Leather Baggers Shootout: Cruisers for the Open Road + Video

Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic vs. Indian Chief Vintage vs. Triumph Thunderbird LT vs. Victory Cross Roads Classic

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Four leather baggers on a mountain road

Cruisers have always been about the essence of motorcycling, stripping motorcycles down to their core: an engine, a seat, a pair of wheels and little else. Naturally, when thinking about the essential elements of motorcycling, thoughts of the open road come to mind. The dream of packing just what you need on your bike and pointing the front wheel towards destinations unknown looms large in many cruiser riders’ hearts.

The leather baggers segment of cruisers gives the purest physical form to that dream, presumably offering only what you need to live out that simple dream shared by all motorcyclists. When Triumph introduced the Thunderbird LT, we knew it was time to take a close look at these motorcycles since there were now a pair of new members to the category.

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If you were wondering what it takes to be part of the leather baggers set, well, the requirements are few. First, we decided that the shootout should be Big Twins only – although there are some nice options available at lower displacements. Not surprisingly, the bikes also need be purpose-built baggers with leather saddlebags that can tote road-trip necessities. How those saddlebags are constructed isn’t universal, however. Two of our entries have plastic-lined luggage with leather on the exterior while two depend on the thickness of the leather to maintain the bags’ shape.

The other requirement of the category is a fork-mounted windshield. Being cruisers, the windshields are all variations on the classic, flat cop-style. No batwing fairings here, that’s too close to actual tourers with their frame-mounted fairings. However, bonus points are given for easy windshield removability since they block an awful lot of air when riding around town.

Victory Cross Roads Classic and Triumph Thunderbird LT

The Cross Roads Classic and the Thunderbird LT were the two bikes graced with overhead cams, and their love of being revved out showed it.

Astute readers will notice that our collection of leather baggers is incomplete. Unfortunately, Yamaha was unable to provide us with a Star Stratoliner S, which is regrettable since the big Star would have been a worthy competitor.

Harley Heritage Softail Classic and Indian Chief Vintage

The pushrod set was represented by the Chief Vintage and the Heritage Softail Classic. The Indian with its largest-of-the-test displacement – and associated torque – easily rolled away from the Harley.

So, after we gathered together the Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic, the Indian Chief Vintage, the Triumph Thunderbird LT, and the Victory Cross Roads Classic, we came up with a destination, mounted up our quartet of leather baggers, and set out in search of the open road.

Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic

2014-leatherbagger-shootout-action-Harley-EBrasfield-7175

In this gathering of leather bagged cruisers, we need to begin by stating the obvious: We wouldn’t be here testing this group of motorcycles if it weren’t for this motorcycle. Despite what we say about the comparative functionality of this quartet of Big Twins, the Heritage Softail Classic will most likely outsell them all. The brand recognition of and loyalty to Harley-Davidson is, frankly, what the other manufacturers aspire to – which is why you will see them sponsoring events at the major rallies. Additionally, cruiser manufacturers have to find a way to differentiate themselves while following a trail blazed by Harley.

2014 Harley-Davidson FXDF Fat Bob Review

Being the patriarch of the group, I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Softail feels a bit dated. Returning to the MO fold, John “Bridge Burner” Burns sums the feeling up succinctly, saying that the Harley “just feels old-fashioned and slightly rickety among the others, but that’s part of the appeal for people who love them.”

Heritage Softail Classic Seat

Travelers who regularly carry passengers will appreciate the included backrest.

Part of this sentiment could come from the fact that the Twin Cam 103B feels down on power compared to the other three engines here. A contributing factor could be that, since we’ve sampled the Project Rushmore improved engines, the old Twin Cam feels like it is a generation behind in power delivery. “Power output of the TC103B is perfectly adequate for most uses, but it’s the weakling of this group and feels relatively anemic at altitude,” says analog-note-taking editor, Kevin Duke. Still, despite that disadvantage, Burns noted, “Surprisingly, the Harley has no trouble hanging with the Polaris Bros on backroads.”

