Rocket, Roadliner, Road King

story by Gabe Ets-Hokin, Photograph by Fonzie, Created Dec. 13, 2005
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Looks, sound and feel.

Those are the three things we judge our cruisers by here at MO. There once was a time when only a genuine Harley-Davidson product could give us what we wanted in a cruiser. The offerings from Japan and Europe would be grotesquely-styled approximations of what some committee of marketing, engineering and accounting executives thought we `Mericuns would buy. And buy them we would -- if the resulting products were cheap enough.

Much has changed in the last ten years. Triumph is once again a force to be respected in the USA, with record-breaking sales every year. Arlen Ness is designing stylish factory customs for snowmobile maker Polaris, and Yamaha is launching a whole new product line to entice upscale cruiser buyers. Harley-Davidson is no longer the only option for a big, stylish, envy-inducing cruiser.

WWCR: What Would Captain Ahab Ride?

There's a huge variety of heavy cruisers, as the over 1600cc heavyweights make up a big part of a category that accounts for over half of the street motorcycles sold in the United States. In the Land of the Giants, 600 pounds is flickable, $14,000 is affordable, and 70 foot-pounds of torque is anemic. There are plenty of choices, too.

Without having to test a zillion different bikes, how can we evaluate some of the biggest, most swanky cruisers?

Contributor Fred Rau had a fine idea that we're not too ashamed to appropriate. He picked three "flagship" bikes from three manufacturers and decided to compare them to each other. With a little modification, we selected the 2006 Triumph Rocket III, the 2006 Star Roadliner S, and as the benchmark for this kind of bike, a 2006 Harley-Davidson Road King. With a special eye towards styling, handling, performance and daily living, we present you with the Three R's: Rocket, Road King, Roadliner.

Look at the beautiful boats. The yachts in the background are pretty, too.

What makes a good "flagship" cruiser? They are top-of-the-line machines, motorcycles that are comfortable, exquisitely detailed, handle with confidence and aplomb, and have plenty of power and torque. They remind me very much of my friend's collection of Chrysler Imperials. They are big, heavy, ostentatious and fast, if they need to be.

A big-buck cruiser needs to fulfill all cruiser roles with style, competence and unique character. It should be powerful, (with lots of torque, of course), good handling (within the cruiser genre), comfortable, and have exquisite build quality and detailing. The three bikes we picked are some of the top bikes their manufacturers offer, so let's see how they stack up against one another.

The Contenders


Triumph Rocket III - 127.46 hp, 142.18 ft-lbs torque - 704 lbs. - $15,990.00

Take an enormous engine. Put it into a cruiser-styled chassis. Build it in one of the most modern motorcycle factories in the world. Triumph put a lot of capital and hopes into their Rocket III, and we here at MO were eager about our first opportunity to really test one. Did it meet our expectations?

Pete has since worked this position into his Pilates routine.

The Rocket greets its rider with a commanding presence. With a massive 2,300 cc three-cylinder motor on display like a cornucopia on the Christmas table, there's no way to ignore the fact that this bike is a powerhouse. Pete said that "Visually it looks like someone wrapped an extra large fuel tank and seat around an old tractor engine", and although I think the motor has a striking visual appeal somewhat better than Granddad's John Deere, the automotive nature of its plumbing, radiator and slab-like cylinder block will probably keep the Rocket from becoming Miss January. Elsewhere on the bike we see the standard cruiser styling cues like chromed twin shocks, big fender supports, pullback handlebars and a classic, if immense, teardrop gas tank.

The Rocket III is all about the engine.

At 2,300 cc, it's by a wide margin the largest production motorcycle motor you're going to see, unless you consider the Boss Hoss a mass-produced motorcycle. The motor is oversquare, with a 101.6mm bore and a 94.3mm stroke. Dual overhead cams open and shut the valves, and a counterbalancer smoothes things out. Triumph didn't use a lot of tuning tricks aside from compact-car engine capacity; compression is a stately 8.7:1 and peak torque is made around 3000 rpm.

