A couple of years ago, I was on a fishing trip off the west coast of Vancouver Island....near Bamfield. One of the things I noticed dockside was that the overwhelming majority of the outboard motors powering the various skiffs, cruisers, and runabouts were made by Japanese companies. Not that long ago, it seems, brands like Evinrude, Mercury, and Johnson dominated the outboard motor industry, but now those names have virtually disappeared, and companies like Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki are ruling the waves. Why? For starters, they make excellent lightweight, small displacement engines that are versatile and powerful at the same time. Indeed, at the resort where I was staying, their entire fleet of heavy-duty ocean-going aluminum skiffs was Suzuki-powered. Our guide couldn't say enough about them, claiming that even the big offshore-duty V6 engines can troll all day at one or two knots or take the boat up to 30 knots with ease.
What does this have to do with motorcycles? Quite a bit, actually. Much of the engineering in motorcycles, outboard engines, and ATVs is shared - variable valve timing and intake technology, for example - and Suzuki, for one, uses its engine know-how in many of its other products.
Including the Boulevard M50 cruiser, which for 2010, receives a makeover and tweaking. Gone is the bobbed rear fender and faux chopper styling and in its place is a slick looking mid-size cruiser that bears a family resemblance to its bigger brother, the M90. Especially in the front end treatment, where a mini headlight fairing replaces the quirky instrument nacelle/handlebar clamp of the previous version.
Power is still supplied by a 45-degree, liquid-cooled V-Twin that features fuel injection and is mated to a five-speed transmission with shaft final drive. This engine is used elsewhere in Suzuki's bike line-up....the C50, for example, and has an offset crankshaft to deliver the requisite "potato-potato" sound that is an integral part of the cruiser experience. But it does not utilize any internal counterbalancing shafts. Many other bikes in this segment do. Nonetheless, the M50 manages to provide a civilized power delivery and this engine is quite refined.
As far as suspension goes, there is a single shock in back and 41 millimetre inverted front forks. The back shock, which is located under the rear fender, has a seven-way adjustment feature, and the driveshaft mounts to the rear frame. This helps the bike's transitional power delivery somewhat, but it still suffers from a noticeable power gap when you apply throttle coming out of a corner.....what driveshaft-equipped motorcycle doesn't?
Might as well get the other complaint out of the way here as well: brakes. Or, more precisely, the lack of them. For reasons that are unclear to me, the M50 and others of its ilk - the Honda VT750, for one - still retains a front disc/rear drum brake arrangement. While the front disc does an admirable job in hauling the M50 down from speed, it pretty much has to, as the rear drum is a joke. Just for the heck of it, I used the rear brake only a few times while braking when I rode this bike, and let's just say that if your life depended on it, you'd be in some serious trouble. I can't understand why Suzuki, Honda and others don't get this situation sorted out. Just because a bike is an entry-level cruiser model, that doesn't mean it's okay to equip it with sub-standard brakes. The rear drum brake in the M50 is spongy, unresponsive and ineffective, and this bike needs a rear disc arrangement.
Otherwise, the M50 continues to provide an accessible unchallenging riding experience. Seat height is a more than manageable 700 mm, and the riding position is feet-forward in the classic cruiser position. Power is snappy and surprisingly ample during low rpms, but this is not a bike for those who place performance over everything else. I'd like it if there was a rev-counter, as instrumentation is pretty basic.....just a speedometer, some idiot lights, and, surprisingly perhaps, a fuel gauge, but cruisers traditionally are a little spare when it comes to this sort of thing.
I'd also think twice about taking this bike on a long road trip. It doesn't have the heft you need for extended highway cruising, nor the reserve power, and its riding position might wear a little thin after a few hours of being buffeted around on the freeway. Two paint choices are available: black and an eye-popping orange, and you can order accessories, such as front foot-boards ($308), a windscreen ($650), rear seat backrest ($580), and a gel-padded seat ($302) to make things a little more accommodating, but like its predecessor, the M50 is pretty much a city cruiser-slash-bar hopper. Thus the Boulevard moniker.
Prices for the 2010 Suzuki Boulevard M50 start at around $9500.