Motorcycle Comparison Test: Big Twins 1997

Motorcycle Cruiser's first big-twin comparison test, from the February 1997 issue. Harley-Davidson Dyna Low Rider and Softail Springer vs. Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 and Vulcan 1500 Classic vs. Suzuki Intruder 1400.

In 1997, just three manufacturers -- Harley, Kawasaki and Suzuki -- had entries in the mega-twins class. Though you could opt to load each of them down with all sorts of aftermarket highway gear like saddlebags and windshields, we took 'em straight and undiluted, just as they roll out of the factory. Harley-Davidson created the segment, or at least was the first of the present manufacturers to capitalize on it, and offers a long roster of 1340cc Evolution twins. We chose the representative of each manufacturers' full-cruiser family. The Dyna Low Rider represented the modern, rubber-mounted Dyna line, and the retro Springer Softail -- a pricier and more stylish take on big-inch motoring -- carried the colors for the Softail family.

Kawasaki offers three variations of the 1500 Vulcan, and we chose two: the basic Vulcan 1500, and the pleasingly plump 1500 Classic that debuted in '96. Suzuki provided the elemental-looking 1400 Intruder. It made for a diverse mix of machinery; our route up California's Owens Valley would provide an equally diverse selection of roads.

L.A.'s Drinking Fountain

When L.A. wants a drink of water, it dips its cup into California's Owens River Valley. Or more accurately, it diverts the water that flows off the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains before it has a chance to accumulate in the once-giant lakes of the area. L.A.'s half-century-plus habit of borrowing the region's water has changed the landscape to be sure, but it has barely detracted from the area's dramatic vistas. Or its appeal as great riding country.

Our fall venture northward out of Los Angeles began with a morning rendezvous in Mojave, about two-hours north of Shakytown. Besides being the home of the world-circling Voyager airplane, this day Mojave also earned the distinction of adding another point to Jamie Elvidge's driving record, courtesy of a City Limits speed trap. The rest of us made it into town relatively unscathed, notwithstanding colorful descriptions of seat-induced aches and pains from some quarters.

Such grumbling accompanied us throughout our three-day trip, and actually turned the limited cruising range of some of the machines into a virtue by providing a chance for some much-needed gluteal blood circulation every 120 miles or so. Were we to regularly roll up big mileage on any of these machines, we'd highly recommend the addition of a windscreen. It's the most cost-effective single comfort modification you can make to most cruisers. Relieved of the wind blast, we have found that a high handlebar works just fine, and even a marginal seat feels better.

On the desolate roads that angle across the high desert north toward Lone Pine, we began to rank this fearsome fivesome in terms of comfort. Most editorial hineys gravitated (not a pretty sight, by the way) toward the Vulcan Classic's well-shaped saddle. The Springer Softail's perch came in a close second, offering good support and enough squirming room to stay comfortable as the miles rolled up. Kawasaki's Vulcan 1500 (a.k.a. the "old Vulcan") had its supporters, too, and most could make peace with the Intruder's saddle. The clear tail-ender in terms of tail-end comfort was the almost comically bad Dyna Low Rider torture rack. Thinly padded, crowned and canted rearward, it perpetually slides you uncomfortably aft into the separate, stepped passenger section. On this bike we would replace the seat before adding a windshield.

General suspension harshness compounds the Low Rider's cruel and unusual seat, particularly over broken pavement. Though not harsh, the Vulcan 1500 had the most noticeable bound and float over bumps, and it had the only significant shaft effect with changes in power setting among the Japanese iron . Both the Classic and Springer have fine highway rides, though the Springer's front end bottoms noticeably if hard braking is mixed with substantial bumps.

We didn't carry passengers on our Sierra Nevada jaunt, but short stints of city riding before and after the trip indicated that none but the Vulcan Classic are fit for extended two-up duty. In the name of style, the rest of the seats tend to share an uncomfortably narrow, precarious feel that limits a passenger's long-range happiness. Small backrests on the Suzuki and Vulcan 1500 partially compensate by adding a measure of security for nervous back-seaters.

