The Big Test

We take the ultra V-twins for a big ride to Texas (of course) where we discover big fun, Big Bend and big surprises

"Excess." The word begs to be pondered. If we're talking a little extra sugar on the beignet, a little more spice to the chili pot, more is definitely better. But, of course, there's a point where more becomes overkill, and frankly, the direction of these new bikes opens up that concept for debate. "Fun" is another word we are always intrigued by, and these new mega cruisers are undeniably amusing. We dare anyone to twist the throttle on any bike in this trio and not come away with a wicked smile. So the idea of combining excess and fun sounded like a logical theme for testing and comparing these machines. That's how we ended up in Texas. Big bikes, big intentions, big state, Big Bend National Park you see the thread.

The parameters of the test were simple: Street-styled cruisers with a V-twin engine displacement of at least 1700cc. (It is a brave new world indeed when 1500cc V-twin bikes can be thought of as middleweights. Expect a Motorcycle Cruiser test of the 1500/1600cc cruisers to follow shortly.) All three of the big, big twins to make the cut were, coincidentally, new or much-improved bikes for 2004. The players were Yamaha's overhauled Road Star 1700, with its pushrod twin the only engine here that's air-cooled and carbureted. Honda's eye catching, Rune-influenced VTX 1800N (Neo-Retro) brings an 1800cc, liquid-cooled, fuel injected design and a single overhead camshaft design, while Kawasaki's ultimate gunslinger, the V2K--which invokes serious piston envy at a whopping 2000cc--is another pushrod, but unlike the Yamaha, it's liquid-cooled and injected. Oh yeah, we invited the Harley Custom Vehicle Operations' (CVO) Screamin' Eagle Ultra Glide, with the factory's first fully endorsed 1700cc air-cooled Twin Cam, along for kicks. But since that bike is a full-boat touring machine--not to mention virtually unobtainable at nearly $30K, and with only 3200 units being produced--it really didn't fit a slot that matched our other pegs. (See page 50 for the Ultra's very own testette.)

Like the Harley, the Yamaha and Kawasaki use belt drive to deliver power to the rear wheel. We believe that shaft drive, as found on the Honda, is becoming antiquated technology on cruisers, and reviving the simplicity of a belt design is a certainty for the future. Not only does the belt smooth out annoying lash--still present in even the most refined shaft systems--it also opens the door for styling opportunities, and is nearly as clean, efficient and maintenance-free as the once-favored shaft system.

Aside from these mechanical variations, the machines share similar characteristics--all are huge, torque-end intended and enormously fun to play with. The Yamaha is the deal here at $10,999. The Kawasaki is $13,399 and the Honda is $13,499 to start, but adding factory-installed options to the VTX can raise the price substantially.

Any cruiser this big should be able to double as a tourer, so we asked each manufacturer to deliver its machine with factory-distributed bolt-on saddlebags and windshields already installed. The Honda and Kawasaki both came with rigid-mount leather bags, while Yamaha opted to show off its new model-specific, color-matched hard-bag line. The windshields were a varied lot--from the Honda's stylishly small fly screen to the Kawasaki's big, ill-fitting prototype (V2K accessories were still in development in December '03, when this test occurred). We were going for big miles in midwinter, so such comforts were compulsory, but all the accessories were deemed moot to the core comparison.

And so we left California looking for the ultimate big, Big Twin. Our destination was Big Bend National Park in the far southwestern quadrant of Texas, where the Rio Grande makes an abrupt turn in its nation-dividing course (hence the name Big Bend). We tested the bikes in all potential capacities: on lazy straights, sweeping, scenic highways, intense roller-coaster-type twisters, in the city, in towns and, of course, on viciously long freeway stints, including one 800-mile day.

Escaping Los Angeles invariably requires a combination of urban warfare on surface streets and lane-splitting on a spider web of beleaguered freeways. Doesn't matter what day of the week, or time of the day. As you'd expect, the Road Star, being the smallest of the biggest, was the most desirable ride during inner-city assaults. The VTX was completely manageable as well, though not as nimble or narrow as the Yamaha. The Kawasaki becomes a real barge in thick city traffic, feeling every ounce of its 800-plus pounds. And the efficiency of lane-splitting is quashed by that gigantic wheelbarrow-style handlebar. While you might not be lucky enough to lane-split in your state, a cruiser this wide could well be a liability getting in and out of your garage.

