Big Twin Motorcycles 1999: Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, Super Glide Sport, and FXR2; Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Drifter, Classic, and 1500A; Suzuki Intruder 1400 and 1500; Victory V92C; Yamaha Road Star.

Ten 1999 Big Twin Motorcycles Comparison Tested: Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, Super Glide Sport, and FXR2; Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Drifter, Classic, and 1500A; Suzuki Intruder 1400 and 1500; Victory V92C; Yamaha Road Star.

Big V-twins have captured America's heart. We have long loved big cruisers with the style and sound of a thundering twin down in the engine room. The best-selling streetbike in America for the last two years has been Harley's Fat Boy, which sold in excess of 12,000 examples in 1998. Kawasaki's Vulcan 1500 Classic is its best seller. Suzuki's most popular cruiser is its bigger big twin, the Intruder 1500 LC, displacing the still-popular Intruder 1400 which lost only a few hundred sales in '98 with the 1500's arrival.

With big twins experiencing this kind of success, you can see why Polaris' Victory motorcycle brand entered the market with a big V-twin, the 1507cc V92C. Excelsior-Henderson is doing the same with its 1386cc Super X. It also explains Harley's decision to make the huge investment needed to create a new and bigger V-twin, the 1450cc Twin Cam 88, despite the ongoing runaway success of its 1340cc Evolution V-twin. And it's almost a surprise that Yamaha waited until 1999 to introduce its new 1600cc V-twin in the Road Star.

The last time (February '97) we compared big V-twins (those displacing more than 1300cc), we could only find five bikes from three brands. This time we had 10 model families from five manufacturers and there was an additional manufacturer, Excelsior-Henderson, who chose not to participate.

Harley and Kawasaki each served up three bikes. We asked for one from each of Harley's three pure-cruiser families. The best-selling FLSTF Fat Boy represented the Evolution-powered Softail series. We asked for the first new model powered by the new Twin Cam (a.k.a. Fathead) engine, the FXDX Dyna Super Glide Sport. And since Harley is making a special run of Evo-powered FXRs this year, we asked for one of them -- an FXR2.

Kawasaki's Vulcan 1500 Classic was our testers' choice after our last big-twin roundup. It is back. We also brought back the Vulcan 88, the original Kawasaki 1500. And by riding it back from Kawasaki's introduction in Florida, we were able to get the brand-new, fuel-injected, ultraretro-style Drifter to the West Coast in time to join the fun.

Suzuki's powerful Intruder 1400 was around for our 1997 big twins adventure, but it has been improved with a fifth speed. And of course, it brought along its new-for-'98 family member, the 1500.

Victory and Yamaha offer one big-twin, straight-cruiser model each -- the V92C and the Road Star, respectively. Although new, both impressed us very positively during testing for recent issues.

We were ready to rumble.

Main Street

If turning heads when you appear on the boulevard on Saturday night is important, two bikes stand out here. Harley's FXR2 looks like a well-done custom with its full complement of matched billet items and pretty color. Kawasaki's Drifter always attracted attention with its unique retro styling, although the subdued burgundy color and the obvious stick-on nature of the pinstriping on the ABS fenders took some of the edge off. The Road Star consistently received compliments for appearance too, as did the Vulcan Classic. The bright blue of the Victory and the new red and white of the 1500 LC drew more positive attention than the versions of those bikes we have tested previously. However, we still heard criticism on the details of both bikes. You either love or hate the style of the FXDX, particularly the heavy use of black and wrinkle finish. The Intruder 1400 also either worked for you or looked dated. Most felt the Vulcan 1500A looked badly out of style; our testers gave it low marks in the looks department. We were surprised at what a lukewarm reception the Fat Boy received, considering its popularity with buyers. Maybe it's just too familiar to attract much attention, or maybe with the Suzuki 1500 lurking nearby, it suddenly looks kind of svelte.

The Open Road

We spent a few days riding the 10 big twins together up California's Route 1, and in the process we were able to compare their comfort levels. Comfort is a highly personal thing. Different bikes fit different builds. Riders have different reactions to vibration, prefer different riding positions or like certain handlebar shapes.

We were therefore surprised so many riders rated the Yamaha tops for comfort and most others rated it in the top three. A great saddle, thoroughly tamed vibration, suspension that absorbs most road shocks, and a riding position that suited most riders made the Road Star a favorite on extended rides.

