American Iron Bagger Shootout

John Burns
by John Burns

Harley-Davidson Road King vs. Indian Springfield vs. Victory Gunner Touring

Peace, love and understanding is what we’re all about here at MO, man, and on this excellent junket to the great Midwest, we made some serious inroads. One dinner, after a day spent rolling along the east bank of the Mississippi through springtime Illinois and Wisconsin, Editorial Director Sean Alexander (who thinks the Aprilia Tuono is the perfect casual traveling bike) actually admitted that the bikes we were on were ideally suited to our ride. Well, hello. He also admitted it was his first time riding in “flyover country.”

There are some nice sweepers here and there, but there’s really not a “first-gear corner” in either of those states (not that we found, anyway, but we didn’t have much time to look). Takes me back to my days of reading bike magazines back there in Missouri and wondering what the hell is a canyon anyway? Like the Grand one you mean? Are there roads in there? The Ozarks in southern Missouri and Arkansas have some fantastic roads, but Illinois and Wisconsin contain zero mountains as far as I know.

In our neck of the woods here in California, all the tightly packed rats hopped up on lattes are in a big hurry in their Mercedes SUVs and BMWs, and if you can’t do 80 comfortably it’s best to stay on the porch. Along the father of waters back there in Illinois, the river still sets the pace. Nobody seems to be in much of a rush at all in their Monte Carlos and Regals.

I thought we’d made strides in underbody rust protection in the last 20 years. Apparently not, the only thing in a hurry here is rust. Everything’s green, everything’s lush, everybody’s car is reverting back to elemental components. On the first day, our convoy zinged past lots of people on the two-lane Great River Road. By day two, we’d adopted their typical 60-mph pace. Until we realized how far behind schedule we were, as usual, and had to hit the interstate again dammit.

A trio of American Iron baggers on the east bank of the river, in Cibola, Iowa.

The bikes we had on our trip played perfectly in this environment, a threesome of American-developed and manufactured steeds with big V-Twin engines and loping cadences in a traditional cruiser profile. Saddlebags and cop-style plexiglass windshields accommodated comfort and stowage during four long days on the road.

The Road King’s been around since 1994, and as we discovered with the Iron 883 Sportster last month, there’s a lot to be said for the kind of mechanical evolution Harley believes in. The Road King is Harley’s least-expensive FL touring bike, thanks to that quickly-removable windscreen and that pair of locking saddlebags. When it’s hot, you leave the windshield in the garage and air-cool yourself just like the engine does (including your scalp, if you’re like 70% of the locals we passed on their Harleys).

Eight-hundred fourteen pounds is not light, but it is nearly 40 pounds less than the Indian, and H-D’s unique steering geometry (which locates the fork tubes rearward of the steering head) lets you have 6.7 inches of dead-stable trail and light low-speed steering.

That first RK used the old Evolution engine, and I remember being slightly disappointed at its unwillingness to keep up the pace when I rode one of the first ones off the line back from York, PA, to the West Coast. The King remains the base-model FL, but its High Output Twin Cam 103 engine, upgraded chassis (no more flexi-flyer as of 2009) and various new bits and pieces over the years have it feeling nothing like antique, even if a main selling point is that it looks that way.

The Springfield is the bike Indian introduced this year to go toe-to-toe with the Road King, also with quick-remove windscreen and hard bags. The Springfield is pretty much the same deal, slightly scaled up in every dimension, and trying just as hard to emulate a slightly different version of antiquity. The specs say its wheelbase is three inches longer than the Hog’s, and its seat is supposed to be two inches lower, at just 26 inches. Both of them are close enough to the ground to make it easy for short people to maneuver, but even if it is a tad taller, the Road King still wins the parking-lot paddle contest; it feels more than 40 pounds lighter than the Indian at rest.

A perfect American Iron threeway would’ve been completed by a Victory Cross Roads if that model was still in production. Ironically, the success of Victory’s best-selling model, the Cross Country, victimized its platform-mate, the Cross Roads, which is no longer offered in the lineup. The Cross Country’s hard-shell fairing puts it in a slightly different category than the RK or Springfield, so we chose from Victory’s catalog a Gunner with items from its Solo Touring optional accessories: a Lock and Ride Mid-windscreen for $499.99 and a pair of black leather saddlebags for $539.99.

