Photography by Kevin Wing...
Want lots of chrome, massive width and ultra-low saddles? Keep scrolling. The seven sport-cruisers assembled here are pretty sparse in those regards, but they represent the newest and, to us, one of the most interesting niches in motorcycling. By melding cruiser style with cornering fun, sport-cruisers invite a new kind of rider into their world and offer new opportunities to long-time cruiser enthusiasts.
The 1980s and early 1990s saw the rise of the sportbike. Many baby boomers were drawn to these high-performance machines which can be heeled deeply into corners, flicked instantly from side to side when a swerve is needed, and (thanks to powerful brakes and sticky tires) stopped on a dime and give you a few cents change. However, as riders have aged, sportbikes have begun to lose their appeal. Prompted by uncomfortable, inelegant riding positions, thin saddles, fat insurance bills and the realization that they no longer wanted to try to live up to their bikes' high-performance images, many former sportbike fans find themselves taking longer and more appreciative looks at cruisers.
We have talked to a lot of these people. They don't mind giving up that surplus speed that they never used, nor will they miss the plastic bodywork that impedes maintenance and costs a stack of money every time the bike falls over. These riders welcome a more endurable riding stance, but, as luxury-car makers have discovered, they don't want to completely surrender braking and handling. Even Cadillac buyers asked for a car that zigs. The biggest difference between cars and bikes is motorcycles lean over in corners. If you just want wind in your face and bugs in your teeth, take the doors and windows off your car. Motorcycling is about heeling through corners, and a bike should do that well, no matter what it looks like.
Victory calls its second model...
Victory calls its second model the SportCruiser, giving name to the concept.
Motorcycles that appeal to both hemispheres of your brain have been around for a few years. However, it was Victory -- America's other motorcycle maker -- who pinned a name on cruisers with performance chassis configurations: sport-cruisers. Victory's second rendition of its 1500cc twin, new for 2000, is the V92SC; and Victory, which is headed by people who have an abiding appreciation of sporting motorcycles, clearly intend to appeal to people who wanted cruisers that zig. You can see the attention to chassis performance in its enormous 50mm fork legs, sportbike tires and Fox rear shock. We rode a prototype for our December '99 issue and wanted to get a production bike as soon as one was available.
Harley gave it's Super Glide...
Harley gave it's Super Glide more sophisticated and capable chassis components to create the Sport.
However, we weren't prepared to let Victory lock up the category yet -- even if it did coin the name. Shortly before riding the V92SC, we tested the most recent version of Harley-Davidson's FXDX Dyna Super Glide Sport (October '99). The FXDX targets the same niche and has a similar layout, including a tandem V-twin in the engine bay. A few days after riding the V92SC, we also sampled Moto Guzzi's new Jackal (December '99), a stripped down version of its across-the-frame, 90-degree 1100cc V-twin that dropped neatly into the sport-cruiser mold as well. Three bikes are enough to make a category, so we started talking about a comparison, and which other bikes should be included.
The first bike that came to mind when the word "sport" was mentioned was Triumph's Thunderbird Sport. Powerful, light, and equipped with big-time brakes, the 885cc triple is the most sporting machine Motorcycle Cruiser has ever tested, and some people reckon that it's actually more properly regarded as a retro sportbike than a sport-cruiser. The bike has seen some significant changes since we sampled it last (December '98), the most visual of which is the switch from both mufflers stacked distinctively on the right to a more common one-on-each-side configuration.
Guzzi's Jackal -- lean and...
Guzzi's Jackal -- lean and affordable.
Though we hadn't seen it in the flesh, the new Euro version of the BWM R1200C sounded like a step toward sport-cruiser country. A lower handlebar, a small flyscreen over the headlight, two small driving lights tucked beneath the light, a reconfigured rider's saddle and a finish scheme that uses a variety of black finishes (instead of silver or unfinished metal) distinguish the new CE from the original C. This limited-production bike uses the same fuel-injected flat twin that powers the original.
We looked at all of the Japanese line-ups, but only found one that yielded cruisers with seemingly sporting intentions. Honda's Valkyrie and Magna both appeared to fill the bill. Well, actually, the jumbo-sized Valkyrie doesn't appear to have any sporting spirit, but experience has shown that the huge 1520cc flat-six works very well when the road meanders. The 750 Magna had also proven itself competent on challenging roads as well as boulevards. Its sportbike-bred liquid-cooled V-4 makes plenty of power. So, even though the Magna displaces just 750cc, it would be more than able to keep up with the bigger bikes.
Is Triumph's Sport a crui...
Is Triumph's Sport a cruiser?
We considered including some other bikes. We looked at the Suzuki 800 Marauder, but quickly decided that it couldn't play in this league. The Harley Sportster 1200 Sport got a longer consideration period and deeper discussion, but we knew from riding both motorcycles that it would pale next to Harley's FXDX. In the end, we didn't ask Harley for one. When all our contenders were rounded up, we had The Magnificent Seven.
