The jacking reaction of the shaft final drive system also makes it pitch around when throttle settings are changed abruptly, and since the carburetor doesn't like to react subtly, this is often the case. All of these modest shortcomings plus the considerable mass of the bike gang up on you in corners, where the VTX is reluctant to make sudden direction changes and bumpy surfaces can make the bike stutter. Cornering clearance is modest too. Still, most prefer the tank-ish VTX to the hard-to-point Warrior on bend-infested roads. The riding position, with the low-rise bar, semi-forward footpeg position, and roomy saddle, is comfortable both for long rides and short shots down the strip.
This C version of the 1795cc VTX family has an obvious street rod flavor, with its purposeful lines, aggressive posture, hardware like the inverted fork legs, and the long two-into-one pipe. We always decry the VTX's ignored details like the dangling turn-signal wiring and the eye-catching tank seam, but in this company the absence of a tachometer seems like the most glaring oversight. It is easy to spin the engine up into the rev limiter when trying to accelerate hard, and the limiter cuts in very hard. It takes a lot of experience with the bike to be able to hear and feel the optimum shift point. It needs a tach.
If you just want everyone to know you have a big one, the VTX is the musclebike for you. But if you want to actually flex your bike's muscles, the VTX is just too much.
Playing David to the VTX's Goliath, the comparatively diminutive VF750C showed precisely how less can be more and efficiency can overcome brute displacement. Though the Magna is the smallest bike in the group, it's also the lightest, which helped it get the jump off the line. And it makes horsepower by spinning up its 16-valve V4 to a higher rpm than any of those monster V-twins. It takes a bit more clutch slipping to get it away from a start quickly, but with 80 pounds less weight to accelerate than the next-lightest bike, the V-Max, the Magna will get moving in a hurry. That in turn enabled it to burn through the quarter-mile a beat quicker than the VTX. That big bad 1800 was going faster and catching up at the end of the quarter-mile however, and it put the pipsqueak in its place in the top-gear contest, which requires torque and power at a lower rpm, not the Magna's strong suit.
As you might expect, the Magna has the peakiest engine here. There isn't a lot of grunt down low. It likes to be revved a bit and shifted frequently. Still, the power is predictable and easy to control. You do need to know how to slip the clutch for a strong launch, but the Magna seems perfectly content to absorb a lot of this kind of treatment.
If the only criteria we scored were brute power and torque, the VTX would have gotten the position. Since it hasn't been given a bit of attention for a decade, the Magna is beginning to look a bit dated. Its suspension isn't as sophisticated as most of the others and its tires feel a bit less connected than the rubber on the newer bikes. But the absence of mass makes up for a lot of plainness in matters of chassis performance. On a tight road, the Magna steers so quickly and with so little effort that it won our sport-cruiser comparison a few years back. None of the musclebikes are light enough to keep it in sight on a twisting road with rapid-fire corners. It is steady and confident while leaned over and has lots of room to lean, rarely dragging anything.
The Magna's most noticeable chassis-performance shortcoming is its brakes, the only single-disc front and drum rear units here. The bike deserves more powerful binders and stickier tires to exploit them. As it is, the VF750C can't stop with the power of most of these other performance cruisers, though its "added lightness" means that it doesn't need as much power, either. Whether touring on the open road, strafing apexes on a meandering mountain lane or ripping off the line at the dragstrip, the Magna's conventional riding position backs you up.
Despite its four-pipe exhaust system, the Magna isn't likely to turn any heads if there is a V-Rod or Warrior in the vicinity. But you can comfort yourself with the $10,000 you have left over because you didn't buy the V-Rod. This bike is the undisputed performance cruiser bargain.
Five years ago a lightweight, high-tech modest-displacement Harley poised to do battle with a big air-cooled, pushrod Yamaha and a huge, slow-revving Honda would have seemed like a flight of fancy. And the notion that a Harley with two-thirds of the displacement could best bigger bikes from those Japanese makers would have seemed like pure fantasy. But it has happened.
