Southern California has its problems, but lack of good places to go for a ride isn’t one of them, even in February. We shoved off from CW HQ in Irvine under warm, partly cloudy skies and rode a couple of hours southeast to Lake Henshaw, elevation 2656 feet, where the temperature was in the 40s and dropping fast. And it was beginning to rain. The snowplow that pulled up out front while we were swilling coffee and beef barley soup was not encouraging. So instead of executing Plan A and turning right to ride to Julian (elevation 4221 ft.), where they were expecting six inches of snow, we took a left and then a right and then another left onto S22, which plunges from Ranchita (4057 ft.) to Borrego Springs (elevation 590 ft.) in 11 miles of spectacular, deserted pavement. Up top in Ranchita, the first flurries were beginning to swirl from a low, iron-gray sky. Twenty minutes later, we were peeling off layers of clothing in warm sunshine under swaying palm trees.
On sportbikes, in svelte leathers, we might not have made it (given the forecast, we might not have even made the attempt). But behind these bikes’ big windshields, and thanks to all the winter gloves and extra layers we were able to pack (an electric vest was already wired up and in the Honda’s left bag if it came down to it), things never got much worse than “chilly.” Our experience on the road shows that mid-sized baggers have definitely evolved. Some more than others.
The Honda Interstate, for instance, has barely evolved from the Fury chopper Honda introduced in 2009. You can practically hear the boardroom conversation. We need a bagger! Lop the trunk off the Gold Wing! But that’ll take time, Spock, we need a bagger now! How about a Shadow? No, 745cc is too small. What’s left? The Fury! On with the bags, footboards and windshield. Done!
- Feels light and narrow, lowest seat
- Sleek looks
- Barky motor, gummy bite
- Smallest tank, least range
- Seat harshes long-distance buzz
- Chopperesque handling
Well, they also gave it fat, 17- and 15-inch tires instead of the chopper’s 21/18-in. setup, and made a one-gallon-bigger tank (4.4 gal.)—and the bagger is even $150 less than the Fury, which is nice. But in the end, the Interstate still feels a little like a touring chopper. The seats on the other two bikes here are thicker and about two inches wider, which gives you more room to squirm on long rides.
Its choplike basis also colors the Honda’s handling. If you stick to the Interstate and/or around town on the Interstate, all is well. But you know how we are. We like the twisty roads, and on them, we learned that 33 degrees of rake leading a 70.3-inch wheelbase with five square feet of plexiglass bolted to 40mm fork tubes is not the best recipe for precise handling in 60-mph wind gusts. It is a great way to be faster than Off-Road Editor Ryan Dudek on a motorcycle for once; we conveniently swapped him onto the Honda at precisely the beginning of the best part of S22. Guest tester Todd Eagan and I were then left alone to duke it out down the mountain on the Suzuki and Star as Dudek wobbled off in our mirrors like a man trying hard not to do any off-road editing on this day. Later, in the bar (where Dudek was uncharacteristically scared straight), there were comparisons to the Honda and a hook-and-ladder fire truck.
Really the Honda is not that bad, but the V Star 1300 Tourer and Suzuki C90T B.O.S.S. are both surprisingly convincing at playing sportbike, like a pair of graceful dancing bears. Both bikes go happily and swiftly around corners, feathering their chunky cruiser tires nearly to the edges, and both have power to leave the Honda behind on the straights, the Suzuki by way of 150cc more displacement, and the Star via a way more oversquare, rev-happy V-Twin. In the end, the Suzuki wins the sport-riding battle partly because its rear-brake master cylinder is in a better spot; the Star’s cornering clearance on the right is compromised by its master cyclinder being located under the footboard. The B.O.S.S. heels right over, feels stubby and short, with the rider shoved farthest forward toward the 44mm fork tubes for good front-end feel, and its firm-enough suspension does the best job keeping it on the level. On this bike, the Duder could probably beat eight out of 10 guys on new Aprilia RSV 4s on S22. Downhill, anyway. (Maybe uphill, too? The dyno tells us the Suzuki makes 86.5 foot-pounds of torque 1000 rpm sooner than the other bikes’ low 70s readings, and 69 horsepower to the Yamaha’s 67 and the Honda’s 57.)
Later that night, Borrego felt like it was in the eye of a hurricane. We looked up at desert stars through a big hole of circling clouds, then slept through a Biblical deluge. Bright desert sunshine in the windless morning revealed fresh snow extending far down the mountainsides. Our motel offered a Continental breakfast, but didn’t specify which continent. A malnourished one, probably Africa. Spotty banana? Tepid coffee? I wipe the rain off the bikes with the hotel towels, and we ride!
- Biggest bags; lock ’em if you want to
- Under 700 pounds dry
- Enjoys rpm and cuddling
- Crazy-tall windshield
- Trying hardest to look like an H-D
- Dual front discs, longest stopping distance
All three motorcycles are more than happy to roll along between 80 and 90 mph for hours, and wouldn’t cruise control be a nice option? It’s not available on any of them, but, then again, these are not at the high end of the market. The Honda is the slowest to get up to speed, if it matters, but it still feels plenty stout in normal use and sounds fastest warming up in the parking lot; it has a lot of V-Twin presence. It’s just that the long stroke means it runs out of steam on top, when the other two bikes are pulling hard. The raked-out front end that holds it back in sportier use serves it well on the open road, its plowshare handlebar puts the grips in a great place for riders in the 5-foot-8 range. Our heaviest guy, at 190 pounds, felt like a little more suspension damping wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Honda.
