1600cc Class Motorcycles - The Forgotten Bunch

It doesn't seem like so many moons ago that 1600cc was the ultimate class. Throughout the '90s, bikes boasting anything more than 1400cc were the top dogs, the absolute kings of the heavyweight motorcycle hill. But like most things created in the 20th century, the weight of once-heady displacement numbers has gradually diminished over time. The former champs have been eclipsed by the mad rush of OEMs toward ever more horsepower and big displacement in the 21st century-and these days if your jugs don't pony up at least 1800 cubic centimeters of volume, you probably won't be invited to butt heads and spin tires with the big boys in the flagship class, where you have to play to be considered King Cruiser.

Call 'em what you want to-light heavyweights, heavy middleweights, Not Quite the Biggest Twins-but even though they hover between the megatwins and the 1300cc-and-under gaggle of cruisers, thisonce-lofty class hasn't become irrelevant in either scale or popularity over the years.

They still appeal to plenty of us.

Making the Cut
Six years ago any of these machines would have been a prime contender in our big-twins shootout. But when the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 showed up in 2003, it created a mondo-twin class that sucked in the other oversized V-twins. In addition to the V2K, the Honda VTX1800 and the Star 'Liner series (displacing 1854cc), Suzuki's new 109R bikes (with 1783cc of displacement) also play here. And because you can now break out heavyweight twins into these other subclasses- the supra-1800cc twins and the sub-1400cc bikes-it narrowed the number of machines eligible for this comparison, which we limited to V-twin-powered stock production cruisers with displacements between 1500cc and 1700cc. Right off the bat Honda was booted from contention, but Kawasaki has 1500 and 1600s, Harley has a full range of 1500s and Victory's entire line is stocked with 1600s. Suzuki is left with just a single 1500 after discontinuing the 1600 Marauder in 2006. For the test we plucked bikes that have stood the test of time, others that have evolved considerably over the years and a few newbies that made the scene after we last tested the class in 2004.

It took only a brief huddle to decide what we wanted from Harley. After eliminating the Softails for their price and familiarity, that left the Dynas. We hadn't been too impressed with the series in the past, but Harley has given it a noticeable makeover in the last two years, adding a sixth speed, stainless brake lines and other touches. We went for the new streetfighter-ish Fat Bob.

Kawasaki had a short list too-its Mean Streak has regularly been a staff favorite, but for configuration and styling the 1600 Classic appeared to be the obvious choice. When we got to the Star Motorcycle lineup, it was a no-brainer to pluck the 1670cc Road Star-it fit our parameters perfectly. And for 2008 it had been upgraded with fuel injection.

From the Boulevard series, there could be only one contender: the relatively unchanged C90. Formerly known as the Intruder 1500 LC, Suzuki's oncevenerable king of the hill now delivers the beans in Boulevard livery, the same 48-degree, six-valve, air/oil-cooled V-twin providing the motivation (it received fuel injection in 2005).

All of Victory's bikes are 1634cc, and we were split between the Vegas and the Kingpin for their more agreeable handling characteristics. Victory touts the 'Pin as a "rider's bike," so we went with the new-for-2008 Kingpin 8-Ball, which we hadn't yet fully tested.

And there they were-five for the road.

What you Get
The Fat Boy might be considered the prototype for the entire class, but we felt it was time for some fresh meat from the Motor Company-in the form of the new Dyna Fat Bob. The Boy may epitomize that singularly American chunky look, but the Bob goes the other way, with a 0.7-inch-shorter wheelbase, funky dual headlights, a bobbed fender and footpegs instead of the expected floorboards (you can choose from forward-mounted pegs or midmounts; we opted for the latter). Though it's least like the other bikes here stylistically, it retains some of the Boy's distinctive features such as disc-style cast wheels and fat tires (but sans the full fenders). The tank-top instruments remain, but the fork legs are exposed, and the rear suspension utilizes an adjustable dual-damper setup along with dual front-brake discs. Engine cases and other components get the dark treatment, while covers are polished. The Fat Bob uses Harley's rigid-mounted twin-cam, 1584cc, aircooled twin engine. Standard EFI and Harley's current-generation Cruise Drive six-speed transmission make for an impressive package.

Even though the Fat Boy wasn't invited to this dance, you can see its reflection in Kawasaki's Vulcan 1600 Classic, which cribs many of the same styling cues-right down to the headlight nacelle. Where the Vulcan steps up is with engine tech: Its liquid-cooled 1552cc mill brings overhead cams and four valves per cylinder instead of Harley's pushrods working two valves in each jug. The Vulcan's five-speed gets power to a shaft final drive instead of the Harley's belt, but like the Fat Bob, the Kawasaki uses external, adjustable twin shocks out back. The Kawasaki throws in convenient bits like a helmet lock, adjustable rebound shock damping and a tool kit under the locking side cover. Then there's the price-the Vulcan Classic lists for $10,699, while the Fat Bob starts at $14,795 for just a black stocker.

