big ten
Cruiser

Battle Of The Basic Big Twins

Life at the top has been shaken up

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

It was just June of 1999 that we last collected all the big twins for a side-by-side cruise-off. The idea was to get all of the basic big twins, those without saddlebags or windshields, and see which was out in front of the best-selling class of motorcycles in America. When the thunder subsided, it turned out that the then-new Yamaha Road Star was the resounding favorite. We thought the issue was settled for a while.

But by the end of summer we realized we would have to revisit the class. That’s when Harley-Davidson introduced its all-new Softail series, with a new frame and a completely redesigned counterbalanced engine. This was particularly significant because the representative of the Softail family, the ultra-popular Fat Boy, had finished a solid last in June [1999]. Our experiences with other new Softail models indicated that the Fat Boy had changed radically.

Then Victory showed a revised version of its V92 in the form of the V92SC SportCruiser. Rides on this new model showed that Victory had also made huge progress over the last year.

2000 Excelsior Henderson
The prototype telescopic front suspension of the American X will be lengthened for production bikes, improving the limited cornering clearance of our test sample. Even without the leading-link fork, the Excelsior is distinctive.Cruiser

Finally, Kawasaki announced that it had a new version of its Vulcan 1500 Classic. Designated FI for its fuel injection, the new bike had many other new components too. The company also discontinued its original big Vulcan, the twin-carb 1500A, further shaking up matters in the most popular class in American motorcycling.

At first we thought we would just bring back last year's contenders, the top-ranked Yamaha Road Star, Kawasaki's original Classic, the Kawasaki Drifter and a Harley Dyna to face them off against the newcomers. But then Excelsior-Henderson agreed to supply a machine for the comparison. We were also getting a pile of mail complaining that we never tested any Suzukis (in part because there hasn't been a new Suzuki cruiser for a few years), so we also requested examples of that firm's 1400 and 1500cc Intruders. Once again, we'd have a 10-bike group to compare. Although the twin-carb Kawasaki 1500A and limited-production Harley FXR included in last year's comparo [June 1999] are no longer available, they were replaced by the Kawasaki Classic FI, Vulcan 1500 and the Excelsior-Henderson American X. Even before we had them assembled, we knew that those two bikes and the other two newcomers would shake up the big twin class.

2000 Excelsior Henderson
Stout stanchion (inner) tubes and a lack of stiction offer a compliant ride through the tele-fork (left). The curved tubes of the swingarm (middle) and the placement of the pretty airbox on the left side of the engine help separate the Excelsior from the V-twin crowd.Cruiser

All Together Now

It was, as one observer remarked, “quite a collection of rolling sculpture.” The 10 bikes lined up along the curb were undoubtedly the prettiest group of motorcycles we have ever assembled. You could probably spend all morning just taking in their details and lines, letting your eyes caress this carefully crafted fender or that beautifully hewn crankcase cover.

Though the 10 bikes fit into the same class, they fall in different styling categories. The most predominant is the fat look, which is best given its name by the Fat Boy, but perhaps best embodied by Suzuki's 1500 LC. Others that fit in this category are the Kawasaki Classics and the Yamaha Road Star, with the Drifter expressing a tangential version of this look. Broad saddles, fat tanks with instruments atop them, floorboards, plump 16-inch tires, thick-legged fork tubes and wide fenders are the hallmarks of this style. At the opposite end of the big twin styling spectrum is the Intruder 1400, with its stretched, narrow, chopperesque look. It has a taller front wheel with long, thin fork tubes, a small tank and a narrow seat, ending with the only backrest of the bunch. Another look, seen on the Super Glide and V92SC, appears a bit more aggressive and purposeful, the sporting sub-theme showing up in footpegs, long, flattened saddles, low handlebars and other features aimed at making them work on winding roads. The Excelsior is perhaps closest to the wide look, but reflects some of the attitude and function of the sportier cruisers also.

2000 Excelsior Henderson
Excelsior has designed-out some of the vibration we noted on early prototypes of the Super X, but it still shakes more than the other bikes here. No one complained strongly, though. The rest of the engine is very modern, with four valves per cylinder, overhead camshafts and a nicely sorted fuel-injection system. Note the ignition lock in the middle of the V below the tank.Cruiser

We might have spent hours looking at chrome, lines and paint, but we had something even better to do: ride them. What could top spending a few weeks riding America’s favorite motorcycles? So hop on.

