Wing-To-Wing: Harley Davidson Street Glide vs. Star Stratoliner Deluxe vs. Victory Cross Country
Casual full-dress tourers comparison
December 08, 2010
By Billy Bartels
Photography by Brian J. Nelson, Billy Bartels
Back in 2005, Harley introduced the now-hugely successful FLHX Street Glide-the fusion of a venerable touring chassis and custom iron the Motor Company is known for. It was essentially an Electra Glide dropped into the weeds, with some nice custom touches like fairing-mounted mirrors, color-matched saddlebag latches, and a mean, stripped look with less trim and no box. Unlike the super-stark FLHT Electra Glide Standard (no longer with us) however, it retained practical stuff like a radio and cruise control. It wasn't an "old guy" touring bike, and even Gen Y folks lined up to buy it.
What's surprising is that it took years for any direct competitors to emerge, but when Victory, then Star, recently trotted out bikes with their own "batwing"-style fork-mounted fairings, we couldn't wait to get them all together for a little ride. It's no secret that bikes like this, despite their touring chops, frequently never leave town. Riders love 'em for the comfort, lockable storage, and perhaps the ability to build a nice stereo into the bags and fairing.
We acknowledge the urbanites' love for these bikes, but that's not gonna keep us downtown in the summertime. So we mounted up the recently-released 2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe and a brand new 2011 Harley-Davidson Street Glide and headed out from L.A. to meet Cherney (on a freshly-minted 2011 Victory Cross Country) in Western Colorado for a couple of days of riding on some of the best roads in the world.
Under the Wing
The design of these bikes give a clue to what they do best...and worst. The Street Glide is a touring bike that's been trimmed and dropped to cut a more fashionable profile. As a member of Harley's Touring family it has a host of upgrades available, and ours came with the biggest one: The PowerPak. The PowerPak is a $2000 option that adds ABS, H-D's security system, and a displacement bump from 96 to 103 CI. The Street Glide's batwing is also filled with all manner of useful gauges. It's roughly the same Harmon-Kardon stereo that's been on the H-D touring bikes for a few years now, and while it'll connect to a digital music source through an auxiliary port in the panel, it can't control an iPod like the others can. The Street Glide is the template for this class, but depending on your point of view, that classic, timeless look may be dated. Thankfully there are a ton of options in the aftermarket (and Harley itself) with which to modify it. It also comes with the greatest selection of colors available from the factory.
Star's Stratoliner Deluxe is an upgraded, touring-savvy version of the Stratoliner light touring rig (itself a cruiser on steroids). Given its origin, it's a little more Spartan than the others. A hollow fairing is filled only with speakers and an iPod hookup (with a strap and shelf to hold it). The 'Pod is controlled via a quartet of buttons above the left grip, which is simple and effective, but perhaps a little bolt-on looking. Just like the base Stratoliner, the gauges are down on the tank-not normally something we complain about, but after riding the other two with their better-positioned dials, the time it takes to look down is pretty noticeable. The Deluxe also sports larger bags than the standard Strat, but that's it for upgrades. Unlike the others, it doesn't pack clever tour management data into the gauges (range, air temp, etc), nor does it have cruise control, which was a real pain in the wrist. The Star does take a fresh look at the batwing fairing, with a smooth continuation of the flowing lines the 'Liners are known for, but you better love black-or be ready for a paintjob-as that's the only color available. Unlike the other two it has no highway bar (or engine guard) either.
The Cross Country is Victory's acknowledgement that not everybody wants to ride a spaceship like the Vision. While based on the same basic architecture as the big V (cast aluminum spine frame, with motor as a stressed member), it's more of a clean sheet design than Harley managed when bringing the Electra Glide down to Street Glide spec. The Country has a far briefer fairing arrangement than the Vision, yet still manages to squeeze in nearly all the Vision's touring gadgets, sporting an even more impressive array of informational readouts than the Harley in less space (thanks to a cycling digital display). Visually it's a blend of hard angles and flowing lines (like the Harley) but with a more modern touch. One love-it-or-hate it item on the Country is the "wing" that replaces the traditional highway bar in front of the engine. A more traditional tubular unit is available if desired, but then you lose the cool hidden mounting points on the inside of the cast piece.