We hadn't tested the Road Star since 2004's Mega Twin test, where it was outclassed by its much-bigger competitors, the Honda VTX1800N and the Kawasaki Vulcan 2000. The Roadie had just received the updated 1700cc engine back then, bored out to 1670cc and filled with new 97mm pistons. Other tweaks included bigger 298mm front-brake discs, a retro speedometer and wheels with standard tubeless tires. It also received a more radical camshaft and a less restrictive airbox, but at that point the EFI wasn't yet in the mix, so we were happy to land this year's upgraded model-in fact, we waited for the fuel-injected version to build this comparo around. We feel the $11,899 Road Star is much more at home in this smaller class, too.

The Roadie's new electronic fuel injection features a single throttle body with dual injectors (one for each cylinder); a throttle-position sensor linked to the new ECu supplies info about throttle opening so the ECu can adjust ignition timing. To accommodate the new plumbing, Star fit the fuel pump and filter in the fuel tank, which squeezed fuel capacity from 5.2 to 4.7 gallons. The right handlebar pad gets a switch to select the functions appearing in the tank-mounted speedometer's LCD window. Star chose to deliver our Road Star in S trim, which ladles extra chromium onto the switch gear, frontbrake master cylinder, front fork and levers (and adds $700) but is otherwise mechanically a straight Road Star.

At $10,499, Suzuki's once-flagship cruiser, the Boulevard C90, is the deal here. Formerly the Intruder 1500 LC, Suzuki's big V twin got swept up into the Boulevard branding in 2005, becoming the C90 and incorporating a raft of updates. It's no longer the biggest V twin in the Suzuki line; that distinction goes to its M109R and C109R stablemates. The C90 retains the same 45-degree, SOHC mill of its 1500 LC predecessor, but it's now fuel-injected with a 32-bit ECu derived from Suzuki's GSX-R racebikes. The C90's classic cruiser styling echoes its C50 sibling's-it gets the same long, low profile. The soft, triangular- oval, chrome air cleaner is a signature feature of the Boulevard C series bikes, as is the abruptly staggered slash-cut exhaust. The C90 is just bigger. On the other hand, the redesigned, wider fuel tank actually has a diminished capacity of 3.7 gallons (presumably to make way for the EFI). The classic theme carries to the instruments-the speedometer and other indicators are atop the tank-and continues with floorboards and a classic laid-back riding position. The fuel filler's located below a locking cover, and the fuel tank is under the seat. The 16-inch cast wheels get dual discs up front with adjustable brake and clutch levers. Other niceties include a helmet lock and a button on the left switch housing so you can flash the high-beams.

With a name like Kingpin you'd think there was some extra tonnage involved, but in this company it looks positively svelte. We opted for the pared-down 8-Ball version, because it fit more closely with the other bikes here in terms of price and powertrain. The Kingpin also sports an upside-down fork, a wide 18-inch front wheel, floorboards and sculpted aluminum wheels. All that stuff gets blacked out-including body paint, the handlebar and the engine. Although functionally it's nearly identical to the standard Kingpin-carrying Victory's latest-generation fuel-injected, overhead-cam, 1634cc engine-the 8-Ball model rolls with a five-speed transmission instead, hence its lower price.

You'll also find Victory's usual single-shock chassis here and distinctive Spartan styling. Despite the fatter front tire, Victory stuck with a singledisc brake up front. The hefty, inverted fork legs are naked, and the single gauge in front of the top fork bears a speedo with an LCD odometer and tripmeter. Victory's $13,999 price point slots in between the Harley and the Japanese bikes, and the 8-Ball is $2300 more affordable than the standard Kingpin. Though the stock 8-Ball comes with a solo seat, Victory sent us an accessory add-on pillion and passenger-peg kit, which increases the price by $400.

When you Start 'Em up
Contestants selected, we laid out our gear and prepped the bikes. No matter how they might hint at their capabilities while resting on their sidestands, everyone knew that only a proper road trip could reveal these bikes' true character and competence.

Our crew of seasoned riders may have varied in physical measurements, but they averaged two decades each of riding experience under their belts. We picked out a 500-mile route up to California's Sierra Nevada range that served up an even mix of freeway, urban streets and scenic backroads. Keys in hand, we mounted up. Our normally irritating game of Find the Ignition became less so with this group of cruisers-the Harley and both Japanese bikes place the ignition lock right in front of the rider atop the tanks, and the Victory puts it down on the left side of the engine-almost as convenient. Only the Suzuki makes you search for the keyhole, placing it down under the left thigh. With fuel injection on all five, they were ready to go in a few seconds.

