For this week’s Church feature we’re turning the clock back to 2003, and a shootout between five classic tourers: The Yamaha Roadstar Silverado, Victory V92TC, Kawasaki Nomad 1500, Harley-Davidson Road King, and BMW’s R1200CL – the clear oddball of the group. Speaking of oddballs, get a load of the MO crew from 14 years ago – off-the-cuff, irreverent, and funny (and maybe a bit chauvinistic at times), the writing of this shootout is good for a few laughs. As for the results? Read on to find out.
Dec. 22, 2003
Photography by Fonzie
MO has had a long-term Victory Cruiser for quite a while now. Just as it was time to return it to fleet services, EBass showed up on a new Harley Road King, giving us the idea to do a last-minute “Classic Tourers” shootout. With time quickly dwindling, we called BMW, Yamaha and Kawasaki. Surprisingly, they all threw bikes into the fray on short notice, and so we were soon off on a major comparative adventure. The assembled bikes include: BMW R 1200CL, Harley-Davidson Road King, Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Nomad, Victory V92 Touring Cruiser, and Yamaha Road Star Silverado. The R 1200CL seems a little out of place in this crowd, indeed, we had asked for an R 1200C with soft bags and a windscreen but BMW felt that the big CL was more appropriate.
Instead of “Classic Tourers”, we should have called this story “Gabe Writes a Novel”. You see, MO needed to round up two additional riders to complete this shootout. You know the type — stout and hardy pilots who wouldn’t “Lay Her Down” just to keep from crashing, people capable of writing their way out of a wet paper sack, ones who could assist with the simultaneous testing of these five (err… 4 +1?) beauties. JohnnyB, more vitrolic and enigmatic than “stout” and “hardy”, greatly prefers to quaff a few stouts over being thusly labelled. And he’s off on a real-world money-making adventure, anyway. So he’s out. Ashley? She bought a CBR150R and flew the coup to Thailand, whilst SisterMaryKim only seems to quip about getting her a purple scooter. No, these are man’s bikes, and we needed stout and hardy men to test them!
So, after an extensive search, EBass graciously proffered his buddy Rami, who’s the Sales Manager at Roadhouse Brand. Consider him the “Metric” cruiser aficionado to offset our own HarleyMan, Fonzie. Having just returned from a super-fun Derbi mini-motard press day, Sean figured he’d reciprocate and invite Derbi’s West Coast Sales Manager, Gabe Ets-Hokin (a long-time MO reader, feedback contributor and keeper of MR.ALLCAPS) along as our second “guest” writer. Little did we know, but Rami turned out to be a shy gentle giant while Gabe (who weighs about 145lbs soaking wet) turned out to be Sean’s long-lost hooligan twin, sliding sideways to every stop, drag racing us on the freeways and generally acting like an enthusiastic MOron throughout his stay at MO. Gabe’s enthusiasm on these bikes turned out to be nothing compared to his zest for writing — as you’ll see below.
And so, after meeting up early one fine Monday morning, we road tripped it outta LA for a couple of days, covering every type of road in and around Southern California. Along the way we gained a newfound respect for these ‘touring cruisers’ and a new understanding for the type of person who chooses to enjoy life at a relaxed pace.
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Sean: I wasn’t kidding when I wrote that “newfound respect” line. Although this BMW is, shall we say, ungainly in appearance — and though it suffers from a generally overweight/underpowered disposition — it still has excellent ground clearance, stellar, if a little touchy, brakes, heated grips, cruise control, AM/FM/CD stereo, comfy seat, comfy ergos and enjoys a general acceptance from the more traditional cruiser crowd. When the roads were twisty, the big 1200CL was the bike to be on: Once the yellow signs with squiggly arrows appear, the Beemer will easily walk off and hide from any other bike in this test.
So why is this bike ranked 5th out of five bikes? That’s a tough question. I think it has to do with its styling and a couple of intangibles. It tends to feel a little alien — I suppose this is only natural, in consideration of its appearance. It is very awkward to maneuver at low speeds, feeling ponderous and tippy when trying to gracefully glide through a parking lot. It also has a funky front-end feel that is easily upset by rain grooves. This wouldn’t be so bad if it could compensate with a blistering 1/4 mile time, alas it is a three toed tree sloth, albiet in a group of rapid turtles.
EBass: First off, the Beemer deserves credit just for showing up in this comparo. It really was the odd man out and I give it some props for even stepping in the ring with the other more traditional bikes. That having been said, I’m gonna thrash on it anyway. What a ghastly looking creature! A word to the Bavarians: Hire some Italians in your design department! A tall bike with an upright seating position and high, wide bars, the superb seat was wasted due to the funky, tucked-under, scooter-esque leg position caused by the boxer engine. Toes are jammed just beneath the cylinders with an inch or two of clearance to reach the shifter and footbrake — leaving your legs are claustrophobically tucked under. Worse, the bike’s tendancy to “on/off” braking was hell in the canyons. The transmission seemed to hit its mark, but there was no feel at all to the heel shifter, making it hard to tell if the gear clicked in, although it always seemed to. The CD stereo offered a tinny, unpleasant sound rendering it basically worthless. On the plus side, the R 1200 sports cruise control, luggage capacity by the ton, and far and away the best pillion. Braking aside, the Beemer felt smooth in the corners and admittedly, ABS is a very good thing in traffic and/or poor road conditions. The bike was comfortable and quiet at touring speeds. Oddly enough, I can actually see how somebody could love the R 1200 — just not me.
