Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cycle Canada Slams Cruisers

I just got my March 2013 Cycle Canada, and the controversy started by Michael Uhlarik in the January 2013 issue is growing.  In January, Michael stated

"Not for them the land yachts of the cruiser ilk.  The influence and relevance of the cruiser, in world terms, is fading - and not a moment too soon."

Apparently, some sharp eyed readers spotted this barbed comment, and now Cycle Canada is getting letters starting off with variations of "You, sir are an idiot."  By the way, Michael has also expressed interest in electric motorcycles, so he will be no stranger to controversy.

This month, the editor, Neil Graham, has waded into the fray:

"Uhlarik's quip that the cruiser style can't die 'a moment too soon' reflects a surprisingly common view within the motorcycle industry.'
"no one who writes about them [cruisers] wants to own one."
"even the companies that make cruisers find no enthusiasm for them.  At cruiser press launches, long after the rhetoric of the PR people has faded, company staffers often lament the necessity of making cruisers at all.  'The bike works OK for a cruiser' they say"
"The cruiser's flaws as a dynamic work of engineering are more pronounced than those on other styles of motorcycles.  That's just a fact."
"Simply put it's hard to go back to a type of motorcycle that doesn't handle, brake, or cover the miles as effortlessly as another type of bike."

First, I applaud Cycle Canada for carrying on the tradition of annoying their readers.  Second, I think this is a worth while controversy, because far too many people choose to buy a cruiser without even considering any other type of motorcycle.  But in the end, I do ride a cruiser (A Kawasaki Vulcan 900), so I feel the urge to defend my choice.

In defence of cruisers, strangely enough, I would start by conceding that Neil and Michael may be right. Other types of bike may have better performance (braking, steering, accelerating, top speed, suspension), and other types of bike may be more comfortable on a test ride.  So objectively, they are better. Furthermore, the non-cruisers are more innovative, and thus more interesting to people who know bikes and the motorcycle business in and out.

But I own a cruiser, and there are reasons for my choice.  Sure, one reason is that there are lots of them for sale - and that's exactly what Neil and Michael are arguing against.  So maybe another point for them.  But now here is the thing.  I don't want to go fast any more, and with my Vulcan I am not really tempted to get any more speeding tickets.  So that's one point in favour of cruisers, and other people are free to have different opinions on that.

At first, cruisers may not be comfortable, but I have found with time that I have adjusted to riding a cruiser with a low seat and the feet placed forward.  The low seat has the advantage that you can pile cushions on top of it.  And the feet forward has the advantage in comfort when you have a backrest.  I don't have a proper accessory backrest, but when I'm travelling long distances without a passenger, I can use my duffel bag.

So far my arguments only really apply to people who typically like to drive slower, and like to rest their aching backs.  And people who don't really care about all the new technology that makes it possible to go even faster, in even greater discomfort.  (i.e. old people)

Now here's another argument.  Cruisers come with back fenders that stop the spray.  Most other bikes seem to be designed to see just how much spray they can direct up the rider's back off a wet road.  I have no idea why they do that, but I don't like it.

Cruisers don't corner fast because they don't have enough ground clearance. But on the up side, cruisers don't need super-sticky tires that cost $400 and wear out every 8,000 kilometers.  Long lasting tires may not appeal to magazine editors, (they don't pay for tires) or the motorcycle industry (they get paid for tires), but as an owner, I like it.  And at lower speeds, it corners and brakes fast enough to stay safe on those tires.

Maybe if the designers and manufacturers concentrated on innovations that made motorcycles more comfortable, and safer, and cheaper, and easier to maintain, I would consider a new style bike.  So far I'm not seeing it.

Picture: I love pictures of cats, if Mary Ann allowed, I would make all my blog pictures cats.  What I am  illustrating here is that bikes must be made to fit the life forms that ride them.


