When you look at the history of iconic American motorcycles, two styles stick out from the rest: cruisers and touring bikes. Many of the most famous bikes from history and pop culture were cruisers, such as Evel Knievel's XR750 or Elvis Presley's famous Harley-Davidson® KH. Touring bikes usually don't command the same level of attention, but if you travel highways around the country, you'll find numerous touring bikes and their loyal owners. While closely related in many ways, there are a few key differences between the two types of bike.
Cruisers are powerful, stylish motorcycles that are perfect for people who like to ride hard. These bikes have a long history of being some of the coolest bikes on the road, and if you've seen a bike in an old movie or TV show, chances are, it was a cruiser.
The style of cruisers has developed over about a century of design refinement and improvement. One of the pillars of cruiser design is that these bikes should look as good as they ride. You'll often find cruisers with long chrome forks for the front suspension, fat rear tires, and teardrop gas tanks. There are numerous iterations of these basic elements, and cruisers often form the base model of other style bikes, like choppers, bobbers, and baggers.
Cruisers are meant to be loud, fast, and fun to ride, and a cruiser isn't a cruiser without some real horsepower. Historically, many cruisers used large bore, air-cooled V-Twin engines. There have been many exceptions to this rule, but the V-Twin provides lots of reliable power for riders.
As one of the original models of a motorcycle on the market, cruisers have had decades to evolve and change. Much of that evolution is thanks to enthusiastic owners who customized their own bikes. In the early days, customizers turned cruisers into bobbers by chopping all unnecessary weight off the bikes and beefing up the engine until it produced as much power as possible. More recently, the iconic hidden rear suspension design on the Harley-Davidson® was developed in part with the input of a customizer who built his own Softail®. Suiting your bike to your riding style is what having a cruiser is all about.
Touring bikes are related to cruisers in that they are also often big, powerful bikes that take to the highway extremely well. But touring bikes have a more specific job for which they are equipped: long distance riding. Touring bikes have all the practical elements needed for life on the road.
The longer you spend on the road, the more gear you'll need. From camping gear to rain gear for riding in inclement weather, to food and water, to souvenirs, cargo starts to build up quickly. Many motorcycles use saddlebags, in part because they help to shift the center of gravity to a lower position on the bike which helps to keep steering easy and straightforward. Other bikes use top-side boxes which are big enough to hold a full-sized helmet when the rider is away from the bike, or cargo racks for strapping other luggage to the bike.
If you're going to spend hours, days, or even weeks on your bike at a time, it's important that the bike has features to keep it comfortable. Low vibration engines are extremely helpful as they help to reduce fatigue in the hands, shoulders, hips, and spine. An ergonomically crafted seat helps to reduce saddle sores, and a windshield or fairing helps to keep precipitation and wind off the rider.
Some of the larger touring bikes feature a two-up seating design to allow the rider to have a companion. Accommodating another rider is about more than just lengthening the seat. It requires building a sturdier frame, better suspension, and more powerful brakes, too.
When it comes to touring bikes and cruisers, there's no better motorcycle manufacturer than Harley-Davidson® Motor Company. Harley-Davidson® is the original American motorcycle company and it's the only brand to continuously produce motorcycles through the Great Depression, Great Recession, two world wars, and everything that's happened since.