That object in your mirror may be larger than it appears, especially if it's one of these so-called mega cruisers. They're long, low, and wide -- and cost more than a small car. These motorcycles measure about eight feet from nose to tail, yet you sit just over two feet off the road. Such behemoths tip the scales at roughly 800 pounds. That's not much when you're rolling along, but it's a lot when you're pushing it over that half-inch lip into your garage.
Cruisers make up more than half of all on-road motorcycle sales, and the new breed of big ones is an attempt by makers to better distinguish their brands from Harley-Davidson (HDI ) and its signature Fat Boy, which has long ruled this class. They've got huge, high-tech engines -- some of them come in at two liters or more -- and plenty of low-end torque for fast getaways from a standing stop. They're the biggest bikes ever mass produced, SUVs for the motorcycle set.
KAWASAKI VULCAN 2000
Head-on, the distinctive polished-chrome headlight assembly of the 2004 Kawasaki Vulcan 2000 echoes that of a streamlined locomotive. The bike pulls like one, too. The massive 2,053 cc fuel-injected V-twin engine generates nearly 120 foot-pounds of torque, which makes for fast starts. The engine is built to look and stay cool, with both high-tech liquid cooling on the top and high-style cooling fins on the cylinders below. The bike with the biggest V-twin engine on the market, the Vulcan makes the Harley Fat Boy look as if it's on a low-carb diet.
The 2004 Honda (HMC ) Valkyrie Rune is an exercise in extravagance. Honda designers had free rein: They borrowed the 6-cylinder, 1,832 cc engine from Honda's flagship Gold Wing touring bike and modified it for more power. Components for the rear suspension came from the company's racing bikes. Everything is fitted to a diamond-shaped aluminum frame. The result is a bike that looks like nothing less than a one-off, custom cruiser that will have people asking for the name of your builder.
TRIUMPH ROCKET III
The largest production bike ever made, the British-built 2004 Triumph Rocket III looks like a '60s hot rod, with flashy exhaust pipes cascading from its fuel-injected, 2,294 cc power plant. The resemblance doesn't stop there: The in-line engine's three pistons are as big as those in a Dodge Viper roadster. They easily produce a massive 147 ft.-lb. of torque, the exhilarating power you feel during acceleration, and transfer it to the road through a prodigious nine-inch-wide rear tire.
By Rob Doyle