  1. interesting read Robert...can't say I ever knew that the COMPANIES felt that way--sure I knew the "purists" are like that...

    but lets face it, us cruiser riders know we are not riding them for top performance (although lets be honest--they still are motorcycles and can accelerate very fast, handle, brake and everything else a heck of lot better than their four wheel cousins)...we ride them partly for their comfort, partly for their style and yes to be honest partly for the "image"...

    quite frankly--why do the companies care---they should make the best bike, with the most appeal--so they can make the most money---I'm sure the makers of of UGG boots think they are stupid as well--but laugh all the way to the bank...

    1. I will confess, my favourite ride is "all the way to the bank"

  2. Unless some imperceptible trend has started to take place in the last year or so, sales of cruisers are not much threatened, and the Harley dealers need not sweat yet.

    I've been unable to locate a more up-to-date analysis of motorcycle purchasing trends than this 2009 study by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. As of 2007, cruiser sales accounted for 33% of all (including dirt bike) sales, compared to 19% for 'sport' bikes.

    That study also found a significant increase in displacement over the 1998-2003 period - likely largely a consequence of all those large-displacement cruisers.

    1. Cruisers still dominate in North America, but Michael Uhlarik mentioned in his January column that Indonesia is the world's third largest motorcycle market, and riders there prefer sport bikes to cruisers. With the growth of foreign markets, the North American market has a shrinking share of the world's bikes, it's possible that future motorcycle designs will reflect a more worldly point of view. i.e. more sport bikes.

  3. Yes ... I'm hoping recent introductions such as Honda's CBR250R and Suzuki's GW250 (which are primarily targeted at markets like India and Indonesia) are the start of a small-displacement 'sports' bike trend here in North America.

    Perhaps we'll even see Yamaha introduce its R15 into this market to compete with Honda's CBR125R (don't hold your breath on that one ... LOL!)

    1. Talking about the Suzuki Inazuma 250 (GW250), the first few began to be sold in the UK from November last year. With the steadily rising fuel prices over here, it's beginning to make sense to get a bike that can achieve 85 mpg without difficulty. The Inazuma handles very well and has had gained some good reviews in European bike magazines. Some bikers have commented that at 183kg (403 lbs) it's far too heavy for a 250 but then most of these riders haven't actually been on it (the weight actually disappears above about 15 mph). Then there's the usual 'Oh no, it's Made In China!' comments seen on several forums but without much evidence to back up criticisms. The Suzuki Inazuma 250 might sell very well in the US but prejudice over the fact that the Inazuma is in the rather humble 250 class may perhaps have to be overcome first. The bike certainly doesn't feel like a 250 when out riding; much more like a 500. Female riders as well as quite tall male riders (6'2"+) have commented that the bike fits and handles well, both in the city and out on country road switchbacks. Because it has a sit-up stance and lends itself to more relaxed cruising, the Inazuma might well go down better in the US than the more sportier lean-over offerings from Kawasaki (Ninja 250R/300R) and Honda (CBR250R). More info about the Inazuma is on my site for anybody interested - just google 'Black Inazuma Adventures'.

    2. I have not seen the GW250 in Canada yet, I hope its still coming, even though I don't need another bike right now. It would be nice to see more people out on the smaller engined bikes, like my 1969 Honda CD175. (Of course the GW250 would be much better for people who don't have an attachment to the old bikes.)

    3. Although fuel economy does not weigh as much on Eastern Canadian riders' minds - because the climate limits use of a motorcycle as a commuter to about six months - the insurance costs certainly do.

      But Black Inazuma's comment that buyers may be prejudiced by the Inazuma's 'humble 250 class' is spot on. My circle of relatives and close friends now include owners of the Ninja 250, the CBR250R, the Suzuki TU250 and the Hyosung GT250R. Although they may not quite be prepared to launch their bikes (as the Lost Motorcyclist did) on a cross-Canada tour, none of them complain about their bikes being boring!

      And, certainly, back in the 1970s (when the Japanese were eating the British motorcycle industry's lunch) the phrase was, 'Oh, no, it's made in Japan!' ;-)

  4. as long as there is a reasonable buck to be made, the makers will continue to make the bikes..simple capitalism

    can you imagine the profit margin for the Jpn makers of a 1400 Cruiser sold in North America vs a 125 standard sold in Indonesia?