Best of the Best: Cruisers
Tradition takes a backseat on this retro cruiser.
Honda, from its four-wheel Civic to its two-wheel 919, has always stood for economy, reliability, and reserve. Yet this staid Japanese manufacturer produced the Rune, an outrageous concept machine disguised as a production motorcycle that is an utter aberration among the rest of Honda’s lineup. As out of step as it is with Honda’s other offerings, the Rune, a motorcycle so clearly American that it seemingly could emit apple pie fumes from its exhaust pipes, nevertheless has distinguished itself in the cruiser class. However, before it could create the Rune, Honda had to overhaul the culture of its company.
Perhaps the most significant development associated with the Rune’s birth was Honda’s recognition of the custom-bike craze; the one-off creations of builders such as Arlen Ness have never been more popular. In 2000, Honda created three concept bikes—designated T1, T2, and T3—which the company painted yellow and displayed at a Cycle World Show in Long Beach, Calif. The response was overwhelmingly positive: T2, a retro bike with full fenders and the look of a hot rod, was the star of the show. “This is a cruiser that transcends the chopper concept,” says Tony Schroeder, senior designer at Honda. “We took the hot-rod image, then projected it into the future and melded those ideas into a new kind of motorcycle, one that simply can’t be produced except by using the most sophisticated production methods available.”
Intrigued by the T2’s appeal, Honda’s U.S. division invited several enthusiasts to take part in a focus group. The participants discussed the three concepts in great detail and came to the conclusion that the T2—if Honda did not change a single thing on the bike—was the design they wanted the motorcycle-maker to build as a production model.
American Honda executives then had to convince the hierarchy in Japan to sign off on the project. The home office was skeptical, especially because it would cost Honda a significant amount to build each motorcycle. After many meetings, the T2 received a green light, but not before the entire production process had been flipped. Usually, Honda’s engineers build the mechanicals and then allow the company’s designers to sculpt the body. But with the Rune, the engineers were hamstrung by the designers’ creation. “I thought it would be impossible to mass-produce the product without changing the styling design,” says Masanori Aoki, the Rune’s project leader. “It was just too radical a design. And yes, as an engineer I thought the process was completely backward. We had never seen anything like this before.”
The challenge did not go unanswered. Aoki’s team created 11 new production methods, initiating innovations such as a new muffler and a revised handlebar to retain the designers’ vision. The result is a 794-pound, $24,499 motorcycle that is powered by a 1,832 cc engine and pulls like a locomotive at low revolutions despite its weight. “The Rune expands our capability in yet another direction, blurring the line between concept and reality and pushing our production capabilities to new levels,” says Ray Blank, Honda’s vice president of motorcycles. “In the end, that’s what makes the Rune unique beyond its elegant design and styling.”
From an aesthetic point of view, the $15,990 Triumph Rocket III scores significant points with admirers of big, bold cruisers. The colossal triple-cylinder engine is framed as the machine’s centerpiece, the 240 mm rear tire makes the heavyweight seem even heftier, and the exhaust system—twin pipes on the right, one on the left—adds a sense of asymmetry.
In the unlikely event that the Rocket III’s industrial appearance fails to draw your attention, its performance numbers surely will succeed. The British bike’s 2.3-liter, liquid-cooled, 140 cu in engine develops 147 ft lbs of torque at 2,500 rpm, with approximately 90 percent of the grunt delivered at only 1,800 rpm. At 5,750 rpm, the motorcycle boasts 140 horses of roaring power. Clearly, the Triumph provides performance as well as presence.
If you are not satisfied with a stock 130 hp howler, perhaps it is time to consider a Confederate Limited Fighter Hellcat. The $72,000 machine, an even more exclusive version of the F124 Hellcat, delivers performance similar to that offered by the 500-pound base model, but it also sports a unique finish. Each Fighter series motorcycle has the owner’s name engraved in the dash, and the 147 cu in bike, which features a number of carbon fiber components, can be anodized or polished according to the owner’s preference.
Confederate recently completed construction of the Wraith, a radical, futuristic machine created by designer J.T. Nesbitt. Compared to the Wraith, the Fighter Hellcat seems tame. That is, until the Hellcat’s raucous engine rumbles to life.
Confederate Motor Co.
With its 2003 Vegas, Minnesota-based Victory Motorcycles demonstrated that it could compete with the heavyweights. This year’s Victory Kingpin, the improved follow-up, shows that the company can dominate its rivals.
Power remains the same; the 4-stroke, 92 cu in Freedom V-twin engine featured in the Vegas is also present in the $14,999 Kingpin. However, Victory tweaked the bike’s design by replacing the Vegas’ conventional telescopic fork with an inverted fork that stiffens the ride. Victory also increased the width of the front tire, making the bike a capable performer in twists and turns as well as on wide-open highways. In terms of styling, the Kingpin has larger fenders than its predecessor and full floorboards. The Kingpin not only performs like a top-of-the-line brawler, now it also looks like one.