We would switch bikes at every gas stop, so the unfortunate who piloted the Vulcan out of city limits would hand it over just when it started to make sense when its size turned more asset than atrocity. On the flip side, once the freeway opened up the Yamaha lost quite a bit of its charm, and compared to its roadmates it felt diminutive in both power and size. However, the ergonomic layout and stock seat of the Road Star held the favor of three out of four riders for the duration of the trip, while the particularly long-legged fourth felt cramped. The next favorite for droning comfort was the Honda, with its flat, turnback handlebar relating well to the large floorboard positioning. Two riders would have preferred the seat pocket to be farther back. The Kawasaki, though large enough to stretch out on, didn't earn high marks for ergonomic comfort. All disliked the deep pullback bar, the bar-to-floorboard relation and the stock seat. The Yamaha had the only seat we wouldn't change immediately.

Of course, the additional variables of rider comfort are suspension and vibration issues. We had no complaints about the Honda and Kawasaki in the latter department, with the VTX being the smoothest--in fact, glass-smooth at freeway speeds. The Yamaha inspired a few gripes about vibration at high rpm, but it's miraculously smooth considering the engine isn't counterbalanced. All of these cruisers have some type of shortcoming in the suspension department, and we remain miffed that bikes in this price range do not have the attention to suspension quality they deserve. The Kawasaki offered the least-favored ride on anything but flawless pavement because of an annoying lack of rebound damping in the rear, despite rear shock adjustability. Lighter riders suffered more from the teeth-clacking jolts than the heavier among us. In good conditions, the Kawasaki was controlled, yet compliant enough to be comfortable. While certainly plush enough on the highway and superior in cornering, the Honda earned bad marks for a lack of fork damping. We came to describe it as "busy" up front. The Yamaha has the least-controlled suspension, but the front and rear are at least well matched. The Road Star offered the plushest, most neutral ride on the freeway.

It took us two long, cold days of droning Interstate 10 to get into Texas. During one stint at night, the temperature dropped below 30 degrees before we could make it to our hotel. (Waaaa.) We were riding fools (or foolish to be riding in such conditions), living each day from gas stop to gas stop, cramming peanut logs into our face-shield ports and drinking from straws so we wouldn't lose too much warmth by removing our helmets. Distance between those merciful gas stops ranged from 100-140 miles, depending on the high-desert winds and the lead rider's bladder. Amazingly, the bikes all averaged mpg in the mid-33s. The Kawasaki's 5.5-gallon capacity had a slight advantage over the Yamaha and Honda's 5.3-gallon tanks. These bikes might get as good as 38 mpg with mundane usage. Normally, we would deem the lack of range an inconvenience for touring, but in the cold, wearing conditions of the to-and-from portion of our ride we were happy for the string of breaks.

Just when we were wondering why we were out there freezing our asses off on the least-scenic interstate in America, we turned off the slab in Van Horn, Texas, and headed south. The allure of Big Bend had diminished somewhat during our painful hump east, but we were open for a change of pace. The park, an 801,163-acre refuge set aside in 1944, promises Yosemite-like splendor unspoiled by tourists. We could definitely see why more people don't stop by. Even after we turned south on lonely U.S. Highway 90 we had 250 miles to go to reach the park gate. The first few sweepers sparked a sense of fresh potential, however, and we decided to take an even longer route on Highway 67 and 170, which would let us see Big Bend Ranch, a state park just west of the federal preserve. We couldn't hear one another's maniacal "Whoohooos!" as we flew over the blind rises and twisted, stomach-wrenching dips of Highway 170, but we knew we were shouting in harmony. This is one of America's true roller-coaster roads: not for those weak of heart or short on riding skills. It was quite an unexpected reward at the end of such a boring trek, this crazy romp across the colorful jumble of river and rock and sky.

