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When Indian unveiled the Scout at Sturgis last month, it sent ripples through the motorcycle world. How would it compare with other cruisers in its class? What exactly were the other cruisers in its class? Obviously, Indian is hoping to improve its bona fides by taking on that other American brand’s most ubiquitous V-Twin in its displacement class, but what others? So, the lists began.

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Indian Scout Spec Shootout

That’s pretty much how the conversation went during our weekly production meeting in the conference room high atop the gleaming MO Tower overlooking the smog-covered sprawl of Southern California. By the time we finished our conversation, we’d listed a total of seven motorcycles we thought the Scout should face off against to test its mettle in the great tradition of settling disputes in the Old West, the shootout.

The selection process was anything but simple.

A gathering of gunfighters.

A gathering of gunfighters.

First, we went with the obvious V-Twins in a similar displacement range, which got us the Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200C, the Honda Stateline and the Star V Star 1300 in addition to the Scout. Then we looked at the liquid-cooled 60° V-Twin which brought the Harley-Davidson Night Rod to the party – after a particularly heated debate over the $5,550 price difference. Next came the Victory Gunner which, despite displacing 1,731cc, we felt belonged in the test since Victory has positioned the Gunner as an entry-level, premium Big Twin. The link here is the premium features that we’ll get to later in the shootout. Finally, the Moto Guzzi California 1400 is included because we felt that it would provide a good handling comparison to the Scout despite the 133cc displacement advantage and $4,491 price difference.

Which V-Twin Will Win?

The engine format coveted by cruiser riders has long been settled in favor of the V-Twin, but this gathering points out a change afoot in the form of liquid-cooling. Only three of our seven contestants (the Sportster, Guzzi, and Victory) are air- or air/oil-cooled. However, perhaps the biggest sign of changes to come is the Scout’s lack of even a nod towards air-cooled styling, as exhibited on the Stateline and V Star in the form of decorative cooling fins and a hidden radiator. The Indian is unabashedly liquid-cooled, so get over it, all you traditionalists.

The Night Rod towers over the rest and, like the Scout, builds power without trailing off precipitously near redline. The Gunner crams a lot of grunt into a low rpm range.

The Night Rod towers over the rest and, like the Scout, builds power without trailing off precipitously near redline. The Gunner crams a lot of grunt into a low rpm range.

When it comes down to the other factor in the cylinder layout, you’ll probably be surprised by the results. While the degree of the Vee covers the spectrum from 45° to 50° to 52° to 60° to 90° (in a transverse arrangement, no less), the victor here is the 60° Vee. While the 45° Vee has the historical connection to Harley engines (plus its associated domination in unit sales) and the 90° Vee has primary balance in its favor, the 60° V seems to be the best compromise when it comes keeping the engine height (and its CG) down while still having the fore-to-aft space to locate its bulk without making the chassis overly long – unless a long wheelbase is desired. The Guzzi simply marches to its own beat, hanging the cylinders off the sides of the bike for everyone to see.

Now, it’s the Gunner – and its 1,731 cc – that’s doing the towering. The Night Rod makes up for what it lacks in big torque numbers by spreading it out over almost 9,000 rpm. The Stateline starts off strong but drops quickly.

Now, it’s the Gunner – and its 1,731 cc – that’s doing the towering. The Night Rod makes up for what it lacks in big torque numbers by spreading it out over almost 9,000 rpm. The Stateline starts off strong but drops quickly.

So, how did the seven engines sort themselves out? When it comes to raw power, the Night Rod was the clear winner with a peak horsepower of 107.6, while the Scout came in a strong second with 83.0 hp. In the torque department, the Gunner and the California ran up the biggest numbers, with 93.2 lb-ft and 73.6 lb-ft, respectively. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since torque output is directly related to displacement.

Still, the makeup of a strong engine is more than just the peak numbers. The riders’ subjective experiences are what determine the most usable engine in any given group of bikes.