Out in the smoggy miasma of L.A. traffic, the two American bikes got dinged right away for their heavy clutch pulls. To be fair, this was an annoyance only in the stop-and-go conditions we encountered in the first hour or so.

The Suzuki's more unsavory clutch really felt the heat from testers, though. With a far-out engagement point and abrupt action, it proved nearly impossible to finesse at low speeds. One said it was "amazing it hasn't been corrected all this time." Otherwise, shifting was positive all around, with the Harley getting nods from the sportier riders who preferred a single shift lever to the other's heel-toe shifters and footboards. All five shifted predictably, though the American bikes were stiffer in that regard. The Kawasaki's adjustable control levers scored points, and its neutral-finder feature made getting out of gear a no-brainer, but the Suzuki's and Victory's neutral proved difficult to locate when the bikes got warm. Unlike earlier Victorys, the Kingpin's shifting got pronounced clonks only in first gear.

Just because they don't pack the biggest cubes anymore doesn't mean these bikes aren't still expected to deliver serious grunt. The Kingpin lives up to its topdog moniker with the strongest engine and the lightest weight here. The 100ci Freedom engine makes smooth, strong power-from way down low-that comes on hard as the revs rise. you can feel the claimed 85 ponies giddyap, and anytime we lined up for roll-ons on the highway the 'Pin easily ran away from the others. At the dragstrip ours ate up the quartermile in 13.15 seconds at 101.18 mph. And you get from 0 to 60 with civility-fueling is excellent with no surges or flatness.

The Harley's fuel-injected engine also offers great power and throttle response that arrives evenly all the way through, no matter what the rider does with the throttle. Although it looks like the most aggressive bike, the Bob came in second during speed trials, perhaps because of gearing. It went through the quarter-mile in 13.98 seconds, going 95.4 mph at the end. It pulls harder at all speeds than the metrics but just can't keep up with the Victory.

If you think the Star's bulk, heavy flywheel and shaft drive would hinder it here, you'd be somewhat right. The Road Star's fueling is much improved over the previous version and it responds smoothly to input, but 752 pounds is a lot of tonnage. It finished with a solid midpack performance, posting a 14.24-second time in the quarter-mile just ahead of the other two Japanese bikes.

The Kawasaki has a strong motor underneath a somewhat heavy throttle and flywheel action. An oversquare 102 x 95mm bore and stroke means a mostly punchy response but, true to that configuration, a bit less grunt off the line. The evenhanded, broad spread of power is counterbalanced so vibes are snuffed, and the single-pin crank can be felt asserting its character-which one tester called the "best of the metrics." If you're willing to whack the throttle the reward's substantial-the Vulcan's impressive at high-speed roll-ons down the highway, but its 754-pound heft- the most here-makes for a relaxed quarter-mile time, getting it done in 14.34 seconds at 89.04 mph.

True to its appearance, the C90 is no hot rod, coming in last in all speed and roll-on contests-though all the metric bikes ran relatively close. It got through the quarter in 14.53 seconds, going 87.45 mph at the end. However, power is controllable, though it's slightly disturbed by some lash in the drivetrain.

Since all the bikes here have counterbalancers save the Star and the Harley, none get your teeth clacking until your speed hits well past the limit. That said, the Star felt miraculously smooth even without vibe-snuffing countermeasures and its solid-mounted engine. Suzuki was smoothest by a small margin, but all the metric bikes delivered a fairly vibe-free ride.

How Do you Feel?
The Suzuki also got good marks for its compliant suspension on slab highways with small cracks, but the Star got good marks all around too, despite a softish front end. There wasn't much control front and back, but most testers agreed that at least the ride quality was evenly matched for both.

Both the Fat Bob and the Kingpin have a firmer ride and give more notice of bumps, but only large, sharp irregularities come through enough to really chafe the rider. The Victory surprised some testers with its betterthan- expected compliancy.

Kawasaki offered the least favorite ride on anything but glassy-smooth asphalt, thanks to an annoying lack of rebound damping even with its adjustable shocks. In good conditions the Vulcan was controlled and compliant enough, but it also has noticeable jacking under strong throttle inputs. All bikes offer preloadadjustable rear suspensions.

Even if no one bike immediately got the vote as overall favorite, other factors swayed opinions.

The Intruder 1500 always counted comfort as one of its strongest points, and the C90 carries on the tradition with its redesigned, flatter seat. The shape allows for the most room to move around on and proved comfy for all sizes of riders, even the tall ones.