With the second-smallest engine here, Harley's V-Rod ran away from all but the V-Max in a quarter-mile sprint, and was the only other bike to break into the 11-second bracket at 11.91 and top 110 mph with a 112.6-mph terminal speed through the traps. Most impressively, it outran them all in what is perhaps the definitive test of cruiser power--top-gear acceleration. It goes to show what you can do by keeping the weight down and spinning the engine up.
The VRSC V-twin powering the V-Rod is a complete departure for H-D. Liquid-cooled with a comparatively wide 60-degree V angle, it has double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder and turns a lot more rpm than any previous Harley. And in an era where 1500cc no longer impresses, rolling out a new V-twin with just 1130cc might have seemed like madness. But the V-Rod turns convention on its ear and proves that a performance cruiser needn't be big, heavy, low-revving or have a traditional narrow-angle V or other "essential" features (like a conventionally placed fuel tank) to be accepted and outperform the pack. The only possible loss is in exhaust note, which lacks the traditional narrow-V cadence.
The V-Rod does have one traditional Harley shortcoming: the handling is disappointing, especially since the bike is so light. Although it has good ground clearance when leaned over and responds readily to steering inputs, the suspension is unimpressive, and the cornering manners display an unsteadiness similar to the Warrior, presumably for the same reasons. It loses more ground to the least comfortable riding position, one that also doesn't mesh well with the bike's high-performance potential. The feet-forward stance combines with a high handlebar to place the rider in an awkward position for hard launches or strong acceleration. The 'Rod was the hardest bike to get away from the starting line at the strip without spinning the rear tire. It was also the least comfortable for day-to-day riding, though that was a minor issue in this contest.
Many of these shortcomings stem from Harley's desire to give the bike unmistakable, if radical, American lines, presumably because so many aspects of the V-Rod are departures from Harley and American tradition. There is no question of the origin of its raked-out, low-slung style, and though completely unique among American bikes, the anodized alloy bodywork turns heads wherever you ride. However, the compromises forced by the styling overshadow the VRSCA's impressive straight-line performance and keep it from exploiting all its potential. Though some riders thought it should be ranked higher, most felt that its overall performance felt short of the Valkyrie, and it missed second place by a whisker. If your priorities are weighted differently, though, you can easily make a case that the Harley should have been second, perhaps even first. And when people are paying a 100-percent premium to own one, the bike is clearly a winner.
Sprung from a touring bike and unlike any other cruiser (save perhaps the V8 powered Boss Hoss), Honda's 1520cc six has always dazzled us. Back in '98 it was our top pick when we compared the flagship models from all the cruiser makers. In 2000, it surprised many by holding its own in a sport-cruiser comparison. And now here it is contending for the title in an arena where sheer thrust is the headline.
Whether you love it or hate it, that monstrous six-cylinder engine is the dominant feature of the Valkyrie. It creates the bike's wide-shouldered style and leaves no doubt that this is a motorcycle designed to leave in a hurry when you punch it. With a less-audacious motor under the tank, the bike would come across as just another mild-mannered, comfortable cruiser. But with six cylinders and carbs protruding from the engine bay, the potential muscle is unmistakable to even the least motor-headed viewer.
But for all its mechanical prowess, the Valkyrie is exceptionally easy to handle. At the strip Evans Brasfield quickly extracted its best run from it because it was so easy to launch straight and control wheelspin. Though it didn't approach the 11-second runs of the V-Max and -Rod, it bested the rest with a 12.63-second clock at 104 mph. That speed was 1.1 mph shy of the VTX too. Its 76.7-mph terminal speed in the top-gear acceleration contest was fourth best behind all the other bikes with V's in their names. But the Valkyrie's power offers a flexibility not found in any other big cruiser. You can put it fifth gear and slow below 20 mph, then snap the throttle full open and motor away smoothly, without a hiccup or bit of driveline snatch.
With that hefty engine, a long wheelbase, roomy accommodations, and features like shaft final drive, the Valkyrie is obviously a big, heavy motorcycle. And although the sense of bulk never disappears, Honda has done some sort of magic with how the 1500cc six carries its mass and how it steers and handles. Great suspension is part of the equation, but that doesn't explain the light, predictable steering or the confidence it inspires when leaned over and dragging things. Surprisingly, you have to lean over farther than with most of the other bikes to get anything to scrape the road in a turn. And that flexible power means that you can run down a winding road with a minimum of shifting and still have plenty of drive to propel you off the corner. And when it's time to slow down, the brakes offer great power and control.
