2012 Touring Bike Comparison | The Big Caper

The Ultimate Open Class Touring Comparison

• 2012 Harley-Davidson Street Glide
• 2012 Honda Interstate
• 2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad
• 2012 Victory Cross Country Tour

It all started with a question: What if there were no classes of motorcycle? After all, cruisers aren’t raced in anything other than accountants’ spreadsheets, so why bother with classes? Who are we to say that you are necessarily looking at, say, 1300cc touring rigs? What if your tastes go well beyond anything like a classical definition?

Since Motorcycle Cruiser’s time, money and space are limited, we figured we could either short-change our larger overall tests with a ton of smaller comparisons, or, since it seems the deluge of new touring bikes is finally slowing, we could just do one big one. This Fall issue (labeled December, but written in July, blame our publishing company) is the traditional slot for our big touring test, so we thought, why not throw it all out there? For this first time around, we picked bikes (with the help of the manufacturers) that either beat the competition in a previous test, or brought something unique to the table. We desperately wanted a couple of other bikes (see sidebar) along for the ride, but they couldn’t make it in time.

While we’re no strangers to matching up bikes that don’t exactly match up, even this was a departure for us. So, while we usually pick a winner in shootouts, this time we’re not... but we’re still going to compare them. That’s basically inevitable on a ride like this.

So here they are, in alphabetical order...

Harley-Davidson Street Glide (modified)

The Specialist

When it came to Harley-Davidson, we could go traditional and get some flavor of Electra Glide, but since the ultimate Ultra (the Limited) represents a similar bike to the Victory Cross Country Tour, we passed. The Motor Company has so many options when it comes to touring that it made for a tough decision. In the end, we opted for one of the best-selling models of the past decade, the Street Glide. And, since we already had one in the garage, we went with the devil we knew—our modified long-term test unit.

Settling into the Street Glide’s saddle was described by tall and short riders alike as just “sit down and ride.” Everything was in a familiar place. Ergos were compact, but not squished; tall riders’ hands are close, but not stupidly so. It’s a compromise that works very well. Taller riders liked the rounded, firm support from the brief seat, while shorter-legged folks thought it flat, featureless, and on the hard side. On truly long stretches (like 200+ miles), the saddle can get uncomfortable, but after a short break, all is right again. The floorboards are small, but overall comfort is generally good. Air coming over the shorty windshield is pretty messy and will rattle your lid at speed, regardless of size, but it was preferred by all testers to the very tall shields on the other bikes.

H-D’s arrangement of the multitude of switchgear is unmatched in form and function. Once you’re trained, there is little confusion, despite myriad functions controlling cruise, audio and all the other usual stuff. One ding here is that the informational display is controlled by a button on the dash (along with several audio system functions), which feels like it’s a mile away, even to a long-armed rider.

We all liked the power of Harley-Davidson’s 103-inch mill. Some thought it felt lazy, with a slightly delayed throttle response, but all hailed the low-end torque that came on from the depths of the powerband and hit hard. The transmission is perfectly mated to the engine, so if you want to stay in the low-end sweet spot you can just short-shift your way to extra-legal speeds. Sound from the pipes is nice, but muted, though it gives a good honk under load. The shifter has a uniformly clunky engagement, but otherwise works well, with a light and easy clutch pull.

Handling on the Street Glide is progressive. It starts super-light and maneuverable at parking lot speeds—which is useful for a bike on the high side of 800 pounds—and progressively gets heavier the faster you go. This used to be a problem on the older, flexible Harley Touring chassis, as it would bind up and start wiggling at higher rates of speed. But the current foundation is a very solid platform, slow or fast. Cornering clearance is admirable for a low-slung bike, and is second only to the Victory in this group. Most riders felt the cornering was neutral, while one tester thought it tended to stand up mid-corner unless pushed down. When loaded down for touring, with heavy loads placed far back, it was a little nervous in low-speed maneuvering, but nothing serious; and the ‘Glide was stellar when lightly loaded.