Even though the Kingpin's handlebar is technically the widest here, its severely pulled-back shape makes it seem much narrower, offering good control and not as much exposure to the wind as the wider, swept configurations of the metric bikes. But the 8-Ball's firmer seat has a more scooped dish with a limiting shape and less support, so unless you fit it right you won't be happy after an hour or so. Most testers said it fit them OK. The Kawasaki saddle is disappointing because it looks so broad and inviting. Although the padding feels good initially, there's scant room to move around-a wedge at the rear keeps you from sliding back. As a result every one of our riders felt uncomfortably cramped on longer stints. The Kawasaki fell close to the bottom of the rankings for overall ergonomics also because of its extremely wide handlebar-35 inches. It gives good leverage for gentler sweepers but feels awkward during full-lock turns and just hangs you out in the wind at highway speeds, punishing every tester.

In terms of passenger support, however, the Vulcan was tops, with the Road Star saddle and Suzuki tied for second followed by the Victory's accessory add-on, with the thin passenger pad on the Harley dead last.

The Star's combo of seat width, bar shape (just a bit wider than Harley's narrow drag bar) and enough support earned it the most overall agreeable riding position by all riders. Even the tall boys could stretch out, though our tallest rider preferred Suzuki's even flatter dish most.

But there was enough legroom here for everyone. The Star and C90 earned the top marks, with the Kingpin and Vulcan close behind. The Harley, with its combination of drag bar and midmount pegs, canted pilots slightly forward and put most testers in a knees-up riding position. Only one tester felt it was truly comfortable; the rest of the crew wasn't impressed. Folks over 5 feet 10 inches won't be happy on this bike unless they opt for the forward pegs.

Coming About
None of these bikes could be called a canyon-carver, but . . . the Victory tucks into the turns much better than one would expect. By the looks of that long pullback bar, front-end feedback should be seriously lacking, but that's just not the case-the 8-Ball steers easily and lightly with just a touch on the bars doing the job.

With those big fat tires you'd think it was unwieldy, yet the Fat Bob turns easily and also handles and steers well in general, though the Kawasaki is tops in steering response. In terms of stability in side winds or parallel pavement seams, they all do pretty well, although the Fat Bob's disc wheels make it susceptible to side winds.

The Star steers surprisingly nimbly for its bulk, considering it's only 10 pounds shy of the much heavier-feeling Kawi. you could feel every ounce of the Vulcan's heft in slow-speed maneuvers, and that handlebar became a hindrance on full-lock turns. But out on the road the Classic was a veritable freight train of stability in speedier sweepers.

This classic cruiser class always seems to compromise on cornering clearance too, but Harley usually seems to get the balance right, and the Fat Bob doesn't disappoint-it has more cornering clearance than the other bikes here. The Star touches down first, early and often, while Vulcan Classic and Kingpin both come up short on lean angle. The Kingpin drags solid pieces right away, while the Suzuki almost matches the Fat Bob for lean angle.

But for braking performance, the Star was the clear favorite-the binders were universally praised for their control, feel and stopping power.

Its dual 310mm discs and fourpiston- caliper front brake give the Suzuki decent control, too, and the Kawasaki's two-disc setup was also deemed adequate. The Victory's front brake requires a stiffer pull with all fingers and even then is a bit underwhelming. Oddly enough, the bike's rear brake offers slightly more feedback with good power and response.

Even with dual discs, four-piston calipers and stainless lines, all testers felt the Fat Bob's brakes were just OK-ranking only slightly better than every other bike but the Star.

Ready for your Closeup?
There's no question style is a crucial component for most folks in the market for a cruiser. We couldn't really get a consensus about which of the two American bikes was most swooned over. Our testers liked them because they stand out from this lookalike crowd, which had adopted very similar (and classic American) styling cues and designs. The Kawasaki is a perfect example-it showcases a beautiful, sweeping tank and paint, but despite a few nice touches like the oversized headlight, some pieces come across as awkward.

Riders who like performance themes were taken with the Fat Bob, but those who prefer a more traditional style dubbed it "kinda funky." Most testers dug the Fat Bob's dual headlights and internally routed wiring (for a clean look) but felt they weren't enough to justify the price or its ergonomics.

For most testers the Kingpin's leanness was as unexpected as the Fat Bob's un Harley-ness. Everyone seemed surprised at how clean, detailed and original the other American bike was. There were a few riders who didn't get the Kingpin's vibe, though, and their eyes usually stopped at the rear fender, which stands off from the rear tire. The tank, pilfered from the slimmer Vegas, could probably stand to be fattened up a bit to better suit the Kingpin's style, but there are plenty of visual points to admire. The bike sounds good, especially from the saddle. Plus it's all black-and everyone agreed that is cool.

Despite its attitude, though, the Kingpin falls behind the others in convenience features. It's the only bike here without self-canceling turn signals or a fuel gauge.

