There seems to be a divide in the motorcycle world regarding two different types of bikes: sports bikes or cruisers. Attached to the clichés are the opinions that one is better than the other, when in fact all motorcycles are great – just for different reasons. Therefore, bikers have to ask themselves: Why do I ride? When choosing a bike that’s working for you, there must be some self-analysis about your riding style. Consider the following:
The most important aspect when choosing a motorcycle is knowing what you’ll be using it for. If you’re an avid traveler, like to pack up, and love long road trips, a cruiser is a better fit. These bikes are equipped with large tanks, mounts for saddle bags, and soft seats. Harley-Davidson, Indian, or Victory, for example, are built to sail along straight, flat freeways for hours. Cruisers are perfect vehicles to go far and explore a wide area during a vacation. If you enjoy quick after-work jaunts to catch the sunset or weekend escapes with minimal luggage, a sports bike probably suits you better. Sporty motorcycles are built to effortlessly swerve around curvy country or mountain roads. Many Japanese moto brands, for instance, focus their design on such dynamic handling and efficient seating space.
Good news if you mostly ride in the city: both sports bikes and cruisers are proper daily commuters. They give you a taste of what you love most and make the ride to work or the store feel like good clean fun. However, if you’re interested in leaving the tarmac behind for dirt roads, forest camping, and extensive touring off the beaten path – a Kawasaki Ninja or Harley-Davidson Sportster might not be it. As the quintessential sports bike and cruiser, both have low ground clearance and are not set up for knobby tires that give you grip. Mostly, their frames do not support the extreme balance needed in gravel, sand, or mud. Time to think about how you actually sit on your bike.
It doesn’t matter whether you spend five minutes or two weeks in the saddle – it has to be comfortable, safe, and fun. The riding positions of cruisers and sports bikes mark the opposite ends of the spectrum regarding the center of gravity located between the front and rear axles of a motorcycle: while the cruiser’s mass is placed quite low, it is placed much higher up on a sports bike. This correlates to their seat height as well, and determines whether you can safely put your feet on the ground when straddling your bike or struggle to do so. Once your feet get on the pegs, they are positioned in front of you on a cruiser and under your butt on a sports bike. These different angles either allow a laid-back body position with room for elongated handlebars on the cruiser, or put you in a more energetic forward posture that shifts the weight onto your wrists on the sports bike.
Most models of either type of bike provide some customization options to adapt seat, pegs, and bars to your back, legs, and arms. This is necessary so that you as a rider have the best-possible balance and control over your bike’s movements. Only in your most compatible riding position can you fully enjoy how your motorcycle maneuvers turns: a soft, stable lean on the cruiser, but a more aggressive lean on the sports bike. This in turn, influences the motorcycle’s performance as a whole.
While the form mostly affects a bike’s agility, the engine size impacts its speed. Both kinds of bikes offer a wide range, see Honda: from 250-cc beginner’s rides, such as the Rebel or the CBR, to large, powerful machines for hauling a passenger and substantial luggage around (e.g. the Gold Wing) or for high-end racing featuring twice the horsepower (e.g. the Fireblade). If you crave quick acceleration for sprints from green lights or training experience on the track, pick a sports bike; if you rather desire endurance on serious excursions or group rides uninterrupted by frequent fuel breaks, find yourself a cruiser.
Finally, you can channel your inner Easy Rider or Akira – both are cool in their own way, right? There’s the neon colored fairings on Yamaha and Suzuki sports bikes, and chromed-out pipes on Triumph or Royal Enfield cruisers. Fortunately, after-market options do not discriminate and you can customize any bike after your own taste. In the end, it comes down to personal preference – then the hardest thing isn’t choosing between cruiser or sports bike, but between dozens of great models among each type.