Though some of the bikes -- notably the FXDX, Thunderbird Sport, and V92SC -- have been marketed as sport-cruisers, the others were drawn into this comparison because of our perceptions of how they might perform in the ambiguous double duty. We should probably point out that not everyone agreed with our choices. The BMW and Valkyrie in particular raised some eyebrows. But we all agreed that the target was nebulous, changing with the beholder. There was another point of consensus: finding our favorites was going to be fun.
BMW's CE: How Euro is it?...
BMW's CE: How Euro is it?
To get a feel for how these seven motorcycles manage their dual roles, come along for a ride that includes both cruising and sporting sessions.
All rides begin the same way. The bikes are rolled out of the garage and started. You'll notice the extra heft of the Valkyrie and Victory when wheeling them around in the driveway, and the three sub-600-pounders -- the Jackal, the Magna and the T-Bird -- will be easier to push. You have to retract the Guzzi's long sidestand before the engine will respond to its starter button. But once you have done that, the Guzzi -- like the other two fuel-injected bikes (the BMW and Victory) -- will start immediately. The Victory needs its fast-idle lever on the handlebar deployed to keep it running hands-off on cold mornings. The carbureted bikes start pretty readily and run smoothly without choke after a few minutes.
Most of the bikes had a sort of mild cruiser riding position, with your feet slightly in front of you, which most riders found pleasing, although the Guzzi's pegs were slightly higher than some liked. The Triumph varied from this norm on the sportbike end with its mild sporting position. It puts your feet beneath you and cants your body forward slightly to reach the low bars on modest risers. Your feet are the most forward on the Victory -- although most riders felt that the peg position, particularly in conjunction with the forward handlebar, was awkward. When combined with a saddle that firmly limits how far back you can slide, the pegs and bar gave the Victory the least-popular riding position. The Harley saddle also restrains you, though most riders declared the position to their liking. With their flat saddles, the Jackal and T-Bird Sport allow movement and therefore suit most builds. The Magna is the least roomy, but no one complained about feeling cramped. Thanks to its new saddle and handlebar, the BMW riding position found favor with all. Most liked the Valkyrie, which is roomy enough to let you squirm around also. Only smaller riders found it slightly bulky.
Valkyrie: Too big for spo...
Valkyrie: Too big for sport?
Blipping the throttle at a stop on the BMW or Guzzi makes the bike pull to the left slightly because of the torque reaction. The effect, which is more pronounced on the Jackal, is no longer detectable once the bike is moving more than a few mph. Though the Valkyrie also has a longitudinal crankshaft, this torque reaction has been eliminated by making some of the components, such as the alternator, spin the opposite direction of the engine.
When it's time to mount, none of these machines offer the ultra-low saddles of main street cruisers. The lowest seat in the bunch is the FXDX, at 27.0 inches, with the Jackal towering above the others at 31.3 inches. Though low saddles have a kind of reflexive popularity among cruiser enthusiasts, they also have their drawbacks, including reducing leg room and lowering your eye level. If you are short-legged the low saddles are important, but otherwise, they are simply for style. We knew, however, that these bikes would have high saddles because of the need to raise their chassis to increase cornering clearance.
Generally we found the riding positions enjoyable, though most riders commented that the reach to the low-rise V92SC handlebar was a bit awkward. This could be remedied either by rotating the bar rearward or replacing the bar. The new handlebar on the Euro was unanimously greeted as a significant improvement versus the standard 1200C's handlebar.
Longitudinal crankshaft orientation...
Longitudinal crankshaft orientation in the Guzzi (shown) and BMW create a torque effect when the throttle is blipped.
The E retains the flip-up...
The E retains the flip-up passenger pad/rider backrest.
The V92SC puts the rider's...
The V92SC puts the rider's feet fairly forward.
Triumph's triple has relatively...
Triumph's triple has relatively little flywheel effect.
Unless you are one of the lucky few, who live on a crooked road, you'll have to ride less exciting routes to reach twisty tarmac. For most riders, that means starting out in urban traffic.
Any of these bikes easily pulls away from the crush of traffic leaving a downtown traffic light, but they do it with different styles. The big twins -- the FXDX and V92SC, (as well as the R1200) -- have strong power at low rpm and plenty of flywheel effect to counter sloppy clutch technique. The FXDX makes the most power of the twins. The other extreme is the Triumph, with little flywheel effect and the tallest first gear. Fortunately, it has an excellent clutch also, so the extra slipping needed for a hard launch can be conducted smoothly. The Magna requires more revs than the twins to make a strong launch, but if you supply them, it can burn away from a start like none of the other bikes. With all those cylinders, the Valkyrie sounds busy but actually needs just moderate rpm to get away crisply; it has great low-end. As the Guzzi's displacement suggests, it is in the middle of the group in terms of low-end oomph.
Though it uses shaft final...
Though it uses shaft final drive, the Jackal demonstrates less jacking than the BMW or even the Valkyrie.