It seems that twisty roads are the Street Glide’s forte, with the stiff suspension kit making it stick like glue, even on bumpy roads, though getting bounced out of the saddle was a distinct possibility. In most cases, it just worked in perfect harmony with its motor, braking hard, leaning over and powering out of turns with ease...which put a big smile on all of our faces. Interstates were also fine on this bike, though elevated speeds will kill the audio and replace it with lots of helmet buffeting. However, it’s very stable at high speed, even when sudden inputs were needed to avoid brain-dead drivers.

Suspension is great when set up properly for the road you’re on, but regardless of set-up, the ‘Glide’s suspenders hate sharp-edged bumps. There’s simply not enough give in the two inches of rear suspension to deal with the rough stuff. The stock bike has air-adjustable shocks, while ours had a set of aftermarket units from Harley, which adjusted preload via hand crank behind the left saddlebag. It’s easy to get to unless your bags are full, or you have a large cable attaching iPod and amplifier (like our test unit did), to navigate around. The adjustment works well, but to work optimally with that little travel, we’d have needed to carefully dial it in for each rider when swapping bikes, which we didn’t always do.

The Street Glide was universally praised for its brakes, both for the ABS upgrade, as well as overall feel and power at the lever. The ABS kicks in when appropriate, only rarely before, and slows the bike rapidly. Even dinosaurs who don’t believe in using the front brake could get behind these units.

Harley’s custom bagger comes fairly well-equipped for a bagger-class bike, and Bartel’s long-termer even more so. Some riders felt the instrument gauges were on the small side and hard to read at a glance, and the added accessories just added to this perception. If we take the upgrades out of the equation, it’s the second most-expensive bike here, but with them, it’s easily the priciest. That said, GPS added to our enjoyment by being able to improvise routes easily, and the upgraded speakers made for plenty of volume over the howl of wind. The detachable luggage gives a lot more carrying capacity, while allowing for easy removal (as in most of our images) in under three minutes.

The add-ons only impacted usability minimally, with the iPod mount taking up some space at the back and top of the left saddlebag. And even though the stock saddlebags are on the small side, they do the best job of crushing an overstuffed load with their sturdy external latching system.

Some may be tired of looking at H-D’s old Batwing after all these years, but others in our group liked the classic simplicity that’s not too over-styled (cough, Victory) and true to what Harley-Davidson’s done for years. But it was the overall competence and feeling of connectedness to the road that won our hearts. Our only distraction from the impressive riding experience was the near-$25K price for this fully-loaded iteration of a fine bike.

Honda Interstate

The Lightweight

At first glance, we had very high hopes for the Honda Interstate. With long, low, ground-hugging lines, beach bars, and that backward-swept windscreen, it caught our imagination of riding into the sunset after clocking the bad guy and drinking his beer (non-alcoholic, of course). To put it simply, it stands out from every other production bike equipped with saddlebags...ever. But after some long-distance testing on the Interstate, we started to wonder if maybe there’s a reason most touring bikes look the way they do.

That stretched-look meant shorter testers had a noticeably long reach to the controls, despite long floorboards making the setup more flexible. The seat is very low, but that means that even the low floorboards are fairly high, placing extra stress on a rider’s (especially if he’s tall) tailbone, which is supported by a fairly miserable seat that locks you into one position. The shape of the seat follows the lines of the rear fender to a tee, but not so much the contours of a human. Some riders settled in at first, liking the stretched bad-boy stance, only to find that butt pain starts 20 minutes later. The rakish tilt to the windscreen looked cool, but it blocked a direct view and caused side turbulence.

The engine sounds great, and has a ton of aural attitude and power to back it up. Despite having the smallest engine here, the Interstate has a nice spread of power, and because it’s hauling a lot less weight, there’s plenty to spare—it’s actually more than the flexible chassis can handle. The transmission is well-matched to the engine, and usually shifts easily, but occasionally refuses to engage without another stab at the clutch.

Our testers were, by and large, not fond of the Interstate’s handling characteristics. On the upside, it’s got a low center of mass and is considerably lighter than the other bikes. On the downside, the long chassis is very flexible, and noticeably so when cornering, especially when bumpy—when it can redirect itself all over the place. This is partially due to the light steering and wide bars; when the chassis starts to flex, the rider’s natural reaction is to hold on tighter, which makes things worse. Those who learned to have gentle bar inputs and feed in throttle when it got wiggly were happier people. The shaft drive wasn’t doing the Honda any favors either, jacking the back end up and down, on and off the throttle, though a long wheelbase mitigates that somewhat. Cornering clearance is inadequate as well.

