Photography by Kevin Wing...
Want lots of chrome, massive width and ultra-low saddles? Keep scrolling. The seven sport-cruisers assembled here are pretty sparse in those regards, but they represent the newest and, to us, one of the most interesting niches in motorcycling. By melding cruiser style with cornering fun, sport-cruisers invite a new kind of rider into their world and offer new opportunities to long-time cruiser enthusiasts.
The 1980s and early 1990s saw the rise of the sportbike. Many baby boomers were drawn to these high-performance machines which can be heeled deeply into corners, flicked instantly from side to side when a swerve is needed, and (thanks to powerful brakes and sticky tires) stopped on a dime and give you a few cents change. However, as riders have aged, sportbikes have begun to lose their appeal. Prompted by uncomfortable, inelegant riding positions, thin saddles, fat insurance bills and the realization that they no longer wanted to try to live up to their bikes' high-performance images, many former sportbike fans find themselves taking longer and more appreciative looks at cruisers.
We have talked to a lot of these people. They don't mind giving up that surplus speed that they never used, nor will they miss the plastic bodywork that impedes maintenance and costs a stack of money every time the bike falls over. These riders welcome a more endurable riding stance, but, as luxury-car makers have discovered, they don't want to completely surrender braking and handling. Even Cadillac buyers asked for a car that zigs. The biggest difference between cars and bikes is motorcycles lean over in corners. If you just want wind in your face and bugs in your teeth, take the doors and windows off your car. Motorcycling is about heeling through corners, and a bike should do that well, no matter what it looks like.
Victory calls its second model...
Victory calls its second model the SportCruiser, giving name to the concept.
Motorcycles that appeal to both hemispheres of your brain have been around for a few years. However, it was Victory -- America's other motorcycle maker -- who pinned a name on cruisers with performance chassis configurations: sport-cruisers. Victory's second rendition of its 1500cc twin, new for 2000, is the V92SC; and Victory, which is headed by people who have an abiding appreciation of sporting motorcycles, clearly intend to appeal to people who wanted cruisers that zig. You can see the attention to chassis performance in its enormous 50mm fork legs, sportbike tires and Fox rear shock. We rode a prototype for our December '99 issue and wanted to get a production bike as soon as one was available.
Harley gave it's Super Glide...
Harley gave it's Super Glide more sophisticated and capable chassis components to create the Sport.
However, we weren't prepared to let Victory lock up the category yet -- even if it did coin the name. Shortly before riding the V92SC, we tested the most recent version of Harley-Davidson's FXDX Dyna Super Glide Sport (October '99). The FXDX targets the same niche and has a similar layout, including a tandem V-twin in the engine bay. A few days after riding the V92SC, we also sampled Moto Guzzi's new Jackal (December '99), a stripped down version of its across-the-frame, 90-degree 1100cc V-twin that dropped neatly into the sport-cruiser mold as well. Three bikes are enough to make a category, so we started talking about a comparison, and which other bikes should be included.
The first bike that came to mind when the word "sport" was mentioned was Triumph's Thunderbird Sport. Powerful, light, and equipped with big-time brakes, the 885cc triple is the most sporting machine Motorcycle Cruiser has ever tested, and some people reckon that it's actually more properly regarded as a retro sportbike than a sport-cruiser. The bike has seen some significant changes since we sampled it last (December '98), the most visual of which is the switch from both mufflers stacked distinctively on the right to a more common one-on-each-side configuration.
Guzzi's Jackal -- lean and...
Guzzi's Jackal -- lean and affordable.
Though we hadn't seen it in the flesh, the new Euro version of the BWM R1200C sounded like a step toward sport-cruiser country. A lower handlebar, a small flyscreen over the headlight, two small driving lights tucked beneath the light, a reconfigured rider's saddle and a finish scheme that uses a variety of black finishes (instead of silver or unfinished metal) distinguish the new CE from the original C. This limited-production bike uses the same fuel-injected flat twin that powers the original.
We looked at all of the Japanese line-ups, but only found one that yielded cruisers with seemingly sporting intentions. Honda's Valkyrie and Magna both appeared to fill the bill. Well, actually, the jumbo-sized Valkyrie doesn't appear to have any sporting spirit, but experience has shown that the huge 1520cc flat-six works very well when the road meanders. The 750 Magna had also proven itself competent on challenging roads as well as boulevards. Its sportbike-bred liquid-cooled V-4 makes plenty of power. So, even though the Magna displaces just 750cc, it would be more than able to keep up with the bigger bikes.