The Vulcan Classic was our ergonomic favorite. The low, wide handlebar lets you lean comfortably into the wind as required, and the big floorboards (the only ones in the test) provide room for foot movement and are blessed with well-placed controls. The Classic garnered just one ergonomic complaint: In low-speed full-lock maneuvering, it's quite a reach to the far handgrip, although most of our riders didn't mind the stretch.

Even though its footpegs are far forward, the Springer Softail garnered good comfort reviews. The uncrowded layout gives you room to move as the miles roll by, and the high handlebar and tall front end give you a measure (possibly imagined) of wind protection. The Softail's handgrips are positioned too vertically to feel natural, though, and it's impossible to position the lever assemblies quite right on the handlebar without running into interference with the turn signals. A footpeg phenomenon reared its head too. Between the wind blast and engine vibration, most of our riders noticed their boots slowly and inexorably sliding off the end of the footpegs. A bit more upward cant to the folding pegs would solve the problem.

Despite the mild sensation of doing a continuous pull-up against the wind blast, the old Vulcan worked well and was noticeably roomier than the cramped Intruder and Low Rider, which felt fine at low speed, but less and less accommodating as the velocity increased.

Pizza Burns and Power Struggles

After a leisurely lunch in Lone Pine, where Jamie Elvidge described her recent self-inflicted, pizza-induced second-degree burns (on an ankle, no less) to an enthralled audience, tour leader Friedman aimed our group up the side of the Sierras on a road that zigzags uphill more than a vertical mile in a few minutes. The climb and the increasing altitude forced all the throttles to their stops, and gave these monster twins a chance to bite off hearty chunks of atmosphere.

The Intruder and Vulcan 1500 make the best and the most power when the work load rises. Both turned in nearly identical performances at the dragstrip and in a top-gear roll-on, and gradually turned the other machines in this group into tiny specs in their rearview mirrors as the road clawed its way upward.

The Low Rider proved to be the stronger of our two Harleys, and in this hard climb, both Milwaukee machines took advantage of the closely spaced ratios in their five-speed transmissions. The Vulcan Classic had the road all to itself -- at the back of the pack. With a 14.99-second quarter-mile best, it's more than a second slower than the 13.71-second Suzuki. Its 71.5-mph 200-yard top-gear roll-on from 50 mph is 10.7 mph slower than the Intruder's arm-stretching 82.2 mph performance. Tuned for bottom-end chugability, the Classic refuses to be hurried. Our riders dutifully noted the Classic's mild maximum thrust but, with rare exception, didn't find it particularly annoying. With a view like this, what's the hurry?

After all, hurrying runs counter to the whole appeal of a big V-twin. With each cylinder displacing more than the entire engine of many bikes, the monster Vs provide the perfect combination of sound, visceral thump and crank-twisting torque. Sound-wise, most of our riders gave the nod to the Kawasakis, with their liquid-cooled cylinders dispensing a muffled bark without extraneous clatter. As for the vibes, this was less of an issue than anticipated. The Springer's rigid-mounted engine did indeed transmit the biggest buzz through seat, pegs and bars, but we were surprised to discover that the machine's basically comfortable layout made the shakes altogether bearable. It was still much more comfortable than the smoother-running, rubber-mounted Low Rider with its Seat from Hell. The vibro-fave was clearly the Vulcan Classic. A mild shaker at boulevard speed, the Classic goes almost Lexus-smooth at cruising speed.

Any handling questions that weren't answered on our ascent of the Sierras above Lone Pine were surely dealt with during an epoch coasting race that deposited us in a giggling, slipstreaming, freight train back on the valley floor. The Classic won handling praise, as did the Springer. Both have light, precise steering at moderate velocities (which is fast enough on any of these big twins). The Low Rider is stable, accurate and secure in the corners, and also has the corner on stopping power, with a pair of slightly sudden, but powerful front discs. The rest have single front discs that are adequate but far from dazzling, particularly while descending. The Intruder and Vulcan 1500 get through the turns just fine, too, though the Suzuki's steering is a bit less linear, and the Kawasaki's suspension allows a touch more bob and weave than the others.