If the Star came across as bland even with that cool gray-flame paint job and chrome, the Suzuki was downright invisible. Though everyone raved about the slick Star's instrument setup, console and fronk fork detailing, there was really nothing to write home about aesthetically. And because it's aircooled the Road Star exhaust sounds mechanical and a bit wimpy. The Suzuki's color, poorly finished details (an obvious tank seam, generic primary covers and plastic tank console) and general styling malaise didn't win it many admirers, though all agreed it offered the best bang for the buck here if you're willing to deal with some quirks. Too bad the limited range of the 1500 shortchanges the bike-don't plan on much more than 120 miles between gas stations.

What you Really Want
Out of the crate, our testers scored the Star Road Star as the best all-around machine. One tester opined, "It won the comparison for me not because of anything it did really well, but because it had no really glaring negatives." Perhaps the competition has developed more personality, too, because one of our guys was "surprised at how vanilla the Road Star is."

Victory's Kingpin finished up near the top for nearly all-surprising everyone. The Fat Bob simply doesn't belong in this group ergonomically, but many agreed the motor was loads of fun. Kawasaki's big Vulcan Classics have traditionally run near the front in our comparisons, but the poorly shaped seat and awkward ergonomics conspired to sabotage it here. But if you had a passenger to consider, they'd probably prefer the Classic to the stock Fat Bob. If you like being able to replace every part on your bike with something shinier, the Fat Bob is your boy. And if power and stand-alone styling matter to you, the Victory might make you pull out your wallet. But if money is an object, then you'd go straight to the C90.

If you're not keen on the bike as delivered, most of these models offer plenty of bolt-on accessory options to help mold them to fit your riding plans. Victory is steadily, constantly increasing its accessories line, and because the C90 has been around in the same basic form for over a decade, owners can find plenty of aftermarket support for it as well.

'Course, the Star might just be the bike that does it all-as is.

'08 H-D Fat Bob FXDF

MSRP: $14,795; $15,485 as tested (with Smart Security option)
Standard Colors: Black (other colors $345 extra)
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited mileageRecommended Service Schedule:1000 mi. initial; 5000-mi. intervals thereafter

Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air-cooled, 45-deg. V-twinDisplacement, Bore X Stroke:1584cc, 95.25 x 111.25mm
Valve Train: Overhead valves, 2 valves/cyl.
Compression: 9.2:1
Fuel System: EFI, 50mm throttle bodies
Lubrication: Dry sump
Recommended Fuel: 91 octane
Transmission: Wet clutch, 6 speeds
Final Drive: Carbon-fiber belt

Overall Length: 91.7 in.
Wheelbase: 63.8 in.
Handlebar: 31.5 in. wide, 1-in. diameter
Seat Height: 27.1 in.
Wet Weight: 705 lb.
GVWR: 1085 lb.
Rake/Trail: 29 deg./ 4.5 in.
Wheels: Cast-aluminum discs, 16 x 3.5 in. front, 16 x 5 in. rear
Tires: 130/90B16 D427F tubeless radial, front; 180/70B16 D427 Dunlop D221 tubeless radial, rear
Front Brake: 300mm dual discs; two 4-piston calipers
Rear Brake: 292mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Front Suspension: 49mm telescopic fork, 5.1 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Link-type damper,preload-adjustable, 3.1 in. travel
Fuel Capacity: 5.1 gal.

Battery: Sealed, 12V, 19 AH
Lighting: 55/60-watt quartz halogen headlight, position lights, bulb taillight
Instruments: Analog speedometer with LCD clock, odometer, tripmeters; analog fuel gauge; indicator lights for high beam, neutral, oil temp, engine check, sixth gear, low fuel, turns, Smart Security System (optional)

Top Gear Roll-On, 60-80 MPH: 6.08 sec.
Fuel Mileage: 31-42 mpg; 38 mpg averageAverage Range: 192 miles
Quarter-mi. Acceleration: 13.98 sec @ 95.4 mph

'08 Kawasaki Vulcan 1600
MSRP: $10,699
Standard Colors: Black, black/blue
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited mileage
Recommended Service Schedule:600 mi. initial; 4,000 mi. minor; 7500 mi.major; 3500-mi. intervals thereafter

Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air/oil-cooled, 54-deg. V-twin
Displacement, Bore X Stroke:1552cc, 102 x 95mm
VALVE TRAIN: SOHC, 4 valves/cyl.,hydraulic adjusters
Compression: 9.0:1
Fuel System: EFI, 36mm throttle bodies
Lubrication: Semidry sump
Recommended Fuel: 90 octane
Transmission: Hydraulic wet clutch,5 speeds
Final Drive: Shaft

Overall Length: 98.6 in.
Wheelbase: 66.1 in.
Handlebar: 35 in. wide, 1-in. diameter
Seat Height: 27.4 in.
Wet Weight: 754 lb.
GVWR: 1153 lb.
Rake/Trail: 32 deg./6.6 in.
Wheels: Cast alloy, 16 in. front, 16 in. rear
Tires: 130/90-16 Bridgestone Exedra G721 tubeless, front; 170/70-16Bridgestone Exedra G722 tubeless, rear
Front Brake: 300mm dual discs, two 2-piston calipers
Rear Brake: 300mm hydraulic disc, 2-piston caliper
Front Suspension: 43mm fork, 5.9 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Dual dampers,preload-adjustable, 3.7 in. travel
Fuel Capacity: 5.3 gal.

