Cranked - The Appeal of V-Twin Cruisers

Look Phat

Faced with writing a road test on the latest V-twin cruiser, most Motorcyclist editors can be found speaking Hurl into the nearest Kohler one-point-two-eight. Is this adverse reaction nature or nurture? Hard to say.

The magazine is based in Southern California, where parents routinely name their children after famous racetrack corners. In such an environment, it stands to reason that a 52-degree lean angle will be more important than a 52-degree rake. The gastrointestinal tract reared on jalapeño-and-garlic burritos cannot break down Tater Tots.

There are other parts of the country, though. Places where the morning commute doesn't include drafting Ben Bostrom. Places where there are no curves, only straight roads intersecting at 90 degrees. Places like my home: Gridland, Florida.

Where I live, 170 horses, 170 kilos and a jacked-up rear suspension will mostly drive you into the roofline of that left-turning cager. With a nice, low cruiser packing 800 good, old American pounds of road-hugging weight, you can ride right through Lefty's passenger door, past the spit-dried Starbucks cups, over his cell phone and back out the driver's door. Grab the little green pine-tree-scented air freshener as a souvenir on your way through. I always do.

In Gridland, good handling means a bike that will hold a line. A straight line. The ability to strafe apexes is less important than an undercarriage that provides a confidence-inspiring, third-point-of-contact training-wheel effect. A stylish profile that reflects well out of polished stainless-steel milk tankers is of more use here than rumptisserie exhaust stacks.

Sportbike riders are forever complaining about cruisers' lack of power. If a bike's not churning out 200 ponies, it's a dog. Yet none of them complain about revving their engines to 14,000 rpm. That's not power-that's kinetic energy.

In The Land That Turns Forgot, horsepower equals work over time-a mathematical abstract. Torque is instant-like now, baby. In hustling, bustling Gridland, we can't wait for the revolution. The average Big Twin cruiser will run dead-last on a road course, but hitch that FLH to the pintle hook of a 15-car ore train hauling out of an open-pit copper mine and see who gets to the weigh station first. Cruisers may make only 60 bhp, but it's at very low rpm. A good-running cruiser will still put out 59 horsepower with the engine off.

Then there's that V-twin sound. That sharp potato-chirp at the dying end of the exhaust pulse reminds us of how our lives could have unraveled had we followed our adolescent dreams. There's no going back now, but with triple chrome-plated porkers and a set of silverflake handlebar tassels, we may still hear echoes of the Spirit Crow-an animal whose hushed knowledge cannot be heard over a screeching four-cylinder.

Did Gridland beget the American Eagle-embossed belt buckle, or did the buckle level the land? Here, open-toed sandals, black-leather chaps and a Village People bartender's vest protect the torso and legs. No one wears a helmet because we're all going to die eventually. Contrast the cruiser's get-up with the sport rider's: Cockroach-like in his Power Ranger helmet and carbon-fiber-print plastic body armor, the Ninja pilot appears to be the more safety-conscious. Until you see him ride.

Dragging his knee at 100 mph over the posted speed limit, the sport rider's hyper-active highway habits reduce all of his safety gear to illusion. The non-linear energy storage capacity of bodies moving at differing rates of speed means that the bare-headed Big Twin jockey, clad in his bathrobe and slippers and riding flat out at 30 per, is actually better protected.

I guess non-Gridlanders will never understand the appeal of V-twin cruisers and the straight-line lifestyle. In fact, as jittery canyon-carvers age, they seem to require ever more violent motorcycles. One-hundred-horsepower sportbikes are now for beginners and jalapeño-and-garlic burritos aren't spicy enough anymore. While here in Gridland, if we want a good night's sleep, we don't dare eat Tater Tots after 8 p.m.

Cranked - Look Phat