After an overnight stay in the peaks above Bishop, we headed north for a riding tour of the June Lake Loop followed by a late lunch at Bridgeport. En route, Jamie decided to make a close pass by a highway construction cone as a momentary diversion. The Springer's pegs proved wider than anticipated, however, and the cone spun her right foot a half turn clockwise. Her twisted right ankle proved to be a perfect companion to her pizza-burned left ankle.

For Jamie at least, low-speed handling suddenly took on acute importance. All the machines were easy to maneuver at walking speeds, save for the Intruder. Slightly ragged carburetion off-idle, a grabby clutch and floppy chopper-style steering geometry make it the clumsiest pretty much anywhere there's likely to be an audience. Of course, that's the very same audience that's the most impressed with the Suzuki's level of finish once it's safely on its sidestand. Nothing else in this group has as many pretty pieces as the Intruder, though the overall lines of the Vulcan Classic were most loved by our road crew. The Springer, too, has undeniable character and a genuine quality that others simply can't simulate. The Low Rider has the ambiance of countless Harley-Davidsons before it, sort of like a Universal Milwaukee Motorcycle. Upstaged by the Classic, the old-look Vulcan 1500 has its admirers, but they seem to be dwindling. We admired the twins in a variety of light, too, as we parked on a ridge leading to the Virginia Lakes and the setting sun gave way to a rising, then-eclipsed, full moon.

We spent our third morning puttering around in the swiftly arriving fall color of Aspendell, 8000 feet up in the Sierras, pretending it was warm, even though it was 38 degrees in the shade and 42 in the morning sun. The long ride back to L.A. would take the rest of the day, and with the exception of the Low Rider, any one of the five looked good for the long ride home.

A favorite had clearly emerged, and for most of us, it was the Vulcan Classic. Beautiful, comfortable and not a bit fast, its easy cadence struck our riders as most appealing. Far more expensive, the Springer Softail has a retro look that's grounded in real history. The Intruder is hot on its tail, behind only as a matter of personal taste, not execution. The Vulcan 1500 serves as evidence of what Kawasaki accomplished with the Classic. The garden-variety Vulcan has the superior engine by most technical measures of performance, but the bike can't evoke the positive emotional response of the Classic. Our back marker, the Low Rider, is fine for short jaunts inside the city limits but needs a new seat at minimum if you intend to venture any farther.

Rolling south on Highway 395, we were free to ponder these and other issues. And to wonder if Jamie could make it all the way home feet-up.

HARLEY-DAVIDSON FXDL LOW RIDER

If you're hankerin' for a big-engined Harley-Davidson, the Dyna Low Rider offers you the cheapest way to straddle major Milwaukee iron. Though still a touch pricier than any of its Japanese competition, the Dyna Low Rider is about $3500 less than the Springer Softail.

Your $13,760 investment (including an extra $320 for spoked wheels) nets you cleanly conventional Harley styling and a carbureted, rubber-mounted 1340cc twin supplying the motivation. You even get a few extras not found on the other bikes in our group -- stuff like a tachometer, dual front disc brakes, and even separate highway pegs. Some cash was spared on detail finish items however, so the Dyna lacks the sparkle of the more expensive Springer.

The Low Rider powerplant is a standard-issue H-D big twin. Relative to its Japanese rivals, the Harley motor has small cylinder bores and a long 4.25-inch stroke. The single-pin crankshaft and narrow 45-degree V-angle ensures plenty of vigorous engine vibration, but Harley-Davidson's clever mounting system lets the motor jump around furiously while transmitting little of the commotion to the rest of the machine. The only time vibration is an issue for the rider is at idle, when the mounts can't contain the low-frequency shakes.

Quaint pushrod valve gear pops open two valves in each air-cooled cylinder, and hydraulic lifters keep the workings continuously adjusted. Like the Springer Softail, the Dyna has a five speed transmission and belt final drive -- the Japanese contingent uses four-speeds and shaft final drive.