Fonzie: The biggest of the bunch. An alien riding machine compared to classic styling of the remaining four bikes. Alien, but with a beautiful ride. Smooth and nimble handling despite the visual size of the 1200CL. When first sitting on it and clicking out of neutral I was taken aback by the position of the shift lever — which is tucked beneath the cylinder head of the Boxer engine — same for the rear brake lever. Visually hidden to the rider’s eye, but where one would expect to find them, although a touch too far off the fronts of the floorboards. Personally, I would swap out the rolling pin shifter peg standard of BMW’s line-up — I too often mis-shift or half-shift when it rolls over my toe.
Handlebar position and fit-to-grip is also another of the BMW quirks. With tapering grip shape and downward/inward tilting bar ends, the final hold position feels less like a grocery cart and more like a vacuum cleaner… making me consider the potential arm fatigue of 500-plus miles. During the times I rode the Beemer, I learned not to hold thumb and index finger side against the inner grip end. It’s awkward, for sure.
On the positive side of the ride, the seating was stellar. Although appearing very tall, the driver standing position was spot on for this 32″ inseam — I had more trouble with the Victory in this manner. The “barstool” like ride position of the Victory cruiser was a very different ride for a cruiser. The passenger seat on the 1200CL is larger than my office chair: Having ridden two-up for a few miles in the early a.m. on day one of the comparo I was comfortable enough to sleep if I felt stupid enough to do so.
I eventually got over the sound of the exhaust when I learned how to use the onboard stereo system… the Eagles beat the sound of an onboard jet-ski any day.
Rami: This bike truly did not belong in this test. It seemed as though it was trying to be an Electra Glide with a Beemer attitude and turned out to be a contradiction that could not be pulled off. This BMW is different and requires a novel approach in order to ride well. This was the last bike I rode and my first experience was in bumper-to-bumper traffic which resulted in stalling multiple times because you need at least 2000 RPMs to let the clutch out. As a cruiser rider I felt the position was very uncomfortable. Your feet are behind you, creating a little discomfort when wearing chaps and there is no place to move your feet around over the long haul. I, too, disliked the heel/toe shifter and rear brake — they’re in an odd position and under the engine. The bike always up shifted when requested, but you had no way of knowing except for watching the RPMs drop when the clutch was let out. I was constantly shifting because I could never find a proper power band to stay with, but once I figured out how to ride the bike and forgot this was a touring cruiser, it was a very nice one. The heated grips were a nice touch once the sun went down — as was the radio/CD player, as as you’re traveling under 70 mph — above which, it’s pretty useless (without headphones, that is). Cementing it’s last-place vote in my book, the windshield is just weird and created excessive amounts of wind noise.
Gabe: My least favorite was the BMW. I rode an ill-fated BMW R100S for five years and that thing taught me how to ride fast and how to repeatedly pull the top-end of a BMW motor apart. I’ve only ridden a little bit on the newer oil-head twins, so I was curious to see how it compared to my old bike.
The styling is just weird. I don’t have to tell you that. What were they thinking? Fit and finish is terrific, and everything works well, including the radio and CD player, and you know Jesus loves you when you feel those heated grips on a cold night ride, but honestly BMW, what are your designers smoking? Please send me some.
I was surprised that the motor felt slower and buzzier than my ’77 BMW. That must be because of the massive bulk the poor little thing has to schlep around, but in BMW’s attempt to make it feel more like Harley they lost the unique boxer feel, even if the bike still tilts drunkenly to the right when you rev it at a stop. The motor requires one or two downshifts to keep up with madcap editors on Victorys, and that is a shame. In my mind, a $16,000 motorcycle should have more power than you can use in any situation, whether you’re doing roll-on acceleration tests while lane splitting or riding in the mountains fully loaded. If the motor can’t be tuned to reliably provide the torque and power necessary, lighten the bike, buy engines from Rotax or stick to making sport-tourers. Do you hear me? Yeah, I’m talking to you Dieter, get on it.
One place BMW never drops the ball is in the braking department. Four-piston Brembos and ABS, plus a servo-assist means you feel confident in rush-hour LA traffic. The Telelever suspension keeps your front from diving and the back from bobbing and jerking as you roll off the throttle in response to some putz in an El Camino slamming on his brakes right in front of you so he can get out of the car pool lane. Honestly, a clever yet sleezy lawyer could make a good products liability case against the other manufacturers and he’d have a point- why can’t all these bikes have brakes as good as the BMW?
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Beemers also seem to like twisty roads better than their competitors, and the CL is no exception. Suspension rates are nice, if a tad mushy (although I didn’t have time to fiddle with the rear shock, which does have an awful lot of adjustment capability for a cruiser). Cornering clearance is generous and the standard-like floorboard placement was my favorite of all the bikes. But even though the BMW is the lightest bike here, it felt heavy because of the huge fairing and jumbo luggage.
What’s with that handlebar? Are there people in Bavaria with two pairs of elbows? It is not just high, but also angles upwards. Maybe it was put on upside down? Maybe it’s off of a beach cruiser bicycle? It would be the first thing to go on eBay were this my bike.
I’ve been reading road tests of BMW’s for at least 10 years, and I’ve always been annoyed when testers complained about the wacky turn-signal switches, so I vowed to not make a stink about it if I ever wrote a BMW review. But when you’re switching back and forth among five different bikes, it can be a little dangerous to signal left when what you really want to do is honk at Richard Head, as he merrily blasts through the stop sign in his monster truck. As a former San Francisco cabbie, Mr. Horn is my first line of defense, and Beemer horns are the H-Bomb of horns. But they’re as quiet as Senate Democrats until you figure out where they hid the horn button! I know I’d get used to it if I was only riding a Beemer, but who has a Beemer as his only bike? Get with almost every other manufacturer and use standard switchgear placement before a monster truck makes a monster mash out of one of your faithful, BMW!
