2004 Budget Cruiser Motorycles Compared: Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster, Honda Shadow Aero 750, Kawasaki 800 Vulcan, Suzuki Intruder & Volusia 800s, Triumph Speedmaster, Yamaha V-Star

America's best-selling motorcycles aren't big, expensive or dripping with horsepower and chrome. We comparison-test the Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster Custom, Honda Shadow Aero 750, Kawasaki 800 Vulcan Classic, Suzuki Intruder & Volusia 800s, Triumph Speedm

Consider the Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster, Honda Shadow Aero 750, Kawasaki 800 Vulcan, Suzuki Intruder& Volusia 800s, Triumph Speedmaster, and Yamaha V-Star—seven cruisers that are fun, efficient and affordable. Bikes that aren't little, yet aren't big. We used to call them middleweights, but after the recent paradigm shift induced by the arrival of Honda's 1800cc and 1300cc VTX and confirmed by the introduction of Kawasaki's bar-raising 2000cc Vulcan and the monstrous 2300cc Triumph Rocket III, "middleweights" are now 900-1400cc, instead of 650-1100cc. Since the newly reshuffled gang of 650-800cc cruisers assembled here is absolutely not limited to entry-level appeal, it seems only right to invent a new description. If we relate it to physical dynamics, we'd call it the "Lightweight Class," positioned snugly between featherweight and welterweight cruisers.

But then again, we could also just refer to this roundup as the "Best-Selling Class in America." Surprised by the lofty classification? Don't be. Cruisers from 650 to 800cc outsell all other sizes, including large-displacement bikes from Harley and all the Japanese marques. We could also refer to this group as the "Value Bikes," since the low prices vs. high efficiency/style/versatility weigh dramatically in the consumer's favor. In fact, these bikes are so many different things to different types of riders, we suppose you could call the class just about anything...except unappealing.

We were especially excited to reassess this group of cruisers in 2004 since Harley introduced a much-improved version of the Sportster 883, which eliminated some of the vibration and drivetrain issues that had kept the previous models from doing well in recent competitions. Honda's new Aero 750, with shaft drive and an updated A.C.E. engine and exhaust, was promising to stir up the mix as well. Kawasaki's Vulcan 800 has been the champ in prior years, outdone only by Suzuki's Volusia in our last comparison (available in the Road Tests section of www.motorcyclecruiser.com). The other Suzuki entry, an 800cc Intruder, which we fondly call Disco Bike, hasn't changed much over the last couple of decades, and while it might not be in step with its bigger, bolder brethren stylistically, it can sometimes surprise us with its sleeper appeal and cultish charm. This year we also added another previously untested and interesting opponent, Triumph's 2004 Speedmaster, the sportier version of the Bonneville America. Finally, we decided to include Yamaha's venerable V-Star 650, which perhaps should have been left in the smaller-capacity, entry-level cruiser category with bikes that more closely match it in displacement. But the thing is, it always, always kicks butt in that arena, outclassing the small bikes by such an extreme margin we thought it ought to have a go against the bigger blokes.

We wanted to do a little bit of everything with these bikes, so we decided to take them on an extreme Sunday ride (in addition to daily testing) that would include ridiculous urban traffic, hundreds of freeway miles, crazy twisties and meandering desert highways. Our destination was wind-torn Borrego Springs, California, where one can findWe wanted to do a little bit of everything with these bikes, so we decided to take them on an extreme Sunday ride (in addition to daily testing) that would include ridiculous urban traffic, hundreds of freeway miles, crazy twisties and meandering desert highways. Our destination was wind-torn Borrego Springs, California, where one can find>We wanted to do a little bit of everything with these bikes, so we decided to take them on an extreme Sunday ride (in addition to daily testing) that would include ridiculous urban traffic, hundreds of freeway miles, crazy twisties and meandering desert highways. Our destination was wind-torn Borrego Springs, California, where one can finde wanted to do a little bit of everything with these bikes, so we decided to take them on an extreme Sunday ride (in addition to daily testing) that would include ridiculous urban traffic, hundreds of freeway miles, crazy twisties and meandering desert highways. Our destination was wind-torn Borrego Springs, California, where one can find—at the right time of day—a tall drink and palm-thin sliver of shade.In this test, instead of droning on as we compare the bikes in a long-winded story, we've decided to separate them and talk about them individually, as well as how each compares to the others in the group. So say you are interested in just one or two bikes here; you can just scan right to them instead of dissecting the works.

