Comparing The 2000 Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide, Honda Valkyrie Interstate and Yamaha Royal Star Adventure

Taking on Alaska in style aboard the cruise ships.

This article was originally published in the December 1999 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser.

cruiser comparison
The Venture's fairing was the prettiest of all three bikes, while the Interstate's windshield generated the most turbulence and the Electra Glide's offered the best weather protection.Dean Groover

Let’s be clear from the outset. These three motorcycles are full-dress tourers in cruiser clothing. Each bike’s design centers on Riding—serious, capital “R” riding. If waking up in one state and going to sleep in another (with a few stops in a couple of states in between) sounds like your kind of fun, these bikes have been designed for you.

When Honda and Yamaha an­nounced their new cruiser-styled tourers, we decided we needed to expand our definition of cruisers to include bikes with trunks and handlebar-mounted fairings. As we discussed the best way to integrate these long-range cruisers into our testing regimen, we decided the only way to accurately report on the bikes was to take an extended trip. The idea of a trip to Alaska was floated; as if a publishing company would finance a dream trip that would eat up more than a third of the magazine’s production cycle—not to mention most of the annual travel budget!

But Friedman took the bait (probably because he planned to go). The trip was on!

Load 'Em Up

A quick look at an atlas revealed that our jaunt to Alaska would entail a minimum of 7000 miles of interstates, rural highways and even some gravel roads over a period of approximately three weeks. Each of the riders who selflessly volunteered for this arduous duty had his or her own ideas about what gear would be required. As the departure date approached, we realized the carrying capacity of our mounts would be put to the test.

yamaha, honda, harley-davidson
Spending 7000 miles in the saddles of the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide, Honda Valkyrie Interstate, and Yamaha Royal Star Venture is a great way to test how these cruise ships fare for the long haul.Dean Groover

At first blush, all three of the cruising tourers appear to offer the same amount of storage space. But we soon found out that how the space was utilized on each bike was almost as significant as the actual capacity.

The Honda Interstate’s saddlebags are essentially the same hard bags that are mounted to the A.C.E. and Val­kyrie Tourers. In previous tests, we’ve found the bags are easy to pack and watertight. In fact, as the bags were being locked, we could hear the air inside being forced out. Each bag holds just shy of 32 quarts, for a total of 64 quarts. Add in the 45-quart capacity of the trunk and the total for the Honda’s luggage equals 109 quarts—which is a reasonable-sounding volume.

Our first surprise came when we loaded the saddlebags. Where the tops of the saddlebags had been hinged on the front edge of the previous Honda Tourers, the Interstate’s trunk made that setup impossible. So a pair of lanyards front and rear were utilized to hold the lid next to the side of the bag when it was open. To keep the tops from scratching the bags, two metal brackets with rubber feet were screwed inside each top to hold it away from the side of the bag. The no-longer-hinged top also grew a tab in the center of one side to help it line up with the bag’s opening. While both of these additions worked well when the bag was empty, the tab interfered with loading and unloading the bag liners into and out of the bags. The metal brackets also snagged the contents and occasionally lost their little rubber feet, allowing the brackets to scratch the paint they were supposed to protect. After a week of dealing with this annoyance, we removed the brackets and the rear lanyard on both bags to ease our daily packing routine. (Be forewarned: removing the lanyard allows an improperly secured top to pop off and flap against the trunk at speed.)

The Interstate’s trunk was roomy, but the shape made using the entire volume an exercise in clever packing. When the trunk was slightly overfilled, the top sometimes required several firm presses to engage the latch. Even when severely overpacked, the bags remained watertight.

The Yamaha Venture’s saddlebags offer the exact same capacity of 32 quarts per bag as the Honda. The trunk, however, holds 52 quarts. The Venture’s saddlebags were much easier to load than the Honda’s but they had their own idiosyncrasies. While the hinged tops unlock with the ignition key and flip open with the press of a button, giving direct access to the interior, the hardware for the latches intrudes into the mouth of the bag about two inches. Softer items, like clothing, can be compressed inside the Venture’s optional bag liners to ease loading. But if the contents are less forgiving items, such as shoes, the protruding latch is bothersome. When the bags were overpacked, the sides tended to bulge out and needed to be pressed in to allow the latches to engage. The latches sometimes refused to open without prodding.

honda, yamaha, Harley-davidson
We took on the Alaskan interstates, rural highways, and even some gravel roads aboard the three cruisers.Dean Groover

The Venture’s trunk exhibited a false latch that needed to be double-checked every time. After the trunk popped open at speed, we quickly got in the habit of pressing the lid down until we heard it click then pulling up slightly to make sure it engaged. One nice feature of the trunk (once it is understood) is the top support that holds the trunk open until the lid is lifted and released. The uninitiated, however, would wonder why the darn trunk wouldn’t close.

