2006 Suzuki Boulevard M109R Road Test

In The Mega-Twin Arms Race, Suzuki Shows That Less Can Definitely Make More.

First RideThe last to throw its hat into the mega-twin ring, Suzuki has also brought the smallest-caliber weapon to bear. But, if it needs to be said again, size isn't everything, and in this case the smallest gun packs the biggest wallop. Instead of simply pursuing big-twin power the old-fashioned way, with cubic inches, Suzuki turned to technology and efficiency, which, after all, is how the Japanese achieved success in the first place.

As discussed in the accompanying sidebar, the new flagship of Suzuki's Boulevard line is not simply another me-too cruiser, especially in terms of engine design. Instead of making it big and mean-looking, the Boulevard boys went for not-so-big and truly mean, as I discovered one day during a few hundred miles in Texas Hill Country, where Suzuki staged its press intro. Flapping along in the wake of Suzuki's 1993 World Roadracing Champion Kevin Schwantz, I got a pretty good sample of what this new muscle cruiser has to offer.

Some of Suzuki's goals for the M109R may sound familiar. Style and image are on every cruiser manufacturer's wish list. Other OEMs will also tell you that their bikes are "easy to manage." However, it has been awhile since anybody told us that they intended their new cruiser to be "the most powerful big V-twin." As soon as I pointed the M109R at an open stretch of pavement and pulled the trigger, it was obvious that the bike easily met that goal.

Looking at the specs, I expected the big Boulevard to be strong up top, and it is. From 4000 rpm, it simply rips. I had been riding the big, strong Yamaha Roadliner before the M109R and after I got back. As powerful as the Yamaha is, the Suzuki was clearly stronger and faster when you twist the throttle on the highway. It hits hard, and the rush builds until you come up against the rev limiter near the 7500-rpm redline.

However, I was pleased to discover that the engine also delivers down low, something I didn't entirely expect. At trolling speeds it seems as strong as other mega twins. The exhaust valve system and other tweaks give the M109R surprising low-rpm grunt. It pulls smoothly from under 30 mph in top gear. From one end of the powerband to the other, the power arrives predictably and seamlessly. I got one chance to check fuel mileage, which came in just below 30 mpg, but that was under far from ideal conditions. Suzuki says it will get almost 40 mpg on steady-speed highway jaunts. The low-fuel warning light came on with a bit more than a gallon remaining in the 5.2-gallon fuel tank.

Apparently this is the year everyone figured out how to get good, deep, full exhaust notes with legal mufflers. Like the Roadliner, the M109R has an exhaust beat so robust that you might wonder if the EPA changed its noise laws. However, with its crankpins staggered in the interest of primary balance, the cadence of the M109R is unlike that of a traditional single-crankpin narrow-angle V-twin.

The clutch handles the considerable horsepower with aplomb. The lever pull is somewhat heavy, but engagement is smooth and predictable. Shifting is typical of big twins, with a modest throw, mild clunking, and easy neutral finding. Suzuki chose shaft final drive, and there are shock absorbers between the engine and the rear tire, which may get a bit wound up and rebound with a lurch when you get on and off the throttle in rapid succession.

Chassis rise and fall with power changes is milder than on some other shaft-drive big twins. However, I quickly learned to carry power through corners to lift the chassis for maximum clearance. Unfortunately, maximum lean angle still isn't a lot. The nubbins poking out from the footpegs' undersides provide loud and ample notice that you are coming to the lean limit, but it happens much sooner than I was expecting on a bike with so many sporting cues. If you press the matter, the footpeg brackets connect much more solidly. By that point, you may have dragged your foot right off the peg. Unless you lift your heel up onto the peg, the pavement is likely to snatch your boot heel, which touches down about the same time as the footpeg.

Though a disappointment, the lean-limit issue was my only handling complaint. Bikes with big, wide rear tires like the M109R's have sometimes steered unevenly or needed a lot of muscle to keep them heeled over, but it took me about two turns to feel out the steering characteristics of this bike, which are quite neutral. Considering how easily, quickly and responsively this bike steers, I had trouble remembering that it weighs something like 740 pounds, full of fluids. Bikes this big and long just aren't supposed to change direction so immediately. Despite the light steering, the M109R has the stability of a large, flat rock. When I gave the handlebar a hard shake on the highway, the M109R immediately centered and stabilized. That stability also asserted itself in wind gusts and on bumpy pavement. Although it was a long reach to the outside handlebar grip, full-lock turns and other low-speed maneuvers were easy to manage. Suzuki learned from the outcry over the slightly short sidestands on the first Kawasaki 2000s, and made a point of saying that the M109R is easy to lift off its sidestand. I certainly had no complaints.