In conclusion, I think a Beemerphile would much prefer the R1200C with some touring accessories (or the tour-ready Montana) to this Rodan-like monstrosity. It’s a nicely engineered bike, but like BMW occasionally does, the engineering answers questions nobody asks, even people with four elbows.
Sean: Funny enough, from 30′ or more away, the Kawasaki is probably the best looking bike in this test. It has a very pleasing silhouette and super sexy bags. Once you get a little closer however, you start to notice the slightly industrial finish. This utilitarian impression is further reinforced, when you start to ride. For some reason, the engineers at Kawasaki decided that this bike should have a flat / droning exhaust sound. When you want to boot this thing in the ass and scoot down the road, it obliges, but it does it in a way that tends to pacify rather than excite. This isn’t always a bad thing though. In fact, when you aren’t hopping from bike-to-bike, the Nomad’s general user friendliness shines through. When you’re tired and just want to get home from work, the Nomad is the bike to pick. That same appliance like personality makes it a friendly and relaxing bike to cover ground on. Just be sure that you cover that ground below 55mph, because if you’re over 5’10”, the high-speed helmet buffeting can quickly give you a headache. A new or cut-down windscreen is definitely in order for Señor Nomad. Were I able to change the windscreen and put all testosterone aside, the Nomad would be my pick for the daily grind. I wonder if the awesome Vulcan 2000 motor would fit in this chassis.
EBass: The art deco styling touches on the hard bags gave the Nomad some personality but otherwise it just came off as being sort of a vanilla bike. Nothing really wrong with it, but nothing exciting either. Ergonomically, the seat was quite comfortable and the backrest was a welcome touch. It would have been nice if they had provided one for the pillion as well. The leg position could have been farther forward for my taste but wasn’t bad. Case savers front and rear were a good addition. On the mild downside, acceleration and braking were somewhat sub par although not obnoxious for a tourer. I wasn’t crazy about the heel shifter either, as it had a very digital feel to it and occasionally found neutral rather than second. The flip down hard bag design could potentially dump your belongings, although internal bungees are supplied. I’d say that the Nomad would probably make a great choice for a mature rider who is looking for understated styling, quiet engine and pipes, metric feel, and Japanese pricing. It just didn’t thrill me.
Fonzie: Low slung seating and a smooth, shaft-driven tranny earn the Kawasaki Nomad my title of “sportiest” of the bunch. Despite being one of the lowest horsepower bikes, the package is complete and tight – more an “appliance” than a “machine” as Sean will tell you.
My favorite things about the Vulcan Nomad 1500 are, in no particular order, one half of the shift lever, the cool neo-deco styling of the baggage and the smooth ride. Cons include the other half of that shifter arm, the ignition key position is the most awkward being low on the neck of the frame and the mandatory two handed operation of the baggage. With a toe/heel shifter arm that doesn’t thoughtlessly fit the toe of a man’s big toed boot, the heel is in the perfect position for board riding with beautiful, although inaudible, heel clicking ability. Never before was I comfortable using the heel half of on of these things, always choosing to shift like a regular. Being almost forced to stomp instead of flick, I learned something new on the Kawasaki. Surely the arm is adjustable, though any movement upwards on the front end of the one-piece lever lowers the rear, and it’s so nicely level with the rear of the board to begin with I hardly want to mess with it. I did however raise the windscreen to the max after hearing the group’s consensus of bad wind buffeting and headaches – better now but not the best.
Rami: The Kawasaki comes in third and very narrowly beat out the Victory for this spot because it is a Touring bike, where the TC95 is not. The Nomad is a great Touring bike and will suit somebody very well, just not me. The bike has plenty of power though not overwhelming, and the tranny needs to be replaced. I consistently found false neutrals and required a hell of a kick to up shift, not to mention that there was no way of feeling the up shift. The mirrors showed nothing but a blurry mess behind when traveling at speed, but the adjustable windshield was a nice touch. I liked this bike, but took me a while to figure out what it was I didn’t like. It finally hit me and that was that the bike had no character to it at all. It is silky smooth and would make somebody a very nice Touring bike, but I like a little character with my motorcycle.
Gabe: “Hey man, I really like your cousin and we had a pretty good time last night, but I don’t think I’ll call her again.”
“Are you nuts? She’s fun to be with, looks a lot like Claudia Schiffer, has a PhD in human sexuality and owns a liquor store. How could you do any worse?”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong, she’s great. We just didn’t click-maybe it’s me.”
That’s really how I felt about the Nomad. It’s a terrific looking bike, it works very well, and it’s a pretty good value. But it tries so hard to be like the Harley that it masks any character it could have on its own.
Every time I got on the bike, all I could think about was how much it was engineered to look and feel like a Harley. The exhaust note, engine feel, suspension, brakes-it all feels old-school, even with such sophisticated touches as four piston calipers, monoshock rear suspension, liquid cooling, four-valve cylinder head and electronic fuel injection.. The locking, stylish hard bags have lots of room and work nicely, although it would be nice if you could open and shut them without using the key.
The motor has a great rumbly sound and feels rougher than the Harley did. The EFI works very nicely as well, with quick warm-up and easy starting. They engineered the motor to feel like the Harley, but unfortunately for them, they tried to make it feel like the older, buzzier ones. So I don’t want to say it’s slow and buzzy, because it isn’t, especially compared to the BMW. But you can tell they took aim at the pre twin-cam motors, and the TC88 motor is a lot nicer than this.