Battery: 12V, 18AH
Lighting: 7-in. 55/60-watt headlight, position lights, bulb taillight
Instruments: Analog speedometer with LCD clock, fuel gauge, odometer, tripmeters; indicator lights for high beam, turns, neutral, check engine, FI, low fuel

Top Gear Roll-On, 60-80 MPH: 6.19 sec.
Fuel Mileage: 33.2-36.6 mpg; 35 mpg avg.
Average Range: 185 miles
Quarter-Mile Acceleration: 14.34sec. @ 89.04 mph

'08 Star Road Star
MSRP: $11,899; as tested $12,599 (S trim)
Standard Colors: Black, gray
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited mileageRecommended Service Schedule:600 mi. initial; 4000 mi. minor; 7500 mi. major; 3500-mi. intervals thereafter

Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air-cooled, 48-deg. V-twin
Displacement, Bore X Stroke:1670cc, 97 x 113mm
Valve Train: DOHC; 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves/cyl.
Compression: 8.3:1Fuel System: EFI, 40mm throttle bodies
Lubrication: Wet sump
Recommended Fuel: 90 octane
Transmission: Multiplate wet clutch, 5 speeds

Overall Length: 98.4 in.
Wheelbase: 66.5 in.
Handlebar: 33.5 in. wide
Seat Height: 27.9 in.
Wet Weight: 752 lb.
GVWR: 1164 lb.
Rake/Trail: 32 deg./5.5 in.
Wheels: 9-spoke cast aluminum, 16 in. front, 16 in. rear
Tires: 130/90-16 Bridgestone Exedra G703, front; 150/80-16 Bridgestone Exedra G702, rear
Front Brake: Hydraulic 298mm dual discs, 4-piston calipers
Rear Brake: Hydraulic 320mm disc, 4-piston caliper
Front Suspension: Telescopic 43mm fork, 5.5 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Link-type damper,preload-adjustable, 4.3 in. travel
Fuel Capacity: 4.75 gal.

Battery: Sealed 12V, 18AH
Lighting: 12V 60/55-watt halogen headlight; position lights
Instruments: Analog speedometer with LCD clock, odometer, tripmeters; analog fuel gauge; indicator lights for neutral, high beam, low fuel, oil, engine check, turns

Top Gear Roll-On, 60-80MPH: 5.84 sec.
Fuel Mileage: 35.1-38 mpg; 38 mpg avg.
Average Range: 204 miles
Quarter-mi. Acceleration: 14.24sec. @ 91.8 mph.

'08 Suzuki Boulevard C90
MSRP: $10,499
Standard Colors: Blue/silver
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited mileage
Recommended Service Schedule: 600 mi. initial; 4000 mi. minor; 7500 mi. major; 3500-mi. intervals thereafter

Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air/oil-cooled, 45-deg. V-twin
Displacement, Bore X Stroke:1462cc, 96.0 x 101mm
Valve Train: SOHC, 3 valves/cyl.
Compression: 8.5:1
Fuel System: EFI, 36mm throttle bodies
Lubrication: Wet sump
Recommended Fuel: 90 octane
Transmission: Hydraulic wet clutch,5 speeds
Final Drive: Shaft

Overall Length: 99.4 in.
Wheelbase: 66.9 in.
Handlebar: 35.5 in. wide
Seat Height: 27.6 in.
Wet Weight: 721 lb.
GVWR: 1180 lb.
Rake/Trail: 32 deg./5.43 in.
Wheels: Machined aluminum, 16 in.front, 15 in. rear
Tires: 150/80-16 Bridgestone Exedra G703, front; 180/70-15 BridgestoneExedra G702, rear
Front Brake: Hydraulic, dual 290mm discs, 4-piston calipers
Rear Brake: Hydraulic, 290mm disc,4-piston caliper
Front Suspension: 41mm telescopic fork, 5.1 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Link-type damper,preload-adjustable
Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gal.

