2011 Bagger Cruiser Shootout - Motorcycle.com

Pete Brissette
by Pete Brissette

As long as demand for cruisers remains high in the U.S., you’ll keep seeing plenty o’ cruiser reviews on this site. And that’s just fine by us here at Motorcycle.com, especially when it comes to exploring the burgeoning bagger sub-segment.

Beyond the obvious benefit of carrying your crap in the standard saddlebags, many of these light-duty touring Twin-powered boulevard bombers come with luxurious accoutrements to make miles in comfy saddles more pleasurable.

A sizeable windscreen – if not a full batwing fairing – protects against windblast, which is often exacerbated by a cruiser’s relaxed fists-in-the-wind seating position. And some manufacturers stuff the bar or frame-mounted fairing full of niceties, like a comprehensive radio tuner/CD player and/or MP3 combo along with switches or switch blanks ready for auxiliary lighting and so on.

The 2011 Victory Cross Country, Star Stratoliner Deluxe and Harley-Davidson Street Glide. Bagger heaven.

The idea, it would seem, is that a bagger cruiser is ready to take you considerable distances in comfort, yet not sacrifice too much of the cruiser appeal, allowing you to cruise casually down the ’strip on Saturday night without looking like you’re ready to ride coast to coast.

In lot of ways baggers makes sense. We get it.

Keeping up with the Harley-Joneses

Giving credit where credit is due, we must recognize the founding father of this scene – Harley-Davidson. Harley baggers are icons of the segment. However, in only the past year of so, at least two new machines are after a piece of the pie that’s mostly on Harley’s plate.

Harley’s touring family essentially gave birth to the bagger cruiser segment, and the Street Glide is an excellent representative for the class.

Victory Motorcycles has made a frontal assault with its Cross Country.

Late last year we gave the Cross the nod in a shootout against Harley’s Road Glide. It provides everything the Harley does (at least in functional terms), and then some, while somehow managing to cost less than the Harley.

The Cross Country from Victory is aimed directly at the Harley bagger crowd. Riders are taking notice of Victory’s bagger offering, as the Minnesota-based brand says the Cross is a major contributor to increased Victory sales in the U.S.

It seems riders are taking notice of the Cross Country, as Victory points to demand for its Cross Country (and Cross Roads) as contributing to an increase of over 50% in third quarter 2010 U.S. sales compared to the same period last year.

Not long after the Cross Country saw the light of day, Star unveiled the Stratoliner Deluxe – a batwinged and baggerized version of Star’s stylish and powerful Stratoliner. The Deluxe’s MSRP and new fork-mounted fairing places it in the same game as the Cross Country and Harley.

Timing of the Strato Deluxe to market prevented us from comparing it to the Victory and Harley, but our patience has been rewarded now that we can finally bring all three machines together.

Dark Star. The Stratoliner Deluxe from Star Motorcycles is a Stratoliner model at its core, but the addition of a stylish bar-mounted fairing and saddlebags make it an instant contender in the growing bagger market.

Big-bore bagger blowout!

Since the Victory upstaged the Harley Road Glide last year, the natural comparison would now seem between the Cross Country and Stratoliner Deluxe. And both of those machines are largely the same bike for 2011 as they were for the 2010 model year. So why pick on the Harley again?

At its core the Harley Street Glide (and Road Glide) is much the same as it was in 2010, but for 2011 the Motor Company has made available to the Glide (as well as other H-D touring models) an option called the PowerPak. For an additional $1995 the Street Glide receives Harley’s security system, ABS, and most importantly, a 103 cubic-inch Twin Cam engine rather the standard 96 cubic-inch unit.

Although the PowerPak doesn’t help Harley win the price war, the boost in engine performance from the larger displaced Twin helps keep a more even playing field and is why we requested the PowerPak.

Speaking of power, time on the dyno confirmed what we suspected: the Stratoliner’s air-cooled 113 cubic-inch pushrod V-Twin is the brute.