Without a doubt, the Honda was the bike to be on in this crazy-fun kind of stuff. In fact, it's our first pick for any cornering duties performed above walking speeds. Simply look through the corner, set your line and the VTX follows the intended path like a train on a track. This type of predictability not only makes cornering more enjoyable, it's also safer and lets you expand your capabilities as a rider. Stability is worth its weight in gold on roads like Highway 170, and the Honda's was complemented by tolerable ground clearance. If you wanted to walk on the wild side, you could mount up the Yamaha and try to keep pace with the Honda out there. Ground clearance on the Road Star is, let's just say, not a listed feature. It touches down when the wind blows. Add that aggravation to overly soft suspension and you have a wallowing badger on your hands. The Kawasaki offers the best cornering clearance of the three, but its capability on back roads is definitely blemished by its heft, and the lack of rebound out back can make a ride more interesting than you want if you happen upon pavement irregularities midcorner.

As in the city, the Yamaha's steering is preferred for low-speed maneuvers (parking-lot stuff) and tight, slow corners like those five-mph hairpins we came upon a little later on the Chisos Basin cutoff in Big Bend proper. This is mostly a benefit of its manageable weight and length, however. Most of us felt the Road Star was not conducive to stable travel in anything but this kind of walking-speed situation. Even on the highway it felt like you were making lots of small steering adjustments just to stay in the lane. We do think this could be improved by replacing the front tire, which is, oddly, almost square. The Honda's steering was very precise and manageable in low-speed situations, while the Kawasaki felt boorishly heavy in the tightest, slowest corners. Another peeve is that the Kawasaki's bar is so wide it's nearly impossible to hold on to the far end during a full-lock turn.

Brakes are quite good on all three of these machines, and when evaluated individually, each system would warrant compliments for strength and predictability. Comparatively, however, the Kawasaki's huge discs--with eight calipers up front--outshined the others in sheer stopping wattage. As a group, we don't like the Honda's linked brakes because they deaden feedback and don't allow us to customize input, yet we do believe they are a benefit for the average rider, and certainly for the newbie (though they don't teach proper braking; they only correct bad technique). The Yamaha's brakes are adequate, with decent power and feedback (a huge improvement over the previous Road Star's).

It has been said that when God finished creating Earth, he dumped all the leftover rocks in the Big Bend area. You certainly know when you've arrived. The Chisos Mountains reside in the middle of the park, creating the Chisos Basin at their core. Impressive and seemingly holy, this place was worth the long, cold ride to get there. We spent the night at the only digs in the park, the Chisos Mountain Lodge, and wished for more time to explore the area on foot as well as on wheels. The whole park was eerily tourist-free, and locals say it stays pretty much empty all year. Riddled with ghost towns and vistas and laced together with premium motorcycle roads, Big Bend should be on every biker's Must-See list. We found it was not like Yosemite at all, despite the waterfalls and impressive cliffs. Big Bend is more a combination of Death Valley and Zion National Parks.

Any of these enormous cruisers would get you to such an off-the-beaten-path destination in relative comfort and style. All are impressive and all are desirable. Collectively, we enjoyed the look of the Honda much more than the other bikes, and it received the majority of compliments on the road. The Neo-Retro style, especially the slick taillight treatment, clear-lens bullet signals and svelte new tank, really works on the long, lean chassis. As most of you know, Honda has implemented a custom-build program that allows you to order your VTX in one of three different finish styles, four colors and more than 40 dealer-installed options. Our test unit was furnished with the light tree, bags, backrest and windshield from the trove of accessories. Yamaha's Road Star is a decent--though very basic--looking cruiser, which some might see as an advantage. In contrast to the others, however, its style seems very bland. Nothing to write home about, yet nothing to be ashamed of. The Kawasaki, on the other hand, always draws opinion, though more often negative than congratulatory. Most people point out the rotundness of the headlight nacelle, the Volkswagen Beetle-like taillight and the what-were-they-thinking wrinkle-black finish on the drive cases. The big tire is the Kawasaki's most exalted element. While it does have some nice appointments, and the finish quality is admirable, we agree that the V2K is a bit ugly overall. Why did they have to make it so fat? Wouldn't that engine look great as the centerpiece in a lean, chopperesque setting more like Victory's Vegas? The new Vulcan just seems big for the sake of being big, and we can't applaud that.

