Suzuki's Brawny Boulevardier
It has been said that you can never have too much power. It must be true, because even in the cruiser segment of the motorcycle market, where high-speed cornering is effectively curtailed by the bikes' limited lean angles, power levels have been creeping up steadily over the past few years.
Okay, power can be advantageous in many street situations. Passing in busy traffic being just one of them. But I remain concerned about 700-plus pound behemoths rocketing to high speed on the straight sections and then putting their riders into corners at velocities beyond the machines' ability to turn. I thought this would apply to Suzuki's new Boulevard M109R too, but then I noticed the radial-mount, opposed four-piston monoblock brake calipers borrowed from the company's 2005 GSX-R1000 warp-speed sportbike straddling the M109R's pie-sized front discs.
That hardware should be enough to help shed speed with real urgency, even on a machine that answers the call of gravity with a combined rider/machine avoirdupois of somewhere around 900 pounds. That's substantial, but the upside of mass can be appreciated on the road, where the big Boulevard cruises with a stable serenity untroubled by crosswinds or lumpy pavement.
The Boulevard M109R
Nor does the new engine seem to notice the load it is being asked to carry. It's a 54-degree V-twin with dual overhead cams turned by a novel two-stage chain drive system that teams with a semi-dry-sump lubrication technique and plated aluminum cylinder bores to keep the engine relatively light and compact. Compact, that is, for a 1783cc twin with pistons that are 4.4-inches across. Fortunately for all of us, the engine uses a balancer shaft to keep the big twin's shaking forces from buzzing our brains out.
The engine boasts four valves per cylinder and two 56mm Mikuni injectors. Continuously tuned by an exhaust valve that varies back-pressure, and by twin sparkplugs that can fire simultaneously or at staggered intervals dependent on operating conditions, the giant engine produces stump-tugging torque at low and mid-range speeds as well as a generous 127 rear-wheel horsepower at 6200 rpm.
For a big old cruiser engine, the M109R's V-twin spins pretty quickly. The liquid-crystal tachometer that sits atop the handlebar brackets carries a redline of 7400 rpm, but so flat is the torque curve that winding the engine all the way up there is unnecessary to get the best performance. In true cruiser tradition, the big Boulevard blats along at virtually any engine speed, all the while issuing that classic loping V-twin beat from the two bazooka-sized side pipes.
Actually, because of the 54-degree included angle chosen by the Suzuki engineers to allow enough space between the big cylinders for relatively straight intake ports, the firing order at very low revs sounds almost like a parallel twin with a misfire. Up to about 3000 rpm, the engine stutters quite a bit, then the sound smoothes right out.
There are five speeds in the gearbox, adequate in light of the bike's elastic power delivery, but fifth is geared quite tall, and it keeps the engine down in the thudding part of its operating range at normal highway cruising speeds. It's undoubtedly more economical to do it that way, but it highlights the problems encountered when using truly big-bore V-twin formats.
There are other areas where size matters. Even with hands that fit snugly into XXL gloves, I found the reach to the clutch lever slightly overlong. It's heavily loaded too, operating without hydraulic assistance, and I ended up with a bruised joint on the next-to-pinky finger of the left hand.
But other than these wimpy complaints, the M109R is a great cruiser. It has a brilliantly original design, with none of the forced retro-schlock of most copycat cruisers. The seat is broad, deep and comfortable, and the extended handlebar brackets allow a natural curve and orientation for the 'bars themselves. Even tall riders aren't forced back into a position where they hold themselves upright with their stomach muscles.
The gears shift smoothly and easily at the bidding of the long-travel lever typical of the breed, and the brakes are strong and easily modulated. That big motor thrusts the bike down the road on a thrilling torrent of big-twin sound, and the big inverted fork keeps it aimed straight.
The ride is firm but well damped, and all that stability encourages you to grind the forward-slung footpegs in every corner. But only after you've become accustomed to the unusual interaction between the huge 240 rear tire and the much smaller 130 front hoop as you tip the bike into curves. That big back tire occasionally follows road-surface and camber changes while on the move, introducing small directional inputs. But you soon get used to it.
For cruiser adherents, most of whom profess not to care about restricted cornering clearances, this bike may be an important new direction. The M109R might even tempt maturing sportbike riders who've given up the risks and rewards of fast corners for a low-intensity cruiser experience. The guys at Boulevard certainly hope so.
Like most new cruiser offerings, the M109R is accompanied by a raft of official Boulevard accessories. I've seen some of them, and I'm happy to report that they do little to spoil the bike's sensational styling.
So it's handsome as it comes, but the bike can also be customized to reflect the owner's individualism without ruining its considerable visual impact. If that's good design, then the M109R has it.