Second Runner-up
Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster Custom

Harley-Davidson's 883 models are legendary, having turned the motorcycling world upside down when they were first introduced in 1957. In those times, the lightweight, aggressively tuned bikes were tough to beat. The latest versions of the 883 Sportster are newly competitive thanks to some much-needed mods, the most significant of which moved the engine to rubber mounts, thus cleaning up most of the Sporty's infamous vibration. Other upgrades include massive engine refinement, better finish, new brakes, a 21-inch front wheel, lowered suspension and reconfigured ergonomics. You can tell the Custom (tested here) from the standard Sporty by its larger fuel tank (4.5 gallons instead of 3.3), more forward footpegs, a skinny front wheel, silver powdercoated engine cases and a slightly higher price tag (about $1000 more than the standard version). The new frame (which has improved chassis rigidity by a claimed 28 percent) and other upgrades added 50-plus pounds to the cruiser's dry weight.

If you are familiar with the previous 883s, you notice a couple of things about the new version right away. First, it's way smoother. A little farther down the road you notice it's also a bit heavier and, at least on the Custom, the rear suspension is not very compliant. The lack of travel is a trade-off for the bike's extremely low seat height of 26.3 inches. The 883 is the largest bike in this comparison, both in weight and displacement, but when it comes to power, it runs about midpack, behind the 800 Kawasaki, Suzuki Intruder and Volusia, and about equal with the Triumph. We did enjoy it on twisty roads, however, when the stout chassis, high clearance and smooth drivetrain really worked in the rider's favor.

Smooth shifting, easier clutch action and solid braking are all subtle yet noticeable and appreciated improvements on the 883. After riding both the Custom and standard models, we'd recommend the latter for its fatter, more stable-feeling front tire, longer suspension travel, greater clearance, sportier riding position and, oh yeah, that lower price. We do like the looks of both 883 Sportsters. As one tester said, "This has always been a handsome, elemental motorcycle, and this new version is remarkably un-screwed-up."

Overall, the Harley Custom is a very much improved 883. Getting rid of that nasty vibration was just the cure, allowing the rider to experience this machine as the prince it is. The last time we did this comparison we had to draw straws to see who would ride the Harley on the long stint home. This year, it was one of the first to be claimed. The Harley took the third slot in our comparison this time, but it is one of the most improved cruisers of 2004.

2004 Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster Custom
Suggested base price: $7595-$8090
Wet weight: 625 lb
Seat height: 28.1 in.

Type: Air-cooled 4-valve V-twin
Displacement: 883cc
Carburetion: 1, 40mm
Transmission: Five-speed
Final drive: Belt

Front wheel: Wire-spoke, 19 x 2.15 in.
Rear wheel: Cast, 16 x 3.0 inches
Front brake: Two-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Rear brake: Single-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 39mm stanchions, 6.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.3 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.5 gal.

Fuel mileage: 51.4 mpg
Average range: 231 miles

Honda Shadow Aero 750 **

This year the Aero is the only 750cc cruiser in Honda's line. Gone are the Magna, Shadow Spirit and Sabre of the same capacity. The biggest news about this new V-twin cruiser is its use of shaft drive—something rare in the economy-minded world of entry-level cruisers. Most bikes in this class feature high-maintenance chain drive systems, except the Harley, which uses a belt, and the Honda and Yamaha V-Star, which spring for the high-end efficiency of a maintenance-free shaft. The engine, an updated version of the old A.C.E.'s, uses a single overhead camshaft, two spark plugs and three valves per cylinder, though it employs a single carb instead of the two found on the previous design. Power from this bike is adequate, and it fell in line where you'd expect it to—behind the 800cc units and ahead of the 650.