HP Torque
Chief 74.2 hp @ 4500 rpm 102.8 ft-lb. @ 3100 rpm
Cross Roads 77.5 hp @ 4500 rpm 88.9 ft-lb. @ 4250 rpm
Softail 66.6 hp @ 5100 rpm 88.3 ft-lb. @ 2800 rpm
Thunderbird 69.4 hp @ 4800 rpm 91.1 ft-lb. @ 2100 rpm

This seemingly contradictory set of facts makes sense, when considering maneuverability. Simply put, on winding roads, the Softail struts its stuff, being the lightest, most responsive-steering bike here. While you may not associate the word nimble with this class of motorcycle, the word was tossed around quite frequently when describing the Heritage Softail. Without a hint of irony, Duke states, “The Softail’s agility is a revelation in this group. Credit its relatively skinny tires. It’s the easiest to maneuver at low speeds, and it banks quickly into corners at any speed.”

Revelation is an appropriate word. Where the other leather baggers required a firm hand to get the most out of them on a twisty road, the Harley felt positively eager to turn. Unfortunately, its floorboards touch down quite early and end the party prematurely. Yes, the floorboards do fold up a fair amount, but the hard parts still drag earlier than the other baggers.

Heritage Softail Classic Saddlebag

The all-leather saddlebags were nice to look at, but their lack of storage was a disappointment.

While most of the editors felt that the Softail’s limited ground clearance shortchanged its backroads capability, I noted that the chassis wobbled in higher speed sweepers and felt that more ground clearance would have only highlighted the limitations of the chassis and suspension. As MO readers are probably familiar, we take issue with the minimal suspension travel with which Harley often saddles their bikes. The Softail is no exception.

The Heritage was the only one of our baggers that used a single disc on the front brake, and it showed. In fact, Roderick commented, “I don’t know if there’s enough power in the single front brake set-up to warrant its ABS technology.” In the dry, he’s probably right, but riders will be glad to have the ABS on tap in wet weather.

Harley Heritage Softail Classic Instruments

Yeah, but the Harley’s speedometer goes to twelve. The LCD displays: odometer, trip A, trip B, miles to empty, clock, gear/tach, and gas gauge.

One area where the Softail excelled was the ergonomics for the the passenger. With the lowest passenger footpegs of the bunch, the co-rider’s knees were bent less than on the other bikes. Also, having a standard passenger backrest is a nice touch shared only with the Triumph.

An interesting feature of the Harley’s style that Duke noticed was how the handlebar’s mounting arrangement makes it look like it is an ape hanger. However, when compared to the Victory, the grips are at about the same height. The Softail’s triple clamp is lower, allowing for the ape hanger look without the performance penalty of having the grips higher than they need to be.

The leather bagger class has bumped up its level of competition in recent years, and the Heritage Softail Classic is now a bit behind the curve. Still, as noted at the beginning of this section, Harley will probably sell more of these bikes than the other three manufacturers combined. If the key requirement of your mount for the open road is a Harley badge on the tank, just shell out $18,349 ($19,079 Two-tone Color) and it’s yours.

– Evans Brasfield

Indian Chief Vintage

Indian Chief Vintage

When it comes to leather baggers, Indian’s Chief Vintage is probably the leatheriest. The stock Chief Vintage comes attractively equipped with distressed tan leather seat (with removable fringe) and saddlebags (with non-removable fringe). And Indian’s accessory catalog offers lots more fringe to pile on, including leather fringe grips, floorboards, saddlebags and mud flaps.

Bag Capacity
Chief 12.0 gallons
Cross Roads 17.4 gallons
Softail 9.5 gallons
Thunderbird 15.0 gallons

In terms of saddlebag capacity, though, the Chief’s bags, at six gallons per bag, are next to last – Harley being the least capacious at 4.75 gallons per bag. A boast the Chief’s bags can make that the others here cannot, is an incredibly easy quick-release system that, when put to use and the bags removed, reveals an attractive bag-less profile. The Victory has quarter-turn fasteners for its soft luggage, but you wouldn’t want to ride around without the bags – fuuuuugly!

