There’s a lot to consider when choosing the right machine for you as cruisers come in many shapes and sizes, with a thriving custom scene, but as a type of bike they share some characteristics. A low, often feet-forward, riding position being one of them.
Performance and safety
With the focus less on speed than style, character and presence, most cruiser-type bikes don’t aim to deliver cutting edge performance. Some misinterpret this as meaning they are safer. They’re not. Cruisers may have lower top speeds and less acceleration than more sporty bikes, but they also don’t have the braking or cornering performance. Statistically, cruisers are no less likely to be involved in the most serious accidents.
The main objective consideration is the size of machine. Then it really is a personal choice. Cruisers tend to be heavy; some very heavy. For those of smaller stature, machines at the lighter end of the scale make sense. Experience and training also come into it. These machines are not the most maneuverable, and can be a handful at low speeds if you are less than confident.
Choosing a cruiser
Lighter, lower capacity machines aren’t entirely without style and presence. They’re also more economical to buy and run. If you’re getting back into biking after a lay-off, or you’ve just passed your test, there’s plenty to hold your interest.
Yamaha’s Virago and Suzuki’s Intruder are 250cc machines that have put many riders onto the cruiser path. Step up to light middleweights like the V Star, Boulevard 50, Honda’s VT750S or some of Harley Davidson’s smaller Sportster range, and you’ll get a machine that carries off the swagger of something bigger while being easy to manage. From there, however, you can go as big as you dare. Right up to Triumph’s 2.3 litre Rocket III or the 429kg of a Harley CVO.
Style may be important, but it shouldn’t and needn’t, get in the way of having effective riding gear. A two-piece Cordura, or similar textile suit–waterproof, breathable, with built-in armour works as well as anything. Especially if you’re touring. But if you want to style things up, there are good options as well as bad.
Don’t think a leather vest or cut-off gloves do anything apart from make over-worked nursing staff roll their eyes. Falling off a cruiser, just like any bike, will tear your body apart. Wear proper gloves and protective gear: there’s plenty of it that looks the part.
Leather, cruiser-style jeans and jackets are widely available. Choose ones with CE-standard armour for shoulders, elbows and knees and ideally hips too. For your back, slip a CE-standard insert into the jacket’s pouch, or wear a separate vest-type protector. If you’re going for a more casual look, there are plenty of kevlar-lined jeans to choose from, featuring discrete CE-approved knee armour. If the jeans have a zip that fits the one at the back of your jacket, even better.
Open face helmets might be popular but they offer much less protection than a full-face, from the elements as well as in a crash. Some terrible and unnecessary injuries are suffered by riders wearing open face lids and sunglasses. There are one or two convertible designs, like the Suomy 3Logy, which can offer some of the extra protection of a full-face lid. Definitely worth considering but fit, as always, is crucial.
There’s an endless choice of boots for cruiser riders. The main divide is between a full-length or cut-down boot. Full length offers more protection and some of the more café-custom style boots are real tanks. Shorter cross-over style boots will pass for casual footwear but have heel and toe cups, a sole shank, some ankle protection and secure fittings.
The list is endless, since customising your ride is all part of cruiser culture. But the first option to tick, if it’s not standard, is ABS. Having a machine like this lock up and drop on you is a disaster. Seat, suspension and even footpeg position can often be tailored to you at the factory. There are after-market options too that will make you more comfortable and improve control. A higher screen and touring or gel seat can make a huge difference over longer distances.
Some cruisers are actually fully-fledged touring machines, such as Harley Davidson’s ‘Glide’ and ‘Road King’ models. These come equipped with full luggage and a touring disposition. It’s perfectly possible to tour long distance with a cruiser bike, but you will find some bikes easier than others to configure with adequate luggage. Think ahead before you buy.