2001 Motorcycle Previews

What the manufacturers were rolling out in '01

This article was originally published in the December 2000 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Although a few manufacturers, notably Harley-Davidson and Victory, break from the herd, the remaining companies unveil their new models at the same time, during the week of the big European motorcycle show, which was held in Munich this past September. Within a few days’ time, we see all the new models from half-a-dozen manufacturers. (No, we don’t understand why none of the manufacturers dare to do an independent introduction at an earlier date and thereby claiming all the attention.)

The 2000 model year saw cruiser sales up 25 percent or better for many manufacturers. Harley continued to hit new high sales numbers, and Yamaha emerged as the dominant metric cruiser maker, edging out Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1500 as the best-selling metric cruiser with its Road Star.

But there was a rumble brewing. Everyone knew Honda wasn’t going to stand still after it fell to second place in sales behind Harley. When you think about it, that is quite a feat. Harley sells cruisers and touring bikes. So does Honda, but it also sells sportbikes, sport-touring bikes, standard-style bikes, off-road bikes, motocross bikes and scooters. Yet Harley sold more bikes, most of which are more expensive than a Honda. While Harley carefully avoided making a big deal about this accomplishment, Honda—once regarded as the undisputed sales leader in American motorcycling—had to be embarrassed. And it didn’t help that Yamaha also gained ground in many categories, with an awesome line-up in virtually every sector.

With some promotions and sleight-of-hand, Honda managed to claim it had returned to sales leadership by late summer, but that boast couldn’t be sustained if the company didn’t make the right moves in the right parts of the market.

Honda Strikes Back

One of Honda’s biggest problems was that the Gold Wing, the long-time king of the touring segment, had begun to lose its following. So, it was no surprise that the new 1800cc version of that bike was making news even before Honda announced it. The widely anticipated that the new engine, still a flat six, will power a new Valkyrie sometime in the future, but not in 2001.

Honda VTX1800
The biggest news among 2001 cruiser lines is Honda’s rompin’, stompin’ 1795cc V-twin, which boasts more than 100 horsepower and almost 120 foot-pounds of torque. It will arrive next summer. You might want to start working out now so you can hold on.Honda

Honda has been even more conspicuous in its absence from the big-twin cruiser arena, the hottest class in American motorcycling. To return to leadership, Honda needed to unleash a big twin that could kick ass and take names.

We were expecting a seriously big V-twin from Honda, and the company didn’t disappoint. As predicted, the company rolled out a liquid-cooled 1800cc (actually 1795cc or 109.5 cubic inches) 52-degree V-twin with staggered crankpins. The massive 101mm-wide pistons pump through a 112mm stroke (making more displacement per cylinder than that 427ci V8 engine we used to be so awed by). The mixture is blended by unique 12-hole injectors (made by Denso, not Honda’s Keihin) with 42mm throats, fed through three screw-adjuster valves driven by a single overhead cam, compressed at 9.0:1, sparked by two iridium plugs in each cylinder and expelled through a 2-into-1 exhaust system with a three-way catalyzer inside. Lubrication is from a dry sump located inside the crankcase above the transmission. The crankshaft weighs more than 41 pounds despite bolt-on counterweights to narrow it and reduce mass. The primary shaft also has balance weights to snub vibration. Called the Vanguard (which implies that it is the first of its kind), the engine claims to make 103 horsepower and 117 foot-pounds peak torque, with more than 100 foot-pounds available from 1700 to 5300 rpm.

Honda VT750
Honda also unveiled a new 750 V-twin, the Shadow Spirit 750, which carries a V-Star-baiting $5999 price and street-rod looks.Honda

To handle all that thrust, the hydraulically operated clutch has two shock absorbers to protect the five-speed transmission. The shaft final drive has a new driven flange design too. The alternator makes 300 watts.

The engine rubber-mounts into a fairly conventional twin-shock steel frame with an elongated 67.5-inch wheelbase. Dry weight is claimed to be 705 pounds. The front end uses inverted 45mm legs with 5.1 inches of travel. The wide 18.0-inch cast-alloy wheels mount low-profile Bridgestone radial tires, a 130/70 in the front and a 180/70 on the rear. A unique braking system with dual three-piston calipers on the front splits operation of the front calipers between the handlebar lever, which operates the front and rear pistons in each caliper, and the foot pedal, which operates the middle piston via a delay valve.