The suspension is the same way. It has pretty nice spring rates- not too soft, not too stiff, but it does feel a little chintzy somehow. The suspension is okay most of the time and feels reasonably steady on the freeway, even on rain grooves, but a twisty road will unhinge this baby in a hurry, so be sure to chill and take your time! Speaking of freeway riding, the windscreen buffeted my helmet like it was Tito Puente and my head was a bongo drum.
It was a little better after we raised it up all the way to it’s highest position. And honestly, as token short guy since Burns left, I didn’t really mind the buffeting on any of the bikes. Just be short, wear earplugs and think about college girlfriends and you’ll hardly notice it.
In any case after about 120 miles you’ll have to pull over for gas anyway. We always had to stop for fuel when the Nomad was thirsty. The other bikes could go further on a tank. Touring bikes should have touring range!
Get it on a canyon road or some nice sweepers and you will now notice the cheaper suspension, minimal ground clearance and shaft drive. It’s not the worst bike for ground clearance, and it’s not the slowest, nor is it the worst handling. It does everything competently and represents a good value.
So that’s the thing with the Kawi. It isn’t the best, but it doesn’t suck. The Nomad has lots of torque and power when you want it. It surges off the line and has a nice satisfying oomph. It handles nicely, is built very well, has a big aftermarket (this basic model has been around for a while) and comes with really good hard bags. It just doesn’t really shine in any one area. If the IRS needed a fleet of cruisers, they’d buy some of these. But I just couldn’t get too excited about riding it in this company of cool, shiny rides. And at a price higher than the Yamaha, the value just isn’t there. Sorry, Kawi, this Nomad is too much of a loner for me.
Sean: Ask me again in 10 minutes and I might tell you I like the Victory the best. It’s a tough call, these top three bikes are really fun to hang-out with. Every time I twist the Victory’s throttle open, it shoots to the #1 spot for me. This motor has more area “under the curve” than most family sedans. Though it’s air-cooled and tractor looking, Polaris has done a top-notch job with the V92 motor. I liked it a lot in the Vegas and I like it even more in this V92 TC — 80 bhp and 96 ft-lbs will cover a lot of warts. Fortunatley, this bike doesn’t have many to cover up. It is taller and generally styled with a little less flair than the Yamaha, Harley and Kawasaki, but the flamed-out paint and nifty-50 saddle bags go a long way in the “cool” department. Speaking of cool, nothing else in this test can hang with it in a straight line and the TC’s excellent Brembo brakes, good ground clearance and almost “standard” riding position make the Victory the second fastest bike -behind the BMW- to hustle through the twisties. Highway comfort is compromised by a bit too much vibration at higher RPMs, but otherwise the Victory is all-day comfortable.
EBass: The Victory did some things very well, and others unforgivably badly. The engine pulls hard with great acceleration, and the pipes have been tuned to let its loud, macho voice roar. The brakes are quite good as well. The bike stands tall in the saddle with very high bars as well. Even the windscreen is huge, and quite effective at parting the air ahead. The 92TC offers a good seat with a backrest, and one for the pillion too. The folks in Minnesota were obviously trying to give the bike a custom aesthetic, and succeeded, but in a garage custom sort of way. The 92TC has a very analog, mechanical, homemade feel to it, which I liked (at slow speeds). Visually though, the execution of the flaming paint job and mini- shark fins seemed over the top and cheesy to me. This may sound odd coming from yours truly, but more is not always better. The same principle is at play in the two major complaints I had about the bike. There is lots of engine noise and vibration. Above 3500 RPM, which translates to roughly 80 mph on flat roads, the bike became unbearable to ride, which in my eyes eliminates it from being a viable tourer. The other big issue I had was with the high bars and overly upright riding position, which made canyon carving really hairy. No leverage, high center of gravity, and an awkward body position reduced the excellent power and braking attributes to asterisks in my mind. I’d say that the 92TC would make a great boulevard cruiser, but it ain’t a tourer.
Fonzie: “Old Viccy” as I’ve taken to calling MO’s long-term Victory V92 Classic, was a familiar bike to this rider and a personal favorite MO bike. Although familiar, this comparo included a different V92 model, still an ’03, but the “TC” Touring Cruiser model with a longer wheelbase, lockable hard baggage, a taller windscreen, higher ride height, taller handle bars and that happy happy power punch, thanks to the 92 cubic inch Freedom V-twin motor. Second only to the Harley for sound, the ‘ol girl rumbles a nice tale and definitely has what it take to split the lanes when necessary.
“A word about that luggage; A side trip sent this rider on a motocross journey and to my surprise, I was able to pack a pair of MX boots, chest protector and a pair of riding pants in one saddle bag!”
Rami: Speaking of character, this bike has it and loads of it. The engine is powerful and has plenty of go at all times. The Harley has a nice vibration at idle and smoothes out as it gets underway, but the Victory just seems to get more buzzy with the increasing RPMs. It is a bit high which makes for great handling in the corners, yet difficult for slow speed maneuvering, but makes a great bike overall. This bike lost to the Kaw because it really was more of a bar hopper or show bike, rather than a long distance Tourer. It did get looks everywhere we went.
Gabe: Snowmobiles look like a lot of fun. They have a very science-fiction look to them with their tracked rear drive and big skids coming out. They look like the speeders from the famous forest chase scene in Return of the Jedi.
The TC’s look is snowmobilish — big and chunky, and kind of disproportionate, like Metric cruisers looked during the 80’s. I liked the flame paint job, though, and fit and finish seem top notch.