2014 Indian Chief Classic Review

The Chief Vintage is easily the largest bike in this group: 835-pound curb weight, 68.1-inch wheelbase, 1819cc engine. Riding the bike makes us wonder if Polaris employed a relative of Andre the Giant to be their development rider. The bars are wide, but you’ll want the leverage they provide when slow maneuvering this land barge at anything under 15 mph.

Indian Chief Vintage Saddlebag

When it comes to attention to detail, the Chief is exemplary – eye candy is apparent everywhere you look. Switchgear wires are routed Internally, logos are copiously but tastefully applied, genuine leather is used for the seats and bags.

“As a smaller person,” says Burns, “it’s just more cumbersome in low-speed maneuvers and feels like bringing my twin-inboard 31-foot Uniflite into the dock used to feel when there were a lot of people watching. Slightly intimidating.”

At speed, though, the Chief Vintage swooshes through sweepers like a motorcycle weighing substantially less. Even with its prodigious floorboards the Chief enjoys the second-best cornering clearance next to its mother company stablemate, Victory’s Cross Roads Classic.

Indian Chief Vintage Engine

The Chief’s engine is one of the prettiest powerplants ever bolted to a motorcycle. Its slow revving nature and prodigious amounts of bottom- and mid-range torque are perfectly matched to its heavy-weight cruiser persona.

It’s worth pointing out that Polaris, to better cope with the added weight of its fork-mounted fairing, tightened the Chieftain’s wheelbase, rake/trail compared to the Chief Vintage and standard Chief.

Wheelbase Rake/Trail
Chieftain 65.7 in. 25°/5.9 in.
Chief Vintage/Chief 68.1 in. 29°/6.1 in.

“It’s funny how much a bike’s character can change with a little thing like rake, but the difference in handling between the Chief and the Chieftain is amazing,” says Brasfield. “The lighter bike feels heavier and the heavier bike feels more agile. I know this doesn’t directly reflect the comparison here, but the difference is profound enough to note.”

Getting back to its size…

The Indian features a nicely integrated cruise control system that flawlessly works in conjunction with the bike’s R-b-W system. The problem lies with the reach to the buttons being such a stretch for a rider’s hands. You almost need a thumb with a third phalange to manipulate the cruise-control feature.

Indian Motorcycle Displays New Accessories And Apparel

Like all aspects of the Indian, the windscreen is ginormous. While it does provide excellent protection from the elements, it’s not without its drawbacks. Brasfield notes, “I’ve gotta say that I hate windshields that I can’t see over. I want an unobstructed view of the road – particularly in drizzle where it will build up on the screen. The same can be said of riding into early morning or late afternoon light. Unless the shield is spotless, it lights up, making it hard to see.”

Ugly Indian Chief Vintage windshield strap

For a motorcycle that has been lavished with such attention to detail, the poorly chromed back of the windshield strap stands out like a wart on the Mona Lisa’s nose. Oh yeah, it also traps dirt.

For those wanting to purchase a Chief but are feeling intimidated by its dimensions, Indian offers a pull-back handlebar ($200) that’s 2 in. closer to the rider as well as a heated seat ($600) that’s 1 in. lower and places the rider 1 in. forward.