Suspension was another sore spot for the Interstate. Though it has more travel than the Street Glide, it does far less with it with thoroughly inadequate damping rates, and it bottomed out regularly with larger riders aboard. It may be ergonomically fit for larger riders, but the suspension works better for smaller ones. Unlike the other bikes here, this one’s shocks are not easily adjustable, with a hidden monoshock that’s fairly difficult to get at.

Brakes too, are just okay. There’s a single oversized rotor up front, which has some nice feel, but that seems to go wooden under heavy braking. And there’s clearly enough power (under certain conditions) to overwhelm the front tire (see Riding positions). The Interstate does have an ABS option, which we feel is worth the extra cash.

Instrumentation is very bare bones and easy to use, with only two functions and a single button. There’s no real reason more couldn’t have been put into the display, but because the Interstate is Honda’s only touring cruiser, it would have been just for this model, which may have proved prohibitively expensive. The bags are the only other real travel equipment, but they’re on the small side and don’t lock, though they do fasten easily with a slick hidden latch, even when full.

The stylish but small gas tank takes the Interstate about as far as the Vulcan, on the best mpg of our test pool, and we’re pretty sure nobody wants to throw down 170 miles on that seat. The range is predictive of so much else that falls a little short on this bike. It has shaft drive when the others come with belts; five speeds not six; a warranty half the length; no self-canceling turn signals; and no cruise control or even an option for it. The Honda Interstate was outclassed and out of its element on this road trip. The other bikes define quiet capability as tourers should, while this one wants to have a party and throw its panties at passing cars.

The bottom line is, it’s an urban bagger. The undamped suspension works pretty well on bumpy city surfaces and the eager motor is fun to rev and fool around on. The bags give some added utility to this custom, while the windshield...well, probably better to just take it off.

Despite all that, there’s nothing that looks quite like an Interstate. And it has a place, but that place is just not long distances on the open road. Bringing it in at a price point was important to Honda, and it shows. This could be a decent touring machine, but as is, it’s only a decent urban bagger.

Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad

The Old Hand

The Kawasaki Nomad has been around in one form or another since the 90s. It’s been a winner since then too, but the current model is perhaps one of the more controversial versions. Nevertheless, this is the iteration that beat all comers in a test last year and earned its inclusion in our big ride.

The Nomad epitomizes the classic tourer, with an old-style barn door windscreen and hard bags to let people know you mean business. A tractor-style seat makes for a soft and supportive cradle for the rider’s backside. Sitting on the Nomad doesn’t even remotely feel cool, but after hours in the saddle, you found you were still ready for more distance, on a level with even the Cross Country. The tall shield and lowers do a fabulous job of blocking the wind from the rider and surrounding him with nice, clean air. But there is no way to look over the screen, and no way to ventilate.

The Vulcan’s motor is an interesting unit; it’s slow-revving and lazy at the bottom end, and really likes to have some spin going, but is actually quite torquey... it just doesn’t feel it. So we ended up revving it out to where it feels better, which apparently kills mileage dead. Maybe if the Vulcan had a tach we could help ourselves do the right thing. Functionally the transmission works very well, but the gear ratios are too tall for a motor that likes to be revved-out. Sixth is something we rarely saw, since it felt so good in fifth. The Vulcan 1700 is silky smooth at higher rpm, which is another reason we didn’t ever feel like upshifting.

Handling is middle of the road as well, and it drags parts fairly easily, almost on par with the Interstate. Low speed corners favor its light handling, but don’t match up to the engine character, and the Nomad also doesn’t settle into a line as well as the others. Conversely, when the motor is happier and the speeds are elevated, the touchy handling makes it want to wander unless you really relax your grip. Basically, it’s more work to ride at higher speeds than the more touring-oriented bikes. The shield does add some weight on the wrong side of the steering pivot, and can get redirected in a crosswind, but it’s nothing too worrisome.