Victory’s air/oil-cooled 106 c.i. SOHC Vee produced 77.5 peak horsepower – a respectable showing compared to the Star’s top-performing 84.5 hp.

The 103-incher in the Harley was notably more potent than the 96 Twin Cam that the bike usually comes with, but a best run of 65.9 peak horsepower for the ’Glide still fell considerably short.

As the horsepower chart shows, the Strat does a good job of keeping the Victory at bay when the revs climb, but it’s pretty much a blowout for the Star when it comes to twisting force.

A solid 107.0 ft-lbs peaking as low as 2000 rpm get the big Star moving quickly and with purpose, leaving the Victory behind with 88.9 ft-lbs. The Harley’s up-spec displacement pays some dividends, as its peak torque production of 81.4 ft-lbs at 3250 rpm isn’t too far off the Vic’s performance, and it comes on 1000 rpm earlier than the Vic.

The Harley and Victory feature 6-speed gearboxes, while the Star is a 5-speed and all bikes use belt final drive. The award for the lightest effort clutch goes to the Street Glide, while clunkiest – as in farm implement-like! – shifting action came from the Cross Country. Although Victory has totally revamped the six-speed gearbox for 2011, it doesn’t shift as well as its bagger rivals. Star and Harley each offered smooth shifting performance, with Kevin rating the Strat’s short-throw and precise tranny as best, adding that he occasionally had difficulty finding neutral on the Street Glide.

Everyone likes to see big dyno numbers, but in our estimation engine character carries a lot of weight, too.

The Star and Victory have rigid mounted engines. As a result some engine buzz from the Strat makes its way to the rider as the tach needle climbs, but not to the extent the Cross Country tingles its rider. The Victory’s OHC design allows it a revvier, dare we say sportier nature, but the price paid is noticeable buzz in the floorboards as the Vic reaches near redline. Additionally, the CC has a more mechanical sounding engine.

The optional Twin Cam 103 in the Harley helps keep the ‘Glide competitive in the group. The rubber-mounted mill vibrates like a “paint shaker” at idle, but once under way is remarkably smooth. And it looks like a polished gem!
Harley’s rubber-mounted mill (a “paint shaker at idle” chuckled Kevin) vibrates the rider and bike alike when at a standstill. But once under power the Harley Twin Cam is buttery smooth. “The rubber-mount 103 is by far the smoothest engine at speed, even when revved beyond 5000 rpm,” said Kevin.

Fueling and throttle response was good on all three motorcycles.

The Victory and Star each use an aluminum frame, which from sportbike technology we know at least offers good rigidity and usually lighter weight. Although the Street Glide’s frame is of the steel tube variety, H-D redesigned its touring frames two years ago. The Harley chassis is a more competent handler than before the frame update, with far less frame flex and improved stability overall. This new-ish frame performs well against its aluminum-framed competition.

None of the three require herculean efforts for steering input, but the Victory is considerably lighter steering than the Street Glide or Stratoliner Deluxe. Part of this light-effort steering comes from leverage offered by the wide handlebar, but equally important is the Victory’s narrowest-of-the-group front wheel.

Although all three bikes sport a 130/70 x 18 front tire, the Victory’s 3.0-inch front wheel likely gives its tire a more triangular shape resulting in quicker steering. The Harley’s front hoop is 3.5 inches while the Strat’s is even wider at 4.0 inches.

Despite the almost feathery steering response, the Cross’ overall handling isn’t quite as linear (from upright to leaned over) as the other two. We speculate the Victory has a higher center of gravity, which, along with the aforementioned narrow front wheel, may at times contribute to a falling-into-the-corner feeling.

The Victory’s large trunk box seen here is an optional accessory. It also serves as a passenger backrest, has integrated stereo speakers and is attached/detached in less than minute via its quick-release mechanism. A minor drawback is the added weight of the trunk. Sitting as high as it does makes the bike feel tippy at a parking-lot pace.

