Drawing ample inspiration from US-built motorcycles of yesteryear, cruisers have long been the most popular and best-selling bike style on North American shores—the world’s largest motorcycle market. In a bid to cater to the US and Canada’s cruiser-centric customer base, major manufacturers have pored an enormous amount of resources into the development, manufacturing, and marketing of their respective cruiser bike lineups.
And while this has resulted in a buyer’s market that’s been flooded with increasingly capable and competitively-priced two-wheeled wares, the sheer number of available makes and models in the cruiser space can make shopping for a ride in the segment rather daunting. So, with this in mind, we’ve rolled back the last few years of model releases in this space to deliver this guide on the best cruiser motorcycles. In addition to counting down our picks for the latest and greatest available offerings in the sector, we’ll also be exploring what to look for and consider when shopping, along with a brief dive into the history of the cruiser genre and what qualities and factors make them unique.
Classic American Aesthetics
The History Of Cruiser Motorcycle Style
As the motorcycle came into being, the industry evolved at a rapid rate, giving way to increasingly sophisticated and high-performance two-wheeled offerings. The main genres of motorcycles would evolve as well, and from the 1940s through 1960s, different regions would begin cementing their own respective styles and interpretations of bikes, including the US, with its golden-era big-bore V-Twin age, thanks to models from manufacturers like Crocker, Indian, Excelsior, and Harley-Davidson.
US-based motorcycle companies would not only employ these designs throughout the mid-1900s but said designs would also go on to serve as much of the visual inspiration for the lion’s share of production motorcycles that were subsequently released—a trend that remains to this day and one that has afforded American-made motorcycles their own highly-distinctive appearance. Alongside cruiser bike’s relaxed riding position, ample torque, and conduciveness to touring, their quintessentially American aesthetics play a large role in distinguishing the genre from other styles of bike and represent a major selling point for throngs of bikers. That’s not to say that overseas manufacturers haven’t attempted to emulate the style, or put their own unique spin on the genre, though as a whole, cruisers are American at heart.
A Cruiser’s Crown Jewel
Cruiser Motorcycles & V-Twin Engines
In the early pioneering days of the American motorcycle industry, manufacturers were primarily utilizing relatively primitive air-cooled single-cylinder powertrains, though, in 1906, Indian unleashed the first American V-Twin model with a 39ci 42° lump, just one year before releasing the first US-made V-Twin production model (and three years before Harley would unveil its first V-Twin with its own 45° 49.5ci mill in 1909). In the decades that followed, a variety of American brands—including Indian—would experiment with using other engine configurations, though the 1907 Indian-Built V-Twin became the archetype for American motorcycles.
Today V-Twin engines are synonymous with US-made cruiser motorcycles, boasting a distinctive look that serves as the crown jewel and centerpiece of practically every production cruiser and offering an easily-identifiable and highly-distinct deep, throaty, and rumbling exhaust note. What’s more, these large-displacement V-Twins play a pivotal role in the overall riding experience of American cruisers, with their ample low-end grunt and firmly planted ride. In more recent years, foreign motorcycle companies have introduced cruiser models kicked along by other engine configurations, though even most of these are just variations on the longitudinally-mounted V-Twin such as Ducati’s L-Twin-powered Diavel (and XDiavel) and Moto Guzzi’s cruiser’s transversally-mounted V-Twin bikes.
The Five Main Sub-Genres Within The Cruiser Class
Though every model on this list falls under the cruiser umbrella, there are in fact a handful of different styles of motorcycle within the segment. To help shine a light on those differences, we’ve broken down the cruiser class into its five main categories—each of which we’ll briefly touch on directly below.
Entry-Level: As the name of this sub-genre suggests, entry-level models are more accessibly-priced, less-well-optioned, and more novice-friendly takes on cruiser bikes. At least by American cruiser standards, these models have smaller-displacement engines that are more manageable for beginner riders.
Tourer: While they don’t necessarily lend themselves to urban-riding or commuting duties touring bikes are perfect for gobbling up miles on the open road. Powered by large engines, sporting a long wheelbase, and well-planted and highly-stable due to their immense weight, touring models are ideal for motorcycle road-trips and other long-distance applications.
Bagger: Also referred to as “dressers,” baggers are an instantly-recognizable sub-genre of cruisers that sport large fairings, hard luggage, a generously-sized passenger pillion. Like touring models, baggers are also incredibly conducive to long-range travel—an area furthered by the wealth of amenities typically found on baggers such as heated grips, cruise control, and onboard infotainment, stereo, and GPS navigation systems.