Thankfully, the Nomad’s suspension is well-done and is air-adjustable for preload, as well as rebound damping. While there are limits, the springs are compliant as well as stable, and more well-rounded than anything but the Victory. If we’d stopped to adjust them correctly every time we switched riders it doubtless would have been even better.

The brakes feature positive engagement and minimal effort along with adjustable levers, all without being too touchy. The brake setup on the Kawasaki didn’t draw any complaints, but it is the only one of this bunch that’s not upgradable to ABS.

The electronics package is nice on the Vulcan, fitting in more information than the Harley-Davidson, but not as much as the extreme telemetry on the Victory. However, the switches are virtually incomprehensible, with two stacked banks of identical-feeling levers that go left, right and push. Bags are spacious, but not particularly attractive, especially when compared to the old Nomad. They feel flimsy compared to the others here as well.

There’s no question the Nomad is the best bang for the buck, as it does quite a lot well, but it doesn’t seem to inspire passion (one way or the other) in our testers. The fit, finish and look are probably the weakest here, with a bulbous back end and some price-point components. That said, the Vulcan is well-engineered and functional; it just feels light on materials and design. Either the motor or transmission needs an adjustment, and the style could use a reboot, if not a major freshening-up. We know Kawasaki’s capable of it; just look at the Vaquero.

Victory Cross Country Tour

Mr. Versatility

However you slice it, range is the key, and this bike has it in spades. The Cross Country Tour is designed to go farther and faster, with more comfort and better handling in a variety of situations, and look good doing it. A Victory has won our last two hardcore touring tests, and if we were picking a winner here, it might very well have done so again. It’s really an impressive machine.

Though it’s a bit of a stretch for smaller people, the laid-back ride of the Victory Cross Country was loved by all. In fact, our lady tester said despite the heft, it readily levitated up off the sidestand to a standing position. The huge floorboards are a big reason why everybody could get comfortable. However, the long distance from seat to steering head made full-lock parking lot maneuvers tough for our smallest testers.

Switchgear for the cruise and audio is okay, though the pods look like afterthoughts, with switches that are hard to find without looking. The information display toggle (on the backside of the left control cluster) efficiently controls a gaggle of information (and resets it) with the push of a single button.

The windshield is high compared to the standard Cross Country, but the adjustable airflow is sublime. Going from full blockage to full flow at the flick of a couple panels is like magic. Near the California coast, it’s essential, since the temps can vary up to 50 degrees from beach to inland. The heated grips and seat helped keep the Victory pilot in one set of gear all day long. We did have a little problem with the heated grips making the throttle stick open a little, but it was easy enough to push back to closed.

The big Freedom V-twin is a heck of an engine with all-day power and good throttle response, but a very lazy delivery. Hold the stick open and a seemingly never-ending stream will flow from this mill. It’s confidence-inspiring, but not exciting. The exhaust tone is also muted, and has to compete with a ton of gear noise and intake. At high rpm the Freedom vibrates when you’re really on the stick, like if you’re passing a truck on a two-lane, but under most riding conditions, it remains eerily smooth and very versatile, with some range. For some reason, in this test we got far worse mileage than we had in the past, despite a motor that rewards lugging.

The Victory transmission has that American way of clunking like a diesel semi, but unlike the H-D’s it’s inconsistent in the amount of pressure it requires to shift. That said, on this bike we didn’t miss shifts like on prior Victories, though performance notably decreased with temperature.

Handling on the CCT is the best of the bunch, which is impressive considering that it’s the biggest bike here. It’s got the best cornering clearance, and excels at high-speed cornering, at least by cruiser standards. The only time you feel the big weight is in low-speed corners (it’s just more work) and in parking lots. That said, it’s got a fairly high center of gravity, thanks to a tall engine and lots of ground clearance, and the big box out back just adds to that.

Geometry is spot on, as is the stiff cast aluminum chassis. It’s very easy for an experienced rider to tell what the bike is doing at all times. Suspension is easily one of the best things about this bike full of best things. It’s more compliant, offers more stability, yet is sporty and comfortable, all in one package. In short, it does everything that suspension is designed to do, with no compromises, while hefting the most weight. Our riders spanned 75 pounds, and it worked well for everybody without adjustment. For a heavy touring rig, it performs in an unbelievable manner.