2011 Victory Cross Countr...
2011 Victory Cross Country
2010 Star Stratoliner Del...
2010 Star Stratoliner Deluxe
2011 Harley Street Glide
Bag it, Stuff It
It may have the smallest bags here, but those decades-old hinged latches on the Harley are up to the task of smashing lots of crap into the narrow Street Glide bags. By contrast, Star's bags are larger (though not as deep), but with the latch residing inside the lid, it limits how much stuffing one can do. On the upside, you can fit a DOT half-helmet into them (however, during our test, one of the mount points broke on the Stratoliner). Victory solves the internal latch dilemma on the Cross Country by making the bags just huge. It's mind-boggling just how much stuff will fit into these compartments.
The Cross Country also allows you to pack quite a bit of stuff onto its broad, flat passenger seat, with ample attachment points. The Strat's passenger pad is narrower, but also fairly flat, offering the best options for bungee-ing stuff down; the saddlebags sit just off of the fender and their mounts make for good hold points. The Street Glide was trickiest to overload, with its sloping rear seat. There are plenty of holes to attach to in the fender strut, but they're too close to the bags for big-hook bungees to fit without interference.
We scored a Cross Country with a couple of factory accessories installed, one of which was Victory's new color-matched trunk option, complete with speakers and an additional taillight. Though it's a $1750 add-on, it's easily installed and removed via a pair of latches that lock in between saddlebags and fenders. An included (and slick) pre-wired connector plugs in under the side cover to power the speakers and light. The H-D can be outfitted with a Tour-Pak available as an accessory ($1200), which can either hover over the rear seat or out in the traditional position behind it. Speakers and extra lighting are available as separate kits at extra cost, and require extra wiring work. There are no trunk options available at this time for the Stratoliner Deluxe.
On the Wing
Once on the road we quickly settled in for some long-haul Interstate riding. Depending on how tall you are (and how fast you ride), all these bikes will buffet you in different ways with their short windscreens, though there are options to go tall for all three. The $300 add-on lowers on the Victory helped bring it to about the same buffeting level as the others. That's good, since in our test last year (without lowers) it was pretty brutal.
The Street Glide's cockpit...
The Street Glide's cockpit boasts a user-friendly spread of oinfo as well as H-K audio.
We don't normally talk much about our feet during the ride, but it seemed hard to keep your boots planted on the Stratoliner in the wind. The others were pretty neutral, with the Cross Country's wing deflecting wind from taller riders' shins while still providing cooling airflow. The Star also suffered on the open road from a lack of foot placement options, with small-ish boards and no highway bar. The Harley had the smallest footrests, but the highway bar provided extra positions to place feet, which is not possible on the windswept Star's boards.
Overall ergonomics between the Star and Harley were also a study in contrasts, with a wide bar and long reach to the boards spreading out the Strat's pilot, and H-D's traditional compact stance sitting you upright on the Street Glide. The new seat on the 'Glide has a supportive scoop, but H-D might have taken out too much foam in the quest for lowness. The six-speed transmission is also a nice touch for the Harley, allowing you to keep the revs low to complement the torquey powerband of the 103 Twin Cam motor. But for pure engine performance, the Star whoops the other two, with both more power and torque, from bottom to top. Riders who like a nice "jump" off the line or while passing a car will love the Star's power delivery at all RPMs. However, the lack of cruise control and a five-speed transmission make high-speed cruising a slightly vibe-y chore.
We were split on the overall high-speed competency of the H-D and the Star, but what was indisputable is that Victory's Cross Country kicked both of their butts. While the Star and Harley were very different from each other, the Victory took the best from each and added a few twists. With mile-long footboards (with adjustable controls) the Country lets a rider sit in either a relaxed or upright stance, with the cushiony supportive seat beloved by all riders. The big wing offered a few places to kick back when pounding miles, as did the rear floorboards (the only ones in the class).