Hyper-Cruiser: Hyper-cruiser models are a style of cruiser bike that’s been engineered from the ground up to afford markedly higher-performance than your average cruiser. These high-performance offerings offer more lean angle, better acceleration and cornering, and are often equipped with componentry that’s regularly reserved for sport and superbike models.
Electric: Despite only being comprised of a few production models thus far, electric cruisers almost certainly represent the next big thing in the cruiser realm. Even though they lack the mighty rumble and bark of a traditional petrol-powered V-Twin, electric powertrains still maintain their similarly ample amounts of low-end torque. The emerging EV cruiser class also tends to feature the most cutting-edge technology of any sub-genre on this list.
Why New Riders & Big-Bore Cruisers Do NOT Mix
You wouldn’t want to learn to drive behind the wheel of a Ford F-250 Super Duty or any other massive pickup, and in a similar vein, you almost certainly shouldn’t be beginning your riding career on a full-size cruiser. With even entry-level models sporting roughly liter-sized engines and curb weights exceeding 500lbs, cruisers simply aren’t very conducive to new riders. With gobs of power and half-the-heft of a Fiat 500, cruisers can be exceedingly unforgiving and difficult to control, making them arguably one of, if not the worst possible choice for inexperienced riders.
Starting out on a cruiser that’s too big and/or powerful isn’t just dangerous either, it will impede your growth as a rider and will make the lion’s share of your experience in the saddle an utterly nerve-wracking one—something that may turn you off from riding altogether. If you’ve still got your heart set on kicking off your two-wheeled career on a cruiser, the good news is that today’s market includes a slew of beginner-friendly cruiser models. These bikes feature smaller engines and more svelte curb weights, while still boasting the outward appearance of a traditional cruiser. Once you’ve developed your riding technique and skills, you can always step up to a larger big-bore cruiser later on down the road.
Cruiser Shopping 101
What To Look For & Consider When Buying A New Cruiser Motorcycle
Now that you’re privy to the different available sub-genres and a bit of cruiser history, let’s delve into the five most crucial areas to take into account when buying a bike from this class (in order of importance).
Intended Use: No matter what kind of motorcycle you’re in the market for, your search for a new sled should always be initially guided by your intended use, and this is no less true with cruiser bikes. If you plan on using your bike for daily commuting duties, you’ll want something more nimble and maneuverable, as where if you intend on taking on long-distance treks in the saddle, you will likely want to consider a bagger or touring model.
Style: The immense popularity of the cruiser segment has resulted in a diverse array of styles within the class. Some cruisers take a more vintage approach, drawing aesthetic influence from retro models of the mid-1900s while other models take a more modern approach, with more aggressive character and an overall more contemporary design language. It’s well worth reading up on all the different stylistic options before pulling the trigger on your purchase.
Engine & Power: One of the most defining elements of a cruiser is its engine and said engine’s torque and horsepower output. You not only will want to consider if an engine’s size and power is conducive to your intended use but also if you’re capable of properly and safely managing a particular engine. Additionally, engine mechanics and technology can vary pretty greatly even without today’s market, with some companies employing much more cutting-edge and advanced powertrains than others.
Weight: Most baggers weigh in excess of half-a-ton, making them tremendously difficult to maneuver at lower speeds, especially to the inexperienced and/or uninitiated. As the heaviest motorcycles in existence (aside from side-hacks and trikes), it’s extremely important to factor a cruiser’s weight into your purchase.
Brand: Cruiser riders tend to be a fiercely loyal bunch, and as such certain marques have developed cult statuses and followings, where you’re not just buying a motorcycle, you’re buying into a brand, identity, lifestyle, and experience. Because so many modern cruiser models are inspired by existing vintage bikes, the history of cruiser companies is considered profoundly important. Different manufacturers also have different dealer and support networks and different degrees of access to aftermarket parts. Lastly, it’s always worth reading up on a particular company’s history and reputation for aspects like reliability, as well as their recommended service intervals.
Yamaha V-Star 250
Accessibly-priced at under $4.5K, the Yamaha V-Star 250 is an incredibly unique entry-level sled, with an unmistakably traditional cruiser appearance and a genuine V-Twin engine. With a 27” seat height and sub-325lb curb weight, this quarter-liter cruiser is entirely new rider-friendly, and thanks to an 85mph top speed and an economical 78mpg fuel consumption, the V-Star 250 is fully capable of taking on two-up riding or touring duties.