Crisp launches demand a controllable clutch, too. While the Harley lever requires a heavy pull and makes small hands stretch to engage it, it will hook up controllably. The BMW clutch is slightly abrupt and the Victory clutch seems to have slightly warped plates, engaging unevenly -- though it was only noticeable when you were easing away, not during hard starts. The other clutches all performed well, engaging progressively and disengaging with light pulls.
Most of our seven bikes shifted nicely. The exception was the Victory which, though slightly better than previous V92s, still makes a loud clank when a new gear is engaged. It also doesn't enjoy being rushed and grinds a bit if you try to make a quick shift. One rider complained about the BMW's shift action. All the bikes had toe shifters except for the Jackal, which sports a heel-toe design. It was a bit awkward and some riders missed an occasional shift because of the lever configuration.
The BMW had a combination of powertrain traits that proved annoying in urban traffic and elsewhere. Because of the 1200C's sensitive and abrupt throttle response, some unusual drivetrain lash, the normal jacking that accompanies a driveshaft, and poorly controlled suspension action, the bike was tough to ride smoothly at a steady speed in lower gears. Hitting a sharp bump displaced the rider's arm enough to move the throttle, taking up the drivetrain lash with a lurch, making the bike jerk or jack up and down on the suspension and moving the rider's arm again -- starting the entire process over. A bumpy street was best tackled in a taller gear, which lessened the effect of throttle changes and seemed to reduce the lash. This is overlaid on a slight tendency to surge at steady throttle settings in the lower gears. At least the ride is less harsh than on earlier 1200C models.
A different airbox and the...
A different airbox and the two-into-one exhaust give the SC's blacked-out engine about five more horsepower than the original Victory V92C
The V92SC was also plagued by some lower-gear lash (that is, play in the drivetrain) at low rpm and a stiff ride that drew complaints on straight roads and in the city. However, the Victory had a nice, progressive throttle response, so it didn't fall into the syndrome that plagued the BMW. Oddly, the Victory's lash disappeared at higher rpm.
Though the Guzzi and Triumph offered taut rides, neither provoked complaints. The other bikes delivered comfortable rides around town and delivered smooth throttle response.
To uphold the cruiser end of the equation, these bikes need some spectator appeal when you are herding them around town. Three bikes pulled the bulk of the attention. The Victory drew comments because of the unique brand, its aggressive stance, and unusual features such as the dirttrack-style 2-into-1 pipe. When some people inspected the bike closer, they didn't like the details, such as the welds on the pipe. Parking-lot pundits liked the distinctive style of the BMW quite a bit, and it probably drew the most admiration. The massive appearance of the Valkyrie also drew attention and awe. People are still surprised by that six-cylinder engine.
Soaking up a noticeably smaller share of attention were the FXDX and Magna. The subdued coloring of the Harley with its blacked out engine left its brand name the primary point of comment. The black color of the Magna also seemed to make the bike disappear, though those who commented generally regarded it as one of the most stylish and best-finished machines from our baker's half-dozen.
Two functional features of...
Two functional features of BMW's Euro are the abbreviated windscreen and the surprisingly bright mini driving lights.
The Guzzi drew little attention, and what it attracted most was curiosity about its engine design and unfamiliar name. The Jackal is fairly plain and looks like a budget bike. Except for the billet shift lever, little was done to dress the bike up. The bulk of the few comments we heard about the Thunderbird were nostalgic: "I used to have one of those. I thought they went out of business," was a typical remark. We'd say the BMW, which one enthusiast called, "a handsome piece of modern art," wins the pride-of-ownership competition.
The BMW, however, didn't do well in the aural test. The flat cadence of the Beemer's opposed-twin engine sounds unexciting despite the solid volume of the exhaust note. The Triumph was the most popular of the multis; several riders liked the sound of the triple. The Valkyrie also tingled a few pleasure sensors. The Magna sounded "Okay, but not as cool as other V-4s." Some riders preferred the sound of 90-degree V-twin in the Guzzi to the narrow-angle in the American bikes. Because of its prominent exhaust note, the Victory was judged to have the most in-your-ear sex appeal.
Heading for that favorite stretch of curvy road, pick up the interstate for the run out of town.
A chrome guard protects the...
A chrome guard protects the BMW's valve covers.
Accelerating up the on-ramp, the Valkyrie asserts itself when the throttles are rolled open to the stops. It blasts ahead of the rest of the pack with the Magna close behind. One of the pleasant discoveries of this test was that this Valkyrie displayed the muscle of early versions of the bike. Our last two samples felt and tested slower than our first edition -- and slower than this one. This bike feels approximately ten horsepower stronger than our last tested Valkyrie, and it is the horsepower champ here. As the quarter-mile times show, the Thunderbird is third quickest in all-out acceleration, with the Jackal, an 1100 twin, surprisingly, edging ahead of the FXDX and Victory. The BMW brings up the rear. These sorts of full-bore acceleration trials will make you miss a tachometer on the two 1100s. We wished for one particularly on the Jackal after the speedometer stopped working (which made it impossible to get a reliable top-gear roll-on figure or calculate fuel mileage unless it was paced by another bike all the way between fill-ups).