The riding position of the Classic got the most praise. Many riders said the bike seemed to have been laid out for them. The Victory, Yamaha and Drifter were close behind for most riders. The Victory in particular seemed to suit a wide range of riders and it garnered high comfort ratings from both short and tall riders.

Riders and passengers judged the Drifter's saddle the most comfortable. Although it feels overly soft at first, the staffer who rode the Drifter to the West Coast from Florida said it never got hard. The wide saddle of the big Intruder also seduced some riders and was rated second best by passengers, while other pilots rated the Classic or Yamaha seat as the very best.

Passengers liked the Drifter's large grab rail, which offered a more secure hold than anything on the other bikes. The backrests of the Vulcan 88 and the Intruder 1400 -- and to a lesser extent the FXR2 -- also added to passenger security.

Most riders rated the Fat Boy, FXR2 and Intruder 1400 at the bottom of the comfort spectrum. The Fat Boy generated the most vibration and offered nothing special in terms of position and saddle density to compensate. The FXR2 saddle was narrow and thin and got uncomfortable on long rides. Except for shorter riders, the Intruder 1400 fell out of favor on long rides because of its narrow saddle and narrow pulled-back bar. Although the Vulcan 88 seems to offer similar ergonomics, most riders said it was substantially more comfortable than the Intruder 1400. A few riders also complained about the FXDX riding position, which puts the main footpegs rearward and higher than the other bikes. However, a few riders listed this as an asset of the bike.

Although tall riders found the stretched-out riding position of the big Intruder quite agreeable, shorter riders felt it was simply too big, even if they liked the saddle. The wide handlebar and distant footrests made the bike awkward and uncomfortable for them. Our smallest rider had a similar remark about the Road Star.

Except for the Fat Boy, vibration was not an issue on these bikes. Whether it was stopped by rubber mounting (FXDX and FXR2), by engine design (the Suzukis and Yamaha) or by counterbalancers (the Kawasakis and Victory), vibration rarely showed up. Where it did arrive, changing engine speed a few hundred rpm dissipated the buzz. The Intruder 1400, at about 2860 rpm, is spinning about 300 to 600 rpm faster than the others at 60 mph. This makes it feel a bit busier than the others on the open road.

A few bikes drew complaints about suspension quality. The ride of the Fat Boy was most likely to be dissed, because its ride was the harshest on all bumps. However, big bumps also provoked comments about the Vulcan 88, Intruder 1400 and V92C. The Drifter, which has air suspension at the rear, and the Yamaha were what most riders would pick to ride on a bumpy road.

One bike gave us a rash of problems during our travels. The Fat Boy vibrated both of its front engine mount bolts out before the bike had 1000 miles on its odometer. It also loosened a rear turn signal and shed a nut that holds a front turn signal and mirror. And this is a bike that doesn't even include a tool kit. The V92C lost a fastener in its shift linkage, requiring a temporary roadside repair. It also annoyed some riders with a whistling noise that may have been an exhaust manifold leak. We found some seepage around the FXDX primary cover. The heat shield for the Vulcan 88's left side header turned up MIA. By comparison, we put more than 4000 miles on the Drifter, without a trace of trouble and less than a quart of oil.

The Road Star allows you to exploit its comfort with the longest range of any bike here. Although all the Harleys got better fuel mileage, the Yamaha has the largest fuel tank at 5.3 gallons. Both it and the FXDX will take you more than 200 miles on a tank of gas. But if you do it in one sitting, it's likely you'll be significantly more comfortable on the Yamaha.

Burn-Out Boulevard

None of these big twins qualify as a musclebike, but a few of them proved to be more powerful than the rest, and one was noticeably slower. Out on the road, the Intruder 1400, thanks to its efficient six-valve engine and lower gearing, pulled away quickly from the others when we were simply grabbing a handful of throttle in top gear to pass slower traffic. Although the smaller Intruder hesitated slightly sometimes when the air was cold, it still punched past the others. Its closest competition, came from the FXDX, which confirms how potent Harley's new Twin Cam twin is. The Intruder retained a visible edge mostly because of gearing. The Vulcan 88 was close behind the FXDX.

At the dragstrip, the FXDX proved quicker than the Intruder 1400, which barely edged the Vulcan 88. The Fat Boy lived up to its name and lagged behind in most races, although it was able to best the Classic at the dragstrip -- at least on its first run. It faded quickly as it got warm, while the Classic acted as though it could run 14.7s all day, displaying the advantage of liquid cooling. The rest of the bikes were led by the Victory and all ran within two-tenths of a second.