Brakes are a slight weak point, with wooden feel at the lever, and a slightly intrusive ABS. Steel lines, which are designed to lessen fade, don’t entirely do so on the Cross Country Tour when under heavy usage. The adjustable levers are nice though.

With the way this heavyweight dominates our group, is it any surprise that it continues to do so in its touring amenities? We’ve already mentioned the heated seats and grips, as well as the airflow options, but the advantages continue to the bags, which are huge and very roadworthy.

But all those positives do add the pounds. The spec sheet doesn’t lie, but once you’re going faster than parking lot speeds, it’s hard to tell it’s such a heavy bike.

The Cross Country Tour is clearly the overall choice for best and hardest working bike here, but more than one tester questioned if it wasn’t too much. Some of the touches are nice, but superfluous, and how much do you really need? But if that’s our only complaint, it’s a good problem to have.

The Ride

With record temperatures cooking most of the country, we decided to stay west of the mountains, using the moderating influence of the Pacific coast as the complement to our tour. It made for a better test, as riding fairing-ed machines in the hot heat is a drag, and the coast also provided some climatic variety, such as 40-degree swings from a Big Sur cloud bank, to sub-100 degree inland swelter... all in a 20-mile stretch.

As usual, we made sure to cover all the bases of touring, from lazy, winding roads, to high-speed Interstate, with some rough rural tracks in there for good measure. Fortunately, the central coast of California has all these, in spades.

Added Accessories on the Street Glide

Boom! Fairing Amplifier and Speaker Kit ..........$549.95
Boom! iPod Interface ......................................$19.95
iPod Relocation Kit ........................................$199.95
Wiring Harness .............................................$39.50
Touring Luggage Collection .............................$299.99
Sissy Bar Upright .......................................... $179.95
Passenger Backrest Pad ............................... $109.95
Airwing Detachable Luggage Rack .................. $249.95
Docking Hardware Kit - 4 Point (pre-installed) ....$159.95
Premium Ride Suspension ............................. $499.95
Premium Ride Double Cartridge Fork Kit ......... $399.95
Garmin Zumo 660 ...........................................$649.95

Gear Exam

**Power-Trip Power Shift II Jacket
** All I knew about the Power Shift II jacket when I grabbed it for our three-day ride was that it seemed pretty bare-bones. It sports almost no branding and just basic graphics, but maybe that's what I liked about it. The bottom line is that it got the job done. The removable waterproof liner kept me warm (and dry) when we strafed the coastal routes, and it easily popped out to expose the zip-open mesh areas underneath when I needed more airflow in California's toasty Central Valley (Taft: 96 degrees on day two). The fit is roomy without being overly boxy, and sturdy-enough C.E. rated protectors hang out in the shoulder and elbows. The closures and vents are all easily operated with gloved fingers too, which gets big points in my book, and the price is fairly reasonable (but not an absolute bargain).

Details
$199.99 Size. S-3XL
www.power-trip.com

Speed and Strength To The Nines Women's Jacket
I did a three-day ride with this jacket straight off the hanger, and it needed no break-in time whatsoever. There was no stiffness in the arms with the elbow protectors in, and the sleeves flexed beautifully right off the bat. All the removable Knox armor was positioned in the right areas (shoulders and elbows), though the dual-density back protector sat up a bit high, and the jacket could have extended down a little farther to cover more of the lower back. The body was very roomy and the vents were accessible and easy to use with gloves. This jacket would be perfect with maybe an inch or two added to the sleeve length. With its great style and comfort, and water-resistant frame, the To The Nines Jacket gets a "9" in my book.

Details
$149.95
Sizes XS-XXL
www.ssgear.com

**Icon Strongarm 2 Enforcer Pants
** I've been wearing Kevlar-reinforced jeans for years now, and I worry. They're just jeans, although they are a cut above your average Levis. I mean, most of them look good (distinctly unlike real riding pants), but the Strongarm 2s, for instance, only have Aramid in the knees, and just sturdy denim everywhere else. So there's no cushioned hip protection, and no Kevlar butt, like my last pair had for about the same price... but hey, you look good. One more thing: A button fly? Really? Am I the only one who needs to let 'er rip by the side of the road without having to undo a belt first??