Honda Stateline

Motorcycle.com photo shoot

+ Highs

  • Great looks in profile
  • Honda reliability
  • Longest bike in test
– Sighs

  • Weakest engine
  • Too much plastic chrome
  • Longest bike in test

Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

The Honda Stateline trailed the others in the horsepower department (55.6 hp) but moved up to mid-pack in torque (72.2 lb-ft). Deep Loam Guest Rider, Scott Rousseau, succinctly described the Stateline’s character: “Honda’s Shadow 1300 engine is just about the most venerable powertrain here other than the Sportster. It makes a ton of torque down low but runs out of breath quickly, forcing the rider to short-shift it. Honda’s reliability is without question, but the Stateline’s engine delivers ho-hum performance compared to the other bikes in this group.” The good news is that the transmission is typically Honda in its smoothness and snickability, making the frequent trips to the shifter more of a pleasure than a chore. Other good news centered around the fuel metering, which was spot on throughout our rides.

“The Stateline is more like being a locomotive engineer, so long is the thing... Okay for hi-speed straightlining, not much fun to ride around town to me.” – John Burns

“The Stateline is more like being a locomotive engineer, so long is the thing… Okay for hi-speed straightlining, not much fun to ride around town to me.” – John Burns

Still, the testers’ opinions were pretty much unanimous in their disappointment, leaving the Stateline’s engine performance tied for last with the Sportster. Distilling the Stateline’s performance to soundbite size, That’s-Not-a-Motorcycle Editor Duke summed up our feelings the best, saying the Stateline, “despite a bad-ass profile, is a tame cruiser – born to be mild.”

Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200C

Motorcycle.com photo shoot

+ Highs

  • The reason this class of motorcycles exists
  • Surprisingly competent handling
  • Best paint of the group
– Sighs

  • Insufficient rear shock travel
  • ABS is a $795 option
  • Is a nice paint job really the only way H-D can spruce up a Sportster these days?

If it weren’t for the Sportster, this class of motorcycle wouldn’t exist, which makes the Sporty the very definition of Old School – before you even consider the liquid-cooled bikes in this shootout. Still, the engine’s 1202cc displacement (that’s 73.4 cu. in. for those only familiar with ‘Murican units of measure) slots it in next to last for the amount of atmosphere consumed with each intake stroke. Harley’s engineers can take the credit for massaging the last bit of power out of the vintage pushrod design, though.

“The Sporty may not have won this shootout, but I don’t begrudge anyone who decided to lay down their money at a Harley dealership. It’s perhaps the best urban-use bike of the group.” – Kevin Duke

“The Sporty may not have won this shootout, but I don’t begrudge anyone who decided to lay down their money at a Harley dealership. It’s perhaps the best urban-use bike of the group.” – Kevin Duke

Rousseau credits the “responsive fuel-injection” for the Sporty’s “fighting above its weight” in this contest. If you’re upset about the 61.6 hp and 67.6 lb-ft numbers, you’re looking at the wrong reasons to ride the 1200C. “While pushrods and air-cooling don’t enthrall the performance side of me, there’s no doubting the Sportster’s visceral appeal,” pointed out Duke. Still, Curmudgeon Editor, John Burns, flatly stated a sentiment harbored by most of us when it came to the Sportster’s engine performance, ”I want more and smoother power if I can get it for the same money.”

Star V Star 1300

Motorcycle.com photo shoot

+ Highs

  • Best suspension of the bunch
  • Smooth engine with just the right amount of vibration
  • Perhaps the most versatile
– Sighs

  • Bland
  • Questionable graphics
  • Needs an update

Referred to more than once on our ride as the Rodney Dangerfield of the gathering, the V Star 1300 did everything well but somehow managed not to connect on a personal level. Closet Cruiser Editor, Troy Siahaan, brilliantly encapsulated the Star’s issue: “The engine, like the Honda’s, is refined, smooth, and powerful enough.” Enough – six letters that, in some ways, hurt more than criticisms of mechanical shortcomings directed at other bikes in this test.

