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A Roadster, Scout, Bobber and Octane roll into a bar…

With names like those a joke is almost imminent. Determining the best urban sport cruiser among these four, though, is serious business – or as serious as can be considering the clowns involved in the process. At least no one here is wearing creepy face paint, baggy polka-dot lounge suits and oversized shoes, we just naturally look funny. Except Troy, he’s a handsome devil.

The looker among these bikes goes to the Harley-Davidson, the Roadster handily winning the Cool Factor category of the Scorecard, which judges things like appearance, desirability, and poser value. It’s a subjective category, one with which you might disagree, but among the four of us, we found the Roadster to exemplify the brawny, sporty, streetfighter cruiser of the bunch. The Roadster’s low handlebars, inverted fork, and shorty rear fender certainly look the part, although when we get into performance figures, the Harley is more of a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

The Roadster takes the torque crown while the Octane and Scout battle among themselves. The 850cc Twin powering the Bobber never stood a chance against the larger-displacement bikes on the dyno, but the Italian V9 feels robust because it has much less mass to pull around.

First glance at the above dyno chart depicts the H-D with a substantial torque advantage compared to the other bikes. And even though the Roadster tips the scales the most (567 wet pounds, but only one pound more than the Scout), it delivers a category-winning 7.7 pounds per pound-foot of torque – the only bike in the 7s (see Scorecard below).

2016 Harley-Davidson Roadster First Ride Review

“The motor feels fairly pedestrian for such a cool bike with a tint of performance,” says King Clown Kevin Duke. “Immense flywheel weight makes the engine slow to rev and slow to wind down, generally feeling a little sluggish in this group.”

The Harley owns the bottom of the rev-range but peters out as the two Polaris bikes keep churning ponies. The Guzzi isn’t in the running but proves to be a more willing, quicker-revving engine than the Harley.

Moving on to horsepower we find the tables have turned between the Roadster and the Polaris brothers. Equipped with the more modern renditions of internal combustion efficiency, the Scout and Octane rev higher, faster and make substantially more horsepower than either the H-D or Guzzi.

“The Octane and the Scout may pull away stronger out of a corner, but the seamless power delivery of the Harley encourages getting on the gas earlier,” says Evans “Jester” Brasfield. “What you get with the Scout, however, is arguably the most ass-kicking engine of the bunch. Only the Octane can challenge it, but the Scout wins if you value smooth, predictable power delivery.”


Old-school air-cooled charm vs modern liquid-cooled performance. Do you like a little shake, rattle and roll, or do you prefer a smooth operator? Answering that question whittles the decision in half.

Coming in last place, the Moto Guzzi Bobber is certainly struggling when it comes to horsepower and torque production against the larger-displacement machines. Factoring in weight, the lighter Guzzi can’t overcome its competitors even though it owns the lowest curb weight of 473 pounds – a 76-pound advantage compared to the next lightest bike, the Octane, at 549 pounds.

“If this were merely a horsepower contest, the Guzzi would get killed in this test,” says Clown Beauty Troy Siahaan. “However, as a sum of its parts, it would probably be the bike I’d park in my garage. It suits my quirky tastes and is enjoyable to ride.”

Jester demonstrates the too-close-for-comfort cylinders of the Bobber with a long-legged rider aboard. It’s arguable which bike has the least amount of cornering clearance, the Guzzi or Harley, either way they’re both very limited, while the feet-forward bikes of the bunch, the Octane and Scout, both enjoyed slightly steeper lean angles.

Too bad we don’t have a Quirkiness category in the Scorecard to help advance the Bobber’s standings, but if you’re familiar with Guzzis – past or present – you understand that to which Clown Beauty is referring.

“I like the Guzzi’s character,” Clown Beauty elucidates. “Tilting left-to-right when you gas it at a stop, the air-cooled two-valve engine is just cool. Sounds good, too.”

And you can find a similar sentimentality from Duke.

“I love the Guzzi for what it’s not,” says King Clown. “It’s a cruiser, but one that exists on its own terms. It’s a V-Twin, but a uniquely arranged one. It’s not stretched out to look bigger and badder than it is, but rather it feels like a roadster with a slightly more relaxed stance. The Bobber is cool in ways the others are not.”


Clockwise from upper left: Scout, Octane, Roadster, Bobber. Each gauge is a combination of analog and digital instrumentation. Indian is the unanimous instrument cluster winner for its looks and legibility. All four have gear position indicators.

Jester is the one clown among us whom the Guzzi’s charms failed to allure. “I really wanted to like the V9 Bobber, but I just couldn’t pull it off – which is disappointing because I am really fond of the larger-displacement versions of the Guzzi engine,” he says. “Yes, the Bobber is pretty, and yes, it is out gunned displacement-wise in this test, but for me, it dies the death of a thousand cuts.” Evans yammers on for a while, and we’ll get to the heart of his gripes, but for right now let’s refocus our attention on the Twins that were separated at birth.

We gave Evans such a hard time after he returned from the 2017 Victory Octane Press Launch. Duped into thinking Victory was about to introduce a genre-busting model based on the Project 156 Pikes Peak racer, the Octane was the incarnation of unmet goals and dashed dreams. Jester, though, was steadfast in his assertion of the Octane being more than an Indian in Victory clothing.

 

The Octane is the most subdued looking bike here and the only one with a bikini fairing. Jester likes its “monochrome color scheme that’s not only aggressive, but also stylish with its combination of shadings, textures, and sheens on its dark finish.”