Battery: 12v, 18AH
Lighting: 12V 60/55W (H4) headlight, bulb taillight, position lights Instruments: Analog speedometer with LCD odometer, tripmeters, fuel gauge and clock; indicator lights for high beam, FI, oil temp, neutral, turns

Top Gear Roll-On, 60-80 MPH: 6.34 sec.
Fuel Mileage: 33-41 mpg; 38 mpg avg.
Average Range: 142 miles
Quarter-Mile Acceleration: 14.61sec. @ 90.08 mph

'08 Victory Kingpin 8-Ball
MSRP: $13,999; $14,249 CA; $14,647 as tested
Standard Colors: Black w/ 8-Ball decal
Warranty: 12 months, unlimited mileageRecommended Service Interval: 500 mi. initial; 2500 mi. minor; 5000 mi. major; 2500-mi. intervals thereafter

Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air/oil-cooled, 50-deg. V-twin
Displacement, Bore X Stroke:1634cc, 101 x 102mm
Valve Train: SOHC; 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves/cyl., hydraulic lifters
Compression: 8.7:1
Fuel System: EFI, 45mm throttle bodies
Lubrication: Semidry sump
Recommended Fuel: 91 octane
Transmission: Wet multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final Drive: Carbon-fiber reinforced belt

Overall Length: 99.9 in.
Wheelbase: 65.6 in.
Handlebar: 36 in. wide
Seat Height: 26.5 in.
Wet Weight: 693 lb.
GVWR: 1234 lb.
Rake/Trail: 32.8 deg./5.4 in.
Wheels: Cast alloy, 18 in. front, 18 in. rear
Tires: 130/70 B18 Dunlop 491 Elite II tubeless, front; 180/55 B18 Dunlop D417tubeless, rear
Front Brake: 300mm floating disc;4-piston caliper
Rear Brake: 300mm floating disc;2-piston caliper
Front Suspension: 43mm inverted telescopic fork, 5.1 in. travel
Rear Suspension: Single damper, preload-adjustable, 3.9 in. travelFuel Capacity: 4.5 gal.

Battery: 12V, 18 amp hours
Lighting: 55/90W standard halogen (H11-H8 bulbs), LED taillight, position lights
Instruments: Analog speedometer, with LCD window for odometer, tripmeter; indicator lights for oil temp, low fuel, high beam, check engine, neutral, turns

Top Gear Roll-On, 60-80 MPH: 4.10 secs
Fuel Mileage: 29-41 mpg; 36 mpg avg.Average Range: 164 miles
Quarter-Mile Acceleration: 13.23sec. @ 101.47 mph

Riding Positions

It's always great to ride a gaggle of bikes and switch off between them. In most cases they're not necessarily better or worse, just different. To say one is better usually comes down to the subjective pluses or minuses of a particular rider.

The Vulcan gets my most serious body blows thanks to its odd ergos. It'd be hard to design a riding position that takes a greater beating from the wind. The engine sounds cool, but it just doesn't "pop" compared to the others.

The Harley has funky ergos that can't be overlooked either. I just couldn't get comfortable on it. It's probably more the primary drive case's protrusion than the peg location, but other than that, its engine is sweet and the styling wonderful. I loved the dual headlights.

The Suzuki also takes a hit for the godawful looks of the chromed panels hiding the shaft and for the ridiculous clutch that was a major irritant in low-speed situations. The Victory rose to the top with its wonderful engine. It's a joy to rev from bottom to top, and it was fun to leave the others in the dust. But I couldn't overlook the weak front brake-just a single rotor.

This leaves the Star. It didn't have any serious flaws-everything worked as it should (especially the brakes), it was easy to ride, and it had classic cruiser styling. That it made it a winner for me. Bart Allan, 5'10", 185 lb
Inseam 32"

Harley: 3 stars
Kawasaki: 2.5 stars
Star: 4 stars
Suzuki: 2 stars
Victory: 3.5 stars

Although I loved nearly everything else about the bike, I found the Fat Bob's riding position (particularly footpeg placement) unworkable. The Vulcan's handlebars have a wheelbarrow feel, and it was fatiguing to stay forward on the bike at higher speeds or longer stints. The seat is heavily dished also, offering no options to move around. With an aftermarket seat and bars, perhaps this could be remedied.

So it was a three-bike race and a close one at that. Any of the three could honestly work-perhaps it'd depend on my mood come decision time. If I'm feeling practical, the Suzuki is a great bike, fits me the best and is the least expensive of the bunch. I didn't expect to like the C90, but it grew on me. If I get a little extra cash in the bank (or perhaps a midlife crisis), it's the Victory. Great motor, surprising comfort and definitely the most attitude. But for my hard-earned money, the Star is probably the best all-around bike. It was the second most comfortable for me and works very well in nearly every category. It seems the Star engineers really took their time, and all the little details add up to a great cruiser.
Marty Estes, 6'3", 210 ib, 34" inseam

Harley: 2.5 stars
Kawasaki: 3 stars
Star: 4 stars
Suzuki: 3.5 stars
Victory: 3.5 stars

For me these bikes break down into two subgroups: fast bikes and touring bikes. The Fat Bob and the Kingpin both have some serious power. The Fat Bob's weird ergos are a major negative, with slightly forward but raised footpegs that cramped my lanky 5-foot 4-inch frame. But, oh, how I loved twisting that throttle. While I don't care for the fenders, the Kingpin wins for rider friendliness with a comfortable riding position, good brakes (but a second front rotor would be nice) and a mill capable of generating warp speed.