Harley's Sport chassis ties it all together with key dimensions that define the Dyna as the roadracer of our bunch. It has the shortest wheelbase, the steepest steering-head angle and the least trail -- all dimensions skewed toward steering responsiveness. Relatively firm spring rates front and rear combine with three powerful disc brakes to further enhance the Dyna's performance potential.

Harley Dyna Low Rider Specifications
Designation: FXDL Dyna Low Rider (1997)
Suggested base price: $13,760 (1997)
Standard colors: Vivid Black (1997)
Extra-cost colors: Patriot Red Pearl, States Blue Pearl, Violet Pearl, two-tone Victory Sunglo/Platinum Silver, two-tone Platinum Silver/Black (1997)
Standard warranty: 12 mo., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 5000 miles

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Air-cooled 45-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: OHV, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, operated by hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1340cc, 88.8mm x 108mm
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Carburetion: 1, 40mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Dry sump, 3.0 qt
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt, 2.188:1

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 641 lb
GVWR: 1085 lb
Wheelbase: 65.5 in.
Overall length: 94.0 in.
Rake/trail: 38 degrees / 5.1 in.
Seat height: 27.0 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 19 x 2.50 front, 16 x 3.00 rear
Front tire: 100/90-19 Dunlop Elite S/T tube-type
Rear tire: 130/90-16 Dunlop Elite S/T tube-type
Front brake: Single-action single-piston calipers, 11.5-in. discs
Rear brake: Single-action caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 39mm stanchions, 6.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 4.0 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 4.9 gal. (0.5. gal. reserve)
Handlebar width: 27.0 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 360 watts
Battery: 12v, 20AH
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt 5.75-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: Tachometer, speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure

PERFORMANCE
Fuel mileage: 40 to 49 mpg, 44.9 mpg average
Average range: 220 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 2500
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 76.3 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.13 sec. @ 92.5 mph

HARLEY-DAVIDSON FXSTS SPRINGER SOFTAIL

Old is in. Harley reached all the way back to 1948 to find the inspiration for the Springer Softail. Among our fearsome fivesome, the Springer's style is utterly distinctive, and according to our reviewers, particularly appealing. The Early Industrial Revolution look of the front end is the key. Dripping with chrome, the Springer front end carries a skinny 21-inch front wheel on stubby swingarms that are linked by pushrods to springs and a single damper up near the steering head. To keep front-brake application from causing feedback in the suspension, the Springer's lone front-brake caliper is carried on a floating mount that isolates braking torque from suspension movement. The system delivers a modest 4.2 inches of travel but major visual impact.

The chrome-intensive front stands in contrast to the clean understatement of the Softail rear suspension, and lends the bike a raked-out look. Much of that is an illusion. In fact, the Springer's steering geometry is almost as conventional as the Vulcan Classic's, and far less chopper-esque than the Intruder's.

As you would expect, a traditional Harley-Davidson big twin resides in the Springer's engine bay. In this case, however, it's bolted tightly into the frame, not floated on the vibration-quelling mounting system found on the cheaper Dyna Low Rider, among others. The Springer Softail is for riders who want the V-twin experience undiluted. Courtesy of a narrow 45-degree V-angle and a single-pin crankshaft, they definitely get it. Just like the Dyna, the Springer has a five-speed transmission and tidy belt final drive.

To provide just the right sort of rolling body language, the Springer's pull-back handlebar and forward-mounted foot controls ensure that your feet are first to arrive at any new destination. Furthering the classic look, the speedometer is mounted in a tank-top chrome console, freeing the chromed headlight from unattractive clutter.