Though some riders would prefer a slightly lower, narrowed handlebar, all agree that the Valkyrie is the most ergonomically accommodating motorcycle in this seven-pack. The footpegs are located conventionally, and the position lets you adjust your posture and will work with you whether you're heading out across the country, down the dragstrip or just along a winding road. The engine is innately smooth, the ride is plush, and the seating coddles you.
The Valkyrie's styling doesn't offer the in-your-face assertions of adrenaline addiction that you get with some of the others. Its claim to power rests mostly with that big motor. But the engine also provides a powerful auditory statement, a deep whoomp from the twin mufflers when the twistgrip is blipped that distinguishes it and reminds those listening than it is much more than just a touring refugee. But then, the Valyrie seems to be able to be whatever you ask it to be.
The king is still the king. Yeah, the styling may be dated, but that isn't going to matter much. If you are riding one of the other bikes, you aren't likely to see anything besides the taillight, rapidly getting smaller as the V-Max disappears in the distance.
Laying down an 11.62-second, 116.9-mph quickest run, the V-Max easily bested all challengers. And for those hoping for a rematch, it may come as a shock that we regard this V-Max as something of a dog. Previous samples, which are mechanically the same, have turned quarter-miles under 11 seconds and well over 120 mph with top-gear acceleration numbers over 90 mph. The 81.6-mph terminal speed of this bike in our top-gear acceleration test was something of surprise and let the V-Rod win that category.The V-Max is all about the joy of acceleration. Though Yamaha doesn't list horsepower figures anymore, specs published when it was rolled out in the mid 1980s claimed over 130 horsepower. And the 1198cc V4 adds to the rush with its V-Boost system, which, as the revs rise, opens a crossover valve in the intake manifold, allowing each cylinder to inhale through two carbs. This gives an added kick of acceleration, adding to the kinetic fun at Mr. Max's party. Power is adequate down low, though nothing like the Valkyrie, but when you get the revs up, there simply isn't any cruiser like the V-Max, and its V4 growl confirms that it's no pretender.
The ergonomics both heighten and complement the V-Max power rush. Although its comparatively low handlebar and rearward pegs are less cruiser-like than the other bikes here, the position still sits you up more than on most bikes with a similar horsepower hit. As a result, you feel the acceleration more, even though the high seat back and narrow bar make it easy to stay comfortably in control. The saddle doesn't cut it on long rides but is perfectly suited to fits of hooliganism in town. You also get some added sensory input from the shaft final drive system, which makes the bike rise on its suspension during bouts of hard acceleration. That can turn into an unintended wheelstand when leaving hard, especially if you are accelerating uphill, as on an interstate highway entrance ramp.
Of course, you have to work around the shaft-induced jacking when riding roads with bends to charge. Keeping the power on through a corner's apex helps you make the most of the VMX12's substantial concerning clearance. Despite upgrades a few years ago, the suspension is nothing special, offering neither remarkable control nor compliance, but it does the job satisfactorily. Steering and cornering stability are likewise OK but nothing noteworthy. Despite its massive look, the V-Max is actually one of the lightweights in this crowd, with only the Magna carrying fewer pounds. Though it has none of the cool aluminum chassis components of the twin-cylinder Warrior and carries a shaft-drive and radiator, this old V4 actually weighs 40 pounds less than the V-twin. With limited mass to toss around, the narrow bar provides plenty of leverage and control. However, most V-Maxs seem to develop some corner-tracking problems by a couple thousand miles when the rear tire begins to show some wear in the middle. We managed to get the brakes to fade some on one of our standard downhill runs.
Though it's about as subtle as sledge hammer, the V-Max's styling looks a bit contrived and is certainly getting dated. We keep hoping that Yamaha will give the bike an update using an approach similar to that taken to create the Warrior (but with better steering). But then we always worry that what we get will have a tamer engine, more weight and better manners than this bad boy. Taking the hooligan out of Mighty Max and making it politically correct would take the fun out of the ultimate performance cruiser.