If keeping your co-pilot happy is job one, cut to the Star immediately, with its comfy seat, standard backrest and most spacious saddlebags. The Honda’s passenger pad, meanwhile, is narrow and slopes rearward. The Suzuki’s passenger seat is good, too, but you’ll spend another couple hundred for the backrest, on what’s already a pricey motorcycle at $13,999. With ABS, our test Honda is also a bit spendy at $14,240 ($1K more than the non-ABS model). The Star’s $12,290 makes it the bargain here.
Eagan tells us the Yamaha rides like the world’s best ’54 FLH Harley-Davidson, and we’ll have to take his word for that, though we know for a fact no Harley from that era runs as smooth and has as much power in reserve as this thing does. The 1304cc eight-valve Twin we loved in the Star Stryker last year also works great in this application, and the five-speed gearbox works okay, though not as happily as the Suzuki’s best-in-show transmission. The Yamaha passes power on to the rear wheel through a nice, efficient belt; the other two are shaft-driven. The Suzuki won the bagger GP coming down the mountain, but the Star gets it back when it comes to straightline plushness, with 4.3 inches of travel out back and 5.3 in front. Smooth sailing. But the B.O.S.S. is right there on smooth roads, with 804 fully fueled pounds of blacked-out bulk to smooth out any wrinkles its slightly tauter suspension lets through.
None of the leather-covered ABS bags (the Suzuki’s may be pleather) on these bikes are big enough to contain a helmet (all three bikes have helmet locks), but any storage on a motorcycle is, of course, better than none at all. Each machine has plenty of room for a warmer jacket and overpants, a rolled-up rainsuit, shaving kit, etc.—all the stuff you’d carry on a weekend ride. Packing for two will be more challenging, but it’s doable if you’re efficient.
- Willing motor and gearbox
- Surprisingly proficient cornerer
- Big torque below 3000 rpm
- Really wide; mirrors are 42.5 inches apart
- Rolls so nice we want cruise control
- Bags are always locked, dangit
All the bags are irregularly shaped, but the Yamaha’s are biggest at around 22 x 12 x 8 inches. The Suzuki’s might be just as capacious, but they’re more weirdly shaped and with a big, awkward locking mechanism on top that interferes with shoving in bulky items. The worst thing is that the ignition key and the ignition key alone is what opens and closes the bags. The Honda bags have the least capacity and don’t lock, but the latches are hidden out of sight behind the bags and really convenient to pop open.
At the end of the day, if it’s overnight touring you’re after, it comes down to a two-bike race. The Star is the more faithful rendition of a classic Harley, but if you’re shopping metric cruisers, maybe that’s what you don’t want? The B.O.S.S. is not only more its own bike, Suzuki appears to have put more thought into making it a functional motorcycle as well as a visually arresting one. Honda and Star make bigger baggers, but the C90T is Suzuki’s flagship. The Honda and Yamaha use stylized numbers on their speedos that are damned difficult to read, with an even more illegible small LCD bar inset into each one you have to scroll through to get time, tripmeter, odometer. The Suzuki, in contrast, gives you a big round speedo with legible numbers you can read even at night and a half-pie-chart LCD fuel gauge that is easy to read at a glance. Even better, an LCD panel below the gauge displays gear position, time and tripmeter/odo info all at once.
On our last sunny afternoon in the desert, it must’ve been in the 70s as I stretched out among the ocotillos and cholla cacti for a lovely, warm mental- hygiene period while staff lensman Jeff Allen shot a few photos. An hour or two later, our nipples were growing nipply, indeed, as we rode Interstate 8 up and over Tecate Divide (elevation 4221 ft.), with deep snow on both sides of the road and temps in the 30s—cold enough to wonder if that water on the bridge was about to turn to ice. Still not quite cold enough to break out the electric vest, because we knew an hour later we’d be lane-splitting through I-5 San Diego rush-hour traffic on the way back up the coast, which we were.
For commuting and urban use, the Honda’s actually really good, with the skinniest handlebar (40 inches tip to tip) and bags, and lots of off-idle grunt. It’s also really sleek-looking, all minimalist hip in black and silver. The Star’s perfectly okay in every functional way, and if you’re looking for an updated ’54 FLH copy you won’t be disappointed. The B.O.S.S., on the other hand, really did grow on all of us, with its basic blackness, bad-attitude motor, surprising sportiness and all-around (ab)user-friendliness. With the sun sinking into the Pacific alongside Catalina in a postcard-perfect orange/pink/blue California winter sunset, temp in the 50s, elevation 50 ft. or so, barn in sight, the B.O.S.S. is really a very good place to be.
|SPECIFICATIONS||Honda Interstate||Suzuki Boulevard C90T B.O.S.S.||Star V Star 1300 Tourer|
|Dry weight||707 lb.||775 lb.||690 lb.|
|Wheelbase||70.3 in.||66.3 in.||66.5 in.|
|Seat height||26.2 in.||28.3 in.||27.2 in.|
|Fuel mileage||34 mpg||35 mpg||36 mpg|
|0-60 mph||5.3 sec.||4.5 sec.||4.5 sec.|
|1/4-mile||14.18 sec. @ 90.20 mph||13.48 sec. @ 94.59 mph||13.51 sec. @ 93.48 mph|
|Horsepower||56.5 @ 4275 rpm||69.3 @ 4845 rpm||66.8 @ 5520 rpm|
|Torque||72.4 ft.-lb. @ 3620 rpm||86.5 ft.-lb. @ 2780 rpm||73.5 ft.-lb. @ 3970 rpm|
|Top speed||99 mph||99 mph||102 mph|