Middleweight Motorcycles - Four For $10,000

Middleweight Shootout!

Wallet-Friendly Doesn't Mean Middle Of The Road
* Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 Custom
* Honda VTX1300C
* Star V Star 1300
* Suzuki boulevard M90

Shoot Out!
Used to be that finding a new, full-featured, competent cruiser for $10,000 involved a bit of compromise at the buyer's end-forsaking the candy pearl paint, skipping the chrome rims and maybe opting for just the bare bones model. But with the economic climate being the way it is, landing a new ride for 10 grand is no longer a pipe dream. When you consider what you get when you buy a new modern motorcycle, it's a good value regardless of model or brand, but in these days of incessantly bottoming vehicle prices, your options are no longer limited to just Cycle Trader closeouts. What's available for 10K now definitely doesn't fall under the definition of "budget".

The Plan
We felt it would be more on-target to structure a comparison based on dollars instead of displacement, the feeling being that engine size shouldn't be the only measure in play.

Turns out bikes at the sub-five figure level cover a wide swath of styles and features. Many of the players were familiar to us-Honda's six-year old VTX, Star's no-longer-shiny V Star and Harley's evergreen Sportster 1200 (in Custom guise). Replacing the far-too-long-in-the tooth S83 is Suzuki's new hotshot, the M90.

This quartet falls into the meat of the heavy middleweight crop, ranging in displacement from the Sportster's 1204cc to the Suzuki's 1462cc. In our last heavy-middleweight comparo (August 2007), it was the VTX, V Star and H-D Custom against Suzuki's stalwart S83. There, the V Star snatched top honors, while the S83 was relegated to the bottom of scoring lists. This time though, Suzuki had an ace in the hole-the M90.

We ran into a few wrinkles, of course. Just after we structured our test, Suzuki decided to raise the price of its new bad boy to $10,599, potentially muddying the waters. In the end, we decided to greenlight it; after all, the $10,290 Star was over 10K, as was the Harley (colors other than black are a $300 option). With three of the contestants coming in over 10K but still within $600, we were ready to roll.

There are a few other contenders priced just north of our mandated benchmark. Check out the sidebar on page 54.

The Program
We gathered up the four bikes for some urban, freeway and back-road bombing, swapping among a core group of four veteran test riders. Our pilots ran the physical gamut, ranging from strapping, 6-foot-2 mercenary tester Mark Downs to dwarflike Cherney at a diminutive 5-foot-7. Three of the four riders were six-feet or taller.

From the get-go, testers were surprised by the bikes' differences, and not just from a visual standpoint. Even the common denominator-a V-twin powerplant-varies from bike to bike. The mix swung from Harley's classic, air-cooled, two-valve, 45-degree V arrangement to the Star's four-valve, 60-degree setup. In between lie Honda's liquid-cooled, 52-degree vee and Suzuki's 54-degree jug angles.

The VTX1300 is king of the Honda roost now that the company has pulled its big bro from the 2009 lineup. But the 1300 was fresh from the ground up when it debuted back in 2004. For one, the VTX1300C is carbureted, and unlike the 1800, it utilizes a single-pin crank arrangement. The low-slung street rod vibe is reinforced by a tall 19 inch wheel up front and a brief rear fender.

The Harley may represent the old guard in this shootout but at least it's not carbureted. The same frame, engine and 150mm rear tire is used on all four '09 Sportster 1200 models, but you can spot the Custom by its skinny 21-inch front wheel. Customs also get a disc-style 16-inch rear wheel, forward controls and a short handlebar supporting an integrated speedo. The rubber-mounted motor is standard-issue Sportster, with air-cooling, fuel injection and pushrod-actuated valves.

The V Star was the big news back in 2007, when it brought 4 valves and liquid cooling along with cleverly routed internal water and oil lines. It was the most sophisticated entry to the middleweight class at the time, but with the addition of the M90, the Star is no longer the top tech dog. It's still a looker though, with sexy, stretched bodywork, floorboards, trick gauge readouts and a high level of finish.

As for the ol' Intruder 1400, the 45-degree air/oil-cooled V-twin was ushered out of the line this year, wearing a Boulevard S83 badge. Cue the M90-which looks to fill a hole not only in Suzuki's own fleet, but also in the broader cruiser market. It would've been easy to swap components from the existing C90, but the M90's liquid-cooled, four-valve V-twin is all-new. It's set at 54 degrees (like the M109R), while the C90 houses a 45-degree three-valve-per-cylinder engine. The M90's higher compression ratio and larger throttle bodies are also meant to mimic the 109's sporty engine. Nearly identical styling to the M109 also makes it what Suzuki calls a 'middleweight performance cruiser'.