While not the best looking of the group, the Harley bags were the roomiest and easiest to use. The saddlebags each offer 26-quart capacity. The bags open easily and the hinged tops hang off to the side out of the way. The lack of protrusions made it possible to carry a variety of items. The latches actually aid in overpacking by levering the tops onto the bags. The 64-quart trunk seemed big enough to garage a spare bike. Gear that had filled the Valkyrie’s trunk and overflowed into a tank bag slipped into the Electra Glide’s Tour Pak with room to spare. The tank bag even took up residence in the trunk! The only real flaw in the trunk’s design was the lock. With the lock secured, the trunk could be opened almost a quarter of an inch.

Hit the Road, Jack

Our Alaska adventure began with extended interstate miles. As is usual on freeway drones, we turned our attention toward the quality-of-life features of the big tourers.

In rare unanimity, all of our testers picked the Harley as the bike with the most comfortable riding position. The fact that the testers ranged quite a bit in size emphasizes how well the folks in Milwaukee did their homework. The Yamaha ranked a close second. Both bikes owed their success to the comfort of their seats, which effectively negotiate the soft vs. firm conundrum. The longer reach to the Yamaha bar was enough to slip it into second place. The Valkyrie’s hard, square-edged seat topped the list of the shortcomings, while opinions varied about bar and peg placement.

Each engine offers a distinctive highway character. The Honda’s ultrasmooth six pours out seamless power at any speed. But, at an average of 28.7 mpg, the Valkyrie pays for that power with the worst mileage of the bunch. The rubber mount of the engine erased any of the quibbles we’ve had about the busy-feeling engine of other Valkyries. Similarly, the counterbalanced Venture feels eerily smooth in comparison to its unbalanced Royal Star brethren. The reconfigured engine is also much more powerful than the other Royals. V-twins, even the Twin Cam 88, can’t be expected to run as quickly as the multis. But the Electra Glide enters the fray with the best mileage of the cruising tourers (37.0 mpg)—an important consideration when racking up distance is the priority. Engine vibration never intrudes at highway speeds and the Harley’s acceleration will leave most cars in the dust. Real acceleration at speed requires a tap of the left foot.

yamaha
Yamaha built the Venture with long, low classic cruiser lines and an eye on what the company calls elemental design, allowing for easy customization.Dean Groover

Yamaha Royal Star Venture:

High Points: Low Points: First Changes:
Great wind protection Excessively tall windshield Cut windshield
Impressive styling Finicky handling when loaded
Comfortable riding position Poor braking power
Clear instrumentation
Specifications:
Designation: XVZ13TF(C)
Suggested base price: $15,999
Standard colors: Gray/silver, red/silver
Extra cost colors: None
Standard warranty: 5 yrs., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 4000 miles
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Liquid-cooled, 70-degree V-4
Valve arrangement: DOHC, 2 intake valves, 2 exhaust valves per cylinder, adjusting shims
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1294cc, 79 x 66mm
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Carburetion: 4, 32mm Mikuni CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 4.6 qt
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 3.580:1
Chasis
Wheels: Cast-aluminum, 16.0 x 3.5 in. front, 15.0 x 4.0 in. rear
Front tire: 150/8016 71H Dunlop D404F
Rear tire: 150/90B15 74H Dunlop D404
Front brake: 2, single-action, two-piston calipers, 11.7-in. discs
Rear brake: Single-action, two-piston caliper, 12.6-in disc
Front suspension: 43mm stanchions, 5.5 in. travel, air-adjustable for preload
Rear suspension: 1 damper, 4.1 in. travel, air-adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 6.0 gal (.9 gal reserve)
Handlebar width: 33.3 in., 1 in. diameter
Inseam equivalent: 34.8 in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 406 watts
Battery: 12v, 18AH
Forward lighting: 7-in. 55/60-watt headlight, 2 position lights
Taillight: 1 bulb
Instruments: LCD speedometer, odometer, dual tripmeter; indicator lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, oil pressure, overdrive, check engine, temperature, fuel, cruise control (on, set, reset)
Performance
Fuel mileage: 31 to 41 mpg, 35.6 mpg avg.
Average range: 213 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top-gear: 2871
200-yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 68.6 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.97 sec., 93.3 mph

The Long and Winding Road

When the Alaska Highway’s tarmac got twisty, the Interstate was the leader of the pack. With its well-sorted suspension and impressive ground clearance, the Honda felt supremely planted even when fully loaded. Only the largest frost heaves upset the chassis. Leaned over in long, sweeping corners—with packed bags and a passenger—the steadfast Valkyrie only exhibited the slightest wobble. The Electra Glide, however, displayed flexi-flyer high-speed handling. While the bike never made an untoward move, some riders found it sapped their confidence when cornering. Still, if steering inputs were dialed in smoothly, the Electra Glide was capable of surprising corner speeds.