Instrumentation on the bikes includes the common tank-mounted speedo, odometer and lights, which we think is a poor choice of placement because you have to take your eyes off the road to read the gauges, especially the Yamaha's. The Road Star's fashionable white gauges and retro typeface did earn compliments. Sadly, the Honda's gauge presentation is cheap-looking, and the hardest to read. The Honda cockpit also lost points for exposed brake lines and floppy throttle cables. The Vulcan line is famous for clean, elegant instrumentation, and the V2K carries on the tradition.

As far as the out-of-the-crate exhaust, we found the Kawasaki's to be the best looking. It's also the sweetest-sounding stock cruiser we've ever heard. Anyone who changes the exhaust system on this bike with the sole intention of creating a different rumble is loony. It's perfect--deep and absorbing, yet not tiring or overly intrusive. The Honda emits a fine rumble as well, but next to the sultry note of the V2K, it withers. Because it's air-cooled, the Road Star is cursed with the most mechanical noise, and therefore the least-clean exhaust tone.

So, you had to ride with us all the way to Texas and listen to us dither about this headlight nacelle and that braking system to get to the information you really tuned in for: power. Or maybe you were smart and just skipped to the juicy part. That is what these bikes are about, right? The juice? Well, the cup overfloweth.

Torque is the name of the game with big V-twin cruisers, and the real players are the Honda and Kawasaki. Both are tuned for immediate gratification, and both deliver serious grunt off the line. The Kawasaki's neck-wrenching pull is more visceral from low rpm than the Honda's, confirming the newish adage that "there's no replacement for displacement." It's a brute, plain and simple, and three out of four of us favor it over the Honda mill, which is only a tad less powerful, yet smoother and more gradual, making it feel strong and more usable. The Yamaha truly suffers in this category, and is completely outclassed by the other bikes. At the least it needs the Warrior cam treatment and fuel injection to get it in the beans. For most easy riders, the Yamaha will propel itself around nicely enough, but in the world of the Biggest Big Twins, it's a sad day for the Road Star. (For a more in-depth analysis of these engines, and to see their performance data, including dyno results, see, "Thinking Big," page 54.) So, by a slight margin, the Kawasaki does get the nod in the category that counts the most for some of you: engine performance. But does the icing really make the cake? We think not. On our last day we rode all the way from El Paso to Los Angeles. Despite the rain, hail and crazy high-desert winds, we had plenty of time to sum it up.

Choosing one of these big twins is very subjective because they each do different things well. In some categories they actually have juxtaposed pros and cons, so it's paramount that a buyer knows what he wants going in. Long trips? Passenger? Sunday cruising? Stoplight showdowns? Canyon rides? Parking-space holder? On the whole, we think all of these cruisers are needlessly heavy and deserve more attention to suspension adequacy and less to keeping seat heights low, which limits ergonomics and ground clearance. All these rigs are well-finished and fun as heck to ride, however, and each is definitely worth its asking price.

So what's the big deal? Three out of four testers chose the Honda VTX 1800N, hands down, as the ultimate Big Twin cruiser, and all three were the core testers who put the majority of mileage on these models. The one rider who didn't choose the Honda said he'd buy the Road Star first for its value, out of the box versatility and comfort. Surprised the V2K didn't come out on top? So were we. The Kawasaki was certainly the favorite to win when this comparison was still an on-paper assignment. And for those of us who didn't favor the newcomer for everyday riding before we left town, there was a certainty afloat that it would find its destiny on the open ride. It didn't take many miles to fall from grace, however, and a coolant leak and potentially problematic exhaust smoke midtrip furthered our dismay. Our advice to the would-be Vulcan purchaser? Wait until next year when the bugs have been sifted through. We are also quite sure there will be an '05 Voyager version truly set up for touring and, of course, Suzuki will eventually offer a V2K with different styling.

Yes, they sure do "grow 'em big in Japan," but we're happy to be the excess-minded Americans who get to enjoy the crop. In gluttony is honor...well, at the very least, a heck of a lot of amusement.

