First Ride: 2006 Suzuki Boulevard M109R

Suzuki's flagship V-twin cruiser gets a much-needed injection of GSX-R tech

When your own customers tell you your motorcycles "have no real image" and are out of date, you know you've got a size-large crisis on your hands. That was the situation Suzuki found itself in after conducting extensive customer surveys in 2002.

So what do you do? You build a kick-ass, take-names-but-no-prisoners motorcycle, one that borrows freely from another of your model lines, one that's synonymous with performance for some street cred. That's precisely what Suzuki did to create its Boulevard custom-cruiser flagship, the M109R, which has undergone some fairly sophisticated gene-splicing from Suzuki's own GSX-R series, a brand even non-motorcyclists know stands for speed and handling.

You'll believe the procedure was a rousing success the first time you whack the throttle open on the M109R's GSX-R-derived Suzuki Dual Throttle Valve fuel injection. At almost any rpm, the bike simply shoves you back into the saddle, displaying a totally linear spread of power sportbike riders will recognize as one of the recent GSX-R1000's most endearing traits. Don't let the M109R's acceleration antics go to your head, though, and start hunting GSX-Rs. There's only so much the M's 127 claimed peak horsepower (at 6200 rpm) can do with a likewise claimed dry weight of 694 pounds.

Nonetheless, the M109R we rode in Austin, Texas, last February certainly felt capable of upholding Suzuki's goal of making the most powerful V-twin cruiser extant. The all-new liquid-cooled, DOHC, eight-valve 54-degree V-twin definitely has one of the primary prerequisites for prodigious power production--namely displacement: 1783cc of it, to be precise (or 109 cubic inches in Boulevard-speak). Adding to that are a host of GSX-R-influenced bits and pieces, such as the forged-aluminum slipper pistons with chrome-nitride-coated oil scraper rings, and chromoly con-rods shot-peened for additional durability. That piston measures a sizable 112mm in diameter--bigger than the lid of a 13-ounce can of Chock Full 'O Nuts Original and, Suzuki says, bigger than the pistons in any gasoline-powered four-stroke engine in any car currently in production.

Straight-up physical description, however, simply cannot do justice to Suzuki's efforts in designing the M109R's engine feel and sound. Designing's the correct word, too. That nearly 2-liter V-twin has staggered crankpins for perfect primary balance, a counterbalancer and six rubber mounts to secure it to the steel frame; no production bike in recent memory uses all three methods to stifle vibration. Actually, vibration--its whole family and anything that looks like it--should be slaughtered by the M109R's triple-threat approach. And yet the biggest Boulevard still retains the power pulses so sought after by Japanese custom manufacturers, cultivated via fine-tuning of the rubber mounts as well as the fuel-injection system.

Suzuki conjured up the M109R's booming exhaust note with help from Seikei University in Tokyo. Starting with approximately 100 exhaust sounds, some 250 participants listened to them a pair at a time and selected one from each as their favorite. The winning sounds were then grouped into pairs, and the subjects again chose a favorite from each pair, repeating the process until only one remained, the thudding staccato bark that's the M109R's signature. The sound certainly has a presence--and plenty of dB, too, as evidenced by the number of car alarms that went off in our wake as we left downtown Austin.

That plain-spoken, overachieving V-twin mounts to a steel-tube frame weighing 44 pounds; Suzuki says it found no benefits--in weight reduction or handling--to an aluminum frame. The swingarm, though, is cast aluminum, and works a horizontally mounted shock via a progressive linkage, while the fork is a sporty-looking KYB inverted cartridge-type; the only available adjustment is to preload at the rear.

Unfortunately, the majority of the roads on our brief Texas tour were smooth as jackalope fur. The few bumps we encountered, though, suggested the M109R has an oversprung, underdamped shock like most cruisers with limited wheel travel, which can yield a somewhat choppy ride over small, abrupt paving imperfections.