Each time you climb on a new bike, you have to hunt for the ignition switch. The Fat Boy’s tank-top arrangement, which allows you to unlock the switch and remove the key, was our favorite. Yamaha’s switch (a conventional lock at the front of the tank top that also unlocks the seat via a cable) and the Excelsior’s unlock-and-remove-the-key arrangement under the right side of the tank were also popular. The FXD (behind the right side panel) and the Kawasakis (up under the left front edge of the tank) were the least convenient.

The four fuel-injected bikes (American X, Classic FI, Drifter and V92SC) hum or whine for a moment as their fuel pumps pressurize their fuel systems and are willing to start immediately without choke or fiddling. None of the 10 bikes are cold-blooded, but the Intruders and carbureted Vulcan took slightly longer to warm than the others. Most were willing to cold-start without choke during the spring days we were riding them.

2000 Excelsior Henderson
Among the styling touches aimed at linking the modern Excelsiors to their dearly departed namesakes of the 1920s is the singular instrument cluster atop the tank. A tach, fuel gauge and LCD odometer tripmeter are included in the gauge array. The left side gas cap unscrews but doesn’t lead anywhere, except to a tiny compartment that might hold spare fuses.Cruiser

When it’s time to pull away, you’ll know you have selected a gear on the V92SC. Despite a tightening and quieting of the gearbox, the Victory still shifts with more clatter than your average cruiser. The American bikes, particularly the Harleys, require a stronger clutch pull, and the 1500 Intruder required the lightest pull. That’s good because it has the least progressive clutch engagement. Like other 1500 LCs, this one’s clutch only dropped completely home at the very end of the lever’s outward stroke, then engaged abruptly. This was most noticeable when you were trying to get away quickly from a stop with a bit more throttle and rpm than a normal start would require. It takes a large left hand and careful lever release to make a smooth, hard getaway on the 1500 LC. Unlike our previous samples, this LC did not glaze its clutch plates or develop a noisy, extra-grabby engagement, even after our dragstrip testing. The 1400 did exhibit a tendency to “gronk” during high-rpm engagement—which signals glazed plates—but its normal engagement was much smoother. The V92SC clutch also engaged somewhat abruptly.

Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Dyna
The Harleys receive points for their friction-type throttle dampers operated by thumbscrews under the throttle grips which were handy on the long straight stretches.Cruiser

Few of the bikes had shifting issues. Some riders said they hit some false neutrals on the Kawasakis, but others called their shifting super-smooth, so it may be a matter of adjustment, ergonomics or rider technique. Cer­tainly finding true neutrals on the Kawasakis were the easiest, since they use the firm’s automatic neutral-finder. When at a stop in first, the gearbox will only shift into neutral. The Excelsior was the most persnickety about finding neutral. It was easy if you were rolling, even ultra-slowly, or if you shut the engine off, but tough during a stop with the engine running. The Fat Boy also usually required a few tries before the green light came on.

Low-speed power is a hallmark of a big twin, and all these bikes dish out pleasing quantities of low-speed grunt backed up with plenty of flywheel. Topping the list when you need to pull stumps are the Harleys, the Road Star, and for some riders, the Classic FI. The Victory also does well and has plenty of flywheel effect. Only the Intruder 1400, which has its powerband slightly up-range from the others and compensates with slightly lower gearing than the rest, was a bit off the mark in off-idle power. The overall power improve­ment in the Fat Boy from last year’s model impressed all who had ridden both.

Shakin' All Over?

Of course, the biggest of many differences between past and present Fat Boys is the smoothness of the current model. Last year’s vibrated almost painfully. The 2000 model is as vibration-free as the smoothest of the other bikes here—which are the Kawasakis. Though it also uses a counterbalancer, the Victory is not as smooth as the rest of the vibration-canceling crowd. The Yamaha pulses some but doesn’t have a really rough spot in the rpm range—perhaps because it stops at 4200 rpm. The Excelsior, the Intruders, and the Super Glide all have rough spots. The Suzukis vibrate with moderate magnitude under throttle, and the American X churns out the most vibration, though primarily above 3500. But even on that bike, which was most often mentioned when vibration was the topic, there wasn’t enough shaking to create genuine discomfort at more-or-less legal speeds.

Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Dyna
Having the speedometer and warning lights (especially for oil pressure) up in front of the Dyna's handlebar makes them easier to read. The engine is rubber-mounted, not counterbalanced.Cruiser

Saddles were a different matter. Hindquarters accommodations range from first class—on the Classic FI, Drifter and Intruder 1500—to ok only if you aren’t riding very far—on the Excelsior, Suzuki Intruder 1400 and Victory. In between are some good seats, on the H-D Fat Boy, the Kawasaki Standard Classic and the Yamaha Road Star, and one that is just fair atop the FXD. Of course, as Travelcade/Saddlemen’s Tom Seymour, who helped us out on this ride, remarked, all the seats can be improved. The aftermarket can turn the worst butt wedge into a comfortable cushion.

Turning an awkward or uncomfortable riding position into something that works for you might not be as easy. You could change the V92SC’s low handlebars with minimal cost and effort to reduce its somewhat long stretch, which might make the Victory less clumsy at low speeds but dilute its sporty appeal on a winding road. A handlebar swap might also reduce the cramped, sit-up-and-beg riding position of the Intruder 1400 (created by limited space to slide back on its somewhat narrow seat and its pullback bars) which means you ride with your arms bent and the “grips in your lap,” as one rider put it. The Intruder 1400’s riding position drew criticism from several riders, and even a bar that sets the grip farther from you won’t make a six-foot-four rider feel like he has much leg room. However, even short riders gave the 1400 low marks for comfort. The only bike here that fully accommodates tall riders is the Intruder 1500—truly a big bike. Though too spread-out for most small riders, the 1500 LC is the choice for riders who felt hemmed in on the other so-called big cruisers. There is more legroom, more real estate on the rider’s saddle section and more space between handle­bar and saddle than on any of the other bikes. Some also said its saddle step provided the best lumbar support. Next to it, the Fat Boy feels diminutive.

Harley-Davidson Fat Boy Dyna
The ignition lock on the Fat Boy is still placed conveniently atop the tank. That is a fuel gauge in the dummy left gas cap. The oval air cleaner a exterior chrome oil lines make the new bike easy to distinguish from the Evo model.Cruiser

However, for average-sized male riders, the Fat Boy, the Kawasakis, and the Road Star offer the most ideal ergonomics, with the Yamaha and Classic FI getting the most top rankings for comfort by managing to please both tall and short riders. The Drifter, with a seat that slopes up to the passenger portion rather than turning up in a step, doesn’t lock you into one position and thereby offers a chance to slide back when you feel the need to squirm. Though taller riders complained that its saddle step didn’t let them slide back where they wanted to be, shorter riders were right at home on the Excelsior-Henderson. With its flat handlebar and somewhat rearward footpeg location the Super Glide, even more than the V92SC, presents a riding position that is as much standard-style bike as cruiser. Medium-to-tall riders commented that the Victory felt a bit cramped between peg and seat, mostly because a pocket in the saddle prevented them from scooching back.

2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Classic
Five years after its introduction, Kawasaki's original Vulcan 1500 Classic remains an enticing ride.Cruiser

Other ergonomic details can im­prove or irritate, and sometimes it depends on the rider. For example, the Excelsior uses barrel-shaped grips, which are fat in the middle and taper down at both ends. Some riders liked them a lot and others were annoyed by them. Floorboards and heel-toe shifting suited many riders nicely, especially since they allow some flexibility in your foot and leg position. However, a few prefer footpegs, as used on the FXD, Intruder 1400 and V92SC. We even debated whether wide handlebar lever blades were more comfortable than thinner blades. A few pieces met with universal approval. Everyone liked the adjustable-span handlebar levers of the Kawasakis and Intruder 1500. The Yamaha brake lever can also be adjusted to a rider’s hand size, but it requires tools. The Harleys’ levers were particularly awkward for smaller hands. On long straight stretches, the H-Ds received points for their friction-type throttle dampers operated by thumbscrews under the throttle grips.

Suspension compliance also bears on comfort. None of these bikes were outstanding or particularly bad on large, sharp-edged bumps. We were surprised that the Excelsior excelled on small bumps. We knew that the leading-linked front suspension on the Super X (a sample of which we had along for part of our trip to Isabella Lake) responded well to small bumps, but we expected the telescopic fork, especially since it used large-diameter stanchions that have more fork-seal swept area to increase static friction, to be less responsive to small bumps. It was in the same league, however, as the link fork. The poorest suspension response to bumps came from the Drifter and the Victory. The latter seemed to pack up a bit on large bumps. At their worst, though, the Drifter and Victory were only average.