–Tom Roderick

Leather Baggers Specs
Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic Indian Chief Vintage Triumph Thunderbird LT Victory Cross Roads Classic
MSRP $18,349 ($19,079 Two-tone Color) $20,999 $16,699 $17,999
Engine Type 103.1 cu. in. (1690 cc) Air-cooled, Twin Cam 103B, 45 degree V-Twin Thunder Stroke 111,air-cooled 49-degree V-Twin 1699 cc liquid-cooled, DOHC, Parallel-Twin, 270º firing interval 106 cu. in. (1731 cc) air/oil-cooled 50° V-Twin
Bore and Stroke 98.5 mm x 111.3 mm 101 mm x 113 mm 107.1 mm x 94.3 mm 101 mm x 108 mm
Fuel System Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI), Closed loop fuel injection, 54 mm throttle body Multipoint sequential electronic fuel injection, progressive linkage on throttle Electronic Fuel Injection with dual 45 mm throttle bodies
Compression Ratio 9.6:1 9.5 : 1 N/A 9.4:1
Valve Train OHV – Pushrod, 2 valves per cylinder OHV – Pushrod, 2 valves per cylinder DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder SOHC With 4 valves per cylinder, self-adjusting cam chains, hydraulic lifters
Peak HP 65.1 hp @5000 RPM 74.2 hp @4500 RPM 69.4 hp @4800 RPM 77.5 hp @5250 RPM
Peak Torque 81.4 ft-lb. @3250 RPM 102.8 ft-lb. @3100 RPM 91.1 ft-lb. @2100 RPM 88.9 ft-lb. @4250 RPM
Transmission 6 speed 6 speed 6-speed, helical type 2nd – 6th 6-speed overdrive, constant mesh
Final Drive Belt Belt Belt Belt
Front Suspension 41 mm telescopic fork, TK in. travel TK mm telescopic fork, 4.7 in. travel Showa 47mm forks. 4.7 in. travel Inverted cartridge 43 mm telescopic fork, 5.1 in. travel
Rear Suspension hidden horizontally mounted dual shocks Single shock, 3.7 in. travel Showa chromed spring twin shocks with 5 position adjustable preload. 3.7 in. travel Single, mono-tube gas, cast aluminum with constant-rate linkage, 4.7 in. travel, air adjustable
Front Brake 292 mm disc, four-piston caliper Dual floating disc, four-piston caliper, ABS Twin 310 mm floating discs. Nissin four-piston fixed calipers, ABS Dual 300 mm floating disc with four-piston calipers, ABS
Rear Brake 292 mm disc, two-piston caliper Single floating disc, two-piston caliper, ABS Single 310 mm disc. Brembo 2-piston floating caliper, ABS Single 300 mm floating disc with two-piston caliper
Front Tire Dunlop MT90B16 72H Dunlop American Elite 130/90B16 67H 150/80 R16 130/70B18 Dunlop 491 Elite Ii
Rear Tire Dunlop 150/80 R16 71H Dunlop American Elite 180/65B16 81H 180/70 R16 180/60R16 Dunlop Elite 3
Rake/Trail 31 degrees/5.8 in. 29°/6.1 inches 32°/5.9 in. 29.0°/5.6 in.
Wheelbase 64.5 in. 68.1 inches 63.5 in. 65.7 inches
Seat Height 27.1 inches 26.0 inches 27.5 in. 26.3 inches
Curb Weight 752 lb., fully fueled 835 lbs, fully fueled 836 lb., fully fueled 805 lb., fully fueled
Fuel Capacity 5 Gallons 5.5 gallons 5.8 gallons 5.8 gallons
Storage Capacity 4.75 gal. each, studded leather saddlebags 6 gal. each, Removable leather saddlebags 7.5-gal. each saddlebag, 2.5mm leather with full plastic linings. Waterproof accessory plastic liner included. 8.7 gal. each, removable, plastic-lined leather saddlebags
Available Colors Sand Pearl/Canyon Brown Pearl, Charcoal Pearl/ Brilliant Silver Pearl, Big Blue Pearl/Vivid Black, Midnight Pearl, Morocco Gold Pearl, Mysterious Red Sunglo, Vivid Black, Thunder Black, Indian Motorcycle Red, Springfield Blue Caspian Blue/Crystal White, Lava Red/Phantom Black Two-Tone Bronze Mist/Khaki
Warranty Two years, unlimited miles Five years coverage that includes both a one year limited warranty and an extended service contract. Unlimited miles. Two years, unlimited mileage 12 months’ factory warranty, plus 12 months’ Victory Total Protection ESC
Last Major Revision 2012 2013 2014 2010
Extras N/A Standard cruise control N/A Standard cruise control