Something worth noting here is weight definitely matters. Take two riders with a 50-pound weight differential and put the lighter rider on a slower bike and it might suddenly start beating a faster bike with the heavy rider aboard. Although the same rider rode all 10 bikes at the dragstrip, we could clearly see the difference in relative performance when we traded bikes out on the road. If your bike seems slow, a diet might be the answer.

All the bikes shifted dependably, though the Victory was the noisiest about it. We are told that tolerances have recently been tightened up and future V92s will shift more quietly. The four-speed transmission in the Vulcan 88 sounds kind of quaint, but no one complained about it. In fact, some riders didn't realize it had only four speeds.

The V92C clutch engages somewhat abruptly, though it is still better than the Suzuki 1500's, which in turn is somewhat improved compared with previous 1500 LCs we have ridden. This bike's clutch did not engage with such a nasty snap during high-rpm launches, though there is plenty of room for improvement.

The fuel-injection systems of the Drifter and Victory mean these bikes start easily hot or cold and idle immediately. The fuel injection and other changes have also improved the power and mileage of the Vulcan 1500-based engine compared with the single-carb version in the Classic, though it still doesn't match the twin-carb Vulcan 88 ancestor. Weight may be an issue here, however, since the Drifter is almost 100 pounds heavier than the Vulcan 88. The Drifter pulls harder off the bottom than the other two Vulcans, though the Road Star is the champion in this regard. Suzuki's 1400 seems to be weakest just off idle. The Victory felt flatter than our last test V92C, when the throttle was opened at low rpm.

The Long and Winding Road

With its steep steering head and generally quick steering geometry, most riders favored the FXDX when the roads turned twisty. The sporty Harley also has the most cornering clearance. However, not all felt as happy with the way the FXDX responded to steering inputs, preferring the slower response that comes with more conventional cruiser steering geometry. The Victory, Yamaha and Classic also garnered votes for best handling. Most riders rated them highly in this regard, though with their floorboards they have significantly less cornering clearance than the FXDX. The Intruder 1400 was criticized for somewhat unstable cornering manners by several riders, and the 1500 LC also lost points because of its heft. "Slushy suspension" was the complaint leveled at the Vulcan 88. However, the Fat Boy occupied the bottom positions of most riders' handling ratings.

Small riders preferred the FXDX, Intruder 1400, FXR2 and Victory when they had to manhandle them at low speeds. Those with short legs and less upper-body mass tended to be daunted by the king-size Intruder 1500, the heavy Drifter and perhaps the Road Star and Vulcan Classic.

Out on the highway, the Drifter was the most stable, thanks to its Nomad-style steering geometry with loads of trail, though the Road Star and Victory were almost as unruffled. Riders consistently rated the Road Star's brakes as the best of the bunch for power and control. Many said they were in a class by themselves. Kawasaki's Classic and Drifter got generally high marks as well, with the Victory and Suzuki 1500 close behind. The FXR2 and Fat Boy tallied uniformly low scores for their single-disc front brakes, and the Fat Boy had the most awkward rear brake pedal position. The FXDX rear brake was also a bit too sensitive for some riders. The easily adjustable handlebar levers of the Classic, Drifter and the big Intruder were welcome.

On Broadway

These 10 bikes have a lot in common since they all take aim at the same sort of riding style with similar equipment. However, they are different enough to satisfy different tastes. The differences also make some of them work better or perform better at certain tasks. So, in alphabetical order, this is how they stack up after hundreds of miles.

It may be America's favorite motorcycle, but the Harley-Davidson Fat Boy was the least popular big twin by the end of our test. Vibration, unimpressive performance, the greatest number of problems and no particular strength other than ease of customization prompted more than half of our riders to rate it last in this group. The highest anyone ranked it was fifth. At a suggested base price of $14,835 (the second most expensive bike here) it is hardly a bargain, though you can still expect a Harley to retain its value better than other brands.

The responsive handling, strong performance, rubber-mounted engine, and unique styling made the FXDX quite popular. Although one rider put it at the bottom of his rankings, one ranked it first, and most listed it in the top half of their ranking lists. If sporting handling is important and the style and ergonomics fit your taste, the Dyna Super Glide Sport ($12,995 base price) may be the big twin for you.