The Impression That I Get
Of course, styling is the big topic of conversation with most cruisers, and though the bikes here varied in setup, there were similarities. If you judged them on profile, you had your street rods (the Honda and Suzuki); traditional cruisers (the V Star); and an old-school standard (the Harley). Or you could break them down mechanically: shafties (Honda and Suzy) or belt drives (Harley and V Star). However you sliced it, all the bikes emphasized a fairly clean design aesthetic save for the exhibitionistic, funky Suzuki.

The Harley is arguably the original cruiser, having been around for over 50 years. The classic 45-degree V-twin looks good from any angle and solid detailing imbues the Sportster with more polish than some of its metric counterparts. It's a lot of bike for the sub-$10,000 price point, and an easy entry to owning a Harley, which explains its appeal to some. It also has excellent fit and finish-you can't miss the lipless chrome laced front wheel.

The VTX grabs your eye first with that elongated headlight bucket, a trait it shares with the VTX1800. Other architectural highlights include a tire-hugging front fender and a 19-inch cast aluminum wheel. It reminds you of its price point with a few plastic parts and some faux valve covers. The VTX offers "S" and "R" versions, which vary bodywork and wheel options.

The Star brings perhaps the most traditional styling-a wide saddle, full fenders and the only floorboards and heel-toe shifter here-but with modern swoops. Components are designed to flow together and the integrated detailing features an easily accessed, full-featured instrument pod. Like the VTX, the V Star's engine is styled to resemble an air-cooled design, with a compact radiator between the downtubes. Like the Suzuki, the V Star also brings current technology, with fuel injection, liquid-cooling and four-valves per cylinder.

The M90, in contrast to the other understated bikes here looks almost cartoonish (in a good way), with its brightly colored bodywork. This sport-cruiser has plenty of chrome accoutrements like the air cleaner and swingarm pivot covers. Burly slash-cut mufflers make a strong visual statement. Like its relative the M109, the M90 also gets an ungainly radiator in front of the engine, but there is a sano steering head cover and an attractive view from the saddle. Alas, a tacky flange along the bottom of the fuel tank is quite visible, and the headlight gets the same love-it or hate-it cowl treatment. A distinctive instrument cluster is integrated into the cowl under a chrome cover.

Flip The Switch
Starting 'em up is a different procedure on each one. Thanks to its CV carburetor (the only one in the group) the VTX 1300 is a cold-blooded beast, requiring gobs of choke to get anywhere near normal idle speeds. Is there fuel injection in its future? Based on the fact that Honda's new Fury sports an injected 1300cc mill, we think so. The Star's fuel injection meant it started at the first push of the button every time, with smooth fueling in most situations. The M90 also cranked over easily, and its refined fuel-injection and minimal vibration appealed to all. Our Harley-Davidson too, featured trouble-free starts and good fueling on most mornings.

Settle into each cockpit and you have to figure things out all over again. The Honda brings a wide, flat drag-style bar with a slight pullback that offered excellent leverage and reach for most of our riders. The VTX's forward but not aggressively set footpegs and generic seat appealed to the group also, as did the somewhat minimal look. But while the gunfighter-style saddle may initially be comfortable, some found the soft foam gave way after 30 miles. As it's the lowest saddle here, reach to the ground is a breeze for shorter riders (though it wasn't uncomfortable for taller folk).

The Star's wide, lightly dished pan, on the other hand, was tolerable only to our shortest rider because it offered him a variety of seating positions. The same wide pullback bar that afforded him an easy reach gave taller testers all kinds of grief, as they said it was far too low to be functional and the bend too awkward. That, coupled with unusually high floorboards, made the V Star's riding position untenable for pilots over 6 feet tall, even on short stints.

Suzuki's M90 has the most aggressive cockpit of the group-the forward-mounted, drag-style bars have a moderate bend that stretches the rider in corner-attack mode. The seat, while fairly wide, has a somewhat abrupt rear dish, but it's telling that most testers didn't complain about the M90's perch until we were well into the ride. Still, the Suzuki's forward controls didn't help matters-they prop your feet up and forward. For what it's worth, the M90's ergonomics are more manageable than its big brother's, with a handlebar that's .8 inches closer to the seat. That seat sits 1.1 inches closer to the footrests though, making it cramped on longer stints.