The chassis is similarly conservative, although smaller than it looks. The wheelbase is a puny (in this class) 66.7 inches, with 32mm of rake and 152mm of trail. Leading the way is a sportbike-spec 43mm nonadjustable inverted fork with 4-piston brakes from the Daytona 955. In back, very stiff twin shocks adjustable for preload try to control forces from the swingarm/driveshaft unit. Atop all this is a wide and plush seat 29.1 inches off the ground. It all weighs in at 704 claimed pounds dry, which sounds like a lot until you realize this is the lightest bike in the test. Oy gevalt.

It actually looks sorta good from this side...

Once you are used to the appearance and presence of the III, riding it is mostly a surprisingly normal experience. It feels a bit top-heavy to hoist upright, but it starts up quickly and easily, ready to ride away almost immediately. Blipping the throttle tips the bike to the side, from the precessional effect of the heavy crank and flywheel, but once you snap the five-speed gearbox into first, that monumental crankshaft gives the bike "noticeable gyroscopic stability" according to Sean. It feels a little odd at low speeds; Pete noted it was "possibly the most unbalanced motorcycle I've ridden in years", while I just thought it felt like it had low tire pressure. Nonetheless, it didn't feel any more awkward than the other 700-pound behemoths I've ridden at MO. But unlike most heavy cruisers, this one has a motor that makes more torque and power than most sportbikes do.

The light turns green. All the waiting is over. You are now free to twist the throttle on a 2,300 cc car engine crammed into a motorcycle. That's what riding this Rocket is all about, and it delivers as promised. The bike scooches upwards on the driveshaft pivot, the 240-section rear tire starts to screech and squirm, and smoke emanates behind you. Where before people in their cars were looking at the bike and saying "what's that", they are now gaping in goggle-eyed wonderment and cheering. Sean had great fun laying "a hundred feet of fresh rubber" every time he'd leave an intersection, and even Pete, who has by now made it clear he's not a Rocket III fan, grudgingly accepts that "the best thing about this motorcycle is the American V-8 style torque that is always on tap", calling the power the "most entertaining aspect of the Rocket." Like the GSXR 1000 I rode earlier in the week, the Rocket III offers all the power any sane or otherwise person could want, right now. It is probably one of the more aptly-named bikes I've ever ridden.

Who wouldn't want this much power between their legs?

One place the Rocket III won't set any speed records is on a twisty road. Although it has better cornering clearance than the other two bikes -- and indeed most cruisers -- the top heavy feel and stiff rear suspension limit the fun when the road bends. Pete likened the Rocket's understeer condition to that of "the most outrageous custom cruisers with their stretched wheelbases." Sean called the rear shocks "sliding chrome tubes covered with a wimpy yet shiny spring", and we all noted the III's tendency to wallow in turns and bounce the rider up into the air going over bumps.

Things are a little nicer on the freeway, although the lack of travel and damping in the rear shocks makes going over high-speed bumps and heaves a kidney-busting affair.

However, the huge mass in front punches a hole in the wind for you, the handlebars put your hands and arms in a rational position, and the footpegs are in a nice spot, not too far forward. Of course, cruiser riders will probably prefer the more traditionally-placed floorboards on the other two bikes; Triumph offers this option on their new Rocket III Classic, although it looks like the rider will have his or her knees very far apart.

Speaking of knees, get asbestos pants to avoid burning yours. That's a big engine down there, and it produces plenty of heat. A heat shield is there for your protection, but your skinny, pale middle-aged calf is still just inches from header pipes radiating about a zillion calories. It was kind of nice on a cool late-fall day in Los Angeles, but it might not be so welcome on a summer day in Phoenix, although if you ask me the only thing welcome on a summer day in Phoenix would be an anatomically-correct ice sculpture of Claudia Schiffer or an air-conditioned cab to the airport.

Given the less-than-kind things we've had to say about this bike, it shouldn't surprise you to find that we preferred the other two. But we all saw its value; Sean declared it would be the "best boulevard brawler on the block" with decent suspension, Pete grudgingly acknowledged the "pavement-chomping" torque, and I just enjoyed the Sturm und Drang that results from tweaking the throttle. However, this bike is nothing but an absurdly gargantuan motor attached to some running gear. If that's all you need from a bike this is the one for you, but the III's unfinished, industrial styling, bouncy back end and top-heavy feel make it a bike none of us could recommend without plenty of caveats.