Although the $16,995 MSRP makes it the most costly bike here -- and its limited-production status means you'll be lucky to pay the suggested price -- the look and cosmetic detail of Harley's FXR2 make it easy to justify the cost. It looks like a well-done custom. Two riders said the FXR2 was the most desirable of these bikes (though only one of them said they'd pay their own money for it) and ranked it first. Only one rider ranked it last. And as the last of Harley's still-valued FXR series, it will probably retain more value than any other bike here.

Although, at $7995, it is the most affordable bike here and most riders liked the way its engine performed, Kawasaki's original 1500, the Vulcan 88 didn't inspire anyone. Even with price factored into it, the best ratings it garnered from our testers were a couple of second places, one of them from someone who owns one. Dated styling, difficulty of customization and comfort limited by ergonomics kept its rating to the middle or lower portion of most riders' lists.

The Vulcan 1500 Classic demonstrated why it's Kawasaki's best-selling bike. Although only one rider ranked it best, all but four of the rest rated it second. Those four were split between third- and fourth-place rankings. Although it's not as powerful as most of the rest of the 10 twins, it is stylish, very comfortable, and fun and easy to ride. The Classic enjoys plenty of aftermarket support for those who want to personalize it. Its $9999 price makes it affordable, too.

Unique styling distinguishes the Drifter. If it attracts you, you'll find middle-of-the-class power, stately handling, first-class comfort for rider and passenger, and a growing number of aftermarket goodies for customization. One rider picked it as his favorite, and all but one of the rest ("It's not my style") placed it among the top five. The priciest of the imports here at $11,499, the Drifter may hold its value better if it becomes collectible.

Suzuki's 1400 is powerful and proven with styling that is clean and original, despite being slightly long in the tooth. But even after taking its $8199 price into consideration, only one rider liked it well enough to rank it in the top half. One rider placed it last, but for most it was simply an uninspiring ride.

No one placed the other Suzuki -- the LC -- in last place, but no one ranked it among the top three, either. Some riders enjoyed its comfort but that was balanced by unimpressive looks, handling and performance. It seems to be a difficult bike to customize, with few companies offering bolt-ons. No one was motivated to love it or hate it, even though its $9899 price puts it within reach.

You'd have a hard time drawing a consensus about the Victory from our riders. One rated it first, two rated it last and four of the rest placed it among the top five -- three in the bottom half of the group. Some praised its appearance, comfort, novelty or handling. Others were put off by its appearance, slightly rough functional aspects (such as the shifting) or handling. For those who love it, the price is $12,995.

Last but definitely not least, Yamaha's Road Star impressed us all. Half of our riders picked it as the bike they'd buy, and of the rest all but one (who said it was simply too big to enjoy riding) ranked it among the top half. Although the engine output falls slightly short of the promise of 1600cc, the Road Star is comfortable, fun to ride, easy to customize and pleasing to the eye. The aftermarket plans to support it energetically, and that $10,499 price might leave some budget for accessories.

Big twins speak to different people in different ways. One rider's dream machine may not stir another in the least. But if you have read this far to find out which big twin we recommend, you already know the answer. Yamaha's Road Star is the undisputed leader of the pack.

RIDING POSITIONS

Andrew Trevitt: I've never been that involved with cruisers, preferring the performance of sport bikes and the occasional standard model instead. On a lark one day, I took a brief spin on the Victory in the parking lot a few weeks before the big-twin test, and my interest was piqued. Before I knew it, I was drafted for the cruise-off.

In some ways, cruisers are great compared with the sport bikes I usually ride: mirrors that actually work, seats that are comfortable and horns you can hear (for the most part). While all the bikes steered surprisingly lightly considering their bulk, front-end feedback was vague -- and I never had any confidence on twisty roads. Aside from the Road Star, the brakes on these things are terrible; single front discs on bikes this heavy just don't cut it. And who came up with the idea of putting gauges on the tank where you can't see them?!

There are two distinct groups in this batch, the laid-back big-wheel bunch, and the newer generation of vintage-look-alike bikes. I much preferred the latter for comfort, styling and handling, and these five (Star, Classic, Intruder 1500, Drifter and Victory) topped my ratings in all the categories. The Victory, despite superb handling, falls a bit behind power and refinement-wise. I thought the styling of the Drifter was bitchin' but those big heavy fenders don't do a lot for the handling and comfort. The clutch on the Suzuki spoiled an otherwise great motor. I was pretty tossed up between the Vulcan Classic and the Road Star as my favorite, but the super brakes on the Yamaha made the difference for me.

