Chasing a narrow strip of blacktop to the distant horizon with nothing ahead of you but time, space and freedom. That's the idea behind the cruiser motorcycle, which offers instant entrée to a club of like-minded rebels. The cruiser is as definitively American as the cowboy and the muscle car, and this season a slew of new rides offers classic cruiser style with modern engineering. What was once a class of bike that tried to outdo itself—sacrificing performance and even safety in pursuit of a singular image—has been redefined with fast, capable machinery. We hammered everything out there; here are four of the best.
While previous entries from Star—Yamaha's cruiser brand—have tried to reinvent the class's formula, the 2014 Bolt is revolutionary in its derivativeness. Star is open about which bike it has in its sights: the best-selling motorcycle in America, Harley's Sportster. The Bolt (as pictured above) is remarkably similar to that definitive hog, with just an extra dose of 21st century braking and handling prowess, enough to make it a more practical companion for everyday use. The air-cooled, fuel-injected 942 cc V-twin is plenty of muscle for most, while the overall package delivers in the looks department. Shopping for a first bike or a practical commuting vehicle? Start here. For a bit of added cool factor, the R-Spec version—which includes a sweet woven leather seat, black fenders, additional color choices and blacked-out mirror backs—goes for just $300 extra.
HARLEY LOW RIDER
In 1977 Harley invented the "factory custom" with the original Low Rider, a bike modified to follow customizing trends. Based on the Dyna, this new Low Rider achieves something similar by dropping the seat height more than an inch and adding heaps of slick 1970s styling. Stats: 1,690 cc V-twin; $14,199.
TRIUMPH THUNDERBIRD COMMANDER
The idea here is a cruiser feel with the European handling and performance that have made the Triumph range famous. Consider it a cruiser you can ride hard. Triumph even fit its parallel-twin engine with a 270-degree crank to give it that uneven, V-twin rumble. Stats: 1,699 cc; $15,699.
Redefining the cruiser aesthetic, the Diavel is Ducati's fastest-accelerating and strongest-braking bike. The liquid-cooled V-twin is derived from Ducati's super-bike line, but the long wheelbase and low center of gravity are cruiser hallmarks in 21st century garb. Stats: 1,198 cc; $20,995.
This article originally appeared on the June 2014 issue of Playboy.
Photos courtesy of Giant Bicycles, Pivot Cycles, Santa Cruz Bicycles & Transition Bikes.