State style? It's the best cruiser motorbikes of 2021
Take the easy rider route with MCN's best cruiser motorcycles.
American-style cruisers and customs may not be for everyone, as they emphasise States-style rumbling and leather-clad posing over sporty performance or adventure bike versatility but they’re still deservedly popular. Smaller versions with their low seats and easy manageability make great novice bikes and few bikes are as comfortable or have as big a cachet as larger Harleys and Indians.
But aren’t all cruisers prohibitively expensive or impractical?
Not at all. Sure, you can spend £20K+ on a top-of-the-range Harley while full-on choppers are more show than go but there’s now more types of cruiser to suit more budgets than ever, ranging from £5K novice bikes to performance hot rods to faired, luggage-equipped ‘baggers’ but which should you go for? Here’s our pick of the best around right now…
Best cruiser motorbikes in 2021
- Ducati Diavel 1260 S
- Harley-Davidson Sportster Iron 883
- Harley-Davidson Street Bob
- Honda CMX500 Rebel
- Indian Scout
- Indian Chieftain Dark Horse
- Kawasaki Vulcan S
- Moto Guzzi California Touring
- Triumph Bonneville Bobber Black
- Yamaha XV950R
- Spec: 1262cc / 157bhp / 244kg / 780mm seat height
- Price: £7500 (2011 used) - £19,895 (new)
Trust Ducati to come up with a cruiser so potent and fast (a high-revving 160bhp from its modern, Multistrada-derived V-twin when most lumbering rivals barely reach 100), fine-handling and sophisticated it’ll show up most sports bikes. Electronics and flash cycle parts like Ohlins suspension and Brembo brakes abound and, in reality, it’s more a stretched-out Monster roadster than beholden to the true cruiser spirit, but it is upright, fat-tyres and you can’t help but be impressed. There’s a less fancy 1260, previously a touring version with screen and panniers (yes, really) while older versions dating back to 2011 may lack some of the modern frills but little of the class-defying performance.
Modern Ducati quality is up with the best with service intervals now a wide 15,000miles, although service costs are high. High performance gobbles up consumables but as long as looked after well there’s nothing to fear. Quality extras can add value.
- Spec: 883cc / 51bhp / 251kg / 735mm seat height
- Price: £5500 (used) - £8895 (new)
Harley’s 883cc Sportster has been the classic American firm’s ‘junior cruiser’ since the mid-‘80s while the bare bones, blacked-out, ‘bobber’ styled Iron version has been it’s more affordable, entry-level bike since first being introduced in 2009. Not much has changed since. An affordable price helps make it H-D’s best seller and there’s no ignoring its prestige and authenticity. A low seat, small proportions and overall simplicity make it an easy ride, counteracted slightly by hefty weight and a rustic crudeness. Other cruisers are better dynamically and more substantial, but none are cooler or more customisable.
Understressed, air-cooled, pushrod V-twin dates back to the ‘80s and is about as solid as they get. Cycle parts are simple and finish is generally a rugged quality. As long as it’s been looked after – and most are polished fastidiously – there’s nothing to fear.
- Spec: 1745cc / 86bhp / 304kg / 675mm seat height
- Price: £7300 (used) - £12,295 (new)
First introduced way back in 2006 in ‘Dyna’ twin shock form, the basic, high-barred, single seat, peanut tank Street Bob is the purest, cheapest of Harley’s classic ‘big twin’ cruisers, a decent ride and a great platform for further customisation. The same is true today, although since 2018 it’s had the new hidden shock ‘Softail’ chassis and uprated engine. There are few frills or luxuries, but if you want a classic Harley cruiser at an affordable price, this is the one.
Harley’s ‘big twins’ are even more robust than their little ones, there’s not much to the Street Bob to go wrong and Harleys, by their very nature, tend to get looked after. Cosmetic condition is vital as is service history and check any accessories are what you actually want.
- Spec: 471cc / 44bhp / 190kg / 690mm seat height
- Price: £3900 (used) - £5599 (new)
Slightly ‘squidgy’ styled and awkwardly named Rebel was introduced as the fourth member of Honda’s A2-licence compliant CB500 parallel twin family, coming later as its low seat and raked front required a unique frame. Those gripes aside it’s simple, novice-friendly ride that’s a great, affordable, introduction to biking. Easy as pie to ride it’s well-built, handles and purrs along beautifully and is customisable, too. What it lacks in authenticity it makes up for with price and ability.
The understressed CB500s have proved reliable and, although built in Malaysia, quality is good. It’s still a budget bike, though, so finishes need looking after and is prone to novice neglect and abuse so inspect carefully.
- Spec: 1133cc / 100bhp / 246kg / 673mm seat height
- Price: £8300 (used) - £11,699 (new)
Historic US brand Indian was revived by Polaris to take on Harley and its first big twins did exactly that in 2013. Indian then followed it up with this junior, Sportster rival and it’s even better yet. Its liquid-cooled V-twin is far more potent than the old, air-cooled Sportster, if not quite as authentic, it’s low and novice-friendly, handles well and looks good, too. Since 2014 they’ve introduced a cheaper, 999cc ‘Sixty’ and Bobber versions, too. It might not have quite the cache of a Harley or its dealer network and residuals but it rides better and is just as US-distinctive.