With its primal motorcycle form, the Harley adopts a standard seating position. The small saddle and narrow bars set you upright with an easy reach, but the forward set footpegs splay feet out front and center, almost straight-legged-somewhat of a stretch for shorter pilots. The saddle is on hard side, and with limited fore and aft movement, it didn't please any of our riders on longer runs. In this group, it also felt like the smallest cockpit.

Hot In The City
It didn't take long for pilots to develop ergonomic preferences on the first leg of our journey-slow-speed city streets. (We'd follow the urban grind with a high-speed drone on the Superslab, winding things up with a twisty secondary road). The first day's weather ranged from cloudy and dry to light rain showers. In between, we swapped bikes and formed opinions.

Threading the bikes through rush-hour traffic is a smoother deal than with full-size bikes, but these babies aren't light by any means-the heaviest one, the M90, tips the scales at 725 lbs. The Harley, at 583 pounds, is the lightest of the bunch, though it carries its weight higher. With its peppy motor and light weight, it's a breeze in slow speed stuff. The skinny, 21-inch front tire can be unwieldy at walking speeds, but reasonable steering geometry and an easily accessed handlebar keep things in hand. After some time on the Custom though, every single tester indicted the Harley's narrow, ill-shaped seat and pitifully short dish. The taller riders couldn't stomach it for more than 20 minutes, calling it something straight out of Abu Ghraib, and even the shorter man was crying "Uncle" by the first gas stop. Thankfully the Harley shifts well, with positive engagement and easy clutch actuation.

Once under way, the Honda almost out-rumbles the Harley-the VTX (like the V Star) has a single-crankpin design. It pulls nicely off the line, but our testers also agreed it was the most underpowered of the bunch, with one rider commenting that it had a "fluffy throttle". It also holds the dubious distinction of having the biggest dead spot right off idle, which is a real eye-opener in traffic. To make matters worse, Tech Editor Zimmerman told us that Honda may have leaned out the '09 models even more than previous versions, making them more finicky. And the VTX continues to give us the shaft-getting on and off the throttle results in a lurching effect from the shaft drive. It's not as bad as the bigger VTX, but the surge is noticeable. Good thing the cable-actuated clutch is effortless to work, engaging positively with a solid clunk. Despite all those glitches, most testers liked the Honda's engine quality, and the neutral ergonomics of the VTX seemed to fit most of the riders best.

The M90's layout sits you more in the bike, and there's noticeably better protection from wind blast up to 80 mph, but faster than that means grasping the drag bars and pressing on the way-forward pegs. Turn-in effort is minimal, but when it comes to parking lot speeds the M90's weight can be felt. The motor uses a single counter-balancer and two dampers to keep things smooth. There's slight jacking from the shaft drive, but Suzuki does a better job of minimizing the effect with its double shock absorbers than Honda. The M90's five-speed gearbox is matched pretty well to its power and torque, but the bike does inherit some of the S83's less attractive qualities-namely, the clutch. Every tester lamented the grabby hydraulic unit, especially when in first gear-the friction zone is short, with the engagement point coming abruptly at the very end of lever travel. Testers were disappointed to see it on a bike at this price point (especially since the issue has haunted Suzuki cruisers for years).

The Star may look substantial, but it managed not to feel heavy under power, with a relatively well-balanced package. There is a bit of a power deficiency and some abruptness right off idle-the engine is strong but not impressive at lower revs. Fortunately, the short-stroke v-twin is a mid-range monster. With tall gearing, the mill really shines once you hit the highway. A few testers though found low-speed maneuvers challenging, saying the V Star "was like a brick" on U-turns. The combination of low bar and high floor boards proved especially problematic for taller riders when initiating full lock turns, as the bar would sometimes contact their knees. Good thing the V Star's clutch was easy to modulate, with a light pull for the cable-actuated unit. And we all got clean shifts from the five-speed 'box and heel-toe shifter.

Into The Great Wide Open
Out on the superslab, we let our right hands do the talking. The Star continued surprising riders with the aforementioned glitches in its power delivery. There was also some driveline lash at speed, making throttle modulation mid-corner more choppy than we liked. The VTX motor has more punch right off the bottom, but the V Star overpowers everyone but the M90 from the midrange on up. The suspension felt overly soft and bouncy for the bigger riders, but the 67-inch wheelbase means it's stable in fast turns. Ground clearance wasn't as generous as on the other bikes though.