Power on the Vic-while plentiful-didn't offer quite the playful low-end kick the others did, getting out-torqued off the bottom by the other two bikes. The flat spread of power was useful at all RPM, and out-pulled the Harley on top (though not the Star). It's useful, just not as fun back-to-back. The Cross Country's cruise control is a fairly standard unit, not as slick as the Street Glide's fly-by-wire setup (which doesn't twist the grip under your hand), but it works perfectly well. As on the Vision, the controls for cruise and the radio look like an afterthought, despite coming standard on most models.
The Victory's suspension left the other two in the dust as well, being both more plush and controlled. The Country also uses air-adjustment for its suspension to offer more range and performance. The Stratoliner was very plush on the open road, with super-cushy suspension that could use a little more damping. Rain grooves and wind would make the Star's front end twitch about more than the others, which were rock solid all the time. The H-D was firm and controlled, but ran out of travel fairly quickly. The Street Glide benefitted greatly from proper set-up of its air adjustable suspension. With its comfy perch, the Cross Country pilot had no trouble throwing down the 200+ miles the bike is capable of, and usually neither did the Street Glide rider (on a smooth road). Problem was, the smallish tank (4.5 gallons) and lesser gas mileage of the Deluxe (once as low as 34 mpg) made us stop far more frequently than we would have otherwise.
Looks familiar, but the Stratoliner's...
Looks familiar, but the Stratoliner's fairing does iPod synchronization better than its data display.
Overall sound quality from the stereos on all three was comparable. The Strat had just the iPod dock, which only accepts non-hard drive versions of the player. Just for giggles we tried a hard drive version and it skipped quite a bit (more at low RPM). The controls were simple and worked well; the down volume button pauses the system, then remembers what volume you had it at when reactivated. Control was sweet, which is more than we could say about the H-D stereo when a music player was hooked up via the auxiliary port. That said, the Street Glide's unit is upgradable with XM for $500 (the others are not). The non-music player functions are controlled via small switches beneath the hand controls, but there are things you need to reach on the dash for-which pulls your eyes off the road. Not so with the Victory, which has all functions controlled by a pod on the left side. The iPod tucks into the saddlebag, which is perfect-all controls are on the bars. Even the songs display on the compact dash, and radio and weather band are standard, just like on the Harley. Volume was tough to compare between the systems since we had Victory's trunk on for most of the ride (it adds two speakers). So equipped, it out-blasted the other two, but without it it's questionable. We tried a hard drive iPod on this one as well, and it worked flawlessly.
Let's Get it On
It's on back roads that you ask the most out of your machine, and Colorado has a ton of good ones, ranging from tight to sweeping, and bumpy to smooth. Victory's Cross Country continued to impress in the twisties, with a supremely solid chassis that had the enviable combination of stability, cornering clearance, and quick handling. The lack of "snap" from the engine is noticeable (especially compared to the Star), but superior handling more than made up for it, allowing the rider to confidently attack corners, and actually ride faster and more in control.
Star's Deluxe was impressive as well, with lots of torque at all throttle openings, and handling almost the equal of Victory's. The Strat had the least cornering clearance, but not by an unacceptable margin. Harley's 'Glide was no slouch either, and the 103-inch motor is a huge improvement to the Twin Cam 96, which tends to have a flat spot in the midrange. The Harley's forte is tight, twisty roads, with ample torque at the bottom and handling that favors lower speeds. Higher-speed sweepers saw the Glide's handling get heavier and engine less responsive, but still fun.
Backroad riding had us rowing through the gears more, except on the Star, thanks to its impressive 113-inch mill and omnipresent power. Ironically, the Stratoliner also shifted the best, beating out the clunky (but precise) Glide. The 2011 Cross Country brings a significantly revised transmission, but ours still felt balky on occasion. The brakes of the Victory, while very stout, were also outclassed by the ABS-assisted Brembos on the Street Glide and the progressive and powerful binders of the 'Deluxe.
But when the going got bumpy, the Cross Country left them both in the dust. With more suspension travel than the Harley and more control than the Star, the Victory continued to chew up anything the rumpled tarmac could throw at it. The Street Glide would simply run out of travel and occasionally bottom (sometimes painfully) on bad pavement. How fast you could go simply depended on how much abuse you could deal with. Even after adding air to the suspension, after a certain amount the ride just got too rough. The cushy suspension that served the Stratoliner Deluxe so well on the open road made for a bouncy experience on rough roads, to the point where the bike's trajectory could change mid-corner. The suspension is adjustable via a threaded collar underneath the bike, but it was a major pain to access.
