There are few things in this world that are as quintessentially American as a cruiser motorcycle. It is perhaps second only to mom’s favorite apple pie and a baseball game at Wrigley Field. American motorcycle manufacturers, such as Harley-Davidson and Indian, had perfected the cruiser market to such a degree, that it has proven difficult for visiting tourists like BMW, Honda and Triumph to truly compete on their home turf.
You could probably trace the beginning of the cruiser class to the freewheeling 60s, a decade that birthed counterculture, civil right movements and a plethora of other societal shifts. And if you were to zero in on something even more specific, you would probably land on the motorcycle ridden by Peter Fonda in the movie Easy Rider. The popularity of that movie, and the wild look of his «Captain America» chopper was hard to dismiss, and so manufacturers all over the world scrambled to adjust to the new demand. But as cool as Peter’s bike was, it didn’t look all that particularly comfortable, and in order for Harley, Indian and the rest to be able to successfully sell them, they would have to dream up of ways to make this new type of motorcycle an actual easy ride. Fortunately for us, after decades of tinkering with the formula, the cruisers being produced today are miles ahead of those from the 60s, and can be comfortably ridden not only to work, but across the country, if need be.
Updated May 2023: Motorcycle manufacturers continue to strive to bring us cruiser options that are comfortable for everyday use as well as long distance touring. Each year, new models are released, and previous versions are updated. To keep our readers up to speed on all the latest developments this article will be updated periodically with new information.
Royal Enfield Super Meteor
The Royal Enfield Super Meteor parked at a gas station
For all intents and purposes, with the Meteor 350, Royal Enfield had created the perfect beginner cruiser. They figured, well if Harley isn’t doing it, we might as well fill that void. And just as Honda began growing their Rebel line, with the 300, 500 and 1100 models, so is Royal Enfield following suit, by introducing the Super Meteor 650 variant this year. And perhaps it is arguably a better representation of the cruiser than the Rebel.
Stylistically, it harkens back to what we instinctively think a cruiser should look like. It has a heavy presence, a comfortable seat, tons of chrome and is dead simple to operate and maintain. And when it comes to technology, it’s charmingly devoid of anything overcomplicated to stand between you and the open road.
Press photo of a 2023 Harley-Davidson Nightster
When Harley slid the door open and showed the world it’s latest, water-cooled engine, the Revolution Max 1250, all the possibilities began to take shape in our collective minds. It wasn’t too long after, that the Milwaukee brand rolled out its latest models that featured the new v-twin. There was the sheer audacity of the Pan America, the stylish brutalism of the Sportster S and the much more classic and refined Nightster. This was to be the future of Harley and judging from these three models, we’re here for it.
Out of the three, it is the Nightster that hews closest to what made Harley cruisers so great. The vintage silhouette backed up by the modern engine and technology is making the Nightster a real winner. And because Harley was replacing the previous Sportster lineup with it, its ergonomics are comparative, beginner-friendly to an extent and make the bike a comfortable option to be used as a daily or even as a tourer.
Kawasaki Vulcan S
A side view display of a rider riding the Vulcan S
It’s an old stand-by to dunk on the poor Vulcan S. It’s certainly the black sheep of the cruiser world due to its milquetoast of an engine. But Kawasaki doesn’t seem to care, as it continues to sell pretty well for them in the beginner market. And that’s due in no small part to Kawasaki’s Ergo-Fit system. It may legitimately make the Vulcan S the most comfortable cruiser simply because it allows for the perfect fit, regardless of the size of the rider. With the Ergo-Fit, the foot pegs, seat and handlebars can all be adjusted to suit the rider. Once a customer has purchased the Vulcan S, the dealership will configure the bike specifically for them, at no additional cost. Everything else can be taken care of in the third party aftermarket.
Yamaha Bolt R-Spec
Front and side view of a 2023 Yamaha Bolt R-Spec
The Bolt has always been Yamaha’s answer to Harley’s Sportster. It is small, lightweight, and designed to look like a traditional cruiser. The seat is low, making the bike comfortable for shorter riders, especially women. The fuel tank is slim, preventing the bike from having too much weight on either side. This makes the bike fun to throw around in the curves. Another nice feature is the mid-controls, this gives the rider a greater sense of security and control that you don’t get with larger cruisers. The customization possibilities of this bike help to make it even more comfortable. Each rider can change out virtually every part to create a customized ride to suit their needs.
Harley-Davidson Street Bob 114
Man sitting on motorcycle, looking at woman standing next to it.