The suspension does its part to keep the M109R under control. Although riding it on familiar roads will give me a more precise opinion of how well it smoothes out bumps, I was favorably impressed with the comfort and control at both ends. With this much power and limited lean angles, even good suspension and that wide, specially designed Dunlop D221 radial tire aren't enough to let you get careless with the throttle coming off a corner. I got the rear tire loose a couple of times while leaned over and accelerating.

The tires did well when I was on the brakes hard, and the brakes themselves were as powerful as they promised to be with good feel and control. Dive under braking was not excessive or too sudden. The front brake lever has a thumbwheel adjuster for lever position, a nice feature.

The bike is delivered with both a passenger saddle section and the interchangeable seat cowling, and you can quickly attach the one you want for your ride. Suzuki reps were careful to say that the M109R is not really aimed at long tours, so I was happy to find that it was still pretty comfortable at the end of the day (though there were plenty of breaks along the way). The mild clamshell riding position puts your feet up front, which in turn puts most of your weight on your butt. Fortunately, the seat fit me well. It's not deeply padded, but the shape suited me perfectly and gave a little room to squirm.

But that's the only place I found wiggle room. Unlike floorboards, the footpegs don't give much latitude to shift your feet and change your leg position. The passenger pegs are also so high that I couldn't comfortably use them as an alternative to the rider's footrests. By the end of the day, my only real comfort complaint concerned my legs. I had no trouble reaching the ground, but some riders with inseams shorter than my 32 inches said that reaching around the bulk of the pipes made putting a foot on the ground on the right a bit dicey.

Even though the Boulevard M109R has three counter-vibration systems-staggered crankpins, a counterbalancer, and rubber engine mounts-there was still a bit of shudder at low and mid-range rpm on the bike that I rode, but not anything that I'd term uncomfortable. The mirrors blurred a bit though. At higher rpm, however, the bike became glassy smooth.

Though the small fairing-like headlight cover doesn't do much to deflect air away from the rider, my upper body was naturally canted forward to reach the handlebar, which sits atop 8.5-inch blade-style risers. Leaning into the wind that way, I didn't have to apply much force to counter the pressure at highway speeds with the 33.7-inch-wide handlebar.

Two instrument clusters serve up info. A bar-graph-style LCD tachometer tucks in front of the handlebar, behind and above the top of the headlight fairing. It includes an LCD oil-pressure warning icon in its face. Its case also includes the warning-light array, putting them high enough to catch your eye. Below and behind that, an analog speedometer rides at the front of the top of the fuel tank. It has two LCD windows, the left one with a digital clock and bar-type fuel gauge and the right one with a choice of odometer or either of two tripmeters. The speedo's location is easier to take in than some tank-top gauges and all of the functions read easily. The ignition lock is located on the left side of the bike, just below the seat.

The styling of the M109R involves a lot of covers with streamlined, teardrop shapes. With all those rounded edges, the bottom seam of the fuel tank jumps out at you a bit. The chrome section on the trapezoidal multi-reflector headlight's fairing grated a bit on me too. On the other hand, I really liked the flow of the side panel/seat cowl/tail section, which is capped off by a large low-profile LED taillight. Much of the bodywork, including the fenders, tailsection, and most covers, is plastic. Overall, the Boulevard M109R's finish is nothing to be ashamed of, but it isn't up to the standard of the new Yamaha Star Roadliner either. On the other hand, The Suzuki is about $1200 more affordable.

Sportbike crossover riders and power addicts like Elvidge are going to love this bike. I certainly enjoyed my day on it and look forward to getting a full-production model to test (the pre-production bikes sampled by the press were destined for the crusher). I wish it had a bit less weight, a bit more cornering clearance, more rearward footpeg location, and belt final drive, but I'm sure Suzuki had its reasons for the design. If the production bikes are anything like the one I rode, the M109R's handling, brakes, overall ease of use, and willingness to defy cruiser convention should win the biggest Boulevard all sorts of fans. We will post performance figures from the production model as soon as we have them on our web site at www.MotorcycleCruiser.com/road tests/m109update.