The shaft drive certainly answers the concerns of consumers searching for a trouble-free ride, and it does not create any notable jacking effect. It's an undeniable improvement over the messier, high-maintenance chains of yore. Handling on the Honda is straightforward and honest, and there's a decent amount of cornering clearance. It's an easy bike to ride, and one a beginner will feel confident on. Two testers mentioned vague front-end feedback on longitudinal pavement seams, though that is often remedied with a tire change. Suspension is soft overall, especially when compared to the other bikes in this class. Not a bad thing, though a heavy rider can bottom the rear end pretty easily. A passenger or a heavy load would worsen the problem. Brakes, again, were middle of the road, but they offered plenty of power. We'd like to see more lever adjusters.

Although it's certainly aimed to fit riders under six feet, everyone reported being fairly comfortable on the Shadow for short distances. The largest among us suffered the most, complaining of being cramped and crowded at the bum. That same rider noted a buzzing through the handlebar at 70 to 75 mph. Maybe he's just a complainer. It's true that everyone over 5 foot 10 thought the seat's rear step was too far forward, and we would promptly replace it.

The Honda was popular foremost for its good looks and attention to style. Two testers placed it in their top three for style, and one chose it as the prettiest overall. The only negative comments were pointed at the visible tank seam just ahead of the saddle and the treatment of the rear license-plate holder and light. Everyone had to agree that the overall look made the bike seem like it was worth more than it cost. And at $6200, we also had to agree it was a darn good deal. Therefore, the easy-to-ride Aero landed in fifth place, behind the V-Star, which is even a slightly better value.

2004 Honda Shadow Aero 750
Suggested base price: $6199
Wet weight: 577 lb
Seat height: 25.9 in.

Type: Liquid-cooled SOHC 6-valve V-twin
Displacement: 745cc
Carburetion: 1, 34mm
Transmission: Five-speed
Final drive: Shaft

Front wheel: Wire-spoke, 17 x 3.0 in.
Rear wheel: Wire-spoke, 15 x 3.5 in.
Front brake: Two-piston caliper, 11.7-in. disc
Rear brake: Drum
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 4.6 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.5 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 3.7 gal.

Fuel mileage: 42.8 mpg
Average range: 158 miles

Kawasaki 800 Vulcan Classic

It was no surprise that we all loved this motorcycle. It's a Vulcan. The Classic is one of four lightweight cruisers in Kawasaki's line, which includes the more chopperesque, basic version 800A, the super-retro 800 Drifter and the good-old-boy 750. The 750 Vulcan always rates surprisingly well in these comparisons—especially for its power and cornering prowess (plus, it gives the Intruder something to park next to). Unfortunately, the 750 wasn't available for testing, but its more classically styled stablemate kept the Vulcan torch aflame.

Just look at the Classic's full-fender packaging and finish quality and you know it's a step above most lightweight cruisers. None of the testers liked the pinkish-gray paint, but all praised the bike's attention to detail and overall visual balance. Those who hadn't ridden a Vulcan 800 before were blown away by its big-bike feel and smooth, willing personality. Those who are familiar with the bike were happy to have another go at its efficiency: competent brakes, welcomingly compliant, well-balanced suspension and good power from the counterbalanced, single-pin, 55-degree V-twin. It's a mite faster than even the Volusia, needing little forethought for passing or merging. Most of the other bikes here require downshifts for sudden momentum gain.