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35 Comments

  1. DickRuble
    Posted May 6, 2014 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Not sure how the scores are added up, but I get 106.9, 114.4, 119.4, 122.2. This puts the Triumph in second place. The hierarchy doesn’t change when the subjective factors (Cool, grin, blabla) are taken out, though the Triumph gets within 1.1 points from the Victory. Maybe MO is using a different version of Excel.

    The percentages are as follow:

    Harley Indian Triumph Victory
    71.3% 76.3% 79.6% 81.5%

    • Evans Brasfield
      Posted May 6, 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for crunching the numbers. Yes, it is confusing. The only objective scores are weight and price. All the others are subjective. The final totals at the bottom are the percentages of the maximum combined scores from all the testers in all the categories. Hope that clarifies things.

      However, since the numbers were entered by hand into the web table, I’ll check them later to make sure I didn’t screw something up.

      • DickRuble
        Posted May 6, 2014 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

        Yes please check the numbers. Given the incredible gravitational pull of these bikes, some space warp phenomenon may explain the discrepancy.

      • SN
        Posted May 6, 2014 at 9:42 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, the numbers are wrong. Triumph got second.

      • Evans Brasfield
        Posted May 7, 2014 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

        Well, my lengthy reply seems to have disappeared. So, here goes a second attempt.

        OK, so here’s the deal: The final score was correct. The Triumph finished third. This is based on the aggregate score off all the points awarded by the editors. A percentage is awarded based on maximum number of points possible, had one of these machines been a perfect motorcycle.

        Where we were running in to trouble was when we averaged the scores for each category and posted that number. Each of those numbers involved some rounding, which we knew. We were trying to give the information in an easy-to-digest form. However, by showing the points, we were implying that they could be added to come up with the Overall Total (which was always a percentage, not a total of the points).

        So, we ended up with two levels of confusion. First, the category numbers didn’t add up to the total at the bottom. That is easily remedied by showing the score as the percent value it always was. Second, and most importantly, summing the rounded numbers introduced rounding errors that were compounded as they were added together. In a close result, like the one between the Indian and the Triumph, this compounded rounding error could appear to change the results.

        We have come up with the solution of displaying the individual categories as a percentage. This will eliminate the confusion of points scores versus percentage scores. Also, we are stating at the end of the score card that “the Overall Score is not a total of the displayed percentages but, rather, a percentage of the weighted aggregate raw score.” There’s a little more of a clarification up there, too. So, take a look.

        Thanks for crunching the numbers and getting us to refine our score card to make it more informative and clear!

      • Posted May 8, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

        Ergonomics and comfort are a very subjective thing. I’d bet a year’s salary that what the test riders like wouldn’t work for me, so I take that with a helping of salt. That in an of itself would change everything.

  2. john burns
    Posted May 6, 2014 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    Was that “Rock Lobster”?

  3. Craig Hoffman
    Posted May 6, 2014 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    There will probably be a Vic in my future. Word on the Internet is there is quite a bit more power to be had from that engine with very simple and not too costly mods too. Seen many dyno graphs with high 90s hp and over 100 tq.

    Being an ex sport bike rider and current FZ1 and 450cc dirt bike owner, it is necessary for the engine of any bike I ride to be able to thrill me on command. Sure, most times it will be cruising along, but sometimes a wild hair needs to be satisfied and I want the bike to go something resembling ballistic when it’s chain is pulled. A good running Vic can do that, and some light modding it to get it there is half the fun. Makes the bike feel like it is mine :)

    Function wise the T-Bird seems like a great bike, but the looks of the thing just don’t do it for me.

