Ever since Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda rumbled across movie screens in 1969's Easy Rider, the term "cruiser" has been inextricably linked to a single manufacturer: Harley-Davidson. And while the iconic Milwaukee company still commands a generous share of the chrome-leather-and-attitude market, there's been a strong challenge from an unexpected source: Japan.
It's not as if the Big Four Japanese motorcycle manufacturers - Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha - haven't been making cruisers for a long time; it's just that their cruiser offerings have been about as soulful as plastic Christmas trees. They worked fine (actually, relative to the mechanical fussiness that dogged pre-'90s Harleys, they worked great) and from a distance, some even looked OK. But they just couldn't inflict a serious case of wanderlust the way a Hawg could.
That is, until now. The latest offerings from the Orient are stylish, beautiful, and true riders' bikes. "The Japanese cruiser has taken some 20-odd years to gradually depart from an almost purely pragmatic design," says Joshua Placa, editor of Cruising Rider Magazine. "The machines have evolved into superb expressions of power and style. With few exceptions, they are motorcycles that enthusiasts can sink their souls into."
Sounds good, but don't just take our word for it. Swing a leg over one of these four beauties.
HONDA Valkyrie Rune
Honda Valkyrie Rune, $26,999
(310) 532-9811 or www.hondamotorcycle.com