All of us were comfortable on this bike, and it probably has the best stock seat, though bum comfort remains a subjective issue. Certainly, the bike's ergos are roomy enough for all types of riders, and the Vulcan is well-suited to long stints and even some two-up touring. "This bike felt like Texas after riding most of the others," said one tester. The bars, pegs and seat hardly transfer any vibration emitted by the well-balanced engine. One rider noticed the tank buzzes at highway speeds, though it doesn't seem to matter much, since the rider has no physical contact with it.

Overall, this bike has huge appeal and echoes all the traits we have long admired in the Vulcan line. Classic good looks, substantial feel, a pleasant exhaust tone, attention to quality and mechanical efficiency and balance were all noted as this bike's high points. Testers reported few negatives aside from paint, a slight hingeing effect in fast sweepers (common on cruisers and benign on this model) and, of course, the messy chain drive. The Classic Vulcan comes in second place by a whisper behind the Suzuki Volusia, which has just a tad more to offer.

2004 Kawasaki 800 Vulcan Classic
Suggested base price: $6799
Wet weight: 575 lb
Seat height: 27.8 in.

Type: Liquid-cooled SOHC 8-valve V-twin
Displacement: 805cc
Carburetion: 1, 36mm
Transmission: Five-speed
Final drive: Chain

Front wheel: Wire-spoke, 16 x 3.0 in.
Rear wheel: Wire-spoke, 16 x 3.0 inches
Front brake: Two-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc
Rear brake: Drum
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single damper, 3.9 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.0 gal.

Fuel mileage: 48.1 mpg
Average range: 192 mi.

Suzuki Intruder 800

Yes, it's a throwback to the disco era. But you know how they say if you keep something around long enough it's bound to come back in style some day. That must be Suzuki's thinking. And you know what? It kinda works, because this bike is so truly retro, you almost have to dig it. Or dig a hole for it. That's how it goes for the aged Intruder—a love/hate thing. Of course, we're dwelling on the bike's visual appeal here and, well, its seating position, too, which is predicated by the chopped style, but once you get an Intruder 800 going, well, it's a whole 'nother thang.

First off, it's quick. The class king in terms of acceleration. The Intruder's liquid-cooled, four-valve-per-cylinder twin-carb engine pulls better than any cruiser under 1100cc, thanks in part to the bike's light weight of 477 pounds fully loaded with fuel. It's been known to do a 13-second quarter-mile when all these other bikes are pulling 14s and 15s (except for the same-era Vulcan 750, sadly unavailable for this test, which will also run 13s all day). Of course, the Intruder's lowish gearing also contributes to its very strong acceleration, and that makes the engine feel busy when you are riding at highway speeds. Though this clearly doesn't impinge upon its reliability (for which the Intruder has an enviable reputation), some riders say that they don't like it.

The Intruder also handles admirably in intense cornering situations—it's not hugely precise, but it's very stable and flickable, thanks in part to its light weight, but also to taut suspension and surprisingly ample ground clearance. Funny how the testers who rode the Intruder in the twisty sections of our ride suddenly reported new, fond feelings for the bike, ranking it close to the top for handling. Those who didn't get a spin in the fast stuff thought the suspension and handling characteristics were unsatisfying. This might have to do as much with the cramped riding position, forgotten when you're riding hard on curving roads. Interestingly, the 800 feels less cramped than Suzuki's same-style 1400 Intruder, which uses a more invasive handlebar. Brakes on the 800 were universally shunned as outdated, especially the rear, which offers little feedback. One tester did note an advantage to the system, citing enhanced control since you can get on the front brake hard with little fear of lock-up.

Such distinctive style will always be a love/hate thing. This nearly 20-year-old model is more cult item than new-world competitor, and it was unable to match the fresh-feel appeal of the more modern cruisers in this comparison. Despite its impressive power, high-quality finish and nimble second nature, it brings up the rear of our parade.