Harley Springer Softail Specifications
Designation: FXSTS Springer Softail (1997)
Suggested base price: $14,765 (1997)
Standard colors: Vivid Black (1997)
Extra-cost colors: Patriot Red Pearl, States Blue Pearl, Violet Pearl, Two-tone Victory Sunglo/Platinum Silver, Two-tone Platinum Silver/Black (1997)
Standard warranty: 12 mo., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 5000 miles

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Air-cooled 45-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: OHV, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, operated by hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1340cc, 88.8mm x 108mm
Compression ratio: 8.5:1
Carburetion: 1, 40mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Dry sump, 3.0 qt
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt, 2.031:1

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 643 lb
GVWR: 1085 lb
Wheelbase: 64.4 in.
Overall length: 92.5 in.
Rake/trail: 32 degrees / 5.25 in.
Seat height: 27.0 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 21 x 2.15 front, 16 x 3.00 rear
Front tire: MH90-21 Dunlop Tour Elite II tube-type
Rear tire: MT90B-16 Dunlop Tour Elite II tube-type
Front brake: Single-action single-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Rear brake: Single-action caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: Springer, 4.2 in. travel
Rear suspension: Single damper, 4.06 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal. (0.4. gal. reserve)
Handlebar width: 27.0 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 360 watts
Battery: 12v, 20AH
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt 5.75-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure

PERFORMANCE
Fuel mileage: 45 to 51 mpg, 48.4 mpg average
Average range: 203 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 2300
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 73.5 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.21 sec. @ 92.3 mph

KAWASAKI VULCAN 1500

Since 1987, the Vulcan 1500 has been the biggest V-twin available without a prescription. The bragging rights and no-excuses torque it delivers has been the big Vulcan's primary appeal ever since. Just last year, the Vulcan 1500 was joined in the lineup by the extensively reengineered Classic. The L version is essentially a $100 trim upgrade for the basic Vulcan 1500 that nets you 48-spoke wheels and a flatter, drag-style handlebar.

The Vulcan's aluminum-finished mill is an SOHC design with liquid-cooling and a 50-degree V-angle. The four valves in each cylinder head are adjusted automatically. A pair of 36mm Keihin carburetors (one mounted in the engine's V and another behind the rear cylinder head) keep the Vulcan well fed. With combustion chambers the size of the Super Dome, the Vulcan uses dual spark plugs to light the fire. Both cylinders share a common crankpin, so the Vulcan is inherently a shaker, but a gear-driven balancer and rubber mounts take the wallop out of the meaty power pulses.

The four-speed gearbox has Kawasaki's convenient neutral-finder feature that makes it impossible to miss getting the green neutral light first time, every time when the bike is at a stop. The aluminum shaft final-drive housing is polished to a high sheen, and typical of the breed, the guts within it are just about maintenance-free. The '96 model we rode had shorter gearing (in second, third, and fourth) than the Vulcan Classic; in '97, all 1500 Vulcans will have the Classic's excellent gearbox ratios.

Full of gas, the 1500 scales in at 620 pounds, about a hundred pounds more than the comparatively flyweight Intruder. Conventional frame geometry and a reasonably low 28.3-inch seat height keeps the Kawasaki's bulk manageable, however. Forward-set foot controls and a relatively flat drag-style handlebar make for a user-friendly riding position. Instrumentation is typical minimalist cruiser fare, with a speedometer perched atop the headlight, and fuel gauge mounted in the chrome fuel filler housing on top of the 4.2-gallon tank.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Specifications
Designation: VN1500-A11 (1997)
Suggested base price: $8,699 (1997)
Standard colors: Ebony/Candy Persimmon Red (1997)
Extra-cost colors: n/a
Standard warranty: 12 mo., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 6000 miles

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Liquid-cooled 50-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, operated by hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1470cc, 102mm x 90mm
Compression ratio: 9.0:1
Carburetion: 2, 36mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 3.7 qt
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 4 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 2.619:1

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 620 lb
GVWR: 1003 lb
Wheelbase: 63.2 in.
Overall length: 95.5 in.
Rake/trail: 31 degrees / 5,04 in.
Seat height: 29.5 in.
Wheels: Cast aluminum, 19 x 2.15 front, 15 x 3.00 rear
Front tire: 100/90-19 Dunlop Gold Seal F11 tubeless
Rear tire: 150/90-15 Dunlop X425A tubeless
Front brake: Single-action single-piston caliper, 11.0-in. disc
Rear brake: Single-action caliper, 9.7-in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.5 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 4.2 gal. (1.1. gal. reserve)
Handlebar width: 33.5 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 350 watts
Battery: 12v, 14AH
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt 6.7-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: Dual bulbs
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, coolant temperature, oil pressure

PERFORMANCE
Fuel mileage: 32 to 40 mpg, 36.7 mpg average
Average range: 154 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 2500
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 82.0 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.85 sec. @ 93.8 mph

KAWASAKI VULCAN 1500 CLASSIC

Functionally, there's little to fault about the long-running Vulcan 1500. Stylistically, however, it's none too cutting edge. Kawasaki remedied this situation for the '96 model year with the introduction of the Vulcan 1500 Classic, a fat-tired retro-redraft of the biggest V-twin in production.