In the scheme of things, though, this is akin to splitting hairs. It doesn’t take long to acclimate to the Vic’s sporty handling, and if you’re into spirited rides you’ll appreciate the Cross Country’s chassis performance.

The Harley’s handling is quite predictable, and as implied above, a skosh more linear than the Victory. The CC’s quicker handling is interesting when we note its milder steering rake of 29.0 degrees versus the Harley’s steeper 26.0-degree angle. The Victory’s shorter trail (5.6 inches vs. 6.7 inches) aids its light-feeling steering, but it has a wheelbase 2.2 inches longer than the 63.5-inch span between the Street Glide’s wheels.

Kevin observed that the SG has excellent front-end feedback, and keenly noted that the Harley has the tightest turning radius making it the “easiest bike to maneuver at slow speeds.”

The Star is the long boy of the bunch with a wheelbase over 67 inches. This long and low bike provides what is possibly the most planted feeling front-end here, and encourages a rider to run deep into the turn. But the Star’s longest wheelbase and the least amount of available lean angle are the biggest limiting factors to its handling, keeping it near the back of the pack when dicing up canyon roads.

Kevin “Sparky” Duke demonstrates what is possibly the biggest drawback to the Star’s handling: limited lean angle.

The Star’s chassis is capable, but getting such a long wheelbase turned quickly is challenging. And although the Strat’s floorboards have some give when grinding a corner, touching down earlier than the other two further discourages pushing the Strat to the ragged edge when cornering.

The Victory’s has the greatest lean angle and its long floorboards also have some give. There’s no movement whatsoever in the SG’s boards, but it has considerably more lean angle than the Star.

Aggressive (for a cruiser) steering geometry, decent lean angle clearance and overall solid handling make hustling the Street Glide through twisty roads a treat.
Differences in suspension performance also shine through when hustling these big boys down curvy roads or over rough pavement.

Victory provides the best balance between front and rear suspension along with excellent damping. The Vic’s inverted 43mm front fork is smaller than the Star’s 46mm standard fork, but the inverted fork style typically suffers less deflection and therefore may offer better overall ride quality.

The Cross’ air-adjustable shock provides only a few tenths of an inch more travel than the 4.3 inches in the Strat’s shock, yet when we rode the bikes aggressively through canyon roads the Star’s shock is a little underdamped, moving through its available travel much more readily than did the Victory’s shock. The result was an occasionally wallowy feel for the Strat where the Cross Country remained sure-footed.

Damping from the Harley’s 41mm fork with 4.6 inches of travel is at worst on par, but 2.0 inches of travel from the dual rear shocks is pitiful for a touring-oriented motorcycle.

Ride quality from the backend borders on harsh at times. After a while of riding the SG you’ll find yourself anticipating big bumps by raising your tooshie off the saddle to minimize impact. On the upside, the H-D’s shock(s) air adjuster valve is easily accessed between the left saddlebag lid and rear fender.

If the use of aluminum frame technology, reliable and smooth EFI, accurate and confidence-inspiring handling and overall improved reliability aren’t obvious indicators manufacturers are taking big cruiser performance seriously, then at least look to the leaps in brake performance.

The brake package on any of the three in this battle is quite good.

Harleys aren’t usually known for best-in-class brakes, but the Street Glide’s Brembo calipers with steel brake lines provide the best combination of power and feel.

Nevertheless, we must acknowledge the Star’s sportbike-like binders as providing the most powerful bite. It’s easy to ride the hefty Star with a small degree of abandon knowing the brake set’s got yer back.

Despite lacking the ultimate slowing force of the Star’s brakes, it’s the Street Glide’s calipers that best combine power with feel. As part of the PowerPak option the Harley get’s Brembo calipers with ABS. Thankfully we never needed to test the limits of the ABS. The Victory offers sufficiently powerful brakes, but our Cross Country test unit for this comparo had what we deemed as excessive lever travel before the calipers really took hold.