    • Auphliam
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      There are two particular items one should buy to shed the EPA reigns and really wake up the Vic motor – an Adjustable Timing Gear and Hi-Flow air filter from Lloydz Motor Works. Less than $300 will get it running like it should.

      Then spend about $1000-$1200 for a set of cams and a fuel controller and that motor will put a smile on your face that you couldn’t knock off with a brick.

    • Auphliam
      Posted May 7, 2014 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      There are two particular items one should buy to shed the EPA reigns
      and really wake up the Vic motor – an Adjustable Timing Gear and Hi-Flow
      air filter from Lloydz Motor Works. Less than $300 will get it running
      like it should.

      Then spend about $1000-$1200 for a set of cams and
      a fuel controller and that motor will put a smile on your face that
      you couldn’t knock off with a brick.

      • Craig Hoffman
        Posted May 7, 2014 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        Yep, sounds about right!

    • Jason
      Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      I spent 1900 dollars on my Cross bike and have dyno proven 118hp 121ft Lbs of torque. These victory motors are amazing.

  4. DickRuble
    Posted May 7, 2014 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Bransfield, if you average the percentages, you still end up with the Triumph second and with the exact same percentages, the ones I posted. And it’s not even close. It’s ok that you guys can’t figure out what’s a bike and what’s not .. after all it’s subjective and even tone deaf people have an opinion on music. But you cannot argue with numbers. Adding and subtracting are not a matter of opinion. Call your HS math teacher, he’ll be delighted to hear from you.

    • Evans Brasfield
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 12:24 am | Permalink

      You are entitled to your opinion. Everybody’s got one. I am quite fond of the Triumph, too.

      However, you are looking at an incomplete data set. As was stated below the scorecard, which I will quote for the second time, “the Overall Score is not a total of the displayed percentages but, rather, a percentage of the weighted aggregate raw score.” You can dissect the numbers in the table all you want. Add them, subtract them multiply them, or average them to your heart’s content, but, unless you’ve seen all of the data and how it is applied in our spreadsheet – and I have – you don’t know what you’re talking about.

      Also, it’s Brasfield, Dick.

      • DickRuble
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 7:22 am | Permalink

        The variables you list put the Triumph ahead, and it’s not even close. What OTHER factors/measures are missing from this rather exhaustive list? Enlighten us…Otherwise we will still think you are just BSing.

      • Old MOron
        Posted May 8, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

        I don’t suppose the “data” that we don’t get to see is in the form of an ultimatum from Polaris Industries?

        Okay, I don’t. I’m just being snarky. But you guys are kind of begging for it.

        • Evans Brasfield
          Posted May 8, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          Dude, you should know how we roll. It’s cash money…

          • Old MOron
            Posted May 8, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

            Dude, it kind of seems like you wanted the new glamour-puss Indian to finish ahead of the oddball T-bird.

            In the future perhaps you’ll report raw scores. It shouldn’t be difficult.

            Each category is worth 10 points.
            And since you have four testers, each
            category’s max score is 40 points.
            (Engine’s max score is 80 points.)

            Just put the raw scores into the table.
            Price: 36
            Weight: 32
            Engine: 75
            etc.

            Rank the bikes according to their raw scores
            and you won’t suffer the slings and arrows
            of your arithmetically inclined readers.

            You also won’t have to do any ‘splaining to
            Triumph that it really did lose in a fair fight.

          • Evans Brasfield
            Posted May 8, 2014 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

            Sigh…

            If you really are “old” as your name implies, then you’ll understand that just because something “seems” like it is a certain way doesn’t mean that is the reality.

          • DickRuble
            Posted May 8, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

            I hope Triumph and other manufacturers’ executives read the comparison and your answers.

            Just because you gave greater scores to the Triumph doesn’t mean it’s better… priceless

      • Posted May 8, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        Oh My!

  5. Rick Vera
    Posted May 8, 2014 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    I definitely enjoyed this review. The biggest thing that I notice, however, when I ride a Victory is their lackluster engine feel. I’ve ridden Suzuki to BMW four-pots and love them and I’ve also ridden Star and Harley v-twins and love them too.

