Should You Buy a Cruiser Motorcycle or Standard Motorcycle?

Whether you’re buying a new bike or a used one, one of the first things you need to do is figure out what kind of bike to buy. After making sure you know how to ride it, that is. But what kind of bike should you buy? Generate a list of beginner motorcycles, and at least one cruiser appears on it. But cruisers, especially ones prepped for touring, can be heavy and not as fuel-efficient. Luckily, there is another commonly-suggested bike: the standard. Some of Zero Motorcycle’s most affordable electric bikes are standards. So, which should you buy: a cruiser motorcycle or a standard motorcycle?

What’s the difference between a cruiser motorcycle and a standard motorcycle?

Standards and cruisers are just two types of motorcycle on sale today, according to Cycle World. And while they have one or two things in common, they’re actually quite different from each other.

2019 Suzuki SV650
2019 Suzuki SV650 | Suzuki

As Revzilla explains, a standard motorcycle is a very good, compact, all-around bike. These bikes can be somewhat sporty, but they’re also comfortable enough to serve as a daily commuter. Their engines are mid-size, but not terrifyingly powerful. Putting your feet on the ground is easy, and the seating position allows for precise, controllable steering. One of the most commonly-recommend beginner bikes, according to Jalopnik, the Suzuki SV650 is a standard motorcycle.

2020 Harley-Davidson Fatboy 114
2020 Harley-Davidson Fatboy 114 | Harley-Davidson

It’s tough to think of a cruiser motorcycle without thinking Harley-Davidson. The company’s products are perhaps the quintessential examples of cruisers. These are designed for long, comfortable rides on paved roads. They have fairly controllable steering, and cruiser motorcycles position their riders in relaxed seating positions. And because the seat is low, it’s easy for even smaller riders to put their feet on the ground quickly.

But, while both a cruiser motorcycle and standard motorcycle can be good beginner bikes, there are some pros and cons to picking one over the other.

Pros and cons of a cruiser motorcycle vs. a standard motorcycle

Although a cruiser motorcycle may have a more relaxed seating position than a standard motorcycle, the cruiser usually achieves that with forward foot-controls. Combine that with the high bars, and you’re left with a motorcycle that can feel very heavy, even when it’s not. For example, the Honda Rebel 500 is a very good light beginner cruiser, but it feels heavier and tougher to steer than some sportbikes because of the riding position. And the Rebel 500 is significantly lighter than Harley-Davidson’s lineup.

Finally, while cruisers prioritize comfort, that doesn’t always extend to the suspension. These bikes are long and low, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for suspension travel. It’s certainly a lot less than a bike like the Honda Africa Twin.

2020 Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin
2020 Honda CRF1100L Africa Twin | Honda

But cruiser motorcycles do have standard motorcycles beat on travel accessories. Cruisers, especially Harleys and Indians, are often modified with touring bags, extended seats, sometimes even radios and wind fairings. Standards can be equipped with hard containers, but they don’t have nearly the same luggage capacity as cruisers do.

2020 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide
2020 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide | Harley-Davidson

However, at least where engine capacity and power are concerned, both types of motorcycles are fairly equal. Standards have mid-size engines that don’t develop large amounts of power, and Revzilla notes cruisers’ engines are designed for low-end, controllable torque, not outright acceleration. As long as you’re careful with the throttle, neither bike should bite you.

Which is the one to buy?

Picking between a cruiser motorcycle and a standard motorcycle, ignoring personal design preference, ultimately comes down to how you’ll be riding. Matt Farah recently sat down with comedian and rider Alonzo Bodden on The Smoking Tire podcast, and the two at one point discussed this question (video below, warning: potentially spicy language).

If you’ll be riding mostly in the city, while cruisers do OK, their riding positions are actually too relaxed. What you need then is the more upright and controlled position of a standard. A standard’s smaller size is also a boon in the tight confines of a city. But, if your rides consist of long hours on the highway, the cruiser is the better choice.

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