Most generous storage is found on the Cross Country.
The Star’s bags feature a pushbutton latch/lock similar to the Victory’s bags, but don’t provide as much room as the Vic’s.
Harley’s hardbags require two-handed operation and are narrower internally than the other two bikes’ luggage.

Close behind a bagger’s engine performance and rider comfort is, well, how good the bags are. Who wants a bagger with crappy bags? Rest assured that all luggage here is good, but some observations warrant mentioning.

"Who wants a bagger with crappy bags? Rest assured that all luggage here is good, but some observations warrant mentioning."

The Harley’s color-matched lid hinges are a thoughtful touch, but as Kevin points out, the SG’s “boxy saddlebags lack the style and the capacity of the others.” Furthermore, the Harley’s boxes are the only set that requires two hands to unlatch and open/close and lock.

The Star’s bag shape flows nicely with the rest of the bike’s lines; same goes for the Cross Country, but the Vic’s bags offer the most room with additional volume created by the shape of the lid when sealed shut.

Both the Strat Deluxe and CC employ a pushbutton latch/lock that’s easily operated by one hand. This is convenient when, say, you need to quickly access something from a bag without having the luxury of getting off the bike, like at a long stoplight.

From Victory’s 2011 model launch Kevin informed us that a new quick-release trunk ($1749) is now available to augment a Cross bike’s stowage capacity. It can fit two XL full-face helmets, serves a passenger backrest, and has speakers and LED stop and tail lights. An internal 12-volt power port hides in the trunk as well.

Victory says it’s removable in 10 seconds, but we found that, realistically, it takes closer to a minute or two to fully detach the bag, as you must first remove the left-side body panel in order to disconnect the trunks wiring from the bike’s main wire harness. A theft-deterrent bolt prevents easy removal by bike burglars.

Harley’s TourPak accessory trunk is available for the Street Glide for $749.95 and requires a detachable rack for $179.95 as well as the “4-point” docking system for $149.95. The beauty of the docking system is that it’s somewhat universal for H-D’s accessories, as it allows you to use only a backrest, the trunk, or a number of other combinations of accessories of for storing/seating. The TourPak, however, isn’t as roomy as the quick-release trunk for the Victory.

For the moment Star only offers a chrome rear rack ($113.95) for the Stratoliner Deluxe. All these trunk data is kind of an FYI; we didn’t factor trunk pricing for any bike into their total costs since only the Vic was outfitted and we don’t generally think of baggers in the strictest sense as having top boxes.

Cross Country instrumentation (GPS unit is optional).
Street Glide instrument package.
The Stratoliner Deluxe’s single-unit instrument is located atop the fuel tank, which forces a rider to look down in order to see them while riding.

Instrumentation and amenities are areas where the Street Glide and Cross Country leave the Stratoliner behind. With little more than speakers – albeit good ones – and an iPod cable in a cubby, the Strat’s big fairing shows the bike for what it really is: a Stratoliner with an accessory fairing.

Japanese cruisers have traditionally traded some quality to achieve a lower price point, but that’s not the case on the Strat. “Its chrome pieces look deep and rich, and its switchgear is ultra-smooth and feels like the most expensive in this group,” Kevin remarks.

The Street Glide fairing sports an attractive array of white-faced analog dials, and fairing-integrated mirrors “offer a clean look and a good view rearward,” according to Kevin.

"In a time when MP3 is nearly the new standard, we wonder why H-D is the only one sticking with supplying an in-dash player.

An AM/FM/WX radio tuner with presets joins a CD player, giving a rider lots of listening options, but Jeff pointed out that switching between the various radio functions didn’t strike him as intuitive. The entertainment system can accept navigation and communication systems, as well as XM. There are also switches and switch blanks for accessory lights and whatnot

Using an MP3 player with the Glide is possible, but requires that a rider connect an MP3 player to the coaxial AUX port – meaning it isn’t set up to readily accept an iPod whereas the Stratoliner Deluxe is all about the iPod.

