When Honda gave the riding world its first glimpse of the Rune, the response was one of almost universal astonishment. How could such an outrageous bike come from the most staid of all Japanese manufacturers? Ultimately, it doesn't matter who built the Rune, only that it was built. That's because this bike, with its six-cylinder power plant derived from Honda's Gold Wing touring machine, challenges conventional cruiser wisdom on almost every front. There's the simple fact of those six cylinders - three times the number that's become synonymous with cruisers. And there's the unique trailing-bottom-link assembly of the front suspension, which not only looks cool, but ensures a ride so smooth it'd make silk jealous. The only problem with the Rune? Well, there's the price. And there's the sad fact that Honda made few enough bikes that demand has outstripped production. If you want to ride the most outrageous cruiser ever, you'll need deep pockets and a dealership with connections.

KAWASAKI VULCAN 1600 CLASSIC

Kawasaki Vulcan 1600 Classic, $10,999
(800) 661-7433 or www.kawasaki.com
While the Rune trades on a unique motor and otherworldly styling, Kawasaki's 1600 Classic strikes a time-honored note with its king-of-the-road styling and thumping two-cylinder engine. If you think "time-honored" is code for "boring," consider the Classic's 1,552cc V-twin, which provides more than enough grunt to pretty much eliminate the word from your vocabulary. Kawasaki spent a lot of time on the fine points of this bike and it shows: The headlight and fork covers are formed from chrome-plated steel, not plastic, and the tank-mounted instrument panel is refreshingly uncluttered. On the road, the Classic runs through corners with more confidence than you might expect from a long, low-slung bike that holds down a scale to the tune of 674 pounds. There's nothing groundbreaking going on here, but when you're talking about a market segment as steeped in tradition as cruisers, groundbreaking isn't always a good thing.