Beyond 2004: Future Cruiser Motorcycles

We hear things, we see spy photos, and we have watched how new models prompt other companies to respond. Here are some motorcycles that we expect in the near future.

After a blow-out new model season like the 2004 introductions, it is sometimes tempting to wonder how motorcycle manufacturers can top it. This year, however, we sense that there is plenty coming for the cruiser enthusiast in the next few years. Part of this is due to models, like Kawasaki's 2000, that shook up the cruiser world. The arrival of Kawasaki's 2000 and Triumph's forthcoming 2300 (in late spring) is likely to diminish our perception of the once-big 1500 to 1800 cruisers. Some competitors undoubtedly are preparing responses as you read this. If the Vulcan 2000 and its like-sized competitors are successful, other brands will also climb the displacement ladder.

We also expect to see some general trends develop. For example, a segment of the cruiser market is being driven to some extent by long-time riders who are trading in their sportbikes for the comfort and less speed-driven cruiser experience. However, these riders still want respectable handling and braking, which will favor manufacturers who emphasize those areas. Their perception that cruisers are safer may also play to whichever manufacturer is the first to deliver a real cruiser with anti-lock braking. At the moment, the manufacturers are wary of ABS because it opens a legal can of worms, where they might be sued because the system is not available on all their bikes (even though some bikes would not be financially viable with the added cost of this valuable safety equipment). However, ABS makes any bike much safer in a panic stop, especially if it's conducted on a sketchy surface. It also makes panic-braking practice much safer, since over-braking just causes the ABS to cut in instead of locking the wheel. Sooner or later, savvy buyers will demand it when they are paying the kind of price cruisers bring.

BMW

As sales begin to taper off slightly for its R1200C series cruiser motorcycles, BMW is looking for ways to attract buyers beyond the traditional Beemerphile to its cruisers.

While emphasizing its unique and attractive features -- such as its anti-lock braking system, a huge and completely unique feature among cruiser models -- might help, BMW will also need to find other ways to draw in the mainstream cruiser rider. More displacement is the most direct way to a cruiser's heart, and might also help give the touring CL version of the existing cruiser model line the power it lacks is this role. However, after discussions with BMW's top brass, it seems that BMW is not ready to pursue that bigger-displacement direction yet. But in a year or two, we'd bet that they find the idea more interesting if the rest of the market supersizes.

Harley-Davidson

People we have talked to are positively salivating in anticipation of a more functional chassis wrapped around Harley's V-Rod engine. Remember, even with the Vulcan 2000 rolling around, the V-Rod is still the quickest V-twin cruiser on the road. Some enthusiasts were quite disappointed that a really new version of the `Rod didn't show up this year, but we still anticipate it in the near future. The V-Rod is selling well (the sixth best-seller in H-D's line), particularly in Europe, but there are just so many people who want its unique combination of style and performance. Because Harley has plenty of production capacity for that engine, we anticipate it will expand the scope of the VR family quite soon.

Remember when Harley's 1200 Electra Glide was regarded as the giant among motorcycles? Now that Kawasaki has upped the V-twin displacement ante beyond 2000cc, we think sooner or later Harley will have to react and increase the displacement of its top twin or risk having the 1450cc powerplant perceived as puny, despite its strong performance. CVO models have been sporting a 1700 version of the V-twin, and CVO owners might be doing some R&D; for Harley to test its durability. If it holds up in the real world, the stroked 1690cc engine could become standard in the big twins. If not, we'd expect to see the 1550 engine adopted, which could happen as soon as 2005. At the same time, it's possible that Harley will put the counterbalanced engine in its touring motorcycles, eliminating the rubber mounts and improving rgidity.

There are those who think that the rubber-mounted Sportsters put pressure on the Dyna series "big" twins. Certainly the Dyna is looking a bit long in the tooth. A redesign of this model line or replacement may be in the offing.

Honda

Honda has a chopper-style version of the VTX undergoing testing now. The raked-out, ultra-low, narrow bike uses belt drive, a new frame, and a fat rear wheel. Expect a flat bar on risers, peanut tank, and other styling tweaks more radical than any Honda to date. The VTX series might be boosted a bit to make them bigger than 1800cc, but it looks like a major revamp will be needed if Honda wants to get the big VTX engine into the two-liter league.

We expect an 1800 version of the Valkyrie with a more conventional, functional (and affordable) style than the Rune. Honda has labeled the flat-six as its most distinctive engine, and the 1500 Valkyrie showed that it can deliver perfect cruiser power characteristics. The Rune might be considered a buy-able concept model of what will follow. It's T series concept bikes, one of which turned into the Rune might give some hint of the directions Valkyries could take.

Also conspicuous in its absence is the Magna, The V-4 has been a component of Honda's cruiser line for over 20 years and allowed it to provide a middleweight power cruiser that no one could ever touch. It absence also leaves a void that no other bike can readily fill. We anticipate that the Magna will return in freshened form, though we aren't willing to bet on it.