If you vary the load you carry significantly, you will appreciate the rear-suspension adjustability of the Excelsior and fuel-injected Kawasakis. With its seat removed, the American X permits you to alter the single shock’s spring preload and rebound damping (seven positions). The preload adjustment requires a spanner, which is not supplied. On the Drifter and Classic FI, you can accommodate a passenger or other load by pumping a small volume of air into the rear shocks and also adjusting rebound damping through four positions, which is as easy as turning the outer shock collars to a different one of four settings.

2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Classic
The Classic's engine is basically the same as the other Kawasaki 1500s without fuel injection, added compression and other performance changes. It has a large selection of accessories available, including several billet and chrome bolt-ons to dress up the instrument panel, which includes a fuel gauge.Cruiser

As The Road Turns

Obviously, suspension plays an important role in cornering behavior too. On twisty roads, however, firm suspension is often an asset if it keeps the bike from pitching during power changes, braking or other inputs from the rider or road. The top-rated bikes on mountain roads were the Super Glide and the SportCruiser. The Harley has an edge in cornering clearance (the most in this group) and quick steering response when entering corners. The Victory, though slow and slightly heavy feeling in lower speed corners, feels steady in fast bends, and the Dyna, though not unsettled, can’t quite match it. The Victory offers less lean angle than the FXD.

2000 Kawasaki Vulcan Classic FI
Almost the same, but completely different: The FI version of the original Vulcan 1500 Classic uses a different frame, suspension, saddle, fuel tank, headlight, and instruments. Besides fuel injection, the engine has been pumped up with more compression, a more sophisticated ignition system and other power-enhancing changes.Cruiser

The Excelsior also proved very handy when the road meandered. But it was good news/bad news. The good news was that it steered quickly and held its line well when leaned over—until something dragged. The bad news was that, unlike most of this group, the American X dragged solid pieces almost as soon as the floorboards dragged, and it wasn’t leaned over all that far when that happened. The boards didn’t fold up as far or as easily as on other bikes. If you didn’t take the hint and kept leaning, it began to lever the wheels off the pavement, giving a few riders more excitement than they wanted. Excelsior-Henderson plans to fit a longer fork to this model when it goes into production, so this should change. The firm estimates that the American X will have another 3⁄8-inch ground clearance, which is substantial. Note that the leading-link Super X has an edge here, not only because the fork is a bit longer, but also because it does not pitch forward during braking. (However, the Super X also doesn’t tolerate riders who ignore that first sound of contact.) Riders who had one of these moments tended to rate the E-H lower than those who had learned by watching their experiences.

2000 Kawasaki Drifter
The third member of the Vulcan 1500 family is the Drifter, which has a frame and fuel-injected engine package somewhere between the other two.Cruiser

Though their chubby style doesn’t pump up your expectations, Kawa­saki’s Classics, the Fat Boy and the Road Star rose to the challenge of the “Bodfish Breakdown.” You can immediately feel the differences in the two Kawasaki frames on a winding road. The original Classic may be dipped deeply into a corner with comparatively little effort and held there. It took more handlebar pressure to lean the Classic FI over until its floorboards were throwing sparks. However, in fast bends the FI felt steadier than the classic Classic, which sometimes responded to such ungentlemanly conduct with a non-threatening but noticeable wallow. But the FI was not as steady as the Fat Boy or the Road Star, both of which turn with modest effort and hold their lines well. Once again, the Y2K Fat Boy is a major improvement on the ’99 model with much steadier tracking through faster corners. Though the Road Star had less clearance than everything but the E-H, it is remarkably comfortable when leaned over with a floorboard making an awful racket. Riders who had never ridden a Road Star before exclaimed about its handling, impressed that so much noise was coming from underneath a bike that felt so settled. We continue to await aftermarket magnesium or other high-spark re­placements for the Yamaha’s floorboard inserts, which contact the road. We think there is an overlooked opportunity for spectacle here.