    I know cruiser engines, with their low compression, relative mild cams, and often a square bore, aren’t exactly made for high-end power—that’s fine. Even tuning it to get +90 hp out of +1700cc’s is, by all other motorcycle genre standards, sad. But that doesn’t matter. I get their under-stressed design philosophy, I get their air-cooled looks, and I get their purposely-designed vibration. What I don’t get is using a relative inefficient engine design that’s at least known for having a certain character and then not having any of that character; it’s the worst of both worlds.

    Victory’s 106 Freedom twin felt clunky, not rumbly to me. When leaning on the throttle at an RPM that’s probably a bit too low, a cruiser v-twin should confidently rumble its way to smoother revs. The Freedom 106, like the H-D Revolution and Star’s 1300cc engines (the only HD and Star engines I don’t like), felt more like piston slapping than anything else. Sure, you can just keep it up in the revs a bit more to avoid that, but that’s missing half the point of doing an air-cooled, long-stroke, < 90° v-twin engine to begin with. Also, the Cross-x bikes' air-cooled looks is completely wasted by having that ghastly plastic cover in front of it.

    If you want a more sporting engine character and you're covering up an area that would have a radiator on a water-cooled engine, fine, but then have a water-cooled engine of a more sporting design! You can have an air & water-cooled transversely-mounted V4 that would have the same look as this engine but doing something like +150hp at this displacement, even if it's "relaxed." Or just do something else wild all together. Now that Polaris has Indian, I'm really hoping Victory can breathe some exciting life into the cruiser market. Sport bikes have I4's, V4's, I3's, etc.; adventure bikes have H2's, I2's, Singles, etc., cruisers do NOT have to be v-twins forever. We can be innovative and unique without losing what most people like about cruisers.

    • Craig Hoffman
      Posted May 8, 2014 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      Intereresting Rick! I appreciate your input.

      The V4 Motus is my end stage dream bike, alas, it is out of reach. Well, unless I say screw the kids and cash in their college fund ;)

    • Posted May 8, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      Or get a K1600

    • Kevin
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      “…cruisers do NOT have to be v-twins forever.” I completely agree. There are plenty of people, myself included, that like the aesthetic of these bikes but don’t care for the potato, potato cadence (and vibration) that dominates the cruiser market.
      We do and have had choices such as the Royal Star Tour Deluxe, Rocket III Tourer, and now, the F6B, and I’m pretty certain the Valkyrie will spin off a touring variant soon as well as the CTX 1300. I believe Triumph missed an opportunity with the T-bird to build the bike you call for by sticking a 270 degree crank in a water cooled parallel twin.
      There is a big caveat to this however, and that is mass. As a R3T owner since ’09 I can tell you the bike has taken a real toll on my aging knees, quite to the point that it is still in the garage in May because I don’t feel like fighting with it. Back in Sept. ’06 Mr. Kevin Duke summed up the feeling I had for the Royal Star with “This bike reminded me of a 1964 Lincoln convertible, the one with the suicide doors.”
      If the manufacturers are going to ‘breathe some life into the cruiser market’ with a new approach to power plants they are going to have to address the weight penalties that they bring in place in the process.

      • Kevin Duke
        Posted May 10, 2014 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

        Yep, I agree that cruisers don’t need to be powered by V-Twins. But a big part of cruisers is always torque, which mean bigger displacements, which means heavier bikes.

        “I believe Triumph missed an opportunity with the T-bird to build the bike you call for by sticking a 270 degree crank in a water cooled parallel twin.” I’m confused. The T-Bird uses the exact config you outline.

