Can a sportsbike loser have fun on a cruiser?
Our shaven ape gives up his knee sliders and slips into something a little more comfy – can a sportsbike guy find joy on more relaxed bikes?
Before you roll your eyes and yawn, this isn’t going to be a boring technical explanation of why sportsbikes and cruisers are different things.
And that’s because I’ve spent a week stretching my lanky frame out on a couple of Triumph cruisers, and one of the biggest differences is in how they’ve made me feel.
In fact, they’ve completely unpacked my motorcycling brain parts and put them back together in a far more chilled out way. In fact, I’d go as far as saying this past week has given me back the love and wonder of biking that I had after passing my test a decade ago.
With that in mind, here’s why I think all bikers can find something to love in cruiser life.
Less haste, more heed
One of these gives you a barely in-control ride as you focus on staying alive, the other one slows down time and lets you enjoy a more relaxed riding life
My normal ride is a Ducati 1198S. Which is not only a sportsbike, but one of the grumpiest, most aggressive and finicky sportsbikes ever made. Riding my 1198 is a little like smearing yourself in giblets and cuddling up to a honey badger, not unlike David Attenborough at a Planet Earth wrap party. Allegedly.
So getting onto almost any bike would be more relaxing, but the Triumph Speedmaster and Bobber Black that I tried for a week were like getting into a nice warm jacuzzi with a glass of red.
Both will dodder about happily below 10mph with a soft throttle response that requires some deliberate twisting to really bugger off into the sunset.
The default speed of my 1198 at idle with the clutch out in first gear is about 16mph, and even then it jerks and chunters like a learner driver pulling away from traffic lights until you’re doing 27mph. And the throttle is such a hair trigger I once did an accidental power wheelie at 20mph in a town centre because I wasn’t paying attention to my right hand.
Which would be fine on a race track, but it doesn’t make for a relaxing road bike.
Cobble together the cruisers’ softer relationship with the engine, add in their far comfier riding positions and you’re transported to a more genteel world of riding, which gives you far more time to appreciate the sights and smells around you.
You have to approach corners differently, unless you like grinding metal
This is the Triumph Speedmaster – it's possibly more comfy than my sofa
So far, the cruisers are winning. I was genuinely surprised how their laid-back riding positions and lazier engines pulled down a sepia filter on my usual Surrey country roads and transformed them back into pathways for soulful riding, instead of the mini racetracks my Ducati wants them to be.
The Triumph Speedmaster in particular put me into a zen bubble, with my feet forward (not as weird as sportsbike riders would have you believe… although I did get my heel down) and the 1200cc parallel twin puttering away quietly beneath me. All was well.
Until I went round a roundabout.
It turns out the price for the Speedmaster Highway Kit’s foot-forward controls is rather limited ground clearance. I’m a deeply average rider, but my normal roundabout speed is approximately 10mph too quick for the Speedmaster. The footpegs go down first, followed quickly by the exhaust. Sorry Triumph.
Actually, it was so unnerving I lost my zen a little and spent the rest of my time with the bike worrying about leaning it over too far. After a few days being buffeted by the Speedmaster’s optional screen I swapped it out for a Triumph Bobber Black. Which brings me to my next reason why sportsbike riders should try a cruiser:
They make you feel cool as f*ck
The Speedmaster's optional screen (pictured) gave me a bit of a headache from all the wind buffeting my skull – the more naked Bobber didn't have this problem
I swapped the Speedmaster for a Bobber Black in the middle of London while wearing my vintage-style Triumph jacket from younger, thinner days when I learnt the biking ropes on a Street Triple. But here I was, 10 years later, king of the traffic-light Grands Prix on a bike purpose-built for stomping ahead of distracted Uber drivers. I felt cooler than I’ve ever felt on a bike.
The Bobber looks uncomfy, but it’s actually lovely to ride. The pegs are higher and in a much more normal place than the Speedmaster’s, and the beautifully made speedo dominates your view and makes you feel like you’re on something seriously special.
Then there’s the fact that the Bobber’s version of Triumph’s 1,200cc engine is a seriously punchy thing, and you’re not only looking cool, but you’re able to power through your local B-roads at a decent old lick. And not once did it deck out in a corner, which is handy because it turns into corners and handles way, way better than you’d think. I’ve ridden less well-sorted naked bikes than this thing. The front Brembo brakes are okay but they need a big squeeze, while the rear brake does a seriously impressive job of slowing you down (I realise this isn’t what you’re meant to use it for… but anyway).
Meanwhile the front brakes on my Ducati require a one-finger squeeze to do considerable slowing, and the back brake lever does literally nothing apart from hit the fairings. Honestly, you can put all your weight on it at a stop on a slope and you’ll roll backwards…
I'd still rather tour on a sportsbike
Sportsbikes can be surprisingly practical for long trips. When I say practical, I mean comfy. The 1198 needs fuel every 80-100 miles.
For various reasons, both the Bobber and Speedmaster didn’t tickle my pickle as long distance bikes. The Speedmaster’s buffeting got on my nerves (although you could just not buy the giant American-style screen), and the Bobber’s super-low seat forced me into an uncomfortable spread-leg position more familiar to midwives. Both bikes do have cruise control though, which is very useful for getting at those awkward itches on the move.
But for high-speed cruising, the 1198 is actually better.
And I know, because I did 2,000 miles in a week around Germany on it in September. There’s something about the natural tuck of a sportsbike that makes them surprisingly good at covering motorway miles, while still having the ability to destroy most things on the Autobahn. Just ask the British AMG GT driver I met in Germany. Sorry.
Another plus point for cruisers (the Bobber in particular) is that the low seat height means anyone can hop on and ride
Not only can sportsbike riders enjoy a more laid-back ride, but I found it actually giving me back some passion for riding that’s been missing lately.
Think of it like this:
A ride on a cruiser gives you brain space to contemplate life and the beauty of riding. If you’ve ridden for a while then you’ll find it takes you back to the basics, and you spend a lot of time marvelling at the freedom and fact you’re riding a damn motorbike, and how cool is that?
A ride on a sportsbike, meanwhile, forces you to use your brain space to stay alive.
They’re not really appropriate on the road, and that’s exactly why you always need one to hand: for breaking the rules and feeling on edge. A sportsbike is a furious, galloping, bucking object between your legs, pivoting between your toes with your bum off the seat.
And if you feel you’re losing your appreciation for that, I heartily recommend getting some context – specifically of a more relaxed riding style that only a cruiser can give you.