We’ve heard few complaints about reliability and general quality and finishes are good. Again, watch for novice scars and accessories can be a matter of taste but otherwise no worries.
- Spec: 1811cc / n/abhp / 361kg / 660mm seat height
- Price: £21,000 (used) - £23,499 (new)
Indian’s ‘big twin’ range essentially comprises the Chief cruiser, Chieftain and Springfield ‘baggers’ and Roadmaster tourer, all based on the same, meaty ‘Thunderstroke’ 111ci V-twin. Of the bunch, the US popularity of baggers makes the Chieftain the most significant, and it’s a great bike. For 2019, Indian launched this updated, less retro-looking Dark Horse with an updated spec including improved ‘infotainment’ system. It’s bigger, quicker, arguably classier than the equivalent Harley (the Street Glide), has great style and credibility and is impressively practical, too.
Indian quality and performance is at least on a par with Harley and their credibility and exclusivity has huge appeal, too. Few used examples yet but we’ve yet to hear any horror stories.
- Spec: 649cc / 60bhp / 228kg / 705mm seat height
- Price: £4500 (used) - £6449 (new)
Once there were masses of Japanese middleweight cruisers to choose from but today this ER6-derived parallel twin, smaller Honda CMX500 aside, is the sole survivor. No matter, if you like the quirky looks it’s a great, entry-level cruiser. The detuned, 649cc twin produces a flexible 60bhp, handling is low and easy and it’s well-priced, too. It’ll never attract a gathering of admirers at the local bike meet but for a blend of easy, useful performance, a dash of custom style and affordability there’s not much to match it.
The ER6 engine is generally solid and isn’t likely to be ridden hard. Chassis parts are Ok and Kawasaki build has improved in recent years quality. Again, keep a lookout for novice neglect and dings but find a clean one and there should be no problems.
- Spec: 1380cc / 96bhp / 322kg / 740mm seat height
- Price: £10,000 (used) - £17,999 (new)
Italian ‘spaghetti western’ specialists Moto Guzzi are at their best when it comes to US-style baggers with their own particular twist – the main being a transversely-mounted V-twin with shaft drive – and the California is the classic example. Fully updated in 2014 it’s arguably Guzzi’s best bike and a faster, fine handling match for the likes of Harley’s Street Glide. The Touring version with two-tone paint, passenger backrest and more came in 2015 and is better yet, although it’s now aging a little and lacks the latest ‘infotainment’ systems of some rivals. Not American, maybe, but still stylish and effective.
Guzzi’s dealer network isn’t as good as some and, in the past, some finishes have been vulnerable. This latest Cali’, however, is a step up and has proven solid. If cosmetics and service history are up to scratch, you’ll be fine.
- Spec: 1200cc / 76bhp / 228kg / 690mm seat height
- Price: £9300 (used) - £11,650 (new)
Along with its Street and Speed Triple roadsters and Tiger adventure bikes, British firm Triumph have focussed on more and more retro bikes in recent years while previous cruisers such as the America and Thunderbird were quietly dropped due to lack of success. The Bonneville Bobber, however, introduced as a US-style ‘bobber’ take on the Bonneville roadster, complete with chopped down, post-WW2 styling, proved inspired and was an immediate hit. By combining the Bonnie’s eager powertrain and sweet handling with semi-custom styling the result, if not exactly a cruiser, is certainly a bobber –but with its own great style and all round accessible performance. A year later, this Bobber Black, with extra front disc, balloon front tyre proved even better in every single respect. No pillion accommodation, maybe (for that you need the Speedmaster version), but great Anglo/American style, irresistible dynamics plus manageability and value. There’s no better British cruiser.
Modern Triumph finish is good, it has a decent spec and the Bobber Black is the sort of bike that both gets looked after and doesn’t rack up high mileages. If serviced well, it’ll be fine, especially as it’s still young, some accessories can be desirable, too.
- Spec: 942cc / 51bhp / 251kg / 690mm seat height
- Price: £4300 (used) - £8699 (new)
Yamaha’s take on the V-twin Harley Sportster type theme was introduced in 2013 and is a worthy alternative. The badge on the tank might not match up but its performance, easy handling, nice detailing and value certainly do. It’s easy to ride and get on with, stylish enough and a great stepping stone to larger cruisers. A ‘Racer’ version, with slightly odd café racer add-ons also came in 2015 and either are great buys – especially used.
All the mechanical, despite being slightly budget, are solid and fault-free, controls and detailing are decent and the cosmetics and finishes aren’t bad, either. Check for corrosion if neglected or ridden through winter and watch out for the odd novice scuff but otherwise it should be fine.