2004 Suzuki Intruder 800
Suggested base price: $6399
Wet weight: 477 lb. Seat height: 27.6 in.

Type: Liquid-cooled SOHC 8-valve V-twin
Displacement: 805cc
Carburetion: 2, 36mm
Transmission: Five-speed
Final drive: Shaft

Front wheel: Wire-spoke, 21 x 2.15 in.
Rear wheel: Wire-spoke, 15 x 3 in.
Front brake: Two-piston caliper, 11.6-in. disc
Rear brake: Drum
Front suspension: 38mm stanchions, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.5 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 3.2 gal.

Fuel mileage: 42.3 mpg
Average range: 135 mi.

Best in Class
Suzuki Volusia 800

And here you have it: The nearly disputed winner of our Lightweight cruiser comparison. It certainly wasn't a slam dunk, as all the testers admired the Kawasaki oh-so-nearly as much. What pushed the Volusia a nose ahead is its undeniable feel of substance—that big-bike heft none of the others can match. Also, the Volusia is the only stock bike here that's really ready to go with your passenger. Sure, the others will carry them, but this is the only bike that will do it comfortably right out of the box.

Introduced in 2001, the Volusia immediately wowed consumers with a raft of modern features and trim items, a long wheelbase and plush comfort for both rider and passenger. The liquid-cooled, eight-valve, 45-degree twin, a derivative of the elder 800 Intruder's mill with different styling cues, provides plenty of power for a bike in this price range. Only a squeak slower than Kawasaki's Vulcan, the Volusia packs more weight than any other bike here at 587 pounds. Its gearing is more rational than that found on the chopper-style Intruder, so you lose some of that off-the-line grunt, but you gain at freeway speeds, where the engine is more relaxed.

Suspension on the Suzuki is compliant and well-balanced—one of the best setups in the bunch. It provides a nice, plush ride on the highway, but it also feels stable in fast cornering situations. It suffers from less hingeing effect than the similarly suspended and sized Kawasaki thanks to a stiffer chassis that makes the Suzuki feel more planted and stable. The bike does feel its size, yet it steers easily, and the drive shaft causes minimal jacking. Brakes are strong—an updated system over the Intruder—though a drum on the rear did fade and required one adjustment during the time we rode it.

The Volusia is a bunch of bike for the money. Kawasaki's Vulcan did come very, very close to matching it, but it's a smidgen less machine for a smidgen more money. There's a presence about the Suzuki that can't be matched by the other bikes in this class, all bargains in their own right. One tester described the advantage as more "cuddly" than the others (and it wasn't Elvidge). Another said, "The thing almost belongs in another class—the fit, finish, paint, details and overall ride quality are simply excellent." Not a bad word was spoken.

And so the new titleholder of the freshly dubbed "Lightweight" class is the reigning champion from the old "Middleweight" guard. Seems Suzuki's Volusia can do no wrong.

2004 Suzuki Volusia 800
Suggested base price: $6599
Wet weight: 587 lb
Seat height: 27.6 in.

Type: Liquid-cooled SOHC 8-valve V-twin
Displacement: 805cc
Carburetion: 1, 34mm
Transmission: Five-speed
Final drive: Shaft

Front wheel: Wire-spoke, 16 x 3 in.
Rear wheel: Wire-spoke, 15 x 2 in.
Front brake: Two-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc
Rear brake: Drum
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.0 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single damper, 4.1 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal.

Fuel mileage: 39.9 mpg
Average range: 168 miles

Triumph Speedmaster

This bike arrived a little overdressed for the test, so please keep that in mind when you're browsing the photos. When we requested the unit, Triumph rep Todd Andersen, phoning from Georgia, said he indeed had one in California that we could borrow, but was it OK if it had a few accessories. "How many?" we asked. "Ah, it just says here, 'Lots.'"

The stock Speedmaster is a good-looking bike, but it was hard to see it for all the bling-bling on this unit. One tester summed it up when he said, "A pretty woman doesn't need a lot of jewelry." If we had our way we'd have sent back everything except the flyscreen, chin fairing and exhaust system, which kicked up a nice note but didn't set off too many car alarms. (For details on Triumph's accessory line visit www.triumph.co.uk.)