With the snowmobile heritage, the V92’s hulking, blocky, aggressive styling should surprise no one. But unlike Japanese motorcycles which are often designed to look tough and handle like pussycats, the Victory has a rough and crude feeling that is pretty nice for a cruiser. Cruisers should stroke the ego, making you feel hairy-chested and lumberjack-like, wrestling and subduing a raucous and dangerous machine with your skills and brawn, right?
Well, this thing does that in spades. The aggressive styling and beautiful attention to detail in things like the “V” shaped air cleaner and massive motor let you know this is a real motorcycle built to last. When you fire it up, it has a great exhaust note and a engine feel that’s both thumpy and smooth, like sitting on tiny jack hammers damped in velvet. The jackhammers get stronger but not objectionably so as the revs climb the dial. And when they do, hang on! The Polaris is one of the strongest motors in the test. It beat most of the other bikes in roll-on tests and is fun and responsive on a twisty road.
OBSERVED FUEL MILEAGE:
|BMW R 1200CL:||38.8Mpg|
|Harley Road King:||39.4Mpg|
|Victory V92 TC:||31.5Mpg|
|*Note: Mileage was taken on a group test ride, with all bikes rotated through 5 test riders, over 300+ miles of mixed freeway, surface street, canyon and country roads. This is a very fair and accurate “Real World” situation, with all bikes measured at the same time.|
But this is a cruiser, after all. Sure, it can get up over 100 mph, and it even feels fairly stable, but maybe you better slow down, huh? Rain grooves make the front end hunt a little, and you can feel wind inputs through the handlebars via the jumbo windscreen. Autobahn materiel it’s not.
So when you do need to slow down, grab yourself some four-pot Brembos with the steel braided line! Stoppie time, right? Wrong! The brakes were a bit of a letdown for me. I expected better feel and power from such expensive components. The feel was pretty average, not the \’halt!\’ you get from similar components on the BMW (the BMW is servo-assisted *ed.). I guess cruiser customers have low expectations, so brakes don’t get the attention that the motor or styling gets. It’s a shame, cause I love me some good brakes!
Well, at least the suspension and handling didn’t disappoint. The springs are a tad soft out back, but the bike didn’t wallow too badly chasing Maximum MOron Alexander up and down his favorite canyon road. It also didn’t scrape it’s floorboards like the other bikes. Some cruiser guys might not like the higher and more rearward position of the boards, but as a stumpy little sportbike pilot, I liked them just fine. Similarly, I didn’t care for the higher bar position, which could make my arms ache after a while.
The Victory is a very nicely built and performing motorcycle that won’t disappoint. But in this company, with so many really good bikes to choose from, I’d want a bike with cleaner styling and a smoother motor for touring. I like different, which the Victory definitely is, but at this price I’d want something more refined and comfortable out of the box, placing the V92 in the middle of this comparison.
Sean: I have surprisingly little to say about the Harley. It’s just a great bike. The Road King has that certain something that the BMW and Kawasaki lack. It feels like it has been distilled down to its purest form. The “motorcycle” message comes through loud and clear, without being bothersome. When jumping onto the Harley from the other bikes it feels more “sporty” even though its performance is mid-pack on all counts. It is supremely comfortable on the freeway, sounds great, performs well and generally impressed the hell out of me. What’s not to like? The front brakes still suck in that very Harley way and the mufflers pipes developed ugly yellow stains from over-heating. That’s all folks.
EBass: The Road King comes in a close second to the Yamaha in my book. It has that solid Harley feel, pretty darn good braking that comes on slow but firms up with a squeeze, decent acceleration, and handling that did better in the twisties than I would have expected. The tranny was simply excellent. It never missed a shift, delivering a satisfying “thunk” when snapping into gear, and found neutral in one try every time. The H-D sounds like only an H-D sounds when gunning it, yet quiets down to tolerable levels at cruising speed. Engine vibration is enough to let you feel the power, but well isolated from the bars and floorboards. I don’t like the two-hand operation of the hardbags but they were plenty adequate in terms of carrying capacity. The ergos pull me a little too far forward and the knee angle is a bit too ninety-degree for me. I was actually more comfortable with my feet on the rear floorboards or even resting atop the case saver. This is solved easily enough, with a different set of bars and/or some forward controls though. Aesthetically, The RK is a really nice looking bike in a pure retro way as opposed to the nouveau-ness of the metrics, or over-the-topness of the Victory. Cherry red paint, shining chrome, case savers fore and aft, and that enormous head lamp all contribute to the RK’s visual appeal. On my recent road trip it garnered numerous compliments and even stirred the hormones of at least a few young ladies. The H-D delivers big-time in the charisma department and it’s a joy to ride. If your wallet can take the punishment, I highly recommend it.
Fonzie: An American classic road tourer, the one bike everyone expects to see on the grill with the others. Nothing new you wouldn’t already know about the Harley – the ’04 model Road King being nearly the same as the 03… but owning an old Sporty myself and having never ridden a big twin, there are a few things I could tell you. First, I was surprised by the ease of removal of the windscreen – the one and only true “convertible” bike in the bunch. Needs not one tool nor are there any locking wing nuts or anything of the like – one pull forward and the screen is ready to stash in the hotel room, garage or wherever.
This is a very comfortable seat — and an overall thinner feel when jumping from the Road Star to the Road King. Maybe the best seat of the five. Perhaps not a choice seat for the Iron Butt runners out there – but not one of the saddles here had the rear-end pelvis-tilting push that an aftermarket saddle can offer. The Kawasaki’s seat comes close, but not quite. With three immediate and comfortable stock ride positions, I was quite happy when it came to be my turn to ride the RK. When it comes time to park the big Harley, everything isn’t so rosy. The stock kickstand only extends to 90 degrees from the frame, until you lean the bike over onto it. This can lead to the bike rolling foreward and retracting the stand- not a good thing. Once the bike is leaning on its side, the stand locks in the down position and all is safe-. The tricky part is getting it to that position.