Having now ridden both, I can better see his point, and probably owe him at least a courtesy apology, but, being the clown of infinite obstinance, I’m not rendering one. True, there are ever more differences between the two than I would have imagined – details that aren’t easily recognizable from photos, seating and performance differences, too. For $1,100 extra, though, I’ll take what is, I think, the better styled, more attractive Scout that’ll have better resale value later, and more refined performance now. On this, even Jester agrees.

“The engine, with its bump in displacement and 7% shorter final drive, launches the Octane off the line with tire-smoking authority,” says Brasfield. “However, this aggression comes at the cost of a bit of the refinement that characterizes the Scout. Where the fuel metering is smooth on the Indian, it’s ultra-responsive to the point of abruptness on the Victory.”


Clockwise from upper left: Roadster, Bobber, Scout, Octane. Not obvious in these photos is the fact that the H-D is the only bike with dual front disc brakes. The Bobber is the only bike that comes stock with ABS. The Octane and Scout, however, shared Scorecard wins for braking performance.

King Clown isn’t making any apologies either. “It’s abrupt coming back on throttle, a condition nicely tuned out on the Scout,” he says of the Octane. “I’m not entirely sold on the idea the Octane is a different bike than the Scout. It’s pretty much a Scout with a punchier motor and with a few minor fit/finish details left off.”

Case closed, more or less, between these two bikes, and the sentiments are reflected in the Scorecard where the Scout holds a 0.73% advantage over the Octane in the subjective scoring categories. In the final tally, though, the Octane edges out the Scout by 0.62% when the lesser price and weight, and better performing engine of the Victory are accounted for. Damn those concrete objective scores!

We’ve applauded Indian from the first Chief to the Scout 60 for its attention to detail. The engine castings, polished sections, and tasteful use of chrome look classy without going too far. From the Indian logo on the levers and tires, to wherever you look, the bike’s refinement is evident.

In what may seem a surprising twist of events, the Guzzi managed a comfortable third place in this shootout, regardless Jester’s denunciations. Which are…

“My knees bump up against the cylinders and the faux intake covers,” says Brasfield. “The seat is stylish – and period correct – but it is hard and uncomfortable. The Bobber has the least ground clearance of the gathering. The clutch thunks as it is engaged at low engine speeds. The beautifully designed switches were angled in a way that made them awkward to use. The net result was that I was always happy to move on to one of the other bikes when the time came to switch mounts.”


Clockwise from upper left: Bobber, Roadster, Octane, Scout. Duke liked the “nostalgically flat and stylistically successful” seat of the Guzzi, and bemoaned “another rearward sloping passenger seat from H-D.” The scalloped seats of the Octane and Scout keep you in place with little room to move around.

Clown Beauty and I, however, are of the opinion that between the Guzzi and Harley, the Bobber is the bike we’d preferably have in the garage. At nearly the same height as Jester, my knees, too, bump into the protruding cylinders, but the Guzzi’s seating position is still the better option between it and very leaned forward Roadster, with its ridiculously wide pegs positioned exactly where you want to place your feet every time the bike’s at rest. Also, light makes right and the Bobber is 94 pounds less than the H-D, even more if you allow for the Harley feeling heavier than it actually is. The one complaint we could all agree on, is the Bobber’s overbearingly intrusive traction control.

“Guzzi TC is annoying because it’s too intrusive,” says Clown Beauty. “It activates simply leaving a light and giving medium throttle. I found it much better to just turn TC off.”

And while in the off position, Duke discovered that “ironically, for the bike with the smallest engine, the V9 was the only one I was able to wheelie.”

The Roadster is best summed up as super badass in-your-face mofo that’s slow to steer and slow to accelerate. Oh, and heavy too. Jester picked it third, though, in front of the Guzzi – the only one of us to do so.

Even though he couldn’t get it to wheelie, King Clown made a good case for the Harley. “The Roadster is the one of this group that grabs me hardest,” says Duke. “Its finishes are fabulous, its stance is athletic, and its lovely air-cooled engine looks like it fell out of a WW2 airplane. Although it couldn’t be my only bike, I could make a great case for the Roadster as a second or third bike in the garage.”

But in the end it was only Jester choosing the Roadster over the Guzzi. “While my colleagues may disagree with me, I think the suspension works quite well for the speeds the Roadster generates. Though slow, the steering is predictable, and the bike is dead stable when leaned over in a turn.”

Slow, however, pretty much sums up the Roadster. Even in a top-gear roll-on against the much smaller-capacity Bobber, the Roadster barely managed to edge away from the Italian. Personally, the Guzzi’s price tag of $10,490 (cheapest of the bunch by $9 over the Octane) is a little hard to swallow. Were it priced a thousand dollars less, I could easily reconcile the money spent over the others in the group.

Second place for the Scout doesn’t seem fair after a clean sweep of Scorecard subjective scoring, but facts are facts, and the Octane is more bike for a smaller price.

When the dust – or maybe that was LA smog – settled, our winner from 2014’s seven-bike Bout With The Scout shootout lost to its Octane cousin by less than one percent. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising considering the bikes are, to some degree, one-and-the-same. The differences are minimal, but enough for the prospective buyer to give each its due before making a purchase.

Between these four, the Polaris bikes were our clear favorites, although there are cases to be made for both the Bobber and Roadster. We’re not clowning around when we say that, depending on your criteria of what makes a good urban sport cruiser, each of these motorcycles is a winner if it’s the one sitting in your garage.

Victory won the fight, but Polaris won this particular war. Kudos to other American motorcycle company and its well-deserved one-two finish.

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