Monday, June 16, 2008

Cruisers versus Sportbikes

1948 Harley Davidson PanheadThe decision to buy a cruiser instead of a sportbike was largely due to a decision by my next-door neighbor. But that decision also has its roots further back into my youth.

What caused you to buy a cruiser or a sportbike, versus the other?

When I was 10 years old, my step-father and I drove his Chevy van from San Diego to Colorado, to pick up his old Harley-Davidson. It was a 1948 Panhead that he rode in his college days of the 1960s. He said he built it himself from junkyard parts he found all over the states of Colorado and New Mexico.

We brought it home and he began the long process of dismantling it, and cleaning it, and replacing some parts. He dismantled it down to every bolt, bracket, and piece that could be separated. I'm still amazed that he could put it all back together without having labeled the parts, or taped the bolts together. He had several coffee cans of bolts, nuts, and washers all thrown loosely together. He knew his bike that well, even after all those years.

I remember the day he reassembled it, mostly with the same parts, but with new paint, a new seat and taillight. He eventually changed out the exhaust, and made a new jockey-shift handle.

The photo above is his rebuilt, and repainted 1948, finished just around the time I graduated high school.

It was that time watching him piece it back together that I developed an interest in classic American motorcycles.

That interest was further cemented when my parents bought me the 1979 Kawasaki KZ400 in 1984. It wasn't anything close to being "classic American", but it was still mine, and I finally had wheels of my own. I wanted to be like my step-father, and learn everything I could about it, take it all apart, and put it back together like he did.

But in those days, riding a motorcycle wasn't a lifestyle for me, nor was it recreation. It was transportation, a way to meet new people, and help me get ahead in life.

Fast forward to 2004. By then I hadn't ridden a motorcycle since 1989. My next door neighbor showed me a Harley-Davidson brochure, and pointed out the Dyna Wide Glide. He said he was going to buy it.

I took at look at the brochure, and then I spotted the Road King with its classic American styling and thought about my step-father's 1948 Panhead. I thought, "yeah, that's what I want". If my neighbor was going to buy a motorcycle, then I'll buy one too, and rekindle those college days when my best friend and I would ride bikes together.

But that's when I saw the Yamaha Road Star, and saw a motorcycle that basically competed against the Road King, offering a lower price, a more powerful engine, and still tons of aftermarket support.

In my college days, and even today, I love riding the motorcycle hard into the canyons and over the mountains. I'm always pushing myself a little bit more each time. I could have easily bought a sportbike if the circumstances of my youth were such. Maybe if my step-father raced motorcycles when he was young, I might have followed suit. Maybe if my neighbor wanted to buy a sportbike, I might have gone that direction too.


  1. From '86 to '93 I'd had both a Honda CB650 and a KZ 550. Of those two I'd thought the Honda was a better bike. They were both more cruiser than sport style bikes. I knew a guy in '90 that had a Honda Hurricane, and he let me take it for a ride. It's the only time I've ever ridden a crotch rocket and I hated it. I found the hunched over riding position very uncomfortable.

    When I was ready to get a bike again last year, a guy at work had a beautiful RoadStar much like yours. He wanted $10K for it, but I could only afford 8. I ended up with the XL1200C. I have long legs so I love forward controls. I added a crash bar w/highway pegs so my Sporty is as close to a cruiser as I could get. The cool thing is that bike eats up the twisties and will smoke a big twin through the first 3 gears.

    I'm not really looking for performance as much as I like cool and comfortable. The Sportster gives me a great combination for the money. I am looking forward to a new big twin with a 6 speed though. If I got a brand-new rice rocket for nothing, I think I'd put it right on eBay. Maybe I'm getting old...

  2. Steve, I really enjoy your site. Your dad's ride is awesome. Your roadstar is a great bike.

    I used to have a Honda VTX. It was a good bike for short trips, but when I started taking it on epic was sadly lacking. That's why I picked up the FLHX. Had everything I needed included and nothing had to be done to it. (sort of boring since I have no desire to add anything to it and have nothing to tinker with. Cleaning is about as exciting as it gets.)

    I'm getting old and performing yoga to get on a crotch rocket just isn't in the cards now. I miss the "gee-forces" of the cafe sports but I figure as life, my riding career has it's seasons also. (I'm hoping that I am in the summer now.) Ah! the "pushing it". Well...pushing it for me is just seeing how far I can ride in one day. Thats it, heh. I have had numerous crashes and all but one have been the result of pushing myself. I have found that the human spirit and will always outperfom the machine.(except the F-22 fighter) You can find the machines limit but good luck on finding your own. I can't afford anymore hospital visits.

    Thanks for the post and I want to link to your blog if that is ok with you.

  3. Sure Dave, everyone is welcome to link to this blog.

  4. I've ridden sportbikes a few times and just didn't like the riding position and besides I don't really need to go that fast! Not to mention I would look kinda outta place, an old grey haired dude on a crotch rocket!

  5. It is amazing how much of our current likes and dislikes find their origin in our past. My son rides a v-star classic and absolutely loves it.

  6. this will be a new comment on an old thread. Started riding mid 70's (Honda 750 Super Sport), had an accident, quit riding. Move forward 30 years decide to reenter, take MSF class - best $25.00 I have ever spent - start riding my dad's Goldwing. I tell him I am not old enough for a 'wing I want a VTX. Three years later I truly love the 'wing and would love to go out to my garage and find it parked next to an Ultra - that would be a hard decision for me to make. Guess I am getting older :).
    Ride what you like BUT ride! and I will wave whether you are on a chopper or a pink scooter.

  7. Awesome story! Definitely will make me give cruisers another chance when I start shopping around for my next bike.

    I ride a '94 Ninja ZX7, and chose sport bikes over cruisers during my motorcycle safety course due to the extra agility and stopping power rather than just the speed. The hunched sitting position isn't nearly as bad on some bikes, and I find the "tank-hugging" position to be very secure and comfortable so long as your legs don't get cramped up. Whenever I've tried another bike where I have to sit upright I always feel as if I'm about to tip over. :)

    Still, I have nothing but love and respect for cruisers, and would like to get a Vulcan or simular for some long-distance highway cruising. Just wanted to put in my 2 cents that not all crotch-rockets are created equal, and not all of them will kill your back. Safe riding!

  8. Cruisers are for alcoholic bar hoppers. Real riders ride Japanese standards.

  9. That's unfortunate if that's how you feel. I personally just got into riding (currently a CBR250R) and have an appreciation for all kinds of motorcycles and I'll wave if your on 2 wheels and it doesn't matter how whether it be moped, cruiser, or sportbike.

  10. You have done a great job on this article. It’s very readable and highly intelligent. You have even managed to make it understandable and easy to read. You have some real writing talent. Thank you. Bow


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)