My retirement plan may have become finding the smallest abode in Savanna, Illinois, that has enough yard to justify a riding mower, with the River and the railroad running through the back of it. When I’m not mowing and watching the trains and boats, Brittany can entertain me in the Iron Horse Social Club across the street.

Any bicoastal type who wonders how Harley-Davidson stays in business need only parachute into Chicago and head south, west or north. We had a pizza first in Giordano’s, the “Meat, Meat and More Meat” deep dish. That night I dreamed the leftovers in the box in my motel room reanimated into a single resentful mammal and were coming for me. But you need that road-hugging weight to ride the bikes we’d be riding, to maintain the low center of gravity.

Sean couldn’t wait to get on the Victory Gunner and Indian Springfield that Jason Delockery and American Heritage Motorcycles (Highland Park, IL) so kindly hooked us up with.
Meanwhile,’s Scott Rousseau (who’s also a huge Harley fan) prepares to hop onto a shiny new Road King at Chicago H-D.

On day one, Scott R swore his undying love to the Road King’s ergos. On day two, his T-Rex arms had grown tired of the RK’s higher handlebar, and he threw it over for the Indian, to which he gave a 9 in Comfort/Ergonomics (and an 8 to the Harley). Big Sean, meanwhile, gave the King an 8.5 and the Indian an 8.25.

Both bikes have excellent, natural, armchair ergos and great seats, but I had to give a 9 to the Harley and downgrade the Indian significantly due to one glaring Comfort problem: engine heat. It wasn’t particularly hot during most of our little ride-around, but everybody complained about the Indian baking the backs of their thighs, especially the right one. For most who do a lot of riding in the summer, that will be a significant problem. For those with prosthetic legs and/or in northern climes, maybe not at all.

That’s a big engine, and there’s not a lot of room for air to escape behind the rear cylinder like there is on the Harley.

Two years ago, I rode an Indian Chief Classic all around Texas in April and didn’t notice it being particularly hot; I’m not sure what’s changed except the weather; it was kind of cool in Texas. (Which reminds me, the Springfield and Road King both get cast wheels instead of wire-spoke ones, and tubeless tires you can patch instead of calling a tow truck. Much better if slightly less vintage.)

Another thing that holds these slightly back in Comfort is that those quick-release windshields are just inherently buffety and noisy at any speed above 40; the upside of that is you can pop them off in 20 seconds.

The Springfield’s expensive but there’s a lot of it.

What we could all agree on is that the Indian serves up a superior ride once it’s rolling. Both bikes are fine on smoothish roads, of course, but on broken pavement, the Indian and its 4.5-inches of air-assisted single-shock travel do a much better job maintaining composure; the Harley’s dual shocks provide only 3 inches of relatively crude rear-wheel travel.

On one bumpy stretch of Wisconsin (or was it Illinois?) 61 that the Indian rolled serenely over, the Hog threatened to bounce its grips out of my hands. The Harley’s shocks are air-assisted also; if the Emulsion shocks for the FL are as nice as the ones on the Iron 883 we tested a month or two ago, they’d be $599 well spent. Of course, the Road King being a Harley, there are a million other accessories including a lower handlebar to make Scott happy; Indian already offers a bunch of parts for its bike as well.

Powerwise, they’re really close enough that it almost doesn’t matter: The Springfield makes big torque right off idle, a massive 103 pound-feet at just 3100 rpm. But then it’s lights out at around 5000 rpm. The Harley doesn’t have quite the bottom end, but rewards you with a few more horsies and revs happily on to nearly 6000 rpm.

In an actual quarter-mile, it would probably be a dead heat, with the Indian getting the holeshot and the Hog catching it in the top end. Which do you prefer? Sixth gear is tall enough on both that it’s best to downshift when you want immediate speed; rolling either throttle open gets a noise like a Buddy Rich drum roll introducing the spinning-plates act, but not much acceleration. Passengers won’t fall off the back.

The Gunner, with its big power and less weight, is the dragracing champ of the bunch, but then life is not a drag race is it?