In part because of its gearing, the Triumph edges ahead in top-gear acceleration, making it the highway-acceleration champ for people who hate to downshift.
The Valkyrie's big six makes...
The Valkyrie's big six makes power and draws crowds.
If you want to hold the throttle open for a while, vibration will become an issue on the Moto Guzzi. Though vibration doesn't intrude at steady legal speeds on streets and highways, when you increase load by opening the throttle, the magnitude of vibration increases sharply. The Victory, BMW and Harley will alos shake slightly at high speeds, though they are fine at a steady highway pace. The three multis stayed smooth at most speeds and rpm. Vibration blurred the V92SC's mirrors on the highway, which combines with their position and shape to render them ineffective. The positions of the Thunderbird Sport and Euro also minimize your view.
Running down the highway without a windshield, the Valkyrie -- which puts you quite upright behind a relatively tall handlebar -- exposes you to the most wind blast. The sporty posture of the T-Bird reduces the wind pressure most effectively. The little, clear-plastic flyscreen over the Euro's headlight affects a small but noticeable reduction in wind pressure. Even with the lowish handlebar, the riding position of the Victory was less than ideal for resisting wind pressure. The positions of the other three offered a good compromise for extended rides at speed.
Tachs are needed in this class....
Tachs are needed in this class. The Harley's fuel gauge is the only tank-top instrument here.
Saddles were another matter. The crowded, crowned, narrow Harley seat got hard almost immediately. The narrow saddles on the SC and T-Bird make you squirm an hour or so down the road, followed by the Jackal pillion. We continued to appreciate the front-to-back roominess of the Jackal and 'Bird's seats, however. We were pleased also at how much better the Euro saddle suited us than the standard 1200C's perch, and it retains that cool (unless you're the one who has to sit on it for a long time) passenger pad that flips up to serve as a rider backrest. The Magna saddle suited most of us well, and the big Valkyrie seat was the best of the bunch -- although some smaller riders commented it was slightly wide for them.
Out on the open road, all but the Valkyrie could consistently deliver better than 40 mpg, which will get you across those long deserted sections in most remote areas.
Every Which Way but Straight
To provide an even playing field we ran all seven bikes around the same 12-mile mountain-road loop multiple times, swapping bikes each lap. Our loop starts out with a gently curving, moderately traveled road which becomes a tighter uphill trek with light traffic. That leads to a downhill, one-way (no opposing traffic) run on a small, virtually empty road with little room to gracefully recover from an error. The pace becomes progressively more demanding, allowing you to feel out the bike gradually before pushing for maximum sporting performance. In the process you get a taste of most sport riding challenges.
The unique blacked-out finish...
The unique blacked-out finish of the Harley was controversial. Some liked its distinctiveness, but others said it looked heavy.
We began with some long, smooth corners to feel traction and cornering clearance. The Jackal was the king of clearance. You had to be pushing the bike pretty hard to drag anything, and some riders never did. That speaks well for its Metzeler tires. The Triumph also let the horizon tilt a lot before anything but its tube-type Avon radial tires touched the pavement. In the middle, the FXDX, Magna and Valkyrie all offer respectable lean angle potential and give warning before anything solid drags. When pressed, especially in bumpy bends, the Harley and Magna felt a little less firmly stuck than the Jackal, T-Bird or Valkyrie -- all of which have better tires.
The BMW has decent clearance and quality Michelin tires, but its limp suspension reduced riders' confidence. Grippy Dunlop SportMax tires make the Victory feel well stuck in corners, although it was limited by the least cornering ground clearance in this group. It was the only one that routinely dragged anything solid. Riding ahead of it on a winding road can be disconcerting at first because the volume and variety of scraping noises may make you wonder if the bike's crashing. The Victory was also the only one to occasionally wallow, albeit very gently, in fast corners.
Our road demands more of the bikes as it gets tighter with quick back-and-forth transitions between slow corners and fast runs into off-camber, decreasing-radius corners. Quick transitions require responsive steering and a well-controlled suspension that settles immediately to let you commit to and hold a line. Four bikes stand above the others when the game is flick-and-stick. With the least weight and steering geometry biased for light steering, the Triumph turns in very quickly. In fact, one rider (who spends most of his time on sport bikes) thought that the bike steers too quickly. The rest of the riders simply found they could always put the Triumph exactly where they wanted it when entering a turn, arcing around the corner predictably and precisely with little input to hold it there. Good suspension control keeps the 'Bird steady once leaned over, too. And because both front and rear suspenders offer a myriad of adjustments ("It's got more adjustments than the suspension on the Sprint!" exclaimed one of our Sport Rider editorial counterparts), you can set it to match your weight and style.