2000 Kawasaki Drifter
Most remarkable on the Drifter, of course is its distinctive styling created with those deep nostalgic fenders, a comfortable one-piece saddle styled like an old sprung seat, a huge fishtail muffler and finishes on the engine, instruments, headlight and fork legs that evoke those of classic American bikes produced during the 1940s.Cruiser

A few riders liked the way the Intruder 1400 turned into and tracked through corners, but most felt the suspension was too wimpy, especially since it has more jacking effect from its shaft drive than the other shafties. The majority said that the 1400 felt generally awkward and overworked when being pushed hard. It also drags solid components shortly after it first touches down. A few liked the Drifter, but most said it needed too much effort to bend into a turn and it felt unsettled when leaned over. The bike also drags relatively early. The same criticisms were leveled at the Intruder 1500, but more emphatically. With its considerable mass and wide tires, the LC takes a forceful push on the bar to get it leaned over and keep it there, and it feels a bit unsteady until you straighten it up again.

The 1500 LC redeems itself when the road opens and runs straight to the horizon. It is steady in cross winds, truck wakes and unfazed by parallel pavement grooves. None of the bikes required much attention running down a straight road though. The big fenders on the Drifter did seem to have some drawbacks in gusty side winds, however.

Braking Away

Mountain road adventures also put a premium on strong brakes. The Victory is the clear winner here. Its brakes live up the “sport” part of its designation, providing powerful stops with two fingers on the front lever. Though none of these bikes run out of cornering traction before they run out of cornering clearance, good tires can provide traction to make the most of strong brakes. The Victory delivers here too, with Dunlop radials that are much grippier than any other tires in the group. As a result, the Victory can stop harder than any of the others. The Excelsior has the second strongest front brake and the least powerful rear brake. This is not necessarily a bad thing, since over-braking the rear wheel and the resultant lock-up can cause it to skid out of line—a common reason for loss of control in panic stops. A few riders complained about the poor feel or power of the Drifter brakes, but the rest received generally solid marks, with an occasional dissenter. The changes to the Fat Boy are impressive in this area too.

2000 Suzuki 1400
The 1400 is not a big and fat ride.Cruiser

Newton’s 17th Law of Cruising states “What slows down must speed up.” Of course, some of these bikes speed up better than others. Three bikes stand out for their all-around muscle. We were surprised that, after the smoke had cleared at the dragstrip, the Fat Boy turned out to the bad boy, and the only bike that edged into the 13-second bracket, with a 13.97-second, 91.90-mph run. Though last year’s FXDX ran even quicker than that, this year the lighter FXD couldn’t do better than 14.03 seconds at the same 91.90 mph terminal speed as the Fatty. Third place, with the best terminal speed (often regarded as the true measure of horsepower) was the V92SC at 14.11 seconds and 92.30 mph. It also ran quicker last time (April 2000) we tested the very same bike, so the headwind all the bikes were bucking this day apparently slowed them down. The slowest bikes were the Excelsior at 15.08 seconds, and the carbureted Kawasaki at 15.03 seconds. These two bikes also brought up the rear in contests of top-gear acceleration, which we also noted out on the highway before measuring it at the strip. That top-gear-acceleration category continues to be the property of the Suzuki 1400 Intruder, thanks largely to its gearing advantage, with the Victory pulling ahead of the Harleys for second best.

How a bike delivers its power is as important as how much power it makes. Only the Drifter received multiple comments about lumpy carburetion, specifically its somewhat abrupt throttle response. The Classic FI, Harleys and Victory got overall praise for their throttle response and power characteristics, and the Yamaha was cited for its excellent in-town power delivery. This was another area where the Fat Boy has improved tremendously, having gone from poorest engine performance last year to among the very best.

2000 Suzuki 1400
Thin is in for those who like the clean, minimalist look of Suzuki's original big twin, the 1400 Intruder.Cruiser

Bits and Pieces

There are a number of detail features that attracted testers’ attention. The Victory’s all-inclusive yet unobtrusive instrument cluster received quite a bit of praise. Besides the speedo and inset analog tach, it offers information about electrical and engine condition, fuel quantity and permits adjusting of instrument backlighting, all using the same LCD window that shows odometer, tripmeter and a clock. Buttons at the front of the handlebar switches let you choose what’s displayed and to adjust the display. The Classic FI and Road Star also offers clocks on their LCD odometer/tripmeter displays, and the Suzuki 1500 has a bar graph for fuel quantity. The fuel-injected bikes, which do not have reserve plumbing, need fuel gauges, which are also found on the carbureted Classic and the Harleys. Most of the bikes—the Suzukis being the exceptions—offer self-canceling systems for the turn signals. Mirrors proved a source of annoyance on the Suzukis and Yamahas because of their multi-threaded construction, which requires you to have a wrench to make significant adjustments and come loose if not thoroughly tightened. The FXD’s mirrors were set too narrow to offer a satisfactory rear view.

