King of the Cut Rate Cruisers

While the other Japanese giants are busy courting forty-something re-entry riders with mega-buck jumbo cruisers, Suzuki has taken a decidedly different route. With its corporate eye on America's youth, the Hamamatsu factory has unleashed its new-for-'97 Marauder 800.

"We're looking at the young guys who really want to get into motorcycling," says Suzuki's Mel Harris. "They can't put out all that money to buy a big Harley look-alike, but the Marauder fits into their price range."

At $5999, the Marauder is a full two grand cheaper than Kawasaki's Vulcan 800 Classic and $500 less than Suzuki's own Intruder 800. Heck, Honda's bare-bones VLX 600 is just $300 cheaper.

Cycle World got a chance to sample the Marauder's in-town capabilities at Suzuki's recent press introduction in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Then, for the real-world view, we rode it the 1000 miles back to California.

This is Suzuki's first new cruiser since the introduction of 1987's Intruder 1400. What took the company so long? Simple. The Intruder 800 and 1400 (which are still available) make up 26 percent of Suzuki's street-bike sales, so why mess with success? Since 1986, the handsome Intruders have set themselves apart from other Japanese cruisers by virtue of their unique styling. Instead of being wrapped in nostalgic Harley guise, they hit the boulevard with their own brand of chopper-chic. Carrying on the tradition, the Marauder has sort of a low-rider/drag-bike look.

"You hear people complain about Harley look-alikes," says Harris. "We don't want to be the copycat brand. We're trying to do something different here."

Well, Suzuki almost pulled it off. The Marauder steers clear of the current trend toward nostalgic glances into the past, but there are definitely derivative touches here and there-- Honda's Magna V-Four and Harley-Davidson's 1200 Sportster Custom come to mind.

Whether it's totally fresh or not, Suzuki's new cruiser blends class and kitsch. First the neat stuff: slick-looking inverted fork, cast-aluminum wheels and rich, lustrous, two-tone paint. Now the campy items: chromed-plastic side panels, plastic fenders and chrome-sheathed shocks. Up close, the Marauder has more strange shapes, converging angles and polished surfaces than a carnival's hall of mirrors.

These assorted pieces are draped over a new double-cradle frame that gives the Marauder an aggressive, long, low stance with a seat height of just 28 inches. The well-positioned pullback handlebar heads up a comfortable ergonomic package for smaller riders, even if those over 5-foot-8 are forced to sit back on the thin portion of the seat, causing some discomfort. Foot pegs are mounted far forward for a riding position more spacious than many Harley Big Twins.

Once up to back road speed, brisk cornering is limited by a familiar metallic grinding sound as foot pegs and tarmac collide. Although it has two degrees more rake than the less-than-inspiring-handling Intruder and the same amount of trail, the Marauder chassis handles well when ridden at a moderate pace. The 130-series, 16-inch front tire feels planted and the chassis tracks stable and true until pushed through fast, bumpy corners, where the Marauder starts wallowing, hinting that it is indeed a cruiser, not a repli-racer.

Suspension action is particularly good for a bike of this genre. Both ends lack the damping quality of more expensive setups, but deliver a respectable ride nonetheless. The 41mm Kayaba fork--made specifically for the Marauder--dives minimally when the powerful dual-piston caliper grips the single 11.7-inch disc. Combined with great feel from the rear drum, this cruiser sheds speed well.

While the Marauder chassis is new, its motor, lifted from the Intruder 800, is familiar. In the makeover, it got a restyling and now comes fitted with chain drive rather than shaft. The finned cylinders are done in basic black, while almost everything else is chromed. The 805cc, liquid-cooled, 45-degree V-Twin still has single overhead cams that open four valves in each cylinder.

Going from the Intruder's shaft to chain drive, Suzuki made the Marauder's crankcases smaller and lighter since they no longer house a set of secondary gears to drive the shaft. The V-Twin's transmission has five well-spaced cogs that engage with a short throw at the lever. For more relaxed cruising, the overall gear ratio is fractionally taller than the Intruder's, lowering engine rpm. To smooth downshifts, the cable-operated clutch has a back-torque limiter built into its hub. Suzuki claims this reduces torque by up to 30 percent, virtually eliminating rear-wheel chirp during downshifts--even under heavy- handed testers.

