Cruisers are some of the most iconic motorcycles ever made. They’re instantly recognizable thanks to their relaxed riding position, wide handlebars, and comfortable seats. Originally designed for munching miles on big, open roads, the cruiser is the definitive American motorcycle.
While most cruisers take their inspiration directly from the big American-made cruisers from the early to mid-20th century, modern interpretations are straying from that path. These days, some of the best cruisers are Japanese and shun traditional V-twin engines in favor of parallel-twin arrangements. Some are European, with more riding aids than you’d ever know what to do with! And others are designed with performance in mind, rather than casual low-riding cruising.
We’ve seen all kinds of cruisers hit the streets over the past 100 years, so we’ve put together a list of some of our favorites, but we’ve been careful to omit some of the more expensive and iconic models. Here are the 10 best cruisers ever made…that the average rider can easily go and buy.
The Indian Chief is arguably one of the most iconic cruiser motorcycles ever made. The first Chief models were made by the Hendee Manufacturing Company in 1922 before the company rebranded itself as the legendary Indian Motorcycle Company. It was continuous production from ’22 right up to the brand’s demise in 1953. However, Indian was revived in 1999, and once again in 2006. And today, the Indian Chief lives on.
Early examples of the original Chief are hard to come by and highly collectible. However, for those who want a taste of that good-old-fashioned American heritage, modern interpretations are readily available, with impressive specs too.
The modern 2020 Indian Chief uses Indian’s Thunderstroke 111 engine. It’s a 1,811 cc behemoth that produces a hearty 92 horsepower and an impressive 119 lb-ft of torque. Though it’s packed full of up-to-date gadgetry and riding aids, it has a timeless aesthetic that reaches back to Indian’s golden years.
Ducati isn’t usually the first name you think of when you’re asked about cruisers. The marque is usually better associated with exotic superbikes, desmodromics, and fiery Italian temperaments. However, Ducati has released cruiser models in the past. This time, we’re not talking about the rebadged Cagiva Ducati Indiana. We’re talking about the Diavel. In particular, we’re talking about the XDiavel.
The first Diavel was unveiled at the 2010 EICMA show. It was an immediate success. As a model that comfortably toed the line between sports bike and cruiser, the Diavel became the world’s first genuine performance-cruiser, and it wasn’t long until the platform evolved further.
In 2016, the XDiavel was born. This was Ducati’s first belt-driven motorcycle, and thanks to the low-profile, long wheelbase, and large 1,262cc engine, it became Ducati’s fastest accelerating motorcycle at the time. Today, the XDiavel boasts 152 horsepower, 92 lb-ft of torque, and a top speed in excess of 160 mph.
The Honda Valkyrie isn’t just one of the best Japanese cruisers ever made, it’s one of the best cruisers ever made in general! Though it only enjoyed a brief shelf-life, appearing in dealerships between the years 1997 and 2003, the Valkyrie made a big impression.
Also known as the GL1500C and F6C, the Valkyrie featured an enormous 1,520cc liquid-cooled flat-six engine. This engine was the same that was found on the Gold Wing: a veritable powerhouse, producing 100 horsepower and 95.9 lb-ft of torque. Though it bucked the classic cruiser V-twin trend, the Valkyrie was still steeped in American DNA, being made exclusively at Honda’s Marysville plant in Ohio.
It was an American muscle cruiser but with Japanese sensibilities, and able to balance big power with nimble handling, all in one touring-friendly package. Unfortunately, sales weren’t strong enough to see the Valkyrie through to the present day. However, the Valkyrie left a lasting impression, and that’s why we rank it as one of the best cruisers of all time.
For many cruiser purists, things like the Honda Valkyrie and Gold Wing aren’t traditional cruisers. Instead, some consider them to be touring bikes only. So, we decided to add an indisputable Honda cruiser into the mix: this is the Honda Shadow.
The first Shadows first rolled onto the scene in 1983, and since then the line has evolved to accommodate a wide range of engine sizes and variations, from 125cc learner bikes to larger mile-munching 1,100 cc steeds, with Spirit, Aero, Phantom, and RS trims available historically.
If we had to choose a Honda Shadow model that really showcased the best that the range has to offer, we’d choose the most recent edition: the Honda Shadow Phantom. The latest Shadow Phantom is a smooth rider, with plenty of grunt for highway cruising, but in a steady and confidence-inspiring package. Featuring a blacked-out 745cc V-twin, 44.9 horsepower, 47.9 lb-ft of torque, the Shadow has the right mix of attitude, reliability, and fun to provide thrills to beginners and experienced hands alike.
There is no way that you can write a list of best cruisers without including at least one Harley-Davidson. To tick that box, we’re including the Harley-Davidson Sportster. It’s arguably one of the most iconic motorcycles ever made, with a history that stretches back to 1957. Ever since it was first introduced in ’57, the Sportster has been a staple of the Harley-Davidson line-up, and a key player in the American motorcycle industry.
Sportsters are always based around 45-degree V-twin engines, with various displacements. Originally, the Sportster came equipped with an Ironhead engine, but it was replaced in 1986 by the now-famous Harley-Davidson Evolution unit. Today, the Sportster is available in a wide range of factory finishes. However, we’re listing the Sportster not because of its factory-spec options, but because of its completely customizable nature.
The Harley-Davidson Sportster is undoubtedly one of the most versatile customization platforms. We’ve seen them transformed into stripped-down choppers to refined café racers. We’ve even seen a few sports-focused performance machines too. The Sportster is filled to the brim with heritage, unbelievably versatile, and absolutely fine to ride too. That’s why it’s one of the best cruisers ever made.