Harley-Davidson Road King ® - 65.74 hp, 68.67 ft lbs torque - 723 lbs. - $17,675.00 (with CA emissions)

You actually get a twofer in this test: a Road King and a Fat Boy ®.

Is it fair to compare the original with the imitation? The Harley-Davidson Road King seems to have a lot of prestige, even compared to other Harley models. It's not hard to see why: the Road King has a presence and bearing you'd expect from a trophy motorcycle, with classic looks, feel and sound. It's also versatile, sweet-running and nice to ride.

We last studied the Road King in 2003 and rated it second (by a hair) to the Yamaha Road King Silverado. (My favorite quote from the article: "[I]t has all the correct styling cues, tastefully done. Just add Elvis.") Back then, we noted good handling, comfort and a very good convertible windscreen. We also noted that it had that unique Harley-ness that no other bike ever seems to have.

The Harley makes doing a quick and amusing Barry Manilow impression a snap.

The Road King is built from the FL series big twin, but with touring-related touches on it, like a detachable windscreen, locking (and very functional, well-made) hard luggage, and a nice, soft touring seat. Motive power is provided by the now-venerable Twin Cam 88 ® motor that releases 65 iron ponies to the ground through a skinny 16" white wall tire. Up front is an actual telescoping fork with real disc brakes -- and not just one, but two! It's the classic Harley tourer and a very popular model for the Motor Company.

We really liked the styling. The "overall appearance exudes classiness" gushes Pete, and I still feel the same way about it as I did in 2003: it looks, feels and is expensive, although it's closer in price to its competition than it was two years ago. Harley made a "great paint choice and [used] just the right amount of chrome, especially on the big, vintage looking headlight housing", according to Pete. It's a well-proportioned bike, with the engine looking just right in the frame, the lights and instruments just so, and this should be no surprise; after all, Harley-Davidson designed that classic look, long before anybody thought it would be a good idea to copy it.

The brakes get the job done, which is more than you can say about the staff at MO.-Ashley

Still, nobody would buy them if they didn't run and ride as good as they look (or maybe not...). Getting on the bike, I notice the heft and smooth, well-finished look and feel of the controls. There is no ignition key, just a big chrome locking switch. There's also a barrel lock on the steering head so you can finally put that giant padlock back on your storage unit door.

Hitting the starter button produces that cough/rattle/gurgle song that seems to only emenate from a Milwaukee product.

When that motor fires up, it shakes in the frame "like a wet dog", according to Sean. However, thanks to copious rubber mounts, the whole chassis "becomes surprisingly smooth once worked through the revs up to cruising speed", sayeth Pete. Gearbox and clutch operation is notable for being smooth and low-effort, if not exactly a "snick" factory.

Don't bother revving it too much. What seemed like adequate, if not earth-shaking power two years ago now seems quaint compared to the 110 foot-pounds of torque from the Yamaha and tar-melting 142 foot-pounds offered up by the Hooligan from Hinckley. Pete noted that "there's no acceleration to speak of so it's best to utilize all the torque and keep the gear selection high." It has just enough power to cruise safely and happily two-up on the Interstate, but don't drag race teenagers in Subaru WRX's, unless you can make up a good excuse as to why you lost. It's a charming motor, to be sure, with all the right sounds and feelings, but it's time to slot that V-Rod motor into these bikes. Life's too short to ride an antique all the time.

On the freeway, we all noted very good comfort and adequate handling. Pete liked the seat, calling it "soft and plush but not too mushy." Sean lauded the upright seating and "reasonable" handlebars, and I would have been happy for many hours enjoying the ample legroom afforded by the slightly higher-than-normal 29.9" seat if I hadn't left the windscreen leaning on Pete's desk back at MO. (I took the screen off to be fair to the screenless bikes). Windblast was pretty fierce over 75 mph, but that's to be expected when you leave the screen at home. Pete thought the bar-floorboard-seat relationship was "a little cramped" until he "had time to adjust".

MO staffers practicing for the Shriner's parade.

The rubber mounting shields the rider from being thumped to death, but it also robs too much feel. Sean thinks it feels like the Harley has "95% too much rubber mounting", and I noted the weird, squishy feel from the floorboards. They were so mushy they felt like standing on "wet bread", according to the Grand Poobah, and we both noticed the handlebar flexing in its rubber mounts.