Moving on from the distractions, this is another very distinctive cruiser—not your classic American wannabe bike. The difference starts with Triumph's use of the classically British parallel twin, a 790cc DOHC rendition of the Bonneville's original 650 pushrod. The Speedmaster, like the America, uses a 270-degree crankshaft, a more raked steering head and a longer wheelbase than the base-model Bonnie. The Speedmaster's blacked-out engine, shortened gearing, flat handlebar and cast wheels position it as the line's sport-intended cousin.

The engine is one of the brutes in this bunch, punching off the line pretty well after a slight off-idle lag. Revving for a little more spin is the way to max efficiency with this bike. Handling is high-end. Steering at speed is all nimble and predictable efficiency, though at low speeds the head feels a bit cumbersome (this may have been exaggerated by the gigantic light bar on our bike). Suspension is marginal: tight out back, but a little dive-prone in front. We'd also expect more ground clearance from a sport-intended cruiser.

The Speedmaster's brakes are strong, but several testers complained about poor feel. The other consistent complaint regarded the bike's seating position, which miffed both short and tall riders. The low bar is too far from the seat for anyone without ape arms to reach comfortably, and the seat is stepped too early and abruptly. As with any distinct style, we're torn between admiration and disdain. Most of us do like the look of the Speedmaster, however, without the bling.

In the value column (it's the most expensive bike at $8500), the Triumph loses all the points it gained with originality, landing it second to last in our comparison. As one tester summed it up, "The Speedmaster is pretty much blown out of the water by the Japanese, but not so far out of reach that a Europhile might not think it's worth the extra cash." Most of us, being more budget/efficiency oriented, would buy the base Bonnie for a grand less.

2004 Triumph Speedmaster
Suggested base price: $8499
Wet weight: 566 lb.
Seat height: 28.3 inches

Type: Air-cooled DOHC 8-valve vertical twin
Displacement: 790cc
Carburetion: 2, 36mm
Transmission: Five-speed
Final drive: Chain

Front wheel: Wire-spoke, 18 x 2.5 in.
Rear wheel: Wire-spoke, 15 x 3.5 in.
Front brake: Two-piston caliper, 12.2-in. disc
Rear brake: Two-piston caliper, 11.2-in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.6 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.4 gal.

Fuel mileage: 42.9 mpg
Average range: 189 mi.

Yamaha V-Star Classic 650

This bike has remained one of our favorites since we honored it as "Cruiser of the Year" when it was first released in 1998. We still can't get over how much bike it is for the cash—only $5899 for this loaded Classic version and $5599 for the dressed-down Custom. It's hard to convince people on the street it's a 650, and even harder to believe it yourself once you ride the bike. Much of the illusion is in the details. For example, this is the only cruiser in this class with floorboards and heel-toe shifting. It also uses shaft drive, something unheard of on bikes under 700cc. The full-steel fenders, wide wire-spoked wheels, stainless-steel fork covers, concealed rear suspension and fat fuel tank also hint of larger displacement (and price).

As we said earlier, this bike probably shouldn't be pitted against big boys like the Harley 883 and Triumph, but it's such a hard worker, we couldn't resist. And you know what? It didn't come up a loser in any sense. The air-cooled, SOHC, four-valve V-twin delivers a surprising amount of smooth power via even throttle response. One tester said, "It was hard to tell this was the smallest-displacement bike here during most of our riding, though when I got it on the freeway, its shortcoming was more obvious." As with all smaller engines, the V-Star's requires you to use higher revs and stir the box to gain ample momentum. Thankfully, the gearbox is smooth and precise, as is the clutch feel once we adjusted the lever.

