Time waits for no motorcycle: One day you're king of the class, the next you're just a lowly back-marker. So it is with this pair of baggers, the 2008 Harley-Davidson Road King and the 2008 Star Royal Star Tour Deluxe. When they last butted bags on these pages (Aug. '05), the Tour Deluxe won the crown. The testers cited it for a snappy engine, best bags, best comfort and nice wind protection. But they also dinged the Star for its long handlebars (unfriendly for tight turns), poor ground clearance and poor gas mileage (33.5 mpg). The Road King got positive marks for its quickly removable windscreen (a feature also found on the Star), gas mileage (37.7 mpg) and smooth fuel injection. The Harley, on the other hand, was chastised for its riding position (feet forward and too high), handlebar location (forward and too low) and less-than-impressive mill. Both were rapped for lackluster brakes.
Nothing and plenty. In the case of the Tour Deluxe, nothing. It's the same bike as in 2005, but for 2008, the Road King has evolved. In '05, the H-D was powered by the 1450cc Twin Cam 88 engine with a five-speed transmission. Now it's got the more powerful 1584cc Twin Cam 96 with the Cruise Drive six-speed tranny. Other additions include Brembo brakes (new for 2008 H-D touring models), a slightly tweaked seating position and optional ABS.
To see how they stacked up this time, we flogged them from Los Angeles to the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah for the 2007 BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials. We'll end the suspense right now: The King is now the king. From the first twist of the throttle, it's obvious that the Star's V-four is no match for the H-D's V-twin with its extra 290ccs and greater torque. And just to drive the broadsword in a little further, the Road King gets better mileage (37.5 versus 31.7) and has a larger tank (6.0 gallons versus 5.3 gallons). Beyond that, H-D's six-speed transmission spaces the gears almost perfectly, with the overdrive sixth gear feeling more like a gentle push, even at super-legal highway cruising speeds. The Star's five-speed is also quite smooth and has well-spaced gears, so we'll call that a wash. However, the Star keeps a point in its favor for standard electronic cruise control (available only as an option on the H-D).
The Road King's reconfigured riding position makes the two bikes equal in comfort, though the H-D's rider and passenger floorboards are height-adjustable. While the Harley's supportive seat ruled over the Star's softer one, the Star still scores for the extra wind protection of its lowers.
Finally, though the saddlebags on each seem large, the Road King gets the nod for usability by virtue of its latching mechanism, which is intrusive on the Star and reduces the width of items that can be put inside.
The Star is still a fine place to plant your derriere and knock off a few counties before dinner. But the Road King, with greater power, comfort, storage and range, will reign for 2008.