For being big, burly motorcycles, the Springfield and RK clutches are light, and both bikes have easy-shifting 6-speed gearboxes that get the job done; the Indian’s is slightly clunkier but perfectly acceptable in the cruiser realm. Both bikes have floating floorboards that offer your dogs all kinds of options (including the passenger footboards), and both rumble along between 60 and 80 (or more) with zero vibration in resplendent comfort. On a nice day, resplendent enough to make you wonder why you’d want anything bigger. Well, you don’t get to share your musical sophistication with the world on either of these.

We were locked out of the Springfield’s bags for awhile until we remembered that black rocker switch below the speedo (which we’d been trying to reset the tripmeter with) locks them. The key is via remote fob. Tres convenient.

The Springfield also has a modern one-touch starter and lots of info to scroll through including tire pressure, a tachometer, ambient air temp, range, average fuel economy, a voltmeter. The Harley lets you scroll through gear position, rpm, and miles-to-empty data, and that’s about it. Both bikes have cruise control; the Harley’s is a bit easier to use since it’s one button right next to your left thumb. The Indian’s makes your right thumb have to stretch for it, and isn’t lighted.

You have to eat. Photo by John Burns.

Illinois is a crazy state with a budget problem. Its freeways are all under construction, and yet, when the sign pops up Right Lane Closed Ahead three miles before the right lane closes, everybody zippers politely into the left lane and no real estate asses on the phone in BMW M5s come flying up in the right lane at all. Unbelievable.

It’s not easy being an introvert traveling with extroverts. Scott chats up the fireworks ladies while Sean conducts important business (there’s no other kind).
Just as well, I’m pretty sure you can’t take Supreme Dominance on the plane.

When you ask the locals what’s wrong with the state, how could it be broke with all these bazillion acres of corn and neat farms and everything, they all have the same one-word between-you-and-me answer: “Chicago.” Oh. Thanks Obama.

The Keg & Cask where we stopped for gas was closed for not paying its taxes, but the Subway inside it was open, so we’re all on the honor system. Unfortunately somebody had already emptied the cash register before we got there.

Meanwhile on the Gunner, life is also good if not quite as good as on the other two. Its forward-set footpegs instead of floorboards enforce the classic cruiser clamshell riding position. Once your spine adjusts, it’s fine for a day at a time (or a few days when you’re switching off onto other bikes), but on the Gunner you’re locked into one position, really, and therefore its seat isn’t anywhere near as comfy as the other two bikes’. It ain’t got no cruise control, its bags obviously don’t hold near as much stuff, and I for one wouldn’t want to ride it for days on end unless I were younger.

Though the Gunner is much lighter and faster than the other two in a straight line, the H-D is in fact the nimblest of the trio and would be the bike you’d want for sporty riding. Here Big Dirty Sean tests the Victory’s suspension in a corn field.

It’s a different and equally beautiful world back there in Wisconsin to the one we MOites inhabit, with an agrarian-based ethic that values proven old things that work equally with the constant parade of shiny new ones, and nobody needs to tell these people about buying local since plenty of them work in Harley factories, John Deere ones, Polaris ones, etc.

When’s the last time you saw a V30 Magna? This guy from Springfield Armory rode with us to lunch; their IT guy was on a Piaggio MP3.

It goes without saying they’re a loyal bunch, too, so whether to choose Indian or Harley-Davidson might depend as much upon genealogy as it does on our official Scorecard, which is a good thing since that’s nearly a dead heat.

The Harley killed the Indian in our Objective column by being less expensive and lighter. The Indian battled back in Scott’s and Sean’s Subjective scores (I liked the Harley) to beat the Hog by less than a percent. Taken all together and shaken in the MO supercomputer, Springfield beats Road King, 82.3 to 81.5%. Both great bikes if you’re ready to slow down a tad, smell the roses and stop being such a pushy, tailgatin’ Type-A jerk all the time.

2016 Indian Springfield

+ Highs

  • Big Torque
  • Modern one-button locking bags, remote fob, etc.
  • Best Suspension

– Sighs

  • Big Heat
  • Some say it’s a bit overstyled
  • Big $$$

2016 Harley-Davidson Road King

+ Highs

  • Light on its feet for such a big girl
  • Spot-on engine response and fueling
  • It caused Sean to consider registering as a Republican

– Sighs

  • You’ll want a bit more power for climbing the Rockies with Oprah on back
  • Crap shocks
  • Am I really this old?