Honda VT1100C3
Honda’s nostalgic Shadow Aero 1100 abandoned its single-crankpin A.C.E. engine in favor of the smoother, more powerful twin-crankpin engine powering the Spirit and Sabre models.Honda

Perhaps to emphasize its “performance first” theme, Honda gave the bike, designated the VTX, street-rod styling, with a low swept-back bar, cut-down steel fenders, and dragster styling for the 27.3-inch-tall seat. The engine has an intense look too, with chrome covers on the sides of the cam covers where rounded-off triangle shapes echo the shape of the airbox, and milled edges on the fins. Honda stylists pay attention to headlight shapes on their cruisers, and this one gets its own pretty nacelle and multi-reflector lens. In addition to no-imagination black, the VTX will be available in blue and red prism colors (which change hue depending on how the light hits them) on the fenders, side covers and 4.4-gallon tank. Honda is making it easier for dealers to get whatever colors are in demand, so you are less likely to have to settle for a color you don’t want. Designated a 2002 model, the 1800 is expected to arrive at dealerships next summer, and apparently will be somewhat limited at first. Honda says it will have a “complete” line of accessories, though that may mean something different than it does with other manufacturers; the actual list includes a windshield, backrest, luggage rack, hard-shell leather saddlebags, a head­light cowl and chin cowl.

Almost lost in Honda’s headline announcements, which included an all-new six-cylinder 1800cc Gold Wing and the company’s first watercraft, was another new cruiser, the Shadow Spirit 750. It gets the same liquid-cooled single-crankpin V-twin engine as the A.C.E. 750 with a new street-rod style and a $5999 price designed to attract buyers looking at Yamaha’s V-Star 650.

Finally, the Shadow Aero, which in 2000 was the last Honda 1100 to have a single-crankpin V-twin, now receives the more powerful, smoother twin-crankpin engine of the Sabre and Spirit models.

Honda’s promise of even more new models coming in 2002 to complete the “three-year plan” announced a year ago immediately sparked speculation of a Valkyrie 1800 built around the new Gold Wing engine.

Kawasaki Rolls On

Kawasaki 125 Eliminator
The little Eliminator 125 has musclebike-style, but doesn’t back it up with real muscle. It will probably serve primarily as fodder for MSF training classes.Kawasaki

The biggest news from Kawasaki is that the Nomad FI has, at last, been given some of the innovations introduced this spring on the Vulcan 1500 FI. The most important improvement is the seamless 5.0-gallon fuel tank, which looks better and gives it another 25 miles or so per tank.

Kawasaki 800 Drifter
As on the 1500, vintage black has given way to head-turning chrome throughout the 800 Drifter, one of our favorite middleweights.Kawasaki

The new tank also will be fitted to the 2001 1500 Drifter, but that is just the beginning of changes for the Drifter line. Both the 800 and 1500 have a new look, starting with solo saddles, which give the bikes a cleaner look that more authentically recreates the vintage style each seeks to emulate. However, the Drifter’s style has been also modernized with more chrome on components such as the engine, fork, headlight, shocks and trim, which were previously blacked out. The 1500 has an available two-tone paint scheme in addition to black. The 800 comes in an eye-catching red.

Kawasaki 1500 Nomad
With five gallons of gas on board in a seamless fuel tank, the Nomad gets closer to the sort of range we expect from a touring-oriented cruiser.Kawasaki

The little news from Kawasaki is the introduction of its 125 Eliminator. An air-cooled, single-cylinder engine is wrapped in the Eliminator’s muscle­bike styling. It will be available in all states except California.

Kawasaki 1800 Drifter
Kawasaki hopes that somewhat slow sales of its Drifter series will be enlivened by an extensive restyling, accomplished with a solo seat and more chrome.Kawasaki

We have reason to believe that Kawasaki has one more new model up its sleeve. If so, it will probably show up next spring.

Suzuki's Mr. Nice Guy

With models bearing monikers such as Intruder, Marauder and Savage, we expected the next generation Suzuki cruiser to be called the Extortionist, Highwayman, Mugger or Molester. So we were surprised the latest Suzuki cruiser, a cleanly crafted 800 V-twin, was called the Volusia. That is the county in Florida where the Mother of All Motorcycle Gatherings, Daytona Beach Bike Week, is held every spring. It’s a nice break from these bad-guy names, and the actual motorcycle appears to be charming too.