Honda's 750 steers almost as responsively as the Triumph 900, and its precision and confidence in corners is limited mostly by its unexceptional tires, which are perhaps the worst of this group. It also stays steady once leaned over. Although the Moto Guzzi's suspension, which feels slightly taut on the street, comes into its own during aggressive cornering, its steering response is a bit slower than the Honda's. You have to lever the bar slightly harder when confronted with a quick S-turn. The Guzzi also gives you the most available bank angle (even with the throttles closed and the bikes lowered by shaft effect) so you can lean deeper than the others if a turn tightens up unexpectedly.
The Harley steers just a bit slower than the Guzzi, and its front tire and suspension provide a slightly less confident feel going into corners than the other three bikes listed above. Like the Triumph, the FXDX permits you to vary spring and damping settings at both ends to select the characteristics that suit you.
The sheer tonnage of the Valkyrie catches up with it when it engages a rapid-fire set of corners. Though the steering is impressively responsive and the big bike can be tossed from side to side with remarkable agility, the fact remains that you are dealing with over 700 pounds of motorcycle. This isn't the bike that you'd want to exceed the limits on, despite the solid grip provided by its tubeless radials. Its suspension matches the smooth ride with great control under cornering forces, and the only real effect of the shaft drive on handling performance is that cornering with the throttle closed reduces cornering clearance perceptively.
Significant mass also burdens the Victory in corners, but its ultra-slow, high-effort steering is a more significant limitation. When faced with a tight back-and-forth combination, the Victory was more likely to have to slow down simply because it couldn't whip from side to side as readily as the others. Its limited cornering clearance also slowed it down in the tight stuff. In its favor were those excellent Dunlop D205 radial tires and suspension that were much happier dealing with cornering pressures than with concrete-slab interstate highways. Once leaned over in a corner, the 92SC felt like it was on rails. The bike feels solid in corners, but it is also big and slow to respond.
By itself at the tail end of the group on wiggly roads is the BMW. The R1200 steers quickly enough to negotiate those transitions from side to side, but the poorly controlled suspension and changes in chassis attitude created by the shaft drive's jacking mean that it never seems to settle down. Holding a line was trickier on the Beemer than on any of the other bikes.
The BMW also suffers from its uneven power-control situation. Maintaining a brisk pace on a road spiced with switchbacks demands smooth, predictable power control. You want to be able to make quick, smooth downshifts, and you need to be able to change power settings smoothly without lash that allows throttle changes to snatch up play with a lurch. The R1200CE did not do any of those things. The R1200's abrupt throttle response is amplified by the slop created by gear lash. This aggravates the chassis pitching caused by the poorly controlled suspension and shaft jacking to make the Euro the least stabilized of our seven.
A flat spot in the Thunderbird Sport's carburetion created some hesitation in the transition from trailing throttle to acceleration, which could create a slight midcorner bobble if you were accelerating there.
Low to moderate engine speeds produce some lash in the Victory as well, though it mysteriously disappears at high rpm. You'll want to ride the Victory at high rpm anyway because the midrange power is a bit wimpy. We found that we had to shift much more frequently than we expected on twisty roads, almost as much as the Magna and Triumph, which make their power by revving higher than the other five bikes. However, the V92 has very heavy flywheels which require careful matching of engine speed during downshifts to avoid skidding the rear wheel. Fortunately, its very progressive clutch makes doing so easy.
The Valkyrie's upside-down...
The Valkyrie's upside-down fork design is a styling and functional success. Its brakes are powerful and controllable.
Downshifting the H-D also requires some careful rev matching, which will prove cumbersome to riders with small or weak clutch hands, though the clutch is progressive enough. For small-handed riders, adjustable-span levers would be a major improvement of the Harley. Flywheel was also a consideration when downshifting the Jackal, though less so than on the Harley. The BMW also required a smaller amount of care in this regard though its clutch was more abrupt. The multis were all more forgiving of clumsy downshifts because of their lesser flywheel masses, but riders who can't modulate clutch engagement may still encounter problems.
Besides downshifting, plunging into a corner requires controllable brakes, and this group is pretty strong in that regard. The Valkyrie, with its considerable weight and the strongest acceleration, was the most apt to get you into a corner faster than you liked. Fortunately, its tires and brakes can rein things in smoothly without adding to the drama. Some riders felt that they had to squeeze the front brake harder than they liked, however. Like the rest of the group, the Valkyrie's rear brake is quite controllable, so it isn't likely to lock up the rear wheel and upset the bike in an adrenaline-soaked moment arriving at a corner.
Light weight and strong, controllable...
Light weight and strong, controllable brakes stopping good tires let the T-Bird stop well.
With rear brakes eliminated as a significant factor in hard stops, the deciding factor during strong braking is the front brakes. The Harley and Victory front brake levers are most suitable for large hands. The Harley and Magna need firmer-than-average pulls, but for different reasons. The Magna's single-disc front brake is a bit under-powered and slightly spongy, though it didn't fade under the intense use of our downhill run. The Harley brakes simply like a firm pull, but they have plenty of power when you provide the input. Overall the top-rated brakes for power and control were the Victory's, which can give hard, controlled stops for most riders with just two fingers on the lever and are backed up by those grippy tires. The Triumph and Guzzi brakes were close.
