Hard rides on the blacktop

Cruiser-weights pack punch bigger than their fists, writes Jacqui Madelin

Triumph Speedmaster. Photo / Jacqui Madelin
Triumph Speedmaster. Photo / Jacqui Madelin

Bad-boy Brit or aggressive American - your choice of mid-size Triumph or Harley cruiser may simply come down to money. Both have a model to suit, both advertise attitude via matte-black paint, and let you tailor your two-wheeled rebellion to suit your lifestyle.

Mid-size?

Yep - nowadays even Harley's 1.7-litre big-boys don't seem as hefty, with 1.8-litre cruisers common and Triumph's 2.3-litre Rocket behemoth leading the pack. So this H-D XL1200CB appears wieldy at 1200cc, while the latest generation Speedmaster fields the 865cc parallel twin fitted to the brand's retro models.

The first Triumph Speedmaster was a tad underwhelming, with too great a seat-bars-pegs stretch and an asthmatic soundtrack.

This machine will suit a wider range of rider size, the broad tank and stretch of bars delivering a meatier look and this muffler liberating a gruff growl that suits the bike's demeanour, while suggesting there's a beast beneath the seat just a twist of the wrist from liberation.

Sadly, that's something of an illusion, torque arriving smoothly from 2000rpm on up rather than with a bang, although that laidback style does suit the cruiser persona, and lets you make the most of the handling.

This Speedmaster is happy to tip more deeply into corners than is usual for the breed, and lets you hustle it along bendy back roads with greater brio than expected. The only thing that really flags this bike's modest $13,990 price is the suspension, a tad firm and with only rear preload adjustable.

Still, it's easy to forget the Triumph's relatively modest capacity, for it fields a character that punches above its 250kg weight.

As for the Harley-Davidson XL1200CB, it's nominally billed a Sportster, a tag imparted by the air-cooled 1202cc Evolution V-twin engine and denied by these cruiser lines. It certainly sounds the part, even with standard pipes, while avoiding the overly assertive vibe its ancestors inflicted.

It looks it, too, the matte black paint embellished with touches of chrome, the pared-back vibe extending to a stripped-out instrument array that makes do with a single speedo dial and scattering of idiot lights, plus a seat that's comfy enough for the rider, but tails off to bare minimum for his or her hapless passenger.

Regrettably for my butt - the minimum suspension compliance tool - this Harley arguably is even less compliant than the Triumph while the upright riding pozzie sends bumps straight up your spine.

The bike somehow feels less agile than the Triumph, although the Brit bike's longer wheelbase should impart a lazier attitude to bends.

I reckon it's the bars; the Harley's bend allows less confident cornering control than the Triumph's wider, flatter curve.

Both weigh much the same, while the Triumph's 19.3-litre tank will deliver a smidgen more range than the Harley's 17 litres; either way, it'll be your butt that determines how often you stop.

The Harley's screen and panniers are optional extras and beautifully built, the screen affixed or adjusted by releasing two chromed metal levers, sliding the screen into position and latching them shut.

As for the panniers, they're smaller than they look, with plastic clips under the trad buckles and, thus, no security for their contents.

Still, they make the bike more flexible. Triumph offers similar add-ons for its machines.

If money's no object, the $17,150 Harley (plus saddlebags and screen) delivers more aural character and the bigger engine that some riders will prefer on principle.

The Triumph is more affordable - and far more amenable to being muscled through bends.

Both boast brand cachet and all the presence a matte-black twin can muster.

- NZ Herald

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