Rami: The Harley-Davidson Road King is a great all around bike. It handles unbelievably well in the corners for its size, and is ultra comfortable for the long haul. The engine has a nice rough idle that smoothes out nicely once underway while the tranny clunks into each gear smoothly and correctly each time. The headlamps were the brightest of the bunch, which really made nighttime riding a pleasure, but the stock seat and handlebars need to be the first items replaced when customizing. Truly my favorite of the bunch, but I kept asking myself, is the Road King worth 4K more than the Road Star? And after riding both, my answer is: No.
Gabe: Writing about a Harley-Davidson motorcycle sends you into a land rife with clichés, and we’ve all read ’em a million times, right? I was going to write an analogy about the new Coke/old Coke fracas, then I thought about naugahyde v. leather, then natural DD’s v. implants, and then I got really distracted and had to take a break.
So let’s abandon the clichés and analogies and just say that the Harley is the nicest bike here, Okay? It’s hard to quantify and that’s a cliché in itself, right? But it’s expensive: expensive feeling, looking, and just plain expensive. Is that good or bad? Well, this is my favorite bike of the five, so I guess it’s good. Expensive things are expensive for a reason, with the exception of Charo. Prices are high for items in high demand. People demand things they like and think are nice. Beef stew, cheap; chateaubriand expensive. A 250 Rebel will go all the places the Harley will, but you don’t feel like it’s luxurious. Luxury is good; people like good; that makes it pricey.
The first good thing about the Hog is how it looks. From 50 feet away or five, it’s unmistakable as the icon of motorcycling. No other company has kept such visual continuity in its products over the years. It looks like a motorcycle is supposed to look to most folks in the public. People just like Harleys. No matter where you park or where you’re riding, people stuck in their cars gaze longingly at you on your ride, or come up to you when you’re parked and ask you questions or tell you about the bike they once had. With its tank-mounted console, classically styled hard bags, big chrome crash bars and police-style windscreen it has all the correct styling cues, tastefully done. Just add Elvis. It has a polished, well-made look that makes you feel guilty when it’s dirty.
“Functionally, the Road King is a pretty good motorcycle, too.”
The EFI works great — it fires up with distinctive Harley sound effects and sends the big motor into a lumpy, bouncy idle. It’s alarming at first to watch the motor throb up and down in its rubber mounting like an epileptic. It’s ready to ride almost instantly with no bucking or spitting, and crazily is smoother than any other bike in the test as you rev it! The Kawi and Yamaha engineered shake into their motors, and then Harley designed a smooth motor, making the Japanese bikes and the Polaris seem unrefined by comparison. It’s like when you change your order at the last minute to keep your little sister from copying you at the Denny’s.
The touring accoutrements are nice on this bike. I especially liked the windscreen, which simply pops off with a forward shove. You could toss it aside with a manly gesture at a stoplight, if you’re so inclined. It goes back on almost as easily and is a really nice design. The bags aren’t so impressive, although they look great. They require an annoying two-part operation to open and are easy to close incorrectly, causing you to spill the ladies underwear from the Silverado all over the I-5’s number two lane.
The gearbox is nice, but still a little clunky. But when your giant, manly boots stomp down on the oversized shifter pedals, you want a lot of throw in the gearbox, you want to hear that satisfying “clunk” and “chunk” as you roll off the rumble-stick and prepare for another burst of stout and hearty acceleration. Sure, they could design an ultra-slick schnickity-snick gear box like Herr Beemer, but where’s the fun in that? It’s like paying a guy to work the slide on your shotgun for you, when we all know that making that bad-ass “shick-shick” sound is the best part.
Unfortunately the same approach is given to the brakes. I know why cruiser brake levers are so thick and wide — so you don’t break them in half during a panic stop! You need to grab that thing with all four of your manly, hairy-knuckled digits and give it a squeeze like it’s the shriveled nut-sack of Uday Hussein, otherwise you’ll shoot through the crosswalk into the intersection. That’s my big complaint for the Harley — let’s give it some good brakes, huh? We may be stout and hearty warriors of the American Highway, but we’re not so stout and hearty that a speeding beer truck couldn’t squish us flat because we can’t stop in time.
Speaking of stopping, a good shove on the immense, Buick-like rear brake pedal produces impressive, smoky slides from the old-tech rear Dunlop. The front slides too if you can muster up the massive squeeze required to lock the front brake. It’s just another reminder that the stout and hearty shouldn’t ride too quickly.
Ergonomically, the Harley sets the standard here. The nicely finished saddle is comfy — firm, supportive — but tends to make you slouch a bit. However, the back pad is a nice touch that gives you a little lower back support. But like all the bikes in this test (and every other cruiser I’ve sat on), the gynecological seating position makes your tuchis sore after a while. The bars are at a perfect height and angle, and the floorboards are predictably low and forward. It’s fun to stick your toe off the side and scrape it in the corners, the couch potato’s (potato-potato) equivalent of dragging knee on the racetrack. Do cruiser boots come with replaceable toe sliders? They should. The Road King didn’t drag board as easily as the Kawi or the Yamaha, but it was right behind them. Like the other bikes, it makes you slow down and revel in your own manly riding skills.
You also revel in the fact that the Harley has some of the best-sorted suspension, and realize that Harley-Davidson has been racing big bikes and making touring rigs since Ike was liked. So they know how to make supple, yet sporty and durable suspension. It works well, staying composed at all speeds, on all kinds of pavement.