The 689-pound Honda rolls on a 19-incher up front, but because rake isn't so pronounced, it's easy to toss around-though you still need muscle to do it. Stability is good at low speeds, but the VTX's suspension tends toward the sloppy side. Most riders found it acceptable, and heavier riders seemed to settle the bike better, but all agreed there wasn't enough rebound. The majority liked the power characteristics of the VTX mill once it got going, and the bike's easy nature appealed to all riders, whether on twisty roads or freeways.

The M90 made the most of its 200cc displacement advantage, smoking the other bikes in almost every stoplight-to-stoplight contest. And not only does it ride more smoothly, the fact that it weighs roughly 40 lbs less than the M109R improves maneuverability. Peak horsepower arrives at higher rpms than both Harley or VTX, but the M90 has more of it. The wide bar helps the bike go into corners effortlessly, and the long wheelbase gives it good stability. The suspension doesn't wallow or move around too much, and the rear shock had surprisingly adequate travel for all the testers.

The Harley's renowned engine character almost disappeared in this group. It still has that signature Sporty vibe, though rubber mounting makes it smoother than past versions. Throttle response is linear and fueling is fine, though riders reported some snatchiness in transitions. The clutch required some effort to pull, but it engaged predictably (with a distinct clunk in first gear). The broad power spread starts at about 2000 rpm and extends almost to redline, so our Custom ran well with the others to about 60mph. The 1200 is smooth at normal speeds, though it offers little in the way of wind protection.

Whip It Good
Day two dawns clear and brilliant; the kind of epic Southern California day that occasionally graces the area after a winter rain scrubs the smoggy skies free of particulate. As we'd be riding mountain roads this day, the bikes' handling would be our biggest concern.

Negotiating corners is a bit of a struggle for most testers on the V Star, and its low ground clearance became problematic for some. Changing lines mid-corner isn't a problem as long as you're moving at a good clip. The suspension usually managed to strike a nice balance though some testers said bigger bumps made things too unsettled.

The Harley's tall 21 inch front wheel felt vague for most of our pilots, and the narrow contact patch did nothing to build confidence at speed. It was hard to gauge input, though the Custom goes into turns easily, thanks to a short wheelbase. Around town, everyone was a fan. Most testers felt it tracked stably enough in the sweepers. The Custom appeared to have more ground clearance than the others, but the bike's biggest drawback was limited rear suspension travel; big bumps connected hard, despite Harley's assertion that spring and damping rates have been recalibrated for 2009. All riders felt the travel rates to be nearly intolerable on potholed, urban stints.

The sense of balance a rider gets from the M90's neutral handling is apparent within the first few miles of twisty road. Ride quality from the front suspension is fairly forgiving, though harder bumps came through more than we'd like. Fortunately, steering input isn't lost in translation between the bars and tire. Maybe it's the Bridgestones (the only radials here), or just careful engineering, but the M90 steers easily and predictably. Unlike on some of the big power cruisers, that biggest back tire in the group doesn't slow steering. Those radials made a difference when strafing the canyons, keeping the bike planted in turns. The suspension also felt more settled at speed.

Whoa, There
The way back home involved coming down a fairly long series of steep hills-the perfect set of circumstances in which to test out the bikes' binders. Again, most of the opinions were unanimous.

All testers felt the Harley's single front disc provided just adequate stopping power, with a weak initial bite, with more power when the lever was fully squeezed. We suspected that once Harley decided on a narrow 21 inch front tire, they had no choice but to go easy on the brakes-there isn't much of a contact patch to work with. Most riders used both brakes on the downhills.

The biggest question we had for Suzuki was-where are the M90's brakes? They're sure not related to the excellent binders found on stablemate M109. The M90's two-piston, sliding-pin front calipers lacked power as well as feel, and the rear brake, though a four-pot unit, still required a serious shove on the big brake pedal.

Most of our riders found that Honda's lone twin-piston caliper gripping a large single 336mm disc on the bow was neither good nor bad-it was the Golidlocks brake setup of the bunch. All our riders said that four fingers were needed to really get results, and the 296mm disc with a twin-piston caliper at the stern was occasionally called into duty.