2000 Suzuki Intruder
The ultimate is the fat look, Suzuki's 1500 is big, wide, and roomy.Cruiser

Both the Excelsior and the Harleys lack tool kits, something Excelsior says it might change in the future. You need an allen wrench to remove the American X’s saddle and additional tools to adjust the shock beneath. Our biggest failure was with the Victory, which lost the low then high beam of its sealed-beam headlight. The bike apparently vibrated the element apart. At the very end of the test, the Excelsior broke its horn bracket, another victim of vibration, though it didn’t depart the bike or stop working. One turn signal burned or vibrated out on the Fat Boy. Both Harleys had peeling trim on their tank dividers and minute oil seepage. All in all, there is little indication that you should expect to do roadside maintenance anymore, though the Japanese bikes still seem to have a slight edge for integrity.

2000 Suzuki Intruder
Though it is based on the 1400, virtually every part on the 1500 is new and the bikes are extremely different.Cruiser

You will need to add gas, however. The Victory was the thirstiest, with an average consumption around 35 mpg. That will get you approximately 150 miles before you need to find fuel. The Suzuki 1400 has the least range—you’ll want to find a gas station by the time you have accumulated 100 miles on a tank. The 1500 LC goes just slightly farther because, despite its appearance, its tank holds only 4.1 gallons. The Fat Boy found its traditional reputation for supreme fuel mileage and range being challenged by the Classic FI, which virtually matched it for mileage (both averaged better than 44 mpg) and range, since they both have 5.0-gallon tanks. However, the 5.5-gallon tank on the Excelsior makes it the king of range, even if it goes slightly fewer miles on each gallon. All three require premium fuel, however. The FXD and the Road Star will also let you travel 200 miles between gas stations, though the Yamaha does it on regular gas. All four American bikes left a puddle of fuel if you tried to fill their tanks aggressively. (The Excelsior has two removable gas caps, but if you remove the reverse-threaded left cap, you find nothing but a small compartment.) None of the 10 bikes used much oil.

You can find a vast range of opinions about the looks of these bikes. The Victory probably drew the greatest range of reaction, from a heartfelt “Ooooh!” to something similar but clearly not positive. It has the least polished finish of the group, but also the most aggressive style. People seem to take an immediate and strong like or dislike to the Drifter’s looks. You can always find people who act impressed by Harleys, but the more studied reaction to the look and components of the Dyna Super Glide was distinctly cool. The cleaner Softail style, cleaner finish, disc wheels and unique exhaust system definitely help the Fat Boy distinguish itself and justify the additional $4000 you pay to buy it instead of the Super Glide—which at $11,250 (and up) is the most affordable Harley big twin. The Excelsior impressed people for its novelty, uniqueness and general quality of finish, making its over-$15,000 price attractive for those who appreciate such qualities.

2000 Victory
The style of Victory's SportCruiser reflects its corner-carving intent.Cruiser

There is a distinct separation between American and Japanese style and detail of finish. The American bikes are a bit rougher, with the Victory falling into the rougher category and the Excelsior on the finished side of the Harleys. The Japanese bikes appear more carefully built, with every part obviously worried over and massaged. Some parts, such as the sprocket-styled cover over the Road Star’s belt drive pulley, seem to be the victims of too much attention. Though its look has fallen out of fashion, the level of attention to clean details on the Intruder 1400 remains exceptional, and its $8300 price is a bargain if it suits your style. In contrast, the 1500 LC seems sort of proletarian, with finish and detailing given less attention. However, its $9950 price point also puts it within reach of even more budgets than the other Japanese brands. The Classics and Road Star show the typical excellent finish and detail quality of their brands, though our testers perceived a slight edge for the Yamaha here. The Drifter, the most expensive of the Kawasakis, lost style points for its plastic fenders and stuck-on striping. In terms of quality of finish for the price, the basic Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic, at $10,000, shows why it is the most popular metric cruiser.