Engine: Air-cooled 15.2ci (249cc) SOHC 60° V-Twin
Kawasaki Vulcan S ABS
The Vulcan S is a decidedly sporty mid-sized cruiser that’s based on the Japanese brand’s popular and immensely utilitarian Ninja 650 platform. As such the ABS-equipped Vulcan S gets a sportbike-derived frame and the same fan-favorite 650cc twin engine as the Ninja, albeit it uses a markedly different stance. Also of note is the Vulcan S’ adjustable sliding seat and moving foot controls which allow for a custom rider triangle no matter who gets in the saddle.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 39.6ci (649cc) DOHC Parallel-Twin
Indian Scout Bobber Sixty
The new king of the entry-level cruiser class, Indian’s Scout Bobber Sixty offers a lot of performance and a lot of bike for just $9K. Built around a lightweight cast aluminum frame, Indian’s SBS gets a modern fuel-injected, liquid-cooled 60cu engine with blacked-out cases that’s mated to a five-speed transmission. The bike also takes a myriad of visual cues from the custom motorcycle scene such as its chopped rear fender, bobbed seat, dual-shotgun pipes, and side-mounted license plate holder. The non-ABS-spec base model also comes in a murdered out black-on-black livery.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 61ci (1,000cc) DOHC 60° V-Twin
Honda Rebel 1100
Honda’s Rebel has been a go-to model for budding cruiser enthusiasts since the debut of the first generation 250cc model in 1985, and more recently after the release of the current generation Rebel 300 and 500, Big Red has finally released a full-size version of the bike. Powered by the same 1,084cc liquid-cooled Unicam two-banger that’s found in Honda’s Africa Twin adventure bike, the Rebel 1100 boasts a modern cruiser aesthetic, with a knee-dented tank, fully exposed frame, a circular LED headlight, a beefy single-can pipe, and a bobber-inspired seat and rear fender.
Style: Urban Cruiser
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 66.1ci (1,084cc) SOHC Parallel-Twin
Triumph Bonneville Bobber
While the Bonnie Bobber isn’t normally what springs to mind when discussing cruisers, it has a tractor-style saddle with an ultra-low seat height, a low and leaned back riding position, and a torquey twin-engine, and for all those reasons, we’d argue it’s more than worthy of consideration if shopping for a cruiser. Triumph’s best-selling model, this bike is based on the Hinckley firm’s 1,200cc Bonneville platform and offers the experience and look of owning a custom build without losing the factory fit and finish or manufacturer’s warranty.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 73.2ci (1,200cc) SOHC Parallel-Twin
Weight: 502LBS (Dry)
Packing the largest boxer twin engine ever produced by BMW Motorrad, the R18 is a newly-released interpretation of a cruiser, the latest addition to the Bavarian brand’s heritage model range, and is visually-inspired by BMW’s WW2-era models, more specifically the R5 from 1936. Retro-style forks, sweeping fishtail exhausts, and ‘30s-inspired bodywork adorned in a black livery with white pinstriping are all clear nods to the R5, though BMW also offers an enormous range of parts and accessories to personalize the behemoth Bavarian and make it your own.
Style: Heritage Cruiser
Engine: Air & Oil-Cooled 110ci (1,802cc) DOHC Boxer Twin
First released in 1985, Yamaha’s VMAX was the first motorcycle to kick off the hyper-cruiser class. Sporting an angular and contemporary take on regular cruiser bodywork that boasts hints of naked streetfighter vibes, the VMAX stands apart from pretty much any other bike on the market with its pronounced intake scoops, a cockpit with instrumentation partially set in the top of the tank. Hair-raising performance comes from a race-bred 200hp 1.6L V4 engine—with a ride-by-wire throttle—that’s kept in check via beefy 52mm oxidized titanium-coated upside-down forks and dual front Brembo six-pot calipers biting oversized petal rotors.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 102ci (1,679cc) DOHC 65° V-Four
Harley-Davidson Low Rider S
The Low Rider S is a modern classic tourer that’s draped in West Coast style with its bikini headlight fairing, flat drag-style bars, and mid-mounted foot controls. The bike’s reduced rake, inverted front-end mono-shocked rear suspension, and ABS-enabled dual front disc setup collectively give the Low Rider S above-average performance in its class. Your $18K also gets you the latest version of the Harley-Davidson Milwaukee-Eight 114 V-Twin engine and your choice of an all-black or crimson paint.