V Star was roundly praised for its progressive binders and easy actuation, though some felt the two-piston, single-action calipers were old tech. There's a weak initial bite, but the 298mm discs do a decent job of hauling the bike down from speed-if you put muscle into the lever.

Add It Up
After some 400 miles of pavement-pounding, we eventually got around to the nitty gritty of comparing notes on the bikes. All testers ranked the M90 as first or tied for first except for one, who picked the Honda first and Suzuki second. That was surprising, considering the Honda's many issues. All cited the M90's motor as the biggest factor for its high marks-it was just plain fun to ride in all situations. Apparently, ergonomics counted for a lot in this crew, and the Sportster's or V Star's ergonomics simply did not fit the majority of testers. In the words of one pilot, "the Honda just feels like a more complete bike".

But no matter what your bottom line is, it's clear you can't really go wrong in this group. It comes down to ergonomics and riding style: if you're a more aggressive rider, you'll probably like the Honda or Suzuki. If you're shorter or prefer to just cruise, then look to the Harley or V Star. There's no longer any reason to compromise.

SPECIFICATIONS
H-D SPORTSTER 1200 HONDA VTX 1300C STAR V STAR 1300 SUZUKI BOULEVARD M90
BASE PRICE $9,999 $9,899 $10,290 $10,599
AS TESTED $10,279 $9999 $10,290 $10,599
COLORS Black, blue, red (+ many, many more) Blue, red, black, gray Black, white Black, blue, red
STANDARD WARRANTY 24 months, unlimited miles 12 months, unlimited miles 12 months, unlimited miles 12 months, unlimited miles
ENGINE
TYPE Air-cooled, 45-degree V-twin Liquid-cooled, 52-degree V-twin Liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin Liquid-cooled, 54-degree V-twin
DISPLACEMENT, BORE X STROKE 1202cc, 88.9mm x 96.8mm 1312cc, 89.5mm x 104.3mm 1304cc, 100mm x 83mm 1462cc, 96.0mm x 101.0 mm
VALVE TRAIN OHC, two valves per cylinder SOHC, three valves per cylinder SOHC, four valves per cylinder SOHC, four valves per cylinder
COMPRESSION 9.7 : 1 9.2 : 1 9.5 : 1 9.5 : 1
FUEL SYSTEM EFI Single 38mm CV carburetor EFI, two 40mm throttle bodies EFI, 42mm throttle bodies
TRANSMISSION 5 speed, wet clutch 5 speed 5 speed, multiplate wet clutch 5 speed, multiplate wet clutch
FINAL DRIVE Belt Shaft Belt Shaft
CHASSIS
OVERALL LENGTH {{{90}}}.3 in. 95.4 in. 98.0 in. 94.1 in.
WHEELBASE 60.4 in. 65.45 in. 66.5 in. 66.5 in.
WET WEIGHT 583 lb. 689 lb. 679 lb. 725 lb.
SEAT HEIGHT 28 in. 27.4 in. 28.1 in. 28.2 in.
RAKE/TRAIL 30.1 deg./4.70 in. 32 deg./5.9 in. 23.5 deg./3.9 in. 32 deg./145mm
WHEELS Steel spoke front, cast aluminum rear Cast aluminum 7-spoke cast aluminum Cast aluminum
FRONT TIRE MH90-21 54H 110/90-19 {{{M}}}/C 130/90-16M/C tubeless 120/70ZR18M/C (59W) tubeless
REAR TIRE 150/80B16 71H 170/{{{80}}}-15 M/C 170/70B-16M/C tubeless {{{200}}}/50ZR17M/C (75W) tubeless
FRONT BRAKE 292mm disc, 2-piston caliper 336mm disc, twin-piston caliper twin 298mm discs, 2-piston calipers dual 290mm discs, 2-piston calipers
REAR BRAKE 292mm disc, single-piston caliper 296mm disc, single-piston caliper 298mm disc, 2-piston caliper 275mm disc, 2-piston caliper
FRONT SUSPENSION 39mm fork, 5.6 in. travel 41mm fork, 5.1 in. travel 41mm telescopic fork, 5.3-in. travel Inverted 43mm fork, 5.12-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Dual preload-adjustable dampers, 2.4-in. travel Dual preload-adjustable dampers, 3.6 in. travel Single preload-adjustable damper, 4.3-in. travel Single, preload-adjustable damper, 4.3-in. travel
FUEL CAPACITY 4.5 US gal 4.8 US gal 4.9 US gal 4.7 US gal
INSTRUMENTS Electronic speedometer with LCD odometer, clock and dual tripmeters; lights for low fuel, low oil pressure, engine diagnostics, high beam, neutral, turn signals Analog speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter, lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, oil pressure, coolant Analog speedometer, LCD odometer, dual tripmeters; clock; lights for neutral, high beam, turn signals, low fuel, oil pressure, engine diagnostics Analog speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter and fuel gauge; indicator lights for high beam, neutral, FI, turn signals, oil pressure
PERFORMANCE
FUEL MILEAGE 35.9-42.7 mpg; 40.39 mpg avg. 34.8-39.2 mpg; 37.2 mpg avg 32-43.2 mpg, 37.6 mpg avg. 31-37 mpg; 34.9 mpg avg.
AVERAGE RANGE 181 miles 178 miles 181 miles 160 miles
QUARTER-MILE ACCELERATION N/A 13.81 sec. @95.89 mph 13.14 sec. @{{{100}}}.47 mph N/A