Details
$115
Sizes: 28-44 waist
www.rideicon.com

Rocket III Touring and V Star 950 Tourer

Running With the Bigs and the Smalls
To make this test a true top-down survey of the state of the touring market, we'd have to have a bike from every viable type of long-haul touring segment. That meant choosing from the 900cc class, as well as from the top tier—that rare world of two liter tourers. Simple. On one end, we'd want the reliable Star V Star 950 Tourer, and on the other, Triumph's burly Rocket 3 Touring.

We were plenty familiar with the V Star 950, a solid design that’s won virtually every shootout we’ve put it in over the years. At $9490 in 2012 Tourer trim (windshield and saddlebags), it’s one of the most composed, rider-friendly and versatile middleweight motorcycles you’ll ever put miles on, and a tremendous bang for the buck, to boot. Unfortunately, no press bikes were available at the time of our test. A Rocket III Touring unit wasn’t available either, but we did know someone who did have one, so we enlisted feedback. His words follow. —Ed

The Triumph Rocket III Tour is awe-inspiring. How else can you describe 2.3 liters of pure adrenalin, 140 horses and a tire-shredding 147 foot-pounds of torque?

One instantly appreciates the endless torque; riding two-up in the mountains is a completely different motorcycling experience. Comfort and power are immediately noticeable on the freeway but it’s the twisties and mountain grades that are enlightening. For the Rocket has very respectable lean angles, plus the engine’s low center of gravity makes this 869 pound bike surprisingly manageable, flipping through the twisties with relative ease.

As far as range goes, the 5.9 gallon tank can manage the 200-mile mark, but the gauge swings to E deceptively fast. Those hard bags are spacious, with easy key-lock access and an extremely functional tool kit inside. Another bonus is the quick release windscreen and passenger backrest, which can instantly transform this muscular master of the highway into a streetwise bad boy.

The Kayaba chromed twin shock suspension with 5-position adjustable preload is cushy, even with a passenger. Couple it with 105mm of rear wheel travel and an 18-inch wide, three-layer saddle, and the result is a plush ride.

The massive 150/80 R16 front tire and 180/70 rear gnaw at the curves, with twin 320mm floating discs with 4-piston fixed calipers up front providing very effective braking. Even better, Triumph has told us that all 2013 Rockets will now come with ABS.

Although there’s only a 5 speed transmission, the bike never feels strained—maybe because this engine redlines at 6259 rpm. The incredibly smooth power plant, endless torque and acceleration of the Rocket III never cease to amaze. One small niggle: The lack of cruise control is a pain in the wrist.