Canadian transplant Trevitt is the new Associate Editor of our sister title, Sport Rider.

Evans Brasfield: Well, I never thought I'd say this, but there's a new king of the big-twin class. The Yamaha Road Star has won my heart. Combining the characteristic fit and finish of the Star line with a nifty new engine produced a winning result. With its ultralow rev limit, the big 1600 loafs along in a manner that belies its ability to make speed when necessary. Call it Torque. (Yes, with a capital T.) My only functional quibble is the cornering clearance, which is a little on the low side. I'm still waiting for those titanium or magnesium scuff plates to make the floorboards spark up at night.

My second surprise of the trip was the bike that muscled its way into second place. Until I experienced the FXDX I'd never ridden a stock Harley I'd want to own. The Twin-Cam engine, although cold-blooded at times, simply kicks butt! (Getting a little too aggressive with my launch at the dragstrip had the bike sideways with the rear tire churning the pavement.) And the FXDX has the suspension to utilize the engine's power on a winding road. I like the blacked-out look too -- even the wrinkle paint.

Although my third choice isn't the Vulcan Classic either, I don't feel like I'm dissing my erstwhile favorite. Why? Because the Drifter is a variation on a theme that I've enjoyed immensely over the past couple of years. The fuel injection and hotter cams give the engine a different character -- and exhaust note. Maybe I'm suffering from chrome-itis, because I dig the blacked-out look with just a few chrome highlights. Put a solo seat on this bike and you've got one sexy ride!

The rest of the pack? Well, they run so close together as to make ranking them an exercise in futility. With the exception of a couple of bikes in this group -- names withheld to protect the guilty -- cruisers can't go wrong.

Former Associate Editor Brasfield has retired to fatherhood and freelancing. You can reach him through his website.

Art Friedman: It's not enough to look good, you have to feel good too -- at least if you buy one of these things to actually ride. A motorcycle should be fun to ride. That means it should function well and be comfortable.

If looks were all that mattered, the FXR would be the top choice. And if performance was the only requirement, the FXDX might be the winner. (And if Harley tricked-out the FXDX like the FXR2, it could be the winner.) And if the decision is simple bang-for-the-buck economics, the Vulcan 88 fills the bill nicely.

But I want to ride all day in comfort and revel in the admiring glances when I stop. And I want to stop when I choose, not when something vibrates loose. So it is easy to see why the Road Star and Vulcan Classic were so popular, both look good and work well. If I intended to keep it stock, the Yamaha would be my choice. If I planned to personalize it, the aftermarket currently offers more choices for the Vulcan Classic.

Friedman offers more choice for those who want to email him, you can get him at ArtoftheMotorcycle@hotmail.com.

HARLEY-DAVIDSON

With the recent introduction of the twin cam 88 (a.k.a. Fathead), Harley now has two big V-twin engines. The new Fathead powers the Dyna and touring families, and the Evolution engine -- which was introduced 15 years ago -- supplies power for the Softails and the two recently revived FXR machines.

With more than one million copies minted since its debut in 1984 models, the 1340cc Evo is the most popular motorcycle engine on the planet. Although it retained its predecessor's air-cooled, 45-degree single-carb design and pushrod valve actuation, it got a significantly revised top end with aluminum cylinders, new valve and port arrangements, automotive-style hydraulic lifters and other improvements.

The bottom end was largely unchanged from the iron-barrel Shovelhead that came before it, with Harley's traditional knife-and-fork connecting rods running on a single crankpin. Initially served with four speeds and chain final drive, the Evo was eventually converted to five speeds and belt final drive. The Evo's popularity means an unmatched selection of accessories and hop-up parts, prompting Harley to offer a factory rebuild service. For $2000 or so you can make your Evo engine showroom fresh.

The Twin Cam 88 is an entirely new design, even though it shares the Evo's basic design parameters: air cooling, 45-degree V, single crankpin, knife-and-fork rods, single carb and hydraulically adjusted pushrods operating two overhead valves per cylinder. The twin-camshaft setup is the largest basic change in terms of configuration, but there are virtually no interchangeable parts. The design permits easier assembly and service in addition to greater durability. Shafts are no longer supported by the engine's side covers; clearances are tighter and more precise; there is more lubrication; components are brawnier; and there is room to grow. It also starts out at 1450cc, achieved with a bigger bore and a shorter stroke. Like the Evo, the Fathead has a separate transmission case. The case itself is new, though the shafts and gears are the same.

