2002 Cruiser(s) Of The Year

When you can't decide on one...

This article was originally published in the December 2002 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

Some years it's a simple task to pick the most momentous new cruiser, because the choice is so obvious. Other years it's difficult because there are just too many worthy contenders. This year, it's been more like a non-event. While there were certainly important releases—Harley's V-Rod, Yamaha's Warrior and Kawasaki's Mean Streak—the new crop left us a little cold. Perhaps we had grandiose expectations for the new breed of Performance Cruisers, or perhaps the contenders were a bit less-than—or more-than, if you're talking about the cost of the 1100cc Harley. If you were to query dealers they would say that sales of the newest, supposedly coolest cruisers were also less than expected. In fact, several times now, we've heard of V-Rod fire sales, where dealers are letting the alloy bullets fly at or under MSRP because they are otherwise collecting dust on showroom floors.

But, of course, one can't deny that the V-Rod is the most impressive design of 2002 and a mind-blowing benchmark for a company that spent 100 years becoming an icon in the name of tradition, not technology. And therefore Motorcycle Cruiser cannot let the V-Rod go unrewarded, even though we know it's not a great buy or a well-balanced package.

When we were debating about which bike should take honors, and not getting far since we were all sour on the others' choices, it dawned on me that the test bikes that see the most personal usage might be a good way to judge. For example, the V-Rod has been dressing up our basement shop for about 14 months now and it doesn't go home with someone every night. On the other hand, there are cruisers that hardly ever spend a night in the shop during their stay with us. They are the bikes we choose to ride in the real world—for our own personal comfort, pleasure and convenience. Among those are Harley's T-Sport, Deuce and Road King; the Mean Streak and Kawasaki Vulcans of all flavors, especially the Nomad; the Suzuki Volusia; Yamaha Road Star and V-Star Silverado 1100; Honda VTX and Valkyrie; and the BMW R1200s of all distinction (except the Montana because of its irritatingly edged windshield).

So for all the power struggles and pondering we have decided the only way to choose a Cruiser of the Year for 2002 is to choose more than one, for more than one reason. So here are the four categories: Best Design, Best All Around, Best Value and Best Friend (which needn’t be a model introduced in 2002, but rather, a well-worn favorite of the staff).

Best Design:
Harley-Davidson V-Rod
Harley-Davidson V-RodCruiser

We love the radical, alloyesque looks of the V-Rod almost as much as we don't like the bike's ergonomics. No one can deny it's gorgeous though, or that the greatest beauties are not always known for their conventionality. But even more than the V-Rod's sheer sex appeal, we love the 60-degree, short-stroke, dual-overhead cam and liquid-cooled V-twin engine that is happy to spin all day at 9000 rpm. The V-Rod has been selling well, although down from expectations, and the asking price of $17,095 was actually the selling price by year's end.

Best All Around:
Kawasaki Mean Streak
Kawasaki Mean StreakCruiser

For what you get—strong, modern looks, nice pull, good handling, great stops and immediate comfort—you can't do better than the Mean Streak at $10,999. This is the bike that beat out 11 of its contemporaries in Motorcycle Cruiser's Big Twins comparison (April 2002), including Yamaha's Road Star Warrior and Honda's VTX 1800R. The Mean Streak might not do any one thing extraordinarily well, but it does nothing poorly. It's a bike that anyone could buy and be satisfied with.

Best Friend:
Honda Valkyrie
Honda ValkyrieCruiser

Like a giant, chrome lovey, the Valkyrie makes us feel downright cozy when we get our greedy little hands on it. It’s a bike we will avoid returning until Honda says it’s counting to 10. It’s been one of the bikes in demand around our magazine offices since its release in 1996. In addition, it’s always been an accurate gauge to alert us that Cherney has a new girlfriend, since he’ll claw for it on the weekends he wants to dress to impress (and keep the cuties comfy). In 2002, the ultra-fast, rock-steady Valkyrie sold for just over $13K, a steal for such a legendary cruiser.

Best Value:
Suzuki Volusia
Suzuki VolusiaCruiser

Named our Best Middleweight this year, the Volusia is a bargain at only $6599. It offers believable big-bike feel, comfort one- or two-up, plus enough get-up to keep you going. A lot of the other bikes in this class feel good for only a while and then the owner is left wanting and waiting to move up to a larger configuration. Not so this classically styled Intruder, which will keep owners feeling quite satisfied, whether they’re touring or trolling. Yet beginners will feel comfortable with the Volusia’s light weight and manageability, making it a great entry-level option.