BIKEKawasaki Vulcan 2000Honda VTX 1800NYamaha Royal Star DesignationVN2000Honda VTXNXV17ASuggested base price$14,499$13,399-$15,349$10,999Standard colorsBlack, maroon, silver-blueBlack, titanimum, red, dark redWhite. Extra for two tones or blackStandard warranty12 months, unlimited mileage12 months, unlimited mileage12 months, unlimited mileageENGINETypeLiquid-cooled, 52-degree V-twinLiquid-cooled 52-degree V-twin Air-cooled 48-degree V-twin Valve arrangement4 valves, pushrods, hydraulic adjustersSOHC; 3 valves per cylinder4 valves, pushrods, hydraulic adjustersDisplacement2053cc179511670ccBore x stroke103 x 123.2mm101 x 112mm97 x 113mmCompression ratio9.5:19.0:18.3:1 CarburetionEFI, 46mm throttle bodiesEFI, 42mm throttle bodies1, 40mm Mikuni CV Transmission5 speeds5 speeds5 speeds Final driveBeltShaftBelt CHASSISWet weight820 lb.796 lb.746 lb.Seat height26.8 in.27.3 in.27.9 in. Wheelbase68.3 in.67.5 in.66.5 in.Rake/trail32 degrees/7.2 in.32 degrees/5.8 in.32 degrees/5.6 in. Front tire150/80R-16 tubeless Bridgestone130/70ZR18 tubeless Dunlop 130/80-16 tubeless BridgestoneRear tire200/60R-16 tubeless Bridgestone180/70ZR16 tubeless Dunlop150/8B16-16 tubeless Bridgestone Front brake2 four-piston calipers, 11.8-in. disc2 three-piston calipers, 296mm discs2 four-piston calipers, 11.7-in. discs Rear brakeTwo-piston caliper, 12.6-in disc2 three-piston calipers, 296mm discsTwo-piston caliper, 12.6-in. discFront suspension49mm stanchions; 5.9-in. travel45mm inverted cartridge, tk-in. travel45mm inverted cartridge, tk-in. travel Rear suspensionOne damper, 3.9-in. travel2 dampers, 3.9-in. travel1 damper, 4.3-in. travel Fuel capacity5.5 gal.5.3 gal.5.3 gal.InstrumentsSpeedometer, LCD odometer, dual tripmeters, fuel gauge, warning lightsSpeedometer, LCD odometer, tripmeter, fuel gauge, warning lightsSpeedometer, LED odometer, tripmeter, fuel gauge, clock, warning lightsPERFORMANCEFuel mileage33.8 mpg, average33.2 mpg, average33.3 mpg, average Average range185 miles, including reserve176 miles, including reserve176 miles, including reserveQuarter-mile acceleration12.49 sec. @ 104.49 mph12.73 sec. @ 104.6513.9 sec. @ 93.12 mph

Milwaukee's big idea

Our roundup of the Biggest Twins had tech guru Marc Cook singing, "One of these not like the others." Harley's limited-edition Screamin' Eagle Electra Glide, made by H-D's Custom Vehicle Operations unit in limited numbers in 2004, fits the displacement requirement for our Maximum Motor roundup, but its limited production status, a price that's almost twice the Kawasaki's and, most of all, its touring orientation made it the banana to the others' apples and oranges. But we wanted to sample it, not only because of its 1690cc (103ci in Harley-speak), but because we wondered if that engine might realistically make it as a full production Harley power plant.

Created by stroking the standard 1450cc H-D mill, the SE Electra Glide has its own exhaust system and FI mapping, but not a lot else to pump up power. Still, you can feel the extra inches all the way from idle to redline, where it still pulls with enthusiasm when the rev-limiter asserts itself. It makes 84.1 rear-wheel ponies at 5750 rpm. Peak torque arrives at 2750 rpm, where it pumps 94.3 foot-pounds to the rear wheel. The extra muscle down low allowed harder launches or the luxury of ignoring first gear and easing way into second with little clutch slip. Its full-goose power--as shown by its 13.09-second, 98.3-mph quarter-mile sprint--easily buried the standard Electra Glide (14.65 seconds, 87.0 mph), though the standard bike hauls a trunk. The SE Glide motor was perfectly civilized, with two exceptions: It usually coughed once while the heavy-duty starter was spinning, and it coated the mufflers' innards with black soot, meaning it was running rich. Other than that, the 1690cc mill seems ready for prime time.