Breaking The Bank
Upgrade To These Bikes For Just A Little More

If you're feeling flusher these days than we are (or you just got your stimulus check), you've got some tasty options to consider just north of our imaginary $10,000 mark. These machines listed here cost just a little more than the bikes we tested, but many offer a considerable leap in quality and depth of their features. They tend to offer a little more oomph as well.

Harley Davidson FXD Dyna Super Glide
$11,999

Sure it's a cool 2K more than its svelte brother, but in my book, the 1584cc FXD Dyna Super Glide is a vastly superior machine in every way. The fuel injected TwinCam 96 delivers a broad spread of power via the six speed tranny, plus the steering geometry and ergos are far more rational. Harley calls it a "blank canvas for your custom vision", and we suppose that's true. After all, why pay for chrome when all you want to do is goose it down a twisty road anyway?

Star Road Star
$12,390

It made a big splash when it debuted back in 1999 (it was called 'Yamaha' back then), and the getting-long-in-the tooth Road Star is still on Star's 2009 roster, but you can bet it won't be long until the plug is pulled on the air-cooled torque monster. It's good bet that this surprisingly neutral-handling big bike is probably available at most dealerships for fire-sale prices then. 1670cc, 8 valves and fuel injection doesn't get much more reasonably priced than this.

Kawasaki Vulcan Classic 1500
$9699

Yes, this one would cost you less. Too bad Kawasaki dropped the 1500 Classic from its lineup last year-it probably would have been at the top of the scoring lists in this issue's $10K shootout. It certainly has the other contenders beat on price, but not only is it a great value, it's actually still a completely competent motorcycle in every way. You can probably still track down these 1470cc babies as carryover models in some dealerships, and that would be OK-they haven't changed appreciably in 8 years.

Suzuki Boulevard C90
$11,299

If you don't like the sporty ergos and styling of the M90, you can always spring for its more traditionally-styled stablemate, the C90. It'll run you less than $500 more than the M, and that's only because of the bigger spread of bodywork. You'll also get floorboards, a roomier seat and wider pullback bars, but realize that you're not really getting the same engine in both bikes-this one's an air/oil-cooled, 45 degree v-twin with three valves per cylinder and a lower compression ratio than the M90.

Kawasaki Vulcan Classic 1600
$10,699

it's actually 1552cc, but at this price, the 8-valve liquid-cooled, fuel injected, shaft-driven Classic seems like a smoking bargain anyway.with Kawasaki's new 1700s on the way, this bike's technically no longer in the firm's 2009 lineup, so savvy buyers will probably be able to wangle additional discounts on one of the most solid traditional cruisers out there. there's also a deep accessory catalog from which to pluck accoutrements.

Riding Positions

Andy Cherney
5'7'', 155 lbs., 30" inseam
What the hell happened to the V Star? In its last shootout, the 1300 cleaned up. This time, ergonomics did it in; none of the taller-than-average testers (the National Center for Health Statistics states average height for US males as 5'9"), could fit quite right on the bike. I thought the V Star was competent enough save for bulky low-speed handling, but competence just doesn't cut it anymore.

