The Suzuki Boulevard M90 is a sportbike disguised as a cruiser, rumbling up like a Harley-Davidson and zipping away like a Ninja. With accessories it could function nicely as a light touring motorcycle, too. For $9,999, you might find it almost irresistible.
Carla rides the 2009 Suzuki Boulevard M90, the company's new 1462cc muscle-cruiser. She is outfitted in First Gear Escape pants and Kilimanjaro jacket for women.
It's 8:30 on a cold California winter morning and the press folks at Suzuki are ready to lead a dozen journalists from Monterey though Carmel and Big Sur so we can test their new Boulevard M90 on all types of roads. The sun beats down so hard that I quickly run inside to zip out the liners in my gear. A little behind the rest of the gang, I heft the bike off its kickstand--it feels so much lighter than 723 pounds--and swing my leg over to plop down on the seat with a thump. Ouch! The bike looks so big I didn't expect the seat to be this low.
At 28.2 inches the bike can accommodate shorter riders, and a gel seat option will get you even lower. The stock seat is wide and long enough to allow the rider to slide up the seat for relief on longer-distance rides.
It's the reach to the handlebars and footpegs that's intimidating. At 5 feet 7 inches I can stretch pretty long, but this thing has me really reaching for the handles and the footpegs that are also waaaaay out there, even with my 32 inch inseam. I'm the only woman on the ride but I notice that I'm not the only one who's pawing and stretching to reach them.
With some fumbling I find the key under my left leg and in a moment the sound of my engine joins the others, low and rumbly.
The key is located on the left side of the bike. The rubber-mounted engine provides that signature V-Twin wiggle at idle. Also note all the triangle shapes--a nice design touch.
I easily pull in the clutch, kick it into gear, and roll into formation with the others. The M90 cruises down the long, curved driveway from our hotel with grace and ease to the red light where I find the brake pedal just where it's supposed to be and easily shift up from first into neutral.
The dual exhaust pipes are a standout feature in both design and sound. They've been specially tuned to combine high and low notes that give the bike a super-duper rumble that doesn't jar or irritate.
The fat back tire helps it feel stable on turns and leaves big impression on those you've left behind in the dust.
After a few miles my back starts to ache in the laid-back, cruiser-style riding position I started out in, which puts the weight on my tailbone. I wiggle into a slightly forward position, which feels much better.
The slightly forward angle of repose is the correct riding position for piloting a sport-cruiser, and gives Carla a more comfortable all-around ride. A little more forward lean puts pressure on the bars for better handling in the twisties.
We maneuver through town and hit the highway, then turn up into the mountains. It's here that I begin to realize the attraction of a hybrid sport-cruiser. With a shaft drive, a five-speed transmission, and the liquid cooled 1462cc engine, the bike is tuned to respond to the throttle earlier rather than later, a feature that can literally blow you away. Honestly, I'm hanging on for dear life when accelerating at speed, and by lunchtime it's the wind rather than the saddle that's tired me out.
The M90 gets lots of compliments on its curvy, clean lines, chrome touches, its myriad of triangles, and that angular headlight sheath that gives it an aggressive look unusual for a cruiser.
The press folks refill the tanks while we lunch by the river and I suspect I sucked up most of the 4.8-gallon capacity as I was playing around in the gas-guzzling lower gears more often than not. There's probably no chance I've come close to its claimed 44 mpg.
Carla would add features shown on the C90 touring cruiser above: windshield, gel seats, and saddlebags. The M90's standard pillion seat is tiny and lies under a plastic cover on the hard-tail-like back of the bike, so for going two-up or strapping a bag onto a sissy bar, a passenger back rest (and maybe some floorboards, too), would be nice.
So why a hybrid? Because consumers want it, says Suzuki. The M90 was built in response to an extensive consumer study that found that motorcyclists want a sportier version of the C90 cruiser, a bigger version of the 805cc M50, and a smaller (and less expensive) version of the massive 1783cc M109R. The M90 therefore fills the middle gap in Suzuki's lineup of muscle cruisers, which does not mean--repeat--does not mean--that the M90 is a mid-sized motorcycle.
The M90 is a full-fledged, muscle-tuned, 723 pound, 1462cc motorcycle and looks it. Caution: it's likely to backflip you right out of your seat if you don't know what you're doing.
A few of my fellow journalists--some of them former racers--test the "muscle" in the muscle-cruiser equation by demonstrating rear tire spins at various speeds. Several riders lean over hard on a turn early in the day and easily manage some minor peg-scraping, something I won't try until much later in the day. And no, I won't try popping a wheelie, though I see it can be done.
Peg-scraping is impressive but not difficult, as the pegs are set low and wide and the 200mm-wide rear tire feels stable in the leans.
Stopping a heavy, powerful bike like this takes a great braking system, and it's too bad that the M90 doesn't come with an ABS option. The dual, 290mm brake discs with sliding-pin front calipers sound impressive but feel inadequate, and after narrowly missing the rider in front of me, who suddenly brakes to avoid hitting something in the road. I give myself a lot more room to stop and I'll bet everyone behind us does, too.
Keeping track of how fast you're going over the limit is easy with the big, analog speedometer.
There's no tachometer on the dash (it's optional). A low-fuel indicator, dual trip meters and digital clock are located at the bottom right of the speedometer, but I ride all day without noticing them.
At the top of the gas tank--and completely invisible when wearing a full-face helmet--are the neutral light, a high-beam indicator, and indicators for the turn signals, which are irritatingly not self-canceling.
The brake lever is adjustable but the clutch lever isn't. But even with her extra small hands, Carla doesn't feel a pressing need to make an adjustment.
The Suzuki press folks couldn't have asked for a better day for a demonstration ride and upon return to Monterey that afternoon most of us continue riding. I take a spin around town, noting that I'm now comfortable with all the bike's quirks. I stop by the beach and a Harley-owning park ranger runs over to check out the "V-Rod." Surprise! When I tell him this bike is $5,000 less expensive than the Harley-Davidson he's referring to his eyes light up and he slings his leg over, with a grin.
It takes a day to get comfortable with the quirks of any unfamiliar bike. By afternoon, Carla is perfectly at ease.
I have to admit that I poo-pooed the idea of the sport-cruiser category until I rode the M90, considering it unlikely that a satisfactory all-in-one experience was to be had in a single machine. But I'm starting to change my mind about that. Mostly, it's really cool that a big rumbly V-Twin can so satisfyingly provide a cruiser's secret desire for that thrilling sportbike buzz.
Specs at a Glance: 2009 Suzuki Boulevard M90
Seat Height: 28.3 inches
Fuel Capacity: 4.8 gallons
Weight: 723 pounds
MSRP: starts at $9,999
The Suzuki Boulevard M90 is the bike for experienced cruiser riders who have a secret longing to ride a sportbike, or experienced sportbike riders who want to cruise, but can't bear the sluggish low end of most cruisers. In this economy, anyone will appreciate its $9,999 price tag.
About the Author
Carla King is a long-distance touring motorcyclist who travels to exotic places and writes about them. Her Motorcycle Misadventures series includes stories about trips in America, China, India, and Europe. You can buy her book (reviewed on WRN) and read her dispatches on the web at CarlaKing.com.
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