The only straight-cruiser series using the new engine is the Dyna line, which uses the newest Harley chassis featuring rubber engine mounts to isolate vibration. To represent this family, we requested a FXDX Dyna Super Glide Sport, the newest and most sporting Dyna family member. The FXDX features longer, high-performance suspension, dual discs on the wire-spoke front wheel and a speedo and tach atop the fork crown. The front end is raked to a steep 28 degrees for responsive steering. The engine and other components, such as the flattrack-style handlebar, are blacked-out. It has a dual saddle and, in keeping with its sporting flavor, provides footpegs for both rider and passenger.

To represent the Evo-powered Softail line, we got an FLSTF Fat Boy, the most popular streetbike in America. The softail chassis mimics the clean, hardtail look with a triangular swingarm suspended by two shocks placed horizontally under the engine. The Fat Boy carries its weight with solid-disc wheels wearing fat 16-inch tires under wide fenders, a seven-inch headlight, covered fork tubes and floorboards. Distinctive touches include the dual shotgun-style exhaust and a leather tank panel atop the twin-cap 4.2-gallon tank.

As we were organizing this ride, Harley announced the return of another chassis family -- the FXRs. The Dyna series superceded the FXR family (which also mounts the engine in rubber) but Harley recently announced two versions would be produced on a limited basis (900 units each). The FXR3 and the bike we rode, the FXR2, are both Evo-powered and feature a variety of custom touches, such as special paint and an array of accessories and chrome. Our FXR2 includes a 21-inch wire-spoke front wheel with a single disc, chrome slotted-disc rear wheel, billet footpegs, chrome fork lowers, a small passenger backrest, chromed swingarm, blacked-out cylinders with polished fin edges on a heavily chromed engine, and other head-turning touches.

KAWASAKI

Pick a decade from your life, and Kawasaki probably has a Vulcan 1500 to take you back to it.

The original big Vulcan, the 1500 Vulcan 88, was a bike of the 1980s. The hulking, liquid-cooled, 50-degree engine was mated to four speeds, shaft drive and unmistakably Japanese-cruiser styling -- clearly a product of the era when Japanese firms were making their first forays into V cruisers.

With its wide, comfortable style and Americanized proportions, the Vulcan 1500 Classic had the look of a top-shelf bike from the 1950s. The Nomad (not included in this comparison) added bags and a windshield to evoke the 1960s, when Americans were falling in love with the open road.

The new Vulcan 1500 Drifter is drawn in the luxurious, streamlined style of the 1940s, highlighted by its deep fenders with their French-curve lines.

However, although the styling seems to be regressing to even earlier eras, the technology has been evolving steadily. The same basic, liquid-cooled, 1470cc engine -- which features a chain-driven overhead camshaft atop each cylinder's four hydraulically adjusted valves -- powers all three of the models tested here but each one is unique. When this engine was rolled out in 1987 to power the Vulcan 88 (or 1500A) it had two 36mm carbs and 9.0:1 compression. With two carbs, both exhaust pipes protruded from the fronts of their cylinders, and somewhat awkward oval airboxes hung toward the front of the engine. The rest of the Vulcan 88 styling was a little bit lumpy also, no matter which of the two versions you looked at. Although the 88SE version was eventually discontinued, the original Vulcan sold well enough for Kawasaki to keep it in production all these years.

The Classic was rolled out for 1996. The same basic engine with its single-pin crankshaft and vibration-canceling counterbalancer was employed, but it had been reconfigured with a single 40mm carb, lower (8.55:1) compression, milder cams and an exhaust system that exited the front of the front cylinder and the rear of the rear cylinder. The pipes were one component in the Classic's cleaner, longer, lower, wider style that made it an instant hit. The Classic started out with four speeds but a five-speed was introduced for 1998. The chassis was completely different than the Vulcan 88's, and it was a huge leap forward for the designers. Fat fork legs, wide wire wheels, tank-top instruments, floorboards, broad fenders with pretty curves and classic American proportions all helped to make the 1500 Classic an immediate success.

