2011 World Cruiser Shootout [Video]

Harley-Davidson Super Glide Custom vs. Honda Sabre vs. Moto Guzzi California vs. Triumph Thunderbird

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2012 Harley-Davidson Super Glide Custom $12,999 ($15,039 as tested)

If there’s one quality that best defines many big-bore Harleys, it’s the rumbling and shuddering of the Harley V-Twin. Harley-Davidson is masterful at drawing attention to its powerplants, both in appearance and feel. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, you’ll always know you’re aboard a Big Twin Harley.

“Its familiar TC96 engine is a likeable power unit, providing flawless throttle response and the flavor of low-end grunt that made The Motor Company famous,” remarks Kevin. The rubber-mounted engine design allows the Twin to shake the bike, especially at idle, giving credence to its nickname: paint shaker.

2011 World Cruiser Shootout

Troy was generally satisfied with the TC96’s performance once the Super Glide was past idle and rolling down the road. But Tom discovered the vibration resurfaces at different points in the rev range, causing him to tailor his riding to suit the engine. “At various freeway speeds I found myself selecting a gear based on the least amount of vibration and not necessarily the appropriate gear for passing power, etc., which is my normal consideration,” states Tom. 

2011 World Cruiser Shootout

The SGC’s 26.5-inch seat height – the lowest of the group by 0.4-inch – lends greatly to the bike’s appeal for a broad variety of riders. Unfortunately this lowest-of-the-low trait comes at the cost of short travel for the dual shocks. “Even my minimal weight caused the shocks to bottom over larger bumps,” says Kevin. When the road surface is smooth, so is the SGC’s ride. But traverse a steep-angled bump, expansion joint, etc., or a sizeable divot in the street, and the basic suspension reveals its weakness of limited travel and delivers harsh response.

“On a road with any semblance of twisty bits, the wrap-around bars provide pretty good leverage,” notes Troy.

Despite the low suspension, the Harley is a compliant handler in most settings. Sadly, though, any further handling prowess is held back by ungenerous lean angle. So minimal is clearance when leaned for a right-hander, a hose clamp that’s part of the lower exhaust’s heat shield gets ground to bits in less than a day. Even the underside of the lower exhaust muffler started to show signs of touch down. Clearance on the left side is marginally better.

With its low footpegs, you might presume the Glide has ample legroom. Guess again. Tom justly complains about the Harley’s tight seat-to-peg relation when he points out that the H-D has a much lower seat height than the Guzzi.

2011 World Cruiser Shootout

“On both bikes your knees are level with, or above, the fuel tank creating a kind of scrunched seating position, especially for taller riders,” says T-Rod. He also recognizes that the Guzzi’s floorboard-to-seat relation is also tight, but at least the Italian bike has the advantage of exceptional lean angle because the Goose’s ‘boards are much higher than the Harley’s pegs.

Our Super Glide Custom was equipped with the optional Security Package ($1195) which includes Harley’s ABS. In our recent review of the Super Glide we gave Harley a pat on the back for making anti-locks available on many of its models. But as sufficiently as the ABS performs, it cannot compensate for the brakes’ low sensitivity and need for more effort at the lever compared to the other three cruisers in this four-way battle.

2011 World Cruiser Shootout

In our solo review of the SGC we heaped praise on the appearance of Harley’s new, optional chrome alloy tubeless spoke wheels but also pointed out the choice of tire-balancing wheel weights. “I find it odd,” remarks Troy, “that the attractive chrome wire wheels are visually tarnished with ugly wheel weights.”

Wheel weights aside, Kevin found redemption elsewhere for the Super G’s appearance.

“Its black engine cases and transmission are highlighted brightly by several beautifully chromed covers. If you had to choose one of the engines to display in your living room, this would be it.” He also appreciates the Harley’s overall quality and finish, saying the “extra-cost paint option looks wonderful in sunlight, as its metallic elements sparkle through the rich, blue paint.”

This Harley isn’t fault-free, but there is much to admire in this cruiser from the most iconic maker of cruisers the world over.

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