In a time when MP3 is nearly the new standard, we wonder why H-D is the only one sticking with supplying an in-dash player. The CD unit adds weight, is prone to vibration and will eventually accumulate dust and dirt. MP3 players are perfect for use on a bike.

The Victory’s dash one-ups the Harley’s by combing prominently displayed speedo and tach gauges with a comprehensive LCD readout offering things like total trip time, average speed, fuel economy, etc. The Vic’s radio features an AM-FM tuner with 11 pre-sets as well as a weather band (WX), and it’ll accept XM radio or CB but require dealer setup for those features.

Our Victory came with an iPod connector. Its location in the right saddlebag means you don't have to fiddle with the player once it's hooked in, as you're able to scroll around the iPod's menus, like Artist, Album, Playlist, as well as making linear track selections. This bests the Stratoliner's limited option of only allowing a rider to make track selections within a playlist or album.

Lastly, cruise control is standard on the Victory (bonus!). Our Street Glide test unit also featured cruise control, but it’s a $295 option.

Star’s tank-mounted speedo with inset tach and small LCD for odometer and trip meters is styled to perfectly match the Deluxe’s streamliner influence ­– it’s even reminiscent of a classy antique timepiece. However, because the instruments are mounted on the tank you must deliberately rotate your head down to read them. Not a deal breaker, but considering what the competition offers… We’re just sayin’.

“It’s an odd sight to be at the helm of a touring cruiser and not having any instrumentation inside the expansive fairing pocket directly in front of you,” Kevin observes. “It’s a waste of prime real estate and shows a lack of development.”

This about sums up the Strat’s extras in the fairing. A simple volume and track selector is mounted on the left side of the handlebar, and only allows linear selection of music tracks – in other words, a rider cannot jump between menu items on an MP3 player.
All the fairings offer decent wind protection but not without some buffeting. Tall riders will likely suffer more windblast, however, accessory tall screens are available from each bike maker.

Motorcycle Consumer News (aka MCN here in the U.S.) recently measured these same models of bikes for a real world wet weight figures.

MCN results had the Harley at 811.5 pounds and the Star scaling in with 811 pounds, while the Victory registered 806 pounds. The CC’s weight is a little surprising, since it feels heavier as if its center of gravity is higher. Not that we expected the Vic to necessarily weigh tens of pounds more, but for once in the history of our testing, a Harley-Davidson felt like the lightest and smallest bike in the comparison.

Contributing to our sensation that the H-D is diminutive is the most compact rider cockpit of the three.

Kevin said his 5-foot 8-inch body “fit the compact Street Glide best,” but he did note that tall riders might “appreciate the extra room on the Strat or CC.” As a fellow 5-foot 8-incher, I concur with Kevin’s ergo assessment, adding further that the SG’s handlebar falls naturally to hand.

Standing six feet and with a longer inseam, Jeff confirmed the Strato and CC were roomier than the Harley. However, none of us liked the ultra-wide handlebar on the Star, which only exacerbated its large feeling.

Tall guy Jeff appreciated the Victory’s roomy rider triangle.

Something Kevin and I didn’t enjoy about the Harley’s cockpit was the width of the saddle. Despite a flat-footing friendly height of 27.3 inches, the otherwise comfortable seat splays a short-inseamed rider’s legs too much to allow for thoughtlessly planting both boots squarely on the tarmac.

The Star’s marginally taller 27.8-inch seat feels as low or lower than the Harley; and the Vic’s seat is dished out to a lowest height of 26.2 inches, yet it doesn’t sacrifice comfort for lowness.

“Paging Dr. Frankenbike! Paging Dr. Frankenbike!”

If we could build our ideal bagger it would consist of elements from all three motorcycles in this test.

As a long haul touring platform the Cross Country has it nailed. The Vic’s supple suspension gobbles up imperfections in the road and performs about as ideally as possible for a big cruiser when the riding gets sporty. Furthermore, the CC has the best saddlebags, most comprehensive dash, possibly the best wind protection and, of course, cruise control. Although the Vic’s big Twin isn’t the most endearing to us, it nevertheless provides all the power most cruiser riders could ever desire.