2000 Victory
The massive fork tubes up front, the one-piece saddle, the road-clearing 2-into-1 flattrack-style exhaust system and low-profile tires on 17-inch wheels reveal its twin concerns of adrenaline and aesthetics. The character was heightened by the blacked-out engine (bottom) and headlight shell, which, like the standard V92C, packs the most comprehensive instrumentation in cruising (top).Cruiser

Choose Me!

Picking one of these machines requires an assessment of not only what looks good and fits your budget, but also of your riding plans. None of our riders really enjoyed the Suzuki Intruders. The 1400’s dated style and awkward, uncomfortable ergonomics put us off. But if you are attracted to its quick acceleration on the road and impressive detailing, and can get comfortable with its ride and look, then the 1400, at approximately half the price of a Fat Boy, is quite a bargain. The Intruder 1500 LC was also at the bottom of our riders’ ratings, thanks to its ponderous feel and handling, unexceptional appearance, snappy clutch engagement, lack of customizing potential and generally unimpressive performance. However, many of our objections would be moot for a tall rider who planned to use it primarily for long hauls on straight roads.

Though a cut above the Intruders in our hearts, the Harley Dyna Super Glide didn’t impress many riders except on twisty roads, where it excelled. The FXD’s plain looks and uninspired ergonomics kept it off the tops of our riders’ rankings. However, it has vast customizing potential, is fun to ride on twisty roads and can be had—assuming you can find a dealer who isn’t tacking on a hefty buyer’s surcharge—for less than other Harley big twins. Our passenger rated the Kawasaki ultra-retro Drifter as her favorite, and it makes a good long-hauler for the rider too. Nonetheless, we were not enthusiastic about its throttle response and not too many in our group were smitten with its style. It is impressive that the Excelsior-Henderson American X—from a rookie manufacturer with some rough prototype components—could earn a rating in the midst of this pack of veteran cruiser makers. We suspect that it will only improve if, and when, Excelsior gets it into production. Distinctive style, a generally well-sorted chassis, strong front brakes, quality components and finish and an absence of the detail annoyances that can stain a new bike put it squarely in midpack.

2000 Yamaha
The Road Star has lots of visual appeal and squarely hits the cruiser buyer's perceived target, making it an immediate hit.Cruiser

Kawasaki’s original Vulcan 1500 Classic, the bike that took top honors in our first big twins comparison back in [February] 1997 remains in the top half this year, thanks to the same qualities that endeared it to us then. It’s comfortable and confident whether trolling in town, touring on a super-slab or tearing up a mountain road. It slips from the top because there are newer bikes that can deliver those qualities with better power, improved fuel mileage and slightly better chassis performance. It remains a bike we are always pleased to find in our garage. The new Victory V92SC SportCruiser edged out the Classic by offering something unique that appealed to many riders. Though it wasn’t as handy in traffic as most of the other bikes and its saddle was not comfortable enough for enjoyable long hauls, those factors become unimportant when you ride the bike because it usually seemed to point itself to the nearest twisty road. The Victory’s original style and strong engine also gave it points.

2000 Yamaha
Though it shares some of the style of the rest of Yamaha’s Star family, that big twin motor with its huge pushrod tubes immediately identifies the Road Star. Ignition switch placement ahead of the instruments is handy. The speedo’s needle makes a full sweep of the dial when the ignition is turned on.Cruiser

The top three were pretty close. Last year’s favorite, the Yamaha Road Star, remains popular thanks to the same all-around excellence that put it on top in ’99. Comfortable, fun to ride, good-looking and receptive to whatever activity you have in mind (except perhaps, racing) it has few faults. But the same can be said of Kawasaki’s new Vulcan 1500 Classic FI, which riders rated just slightly higher.

Winning by a fender tip is the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, which came from a solid last in 1999 to top this year’s rankings. Harley’s reinvented Fat Boy is better in every way than the Evo-powered version: better braking, confident in corners, faster, more comfortable, smoother, and almost certainly more reliable. And it retains the style that made it America’s favorite motorcycle. Now the FLSTF combines that style with a substance to make it as pleasurable for the rider as the beholder.

We will take a close look at each of the bikes, so stay tuned!