The Marauder's starter motor is more compact than that of the Intruder, and it's cranked a smaller 10-amp, maintenance-free battery located under the seat. The V-Twin warms quickly after a tug on the choke knob, located above the front cylinder. The 800 zips away quickly enough--posting a 0-60-mph time of 5.27 seconds--but the motor's flow of power is interrupted by a pronounced flat spot in the carburetion at around 2500 rpm. Once done hiccupping, the Marauder's motor still feels a bit soft for an 805cc Twin, especially one taken from the spunky Intruder.

While the motor sings a whisper-quiet tune, its offset crankpin design lets a small amount of vibration seep through the handlebar, seat and pegs, reminding the rider he's astride a V-Twin.

Dubbed a "Street Drag Racer" by Suzuki's ambitious marketers, the Marauder belies this moniker by posting a quarter-mile time of 14.16 seconds at 91.28 mph, down almost a full second and 6 mph from the Intruder. Top speed is 102 mph, well off the old bike's 107-mph reading.

The CW dynamometer confirmed that the Marauder is a drag racer more in brochure- speak than in performance. It pumped out just 41.6 horsepower and 44.2 foot-pounds of torque at 5500 and 4500 rpm, respectively--down 10 ponies and 6 pounds of stump- pulling force from the Intruder. Suzuki says the motor was retuned to make more torque at lower engine speeds, which it does. But what about good ol' American-style horsepower? We think the Intruder's punch vanished in two ways, both stylistically mandated: First, its not-so-direct dual exhausts have "the look," but weren't bent with performance in mind; second, the dual air boxes lost nearly 10 percent of their total volume when stuffed between the new fuel tank and frame.

This trend of power-robbing cosmetic considerations is disturbing. As is the case with the detuned Honda ACE, Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Classic and Yamaha Royal Star, we think the Marauder would be a much better ride with its host model's extra punch.

Until a bigger, badder Marauder--maybe a 1400--is thrust upon the market, though, we'll make do with the perfectly capable, temptingly priced 800.


EDITORS' NOTES

Some years back, the president of Harley-Davidson told me that he wasn't in the business of building entry-level motorcycles. Indeed, Harley's smallest bike, the 883 Sportster, can be a handful for some beginning riders. So that begs the question: If not Harley, who?

Enter the Marauder, perfectly capable of fulfilling the important educational task, especially for those who admire the Harley look (to my eyes, the Suzuki has a lot of Sportster 1200 Custom in it, right down to the riser handlebar). One of the biggest complaints from women learning to ride is that their feet can't touch the ground at stops. The Marauder, with its low seat height, makes the ground accessible for even the most diminutive physiques. Also, its casually predictable power and mechanical civility offer an amiable platform on which to learn.

And then move on to the real thing.

--Beau Allen Pacheco, Editor, Big Twin


Suzuki calls the Marauder a "Street Drag Racer." Talk about outlaw bikes. This name boldly suggests a vehicle on which to make small-scale attacks, raids or incursions for the sake of obtaining loot. Hmmm, sounds a lot like street racing.

In real life, though, Suzuki's new 800 doesn't have such felonious aspirations: The Marauder is as much a drag racer as it is a canyon carver--it certainly won't scorch the strip and, it sure doesn't like to be thrown hard into corners. In price, the Marauder is more Robin Hood than outlaw. It lets buyers keep more of the precious green stuff in their pockets by drastically undercutting its competition.

Suzuki's wordsmiths can certainly talk the talk, but the Marauder can't honestly walk their walk. Just let the thing be, I say. Its just-right size, all-day comfort, reasonable performance and blend of styles will attract the right buyers without tons of hype.

--Eric Putter, Associate Editor


A curious styling move, this bike, especially from a company that brought us the elemental Intruder series. The chopperesque Intruders were (and still are) refreshingly devoid of the usual Japanese styling excess. Not so the Marauder.

Overall, the 800's look is commendably clean. Up close, though, the gee-gaw factor is in full effect. If the Marauder were mine, first thing I'd do is hit those overdone plasti-chrome side panels with a coat of flat-black paint--maybe the swing arm-pivot plates, too. And what's with those funky fork-guard triangles?

Still, there's a lot to like here, led by a spread-out seating position that's really good. This is one of the few cruisers I'd consider for a meandering cross-country tour.

I'd like the 800 even more if Suzuki hadn't somehow misplaced 10 whole horsepower in the transition from Intruder to Marauder. But given its damn-near-unbeatable price, maybe even that sin can be forgiven.

--David Edwards, Editor-in-Chief