For the touring bikes, let's scratch the Boulevard off immediately-a 3.7-gallon fuel tank? Not acceptable-there are places in the uSA where that isn't enough to get from one gas stop to the next. The Vulcan is just wide: The tank forces my legs apart, but then the floorboards position my feet inwards-not comfortable. That leaves the Road Star. The only flies in its ointment are the lack of cornering clearance and grabby front brakes. However, the Road Star does everything else very well-stable handling, a comfortable seat and ergos, decent fuel mileage and compliant suspension. Good around town and on the open highway? That's the bike for me. Evan Kay, 5'4", 159 lb, 29" inseam

Harley: 2 stars
Kawasaki: 1.5 stars
Star: 4 stars
Suzuki: 1 star
Victory: 3 stars

In a perfect world-or at least one where money grows on trees-my garage might hold a gleaming Pin Ball or a Fat Bob. Both fit me well (though I could do without the iron-grip clutches) and both offer wicked good fun in a sleek package with beaucoup grunt. Ear-to-ear grinning stuff.

Unfortunately their price tags are less than appealing to my wallet, which usually does the talking when I'm out buying big-ticket items. Fourteen large and up is a lot when all you're getting is a nice engine and good looks.

But the Suzuki's unbelievably attractive price tag doesn't sway me, either. It's a lot of bike for the money and plenty comfy, but its quirks are too glaring to get my serious consideration. That clutch is downright offensive, and a .7-gallon gas tank-are you kidding? And the too-heavy awasaki, alas, just doesn't fit me ergonomically.

As you've probably guessed, the Star quietly stole the how. Though I'd opt for the regular package rather than he S model we tested-I don't need $700 of extra chrome, hanks-the bike fits me, works well and looks good doing t. Plus it makes for a great canvas and has deep aftermarket upport, so I can really dial it to my taste.
Andrew Cherney, 5'7", 155 lb, 30.5" inseam

Harley: 4.5 stars
Kawasaki: 3.5 stars
Star: 4 stars
Suzuki: 2 stars
Victory: 4.5 stars

** Background Check: Rumble To The River **
Though we put these bikes through the usual day-today grind-commuting, urban errand runs and weekend jaunts-we had to pick a more adrenalinepumping destination for the cover photo shoot and to test the bikes' touring mettle. you couldn't ask for a better spot than the Kern Valley. It's just 175 miles from the Los Angeles basin, but Kern feels like a planet away from the brown surroundings of the LA area. Carved into the southern edge of the Sierra Nevada by the rough-and-tumble Kern River, the valley is surrounded by acres of towering pines and lofty fir and a host of natural wonders. Careening through the evergreens and flowing into Lake Isabella before trickling into the agricultural fields of the San Joaquin Valley, the Kern has more than 80 miles of shoreline and plenty of suitably scenic backroads nearby to let you take advantage of it.

Coming out of Bakersfield off Hwy 99, we took the most popular option-Hwy 178-to the town and eponymous body of water known as Lake Isabella. From there we could have stayed on 178 east and the long way around the lake, but we opted for the more direct route, Highway 155 north, which slices through Wofford Heights before depositing you into Kernville proper. We had photos to shoot, after all

From Kernville, we highly recommend you explore the northern roads. North of town, the main drag is called Sierra Way before becoming Mountain Road 99 (the Kern River Highway). It's a winding cruise along the turbulent river through a beautiful national forest; in fact this area is a National Monument (the Giant Sequoia National Monument, to be exact). The road's open seasonally, and even though the snowpack was melting we could still spot clumps of the white stuff in the hills during our visit in April.

Highway 178 may be the main artery transporting you into this little alpine playground, but it's not the only path around. One of the better secondary road options is Caliente-Bodfish Road, rolling out of Lake Isabella's southwest side. It starts out as Lake Isabella Boulevard right at the junction of 178 and then morphs into a tumble of fast sweepers and slow hairpins after passing through the town of Lake Isabella en route to the dusty little blip of Caliente and finally Highway 58. Be sure to pull over at the Silver City ghost town in Bodfish for a quick tour of the ramshackle buildings rescued from villages in the area (though rescued might not quite be the right word).

We made a lazy retreat out of Kernville by continuing east on 178 and skirting the northern edge of the lake, thus getting the most scenic bang for our buck. This slice of road delivers great sweeping views of the eerily still lake, but it's a good idea to hit it in the morning when you'll be rewarded with the best light. -Andrew Cherney