Of course, the BMW also offers anti-lock braking, which can be priceless when you encounter coolant, sand or water spread across the road right when you need to brake hard. Just remember that the anti-lock won't save you if you over-brake while leaned over. The brake system's warning lights occasionally remained flashing after we started up and rode away, but turning off the ignition and reinitializing the system always remedied that.
As a group, these bikes should strike a harmonic chord for motorcyclists who feel that a motorcycle's appeal is as much kinetic as cosmetic. Reformed sport riders can rediscover comfort without surrendering the joys of bending through corners briskly. Cruiser enthusiasts searching for more excitement in their motorcycling lives will find it here in several flavors and price levels. Even riders who lack the interest or opportunity to attack winding roads can get better real-world performance -- stronger braking, quicker swerving, harder acceleration -- than concentional cruisers deliver. With some nurturing, we think the sport-cruiser genre has the potential to become a formidable segment of the cruiser market.
At least, that's what we are hoping. We'd like to do a lot more sport-cruiser tests.
Choosing one of these bikes means assessing your requirements and deciding how much weight to put on sport and how much on cruiser. None of the seven bikes tested perfectly captured the sport-cruiser ideal in our minds, but there are some that come respectably close.
There are two bikes that only graze the sport-cruiser target. Though it performs well in most situations, the Triumph Thunderbird Sport has to stretch to reach the sport-cruiser role. There is not much cruiser in this machine, which is more of a retro Brit standard than a cruiser. Viewed in that capacity, there is little to complain about -- and nothing to compare it to. As a cruiser, its styling and attitude come up short, and it's not at its best trolling the strip on a Saturday night. The 'Bird is much happier banking through the mountains on a Sunday morning.
As much as we like the new BMW R1200CE Euro, it doesn't really qualify as a sport-cruiser either. We were misled by its sporting touches, such as the handlebar and flyscreen, applied to this version of BMW's cruiser. Functionally, it's still a straight cruiser and represents the boundary on that side of the scale. Its suspension and power-control problems drop it well off the pace the other bikes set on twisty roads. But with those components adjusted, it could make a great sporting cruiser. In its current form the Euro serves better at a more casual pace--one that allows bystanders to appreciate its pretty detailing. As a mainstream cruiser, we think it is an improvement on the standard 1200C, and we'd pay the extra money to have one. The power train eccentricities, most of which weren't present on other 1200Cs we have ridden, would be a liability in any role.
That leaves five bikes to compete for the sport-cruiser title.
Moto Guzzi's Jackal makes it obvious that while the Italians understand sporting motorcycles, they still don't get the American concept of cruisers. The bike's looks are plain or worse, and it does little to instill pride of ownership. Nonetheless, the Jackal is fun to ride on a winding road, and the differences between it and the California make a machine that is much superior to ride. The controls are easier to manage, the position is better, and it retains the traditional Guzzi assets. Affordably priced, the Jackal makes good power, and its design is proven.
We continue to be fans of the Valkyrie. We have called upon it to perform as Honda's flagship cruiser (August '98), as a musclebike (August '99), and as a tourer (Summer '96), and the bike has always acquitted itself with honor. Though its sheer mass overwhelms the rider in slow corners, the Valkryie can hold its own in the faster stuff. It wouldn't be our first choice if mountain roads were the primary mission, but we wouldn't be disappointed, either. When you factor in all of the Valkryie's considerable other strengths, it's easy to see why we picked it as the best of the Flagship Cruisers. We are glad to find that the power of the original bike has shown up again.
Victory gave the sport-cruiser notion a name, and the components of its V92SC live up to the concept. Top-shelf brakes, suspension, and tires show the firm's commitment to the idea, although the bike's sporting side is limited by cornering clearance. The noisy transmission and somewhat awkward ergonomics also intrude, though we think you can fix the latter pretty easily. Its style most adheres to what most of us think a sport-cruiser should look like, and we enjoy the fact that it is still unique. Its suggested price is the stiffest of any bike here, although you are likely to pay more for the Harley.
Harley's FXDX and Honda's Magna (the oldest bike here) both deliver cruiser style and twisty-road competence. The Harley does so with the traditional look and sound of its 1450cc V-twin, which makes good power from low rpm. The engine is backed up with a solid chassis equipped with good suspension and strong brakes. Our major complaint -- the uncomfortable saddle -- is easily addressed, though its high price and the possibilities of a dealer mark-up and a long wait might diminish our enthusiasm if we were going to buy one.
The Magna offers stellar performance, more than making up for its 50-percent displacement deficiency with two more cylinders and a lot more rpm. There is nothing special about its chassis components -- in fact, the tires are mediocre by the standards of this group -- but the pieces were developed and fine-tuned so thoroughly that the suspension works like a more expensive arrangement. We would replace the tires and look for more effective brake pads, which would hardly make a dent in the additional $6000 the FXDX would cost. It would not even eat up the majority of the extra $800 we'd pay for the Jackal, the second most affordable bike here.