All that rubber robs feel out on winding roads, but the Road King still handles like a champ, second only to the Star, and even "as easy to steer as most standards" Pete has ridden, with "very light and neutral" steering. Sean wasn't as kind, saying that the King would "lose it's composure" if pressed hard because of all the rubber mounting, but Sean demands a bit more from his vehicles than most folks. Even though Pete and I had no trouble dragging the floorboards, we both thought the Harley handled as well as something of its genre could. Braking was adequate, if not spectacular: Pete said there was "nothing impressive here, they just get the job done."

Where the Road King works best is trolling around town, where the wide bars and easy feel allow the rider to happily run a gear high while slowly checking himself out in plate-glass windows. The turning radius is good, the clutch and gearbox work faultlessly, and the EFI lets you chug along without fear of stalling and dumping your shiny chrome machine in front of the Karaoke bar. Even in the cruelest of rush-hour traffic jams the King shines: Pete praises the bike for "no need of extra effort to flick it around while lane splitting through 30 plus miles of rush hour traffic."

The Road King is a great bike, especially if you compare it to earlier Road Kings ®. It's solid, reliable, durable, comfortable and has adequate, if not mind-blowing, performance. It's pleasant to ride, and will of course hold its value well, so it's certainly a good purchase. However, in 2005 it's an easy benchmark to better by a manufacturer who wants to build a showpiece bike that focuses on performance, comfort and styling. Those who want a Harley will, of course, always buy Harleys, but as a motorcycle, the Road King is merely a prince.

Page 2 Yamaha/Star Roadliner S - 86.7 hp, 110.2 ft lbs torque - 705 lbs. - $14,980

Every so often, a heavily-hyped product touted as "new and improved" is actually new and improved. 2006 marks the year of the Star motorcycle brand, Yamaha's shot at creating a Lexus-like upscale product line to tempt aging Baby Boomers. They did it by providing classy, original styling, high quality materials and some impressive performance in both the motor and chassis departments. Pete came back from the Roadliner intro in Seattle raving about the bike, and I thought he had been stuffed with too many free hors d'ouvres by Yamaha's moneybags press department. When we got our test unit, he started riding it home -- a lot -- and I didn't see it until the day of our street ride.

"We affirm that the world's magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breathÂa roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot..." -F. T. Marinetti "The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism" 1908

I heard the bike before I could see it. A rich, booming sound, deeper and more melodious than a nicely-breathing big twin rolled over us in the parking lot. I looked around and noted the Road King was already sitting out front. That couldn't be the Star! But it was.

Pete did a final rolling burnout and parked the bike in front of us, and we could see the quality in the thing. Paint is thick and shiny, the chrome is tasteful and well-proportioned and only perennially nit-picking Sean had anything ill to say about the build quality: "they could do a better job on the lever perches and switchgear plating".

The 2006 Star Roadliner S is almost self-consciously stylish. Starting at the front, we find an 18" radial tire on a cast 12-spoke wheel, held in place by thick 46mm fork tubes. The fat 90/60-17 rear radial tire is connected to the substantial steering head by way of a light, 37-pound aluminum frame and swingarm, a rarity on a heavyweight cruiser like this. In between hangs an air-cooled (1854cc) V-twin motor with a 99.1 mm bore and a 116.8 mm stroke. Four valves per cylinder actuated by pushrods in huge aluminum tubes get fuel, air and exhaust in and out. If that sounds archaic, it's not. This is an all-new motor for 2006, purposely using pushrods and tuned counterbalancers to give it an "authentic" (read: Harley-like) feel.

The difference now is that now it makes a lot more power. Punched out to 1854cc, squished to an almost-sporty 9.5:1 compression ratio and gorged with mixture from 43mm throttle bodies, the Roadliner powerplant provides plenty of go to match the show. There's even an EXUP valve in the two-into-one exhaust system to boost midrange power and response.

As Sean says, "the Roadliner's engine isn't just about making cool noises."

The Roadliner is packed with nice details like the retro-styled speedometer, custom brake and clutch master cylinders, the sliding ignition key cover, and for an additional charge, Fonzie's reflection (please specify facial hair style).