This was not just a matter of slinging on some puffy bodywork and breaking for lunch -- Kawasaki engineers rolled up their sleeves and got downright greasy. New cylinder heads draw mixture from a single carburetor positioned in the center of the 50-degree V, and repositioned exhaust ports allow for a more graceful staggered dual exhaust system that sweeps down the machine's right side. Round, chromed air filters sit on both sides of the engine to conceal the carburetor. For Classic duty, the cam timing, valve lift and compression ratio have all been backed off incrementally, with the objective of boosting low-rpm power.

To make sure that the engine behaves itself at ultralow rpm, the gear-driven counterbalancer has been upped in mass substantially to net a 25-percent increase in the engine's flywheel effect. Relative to the basic Vulcan 1500 from whence it sprang, the Classic has taller ratios for the top three transmission gears. For the '97 model year, all 1500s will adopt the Classic's gearing. Besides the functional changes, the Classic's engine has also been extensively restyled. It's now basic black, with recontoured chromed outer covers and polished cylinder finning. The new cylinder heads have a much more traditional proportion too.

The Classic's chassis has little in common with its progenitor. The wheelbase has been stretched, the seat height is a bit lower, and the riding position is different. Wide longhorn handlebars lean you mildly into the wind, and forward-mounted floorboards replace the footpegs used on other Vulcan 1500 models. A speedometer the size of a personal-size pizza is sunk into the top of the tank, letting the chromed headlight shell reflect the passing scenery like a wide-angle lens.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic Specifications
Designation: VN1500-D2 (1997)
Suggested base price: $10,699 (1997)
Standard colors: Candy Cardinal Red, Pearl Boulogne/Pearl Alpine White, Pearl Alpine White/Pear Chateau Gray (1997)
Extra-cost colors: n/a
Standard warranty: 12 mo., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 6000 miles

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Liquid-cooled 50-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 2 intake, 2 exhaust valves, operated by hydraulic adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1470cc, 102mm x 90mm
Compression ratio: 8.55:1
Carburetion: 1, 40mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 3.7 qt
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 4 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 2.619:1

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 683 lb
GVWR: 1076 lb
Wheelbase: 65.4 in.
Overall length: 100.2 in.
Rake/trail: 32 degrees / 4.84 in.
Seat height: 27.6 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 16 x 3.00 front, 16 x 3.50 rear
Front tire: 130/90-16 Dunlop D404F tube-type
Rear tire: 150/80-16 Dunlop D404 tube-type
Front brake: Single-action twin-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc
Rear brake: Single-action caliper, 10.6-in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 5.9 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 3.4 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal. (1.1. gal. reserve)
Handlebar width: 33.0 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 350 watts
Battery: 12v, 14AH
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt 6.7-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: Dual bulbs
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, coolant temperature, oil pressure

PERFORMANCE
Fuel mileage: 29 to 39 mpg, 34.7 mpg average
Average range: 174 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 2100
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 71.5 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.99 sec. @ 87.9 mph

SUZUKI INTRUDER 1400

More than a decade ago, the 1400 Intruder proved that the Japanese (Suzuki, at least) really could build a cruiser that could stand on the merits of its own style. The Intruder's good looks weren't just in the bike'sl lines, but in the details, and an overall level of finish that to this day is unequaled. Now just a bit out of step with the current fat-fender rage, the Intruder nonetheless lacks some of the less-than-flattering angles on some of its competition.