In the end, these seven machines span a broad scale on the sport-cruising spectrum. Almost any rider looking for a cruiser instilled with some degree of sporting spirit should find something to his liking in this group. He'll probably also wish for some things that none of the bikes offer.
We had a huge amount of fun with these motorcycles, even though the sport-cruiser concept has tremendous potential that remains untapped. We believe it's possible to create a bike that is both as much cruiser and as much sporter as the best on either extreme in this group. But don't wait for such a bike to arrive; you'll miss a lot of fun on one of these in the meantime.
HIGH POINTS, LOW POINTS, FIRST CHANGES
BMW R1200CE Euro
High Points: Much improved ergonomics, distinctive style, great finish.
Low Points: Abrupt throttle response and drivetrain surge, suspension needs better damping.
First Changes: Smooth out throttle response, upgrade suspension.
Harley-Davidson FXDX Super Glide Sport
High Points: Strong and responsive power, good sport-cruiser riding position, confident sporting handling.
Low Points: Uncomfortable seat, front end and tire a bit distant in corners.
First Changes: Install more comfortable saddle, mount stickier front tire.
High Points: Lots of power, responsive steering, good ergonomics, affordable.
Low Points: Mediocre brakes, fair tires.
First Changes: Better tires, try aftermarket brake pads for more power.
High Points: Exceptional power (again), comfortable, surprisingly agile and stable.
Low Points: A bit too heavy for serious sporting work.
First Changes: Two Brothers Racing triple clamp would speed up steering.
Moto Guzzi Jackal
High Points: Excellent cornering clearance, flat seat permits position change.
Low Points: Bland styling except for ugly parts.
First Changes: Put a real shift lever on it, customize some personality into it.
Triumph Thunderbird Sport
High Points: Best sporting handling, strong acceleration.
Low Points: Plain-jane styling, seat gets hard.
First Changes: Replace saddle, buy a cruiser for non-sporting work
High Points: Great tires, best brakes on a cruiser, nice exhaust note, solid chassis.
Low Points: Very noisy shifting, awkward handlebar arrangement, limited cornering clearance, steers very slowly.
First Changes: Adjust or replace handlebar, raise rear end to increase clearance and speed up steering.
Introduced in 1993 and unchanged...
Introduced in 1993 and unchanged 10 years later, the Magna really only shows it age with unimpressive tires and brakes that aren't as strong as they should be.
Friedman: The Magna grew in stature for me during this test. It's odd, but I had never taken that much notice of Honda's V-4 before this. It was nice enough to ride, worked nearly flawlessly, and except for the fact that it has a chain, had no noticeable shortcomings.
Maybe I was distracted by other newer bikes (which is almost anything) on the other occasions we tested it. Certainly the V-Max was a bigger attention-getter when it and the Magna showed up for our musclebikes issue. I expected the Magna to place respectably in this group, but I wasn't prepared to like it so much at the end of a day of romping around the same little triangle of demanding roads. However, somewhere on the second leg of its lap, having experienced most of the other bikes on the same loop, it became very clear that I was having a lot of fun and feeling pretty damn confident too. Some of the appeal is the engine which--for my money--is the best sport-cruising powerplant around, delivering plenty of acceleration, crisp shifting, a wide (3000 to 9700 rpm) powerband and light flywheels. (Will somebody explain to me what's the fascination with lots of flywheel mass?) The chassis isn't flawless, but I can work with the brakes and replace the tires. It is also a great ride when you are traveling, commuting or simply trolling. So it gets my vote.
The others? Well, I knew I wasn't going to fall in love with the Thunderbird or the Jackal when I first saw them. I did fall in love with the BMW as soon as I sat on it, and then, fickle bastard that I am, jilted it as soon as I rode it. The Valkyrie was pretty damn impressive...for a 750-pound machine. But when the turns get tight enough, the fat lady eventually stops singing. A fabulous motorcycle, but we have finally asked it to do a stretch too far in this comparison.
The Harley works pretty well too, but I just can't make an emotional connection with the FXDX. If it looked like the Deuce, of course... The Victory, on the other hand has plenty of visceral appeal for me. The sound, the look and that nice array of purposeful hardware are very seductive, but some of the charm gets scraped off every time I try to lean it deep into a corner.
There are lots of appealing motorcycles here, but the Magna fulfills my image of a sport-cruiser as well as any one of them, and it does it with a price even a motojournalist can afford.
Cherney: Of the two heavyweights, the Victory brings the most attitude. The V92SC is a hugely improved bike over the original V92. Loved the brakes, the sportily firm suspension, and the fat and grippy tires. Though bulky, the V92Sc handles pretty well for its obesity. Once you get this badboy wrestled into the turn, you're solid. Here's the thing, though -- the tranny sucks like a truck. Were it not for that one annoying detail, I might be crying tears of joy. Soooo close... Call it Best Hot Rod here.