Honda has not had a touring cruiser for a few years, and its selection of touring pieces for the VTXs has been paltry. Unless it simply does not see a demand for them, we have to believe that the firm will build at least one VTX-T model.

Kawasaki

Kawasaki obviously will expand the range of cruiser models powered by its new 2053cc V-twin in the Vulcan 2000 Classic. While a Nomad-style baggerbike is a possibility, we expect a full dresser (fork-mounted fairing, trunk, fairing lowers, maybe stereo, etc.) too, especially since the company just quietly dropped its Voyager touring machine for the 2004 model year. We actually expect to see that full touring motorcycle first, then (perhaps) the Nomad-style bagger in 2006 or later. A performance-oriented 2000, in the Mean Streak mold, also seems quite possible.

We also wonder when the company will refresh its 800cc line-up. A 900cc displacement and belt drive have both been mentioned as possible technical changes in the lower end of Kawasaki's cruiser line.

Suzuki

Other than the new Kawasaki-built 1600 Marauder it rolled out this year, Suzuki's last new bike in the cruiser arena was the Volusia in 2002. The company has been very successful with its sportbikes and sporting standard-style bikes, but we can't believe that it is content to let the lucrative cruiser market simply slip away. It desperately needs a touring bike, but we have no indication that any such thing is in the works.

As we understand its agreement with Kawasaki, Suzuki can get its own versions of any of that company's products, so we would expect to see at least one 2000cc model that looks very much like a Kawasaki show up in future Suzuki line-ups.

Triumph

The Brits made a huge bet on the mega-cruiser market with the new 2.3-liter Rocket III. At the American press intro, company representatives all but said there will be additional models using this three-cylinder engine, and almost as clearly implied that one would be a touring bike.

In addition, we hear that the company has been showing consumers concept drawings of a vertical-twin that's bigger than anything it is currently building. A 1300cc displacement was mentioned at those focus groups. However if the company used two-thirds of the Rocket III engine, the result could be over 1500cc while reducing component cost.

Victory

We expect Victory to replace the V92TC Touring Cruiser with a touring version of the Kingpin, which we think is the next logical model from the other American brand. We suspect it will also continue and expand its relationship with Arlen Ness, perhaps with a Custom version of the Kingpin. It will be interesting to see how far outside the box Victory lets the Nesses get. Because its 1500 engine is so strong, Victory is probably the last of the makers with big twin in the teens that will need to consider raising displacement.

Yamaha

Although we have no idea what it might have planned, Yamaha will presumably want to respond to the Kawasaki 2000. The Road Star, even at 1700, looks like the motorcycle most likely affected by the big Kawasaki in terms of lost sales. The Warrior concept would also benefit from more displacement.

Triumph claims that the Rocket III can out-accelerate the V-Max. Yamaha has told us on more than occasion that if a new cruiser muscled the V-Max aside, that it had a new and nastier Max ready to go. A lot of people think that a V-Max in a Warrior-like frame with less radical ergonomics would be the perfect musclebike.

Other Players

You may have taken note of the Alpha Sports 250 that turned up in our 250cc round-up a few issues back. That motorcycle, built in Korea by Hyosung, impressed us, and we hear that the maker has bigger V-twin cruiser models on the way. Though initially they are likely to turn up here in standard and sporting styles of motorcycles, its 400cc and 650cc V-twins could also liven up the middleweight market for cruisers. Hyosung is also rolling out a 1000cc V-twin, so that could become a future cruiser too. And we don't suppose they will stop there. Consider how Hyundai and Kia have progressed in the auto markets and ponder how that might happen in the motorcycle industry.

The new Asian companies may also shake up the industry in other ways, such as selling via the internet with regional factory service centers or otherwise sidestepping the conventional ways of marketing and delivering motorcycles. Certainly there are plenty of riders dissatisfied with their dealers who might welcome this sort of change.

How about the other American builders? We don't think any of them can taken seriously until they build their own engine designs, although some, such as Boss Hoss, build very respectable motorcycles.

For more breaking motorcycle news, visit the home page of www.MotorcycleCruiser.com.

If you have questions or comments about the stories referred to here, email _Motorcycle Cruiser's web editor at _ Art.Friedman@primedia.com _or at _ ArtoftheMotorcycle@hotmail.com.

BMW's full-dress tourer would benefit from more power. The brand's cruisers offer unique features like ABS and the Telelever fork.
Many would like to see a V-Rod engine in a more ergonomically friendly motorcycle.
Kawasaki's 2053cc V-twin will inspire competition and power additional motorcycles.
Expect more Kawasaki-Suzuki transformations.
We think Triumph will make a Rocket III with sleek hard bags and a full fairing.
more displacement could give the Warrior real muscle.
Firms like Viper need years before they move the market.