What’s that, you say? You want the style, the panache, the brrrob-brrrob-brrrob of a cruiser, but you don’t want to spend big bucks? Bristol Motorcycles would like you to try out the Bobber 650, the latest model from the Filipino brand. For P398,000, you get a bitchin’ bobber-type cruiser with 69hp, a six-speed gearbox, and the angas of a Harley for less than half the price of an Iron 883.
In our review of the Veloce 500, we briefly explained how Bristol’s business model works. The 649cc parallel-twin is by CFMoto, the ABS-assisted brakes are unbranded OEMs, fueling is Bosch, and suspension is KYB. The company won’t say who manufactures the frame, but it’s a double-down-tube design.
It’s normal and fair to approach this kind of deal with some skepticism—even more so with this genre because cruisers are not the most ideal bikes to ride for extended periods of time in the first place. They sit low to the ground, which is great for flat-footing. But that also means they have limited suspension travel, resulting in your back taking a beating. They scrape on speed bumps, too. Relaxed steering angles make them ideal for, well, cruising. But not so much on twisty roads.
But walking up to the bike and seeing it for the first time is enough to shake off any fears that this could be an unpleasant experience. In black, and if you park it just so, it’s gorgeous. It has all the right proportions, from the size and the shape of the tank to how the silhouette flows down to the seat, the beefy tires, and the twin tailpipes. If it weren’t for the square-cut cylinder head, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the Bristol for a Triumph Bobber, which is more than twice the price.
It has a swagger and, really, that’s what you’re paying for in a cruiser. Starting her up and duck-walking the Bobber out of its parking slot is a reassuring welcome to the world of cruising. The low seat height makes it easy to push the bike backward, with the low center of gravity hiding the fact that it weighs 225kg. The single instrument pod is legible whether it’s night or day, with the analog part consisting of the tachometer that counts in tens. I actually thought it was the speedometer until I wondered why the needle was at 50 while the inset LCD display showed 90km/h.
Some of the Bobber’s quirks are the Harley-style turn signal switches on both left and right pods, an electric start button with no kill switch, a headlight switch that isn’t easily accessible by your thumb for flashing your brights, and a horn button that is equally difficult to reach. I pressed the left-turn signal several times thinking it was the horn. Doh! Even though there isn’t a dedicated button for the hazard lights, you can get the same effect by pressing both turn signal buttons at the same time.
Taking it on the highway reveals a sporty nature to the engine. With an oversquare 83mm-by-60mm bore/stroke design, it revs quickly like a sport bike and has no problem humming along in the 4,000-5,000rpm range with minimal vibrations. The redline is 8,500rpm, but you hardly need to bring it there as there’s ample power and torque in the midrange. It also has a deep, satisfying rumble from the stock exhausts that you probably don’t need to swap for a louder set. It’s not as mellifluous as the Royal Enfield 650 twins with its 270° crank, but it’s close.
The non-assisted, wet multiplate clutch is reasonably light and a good partner for rev-matching, but the shifter is meh. For some reason or another, the Bobber is still fitted with mid-mount controls but uses a heel-toe shifter. For low-riding bikes, forward controls are ideal so long-legged riders can stretch out. So, there’s a problem with leverage on the shifter. Using my toes or instep to upshift means a big movement (about an inch) to get positive engagement onto the next gear. Anything other than a deliberate motion nets a false neutral. Using the heel to upshift gets better engagement, but now you have to consciously move your foot to the back of the peg to get it right. On long, open highways, this isn’t a big deal as you’ll just be droning along in sixth gear. But on smaller provincial roads, it gets tiresome having to constantly work the lower ratios. Hey, it’s a cruiser!
Clunky shifter aside, the rest of the bike works as advertised. Grip from the fat Timsun rubber is adequate, and you’ll be scraping the foot pegs long before you reach the tires’ limit. The brakes feel strong and linear, too. The suspension is indubitably firm, and while the rear shock has what feels like only an inch or two of travel, I prefer this kind of setup to a pillowy ride as it gives you a better sense of what’s going on underneath you.
I love the creamy fuel delivery of the Bobber compared to the snatchy throttle response of the Veloce, too. You can gently roll on the power to get going, but a quick whack at wide open delivers all 69 horses in a heartbeat. On a pleasant Sunday morning, you could take the Bobber for a coffee ride with your buddies, explore some quiet roads at a leisurely pace, then come home refreshed and possibly feeling like an Asian Son of Anarchy.
Bristol officially lists the fuel efficiency at 16km/L, but I was able to squeeze around 22km/L with my rolling back-road loop. Will this be the last cruiser you ever buy? Probably not. The more bikes you ride, the more you begin to notice the little details that differentiate brands. While there’s nothing mechanically deficient with the Bobber, the quality of the switchgear and the instrumentation will remind you why premium brands cost so much more. The instrument pod has a particularly inexpensive look to it, specifically with the font style and how the digital speedometer keeps fluctuating even though you’re maintaining a constant speed.
On the raw, emotional scale, however, the Bobber delivers on the things that cruiser riders look for: style and a rockin’ exhaust rumble. At a price that leaves money in the pocket for other things like vintage-style helmets, boots and all the other essentials of the cruiser lifestyle, it’s not hard to see the Bobber’s appeal.