Specifications
2012 Triumph Rocket III Touring ABS 2012 Star V Star 950 Tourer
Base Price $16,999 $9490
Engine
Type Liquid-cooled in-line triple Air-cooled 45-degree V-twin
Displacement, bore x stroke 2294cc, 101.6 x 94.3mm 942cc, 85 x 83.0mm
Valve train DOHC SOHC
Compression ratio 8.7:1 9.0:1
Fuel system EFI EFI
Transmission 5-speed 5-speed
Final drive Shaft Belt
Chassis
Wheelbase 67.1 in. 66.3 in.
Wet weight 869 lbs. 657 lbs.
Seat height 28.7 in. 26.6 in.
Rake/Trail 32-degree/7.24 in. 32-degree/5.7 in.
Front tire 150/80-16 130/70-18
Rear tire 180/70-16 170/70-16
Front brake Dual 320mm discs, 4-piston calipers, ABS 320mm disc
Rear brake 316mm disc, 2-piston caliper, ABS 298mm disc
Front suspension 43mm fork; 4.7 in. travel 41mm fork; 5.3 in. travel
Rear suspension Dual shocks; 4.1 in. travel Singl. shock; 4.3 in. travel
Fuel capacity 5.9 gal. 4.4 gal.
SPECIFICATIONS
2012 Harley-Davidson Street Glide 2012 Honda Interstate 2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad 2012 Victory Cross Country Tour
Base price $19,499 (as tested $24,595) $13,240 $15,799 $21,999 (2013 model, $22,499)
Colors Black; blue; red; two-tone orange Black; red Black; red/silver Black; red; white
Standard Warranty 2 yrs., unlimited miles 1 yr., unlimited miles 2 yrs., unlimited miles 2 yrs., unlimited miles
Engine
Type 45-degree air-cooled V-twin 52-degree liquid-cooled V-twin 52-degree liquid-cooled V-twin 50-degree air/oil-cooled V-twin
Displacement, bore x stroke 1690cc, 98.4 x 111.3mm 1312cc, 89 x 104.3mm 1700cc, 102 x 104mm 1731cc, 101 x 108mm
Valve Train OHV, pushrod-actuated, 2 valves per cylinder SOHC, 3 valves per cylinder SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Compression 9.6:1 9.2:1 9.5:1 9.4:1
Fuel System EFI PGM-FI EFI EFI
Transmission 6 speeds 5 speeds 6 speeds 6 speeds
Final Drive Belt Shaft Belt Belt
Chassis
Overall Length 95 in. 104.3 in. 98.4 in. 108.1 in.
Wheelbase 63.5 in. 70.3 in. 65.6 in. 65.7 in.
Wet Weight 822 lbs. 712 lbs. 834 lbs. 845 lbs.(dry)
Seat Height 27.1 in. 26.8 in. 28.7 in. 26.25 in.
Rake/Trail 26 degrees/6.7 in. 33 degrees(caster)/4.6 in. 30 degrees/7 in. 29 degrees/5.6 in.
Wheels 5-spoke cast aluminum 5-spoke cast aluminum 9-spoke cast 6-spoke cast
Front tire 130/70-18 140/80-17 130/90-16 130/70-18
Rear Tire 180/65-16 170/80-15 170/70-16 180/60-16
Front Brake 300mm dual discs,4-piston calipers/ABS 336mm disc, 2-piston caliper 300mm dual discs, 2-piston calipers 300mm dual discs; 4-piston calipers
Rear Brake 300mm disc, 4-piston caliper 296mm disc, single-piston caliper 300mm disc, 2-piston caliper 300mm disc, 2-piston caliper
Front Suspension 41.3mm fork; 4.6 in. travel 41mm fork; 4 in. travel 43mm fork; 5.5 in. travel 43mm inverted fork; 5.1 in. travel
Rear Suspension Preload-adjustable dual dampers; 2 in. travel Single shock; 3.9 in. travel Air-adjustable dual dampers; 3.1 in. travel Monotube air-adjustable shock; 4.7 in. travel
Fuel Capacity 6 gal. 4.4 gal. 5.3 gal. 5.8 gal.
Instruments Analog speedometer, tachometer, oil pressure, air temp, fuel gauge, voltmeter, clock; odometer, dual trip meters Analog speedometer, w/digital dual trip meters, odometer and clock Analog speedometer w/ digital duel gauge, gear indicator, range indicator, dual trip meters, odometer and clock Analog speedometer, tachometer, voltmeter, fuel gauge; digital clock. gear indicator, air temp dual trip meters, range, trip timer, mileage readout and average speed
Performance
Fuel mileage 39.8 mpg 39.4 mpg 32.1 mpg 36.1 mpg
Average range 239 miles 173 miles 170 miles 209 miles
Torque (claimed) 100 ft.-lbs.@3250rpm NA 108 ft.-lbs.@2750rpm 109-ft.-lbs.@2750rpm

RIDING POSITIONS

**Billy Bartels
:: 6 ft., 190 lbs., 33 in. inseam
** Honda's Interstate just clicks for me like it didn't for anybody else. I like the light handling and I like bikes that with a couple of easy fixes can be a lot better. I think most of the Honda's problem is the seat and the suspension.

Clearly I had a bond of trust with the Interstate, one that was tested when I had my first real street crash (ever) on it by over-braking into a corner. I guess one lesson learned is to take the optional ABS, as the feedback from that long front end is pretty minimal.

Kawasaki is the opposite of a bike that clicks for me, despite no big complaints about it.

I think my issue with this bike since it came out is that it’s exceptionally slow-revving. Well, that and the odd transmission ratios, confusing electronics controls, sit-up-and-beg riding position. Okay, I just don’t click with the bike, and while I feel like I could “fix” the Interstate, I hold out little hope of making the Vulcan work for me.