The Star’s competence is there, but the personality is lacking: Says Duke, ”Strong, seamless power and an excellent transmission.” Rousseau agrees, “The V Star 1300’s liquid-cooled four-valve engine delivers solid V-Twin power, but it lacks the excitement of some of the other machines in our group;” Burns muses, ”It might be the most functional bike here, but somehow it’s one of the most emotionless ones;” and Non-Touring Bike Editor Tom Roderick pronounces, “I’m hard-pressed to find any glaring faults with the Star, but I also can’t find any reasons, or desire, to purchase this motorcycle.”

“Compliant, well-balanced suspension combined with decent stopping power, neutral handling and acceptable power output make the V-Star an attractive option to the discerning purchaser looking to spread his dollars the farthest.” – Tom Roderick

“Compliant, well-balanced suspension combined with decent stopping power, neutral handling and acceptable power output make the V-Star an attractive option to the discerning purchaser looking to spread his dollars the farthest.” – Tom Roderick

So, even though our riders ranked the Star’s clutch and transmission second overall, with compliments about how the “EFI is just about perfect, and it possesses a little more rumble and shake than the Guzzi or the Honda when rolling along in high gear,” as Rousseau points out, the engine’s ranking comes down to personality. In fact, the only concrete criticism of the Star’s engine was that it could use a sixth gear for more relaxed highway riding. Its 67.3 hp and 72.4 lb-ft dyno readings place the 1304cc engine solidly mid-pack.

Moto Guzzi California 1400

Motorcycle.com photo shoot

+ Highs

  • Rides like a sport-touring bike
  • Powerful, unique engine
  • Power modes and traction control
– Sighs

  • Heavy
  • Expensive
  • Does it belong in this class of cruiser?

The California Shuffle

The Moto Guzzi’s engine ranked a surprising fourth. Prior to the ride, we’d questioned including the California in the shootout because of its higher displacement and price tag when compared to most of the others. Every rider included one fact in their notes: the Guzzi’s 90° transverse V-Twin did the stop light jump ’n jive even better than the Sportster, but once the bike was rolling, the engine was otherworldly calm. Duke noted, “After experiencing its slo-mo paint-shaker-like oscillations at idle, the Guzzi’s oddball V-Twin Is almost miraculously smooth once in motion.” However, the slow-revving Goose also packed in another surprise, which was, according to Roderick, ”The first thing you have to adjust to when riding the Guzzi is the engine’s ability to smash into the rev limiter quicker than the ordinary V-Twin.”

The California 1400 also included some high-tech features absent from all the other bikes. Ride-by-wire throttle made it possible for Guzzi to include cruise control and three power modes. “Veloce” was the sport mode but made the transitions from off- to on-throttle too abrupt for most of our testers. Since the “Turismo” (or touring) mode only changed the power delivery and not the peak output, this became the default setting for us. We left the inclement weather “Pioggia” mode for the hour or so we were trudging through waves of rain. Although having traction control is cool, the amount of variability might be overkill for a cruiser.

“The California Custom was the surprise of this shootout for me. It packs in some neat features that aren’t necessarily standard cruiser fare, such as three riding modes, cruise control and ABS. Overall, its smooth performance matches its persona.” – Scott Rousseau

“The California Custom was the surprise of this shootout for me. It packs in some neat features that aren’t necessarily standard cruiser fare, such as three riding modes, cruise control and ABS. Overall, its smooth performance matches its persona.” – Scott Rousseau

Just 0.2 hp from second in the horsepower standings and ending in a solid second place in torque, the Guzzi puts out 82.8 hp and 73.6 lb-ft of torque. “Being a 1400cc V-Twin, air-cooled, it shouldn’t have the kind of power it has, but holy cow it’s fast,” gushed Troy. While Rousseau found another reason to love the Goose’s engine: ”Smooth as it is, the Guzzi delivers an ear-pleasing, hot-rod exhaust note when you romp on the throttle. Molto bene!” He also reminded us that things haven’t always been that mechanically smooth in the not-so-distant past, pointing out the 1400’s “transmission is nowhere near the crashbox that the older California’s was.”