Kawasaki Vulcan 900
Next up, we have another metric cruiser. This time it’s the Kawasaki Vulcan. The Vulcan series isn’t at all new. In fact, it has been around since 1984! The first Vulcan, known as the VN700A, was quite the thing when it rolled onto the scene. It had a beefy Japanese V-twin engine, and an unusual shaft drive! It is considered one of the best beginner cruisers ever made.
Over the years, the Vulcan has been available in a number of displacements, styles, and times, ranging from little 125cc run-arounds to heavy-duty 2,000cc goliaths. Today, the Vulcan aficionados can choose from the futuristic Vulcan S, bagger-esque 1700 Vaquero, and touring-friendly 1700 Voyager. But our favorite model has to be the Vulcan 900, and its awesome Custom variant.
Boasting a potent 903cc 54-degree V-twin engine that shoots out a hearty 50 horsepower and 58 lb-ft of torque, the Vulcan offers enough grunt to satisfy most riders. However, it’s the looks that give the Vulcan the real edge. It’s got wide drag bars, parallel slash-cut exhaust pipes, a low-slung saddle, and a very cool retro vibe. It’s an awesome cruiser that takes elements of traditional design and manages to fuse it with modern features without jarring the eye.
Muscular, powerful, and fearsome are three adjectives that could describe Yamaha’s legendary cruiser. Ever since it rolled onto the scene in 1985, the VMAX has been causing a scene. It bucks the usual cruiser V-twin trend by enlisting a V4 as its power plant, and it does away with a chain drive in favor of a shaft. It’s unorthodox. And what’s more, it’s blisteringly fast.
Over the years, the VMAX has been available in a number of configurations. However, it’s the post-2009 version that we love the best. Featuring a beefy 1,679 cc V4 engine that produces an ungodly 170 horsepower and 100 lb-ft of torque, the VMAX is no slouch. But what makes it so much fun is the fact that it doesn’t have much in the way of advanced riding aids, like other modern performance cruisers.
The Yamaha VMAX is always on these lists. It’s powerful, fast, and a feast for the eyes—but it’s not actually the best choice if you’re looking for a practical cruiser. The mileage isn’t great and if long distancing cruising is your thing, you’re going to want something with a better economy and an all-important sixth gear. However, if you want short bursts of speed, and want to cruise the streets on a mean lookin’ machine, then the VMAX is hard to beat.
Triumph Rocket 3 Roadster
The Triumph Rocket 3 is a very unusual cruiser. This British behemoth is Triumph’s flagship cruising machine: a burly 2,458cc triple-cylinder motorcycle with unbelievable performance specs. The maximum power output is an eye-watering 165 horses and the torque output caps at 163 lb-ft. It’s the very definition of a muscle cruiser.
As a performance cruiser, the Rocket 3 is a direct competitor to the likes of the Ducati Diavel or Yamaha VMAX, but unlike the Diavel’s smaller stature or the VMAX’s no-frills approach, the Rocket 3 is all about top end luxuries. For example, the current Rocket features fully-adjustable Showa suspension, Brembo Stylema brakes, advanced traction control, cornering ABS, multiple ride modes, cruise control, and more.
In early 2020, BMW quietly pulled the covers off of their R18 cruiser. This is BMW’s most recent attempt at building a heavy cruiser that can challenge the likes of Harley and Indian. And while it’s too early to tell whether it’s going to be one of the best cruisers ever made, we’re already in love with it. Why? Because, like the best cruisers are, it’s built on top of a proud legacy.
BMW’s new cruiser takes its visual cues directly from the legendary 1936/7 BMW R5. Some say that the R5 was one of the most important motorcycles ever made. Not only was it packed full of innovation—such as the bike’s 500cc boxer engine—but it was celebrated as BMW’s savior. Shortly after World War I, BMW was forced to abandon aircraft manufacture. Their first models weren’t successful. However, the R5 single-handedly turned the company’s fortunes around.
Today, the R5 is long gone. But as an homage to that legendary motorcycle, BMW has unveiled the R18: a modern interpretation of that iconic boxer motorcycle. Featuring a newly developed 1,802cc boxer engine—the largest ever motorcycle boxer engine the company has made—that produces 90 horsepower and 116 lb-ft of torque, the new R18 takes the spirit of the original R5 and turns it up to eleven.
Moto Guzzi California
The Moto Guzzi California is a motorcycling icon. For many cruiser enthusiasts, it’s the best of the best. The first generation of California cruisers first rolled onto the scene in 1972, but most fans prefer a slightly later version—the same that was made famous by the California Highway Patrol. Since the 70s, the California has been in continuous production, slowly evolving from that iconic 850cc model into the large 1400cc beast that you can buy in Guzzi showrooms today.
Almost every generation of the Moto Guzzi California could be added to this list. However, the latest models are the most technologically advanced and we’d consider them to be the best. Unlike a lot of other bikes on the road, these Moto Guzzis haven’t lost much of their character over the years either. The modern models are just as fun to ride as their forebears.
The current Moto Guzzi California 1400 features a large transversal 90° V-twin engine that produces an impressive 95 hp and 89 lb-ft of torque. It boasts ABS, three-levels of traction control, ride-by-wire technology, and plenty of chrome and bling. Yes, it’s a European cruiser, but it’s chock full of American attitude. That’s why we love it.