When The Dust Cleared
Harley adds a clean, custom-style...
Harley adds a clean, custom-style rear end, but those bags are the smallest here.
We thoroughly enjoyed every one of these bikes-each does several things right, and very little wrong, but we have to pick winners, right? Star's Stratoliner Deluxe, in this comparison, came in least capable-from a touring aspect, anyway. With a range about 75 miles less than the others, no options for cruise control or a trunk, a lighter electronics and gadget package, and no ABS, it's simply not as outfitted as we like for long hauls. But if Star was targeting the urban crowd, where touring is an occasional pursuit rather than a full-time passion, this powerful, fun machine fully fills the bill. It's lighter, cheaper, and brings bagger style in a unique way. One concern we had with the Strat, though, is that it developed a loud valve-clatter toward the end of our time with it.
You can fit lots more stuff...
You can fit lots more stuff into the Star's wider bags, though the interior latch may scavenge some space.
Harley's Street Glide set the bar for this class, and the Motor Company has done an admirable job of continuing to develop the touring chassis, despite no real competition until now. Since it was introduced, the bike's motor (or options) has grown from 88 inches to 103 and the chassis went from feeling like it had a hinge in the middle to the rock-solid package it has now, all while continuing to offer the touring amenities its more tour-capable siblings possess (like ABS, cruise, etc). However, most of those add-ons come at a price, which means the Harley eclipses the other bikes in its class on price.
Capacity is king on the Vicotyr,...
Capacity is king on the Vicotyr, and if you upgrade to the Lock-N-Ride trunk (a $1749 option; pictured) you'll double your space.
There are times when Victory "gets it" more than others, and this Cross Country is a perfect example. Taking direct aim at Harley's most successful model and seeking to improve on it in every way turns out to be a fine way to develop a motorcycle. While the base model comes in at $1K less than the Street Glide, the Cross Country manages to feel like a legitimate alternative by offering standard features-unlike the Stratoliner, which feels stripped. Between the complete touring motorcycle that comes standard, and the impressive array of factory add-ons (GPS, luggage, etc) that come close to matching Harley's depth of offerings, the Country does the touring side well, while bringing a distinctly unique take in the styling department. It's also simply the most roadworthy, and in this crowd, that's saying a lot.
||Harley-Davidson Street Glide
||Star Stratoliner Deluxe
||Victory Cross Country
||w/PowerPak (103 motor, ABS, security system) + cruise control option and color – $21,789
||w/ Wind deflectors, iPod cable and extension, color, and rider Backrest – $19,169
||Black, red, merlot, orange, Black Denim, White Denim, purple/black, green/black (Colors +$500, two tone +$1000)
||Black, blue (+$500), white/silver two-tone (+$1000)
||Two years, unlimited miles
||One year, unlimited miles
||Two years, unlimited miles
||Air-cooled 45-degree V-twin
||Air-cooled 48-degree V-twin
||Air/oil-cooled 50-degree V-twin
|Bore x stroke
|Wet weight (claimed)
||765 lbs. (dry)
||26 deg./6.7 in.
||31.3 deg./6 in.
||29 deg./5.6 in.
||Slotted Cast Aluminum
||Dual 290mm discs, 4-piston calipers
||Dual 298mm discs, 4-piston calipers
||Dual 300mm floating rotors, 4-piston calipers
||275mm disc, 4-piston caliper
||300mm floating disc, 4-piston caliper
||41mm fork w/4.6 in. travel
||46mm fork w/5.12 in. travel
||Inverted 43mm fork w/5.1 in. travel
||Air-adjustable shocks; 2-in. travel
||Link-style monoshock; 4.33-in. travel
||Link monoshock; 4.7-in. travel
||Analog speedo, tach, air temp gauge, oil pres gauge, fuel gauge, voltmeters, dual trip meters, distance to empty, clock
||Analog speedo, tach and fuel gauge, dual trip meters, miles on reserve, clock
||Analog speedo, tach, fuel gauge, and voltmeter. Digital clock, gear indicator, air temp, average fuel mileage, miles to empty, timer, and average speed.