The new limited-production Drifter hit showrooms in March with a fresh take on traditional, American styling. The Drifter's frame is similar to the Classic's but with a stiffer front section derived from the Nomad. The fenders, which some identify with flagship Indian models of the 1940s, are its most apparent cosmetic feature. To maintain the profile of those hardtail bikes, the fender mounts to the swingarm where it can hug the tire. Many of the components that would be chrome on the Classic are blacked-out on the Drifter. It has a smaller-diameter multireflector headlight, black air shocks (with adjustable damping) and a fishtail muffler capping the 2-into-1 exhaust system. (The muffler design permits owners to change the tip.) The dual saddle is cantilevered to imitate the sprung solo saddles of big midcentury motorcycles (solo saddles are optional).Although the rest of the bike is retro, the engine takes a step toward the future with fuel injection. The fuel-injector body replaces the Classic's single carb and feeds the cylinders through two 36mm throats. The engineers also bumped the compression back up to 9.0:1 and used the hotter cam timing of the original Vulcan 88. First-year buyers will be sent a boxed kit which includes a top handlebar clamp with their name and the bike's serial number engraved into it, an owner's certificate, a key fob and a video. We can hardly wait to see what Kawasaki has in store for the 1970s.

SUZUKI

When the Intruder 1400 made its debut, early in 1987, it was something of a revelation. Here, in real steel, was proof a Japanese motorcycle company could sculpt a cruiser to American tastes. The lines were original but still based on the chopperesque style of an American custom. And it was clean -- with wiring and cables tucked out of sight, unnecessary gadgets discarded and, for a few months, the biggest V-twin on the planet tucked under its peanut-sized tank. Coming as it did on the heels of Suzuki's ill-fated Madura V-4, it was a welcome surprise.

The 1360cc engine powering this rolling work of art was a 45-degree V-twin, its vibration checked by a pair of offset crankpins, their offset chosen to subdue vibration while providing a pleasing cadence. This gave the balance of a smooth 90-degree design. The engine is air/oil-cooled, with one exhaust and two intake valves per cylinder. Single overhead cams and hydraulic adjusters actuate the valves. Each cylinder has its own 36mm carb positioned behind it with the exhaust pipes exiting the front and running down either side of the distinctly narrow motorcycle. Originally, a four-speed transmission was used, but a five-speed was fitted in 1997. A shaft final drive completes power delivery to the rear wheel.

Slim was in when the Intruder 1400 was being designed, and despite a few minor styling changes over the years it retains that narrow, chopped look. The tank accommodates only 3.4 gallons and the slender, stepped saddle terminates in a short, but welcome, passenger backrest. A narrow 19-inch wire wheel, stopped by a single disc, points the way up in front with a fat 15-incher squatting out back.

By the time the Intruder 1500 LC was introduced in '98, fat was where it was at. To get the wide, comfortable style cruiser buyers sought, Suzuki kept little except the layout of the shafts in its V-twin engine and the three-valve cylinder-head layout. Bore and stroke were increased to yield 1462cc and compression was dropped slightly. Both carbs were located together between the 1500's cylinders, and both pipes exited on the right side. The crankshaft's mass was increased for more flywheel effect, and the 1500 got five speeds and shaft final drive. Much of the drivetrain was beefed up to handle the added weight and power, and new, wider cases and covers were used.

Those two carbs needed a big airbox to get the volume of air required to make the power Suzuki sought, so most of the space normally occupied by the fuel tank was consumed by the airbox. The 4.1-gallon fuel tank was relocated under the seat. The tank had to be fairly wide which made the entire bike quite broad in the beam.

The seat, fenders, dummy tank, cast wheels (16-inch front, 15-inch rear), covered fork legs, 7.5-inch headlight and engine cases are all fat, even in this chubby crowd. Floorboards and tank-top instruments (speedometer, warning lights and an LCD odometer that now includes a fuel-level function) complete the Intruder's transition from chopper-flavored custom of the '80s to big, luxurious classic cruiser of the '90s.

VICTORY

While other companies, such as Excelsior-Henderson, broadcast their intentions to enter the motorcycle market with big-inch V-twins, Polaris tried to keep its plans secret. However, the Polaris Victory brand won the race to become the first new American company in more than half a century to enter the motorcycle market with a large-displacement street bike. It showed the V92C in the summer of 1997 and rolled out production versions less than a year later. It has now built more than 2000 V92Cs, including models that meet California's stringent emissions regulations.

When it arrived last year, its 1507cc made the V92C the biggest motorcycle-company-built V-twin around, though Yamaha's Road Star has since eclipsed it. The Victory air/oil-cooled V-twin employs state-of-the-art components and design: single overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder and electronic fuel injection. A counterbalancer quells the vibes from the 50-degree, single-crankpin design. A torque-compensator -- basically a spring-loaded weight on the crankshaft -- also helps to smooth out each power stroke. No retro-tech here. As power leaves the five-speed transmission, it gets to the rear wheel via a belt located on the right side.

