Story by Gabe Ets-Hokin, photography by Brian J. Nelson
Find a need and fill it!
That’s the central tenant of capitalism (and dentistry), no? In 2004, Suzuki gave its cruisers the “Boulevard” moniker and instituted a militaristic nomenclature, renaming the cruisers with either a “C” (denoting classic styling) or “M” (for musclebike) followed by displacement in cubic inches. In the M lineup, the M50 came first, followed by the brutal M109R. The resulting hole between the 805cc M50 and 1783cc M109R will be neatly filled in by the 1462cc “middleweight” M90 for 2009. I had a chance to spend a few hundred miles riding the new bike at Suzuki’s Monterey, California press introduction.
The new ride shares few components with its brother C90. The 52-degree motor has the same 96mm by 101mm bore-and-stroke figures as the C model, but it’s actually a whole new design, according to Suzuki product planner Ken Nagata. Engine designer Kenta Suzuki (no relation) came from the racing/sportbike side of Suzuki’s house, resulting in liquid cooling, four-valve heads, forged aluminum slipper pistons and other high-performance traits. But it’s not all Ricky Racer: heavy flywheels, offset crankpins and low-end tuning are designed to give the rider a thumpy yet smooth cruiser-riding experience.
The chassis is also all-new. Focus groups composed of U.S. consumers were carefully queried by Suzuki and shown prototype drawings through the entire design process. Smooth, flowing lines were desired, leading to the bike’s bulbous, swoopy look, terminating in the widest-in-class 200mm rear radial. The front end gets dual 290mm brake discs, although two-piston sliding-pin calipers are paired with them to save a buck or two. The 43mm inverted fork is a cartridge unit (albeit non-adjustable), and the concealed rear shock works through a linkage. Like all the Boulevards (except the prehistoric S40 nee Savage), final drive is shaft. The bodywork is indeed smooth and flowing, a 9/10ths-scale M109R.
With 723 pounds of heft, a big back tire, a 66.5-inch wheelbase and drag bars, “flickable” wasn’t one of the moto-journo cliche` I expected to trot out. But that was my immediate impression as we left the parking lot. Maybe it’s that 18-inch radial front tire, but more likely it’s the result of careful engineering during the M90’s long development process. Whatever it is, the M90 really does steer easily, predictably and precisely, as well as any cruiser I’ve ridden, including the 40-pounds heavier M109R. Like its big brother, the M90 is also Lusitania stable while heeled over.
The next cliche, “arm-wrenching torque” is much more anticipated. What I didn’t expect–recalling the 2007 M109R’s imperfect low-RPM fuel-injection–was how smooth and refined the motor feels. It’s counter-balanced and friction-dampered, so buttery (yet replete with the burly low-rpm thumping big-bore cruiser owners want) that it’s easy to forget which gear you’re in and find you’re in fourth at 80 mph. The lack of a tachometer doesn’t help! And it’s not just smooth; the FI is seamless and roll-on power is as stunning as you’d expect from a liquid-cooled 1462cc V-Twin. Top-gear passes, even uphill, are no trouble at all, with the bike lunging forward like it’s a gear or two lower. Less-experienced riders will appreciate the light clutch and ease-of-use from the torquey bottom end, and the bolder will enjoy winding ‘er out (under closed-course conditions, naturally) to deep into triple-digit territory.
Going really fast exposes the bike’s faults. Condemned by cruiser ergonomics, the M90 isn’t for high-speed touring. Wind protection is good up to 80 mph, but faster then that turns into a marathon yoga session as I struggle to hold on, straining my upper back to reach the short drag bars and sticking my legs straight out to get them on the freeway pegs. The seat, while wide and well-padded, still feels hard, as most of a rider’s weight is focused on the tailbone. There is an accessory gel seat–as well as two different windscreens–to address those issues. But closer bars and pegs would make the bike much more comfortable, especially for shorter riders: after all, Suzuki knows there are plenty of women who want to trade in their lightweight bikes for something with more gravitas.
And when you’re done going fast, don’t be in a hurry to stop. The M90’s two-piston, sliding-pin front calipers are adequate on a 400-pound SV650, but add a few hundred pounds of throbbing V-Twin and effort required to slow is greatly increased. The rear brake, though a four-pot unit, still requires a manly shove on the big brake pedal. It’s a cost-cutting measure, but maybe we could just have less chrome instead?
Still, priced at $9999, the M90 is a good middleweight alternative to the M109R and other big power cruisers like the $14,999 Harley-Davidson V-Rod or $13,190 Yamaha Star Warrior. Think of it as the GSX-R600 to the M109R’s GSX-R1000 and filling that gap makes perfect sense.