5 ft. 7 in., 160 lbs., 30-in. inseam
Helmet: Arai SD3
Boots: Dr. Martens 9-Hole
Pants: LL Bean Fleece Lined
Jacket: Shift Trifecta
So we finally got the fork-mounted fairing bike brawl we've long been waiting for. Taken individually, I could ride any one of these for long distances and be on Cloud Nine. Back-to-back though, favorites emerged sooner than expected. The Stratoliner gets my blood rushing for its power delivery and visceral feel. Harley has somehow managed to keep its superior build quality at the top of the class and for general competence and overall refinement, the Street Glide seems to have this segment figured out pretty well. It keeps the bar high with a nice menu of amenities, but it falls down where it matters most-in comfort and ride quality. The Stratoliner too, when taken by itself, is a fine motorcycle that's a blast to ride and simply untouchable when it comes to unleashing the ponies. I might have given Star more points if it had cruise control, but in a group comparison like this, at this level, sorry-no one gets a pass.
Clearly, the Cross Country grabbed the top slot. And it wasn't just by default. I appreciate the little touches, like having the trunk as an option; I'm surprised nobody came up with the concept sooner. And after logging 500 miles on it, I can vouch for its performance, comfort and amenities. I wish ABS was available, but I feel the Victory at least represents a true "other option," with the capability back it up. I appreciate the fact that it doesn't look like a Harley, but it's not in any way generic or boring.
5 ft. 10 in., 180 lbs., 31-in. inseam
Helmet: HJC IS-2
Shades: Blu Eye Chill
Jacket: Speed and Strength Fame & Fortune
Pants: Shift Lowdown
Boots: Alpinestars Soho
The Victory would be my pick for the value, but it has great suspension too; it handled my weight easily and I could adjust it easily (there's a handy pressure chart in the saddlebag lid). The Victory also cornered like a dream. Overall power was good, but I felt it was down on torque, which was fine on the open road, but slow in town. I like the Victory's riding position, because the fairing and the seat position fit my size, and the floorboards let you move your feet around for comfort.
The Harley would be second for me, because of the return on your investment. The Street Glide was more work to ride in the twisties, but great on the open highway. The Harley has a ton of torque off the bottom and the 103 motor moves it much better. I could do long distances on this bike, with bars and seat that fit me just right. The ABS was a gift on rainy days.
The Star was a great value but still needs more refining for long distances; for local runs it's great. The transmission was smooth compared to the other bikes' loud ones-too bad it was only five speeds. It handled well in the twisties and was very agile, with a ton of power and torque. The fairing fit me perfectly with less buffeting compared to the others. With cruise control and a six speed this might have been my pick.
6 ft., 195 lbs., 33-in. inseam
Helmet: Icon Airframe Lifeform
Jacket: Scorpion Ventech
Gloves: Z1R Streamline
Boots: Sidi Adventure Rain
I've always loved the 'Liner bikes, and this one is no exception, but it simply comes up short against these contenders. Between simply not having the touring amenities I'm used to, the Stratoliner Deluxe just felt like a bargain version of these other bikes-yet it isn't priced like one. In a world with just a Street Glide to compete against, it would be a legit alternative, but with a Cross Country, it simply doesn't have a niche to fill.
What can I say about the Street Glide that hasn't been said? It takes traditional ideas about touring bikes and makes a hard left, stripping all the "uncool" parts off an Electra Glide, but leaving quite a bit of touring capability. It's a fun bike around town and on the road, but back-to-back with the Cross Country, it looks a little dated. I'm not a fan of Harley's "dropped" models, but the air suspension leaves a good amount of adjustability in the bike, so I'll forgive this one.
With looks, capability, and a killer price the Cross Country's a slam dunk in this class. I'd like to see an integrated fork lock at some point, and ABS is getting to be something I value more these days. For some reason the bike doesn't convey a lot of personality to me (could be the flattish torque curve), but make no mistake, this is a bike capable of crossing the country while still impressing kids at the gas station.