HARLEY-DAVIDSON

What Is a Cruiser Motorcycle?

Cruiser motorcycles have a very distinct look. Their styling is reminiscent of American bikes from the 1930s to 1960s, and the vast majority of models are equipped with a V-twin engine. The other telltale sign is a relaxed foot-forward riding position; cruisers typically have a low seat, wide handlebars, and foot pegs pushed toward the front of the bike. This layout emphasizes rider comfort, and it makes the cruiser a great option for commuting or leisure riding.

Cruiser Brands

A number of motorcycle companies offer cruisers. These include European brands like Ducati, Moto Guzzi, and Triumph. All of the Japanese "Big Four" brands sell cruisers: Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha. The long-dormant Indian motorcycle company has recently returned, and its lineup includes cruiser models as well.

That being said, no brand is more synonymous with this category than Harley-Davidson. Harley was one of the first brands to offer a cruiser motorcycle in the 1970s, and it emerged as a sales juggernaut in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Even today, Harley-Davidson has over a dozen cruiser models to choose from – far more than any other company.

Cruiser History

Today’s cruisers are largely inspired by American motorcycles from the 1930s to 1960s, such as the Harley-Davidson EL, FL, and K Model, as well as the Indian Scout and Chief. These v-twin bikes were popular among riders for their speed and comfort. Over time, they became a blank canvas for customizers, who would upgrade their bikes by swapping parts from other models, like fuel tanks, fenders, handlebars, wheels, and suspension. 

At first, this custom motorcycle scene was small, but movies like 1969’s "Easy Rider" catapulted it into the mainstream. Within a few years, all the major manufacturers began offering their own factory-built customs, using a mixture of existing parts and pieces from their lineup. These came to be known as cruisers.

The 1971 Harley-Davidson FX 1200 Super Glide is widely regarded as the first – it used parts from the FL and XL models. The FX was followed by bikes like the Kawasaki KZ900LTD, Suzuki GS-550 Low Slinger, and Triumph T140D-Special. All-new motorcycles soon arrived with similar styling, like the Yamaha Virago, Honda Shadow, and Harley-Davidson Softail.

The "power cruiser" segment evolved shortly after with the introduction of the Yamaha VMAX and its big four-cylinder engine. These bikes push the boundaries of cruiser acceleration, as well as styling and handling. Today, the power cruiser class also includes the Ducati XDiavel, Harley-Davidson FXDR 114, and Suzuki Boulevard M109R.

Should I Buy a Cruiser Motorcycle?

There are a lot of great options if you’re shopping for a cruiser motorcycle. Ultimately though, your lifestyle will dictate if a cruiser is right for you, or not.

Consider a cruiser if you plan to use a motorcycle for everyday commuting or weekend leisure riding. Cruisers typically have a softer suspension than many other motorcycle styles, and this helps to filter out bumps and dips in the road, yielding a smooth ride. Cruisers also tend to have a low seat, high and wide handlebars, and foot pegs near the front of the bike. This puts the rider in a neutral or slightly reclined position, making it more comfortable to ride long distances. The low seat also makes it easy to walk the bike when stopped or in slow-moving traffic.

On the other hand, you should skip cruisers if you plan to ride very long distances, especially at highway speeds. A touring motorcycle would be a better option, like the Honda Gold Wing or Indian Roadmaster. These bikes have a windshield and large fairings that cut the wind and reduce rider fatigue. Tourers also come standard with saddlebags, which can securely hold cargo and keep it dry.

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It’s a similar story if you want a motorcycle with sharp handling. Cruisers are fine for winding around corners, but sport bikes are better at taming those turns. These compact models have an aggressive hunched-over seating position and a near-vertical front suspension, providing riders with more control over the bike. Sportbikes are also designed to lean further into turns.

Cruiser Pros and Cons

    • Relaxed foot-forward seating position

    • Comfortable ride on uneven pavement

    • Easy to keep steady and walk in stop-and-go traffic

    • Strong engines that provide brisk off-the-line acceleration

    • Popular segment with a wide range of models and prices

    • Ideal for customization (lots of aftermarket add-ons like saddlebags, windscreens, lights, and passenger seats)

    • Relatively few options for beginners

    • Not particularly agile compared to standards or sportbikes

    • Fewer high-tech features than other segments (built-in navigation and infotainment systems are uncommon)

Cruiser Motorcycle Prices

Buying a new cruiser motorcycle can cost anywhere from $4,400 to $24,000. The average price is about $12,100, according to our analysis. Bikes at the low end of this spectrum typically have smaller engines, and they often hail from Japanese brands like Honda and Yamaha. Paying more can get you a motorcycle with a larger engine and stronger acceleration. In some cases, this is a difference of just $2,000 to $3,000. In others, it can be two or three times that. For instance, the Triumph and Moto Guzzi brands don’t offer any cruisers for less than $11,000.