The Venture’s handling provided a constant source of puzzlement. While it was the most stable and easiest to steer of the trio at low speeds, the Star got downright “hinky” once loaded. The front end felt twitchy, like it couldn’t decide how it wanted to track through the corners. Adding four pounds of pressure to the fork helped some, but the bike still didn’t calm down until we had pumped the shock’s air pressure up to almost 30 pounds. Even then, the Venture was never as sure-footed as the others, interacting with pavement imperfections and tar strips every time it encountered them. In the rain, riders were never certain if the feedback they were getting was just the Venture’s peculiarities or whether the front end was losing traction on the wet pavement. Once unloaded, the Venture’s handling problems would disappear.

At walking speeds, the Interstate’s stability evaporated. In deep gravel and mud, the Valkyrie became a lumbering moose, requiring constant corrections to force it to maintain direction. The Electra Glide’s low-speed handling landed it squarely between the Venture and the Interstate. Although the Venture had the least ground clearance of the bunch, it could lean over noticeably further than its Star siblings. In fact, we only dragged the floorboards twice on the trip. The Electra Glide only touched down a couple times, as well, and the Interstate not at all.

Moving Out

Spending days on end traveling two-lane roads with herds of lumbering RVs provided many opportunities to judge each bike’s ability to adjust its velocity. Predictably, the Valkyrie Interstate had the most power for top-gear roll-ons. Downshift or not, it would motor right by the road bison with nary a thought. In top gear, both the Yamaha and the Harley would dawdle a bit too long in enemy territory. A downshift before pulling into the opposing lane shortened passing distance considerably. In all tests of acceleration, the results were the same: Honda, Yamaha and Harley.

On the deceleration end, the Harley’s new four-piston triple discs wowed testers. The Electra Glide’s brakes simply did what was expected of them, without resorting to the forearm pump of old. Neither the Honda nor the Yamaha provided as linear a feel at the controls. The Valkyrie’s front brake was strong but mushy and took a while to adjust to. The Yamaha was just plain hard to stop. The front binders offered little initial bite but as lever pressure increased, the braking force ramped up in a nonlinear fashion. The Venture rider had to carefully modulate the front brake to achieve controllable stopping power.

Gimme Shelter

Although watching the Weather Channel may lead one to believe that nothing of meteorological interest happens above the Canadian border, the vast majority of adverse riding conditions we encountered on our trip to the top of North America occurred in Canada. Fortunately, our cruise ships were up to the task.

Our testers consistently ranked the Electra Glide as first or second for weather protection, with one exception. The lowers actually seemed to direct the mung at the rider’s legs. The large area inside of the lowers, to facilitate the flow of cooling air around the engine, also admitted road spray. In heavy rains, the water pelting the legs reached deluge proportions. The fairing, on the other hand, effectively directed rain and cold air away from the rider. Our optional short windshield garnered praise for its low height but was criticized by some riders for it’s dark tint. Similarly, short-waisted riders felt the fairing was a bit too high, and compromised some view of the road ahead. The Harley’s large envelope of still air with minimal back flow was appreciated when the temperatures dropped. On hot days, removing the two clear plastic air dams from the fairing allowed an im­pressive amount of flow around the rider’s torso without add­ing any buffeting.

The Interstate’s weather protection received mixed reviews. While one rider rated it the best of the pack, all the others rated it the worst. Here height most likely played a factor. The first thing mentioned by taller riders in their notes was the excessive buffeting of the helmet caused by the windshield. Riders of average height mentioned buffeting second or third. The backdraft caused by the big windshield annoyed some riders but not others. But when the weather turned nasty, the Interstate was a comfortable place to ride out the storm. In all but the heaviest rain, the rider’s torso remained dry at speed. A fair amount of road spray reached the feet but not as much as with the Harley. One rider, however, had his feet knocked off both pegs by splashing water when he plowed through a hidden pothole in the rain. Another rider was hit in the legs several times by flying road debris. The Interstate’s fairing also offers removable lowers, which helped to move hot, stagnant air out of the cockpit on sweltering days. But excess engine heat still plagues the Valkyrie.