Wet weight: 620 lbs.
Wheelbase: 67.5 in.
Seat height: 27.1 in.
Engine type: Liquid-cooled 60-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Final Drive: Belt
Rake/trail: 38 degrees/5.9 in.
Front tire: 120/70ZR-19
Rear tire: 180/55ZR-18
Front brake: 2, 4-piston calipers, 11.5-in.discs
Rear brake: 4-piston caliper, 11.5-in disc
200-yard top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 83.0 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 11.91 sec., 112.6 mph
Wet weight: 539 lbs.
Wheelbase: 65.0 in.
Seat height: 28.0
Engine type: Liquid-cooled 45-degree V-4
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Carburetion: 4, 34mm CV
Final Drive: Chain
Rake/trail: 32 degrees/5.2 in.
Front tire: 120/80-17
Rear tire: 150/80-17
Front brake: 1-piston caliper, 12.4-in. disc
Rear brake: Single-leading-shoe drum
200-yard top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 73.0 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.71 sec., 102.9 mph
Wet weight: 738 lbs.
Wheelbase: 66.5 in.
Seat height: 28.9 in.
Engine type: Liquid-cooled opposed flat six
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 2 valves per cylinder
Carburetion: 6, 28mm CV
Final Drive: Shaft
Rake/trail: 32.3 degrees/5.98 in.
Front tire: 150/80R17
Rear tire: 180/70R16
Front brake: 2, 2-piston calipers, 11.7-in.discs
Rear brake: 1-piston caliper, 12.4-in disc
200-yard top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 76.7 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.63 sec., 104.0 mph
Wet weight: 758 lbs.
Wheelbase: 67.5 in S
eat height:27.3 in.
Engine type: Liquid-cooled 52-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 3 valves per cylinder
Final Drive: Shaft
Rake/trail: 32 degrees/5.8 in.
Front tire: 130/70ZR18
Rear tire: 180/70ZR16
Front brake: 2, 6-piston calipers, 11.7-in.discs
Rear brake: 2-piston caliper, 12.4-in. disc
200-yard top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 78.4 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.72 sec., 105.1 mph
KAWASAKI MEAN STREAK
Wet weight: 695 lbs
Wheelbase: 67.1 in.
Seat height: 27.6 in.
Engine type: Liquid-cooled 50-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Final Drive: Shaft
Rake/trail: 32degrees/5.7 in.
Front tire: 130/70R17
Rear tire: 170/60R17
Front brake: 2, 3-piston calipers, 12.6-in discs
Rear brake: 2-piston caliper, 8.7-in disc
200-yard top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 75.8 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.76 sec., 95.6 mph
Wet weight: 618 lbs.
Wheelbase: 62.6 in.
Seat height: 30.1 in.
Engine type: Liquid-cooled 70-degree V-4
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Carburetion: 4, 35mm CV
Final Drive: Shaft
Rake/trail: 29 degrees/4.7 in.
Front tire: 110/90V19
Rear tire: 150/90V15
Front brake: 2, 4-piston calipers, 11.7-in.discs
Rear brake: 2-piston caliper, 11.1-in. disc
200-yard top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 81.6 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 11.62 sec., 116.9 mph
Wet weight: 658 lbs.
Wheelbase: 65.7 in.
Seat height: 28.1
Engine type: Air-cooled 48-degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: OHV, 4 valves per cylinder
Final Drive: Belt
Rake/trail: 29degrees/5.12 in.
Front tire: 120/70ZR18
Rear tire: 200/50ZR18
Front brake: 2, 2-piston calipers, 11.7-in.discs
Rear brake: 11.1-in disc
200-yard top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 76.6 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.87 sec., 101.2 mph
Height: 5 ft. 10 in.
Weight: 210 lb.
Inseam: 32 in.
Yup, after all these years, the V-Max is still the best answer when somebody asks. "What's the fastest cruiser?" But it is certainly showing its age. Instead of trying to turn a air-cooled V-twin sow's ear into a high-speed silk purse, as was done with the Road Star turned Warrior, I wish that Yamaha had devoted the same sort of effort and talent into making the V-Max the modern Max.