Is Triumph's Sport a crui...
Is Triumph's Sport a cruiser?
We considered including some other bikes. We looked at the Suzuki 800 Marauder, but quickly decided that it couldn't play in this league. The Harley Sportster 1200 Sport got a longer consideration period and deeper discussion, but we knew from riding both motorcycles that it would pale next to Harley's FXDX. In the end, we didn't ask Harley for one. When all our contenders were rounded up, we had The Magnificent Seven.
Though some of the bikes -- notably the FXDX, Thunderbird Sport, and V92SC -- have been marketed as sport-cruisers, the others were drawn into this comparison because of our perceptions of how they might perform in the ambiguous double duty. We should probably point out that not everyone agreed with our choices. The BMW and Valkyrie in particular raised some eyebrows. But we all agreed that the target was nebulous, changing with the beholder. There was another point of consensus: finding our favorites was going to be fun.
BMW's CE: How Euro is it?...
BMW's CE: How Euro is it?
To get a feel for how these seven motorcycles manage their dual roles, come along for a ride that includes both cruising and sporting sessions.
All rides begin the same way. The bikes are rolled out of the garage and started. You'll notice the extra heft of the Valkyrie and Victory when wheeling them around in the driveway, and the three sub-600-pounders -- the Jackal, the Magna and the T-Bird -- will be easier to push. You have to retract the Guzzi's long sidestand before the engine will respond to its starter button. But once you have done that, the Guzzi -- like the other two fuel-injected bikes (the BMW and Victory) -- will start immediately. The Victory needs its fast-idle lever on the handlebar deployed to keep it running hands-off on cold mornings. The carbureted bikes start pretty readily and run smoothly without choke after a few minutes.
Most of the bikes had a sort of mild cruiser riding position, with your feet slightly in front of you, which most riders found pleasing, although the Guzzi's pegs were slightly higher than some liked. The Triumph varied from this norm on the sportbike end with its mild sporting position. It puts your feet beneath you and cants your body forward slightly to reach the low bars on modest risers. Your feet are the most forward on the Victory -- although most riders felt that the peg position, particularly in conjunction with the forward handlebar, was awkward. When combined with a saddle that firmly limits how far back you can slide, the pegs and bar gave the Victory the least-popular riding position. The Harley saddle also restrains you, though most riders declared the position to their liking. With their flat saddles, the Jackal and T-Bird Sport allow movement and therefore suit most builds. The Magna is the least roomy, but no one complained about feeling cramped. Thanks to its new saddle and handlebar, the BMW riding position found favor with all. Most liked the Valkyrie, which is roomy enough to let you squirm around also. Only smaller riders found it slightly bulky.
Valkyrie: Too big for spo...
Valkyrie: Too big for sport?
Blipping the throttle at a stop on the BMW or Guzzi makes the bike pull to the left slightly because of the torque reaction. The effect, which is more pronounced on the Jackal, is no longer detectable once the bike is moving more than a few mph. Though the Valkyrie also has a longitudinal crankshaft, this torque reaction has been eliminated by making some of the components, such as the alternator, spin the opposite direction of the engine.
When it's time to mount, none of these machines offer the ultra-low saddles of main street cruisers. The lowest seat in the bunch is the FXDX, at 27.0 inches, with the Jackal towering above the others at 31.3 inches. Though low saddles have a kind of reflexive popularity among cruiser enthusiasts, they also have their drawbacks, including reducing leg room and lowering your eye level. If you are short-legged the low saddles are important, but otherwise, they are simply for style. We knew, however, that these bikes would have high saddles because of the need to raise their chassis to increase cornering clearance.
Generally we found the riding positions enjoyable, though most riders commented that the reach to the low-rise V92SC handlebar was a bit awkward. This could be remedied either by rotating the bar rearward or replacing the bar. The new handlebar on the Euro was unanimously greeted as a significant improvement versus the standard 1200C's handlebar.
Longitudinal crankshaft orientation...
Longitudinal crankshaft orientation in the Guzzi (shown) and BMW create a torque effect when the throttle is blipped.
The E retains the flip-up...
The E retains the flip-up passenger pad/rider backrest.
The V92SC puts the rider's...
The V92SC puts the rider's feet fairly forward.