The Yamaha offers adequate stability and good suspension control, and it also steers lightly and holds a line well. It's irritatingly short on clearance, as seems to be the V-Star tradition. Brakes are adequate, though they may be overworked if you carry a passenger. Interestingly, the passenger accommodations on this bike are better than all these bikes, save the Kawasaki and the Suzuki Volusia.

In the looks department, we couldn't find much to complain about. "It has the stance and substance of a bigger bike," one tester said. "Finish and details like the floorboards really add to its stature," commented another. Seems hard to beat, right? Still, most of us (as with the majority of American consumers) prefer a little more power and status, and thus the V-Star came in with a fourth-place ranking in our test, right in front of the Honda 750, which is also an extreme value, costing only $300 more (but without the fat attitude, cast wheels, floorboard, etc.).

2005 Yamaha V-Star Classic 650
Suggested base price: $5899
Wet weight: 530 lb
Seat height: 28.0 in.

Type: Air-cooled DOHC 4-valve V-twin
Displacement: 649cc
Carburetion: 2, 28mm
Transmission: Five-speed
Final drive: Shaft

Front wheel: Wire-spoke, 16 x 3 in.
Wire-spoke, 15 x 3.5 in.
Rear brake: Front brake: Single-piston caliper, 11.7-in. disc
Rear brake: Drum
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.5 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single damper, 3.86 in. travel
Fuel capacity: 4.3 gal.

Fuel mileage: 38.9 mpg
Average range: 167 mi.


Seven bikes but only one choice. Well, I'll just lop off the four also-rans and settle on my three favorites. The Aero slides into third place here, and my choice is largely based on looks. The displacement deficit isn't as noticeable as you might expect. Next in line, the Volusia does almost nothing wrong. It's a big, huggable lump of a motorcycle with fabulous fit and finish. My heart goes out to the Kawasaki, though. The Vulcan simply reminds me how much I've loved this entire line of motorcycles throughout the years. The power is good, with a pleasant exhaust note. While the frame feels a little more flexy than the Volusia's in sweepers, it is a joy to ride in every situation we encountered.
Evans Brasfield

They're all such different machines, so personal riding style weighs heavily when choosing the monarch of this middleweight class. Amongst the semi-standards, boulevardiers and chopper throwbacks (hello Intruder), I found myself leaning heavily toward the power platoon, which, for me, included Kawasaki's Vulcan 800, the Suzuki Volusia and the Harley Sportster. All three pulled strongly on the freeway, and when dicing in the canyon, they were simply the most fun to ride. Triumph's Speedmaster had the beans, but an awkward riding position kept it out of a podium finish. Honda's Aero and Yamaha's V-Star, though well-finished and well-heeled bikes, just didn't have that extra juice when I wanted it.
Andrew Cherney

These bikes make so much sense it's no wonder they are America's best-sellers. All are very useful, easy to ride and totally affordable. Most are great-looking, too, offering so much more bike than you're paying for. My favorites, like the boys', are the Vulcan and Volusia, but they tie for first spot in my book. I'd ride either near or far. The crazy Suzuki Intruder has a strange endearing effect on me, though, and I find the same weird attraction to its 1400cc stablemate. It might be nerdy looking, but man, those Intruders can get up and go. Besides, you don't have to look at it once you're moving!
Jamie Elvidge

As delivered, there are really only two motorcycles here I'd actually consider buying: the Vulcan Classic and the Volusia. They are the only contenders with enough comfort to ride farther than the local Dairy Queen, and they also have the power, range and reliability required. Of those, I prefer the Suzuki, simply because its seat lasts longer for me (though I'd still suggest a Mustang saddle for traveling), and it has a shaft instead of a chain. It is also the best choice for a passenger—the only one if you are planning on riding any distance. The Volusia also provides a resounding "Yes!" to the question we frequently get about whether an 800 is "enough motorcycle."
Art Friedman