Firing it up, after inserting the key in the ignition hidden by a slick sliding cover, you definitely hear cool noises. Pete calls it the "best exhaust note of any OEM cruiser, let alone the other two in this comparo", and Sean calls the sound "refined." I think it's one of the most remarkable jobs of tuning the sound of an OEM muffler, and I wouldn't swap it out for aftermarket if I owned one of these.

Enough listening, it's time for riding, and around town the Star is as easy to handle as a smaller bike. "Handling like many lighter standard motorcycles wish they had", gushes Pete, and Sean said it felt "lighter and more fun to ride than any long-wheelbase cruiser has a right to". I was impressed with how light the bike felt after coming off the Rocket III, but the claimed dry weights are very similar. Yamaha has pulled off an amazing illusion with their aluminum frame and low center of gravity.

Cruisers are all about launching from a light, and this bike won't disappoint, at least not unless you're trying to keep up with Sean laying dark patches with the Triumph. Even so, Sean noted the Star will wag "its tail through the intersection", even if it won't leave dark stripes behind it at 80 mph like the Rocket III does. The `Liner has motor for any cruising-related occurrences you might have, from dragging hair-plug equipped Porsche owners to rolling on the throttle to pass a semi going up a steep grade in fifth gear.

Thanks to the dual counter-balancers, vibration isn't much of an issue, although you can really feel the two big pistons gently thumping away beneath you. The motor is smooth, powerful and easy to use.

You can really see the Roadliner's Art Deco (actually Art Moderne) styling influence. It would match my Grandma's toaster very nicely.

That silky, creamy power makes freeway cruising a pleasant affair, too. The rigid chassis means you're "super stable even at triple digit speeds through big, sweeping turns", according to Pete, a good thing on those huge overpasses that criss-cross LA and other big Metro areas. The seat isn't as nice as the Harley's, but it's still plush, wide and supportive. A windscreen is probably a must-have if you're going to be spending a lot of time in fifth gear: "Anything over 80 miles per hour for an extended period and you'll start to grow Popeye forearms." Pete is touching on the basic problem with the upright, leaf-in-the-wind seating position endemic to cruising; a rider is about as aerodynamic as an RV in a tornado while he's punching a hole through the troposphere.

Luckily, the metal sliders on the bottom of the floorboards are replaceable.

All is forgiven on a two-lane road with lots of curves, as the Roadliner S really shines here. Where the Road King and the Rocket III have to take it down a notch to avoid upsetting their chassis or suspension, the Star can rail through slow and high-speed turns alike, limited only by the stiletto heels of motorcycling, the low-slung floorboard. Pete loved the bike's handling: "The frame would flex ever so slightly, allowing the bike to wiggle through one cycle and then it would instantly come back into line. It never kept you guessing if it would get out of shape. This bike is very easy to steer and maneuver at speed." Sean also raved, calling the `liner "more fun to ride than any long-wheelbase cruiser has a right to." This is high praise from a guy who can find fault in even the best-handling sportbikes.

Big, bigger, biggest. Which one is best?

I was impressed by the precise, light feel of the chassis and the nice brakes. The big cruiser just does not have that intimidating, "danger, cruiser!" feel a lot of big bikes have, and the famous Yamaha monobloc calipers slow the bike down with authority, even if those 700+ pounds require more than one finger to get any feedback. Pete thought they were the "best brakes here: powerful, linear and easily modulated."

Sweet handling, great styling, and "tire roasting" torque. The Roadliner S delivers what any good motorcycle should: balance. At $14,980, the Star is not much cheaper than its made-in-USA competition, but neither is a Lexus. If Yamaha was trying to build an upscale product to court the more demanding, well-heeled customer, we'd have to conclude that they've done it.

Conclusions

MO scraped the bottom of the barrel when they hired us, but the Rocket's footpegs scrape even more.

Comparing sportbikes is easy. Ride `em on the track, strap `em on the dyno, and the superior bike quickly makes itself known. Cruisers are not so simple. Cruiser riders are incredibly brand-loyal, and they will suffer a lot to keep riding "their" brand. Therefore, if you want a Triumph, you would probably happily suffer the harsh suspension and tippy feel so you could smoke everything else on the road (including Hayabusas) when the light turns green.

