Dear MOby,

Hey, guys, I love your reviews, but if you at Motorcycle.com had to choose between a Harley Roadster and a Triumph Bonneville Bobber, which one do you think would handle twisties better? I know they aren’t meant to be sportbikes, but I am trying to decide which one to buy. I believe the Bobber got a better rating than the Harley, but the Harley can lean farther, no? For me, the performance during the turns is the big question. Which bike do you believe is better handling and, just in your biased opinion, more fun? The Harley is more top heavy and the Bobber is so low I imagine it’s more stable, but it also can’t lean as much, so I’m curious? I will test them both, but my area doesn’t have the best test ride conditions and you guys probably push the bikes better than I can.

Thanks so much!
Nick P


Dear Nick,

Excellent question. We had planned on doing a comparison test of those two natural competitors, to include a Yamaha Bolt, but the stars have not yet aligned to allow that to happen.

A year ago, Evans Brasfield rode the Roadster in France (tough duty) and came away impressed with how it handled the twisty stuff above Marseilles: The Roadster’s increased lean angle makes it hugely fun! While many other bikes still have more cornering clearance, the change in character of how the bike drags its pegs makes the Roadster a hoot to ride on tightly twisting roads. In all the miles I logged, I dragged the ever-shortening peg feelers many times, but not once did a hard part touch down.

But then, the Roadster finished last in last July’s Urban Sport Cruiser Shootout against some tough competition in the form of the Indian Scout, Victory Octane and Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber. Sometimes an ignominious defeat of that nature doesn’t mean a bike isn’t still a hugely entertaining motorcycle. The Hog weighs 567 pounds, puts out 69 rear-wheel horsepower at 5900 rpm and 74 lb-ft of torque at only 3600 rpm. It’s no Superbike, but it does have a certain endearing old-school character along with plenty of performance.

040317-harley-davidson-roadster

In fact, that shootout contains this: The looker among these bikes goes to the Harley-Davidson, the Roadster handily winning the Cool Factor category of the Scorecard, which judges things like appearance, desirability, and poser value. It’s a subjective category, one with which you might disagree, but among the four of us, we found the Roadster to exemplify the brawny, sporty, streetfighter cruiser of the bunch.

In the other corner, yours truly sampled the new Triumph Bobber last December at its unveiling, and was surprised to find it offered quite a bit more cornering performance than I expected. To quote myself: To me, this one says dragracer more than roadracer, but again the Bobber surprises with better-than-expected backroad chops. In addition to cold on our ride day, the road was also patchy damp, but the Bobber was perfectly capable of dealing with the curvy sections of road that were dry. With only 88mm of trail, via 25.8 degrees rake, the Bobber steers light, quick and reassuringly in spite of its stubby flat handlebar. Custom tires from Avon, a 19-inch bias-ply front and a 16-in radial rear Cobra, seem well-matched to the bike and its suspension.

It’s not an overly firm ride at all, but a well-controlled one. The only limiting factor is cornering clearance; once you learn to ignore the peg feelers, the exhausts on both sides will drag when you get to about 8 on the backroad aggression scale, and then it’s time to be careful.

040317-triumph-bonneville-bobber

At MO, 8 on the backroad aggression scale is about as high as we ever go, really, since it’s good to leave a little margin for error anytime you’re riding on public roads. Given that, I’m going to make an educated guess that the Roadster and Bobber will be able to obtain very similar angles of lean, both of them providing adequate cornering clearance for all but really aggressive riders most of the time. The old saying about riding a slow bike fast also applies to cornering clearance.

We haven’t managed to get our hands on a Bobber stateside yet to test it and get real numbers, but Triumph claims it weighs 502 pounds dry, which probably means it’s right there with the Roadster once it’s gassed and oiled up. And its claim of 77 horses (at the crank, not the rear wheel) and 78 lb-ft of torque means it’s in the same power aisle as the Harley, too. (The T120 Bonnie, with essentially the same motor but with a different intake system, dynoed at 70.4 horses and 73.5 lb-ft of torque when tested in this shootout, running neck and neck with the Roadster.) Then there’s the fact that the Bobber and Roadster are both priced at right around $12,000…

I think these two are going to be so close in performance terms, you’re a lucky man to be able to test ride both. I think you’ll find the Triumph feels more low-effort and modern (in spite of its looks), but many people just prefer the rougher-hewn feel of a Sportster. Good luck and let us know what you decide.

PS: It has nothing to do with cornering, but you can get a Cruise Control Kit for the Triumph for $375. Oi…


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  • Old MOron

    Good ol’ JB throws himself on a grenade and averts WWIII.

  • Max Wellian

    I demo’d a Harley Sportster Custom 1200 a few years back. I like its riding position better than either of these two. It felt nimble enough too, but it’s engine was garbage. Shook everywhere and barely went anywhere. Rode a 103 Wide Glide just after and it’s engine was superb, though it wasn’t nimble and lacked anything resembling a front brake. It also doesn’t shift into neutral without turning the bike off.
    I own a new Thruxton 1200. It is in a different league from any Harley I’ve ridden…particularly a Sportster. As JB noted, if you’re into unrefined, there’s a Harley shop on every block.

  • TheMarvelous1310

    Between the Bobber and the Roadster, the best handling bike is probably the Street Rod 750. Good luck with the ergos.

  • allworld

    If you are really on the fence and both bikes suit your needs and wants, look to other factors;
    Cost of ownership.., service availability and get a quote from your insurance company.

  • SRMark

    The Triumph looks to be missing parts but not when you look at the price tag. Go figure.

  • JMDGT

    I vote for the Street Triple.

    • Born to Ride

      Or at least a street twin.

  • Buzz

    If you ever plan on putting a girl on the back, the H-D might be the only choice.