Key Cruiser Specs

There are dozens of cruiser models to choose from. Most follow a similar recipe though. Almost all cruisers are equipped with a V-twin engine, ranging in displacement from around 500 cc all the way up to 1800 cc. Today’s cruisers typically weigh between 500 and 700 pounds. Most have a seat height of between 26 and 30 inches as well, which is lower than other motorcycle styles.

The Top 10 Cruiser Motorcycles

1) Honda Rebel 500

The Honda Rebel 500 is an ideal starting point if you’re searching for a new cruiser. It offers great performance and styling at a price that’s hard to argue with – just $6,199. The Rebel 500 has a 471 cc parallel-twin engine with ample low-end torque, and it also provides good punch higher up in the rev range. This makes it an easy and fun motorcycle to ride around town, as well as out on the highway. Honda rates the Rebel’s fuel economy at an efficient 67 mpg too.

The Rebel’s styling is far different than a lot of other cruisers – thanks in part to its sportbike-inspired trellis frame – but it’s a retro-meets-modern look that has become quite popular. Standard equipment includes a six-speed transmission, a 2.9-gallon fuel tank, electric start, a digital gauge cluster, disc brakes, and 16-inch alloy wheels. An anti-lock braking system (ABS) is optional for $300. We cover the entry-level Honda Rebel 300 in the next section.

2) Kawasaki Vulcan S

The Kawasaki Vulcan S (MSRP: $7,099) is another modern-looking entry in the cruiser class, from its sleek headlight cowl to its crisp rear fender and sportbike-derived suspension. Power comes from an energetic 649cc parallel-twin, which produces 46 pound-feet of torque at 6,600 rpm. Standard equipment includes a six-speed transmission, a 3.7-gallon fuel tank, electric start, digital gauges, disc brakes, and staggered 18- and 17-inch alloy wheels. ABS is optional for $400.

The Vulcan S is also a pretty versatile bike for riders of different sizes. There are 18 possible configurations between the seat, handlebar, and foot peg locations. This makes it easy for six-foot tall riders to stretch out, but also for shorter riders to find a comfortable position.

3) Harley-Davidson Superlow

The Superlow Sportster has the classic Harley-Davidson look that many riders have adored for decades – a touch of chrome, a big air-cooled V-twin, and a low-slung silhouette. If that sounds like what you want in a cruiser, take this Harley for a test ride.

The Harley-Davidson Superlow (MSRP: $8,699) packs an 883 cc V-twin with 55 pound-feet of torque at a very-usable 3,750 rpm. Despite that muscle, the Superlow can still return a high 51 mpg. Standard equipment includes a five-speed transmission, a 4.5-gallon fuel tank, electric start, analog gauges, disc brakes, and staggered 18- and 17-inch alloy wheels. ABS is optional for $795.

4) Indian Scout Sixty

The Scout Sixty is Indian’s interpretation of the affordable American cruiser, and it retails for a similar $8,999. The Scout’s styling has a nice mix of modern and vintage elements. It’s similarly equipped to its Harley rival as well. Standard equipment includes a five-speed transmission, a 3.3-gallon fuel tank, electric start, analog gauges, disc brakes, and alloy wheels. ABS is optional for $800. The biggest difference is the Scout’s 999 cc V-twin (60 cubic inches). This liquid-cooled engine likes to rev and it produces a hefty 65 pound-feet of torque at 5,800 rpm.

5) Suzuki Boulevard S40

The Suzuki S40 is an outstanding value in the cruiser segment, and a great option for smaller and lighter riders. The S40 starts at just $5,799, making it one of the cheapest cruisers on sale. That low price doesn’t come at the expense of performance either. The S40 has an air-cooled 652 cc single-cylinder engine with plenty of power for hustling down the road. It weighs in at a manageable 381 pounds with a full tank of fuel as well.