        • Kevin
          Posted May 10, 2014 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

          To have used a 360 degree crank design the motor could have made significantly more power and given the motor a broader rpm range.
          Granted the low rpm torque is better in the current configuration but Rick appears to be calling for a broader power curve in the motors on cruisers.
          You will probably remember that the Royal Star really had no serious torque deficiency in spite of giving up a half of a liter or more in displacement to some of the bigger cruisers so common place in the decade prior to this one. Still the bike weighed 850 lbs. while the Road King weighed in at 812.
          I think they can do it, and I think the CTX 1300, as much as I don’t like the aesthetic of the bike, is evidence of that. Many people have commented, and I agree, that Honda made a wise move to expose the motor on the bike, so the argument that the V-twin is essential for the right aesthetic for a cruiser doesn’t really bear up, at least in my opinion.

  6. Kevin
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    “The chassis is about as rigid as cooked pasta.” “The brakes suck.” “A touring bike should have a cruise control.” These are all gripes I have used many times in describing the FLSTC. I wouldn’t look for change any time soon though, as this bike is a favorite among women riders and H-D wisely is trying to expand it’s share of that growing market.

  7. Phip Nosiw
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Gents, I appreciate the professionalism and noteworthy details you put into your reviews, but think a critical factor is missing in these, and other reviews: the size of the rider/reviewer.

    As you are aware, motorcycling is all about balance. There is (among other centers on a moving motorcycle), a center of effort and a center of gravity, to use the common phrases, and the characteristics the combination of rider and machine exhibits will hinge largely on those 2 things.

    Without going into the physics of mass and motion, the final analysis of each writer would mean much more to many of us if that writer’s dimensions were included. Size matters here: the rider’s height and mass is the single biggest variable in a very complicated equation. A tall thin rider will have a different experience than a short, stout one.

    It would also be nice to know the fuel volume as well (or span the test from full to empty for an average), since 5 gallons of gasoline weighs about 6 lbs/per .(depending) and that can be an extra 30 lbs atop the machine, greatly affecting the performance and the righting moment.

  8. W McGee
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Not that the Softail is out of place, but I wonder if the Road King would’ve been a better Harley representative in this bunch. Or do they only offer the King with hard bags now?

    • Evans Brasfield
      Posted May 9, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

      It’s only available with hard bags.

  9. Kevin
    Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    How much does it really weigh? Triumph has never come clean on the weight of the LT and it has been confusing from the beginning. The 747 lbs. figure stated here appears to come from conversion of the kg weight listed in the trumpet website for wet weight. The site lists the dry weight at 769 lbs. Evans, we had some discussion on the weight at the time of your press introduction report and you double checked the figures and reported a wet weight of something in the range of 835 lbs.

  10. Kevin
    Posted May 11, 2014 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

    OK, I’m not trying to stir the proverbial pot or piss anybody off, but here’s the real dope. After some investigation I have discovered the actual wet weight of the T-bird is 836 lbs. as reported by Triumph in their press release package. That means the bike did not tie the H-D in the weight category at 100%, it tied the Indian at 60%. With corrected scoring the T-bird finishes 3rd, and it ain’t even close.

    • Evans Brasfield
      Posted May 12, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

      Kevin,

      I haven’t been ignoring your comment. I’ve been waiting for an official reply from Triumph about the weight of the Thunderbird LT. I wanted to find out which weight was correct: the one from their website (which I posted in the shootout) or the one from the press release (which you found). It turns out you were right.

      So, let me get out my knife and fork to eat a little crow over this mistake on my part. Mmm, yummy.

      Anyhoo, as you pointed out, this only widens the gap between the Triumph and the Indian.

      Thanks for keeping me on my toes,

      Evans

  11. Jim
    Posted June 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    These are all nice bikes, but I can’t understand why anyone would want flimsy leather saddlebags instead of locking, waterproof hard bags. The Harley, Triumph, and Indian bags look like aftermarket items, in my opinion. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could choose nicely integrated hard bags as a dealer option? Also, I wonder how my 2006 Nomad would stack up to these guys. Not too well, I’m guessing, but it performs the same function, and it’s been bullet-proof.

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