Engine: Air-Cooled 107ci (1,753cc) SOHC 45° V-Twin
Ducati Diavel 1260
Though the XDiavel falls more squarely into the cruiser category of all the bikes in Ducati’s complete lineup, the Italian manufacturer’s regular Diavel model is unquestionably the top performer of the two, as well as arguably being the more aesthetically attractive of the pair, with the Diavel’s angular intake scoops, higher, sportier seat, and larger radiator covers that are outdated with vertical LED lighting. Powered by a 157hp Testastretta DVT engine, the Diavel 1260 is also offered in a more premium, Ohlins-equipped S-spec, as well as a limited edition top-of-the-line Diavel 1260 Lamborghini that was born out of a collaboration with the supercar manufacturer.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 77ci (1,262cc) DOHC 90° L-Twin
Harley-Davidson Road Glide
Consistently one of Harley-Davidson’s best-selling models—and one of the best-selling cruisers, period—the Black and Orange’s Road Glide is an icon of a bagger since its debut in 1998 when it replaced the Tour Glide. Easily identified by its distinctive frame-mounted shark-nose fairing, the Road Glide is decked out with a suite of amenities and tech that make the bike perfect for moto road trips and long-range travel such as a Boom! Box GTS infotainment and stereo system with dual 5.25” speakers and 2.3 cubic feet of real-estate in the Road Glide’s standard hard luggage.
Engine: Liquid-cooled 107ci (1,753cc) SOHC 45° V-Twin
Moto Guzzi MGX-21
Also appropriately known as the “Flying Fortress,” Moto Guzzi’s MGX-21 is a thoroughly high-end Italian-made bagger with a sleek and modern aesthetic design and beyond liberal amounts of exposed carbon fiber, with the tank, fenders, belly-pan, luggage, fairing, and even the front wheel being constructed from the ultra-lightweight weave. This grand-touring motorcycle also boasts a heap of modern technology, and offers a wildly-plush and well-planted ride, making it the bike of choice for those looking to cover ample miles on the open road in style.
Engine: Air & Oil-Cooled 84.21ci (1,380cc) DOHC 90° Transverse V-Twin
Triumph Rocket 3
Triumph’s Rocket 3 currently holds the honor of being the world’s largest-displacement production motorcycle model with an absolutely enormous 2.5-liter three-banger putting down 165hp. The Rocket 3’s top speed may only be in the ballpark of 140mph—which is still nothing to scoff at—it reaches its top speed ridiculously remarkably fast, with 0-60mph time of just 2.73-seconds, making it the quickest production motorcycle currently in existence. And, as one would expect from a $22.5K model from Triumph, the Rocket 3 comes loaded with tech, including a built-in navigation system with turn-by-turn directions from google, multiple ride modes, and the ability to control a GoPro via the handlebar-mounted controls.
Style: Muscle Roadster
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 149.9ci (2,458cc) DOHC Inline-Three
Indian’s menacing-looking answer to Harley’s ultra-popular Road Glide, the Challenger is a more refined sophisticated bagger with more technology, better performance, and in our opinion, a more handsome aesthetic design than its Milwaukee-made direct competitor. Not only is the Challenger lighter than the Road Glide, but it also has a slightly bigger engine and produces noticeably more torque and horsepower—all reasons the Indian has been nipping at the heels of H-D’s best-selling bagger. The Challenger is made all the more enticing by its full suite of LED lighting, race-spec radial-mount Brembo brakes, an electronically-adjustable windscreen, a 100W high-output audio system with an active EQ, and 18 gallons of weatherproof storage space.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 108 cu in (1,768cc) SOHC 60° V-Twin
Taking its name from the aerospace-grade 6061 aluminum that its frame is constructed from, this electric cruiser model undoubtedly pushes the envelope in the two-wheeled EV sector with a top speed of over 140mph, and a peak power output of 168hp and over 200ft-lbs of torque. As a point of reference, that’s nearly half the torque output of BMW’s latest M3, despite the 6061 tipping the scales at less than one-tenth the BMW’s curb weight. Just as impressive is the Beijing-built eBike’s battery pack, which affords 290-miles of autonomy and can be fully recharged in an industry-leading 15 minutes.
Style: Electric / Hyper-Cruiser
Engine: 120kW PMSM Electric Motor
The inaugural offering from the boutique Southern California-based motorcycle marque started by Keanu Reeves and Gard Hollinger, the KRGT-1 is an ultra-exclusive, spare-no-expense interpretation of a hyper-cruiser. At the heart of the bike is a 124ci S&S V-Twin fed through a unique downdraft breathing system designed into the hyper-cruiser’s all-billet chassis. Produced on a built-to-order basis, the KRGT-1 is decked out with what is objectively the finest running gear that money can buy, including BST carbon fiber wheels, dual six-pot ISR radial monobloc calipers, an in-house fabricated carbon superbike muffler, top-of-the-line suspension co-developed Arch in conjunction with Ohlins, and Rizoma odds, ends, and accessories.
Engine: Liquid-Cooled 124ci (2,032cc) Twin-Cam 45° V-Twin
Indian vs. Harley: Which Motorcycle Is Right For You?
Still on the fence as to which cruiser brand to buy from? Then be sure to check out our guide on Harley Vs. Indian to help determine which motorcycle is right for you.
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