It's likewise with the Harley. If you've wanted a Road King since you were a kid, we could tell you you'll go sterile and blind from riding one and you'd still be at the Harley Dealer as soon as you had enough money in your pocket for the down payment. You would enjoy riding the bike as well, and not have a lesser experience on this fine green Earth if you never so much glanced at a Star Roadliner.

We just think you'd be missing out. Yamaha has built a cruiser that eliminates many of the issues a stock cruiser might have. It's stable without feeling too heavy, sounds good without being too loud or badly tuned, and handles as well as a standard motorcycle does. It does all this without overdoing it on styling or compromising the things cruiser riders love. Comfort and cornering clearance are compromised by the required-by-law cruiser seating position and big floorboards, but that's what you want, right?

We were all impressed by the Roadliner's style, power, handling, braking and overall package. A cruiser buyer really gets more when he pays less with the Roadliner, and we think you'd be doing yourself a disservice by not at least considering one if you are in the market for a big, bad flagship cruiser.

 Second Guessing From the Grand Poobah and the Million Mile Man Reading 'Riting and 'Rithmatic?

Gabe wasn't so cheerful after his 22nd wing.

Harley-Davidson Road King:

The Road King impressed us enough to take 2nd place in our five-bike 2003 Classic Tourers Comparo. However, compared with the Rocket III and Roadliner, the Harley feels like it has 95% too much rubber mounting. Shaking like a wet dog at idle, the Road King's engine smoothes out nicely once underway. However, it never seems to develop serious power and the  bike lags well behind the Roadliner or Rocket in any contest of acceleration. Once you're moving fast enough for the engine to feel smooth, the chassis starts to lose its composure. The overall effect is sloppy, with floorboards that feel like they are made out of wet bread and handlebars that have a visible flex and twist to them when trying to make steering inputs. The Road Kind is in desperate need of stiffer rubber mounts for its handlebar and floorboards.

The Road King's flexi problems are a real shame, because it actually has the most neutral riding position of this group. With your feet placed in a mid-mount location, an upright seating position and reasonable handlebars, you're ready to ride like a hero, but the typical Harley brakes and flexible controls rob the King of his chance to boogie. It's a damn shame.

Triumph Rocket III:

The Triumph Rocket III has an imposing presence on the street, though I suspect the looks it gets are more of the "What the hell?" variety than the "Beautiful, Cool, Check it out!" type. Of course their expressions change when you light the rear tire and leave a hundred feet of fresh rubber down the middle of their lane, then the look just says "F@^K! That was cool!"

For such a large bike, the Rocket handles itself admirably in low-speed maneuvering by demonstrating a nice neutral balance and noticeable gyroscopic stability from its spinning crank. Much like the BMW R1200RT, the Triumph can be trolled around at about 1mph with both feet on the pegs, and this is great for parking lot maneuvers or parades.

Sean mentions the Shriners frequently because he wants them to contact him so he can try out for the drill team. He has a penchant for tiny cars and tight clothing.

Unfortunately, that's where the fun ends with the biggest Triumph, because the Rocket III is in serious need of a major suspension overhaul. The stock shocks appear to be little more than sliding chrome tubes covered with a wimpy yet shiny spring. This causes the Rocket III to wallow excessively, to the point of causing the Rocket's steering to feel inconsistent. They are so bad, I'd throw them in the paddock pond at Suzuka, were I in Japan. Ok, perhaps I'm being too harsh. The shocks are really only a problem if you ride over 25mph, so I suppose they won't be an issue for Shriners. If you ever see that Shriner turning tight circles on a Rocket III, chances are he'll have the arms of an NBA baller, because the reach to the outside grip is super-long when the bars are turned to the stop.

I guess it's no surprise that I'm not picking the R3 as my favorite bike in this group. However, it isn't all bad, the riding position isn't as ridiculous as it could be and the bike generates cool inline-triple noises with turbine undertones while it catapults you forward. Though thanks to considerable shaft effect, the bike tends to catapult your ass upward at the same time. With some simple shock replacement therapy, the Rocket could be the best boulevard brawler on the block. Are you listening Triumph?