Though putting a nasty engine in a tourer may seem contrary, it actually makes sense when you are passing with a load or simply keeping up with your colleagues on their big-motor twins. The upsized engine has done nothing to degrade the good road manners of the basic E-Glide. It's still as smooth as a tourer should be. The abbreviated, 4.0-inch-tall windshield may have been style-driven, but the result is fairly pleasing at 80 mph, when air is deflected over most riders' helmets with little buffeting. The lowers were also welcome, especially when temperatures dropped below freezing. The leather-wrapped saddle was a step down from the standard bike's in comfort, but was flat and allowed room to squirm. It provided a respectably comfortable ride, though big bumps use up the shortened rear suspension's limited travel. The AM/FM/CD audio was also welcome, though the sound was mostly swept away above 60 mph, and cruise control was appreciated on the highway.

Though easy to manhandle at low speed and offering more cornering clearance than any of the less luxurious maxi-twins, this SE Glide has one foul handling trait. When cornering at speeds above about 60 mph, hitting a large bump would start a pronounced wallow that would get worse if you rolled off the throttle, but would straighten out if you stayed on the gas. (If you needed to slow down, keeping the throttle open and riding the rear brake seemed to be the answer.) We initially blamed it on Friedman's effusive packing, but the bike turned out to do it even more--but not with quite the same magnitude-- when it was unloaded. With the right combination of corner and bumps, it can get pretty exciting, as the long, stuttering tire mark left by the editor in one bumpy Texas turn will testify. We suspect the culprit is somewhere in the rubber mounting, but we can't be more exact than that.

Aside from that issue, the SE Electra Glide was fun to ride, and certainly drew its share of attention at gas stops. With 3200 units slated for production, it's relatively exclusive (though some manufacturers would like to sell that many total units in the U.S. this year), and that-- along with a page-long list of unique components, finishes and processes--might make it worth the nearly $30,000 it takes to roll one into your garage. We sure hope to see more of this engine. An 80-hp Deuce or Dyna Glide Sport sounds like a great idea.

Suggested retail price: $26,595 ($27.095 California)
Warranty: 24 months, unlimited miles
Engine: Air-cooled 45-degree OHV V-twin, two valves per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1690cc, 92.25 x 110.8mm
Carburetion: EFI, 45mm bore
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Wet weight: 848 lb.
Wheelbase: 63.5 in.
Seat height: 27.1 in.
Rake/trail: 26 degrees/6.2 in.
Front tire: MT90B16 Dunlop/Harley D402F tubeless
Rear tire: MU85B16 Dunlop/Harley D402 tubeless
Front brake: 2, 11.5-in. discs, 4-piston calipers
Rear brake: 11.5-in. disc, 4-piston caliper
Front suspension: 41mm stanchions, 4.6 in travel
Rear suspension: Dual dampers, 2.2 in. travel, adjustable for air pressure
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal.
Fuel mileage: 35.3 mpg avg.
Quarter-mile performance: 13.09 sec., 98.3 mph

Biggest Pain in Ass
Height: 5' 10"
Weight: 135 lbs.
Inseam: 34 in.

I'm going to tell it straight (like I'm ever wise enough to do it any other way). Don't buy the new, huge Vulcan just to outdo your mates, or to have the biggest bike on the block. It's not the best Vulcan, only the biggest. I remain impressed by the engine, though I think it's an injustice to hide it in excessive blubber. It's no secret I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Kawasaki fan, but this new rendition doesn't meet my standards. My personal wish is that Kawasaki would do a chopper version with that engine. Can you picture how cool that would be? The Honda VTX 1800N was so obviously the winner of this comparison, we ran out of things to talk about at dinner. It's sweetly styled, and the accessory options are absolutely beautiful. The VTX power is tremendous; it handles great and was by far the most comfortable for me. The 1800C has been at the top of my list from the start, and now this new Neo-Retro version is right there with it. Can't lose here, folks. Although a little dated in feel and looks, the Yamaha is useful and certainly a good value, selling for $3000 less than its competitors. The other night I walked down to the garage to choose a mount for some serious city riding, and the three Bigs were all lined up. I chose the Yamaha without deliberation. But in real life, I want more. I like 'em bigger, uh, I mean better. --Jamie Elvidge

Biggest Editor
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 220 lbs.
Inseam: 32 in.