Victory Gunner

Motorcycle.com photo shoot

+ Highs

  • Romping engine
  • Lowest seat height
  • Reasonable price for a Big Twin
– Sighs

  • Harsh rear suspension
  • Extremely noisy shifts
  • Limited lean angle

Despite having, at 1731cc, the largest displacement here (by 351cc over the Guzzi) and squashing the others by 17.6 lb-ft of torque with a 93.2 lb-ft peak, the Gunner’s engine could only garner third place in the shootout. This is less a criticism of the Gunner’s powerplant and more a statement of how strong the competition is with this group of cruisers. Duke points out, “The Freedom 106 motor churns out torque like nothing else in this comparison, giving the effortless thrust we’ve come to know and love from big-inch V-Twins.” Rousseau agrees, ”You’d have to look far and wide to find a better-sounding exhaust note than the Gunner’s, and its bite is as strong as its bark, with a big gush of torque available the instant you roll on the gas. It’s not as athletic as the Scout or Night Rod engines, but the Gunner can pretty much polish off anything else in this group.”

However, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns for the Gunner’s brawny engine. A big dose of reality is injected in the form of, as Roderick put it, an “unforgivingly clunky transmission.” Rousseau’s feelings about the tranny point to the heart of Gunner’s problem and reveal that, perhaps, he needs to enter anger management classes: ”As well-sorted as its internal ratios are, the Gunner’s shifting action flat pisses me off. It’s precise enough, but it’s notchy and loud when you go from gear to gear. The knock is so loud that I could hear whomever was in front of me on the Victory shifting even when I could no longer hear the sound of its engine. Crash! Bang! Gag.”

“Other than the Scout, the Gunner was the most pleasant surprise when testing this septet. The Freedom 106 motor churns out torque like nothing else in this comparison, giving the effortless thrust we’ve come to know and love from big-inch V-Twins.” – Kevin Duke

“Other than the Scout, the Gunner was the most pleasant surprise when testing this septet. The Freedom 106 motor churns out torque like nothing else in this comparison, giving the effortless thrust we’ve come to know and love from big-inch V-Twins.” – Kevin Duke

Burns, taking on the unusual role of diplomat, points out that the Freedom 106 is “a good motor, but we want more after 10 years. Victory needs to put a little work in to keep the relationship fresh, but I guess they [parent company Polaris] have the excuse they’ve been investing in Indian. They get a bye this time, but not next year.”

Harley-Davidson Night Rod

Motorcycle.com photo shoot

+ Highs

  • Engine by Porsche
  • Best power of the bunch
  • A Harley cruiser with a slipper clutch
– Sighs

  • Riding position by De Sade
  • Would be faster if not so heavy
  • Wonky handling due to wide rear tire

Hand-to-Hand Combat

Most everything the Night Rod has going for it resides in its engine compartment. A Porsche-designed, 60° liquid-cooled V-Twin from Harley-Davidson doesn’t sound so odd in 2014, but set the way-back machine 13 years ago for a quick reminder of what a bold move this motorcycle was for the Motor Company. Today, despite possessing the third lowest displacement number of 1247cc (76.1 cu. in.), the Night Rod stomped the competition with 107.6 peak hp – that’s 24.6 hp more than second place. Although the Night Rod’s 71.5 lb-ft of torque places it sixth, any time the throttle is rolled on, the bike leaps forward, getting stronger as the tach needle sweeps towards redline. “It doesn’t harness as much grunt down low as the Indian does,” notes Rousseau, ”but the Harley will stretch your arms once it gets up on the cams.”

When all of the bikes are compared in pounds per hp, the Rod, at 6.15 lb/hp, has to move less weight per horsepower than any other bike here – which translates into smile inducing fun. However, that fun comes at a cost. In the Night Rod’s case that is $5,550 more than the second-place finisher in the lb/hp, the Scout. Then there’s the heat radiating from the rear cylinder’s header, running parallel to the rider’s right thigh for about a foot. Siahaan resorted to a little hyperbole to illustrate what our legs felt like in traffic:

“The heat that radiates from the rear cylinder is brutal. If I were late to a dinner party, I’d try wrapping a chicken in foil, strapping it to the rear cylinder’s exhaust and ride to the party. I’m pretty sure the chicken would be cooked by the time I arrived.” Still, Rousseau stresses, ”This thing has been a badass since the day it was introduced, and, in my book, it remains as one of the most exhilarating, responsive, fluid-feeling high-performance V-Twin engines in cruiser-dom.”