Suzuki Volusia 800
Suzuki’s new Volusia combines roomy American-style looks with a milder version of the proven Intruder 800 V-twin engine. We expect the price to be attractive too.Suzuki

The style follows the big, long, low, wide and comfortable style of Suzuki’s 1500. It uses the same basic 805cc engine as the Intruder 800, hopped down to make more useful power at lower rpm. The changes include a single 34mm carb, milder cams and reconfigured intake and exhaust plumbing to put the torque peak at a mild 2500 rpm. To harness this tractability and lower rpm on the highway, the five-speed transmission’s top gear is taller, though not to the point of being an overdrive. It retains the shaft final drive of the Intruders.

A covered front fork and an oversized headlamp frame a wire-spoke front wheel with a 130/90-16-inch single disc brake, and the fat 170/80-15-inch rear tire is stopped by a drum brake. The single rear shock is preload-adjustable. The airbox actually houses emissions-suppressing gear. The wide, plush-looking two-piece seat is about 27.6 inches high, and the footpegs are set well forward. The passenger section of the seat can be removed easily, for a solo look.

The Volusia will be available around the first of the year in black/red or black/white, and Suzuki says that it will have an accessories line available for sale at the same time.

Yamaha After Midnight

Yamaha Road Star
The shiny chromed front end lets the Midnight Special shine on cruisers in 2001.Yamaha

Though it doesn’t have any all-new models, Yamaha introduced a pretty interesting variation of its successful Road Star. Yamaha reached back 20 years for the Midnight Special name that separates this elegant version of its big twins from the original model. The Road Star Midnight Special’s front end is coated in chrome from the handlebar clamps to the axle. It has a sleek, studded saddle. That 1600cc V-twin also receives a lot more chrome to further entice the eye, and more chrome highlights.

Yamaha V-Star
The popular V-Star returns with a greater selection of colors and floorboards for resting your tired dogs.Yamaha

Meanwhile, the V-Star 650 Classic gets floorboards and many more cool color choices.

BMW's Independent Style

Although there wasn’t an official announcement from BMW of its new cruiser at press time, apparently there will be a striking new version of the R1200C. A solo seat (which removes the clutter of passenger pegs too) and distinctive graphics readily identify this bike, called the Independent in Europe, from the other two R1200C variations. And the new bike retains all the features that make the BMW cruiser so unique. We are told that the Independent name may not be used in this country, which would be a shame. In our view, cruisers should have names, not just bland alpha/numeric designations. Think of it as the R1200CI, if you like.

BMW Independent R1200CI
A solo saddle, revised graphics and BBS wheels distinguish the Independent from the original R1200C.BMW

The biggest buzz about this latest offshoot of Beemer’s haute cruiser concerns the wheels—exquisitely styled aluminum discs from BBS, a well-respected aftermarket auto­motive wheel maker. BBS’s wheel designs for the Independent marks the first time the company has set foot on motorcycle turf, and we hear the results are stunning. An industry wag tells us the wheels are what sets this bike apart from other Beemers, and indeed, other bikes.

All other changes, such as the windscreen, handlebar and grips, and graphics, will be purely cosmetic and probably available through BMW as accessory items. Turn signals will be custom units, with colored lenses.

Other Announments

Excelsior-Henderson, which emerged from bankruptcy in mid-August, showed its as-yet-unnamed new model at Sturgis. It is essentially the same model—a telescopic-forked variation of E-H’s Super X—that was included our big twins comparison test (August 2000). The company expects to be producing bikes again by early next year. E-H is also expected to announce a unique distribution scheme for its products, but there aren’t any details yet.

Harley-Davidson announced a new model built by its Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) unit. The Screaming Eagle Road Glide will be continued through 2001 with some changes such as a CD changer in the trunk. The more stunning CVO model was the FXDWG2, a highly customized Wide Glide, finished in a rich red paint scheme with gold leaf inserts and a boatload of Harley’s own aftermarket pieces. H-D won’t make many, which will encourage buyers to cough up the $22,000 asking price.

As the decade turns, the pace of new cruiser introductions seems to be slowing slightly, but with bikes such as the new Honda arriving to stir things up, there is still plenty to raise our pulse rates.