Star Roadliner:

If STAR Brand is trying so hard to separate their image from Yamaha, why does the Roadliner say "Yamaha" on its rear fender? I'd also hope they could do a better job on the lever perches and switchgear plating which has a wavy orange peel "cheap Japanese chrome" look. That's it, I can't find anything else to criticize about this fantastic cruiser. The chrome problems are only noticeable at close range and you have to be a cynical journalist to care about that Yamaha label on the fender.

The Roadliner does a masterful job of combining a deep throbbing V-Twin note with a refined (read well-tuned) sound. Unlike most cruisers, the Roadliner's engine isn't just about making cool noises. Nope, this bike will absolutely roast the rear tire if you're immature enough to whack its throttle open from a stoplight. It doesn't quite have the power to break the tire loose from cruising speeds like the Rocket III, but from a standstill it does an entertaining job of wagging its tail through the intersection. The Roadliner is no slouch at freeway speeds either. It gives good acceleration from 80mph in top-gear and never struggles to accelerate the bike at any speed. What's more, the Roadliner has a refined and controllable power delivery that makes it easy to ride smoothly and impress passengers.

That engine isn't alone in its excellence. The Roadliner's chassis has a nice stiff steering head and does a great job of transmitting the rider's inputs to the tire's contact patch. This makes the bike easy to steer and the geometry isn't so radical that the bike wants to fall into turns. Indeed, the Roadliner acts more like a "standard" and feels lighter and more fun to ride than any long-wheelbase cruiser has a right to, while keeping the solid feel and stability that cruiser riders love. Overall, it's an amazing package that combines a fresh take on cruiser styling with cool details other than the chrome quality) and vehicle dynamics that are above reproach. No matter how you slice it; the Roadliner is a winner.

That's how I see em.

-Sean Alexander

 For My Money

Pete: "This Triumph is so big." Sean: "I am so big." Gabe: "Does this Roadliner make my ass look big?"

For once in my short motor journalism career a choice between bikes in a comparison came quickly and easily. One bike is tried and true but not quite what I'd be looking for were I in the market for a cruiser. The other is so unrefined and lacking in fundamental design basics that the manufacturer should be ashamed of itself after so many years of motorcycle engineering experience. The winning bike is a testament to what good ol' common sense should lead to with all the technology available to bike makers: a cruiser that handles, accelerates, brakes and is endowed with a proper frame and swingarm and yet is as good looking as any mass produced cruiser to ever hit the market.

Star, as they like to be called these days, clearly have drawn upon all that is available to them to make a downright great motorcycle without great expense to the cruiser consumer. Anyone with an open mind to all motorcycle types can't deny that the Roadliner was engineered first and designed second. With an aluminum frame and swingarm weighing in at under 50 pounds combined, sportbike borrowed tech with the EXUP valve and a nearly 50/50 weight bias, Star has, well, reached for the stars. Consider all the technology and refinement in this beauty along with a base price of less than 15 grand you'll be sneaking out of the showroom as discreetly as possible hoping they don't realize what a steal they've given you.

Too bad the other two haven't figured it out yet. The Road King is a damn fine bike but doesn't offer much more than nicely matched hard saddlebags. With the strong accessory line Star has I could certainly doll up the Roadliner with the over $2,500.00 I'd save over the Road King. As far as the Rocket is concerned, well, I wonder just how concerned Triumph was when they put this thing together. With the exception of the giggle factor from the incredible torque, the rest of the bike has few redeeming qualities for me. In this day and age and with all their history I just can't fathom why Triumph couldn't be bothered to put some thought into the suspension. Didn't they listen to their test riders? Certainly they must've noted the harsh ride and wallow? Did the engine consume the Lion's share of cost of production? I'd be surprised if it did, there's nothing cutting edge about it. There just isn't any reason why a motorcycle from a maker like Triumph should be so unbalanced. But hey, maybe it's just me, what do I know? Allegedly it's their best selling bike right now. Nevertheless, I'd take this Triumph and put it on the next rocket out of here.

-Pete Brissette

* If you live in Phoenix and feel slighted by this I deeply apologize for hurting your feelings. You have a lovely city. I think. It's kind of hard to see when you're driving through as fast as possible.

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