I admit that I got only one day with these bikesI admit that I got only one day with these bikes>I admit that I got only one day with these bikes admit that I got only one day with these bikes—but it was a day spent waiting for strong impressions. Normally in a group of bikes this big, I gravitate to one standout, maybe sharing my affections between two, but seldom have I finished a 14-hour ride with such a supple opinion. I do know the Intruder is so far past its sell-by date it might as well be fossilized. Suzuki, trust the Volusia to carry the 800cc torch. Otherwise, these are all fine motorcycles for the category. None has a deadly flaw; all perform adequately. Forced to choose, I pick the surprisingly quick-witted Kawasaki, which edges the Volusia because of its roomier riding position. I am a sucker for performance.—Marc Cook

_Additional motorcycle road tests and comparison tests are available at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com. For a complete listing of the motorcycle tests available, see the _Motorcycle Cruiser Road Test Finder.

Photography by Kevin Wing.
There is plenty of value in this class. The bikes are capable of providing reliable daily transport, and the best of them can also serve as long-distance travelers.
Harley's smallest is the biggest in this class.
The Custom version of H-D's 883 offers a bigger tank, stretched-out riding position, and more chrome.
We like the location of the speedometer. Centering the fuel cap means you must lift the bike off the stand to fill it entirely.
Rubber mounting the engine has transformed the Sportsters from uncomfortable bikes to real contenders, though it has added some weight.
Honda's 750 finally has shaft drive.
The Aero is tailored to shorter riders. The 2-into-1 pipe makes room for saddlebags.
Most riders said the Aero's wide handlebar—like the Volusia's and Vulcan's—was comfortable without being cumbersome during tight turns.
Now with a single carb and shaft final drive, the Honda feels a bit underpowered compared to the bigger machines in this group.
The Vulcan Classic is the original wide-styled 800.
Tough the pinkish paint scheme didn't impress, the comfort and performance of the Vulcan 800 still does.
Tanktop instruments make for clean lines, though they are out of your line of sight. The Vulcan's handlebar bend was universally applauded.
_Though it's a decade old, the Vulcan 800 powerplant still provides strong, smooth, liquid-cooled power. We wish it had a belt or shaft behind it. _
_It's the oldest bike here, but the Intruder is still a pretty example of the genre—and fast.
Suzuki's efforts to clean up the details of its Intruders have never been duplicated on production bikes.
_Putting the instruments up on the bar makes them easy to take in. The centered filler cap means that you want to sit the bike up straight on those occasions when you need to get all 3.2 gallons in the tank. _
_Unlike the bigger 1400 Intruder, the 800 is liquid-cooled. For 2005, the Intruder 800 will become the Boulevard S50, the "50" being its displacement in cubic inches. _
The Volusia remains our favorite 800-class cruiser. For 2005, it becomes the Boulevard C50.
Roomy, reliable, strong, and stylish, the Volusia is easy to like.
An accommodating handlebar bend contributes to the Volusia's stand-out comfort. Those big buttons make the LCD tripmeter easy to set with gloves.
Though slightly less peaky and powerful than the Intruder mill, the Volusia still has plenty of power to propel its weight plus rider and passenger and is running at a lower rpm doing it.
Under all the accessories, the Speedmaster's classic British lines stand out in this group of American-style V-twins.
Our Triumph was a classic example of over-accessorizing. Pieces like spotlights clash with the flyscreen.
Triumph's speedo was rated easiest to read, and a tach was fitted in the ugly chrome tanktop cluster.
The overhead-cam engine does a good job of mimicking the 650 twins of the 1960s, right down to the fake air-cleaner cans.
Looks like more than a 650, huh?
The Yamaha looks like a bigger bike, and it's the only bike here with floorboards.
Clean, classic, easy-to-read instruments top the V-Star's tank, and an offset fuel cap allows you to fill it completely on the sidestand.
The Yamaha's is the smallest engine here, giving away 234cc to the Harley, and you feel it on the interstates or when carrying a passenger.