Size isn't everything--for which I have many reasons to be thankful. I actually like the "little" Road Star the best of this trio because it is so comfy for me, and my only real complaint is its lack of cornering clearance. Nice price, too. I am pleased that this VTX rendition looks so distinctively Honda (and generally better than earlier models), and that some of the driveline complaints have been addressed. Still, I feel like the throttle response and driveline lash could be smoothed out more. If speculation about a belt-drive model comes true, I think that bike will be a big winner. The Kawasaki coulda, shoulda dominated this face-off, and it definitely has the power to do it. The chassis is impressive, too. The rear suspension and seat should have been sorted further before the VN2000 was released, though. But the little coolant leak and the tendency to suck a bit of oil (which might simply be something you have to live with if you want such big cylinders) are issues that would make me wait a year if I wanted one. --Art Friedman

Marc Cook
Biggest Stickler
Height: 6' 0"
Weight: 180 lbs.
Inseam: 32 in.

If the spam materializing in my e-mail inbox is any indication, Americans--at least those electronically connected--are infatuated, make that obsessed, with all things bigger. Thanks to my newest acquaintances in direct marketing I know that for just pennies a day, I can have bigger vegetables, a bigger paycheck, bigger luck with the ladies, and even a more bigger, er, unit. (Hey, I'm married with children, why would I need that?) So the Vulcan fits American needs perfectly. It's big, not just on the inside but everywhere. The massive engine seems to have grown into the frame like some Play-Doh project gone awry. Parked next to Harley's Twin Cam 88 engine, the Kawasaki's seems outrageously long and complicated. Yet it does the deed: With 120 foot-pounds of torque, the big Kaw pummels the next most powerful big V-twin with contemptuous ease. Ultimately, though, the Vulcan seems to me not as much a triumph of engineering but an exercise in excess--sure it's powerful, but it's also distressingly heavy, so it never really feels fast. I never thought I'd call the Honda VTX 1800 light or nimble--not even in comparative terms--but next to the V2K, it is. In fact, when Honda initially suggested that the original VTX could have been bigger than 1795cc but that it didn't work better--in fact was not as "nice" to ride in that configuration--I chalked it up to a kind of PR envy. Now, grudgingly, I admit Honda may have been right: There is such a thing as too big, and the Vulcan 2000 is it. --Marc Cook

Biggest Scissors
Height: 5' 7"
Weight: 155 lbs.
Inseam: 31 in.

Funny, but "big" no longer seems sufficient to describe this latest batch of behemoths--except for maybe the Yamaha Road Star. These twins are massive, humongous and portly, but as far as I'm concerned, the Road Star's accommodating ergos and middle-of-the-road predictability count for a lot in a group of, literally, 800-pound gorillas. Long distances are blister-free on the Star, but its low-tech lean and anemic engine leave me cold in the long run. But this is all about engine size, right? In which case the new Vulcan's 2000 cubic centimeters will knock your socks off--though your shoes will be less than impressed with the tonnage they have to hold up. I like that the Kawasaki handles its heft admirably, that the fuel injection is smoothly turned out and that its brakes are actually the best of the bunch, but much on the V2K still feels unfinished (the suspension, for instance). Which leaves the Honda in the top slot. Seamless fit and finish, elegant styling, more accessible and manageable power and well-mannered handling put the Honda ahead of the others for overall excellence. --Andy Cherney

Instrumentation includes six gauges (including ambient air temperature) and two LCD displays. Wiring goes inside the handlebar.
The leather-covered saddle felt hard earlier than the standard Electra Glide seat, but the rider backrest was welcomed by some riders.