The H-D is old-hand for me by now, with several thousand miles on it. But one thing I really appreciate now—compared to the bikes Harley used to pass off as tourers—is the Glide’s better backroads handling. I took a late-90s Electra Glide down one of the roads we took on this trip, SR-58, and had a miserable time, with the chassis flexing so much I thought the front end would tuck. Not so on this similarly-loaded Street Glide, as it confidently carves up the corners. Once again, Victory delivers a fabulous touring bike. I have no reservations about the CC Tour. I’d take that thing to Maine tomorrow if somebody’d let me.

**Betsy Nash Gabele
:: 5 ft. 5 in., 125 lbs., 32 in. inseam
** I was certainly intimidated by the Victory's size at first but boy was I wrong. The weight was perfectly displaced which made it easier to lift off the kickstand and maneuver about. It saved me with its heated grips and seat through cold weather, and had nicely-placed vents to keep legs cool and engine heat away in 104 degree heat. The great-sounding stereo was a perfect companion for long highway rides and it handled beautifully in the canyons. The only thing missing was a bit more torque off the throttle to go with the low, mid and high range power.

The Kawi is really great for long road trips, with a seat and body position that’s incredibly comfortable. Even though it’s top-heavy, it feels great leaning into canyon turns. It’s a classic cruiser with good power and handling, especially on the highway, and feels like it will hold up for a lot of miles. You just need to ride it the way it wants to be ridden; shifting at the right rpm and at the right time can make or break the enjoyment of riding it.

The Honda…was all over the place. It felt flexy, had odd buffeting from the windscreen and just shook all over at high speeds. Between the wide bars and the long rake you had to really adjust to the way it turns. I was only happy on it riding in the city. It’s basic but it does look long and sporty with nice flowing curves.

The H-D was a joy. It feels very sure on the road, beefy and tough, but no manhandling was needed one way or the other. I liked the rigid suspension and the feel of the bike and the engine has that great H-D sound but was quiet enough not to make your neighbors fuss at night. The transmission and gearing worked great and you have all the power you need right when you need it. This seems like a well-built bike that’s comfortable with really nice accessories and a stereo that was great at cutting out background noise.

**Andrew Cherney
:: 5 ft. 7 in., 160 lbs., 30 in. inseam
** There's a good many of us that ride what we ride because it moves us, not because it's perfectly engineered. Sometimes you just can't go by the spec sheet, and this test reminded me that emotion has a hand in plenty of riding decisions. Which is why I was drawn to the Interstate initially. It just had that outsider, anti-corporate stance (I know, the irony), and an in-the-wind attitude. But then I rode it, and I couldn't leap off the thing fast enough. Turns out that comfort, suspension, ergonomics and ground clearance really do matter.

By the same token, the Victory simply felt over-the-top to me. The amenities are excellent, the powerband unimpeachable, the handling supreme, and it’d unquestionably be the perfect choice for a trek across North America. But after that trip, I’d want to give it back; it just doesn’t suit my riding style. Can I take the 106/6 powertrain with me, though?

I’ve always been a fan of the Nomad, and settling onto its seat is damn familiar. The ergonomics fit me to a tee, and the easy-to-ride platform offers enough oomph, reliability and amenities to go long distances without breaking a sweat. It’s a fine touring machine, but again, it’s simply too vanilla.

The Harley came closest to striking a happy medium, in power, handling and comfort, but to me, the styling feels, oh, about 50 years old, and at the end of the day, it’s just too spendy. Looks like I’ll know the perfect touring rig when I feel it.

Helmet: Arai Signet-Q JACKET: River Road Pecos Mesh Leather JEANS: Icon Strongarm 2 Enforcer BOOts: Sidi Blade GLOVES: Alpinestars SPS Leather
2012 Harley-Davidson Street Glide
2012 Honda Interstate
Helmet: Bell RS-1 JACKET: Speed and Strength To the Nines BOOts: Alpinestars SMX-2 GLOVES: Icon Justice
2012 Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad
2012 Victory Cross Country Tour
Helmet: HJC Symax 3 JACKET: Power Trip PowerShift 2 JEANS: Alpinestars BOOts: H-D Interstate Zip