Feelings about the Venture’s weather protection must be divided into pre- and post-windshield sur­gery. Simply put, the Yamaha’s stock windshield is too tall. None of our testers could look over the windshield. On sunny days this didn’t pose a problem. However, at night or when the weather turned nasty, the Venture was the last place any of the testers wanted to be. While a build-up of rain drops on the windshield was bad, a fine spray from other vehicles was worse. The wind swirling into the still air pocket coated the inside of the windshield with this spray, as well. Riders were then faced with the task of trying to see the road while wiping both sides of the windshield. One rider, after a particularly harrowing ride into the evening sun, said he would rip the windshield off with his teeth if we didn’t take a hacksaw to it.

After the plastic surgery, riders no longer feared for their lives in the rain and opinions of the Venture’s weather protection changed markedly. Even with the windshield shortened by almost four inches, the upper bodies remained dry and warm. Buffeting was not a problem for the rider (although passengers noticed an increase), and the blow-back of wind to the torso was actually lessened. Prior to the modification, the Venture was the only bike to interact with the wind blast of large vehicles. In its more aerodynamic form, the Venture remained as steady as the other bikes. The one Venture we encountered on the Alaska Highway also had a cut-down windshield.

Honda Valkyrie Interstate:

High Points: Low Points: First Changes:
Valkyrie power and acceleration No cruise control Remove the saddlebags' rear lanyard for easier packing
Rock-solid handling Difficult to pack bags Mount an aftermarket seat
Uncomfortable seat
Buffeting from windshield
Specifications
Designation: GL1500CF
Suggested base price: $15,499
Standard colors: Black
Extra cost colors: Black/red, green/gray, add $500
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 12,000 miles
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Liquid-cooled, horizontally opposed flat-six
Valve arrangement: SOHC, 1 intake valve, 1 exhaust valve per cylinder, screw-type adjusters
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1520cc, 71 x 64mm
Compression ratio: 9.8:1
Carburetion: 6, 28mm Keihin CV
Lubrication: Wet sump, 4.5 qt
Minimum fuel grade: 87 octane
Transmission: Wet multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Shaft, 2.833:1
Chassis
Wheels: Cast-alloy, 17.0 x 3.5 in. front, 16.0 x 5.0 in. rear
Front tire: 150/80R17 72H Dunlop D206F
Rear tire: 180/70R16 77H Dunlop D206
Front brake: 2, single-action, two-piston calipers, 11.7-in. discs
Rear brake: Single-action, single-piston caliper, 12.4-in. disc
Front suspension: 45mm stanchions, 5.1 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 4.7 in. travel, adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 6.9 gal (1.1 gal reserve)
Handlebar width: 32.5 in., 1 in. diameter
Inseam equivalent: 33.2 in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 546 watts
Battery: 12v, 12AH Forward lighting: 2, 6-in. 45/45
Forward lighting: 2, 6-in. 45/45-watt headlights, position lights
Taillight: 2 bulbs
Instruments: Speedometer, tachometer; LCD odometer, dual tripmeters, fuel gauge, clock, CB, AM/FM/AUX, speaker/headphone output; indicator lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, oil pressure, temperature
Performance
Fuel mileage: 23 to 37 mpg, 28.7 mpg avg.
Average range: 198 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top-gear: 2900
200-yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 75.4 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 12.85 sec., 101.1 mph

Highway to Hell

Even with bikes designed for the long haul, a 10,000-mile trip over the rough conditions of the Alaska Highway—not to mention 140 miles of dirt and gravel on the Denali Highway—will cause some parts to fail. Although we were prepared with multiple flat-fix kits, none of our steeds succumbed to punctures. All of the tires exhibited noticeable wear after the first third of the trip. By the time tires were swapped at about the 7000-mile point, the squared profile of the rubber had begun to affect handling.

The Valkyrie suffered the most tire wear with the center tread of the rear worn almost all the way through. Consequently, by the 5000-mile point, the Honda’s formerly precise handling began to take on some wrinkles. The Interstate began to fall into corners and never quite settled down once leaned over. The bike’s slight wobble became more pronounced. Although we applaud Honda for fitting grippy radials, a bike designed for serious touring should expect to get more than 7000 miles from a set of tires.

The Venture also wobbled more through corners as the tires wore down. While the tires still weren’t showing the wear bars when we swapped them, the new rim protectors improved the Star’s manners enough for all the testers to comment on it in their notes. However, that change of personality only lasted about 1500 miles before the handling quirks began to sneak back.