More GSX-R-think comes in the form of radial-mount Tokico four-piston front brake calipers from the 1000; they pinch 310mm discs, with a single 275mm disc and two-piston caliper in back. Rolling stock consists of 18-inch-diameter spiral-spoke cast-aluminum wheels, the rear a whopping 8.5 inches wide, the better to fit the somewhat cartoonishly wide 240/40 Dunlop D221 developed just for the M109R.

Just as with other bikes so equipped, the Boulevard's double-wide-sized rear tire contributes to a slight reluctance to bend into a turn unless riders are forceful with steering inputs. The bike does have a particularly low center of mass, something you'll notice anytime you lift it off its sidestand; the M requires noticeably less effort than other big-bore cruisers. That trait also helps the bike heel over relatively quickly and easily if you really crank on the handlebar and get onto the tire's edge. Well, as close as you can, that is; the footpegs touch down quite early, even compared to many other customs. Try to arc into a corner, though, and the bike resists, requiring more countersteering pressure than cruisers with narrower rear tires. One Suzuki spokesman said the trait was intentional, to make the M109R more stable, and more reassuring to less-experienced riders. Most buyers will almost certainly cheerfully ignore the Boulevard's little handling fillip to keep the visual impact of that big rear boot.

Besides which, stability is something Suzuki's M109R has aplenty, by gadfrey. One could hardly expect otherwise given its weight, 67.3-inch wheelbase and 31.15-degree steering head angle. All of which makes for a perfectly relaxed feeling, especially if the road lets you keep the horizon you're chasing in sight. There--and even through gently curving backroads--the M109R feels practically anchored to the pavement as it lopes down the road, the just-perceptible power pulses coming through the seat, grips and floorboards, and that big V-twin booming along right at its 119-lb.-ft. torque peak (claimed) at 60-65 mph (our bike's speedo had kph markings, making it a little difficult to be precise). If the road gets like Archie Bell and the Drells and does the tighten-up, the front brakes provide good, strong stopping power, albeit without the initial bite of the donor-bike GSX-R1000.Surprisingly, the riding position is partly responsible for the M109R's mellow road demeanor. Not that it's radically different from that of a passel of other V-twin cruisers; the rider sits fairly upright, arms outstretched about chest level to grasp the handgrips. The footpegs are positioned for larger pilots; the inseam-challenged among us might find their legs too extended for long-term comfort.

Much of that's SOP for most custom cruisers. What sets the M109R apart, though, is its headlight nacelle, a feature of the bike since early design sketches. The nacelle is shaped and angled like some smaller flyscreens, and on the M109R it works to a degree far greater than its diminutive size suggests. Even at slightly elevated freeway speeds--say, 75-plus mph--where other cruisers can make you feel like a spinnaker in a hurricane. That small bit of coverage on the M109R, though (and a reasonably comfy saddle), makes all the difference, putting semi-long-distance travel within the rider's reach.

Such versatility is always a plus, especially for a bruiser-cruiser musclebike. What matters, though, is how the "M109R delivers performance to the Boulevard brand," to use American Suzuki Communications Director Glenn Hansen's words. By virtue of hand-over-fist borrowing of GSX-R technology, the M109R owns a well-deserved performance image courtesy of up-to-the-minute hardware and a fine turn of speed. Add in a strong styling statement that for the most part enhances rather than diminishes the riding experience, and you've got a flagship worthy of the name. Suzuki's hoping that, thanks to the halo effect, the M109R's magic will somehow make the other members of the Boulevard lineup more desirable--at least until it's their turn for a makeover.

For now, if you're looking for the big dog in the large-displacement V-twin musclebike class, you'll find it down on the Boulevard, and its address is M109R.-MC


MSRP: $12,399

Type: 1-c 54 degree V-twin
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 8v
Displacement: 1783cc
Transmission: 5-speed

Weight: 694 lb. dry, claimed (315kg)
Fuel Capacity: 5.2 gal (19.7L)
Wheelbase: 67.3 in. (1710mm)
Seat height: 27.8 in. (705mm)