The S40’s vintage appearance is bound to turn heads. It’s a mix of black paint, chrome, and stainless steel – and the overall look is very clean. Standard features include a five-speed transmission, a 2.8-gallon fuel tank, electric start, a long two-up seat, front disc and rear drum brakes, and staggered 19- and 15-inch wire wheels.

6) Yamaha Bolt

The Yamaha Bolt (MSRP: $7,999) is another great cruiser, and its styling is a throwback to the vintage "bobber" customs. Bobbers rose to popularity in the 1950s and featured trimmed-down fenders. Customizers also stripped off all unnecessary parts and bodywork, giving these "bob-jobs" a sporty, barebones appearance.

The Bolt backs up those racy looks with strong performance. It has an air-cooled 942 cc V-twin engine and a five-speed transmission. Standard features include a 3.4-gallon fuel tank, electric start, digital gauges, disc brakes, and staggered 19- and 16-inch wire wheels. A Bolt R-Spec model is also available – starting at $8,399 – and it adds alloy wheels and sportier remote-reservoir rear shocks.

7) Honda Shadow Phantom

Honda’s take on the bobber style is the Shadow Phantom, which starts at $7,899. The Honda Shadow has a liquid-cooled 745 cc V-twin, a five-speed transmission, and those telltale bobbed fenders. Standard features also include a 3.7-gallon fuel tank, electric start, analog gauges, front disc and rear drum brakes, and staggered 17- and 15-inch wire wheels.

8) Harley-Davidson Street Bob

The Street Bob (MSRP: $14,549) is one of the hardest-hitting bobbers on the market. Harley-Davidson packs this cruiser with its big 1,746 cc V-twin (nicknamed the "Milwaukee Eight"), which delivers a tremendous 110 pound-feet of torque at just 3,000 rpm. That’s more than some small cars offer. Needless to say, acceleration is quick in any gear.

It’s not all about muscle though. The Street Bob is well-equipped with keyless ignition, digital instruments, and a USB port. It also features Harley’s softail rear suspension, which trades the typical dual-shock setup for one hidden rear shock absorber. Other standard gear includes a six-speed transmission, a 3.5-gallon fuel tank, electric start, high bars, staggered 19- and 16-inch wire wheels, and disc brakes. ABS is optional for $795.

9) Indian Chief Dark Horse

The Indian Chief Dark Horse casts an imposing shadow. This $18,499 muscle cruiser sports a blacked-out paint scheme, curvaceous fenders, and Indian’s big 1,811 cc "Thunder Stroke" V-twin engine, which cranks out 119 pound-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm. A six-speed transmission and a large 5.5-gallon fuel tank come standard.

Other standard equipment includes keyless ignition, electric start, cruise control, digital and analog instruments, disc brakes, ABS, and 16-inch alloy wheels.

10) Honda Fury

Think you’ve been priced out of a custom chopper? Think again. The Honda Fury offers this radical styling at an attainable $10,599 price point. It boasts a heavily-raked front fork, high-set handlebars, a thin 3.4-gallon fuel tank, and a seat that is about as close to the wide rear wheel as it can get.

Tucked neatly in the frame is a liquid-cooled 1,312 cc V-twin and a five-speed transmission. Other standard equipment includes electric start, digital gauges, disc brakes, and staggered 21- and 18-inch alloy wheels. ABS is optional for $850.

Best Cruiser Motorcycle for Beginners

Honda Rebel 300

If you’re shopping for your first motorcycle, you can’t do much better than the Honda Rebel 300. The Rebel 300 offers all the benefits and features of the uplevel 500 model, but with a smaller 286 cc single-cylinder engine and a lower $4,499 price tag.

This small-displacement engine provides enough muscle for commuting and running around town, but its power and throttle response aren’t overwhelming for new riders like some larger engines can be. The bike weighs just 364 pounds as well – very light for a cruiser – which makes it easier to balance when stopped or in slow traffic. Honda estimates the Rebel 300’s fuel economy at an exceptional 78 mpg.

Yamaha V Star 250

The Yamaha V Star 250 is another great starter bike. It’s also the least-expensive new cruiser on the market, at just $4,349. The V Star has a beginner-friendly 249 cc V-twin engine and a light 326-pound curb weight. Yamaha rates the 250’s fuel efficiency at a similar 78 mpg as well.