About the Warrior: every time I look at it, I like it more, and every time I ride it, I like it less. I just cannot get that motorcycle to track around a corner the way I want it to. Lovely sound, but the fury is lacking. That's true of the Mean Streak as well. Nice bike, but a bit wimpy for this crowd. As for the V-Rod, the engine is great and it's nice and light. I just don't find anything else about the bike that appeals to me besides the finish. The lines of the VTX-C appeal to me, but with the biggest engine here it should come out swinging a bit harder. Honda needs to take a lesson from Harley and Yamaha and get the lead out. Knock off 150 pounds or so and this thing could feed the power-hungry. Now it's just a big bike that can't quite live up to its attitude.
Honda's Valkyrie is also a big bike, but somebody forgot to tell it. It zings through corners like a much smaller bike and launches you from a stop with all the authority of six 250cc cylinders. Any visual display of aggression emanates from the engine, but don't be fooled by its somewhat porky lines, the F6 is no road hawg. This bike does so much so well that it seems to rise to the top no matter what the contest.
The littlest bike here, the Magna is just the opposite of the VTX. It looks like the underdog, but bites hard when goaded. You have to spin it to get that performance, but I like a bike that takes some skill to extract all its performance. Because it's relatively small and light, it is the handiest of these seven. Like the V-Max and Valkyrie, the Magna would benefit from some modernization.
But dated or not, those three are my favorites. Picking one would depend on what other duties I had in mind. Traveling would point me toward the always-versatile Valkyrie. Straightforward street fighting would make the V-Max my choice. And if curvaceous roads were a major part of my plans or money was a sticking point, the Magna would be my choice. --Art Friedman
Height: 5 ft. 10 in.
Weight: 135 lb.
Inseam: 34 in.
Enjoying a ride is much a state of mind as it is a physical occurrence. And although it is a combination, it can be more of one or the other at any given time. For example, when I'm on a journey, a weekend tour or even my long (seven-hour) commute home I find the peacefulness of the motion the best part. When I'm riding around town, out testing in the mountains or chasing my favorite roads on Sunday it's the visceral element of motorcycling that warms me up. You'd think being on a bike with good power would be more of a priority in the latter circumstance--the one where the effects of gravity and velocity play key roles. Yeah, but I also want a ton of power when the bike's taking me to Oklahoma on the Interstate. Actually, I want a ton of power when the bike's sitting in the garage.
So, what the hell am I getting at? Jamie's same old bottom line, I suppose. The bike should do more than one thing well (unless I get to own as many bikes as I want). I dig all of these power cruisers. They're all tremendously sexy, bold and fun to ride and almost all of them can be found the list of my top ten favorite cruisers. But if I had to choose one as my long-term ride, it would have to be both wickedly fast and incredibly comfortable. That would be the Valkyrie, of course. Each time I sit in the saddle I feel like I'm a hooligan, er, home again. --Jamie Elvidge
Height: 5 ft. 7 in.
Weight: 149 lb.
Inseam: 31 in.
It's heartening to see that even with all the supposed progress we've been subjected to in the 21st century, pure muscle can stir your adrenaline like nothing else. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that the doddering old V-Max can still turn me on, or that the Valkyrie delivers boost at least on par with all these newcomers. With the exception of the V-Rod's awesome motor, and occasionally the Warrior's killer chassis, I'd take the old over the new in any streetfight (except for the Magna, that is--it seems to not have aged quite as gracefully). The Mean Streak, while comfortable, is just underpowered, and the VTX is akin to sending an aircraft carrier when a battleship would do. Don't get me wrong, I like the new breed pretty well; I just think they could stand a few more improvements on the originals. --Andy Cherney
V-Rod: 4.0 / 3.0 / 2.5
Magna: 2.0 / 4.0 / 4.0
Valkyrie: 3.5 / 4.5 / 4.5
VTX1800C: 3.0: / 4.0 / 3.0
Mean Streak: 3.0 / 4.0 / 3.5
V-Max: 3.0 / 4.0 / 4.0
Warrior: 3.0 / 3.0 / 3.0