The Jackal: What the hell? They blew their entire styling budget on a billet shifter and not much else. I looked at it, and I yawned. But then I rode it, and... I didn't yawn as much. It's a standard motorcycle with a competent motor, nice handling and great brakes. But nothing here will blow you away. It's fun to ride in canyons, but I wouldn't take it anywhere else. Best Yugo in the test.
This Beemer is haute couture, with sleek styling cues and swish graphic elements, including the 'ice blue' paint. This riding position is one of my favorites. Things heated up nicely in the twisties, until mid corner bumps set this thing a-rockin'. That jerky power delivery makes it more rocking horse than horsepower. Best Status Symbol here.
Though it's the tubbiest of our heavyweights, you wouldn't know it by the way the Valkyrie prances around twisty roads. It doesn't push its weight around so much as it implies it. You can't help but feel confident on the Valkyrie, it does so much so well. Though more cruisery than sport, (all that weight tends to catch up to the suspension) the Valkyrie is definitely a player. Fattest, Fastest Mother here.
I never thought the Harley could keep pace with the others in the canyons, or be comfortable doing so, but it did. And this engine and styling combination feels close to the heart of what we're trying to define here. The damn brake lever was still a bit out of my stubby digits, but when squeezed, it did the job. The seating position was spot-on for aggressive riding, but won't work as well for longer hauls. Best Name for a Sport-Cruiser Here.
Sure, it's sporty as hell, but the T-Bird Sport is not a cruiser! We rode it down twisty mountain roads all day, laughing all the way. It's light; it flicks; it has real oomph when you twist the wrist; it's stable and even comfortable. Suspension was a wee harsh for our large cruisery asses but that's easily remedied. (The suspension, not the asses.) I can't think of much I don't like about this bike except for the styling. Best Sportbike Here.
I always end up asking myself where the brakes are on the Magna. I never find out. Yes, yes, yes, the motor is excellent, the handling is nimble, the acceleration is smooth, the brakes are absent. Call it lack of good breeding, but I always feel uncomfortable perched atop this cruiser. It handled fine in the twisties, though the tires could be upgraded, but I never come away grinning like I do on the Valkyrie. Say what you will, my mind is made up. Now leave me alone.
Elvidge: This new "sport-cruiser" thing is confusing to me -- even the name seems a paradox. While most of the bikes in this grouping can be ridden in a more athletic manner than common cruisers, none of them approaches the heart-wrenching abilities offered in today's sport machines. Instead, it's the standard class that feels borrowed from. (Remember those good ol' bikes that didn't cost a wad or beg for customizing? The ones that could tour, corner and cruise all on the same road?) The Triumph, to me, is a sporty standard and not a cruiser at all -- and that's why it's the performance master of this class. Now, if what you're looking for is a cruiser that spits off a stop and corners without contact, the Magna is able to give you a little taste of two different worlds. It's the only orange in this fruit bowl that drips a little apple juice.
Trevitt: As a Sport Rider guy, my interest in this batch of sport cruisers is decidedly the "sport" part, although I will admit to enjoying a cruise down Sunset Boulevard the odd time or two just for the sake of cruising. The Triumph was the most sporting, but it's not my idea of a cruiser; unfortunately. It's more like a tarted-up standard. The Victory, with it's radial-wrapped 17-inch wheels and decent suspension, looks to have the most potential, but is let down by its lack of ground clearance and a motor that's just too much work to use effectively.
In the end, none of them quite hits the mark of my sport-cruiser vision. That would include something like the Magna's low, swept-back styling, good chassis and brake components (definitely 17-inch buns, big fork tubes, and dual discs), more ground clearance (what good is all that stuff if you can't use it?) and a motor with some jam (V-Max? Now you're talking). And while I know I won't hang with my sportbike buddies on a Sunday ride in the twisties, I'll have a blast and look good trying.
is Sport Rider's associate editor.
Brasfield: Although we tested seven sport cruisers, in the end, the comparison came down to three bikes: the FXDX, the Magna, and the SC. Looking at these choices reminds me of the childhood game of "which of these doesn't belong." Both the Harley and the Victory were designed to be sport-cruisers, but what's the Honda doing in here? It's been around virtually unchanged for eight years. Well, read on.
My top three choices for the sport-cruisers are: Second runner-up, the FXDX has a great engine and brakes. What hurt the bike was the terrible seat and the somewhat squirmy feeling front end in faster corners. First runner-up, the Magna, came within a whisker of being first on my list. The bike does nothing the best but everything well. Only in the braking department would I rank the Honda at the back of the pack. Finally, the Victory SC gets my choice as the best sport-cruiser. Although it's hampered by ground clearance limitations, the bike handles superbly (within those limitations), brakes well, accelerates briskly, and has the best sounding engine of the bunch. The fact that the SC has a unique look is another plus.
Although taking any of these sport-cruisers out for a ride is a blast, I always check for the availability of the SC first.
Blast Motorcycle Cruiser's former associate editor through his website www.EvansBrafield.com.