“Nice bike with a nice motor, but the ergos make me feel like I'm stuck in a permanent state of flying backwards across the room after being kicked in the chest by Bruce Lee.” – John Burns

“Nice bike with a nice motor, but the ergos make me feel like I’m stuck in a permanent state of flying backwards across the room after being kicked in the chest by Bruce Lee.” – John Burns

Even with that glowing assessment of the Night Rod, the Scout’s mill muscled ahead by a significant amount on our scorecard. The accolades rolled in, beginning with Burns:

“Instead of rolling slowly to a coffee klatsch with a bunch of old guys, the Scout is a jack Russell terrier that makes you want to reclaim your youth and ride like you used to before you wised up. It encourages bad behavior, it’s a gender-bender that could make it into some sort of Hooligan Shootout just as well as this one, which we should really call the Indian Scout Massacre, so badly did it beat up the other bikes. Didn’t it? For me it did.”

The Scout simply makes the best use possible of its 1133cc engine – the smallest of this septet. While its 83.0 peak hp ranks it second, its 6.77 lb/hp ratio places it within 0.62 lb/hp of the dominant Night Rod. The Indian even claws its way up to third in lb/lb-ft behind the Gunner and Sportster. Beginning with what Duke called “a nice lumpy idle unexpected from a relatively small and high-tech V-Twin,” the power builds but doesn’t feel dominant until the meaty midrange is reached.

Indian Scout

Motorcycle.com photo shoot

+ Highs

  • Kick-ass engine
  • Impressive fit and finish
  • Low price
– Sighs

  • Too little rear suspension travel
  • Limited steering lock
  • Excessive heat from rear cylinder

The dyno chart shows how the Indian’s character pretty much parallels the power delivery of the other bikes until 5,000 rpm. Then, as most of the other bikes begin to sign off, the Scout continues to build power up to the rev-limit where it narrowly beats the California 1400. What was that we said before about another bike punching above its weight? Still, don’t think that you have to wring the Scout’s neck to get the most out of it. “It can be extremely user-friendly if you want to short-shift it,” says Rousseau, ”but once you get a taste of its sweet mid-range acceleration, you won’t want to do that!”

Additionally, most testers had nice things to say about the transmission, which Duke called “a great gearbox, and not just for a cruiser.” Shifting is a slick, noise-free affair made all the more impressive by the fact that the same corporate engineering structure that previously designed the clunky Freedom 106 transmission.

“Wow, an amazing bike at an incredible price. Forget the fact it's a first-year effort from Polaris/Indian.” – Troy Siahaan

“Wow, an amazing bike at an incredible price. Forget the fact it’s a first-year effort from Polaris/Indian.” – Troy Siahaan

Still, the Scout’s status as a first effort with this engine means we do have some criticisms. Several of the tester’s notes concurred with Duke’s assessment that the “light throttle spring makes steady-state speeds challenging while riding on bumpy roads” – even saying the problem was noticeable on smooth pavement, too. Siahaan felt the heat from the Scout’s rear cylinder was almost as bad as the Night Rod’s thigh roaster. He also wasn’t fond of how the ride-by-wire throttle limited the engine braking he prefers from V-Twins, though this perspective wasn’t shared by all. Additionally, the Scout appears to have a short range once the fuel light comes on, but the feeling of running out of gas quickly thereafter is mostly likely related to the location of the fuel pickup in the preproduction units that also caused stalling after a long deceleration.

Our experience with the Scout and its first generation made us all wonder what Indian has in store for future models utilizing this engine. Troy captured our hopes in just three words: “Sport Scout, anyone?”

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