When you add it all up, the Victory is the bike we’d choose in a heartbeat to go across the country.

On the other hand the CC doesn’t strike us as the ideal boulevarder; it apparently weighs less, but perhaps the bold size the Vic’s styling creates makes it seem like a bigger bike better suited for the interstate than profiling down the street on weekend nights.

For posing duty the Stratoliner Deluxe strikes us as an excellent choice, if for no other reason than it’s overall look is the most menacing. And Kevin lauded the Star’s engine appearance, saying its “beefy air-cooled design with giant chrome pushrod tubes has an intimidating presence.”

Speaking of intimidating, all the low-end tire roasting torque the Star’s massive mill churns out is well-suited for lugging higher gears at low rpm – the perfect recipe for trolling city streets while getting noticed. And if you’re the minimalist type, then perhaps you want nothing more than an iPod/MP3 player in your big fairing.

The Street Glide frustrates us a bit. It’s quick handling and smallish feel are genuine attributes, whether riding curvy roads quickly or dealing with constricted urban environments. And it has most of the goods we’d want on a tourer, but the nearly non-existent rear suspension travels kills notions of extra long days in the saddle.

The Stratoliner Deluxe is more than just an exercise in slick styling. With the burliest of V-Twins, powerful brakes and a stable chassis, the Strat is an able performer. We just wish Star would include more goodies in the fairing – it’s a little light on the deluxe part.

Furthermore, Kevin rightly rails against the SG’s pillion accommodations:

“If the truncated rear-suspension travel wasn’t enough to discourage carrying a passenger, the SG’s pillion seat certainly will. Its downward slope will have your passenger hanging on for dear life, and I think it’s inexcusable for a bike designed to accommodate two people.”

The right rider can make a case for the bike that’s most appealing to them, and it’s no different with each of these baggers. We like many things about all of them. However, somebody’s gotta pay for these things if you want to park one in your garage permanently.

The Stratoliner Deluxe is the least expensive with a $17,490 price tag – not a bad deal for such a powerful bike paired to a good handling chassis. But the cost savings the Star offers over the other two is of little value when we consider the Star’s bare-bones cockpit. And hopefully you like black, ’cause that’s the only color on offer for the Strat.

Other than limited rear suspension travel and ill-designed passenger accommodations, the Street Glide doesn’t have much in the way of major drawbacks. ’Cept, well, that it costs thousands more than the Star or Victory.

We give extra credit to the Harley for being the real deal, the original gangsta – it’s the “genuine article” according to Jeff.

Indeed the H-D is the father of baggers and for that quality we can excuse some of the SG’s highest base price of $18,999. As stated early on we opted for the $1995 PowerPak to make the ’Glide more competitive, but it still got beat in the dyno numbers game. Factor in an additional $480 for the color option and $295 for cruise control, and the Street Glide’s total price rockets to $21,769. Making that price harder to swallow are some chrome parts – on the sidestand for instance – not as nicely finished as on the Star.

That’s too rich for our tastes, but if you absolutely have to have a Harley we understand your willingness to pay for it.

Only a couple years into the game and the Cross Country is proving itself a top contender in the bagger segment by offering a lot of motorcycle at a competitive price.

We nit picked the Victory as much as we did the other two, but when it comes to value, the Cross Country simply brings the most bike to the table with a base MSRP of $17,999.

Related Reading
2010 Harley-Davidson Road Glide vs. Victory Cross Country
2011 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide Review
2010 Victory Cross Country Review
2009 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Review
2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe Review
Victory Sales Up in 3rd Quarter 2010
All Things Cruiser on Motorcycle.com
All Things Harley-Davidson on Motorcycle.com
All Things Star on Motorcycle.com
All Things Victory on Motorcycle.com

Pete Brissette
Pete Brissette

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