2016 Victory Gunner

+ Highs

  • Seems dead reliable
  • Looks are growing on us
  • Big power

– Sighs

  • Not really a touring bike, so…
  • Not that much cheaper than a real bagger by the time you add the bags and stuff…
  • Really a far better “tourer” than you’d expect

American Iron Bagger Shootout Scorecard

Harley-Davidson Road King

Indian Springfield

Victory Gunner

Total Objective Scores82.4%77.7%100%
Quality, Fit & Finish89.2%88.3%80.0%
Cool Factor82.5%81.7%83.3%
Grin Factor76.7%76.7%73.3%
Scott’s Subjective Scores83.3%85.4%79.6%
Sean’s Subjective Scores79.0%80.0%75.8%
John’s Subjective Scores82.3%81.5%75.2%
Overall Score81.7%81.4%81.2%

American Iron Bagger Shootout Specifications

Harley-Davidson Road King

Indian Springfield

Victory Gunner

MSRP$18,749 Vivid Black ($795 for ABS as tested)$20,999.00$13,499 (Saddlebags, $799.99; Lock & Ride Tall Windscreen, $579.99)
Engine TypeAir-cooled 45-degree OHV V-twin; 2 valves/cyl.Air-cooled 49-degree OHV V-twin; 2 valves/cyl.Aair-cooled SOHC V-twin, 4 valves/cyl.
Displacement1690cc (103 cu. in.)1811 cc (111 cu. in.)1737cc (106 cu. in.)
Bore and Stroke98.3mm x 111mm101mm x 113mm101mm x 108mm
Fuel SystemElectronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI)Electronic fuel injection, closed loop; one 54mm boreElectronic fuel injection, dual 45mm throttle bodies
Compression Ratio9.7:19.5:19.4:1
Transmission6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch
Final DriveBeltBeltBelt
Front Suspension49mm telescopic fork; 4.6 in. travel46mm fork; 4.7 in. travel43mm fork; 5.1 in. travel
Rear SuspensionDual shocks, air-adjustable; 3.0-in. travelSingle shock, air-adjustable; 4.5 in. travelSingle shock, 3 in. travel
Front BrakeDual 300mm disc, four-piston calipers; ABS optionalDual 300mm rotors with 4-piston calipers; standard ABS300mm disc; 4-piston caliper
Rear Brake300mm disc; four-piston caliper; ABS optional300mm rotor with 2-piston caliper; standard ABS300mm disc with 2-piston caliper
Front Tire100/80B17130/90-16130/90-16
Rear Tire180/65B16180/60-16140/90-16
Rake/Trail29.25° / 6.7 in.25° / 5.2 in.32° / 6.7 in.
Wheelbase64.0 in.67.0 in.64.8 in.
Seat Height28.2 in.26.0 in.25.0 in.
Claimed Wet Weight814 lb.852 lb.690 lb.
Fuel Capacity6.0 gal.5.5 gal.4.5 gal.
Tested Fuel Economy39 mpg40 mpg42 mpg
Available ColorsSolids: Vivid Black; NEW Billet Silver; NEW Velocity Red Sunglo Two-Tones: NEW Crushed Ice Pearl/Frosted Teal Pearl; Deep Jade Pearl/Vivid Black Custom Colors: Purple Fire/Blackberry Smoke; Cosmic Blue PearlThunder BlackSuede Titanium Metallic with Black tank graphics, Suede Green Metallic w Black graphics
WarrantyTwo years, unlimited milesTwo years, unlimited milesTwo years, unlimited miles
John Burns
John Burns

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3 of 16 comments
  • Haji Haji on Jul 23, 2016

    Victory Cross Country was the bike to compare with. Not the Gunner.

    • Billy Owens Billy Owens on Aug 25, 2016

      Well, would've been the Cross Roads, but Ma Vic forgot to make one the last couple years.

  • Gutbusterman Gutbusterman on Jan 06, 2017

    Great comparison!! I love the looks of the new Indian Springfield so it was good to hear a fair comparison. Might want to check your math, I was looking at your numbers and I come up with the Indian as the winner. The Indian was a clear winner for Scott and Sean, and only slightly lost for John yet somehow still came in second.