If you want something more traditional and raw from your Harley, then the Street Bob 114 is where you’ll find it. When it comes to comfort, it has slightly more comfortable mid-controls, an addition of a pillion seat and a more upright seating position. The Street Bob is also ripe for customization, being a relatively simple bike. It’s not the cheapest model, but it certainly is one of the more handsome ones. And even though it’s quite heavy, coming in at 655 pounds, it wears that weight well and low. Besides, you’ll hardly notice it with 119 feet per pound of torque. It also has a claimed fuel economy of 47 miles to the gallon (estimated city/highway average) which is more than enough to get you where you need to go in style and comfort.
Honda Shadow Phantom
Motorcycle riding on street to the right.
Honda’s Shadow is a real unsung hero when it comes to inexpensive cruiser options. It’s been there for generations, allowing people to explore on two wheels, all over the world. It’s not the most exciting cruiser out there, and as far as Harley clones go, it’s pretty generic looking. But what it lacks in style and thrills, it more than makes up in comfort, modifiability and price. Just think, for slightly under $8,000 you can have yourself, what basically amounts to being, a vintage Sportster, with the guaranteed reliability of a Honda. And after decades of being on the market, fairly unchanged, there’s a real thriving Shadow community of enthusiasts and after market sellers to suit every modification you’d want or question you may have.
Suzuki Boulevard C50
Candy Daring Red 2022 Suzuki Boulevard C50 in a driveway
As one of the bikes in production the longest, the Boulevard has seen many improvements and modifications. Since it first began production in the 90s, Suzuki has used the Boulevard to compete with the American cruisers on the market, especially going after Indian and their retro, flared fender vibe. While it never quite got the same attention and admiration, it has formed its own place in the market.
Those who give this metric cruiser a chance discover that it eliminates many of the complaints found in competitor models, specifically those pertaining to reliability. Similar to the Honda Shadow, it’s not the most exciting of cruisers, but you will find a smooth ride in its comfortable seat. The riding position is slightly more relaxed, allowing you to enjoy your ride for longer.
Motorcycle riding on paved road in front of forest to the right.
You can’t have any kind article about cruisers, without at least mentioning the other American cruiser manufacturer. Of course, we’re talking about Indian. The company had gone through some tough times throughout its years, having long periods of downtime and inactivity due to poor sales and leadership. But eventually it had found its way into the arms of Polaris, which were so successful at turning Indian’s fortunes around, that it had outperformed the other cruiser brand under its umbrella: Victory.
These days, Indian is no second fiddle to anyone, by producing some fantastic bikes like the FTR and the Scout. But if you want a cruiser with a little more legroom and comfort, it’s the Chief that you should be looking at. It has a similar stance to the Scout, but there’s just a tiny bit more to it. It has mid-controls, a larger engine, rider modes, keyless ignition, cruise control and much more. All of which amounts to a lot of comfort, for not that big of a price hike. And if Harley comes with too much baggage, Indian can offer a much more modern and refined alternative.
BMW R 18 Classic
Stock image of a red BMW R18 Classic 2022 cruiser motorcycle parked at a boat dock.
Throughout its history, BMW had attempted to tame the US cruiser market on multiple occasions, with varying degrees of success. To be fair, it’s not easy to beat the two heavily entrenched American manufacturers, with such well established cruiser heritage. But with the R 18, and its expanding variants, BMW had finally hit upon something different from the typical cruiser. The body positioning is less stretched out, so you feel more secure as you maneuver through traffic. While there isn’t a ton of room like the big V-twin bikes, you also don’t feel constricted. This is an important distinction from other small cruisers. As a result, you have more room to adjust and prevent cramping. The position lets you relax through the knees, allowing for good blood flow. The handlebars are wide and low, giving you plenty of upper body room for steering. You also won’t have to worry about arm fatigue on longer rides. And, of course, nothing beats the look of that boxer engine, giving the R18 a unique and well-balanced stance.
A 2023 Honda Rebel leaning hard on a corner
When Honda mercifully updated the Rebel 250 by bringing it into this century, they finally created a cruiser that wasn’t just a Harley knock-off. Thoroughly modern, and utilizing proven, reliable engines from Honda’s other, successful models, the new Rebel was a welcome sight for beginner riders everywhere. It now comes in three sizes, 300, 500, and 1100cc. Each is tuned to give you plenty of power and performance while riding on city streets. However, the Honda Rebel won’t let you down when you open it up on those long country straightaways. The gas tank has a more vertical shape that raises the handlebars. Combine this with the brought-in foot pegs, and you have a comfortable riding position. Supporting your rear end is a wide seat that has plenty of cushioning. It even has plush quilt stitch detailing that adds to its luxurious feel.