There was a time and it was not that long ago when a big motorcycle was considered to be anything over 750cc. Now it seems that starter bikes have taken over this category and for some people their first cruiser motorcycle has a big V-twin engine.
What you are about to read is not the definitive list of best starter cruisers but five bikes that the staff at RideApart think you should seriously consider if you are in the market. Yes, we know they predominantly have outdated technology, retro-looks and some of you wouldn’t be seen dead sitting in the saddle of one. But there is still a huge market out there for cruisers and of all the motorcycle types it’s the only sector that is still growing year after year worldwide.
Harley-Davidson is the biggest player in the cruiser market selling 249,849 motorcycles globally in 2012 and capturing 80% of the market in the U.S. Clearly there is real appeal and people want to buy them.
2013 Harley-Davidson XL883 Sportster Iron
Harley-Davidson’s Sportster range, which has been around for decades, is still a strong seller and if you’re into cruisers it’s not hard to see why. For $8,399 you get the keys to a XL883 Sportster Iron and an entry ticket into the Harley-Davidson brand and image. The Iron has a low solo saddle, drag handlebars, chopped rear fender and a punchy, fuel-injected 883cc V-twin. It starts and goes like no 1960s Harley-Davidson could ever dream of.
But as a first time cruiser you’re going to have to get used to its high center of gravity, which is particularly apparent in slow turns or parking lot maneuvers. It’s also not that light, coming in at 573 lbs, but despite all that it goes well and is pretty sprightly. The aftermarket also offers a wide range of cosmetic and technical upgrades you can make. Did I mention it’s a Harley-Davidson?
2013 Yamaha Star Bolt
There’s a new kid on the block as RideApart’s associate editor, Sean McDonald wrote about in his story on the Six Best Budget Motorcycles. It’s Yamaha’s very competent Star Bolt. It’s got all the cool looks and is more than up to giving the Sportster a run for its money. It handles slightly better, is well built and has a technical edge over the Sportster in a number of areas, particularly the engine and brakes. Yamaha has launched a series of aftermarket parts to personalize the Bolt even further and it won’t be long before other suppliers will be following suit and offering even more.
Priced at $7,999 the Bolt gives you enough bang for the buck too. The big question is will people buy it over the Harley-Davidson market-leading Sportster? Only time will tell.
2013 Suzuki Boulevard C50
Suzuki’s no-nonsense, mid-displacement Boulevard C50 cruiser is another that is aimed directly at Sportster prospects. At $8,399 it’s also the same price as the HD Iron. You get a liquid-cooled 803 cc V-twin, with shaft drive and a raked out front end. It’s got the top-notch build quality we have come to expect from Suzuki and the C50 rides as well as any of the competition bikes despite being a somewhat portly 611 lbs.
2013 Honda Shadow Spirit 750
Honda’s Shadow cruiser has been around for what seems like a lifetime. Over the years it has earned itself a great reputation as being a simple and straightforward starter cruiser that many people who have owned one have fond memories of. It’s also a good-looking bike, in that quasi-American cruiser sort of way. For 2013 it remains technically unchanged. There’s still a liquid-cooled 745 cc V-twin and shaft drive that you can buy, but it only comes in black under the Shadow RS moniker.
2013 Kawasaki Vulcan 900 Custom
Last and by no means least is Kawasaki’s Vulcan 900 Custom. A bike that we recently tested at RideApart and found that it’s still kicking and worthy of consideration in the cruiser starter club. It’s got the biggest engine of the group with a 903cc V-twin and has consistently proved to be the biggest cruiser seller for Kawasaki in the U.S. It is straightforward and easy to ride, is as heavy as the Suzuki but with that added displacement you don’t quite notice it as much. It’s also the most expensive of the group at $8,499.
There’s not a lot to separate this group. On price alone they almost cost the same amount of money. Performance-wise maybe the Sportster and Bolt are slightly quicker, while the other three are better equipped. There’s a wide range of aftermarket options for all the bikes on this list so you can personalize your motorcycle, make it faster, handle better and look better than the original standard.
Now here’s the real deal. Most of these starter cruisers are precisely that. People wanting their first bike buy them and after maybe only a year of ownership they realize that either cruisers aren’t for them or they trade up to something bigger and more powerful in the cruiser line-up.
You can save yourself a lot of money by looking around for a good used, low mileage version of any one of these. You could keep it forever and make it your own, or learn about cruisers and then move on up or out of this category altogether. Bottom line, you have to pay your money and make a choice.