Some motorcycles make you work for them, as opposed to the other way around. That’s just plain wrong … unless you really love “character” bikes. Suzuki’s revised Boulevard M50 takes the approach that it’s there to service the rider, and look good doing so.
The burnt-orange Boulevard M50 is parked just off the loading ramp behind the headquarters of Suzuki Canada in Richmond, BC. It’s Saturday, the sun is shining at long last and there seems no perfectly good reason for western district sales manager Don Zaharia to be at work, except that he has a road trip to pack for, he says. Besides, someone needs to hand me keys for the M50, a pre-existing unit that has been remodeled with a snazzier look for 2010. Don has one more excuse. “I got to ride my bike here.” His bike being a rich blue M109R that hands down some of its styling elements to the revised M50 (and also the intermediate M90) such as the distinctive headlight nacelle that lends an unmistakable street profile, and an optional tail section cowl covering the pillion for a hotrod-style solo rider effect. The nacelle is not as elegant as the M109’s, more squared off and without the chrome inlay. But it’s still a nice touch that serves functionally to integrate information gauges and create a non-traditional look at the front end. Don says I can swap for the blue bike when I return the orange one in a week’s time. It’s an invitation I eagerly accept.
Though the two bikes share familial features, any resemblance is strictly skin-deep. The M109R contains violent levels of horsepower and performance that can be frightening in their delivery. In contrast, the M50 is a mild, highly accessible motorcycle descended from the old Intruder class of 800cc V-Twins that have been such runaway bestsellers for Suzuki throughout the years specifically because of their pleasant demeanour, classic cruiser styling and price-sensitive position in the market. Richly handsome though the M50 may be, it’s no M109R. The tire-shredding power cruiser is a major-league bike, a true handful to operate and nothing to fool with if you lack experience. Saddle time with the rough-as-a-cob M109R is an entirely different proposition than any cruiser ever built by Suzuki. That could be rephrased. In my view, there is no cruiser more difficult to ride well than the M109R. Armed with brutal horsepower and ironworks mechanicality, it’s a “character” bike that thrills its rider to the core.
Then there’s the M50. The specification sheet has it at 593 pounds (269 kg). That would be a tough guess. Significantly lighter, one might have thought, although a fast run into a hard spot will make the inverted forks chirp—not so much from a rapid transfer of excess weight, but more likely the limits of suspension built to a modest price point being reached. MSRP for the M50 is $9,499.
Regardless who’s building them, middleweights are rarely premium models. They are the ones with drum brakes, plastic chrome, single discs, less tech, and fewer options. The M50 is brought to market with all the above component traits.
None of that matters. Like others in Suzuki’s cruiser stable—arguably, the deepest and strongest of any—the M50’s strength is the sum of its parts. The moment the kickstand comes up and the throttle is rolled, the bike is a study in accessibility.
Motorcyclists tend not to mention “ease of operation” on their list of preferred bike features, which is somewhat short-sighted, I think. Motorcycles with “character” such as the M109R take all the bonus points when the talk is high, but nobody in their right mind wants a bike with character on the daily commute. Some cruisers actually weary the pilot because they don’t carry their weight well or because a combination of fat geometry, too much rubber and wrong handlebar selection results in a heavy steering bike that needs bulling around. These bikes typically shed their weight only when progress is well underway, and in straight lines only. Not so the M50.
Tredding on Grand High Speed tires from the Inoue Rubber Company of Thailand, and with its flat bars set on brushed aluminum-style pullback risers, the M50 responds eagerly to the lightest touch. It’s a pleasure to ride, and braking is sturdy with a Tokico caliper grabbing a single disc in the front and an old-fashioned drum providing more mechanical stopping power over at the driveshaft end of the bike. Personally, I admire both the look and the highly underrated capabilities of drum brakes, but it is a source of some amazement that such touchstones of old technology still exist in the street bike category. The system is perhaps the “better mousetrap.” Certainly, it’s a cost-savings measure, ultimately passed down to the consumer, but in the case of the M50, the operator is required to “toe-in” to operate the rear brake pedal because the shield-shaped air cleaner—mimicked in appearance by the countersunk Tokai Denso LED tail light—juts out a little too far. The styling elements of the air cleaner and the tail section are expanded upon through the flowing lines of a tear-shaped tank and cat’s eye mirrors. There’s a blended quality to the M50’s visual presentation. Lustrous with chrome in all the right places and subtly elegant designs throughout, the colour scheme comes across as bold but not over-the-top.
The seat is comfortable and supportive, much like the model’s overall flavour, while a limited range of accessories include floorboards. It’s non-tiring because the ergonomics are good and the sense of being on a much lighter bike simply flows through its rider. Whether you’re making a basic lane change, steering around a traffic circle, or leaning into a lengthy bend in the road, the M50 makes low-speed manoeuvres and higher-speed angling an energizing proposition.
TRAFFIC IS THIN THROUGH Richmond for a weekend morning, but that will change soon. I’m in no real hurry to get out of town though, in no rush at all to hit the highway. The M50, like the other 800cc Twins from Suzuki (C50/S50) is not only capable of triple-digit cruising, it excels. So, I know what to expect without immediately venturing onto the frantic superslab leading into the lower mainland’s densely populated Fraser Valley. The speedometer lettering boasts the bike can reach 200 kmh. That may well be true (though likely too generous) but in any event I’m not interested in proving or disproving the claim.
Though retuned for 2010, from past experience with the same 56-hp, fuel-injected mill, I’m confidant that 175 kmh is near the brink of “safe motoring” when what lies beneath you is a tube steel frame with limited suspension travel. The engine is running out of steam by then anyway, so why labour it pointlessly?
But at a normal highway clip staying within the bounds of decency, the M50 bounds away with the energy of a much bigger bike. The five-speed 800s from Suzuki traditionally rev more smoothly and transmit fewer numbing vibes than the bigger Boulevard C90 and M90 models. Again, this has been true even since the days before the Intruder line was reborn as the Boulevard family.
Choosing a selection of feeder routes into Vancouver I set my sights on exploring the M50’s urban strengths. They are many. The bike glides effortlessly light-to-light in thick traffic, coming to easily-controlled stops where a gentle toe dab is required. Light components allow the operator to slip the clutch with one finger where traffic creeps along, and when a brisk shot of power is required the 45-degree V-Twin responds rapidly, though voluminous exhaust canisters do appear to have at least some motor-corking potential. Notching one gear after another, then running all the way back down to first, I’m pleased how accurately each ratio selection falls into place, with true neutral being especially predictable. These areas of operation are important in congested areas where the last thing you want on your mind is whether or not the neutral light is lying to you.
And if the true measure of a “good” motorcycle is in its ability to make you feel welcome, to work for you, not you for it, and to instill pride of ownership, the Boulevard M50 ticks all the boxes.
By John Campbell Canadian Biker