Suzuki should get an award for clever packaging. The 1360cc V-twin has its cylinders splayed at a narrow (and visually appealing) 45 degrees, without a bit of clutter to distract the eye from the towering air/oil-cooled cylinders. Amazingly, engineers were able to hide a pair of 36mm Keihins -- one in the V and the other behind the rear cylinder -- without resorting to bogus covers or oversize air filters. They did run a little short of fuel room however, finding space for only 3.4 gallons in the skinny tank. Along with the narrow V-angle comes a good measure of vibration, something that was neatly dispatched in the Intruder's case with an offset-pin crankshaft. Unlike the 800 Intruder, the big bike dispenses with liquid-cooling and four-valve cylinder heads, neither of which are as critical when there are plenty of cubic inches to shoulder the load. The 1400's single-cam three-valve heads have rockers with threaded adjusters. Like the big Kawasakis, the Intruder sends its power to the rear wheel through a four-speed transmission and shaft final drive.

Beauty rules in the Intruder's chassis department, with a frame that does double duty as structure and style. Styling set the steering geometry at a rakish (literally) 36 degrees, with trail stretching out past 6.5 inches. Such super-slow steering geometry could be a real hardship at low speed, if not for the Intruder's relatively svelte 572-pound wet weight, some 69 pounds less than the next lightest machine here. Suspension is distinctly mainstream by comparison, with a non-adjustable fork and preload-adjustable dual shocks out back.

Suzuki Intruder 1400 Specifications
Designation: VS1400GLPT (1997)
Suggested base price: $8,499 (1997)
Standard colors: Dusk Blue/Milky White, Pearl Black/Candy Maroon
Extra cost colors: n/a
Standard warranty: 12 mo., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 7500 miles

ENGINE & DRIVETRAIN
Type: Air-cooled 45-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 2 intake, 1 exhaust valve, operated by rockers, threaded adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1360cc, 94mm x 98mm
Compression ratio: 9.3:1
Carburetion: 2, 36mm Mikuni CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 5.3 qt
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch; 4 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 2.666:1

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 572 lb
GVWR: 10350 lb
Wheelbase: 63.8 in.
Overall length: 91.9 in.
Rake/trail: 36 degress / 6.54 in.
Seat height: 27.75 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 19 x 2.15 front, 15 x 4.00 rear
Front tire: 110/90-19 Bridgestone Excedra G307 tube-type
Rear tire: 170/80-15 Bridgestone Excedra GS-44 tube-type
Front brake: Double-action caliper, 11.6-in. disc
Rear brake: Double-action caliper, 11.0-in. disc
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 6.3 in. travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 4.1 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 3.4 gal. (0.8. gal. reserve)
Handlebar width: 28.5 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 300 watts
Battery: 12v, 14AH
Forward lighting: 55/60-watt 5.5-in. headlight, position lights
Taillight: Single bulb
Instruments: Speedometer, odometer, tripmeter; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, low fuel

PERFORMANCE
Fuel mileage: 39 to 46 mpg, 42.6 mpg average
Average range: 145 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top gear: 3100
200 yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 82.2 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.71 sec. @ 93.2 mph

Photography by Kevin Wing (www.KevinWingPhotography.com)
For more info on riding in the Owens valley, see "Cruising California's Owens Valley" in the Rides and Destinations section of this site.
The Low Rider's tach isn't exactly in your line of sight. The left "gas cap" is actually a dummy with a fuel gauge, which means you only have to remove one cap for fill-ups, unlike the Springer which requires you to remove both fuel caps to top off.
Its primary appeal is visual, but the Springer fork also offers freedom from fork-seal friction, which slows down the response of forks, making the ride a bit rougher than with this Springer..
Coupled with its strong power and soft suspension, the shaft drive of the original Vulcan provides plenty of rise and fall with power-setting changes. The chrome cover on the shaft-drive housing is not included on the 1997 Classic version.
The big air-cooled Intruder still needs a radiator -- to cool its oil supply. Its powerful 1400 engine seems to run cooler than either of the Harleys and gets by on regular unleaded fuel, unlike the Milwaukee machines, which ping without more octane.