The Harley feels light, too. It’s much lighter than the other bikes, even though it’s about the same weight. The free-revving, smooth engine, great suspension and quick steering make the Road King feel sporty! Did I just write that? Somebody please come and knock some sense into me!
So that’s why I awarded the Harley Road King the coveted Gabe Ets-Hokin prize for best cruiser in the test. It’s a solid, well built motorcycle that epitomizes a cruising tourer. It has an expensive look and feel that the other bikes strive for.
If you’re already going to shell out big bucks for a bike like this, an extra $4000 shouldn’t be a big deal, especially when you factor in resale value. For a rider who wants to treat themselves to something nice it’s clear they should get the real thing, especially if it works this well. Like a Rolex or an old Cuisinart, the Harley has a solid, well-made feeling that gives the rider a satisfying feel every time he parks his numb tushie on its saddle. And isn’t that what it’s all about? Thanks Harley. At last I get it.
Sean: This was a tough pick. I guess what tips the scales in the Yamaha’s favor, is its overall ability to fit into any role, from Tourer to Bar Hopper. The low-revving, carbureted, 1670cc, air-cooled, pushrod motor, is cold blooded, stalls when cold, backfires occasionally and generally acts like a “classic” even though it was designed a scant three years ago. You might think these things would hurt its score, but on the contrary, I think that added bit of character is exactly what the Road Star needed to broaden its repertoire. It’s a beautifully finished bike, with tastefully contrasting colors, a beautiful and intricate speedometer, well finished bracketry and an overall excellent sense of proportion. It runs as well or better than the FI bikes once warmed and has enough low-rpm torque to stretch your arms and scoot away from traffic with alacrity. It also has the smoothest and most precise gearbox in the group. Steering is extremely light and makes it feel sporty in the same way that the Harley does, while being considerably more nimble. Despite limited ground clearance, the Silverado is easily the most maneuverable bike of the bunch. You might say “Wait a minute the Harley is just as good.” and you’d be correct. Which one would you rather ride, the Harley, or the Silverado with an extra $4,000 in your pockets?
EBass: The Silverado is my winner by a nose over the H-D. The suspension, acceleration and braking were just brilliant. The seat and bars gave the bike a low center of gravity and firm leverage that made me feel confident in the canyons. The floorboards were placed further forward than the other bikes tested which was more to my ergonomic liking. The tranny was silky smooth and extremely forgiving when downshifting. Well-tuned vocal chords gave the Silverado an assertive rumble without being annoying at cruising speeds. I thought the nautical-styled nacelle was a unique touch that blended surprisingly well with the western theme of the paint, seats, and bags. Yamaha executed the overall design with great fit and finish. They delivered a terrific looking bike that comes off the showroom floor in custom attire that manages to be both attention-getting and tasteful at the same time. If I were king, I would give the passenger a set of floorboards rather than pegs and myself a seat with some back support, but I’m admittedly quibbling. The Silverado is very charismatic for a metric and delivers the goods on just about every level. I give it the nod out of this bunch.
Fonzie: The Yamaha is probably the most understated bike in my book – although a strong favorite according to the other testers on our two day tour of the Southern California coast from La Jolla cove to the good old Rock Store in Malibu. Tight suspension gave more punch off the light – but not so tight as to loosen any fillings… it is a cruiser after all. Having one foot position turned me off however – the passenger pegs were too high to comfortably use as a solo riding alternative to the floorboards or engine guard. But I still say it’s the least cramped riding space of the five. Full leg stretch and still within the throws of shift and brake levers.
The windscreen was the lowest of the bunch – tip of my nose high – and in that pinch of immediately needed road clarity, sitting up and looking over was the way to go; the other bikes were opposite with the exception of the uniquely shaped “swooping neckline” of the BMW’s windscreen design.
The Silverado has a boatload of nice features, including the biggest/trickest brake pedal of them all, with a spring-loaded upward hinge to prevent accidental hookups when you needed your foot off the board and on the brakes. Its slightly drooped bar ends create that natural hand position necessary for a comfy ride, without losing your grip to gravity and vibration, it matches both the Kawasaki and the Harley in this respect. The Yamaha also has a good, positive kickstand, unlike the Harley, which is an accidental tip-over waiting to happen.
The Road Star sure has the prettiest… I mean classiest dashboard. With gold and silver needles and thin lines creating a speedo that seems more visually fitting to the beautiful Kawasaki Nomad. The soft bags are reachable from riding position for those that either forget or are constantly paranoid that they might have forgotten to fully latch them.
Rami: This bike seemed to be set up for me from the factory. Aside from being a fantastic bike, I enjoyed riding this one the most because of the handlebar and floorboard locations. It is comfortable for the long haul, but the seat does need to be replaced, which is a shame because they did such a nice job with the two-tone design. The brakes are fantastic, the engine is powerful and the tranny shifts smoothly letting you know you are in gear with a clunk. Could use a little more ground clearance though, which is the only reason I rated it #2 to the Road King. The finish on the bike is top notch and a great example is shown with the mirrors that keep images clear even when traveling at high speed.
Gabe: Well, the Japanese managed to do it. After copying Harleys for 25 years, they’ve made a bike that’s more Harley-like than an actual Harley. And that’s a good thing.
I really like the styling of this bike. It’s long, low, relaxed and drips with chrome, yet it has plenty of rough, industrial shapes around the engine bay to remind you that it’s a big-inch cruiser. I love the billet-like engine cover and the jumbo pushrod tubes.