The Electra Glide’s tires—the only tube-type tires of the trio—never misstepped and wore like steel. Although the tread was close to halfway to the wear bars by the 6000-mile point, only a slight degree of squaring of the profile was visible. The 1000-mile round trip to the Arctic Ocean on gravel roads (see sidebar, page tk) finished them off.

The other casualties on the road ranged from minor to major annoyances. The Harley mysteriously fouled the plugs in the rear cylinder less than 500 miles into the trip. They were replaced and never presented a problem again. The Electra Glide’s right exhaust header split on the return trip. The extended ride on the potholed, gravel Dalton Highway to the Arctic Ocean (which the other bikes missed) is most likely to blame. The abrasive and corrosive material that the Dalton is treated with to keep the dust down is also probably the cause of the mild pulsing in the FLHTCUI’s front brakes under light application. The Venture lost the rubber insert for the right floorboard somewhere on the return trip through Canada. The Yamaha’s stereo’s external speakers wouldn’t work for 36 hours after one rainstorm. Toward the end of the trip, the controls for the stereo and CB would lock up. Only turning off the ignition for a while could temporarily cure the problem. Aside from an annoying short in the AUX input in the Interstate’s stereo, the Honda suffered no failures on the ride. (Other than the cracked saddlebag caused by one tester rear-ending it during a photo shoot.)

Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide

High Points: Low Points: First Changes:
Best upper-body weather protection of the bunch Down on power Install the shorter accessory windshield
Roomiest, easiest bags to pack Lowers channel water across the rider's feet Cramped passenger accommodations Power up to 95 cubic inches
Fuel-injected Twin Cam engine Cramped passenger accommodations
Specifications:
Designation: FLHTCUI
Suggested base price: $18,630 ($18,370 CA)
Standard colors: Black
Extra cost colors: Blue pearl, red, add $340; blue pearl/diamond ice, orange pearl/diamond ice, green/black, red/black, add $810
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: 5000 miles
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air-cooled, 45-degree, tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: OHV, 1 intake valve, 1 exhaust valve per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1450cc, 95 x 102mm
Compression ratio: 8.8:1
Carburetion: Dual-throat EFI
Lubrication: Dry sump, 4.0 qt
Minimum fuel grade: 92 octane
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt, 70/32
Chassis
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 16.0 x 3.0 in.
Front tire: MT90B16 71H Dunlop Elite II D402
Rear tire: MT90B16 71H Dunlop Elite II D402
Front brake: 2, dual-action, four-piston calipers, 11.5-in. discs
Rear brake: Dual-action, four-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 40mm stanchions, 4.6 in. travel, air-adjustable for preload, antidive
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 3.0 in. travel, air-adjustable for preload
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal (.9 gal reserve)
Handlebar width: 30.5 in., 1 in. diameter
Inseam equivalent: 33.9 in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 625 watts
Battery: 12v, 28AH
Forward lighting: 6.5-in. 55/60-watt headlight, 2 spotlights, 2 position lights, fender-tip light
Taillight: 2 bulbs, fender-tip light
Instruments: Speedometer, tachometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter, fuel gauge, voltmeter, oil pressure, ambient air temperature; indicator lights for turn signals, neutral, high beam, oil pressure; LCD clock/AM/FM/ weatherband/CB/cassette/AUX
Performance
Fuel mileage: 30 to 45 mpg, 37.0 mpg avg.
Average range: 185 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top-gear: 2750
200-yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 68.3 mph Quarter-mile acceleration: 14.69 sec., 86.7 mph

King of the Road

After racking up more than 10,000 miles in both ideal and arduous conditions, we sat down to tally up which of these cruising tourers would get our vote as best of class. First runner-up honors go to the Venture. The most original motorcycle in the group, the Yamaha was hurt by its windshield and the need to frequently tinker with the suspension. The Valkyrie tried hard to straddle two worlds without interfering with the other Hondas that currently reside in them—and felt like it. To be a better tourer, the Valkyrie will need to borrow more from the Gold Wing. Still, we expect both the Interstate’s and the Venture’s first-year problems to get ironed out in future versions.

Despite two problems requiring trips to a shop, the Electra Glide wins by a nose. While not a perfect motorcycle, the Harley, when viewed as-is, offers the best cruising and touring package of the trio straight out of the box. And it should, since the Electra Glide has been running down American roads as long as any Honda or Yamaha. Long the sole occupant of the cruising tourer class, the Electra Glide has now earned the title, King of the Cruising-Tourer Class.