A triangular swingarm with a single preload-adjustable damper just below the saddle supports the rear of the chassis, and a fork with uncovered but burly 45mm stanchions leads the way and announces Victory's intention to build a rigid, steady-handling motorcycle. Both 16-inch cast wheels have one 11.8-inch brake disc. A four-piston caliper halts the front wheel and a less powerful two-piston design stops the rear.

Although the low-slung profile appears slimmer than the current crop of retro cruisers, the Victory is broad where it counts, with a 14-inch-wide saddle and full fenders. There is no hint of a rear fender rail. The tank holds a full five gallons. Instead of following current fashion and putting the instruments on top of the tank where they are away from your line of sight, the Victory designers sunk them into the seven-inch headlight. But don't be fooled into thinking the limited space means limited information. An analog tachometer is set inside the speedometer dial. The LCD readout other bikes generally use as a tripmeter and odometer exclusively, can be toggled to display the time, fuel level, charge/voltmeter, an engine-monitor function and intensity levels of the adjustable instrument lights and high-beam-warning light. Switches on the fronts of the handlebar switch housings select and adjust each function. All of this shows that even though it initially built a very traditional style of motorcycle, Victory won't hesitate to break the rules and innovate.

YAMAHA

Building an entirely new engine demands a major expenditure, which is why no new cruiser engines were introduced between 1987 and 1998. But the cruiser boom of the 1990s was married to America's affection for big motors. Even before it rolled out its first Royal Star for 1996, Yamaha was at work on a new engine for a bike that was custom-made for Americans involved in the cruiser boom of the late '90s.

If Americans said they liked big, narrow-angle, air-cooled, V-twins with pushrods, then that's what they'd get. At 1602cc, the Road Star mill is the biggest engine made by a motorcycle manufacturer. Set at 48 degrees, its air-cooled cylinders have the most prominent pushrod tubes in motorcycling, in part because both of the pushrods for each cylinder share a single tube. We like those external airboxes, so the Road Star's big triangular chrome airbox hangs alongside the engine to serve air to the single 40mm carb.

Inside the engine, Yamaha's engineers got to apply their craft with a modern four-valve two-plug combustion chamber atop ceramic-composite-lined cylinders. Surprisingly, there is no counterbalancer to calm the shaking of the single-crankpin big twin. Yamaha relies on the massive 45-pound crankshaft and the location of the engine to smooth the ride. The dry-sump lubrication system stores its oil in a reservoir above the transmission.

Power takes a circuitous route to the belt final drive. A geared primary and five gearbox ratios direct power via a silent chain to a final output shaft located very near the pivot point of the swingarm. This minimizes tension changes in the belt as the swingarm moves. The swingarm is a triangulated type with a single shock under the seat. This gives the bike the uncluttered look of a hardtail. The wheels are 16-inchers with wire spokes. Dual discs apply the brakes up front with a single disc at the rear.

A 5.3-gallon tank integrates with the wide, comfortable look that is fostered by covered fork tubes, full fenders, floorboards and a wide, two-piece saddle. Tank-top instruments help to keep its profile clean, and the LCD odometer/tripmeter display also includes a clock.

The Dynas shared the new twin-cam mill with the FL models in '99.
In 1999, the Fat Boy still had the old, slow, hard-shaking Evo engine.
As a retro model, the very custom FXR2 uses the Evolution engine.
Disc wheels help distinguish the Fat Boy.
The original version of Kawasaki's 1470cc twin in the Vulcan A uses 2 carbs.
The Classic brought the cleaner single-carb version of the engine.
With the Drifter engine you get more traditional finishes and fuel injection.
The A model's instrumentation is dated looking but includes a tach.
The Classic's fender rails offer bungee-cord hooks.
Full fenders are a key component of the Drifter's nostalgic style.
Two carbs, low gearing and a light chassis to drive make the 1400 quite quick.
Based on the 1400, the 1500 gets a fresh top-end and a much heavier bike to push.
The chopperesque seat of the 1400 is a short-ride proposition.
The 1500's under-seat tank keeps weight low but could use more capacity.
Later versions of Victory's engine use the same basic design but have more power and a better finish.
In 1999, Yamaha's 1600 was the biggest of twins.