I love old BMW’s, and that means I love the feel of this engine. You can feel and hear the big pushrods clattering around in their tennis ball can-like receptacles, which is refreshing in an era of seamless cars and motorcycles that generally lack character. This motor was clearly designed by people who cared about engine feel, not just power, economy or reliability.
All the attention to detail is great on this motorcycle. The speedometer is nice, and all the switchgear is logical (ahem, BMW) as well. The bags were a little disappointing. They could hold a week’s worth of ladies underwear, but not much else. They are narrow and don’t lock.
“Riding the bike instantly lets you know this is a solid, well made machine. It does everything a big-inch cruiser should do.”
The sound is right, the motor responds to a handful of throttle with rich, meaty torque, and it’s thumpy without being buzzy or uncomfortable. The gearbox is buttery smooth and has nicely selected ratios — on a twisty road you can just pick second or third gear and leave it.
On the freeway, the Road Star’s solid feel and neutral, relaxed seating position gives you a comfy spot from which to contribute to global warming. The seat is cushy, yet broad and supportive. The bars were positioned in a perfect spot for me. And it’s pretty fast! It’s about tied with the H-D in the roll-on tests, and the Nomad falls behind. The only nit I could pick on the interstate would be the windscreen, which of course causes buffeting at super legal speeds. But hey, so does every other bike. It’s inevitable with these near-vertical windscreens, I guess, but it’s much preferable to no wind protection!
Twisty canyon roads are the Star’s black hole. Although the bike feels lighter than it is, and the suspension is OK, at a brisk pace those floorboards drag in just about every turn. Yamaha knows this, and their solution is a replaceable metal insert underneath the floorboard. Following this bike at night down a freeway onramp is entertaining as a geyser of sparks seemingly sprays from the rider’s heels. It’s fascinating, like watching the “Grinder Girl” on Letterman, but is annoying (and alarming!) when you’re chasing psychotic road test editors on Victories and hearing horrible metal scraping sounds, like when you drive a Crown Victoria too fast over a speed bump.
The big, sweeping turns on Mulholland drive were more the Road Star’s style. The bike’s neutral handling and strong, smooth motor make a quick pace smooth and relaxing. In fact, that sums up the bike’s feel. It’s well made and makes you feel good. Everything works very well. If it wasn’t for the ground clearance issue, I might have picked this bike as my favorite, and at a cool four grand cheaper than the Harley, it would be a hard pick were it my own dough.
|Victory V92TC Touring Classic||Harley-Davidson FLHRI Road King||Yamaha Road-Star Silverado||BMW R1200 CL||Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 Nomad Fi|
| || || || || |
|Engine||4-stroke, Air-cooled50° Freedom™ V-twin||4-stroke, Twin Cam, Pushrod, vibration isolation mounted, 45° V-twin||4-stroke, Pushrod, OHV, Air-Cooled, 48° V-twin||4-stroke, Air/Oil-cooled “Boxer” twin||4-stroke, SOHC, Water-cooled, 8-valve V-Twin|
|92cu.in / 1,507cc||88cu.in||102cu.in / 1,670cc||1,170cc||1,470cc|
|Bore x Stroke||97 X 102 mm||3.75 X 4.00 in.||95 X 113mm||101.0 X 73.0 mm||102.0 X 90.0mm|
|*Claimed* Dry weight||720 lbs.||723.0 lbs.||710 lbs.||672 lbs.||743 lbs.|
|Length||98 in.||93.7 in.||98.4 in.||N/A||98.8 in.|
|Width||N/A||N/A||38.6 in.||N/A||38.6 in.|
|Rake/ Trail||30 deg./4.76 in.||Unk./6.2 in.||N/A||N/A||32 degrees/7.4 in.|
|Tires||Front: MT90B/16 |
Rear: 160/80 16
|Front: MT90B/16 |
|Front: 130/90-16 |
|Front: 150/80 16 |
Rear: 170/80 15
|Front:150/80 16 |
|Brakes||Front: Dual 300mm floating rotors with 4-piston Brembo calipers |
Rear: 300mm floating rotor with 2-piston Brembo caliper
|Front: Dual 11.5in. x .20in. |
Rear: 11.5in. x .23in.
|Front: Dual 298mm discs with four piston calipers |
Rear: 282mm disc
|Front: BMW EVO with full integral ABS, dual 12.0 inch floating rotors and four-piston fixed Brembo calipers |
Rear: 11.2 inch single floating rotor, with four-piston floating caliper
|Front: Dual hydraulic discs |
rected SAE RW-
|80.2 @ |
|66.0 @ 3,900rpm||63.7 @ 4,200rpm||52.1 @ 4,900rpm||55.8 @ 4,900rpm|
rected SAE RW-
|94.4 @ |
|71.5 @ 3,700rpm||92.4 @ 2,450rpm||64.0 @ 2,800rpm||72.3 @ 2,800rpm|
|Ground clear- |
|5.5 in.||5.1 in.||5.2 in.||6.2 in.||5.3 in.|
|Seat Height||28.3 in.||27.3 in.||27.9 in.||29.3 in.||28.3 in.|
|Colors||Black, Sonic Blue, Solar Red, Flame Yellow, Black with Hot Rod Flames||Luxury Blue Pearl, Luxury Rich Red Pearl, White Pearl||Graphite Gray, Indigo/ Charcoal Blue, Liquid Silver (Silverado Limited Edition)||Mojave Brown Metallic, Sapphire Black Metallic, Pearl Silver Metallic||Black Pearl, Luminous Vintage Red Pearl, Luster Beige|
| || || || || |
|ALL BIKE POWER: ||ALL BIKE TORQUE: |
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