The biggest difference between the V Star and Rebel is the styling. Whereas the Honda looks thoroughly modern, the Yamaha could pass for a vintage bike from the ‘60s or ‘70s. Standard equipment includes a five-speed transmission, a 2.5-gallon fuel tank, electric start, analog instruments, front disc and rear drum brakes, and staggered 18- and 15-inch wire wheels.

Harley-Davidson Street 500

Harley-Davidson has a long history of building powerful, comfortable cruisers. The beginner motorcycle hasn’t been its forte, that is, until recently. The Street 500 fills that void with its low $6,899 price and peppy 494 cc V-twin that delivers 29 pound-feet of torque. This engine is quite capable for city and highway riding, but it’s also forgiving for novice riders still learning the ins and outs. Harley rates the Street 500’s fuel economy at an impressive 64 mpg.

Standard features include a six-speed transmission, a 3.5-gallon fuel tank, electric start, digital gauges, disc brakes, and staggered 17- and 15-inch alloy wheels. ABS is a $750 option. The one caveat is the Harley’s 514-pound weight. If you’re a smaller rider, the lightweight Rebel and V Star are probably better options for a first bike.

Cruiser vs. Sport Bikes

Sport bikes are about as different from cruisers as it gets. These high-performance motorcycles are built for straight line speed and carving along switchback roads, and their appearance is inspired by road racing bikes. You can easily spot one thanks to its aerodynamic bodywork and hunched-over riding position. These aren’t exactly comfortable bikes to ride long distance.

Sport bike engines tend to differ as well. It’s common to see models with inline two-, three-, and four-cylinder engines that develop peak power high in the rev range. By comparison, the V-twin engine is a cruiser staple and these motors typically favor low-end torque. The one commonality is pricing. Both segments have a similar $4,500 to $25,000 price range.

All in all, take your needs into consideration when choosing between these motorcycles. If you want a bike for commuting or laid-back weekend riding, a cruiser is a better and comfier fit. If you want a motorcycle with razor-sharp handling that won’t see daily use or long road trips, a sport bike may be for you.

Cruiser vs. Standard Motorcycles

Standard motorcycles are good do-it-all bikes, and they offer some of the best qualities of the cruiser and sportbike categories. Generally speaking, standards have an upright riding position that is comfortable for commuting and longer trips, yet they provide nimbler handling than a lot of cruisers. You can find practically any size and type of engine fitted to a standard bike – from small single cylinders, to torquey V-twins, to high-revving three cylinders. There are also more brands and styles to choose from. Pricing for both segments is pretty similar.

Before settling on a cruiser, take a few standards for a test ride. There’s something for everyone in this diverse segment.

Cruiser vs. Touring Motorcycles

If you’re looking for a motorcycle to ride cross country, or just across the state, a tourer is the bike for you. Touring motorcycles have windscreens and fairings that make highway travel more comfortable. These bikes typically offer more-advanced features than cruisers, like navigation and infotainment systems, Bluetooth connectivity, traction control, and even air bags. Touring motorcycles also have larger fuel tanks to maximize driving range.

One of the most obvious differences is cargo-carrying ability. You can equip many cruisers with soft saddlebags (these bikes are often referred to as "baggers"). Touring bikes come standard with saddlebags though, which are typically hard-sided, lockable, and waterproof. Tourers are often optional with large trunk cases as well.

On the other hand, a cruiser is a better starting point if you don’t plan on piling on the miles. Cruisers tend to cost a lot less than comparable touring motorcycles. They usually weigh less too, making them easier to maneuver in city traffic.

Cruiser vs. Dual-Sport Motorcycles

Dual-sport motorcycles are kind of like street-legal dirt bikes. These motorcycles comply with road safety regulations – they have turn signals, brake lights, mirrors, et cetera – but they are really designed for tackling off-road terrain. You get skid plates, tires with aggressive tread, and long-travel suspension for soaking up big bumps, but not much else.

As a result, these motorcycles tend to be very lightweight and inexpensive. You can find a dozen dual-sport models for sale in the $4,500 to $7,000 price range, like the Honda CRF250L and Suzuki DR200S. Dual-sport bikes typically have smaller engine sizes as well, anywhere from 200 cc to 650 cc. This mix of low price, light weight, and relatively low power make the dual-sport an ideal option for beginners.

Dual-sport bikes aren’t for everyone though. They tend to be underpowered for highway riding. They can also feel tippy due to their higher seat height, especially for riders with short legs. If you have no interest in venturing off road – stick with a cruiser.

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