I also once harbored a soft spot for the VTX13-despite it being one of those ambiguous bikes with no real redeeming qualities. But if the bike fit you (as it did me), and you whacked the throttle hard enough, things could be fun. Unfortunately Honda leaned out the VTX for 2009, so our test bike was a not-so-well carbureted buzz kill in the engine department. As for the Sportster, I remain a fan of its powertrain, but I could never cotton to the 21-inch-wheel Custom rig. Never felt natural. I still prefer the ergonomics of the VTX and V Star, but the revvier Suzook is more fun to ride-it outclasses the others in handling and that vibrant motor actually responds to my right hand. I'd have given the M90 five stars if Suzuki kept its price at $9999, fixed the clutch engagement and put better brakes on the thing, but that's splitting hairs. For me, it's Suzuki first and Harley last, with Star and Honda tied for the middle.

Chad Garrett
6', 170 lbs., 34" inseam
I loved riding the Suzuki M90: the engine is just so much fun. From stoplight to stoplight or winding it up to pass. Only two things detract from the otherwise good fun. First, there's lots of go, but not very much whoa. The brakes will need some aftermarket attention. Second, those forward controls. I can flat-foot every bike I've ever thrown a leg over, but the controls on the M90 are still a reach. That reaching gets uncomfortable too soon on longer rides.

The V Star 1300, for as big as it is, was just too small for a guy like me. Between the low bars and the high floorboards I felt like I was riding a minibike.

The Harley and Honda score in the middle for me. The type of riding I was going to do would decide the bike I'd want to ride. For in town and short rides I'd prefer the Harley (spunky engine, OK ergos). If I was going to be spending a lot of time in the saddle I would want the Honda (better ergos, compliant suspension). I would also prefer the VTX in the twisties.

Billy Bartels
6', 193 lbs., 33" inseam
I'd done a few miles on the Suzuki M90 before this test (at the press launch as well as the Baby Baggers Blowout), and I knew I liked it, but I wasn't sure how it would stack up against the other bikes. With 1500ccs it's got power, but what about the other stuff?

After riding it against the competition, I'd take it even if it had a lot less power. It fits my average-sized body perfectly, with enough comfort and wiggle room. The gearing is good both around town and lugging down the highway. It handles like a dream, despite having the widest tire. Maybe it ain't the prettiest thing here, but it just plain works.

As far as I'm concerned, the other three bikes in this test are all duking it out for last place. Of the others, and despite crappy bottom-end carburetion, the Honda VTX is the most complete motorcycle. The V Star is a slightly better bike out of the box, but is less fixable than the Sportster. Its boards are too high, its bars too wide, and the seat - in conjunction with the boards-just does unnatural things to my tailbone. The H-D also had ergonomic issues, but a seat and forward controls would fix it right up...and put it into a whole new tax bracket.

Follow the leader. He's on a Suzuki.
H-D Sportster 1200
Harley Pushrods and an air-cooled V-twin never seem to go out of style. And the Sportster Custom is all about style
Honda VTX1300
Honda Honda's liquid cooled, three valve-per cylinder 60-degree twin has its charms. But for its next iteration we're hoping for fuel injection and no tank seam
Star V Star 1300
Star The V Star's four-valve, liquid-cooled engine routes its oil plumbing internally, making for a super-clean exterior.
Suzuki Boulevard M90
Suzuki It's not the M109R, but it's a 54-degree, four-valve, liquid-cooled twin. Unfortunately, it also gets the seriously lame tank flange...
H-D Sportster 1200
Harley As you'd expect, the Sportster keeps things Spartan. Speedo, and LCD functions are all on the same small gauge, but they're not easily accessed or read.
Honda VTX1300
Honda The VTX is in some ways more minimal than the Sportster-including its tank mounted instrument console.
Star V Star 1300
Star The V Star still rules the instrument wars. The single compact pod on the handlebar is large, easy to read and way-accessible.
Suzuki Boulevard M90
Suzuki The M90 gets the similar instrumentation as its bigger stablemate the M109R, but without the tach. The smaller gauges are also harder to read.
With a short wheelbase and rational steering geometry, the Sportster turns in easily.
It also gives you gobs of lean angle before parts start sparking. (The seat is a rack, though).
It's no power monger, but the VTX feels so neutral in most riding situations that it's hard not to enjoy.
One request: fuel injection, please.
The V Star's high-revving engine makes its music at speed.
The sweet styling and mechanical features get high marks, but the ergonomics didn't always work.
Suzuki's new sport-cruiser is a joy in the tight stuff.
Excellent stability and the only radials in the group had us hunting for the next turn.
H-D Sportster 1200
Honda VTX1300
Star V Star 1300
Suzuki Boulevard M90