Riding in Style

Luxury motorcycles are now rivaling their automobile counterparts in design, comfort and customizable options.
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Have an extra $20,195 kicking around and an "M" designation on your license? Then why don't you buzz down to your local

Harley-Davidson

(HOG) - Get Report

dealer and pick up the Ultra Classic Electra Glide?

That twenty thousand will get you all kinds of features found common -- and increasingly expected -- in today's luxury motorcycles.

Generously sized, lockable, hard saddlebags with removable soft interior carriers? Check. Passenger seat with wraparound armrests? Check. Full-length, height-adjustable footboards for both passenger and driver? You bet.

But there's much more.

This baby comes with cruise control (that's right, cruise control), a CB as well as an intercom for driver/passenger communication, a Harmon/Kardon four-speaker stereo -- easily hooked up to headsets, if you prefer -- a halogen headlight and adjustable fairing.

But why stop there? We haven't even gotten to the accessories.

Want

XM Satellite

(XMSR)

radio, GPS navigation and a leather, air-adjustable rider and passenger seat?

Those are just a few of the available add-ons that could easily push this deluxe motorcycle over $25,000.

These days, it's easy to find midrange automobile prices on a new motorcycle.

Gone is the time when your engine options were limited to a wimpy 250 cc and comfort was obtained by putting extra cushioning in your pants.

Enormous, powerful engines like the 2,294 cc monster found in

Triumph's

aptly named Rocket III ($16,300) are becoming more common, as well as extravagant options like a driver's airbag found in the high-end

Honda

(HMC) - Get Report

Gold Wing touring bike ($24,049).

Additionally, custom motorcycle shops across the United States (like the famous

Orange County Choppers) have exploded with a dizzying array of outlandish custom motorcycle designs. And the stalwart motorcycle manufactures keep piling a cornucopia of options to their everyday lines in order to appeal to new buyers.

But where are all these buyers coming from?

From the outsized ranks of both male and female baby boomers with large amounts of disposable income, naturally.

Like many high-end products made desirable and popular on the consumer landscape, baby boomers are driving the trends in these luxury bikes.

But it's not just two-wheeled tourers with windshield wipers and airbags that are flying out of the showroom. Choppers, street and sport bikes have seen astounding growth as well.

According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, motorcycle ownership among the 40 and over age group has increased a staggering amount: from 15.1% in 1980 to 43% in 1998. Furthermore, the $14.6 billion U.S. motorcycle market is on track to mark its 13th consecutive year of growth.

More than 50% of motorcycle owners are married, 10% are women and their median household income is higher than the national average.

So it makes sense that motorcycle manufacturers are bending over backwards to accommodate this affluent crowd with safety features like antilock brakes and airbags, as well as customizable elements like paint jobs, chrome kits and multi-CD changer systems in hi-fi audio packages -- it probably won't belong before you can find an iPod adapter as a standard feature.

So Many Bikes, So Little Time

A quick breakdown of three styles of luxury bikes available -- touring, cruiser and sport -- can help make sense of all the options, whether you're a novice rider or longtime biker.

Touring motorcycles come in a variety of types, but their basic use is for long hauls. To accommodate the rider, touring bikes typically have large-capacity fuel tanks, luggage cases and offer plenty of protection from the elements with extra fairing and a windshield. Ample seat room for both driver and passenger is standard, as comfort is first and foremost in this class.

Cruisers are typically low-riding bikes which position the rider's feet forward, with a seating position either upright or slightly backwards. Like touring motorcycles, cruisers are heavy and comfortable rides, but lack molded fairings and are not as maneuverable as sport bikes. These motorcycles are also highly customizable.

Sport bikes are designed to perform. Small, light and fast with plenty of aerodynamic fairing, these are the consumer versions of professional race bikes. With an aggressive, forward-leaning seating position, sensitive handling and a typically large power-to-weight ratio, these bikes are not for the inexperienced rider.

Ready to ride? Here are top-of-the-line picks for each category.

Easy Rider

Honda's august Gold Wing touring motorcycles have perhaps some of the most extravagant features available today in a mass-production motorcycle.

Not to be outdone by Harley-Davidson, Honda has included the option of a proprietary GPS system, complete with a color LCD map mounted on the instrument panel.

If glancing down at the screen makes you a little nervous, not to worry: Honda includes the option of listening to step-by-step directions through the on-board audio system.

Thinking of riding even through a bitter winter? A special cold-weather package is available, with heated grips and seat for the driver. The passenger isn't left out in the cold either -- the rear seat and backrest is also heated, and there are adjustable warm air ducts to keep everyone's hooves toasty.

But possibly the most notable feature of this high-end bike is an airbag.

While statistics are currently sparse on the effectiveness of a motorcycle airbag during a collision, Honda is betting that even a marginal increase in safety for the rider will make all the difference to the more risk-averse baby boomer.

Fully Chopped

Diametrically opposed to the other touring behemoths, most

Polaris

(PII) - Get Report

-owned Victory motorcycles are firmly in the chopper-inspired cruiser category, sporting model names like Vegas Jackpot, 8 Ball and Kingpin.

The higher cost of these machines doesn't derive from the comfort features found on touring bikes, but rather from the specialized design and styling.

Victory motorcycles are made to impress not only with muscle engine appeal, but with their strong eye-candy quotient.

At the top of this line, Victory employed custom motorcycle wizards Arlen and Cory Ness to design the limited edition Ness Signature Series Vegas Jackpots, which will set you back about $23,000.

Among the unique touches available only in this line are specially designed mirrors, diamond-band billet grips and foot pegs, custom billet wheels, diamond-cut cylinders and cylinder heads, and a head-turning custom paint job.

Whereas motorcycle aficionados in the old days used to do this kind of painstaking custom work themselves or get a local paint shop to do it, those with the means can now get the work done before they even sit on the bike for the first time.

Fast and Furious

In the luxury sport bike class, you can't do much better than hopping on a

Ducati

(DMH)

Desmosedici RR, which is available in July 2007.

Sure, there are less expensive bikes with bigger engines (Suzuki Hayabusa, anyone?), but where else than at a

Ducati dealer can you sit on a limited edition, street-legal version of the very bike that elite riders competed with in the Moto Grand Prix World Championship?

If you already own a Ducati 999R Superbike, move to the front of the line, please. This gives you first dibs on the privilege of paying $65,000 for this rare gem and joining an uber-elite owners club.

An exceptionally nimble and light bike, it runs at more than 200 hp, has race-class suspension and an optional racing kit, which includes adjustments that are legal only for the track.

The limited-edition Desmosedici is made as light as possible by using sand-cast aluminum crankcase and cylinder heads, titanium connecting rods and valves and sand-cast magnesium engine covers. This bike design will also surely turn heads, although rather quickly -- the top speed is over 200 mph.

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