The Leather Tuxedo Set | 2012 Victory Cross Roads LE VS. 2012 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic

All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go

Upgrades. We all love ‘em, and both the Victory Cross Roads and Harley-Davidson’s Road King, the entry-level tourers from each manufacturer, have them available in spades. But as we all know, some people don’t buy the entry level model not because they can’t afford the more decked-out one, but rather because they want a more streamlined bike (or a little something different style-wise). These two are aimed at that niche. For guys (and gals) who want a competent touring bike, but long for the look and simplicity of days gone by, without whistles and bells like audio, navigation, or even a full fairing, these are the bikes.

But it just wouldn’t be a “classic” model without little touches like leather saddlebags, added trim pieces, an old-school barn door windshield, and classic paint. Of course, since these bikes are sold at a premium, innocuous slices of technology like ABS and cruise control are included, because what’s a little not-so-classic electronics between friends?

Open Audition

To understand how the two manufacturers got to these modern classics, you have to start at the bikes they are based on. Harley’s Road King starts at $17,499 in basic black, but adding optional cruise, ABS, and a security system (standard on the Classic) will set you back another $1500. That still doesn’t total up to the Classic’s starting bid ($19,599), but the rest is made up in Classicness: Wide whitewall tires, leather-wrapped saddlebags, and unique styling touches like different fender tips, a tank badge, paint, and a different seat. But value be damned; the Road King Classic still rings in as more expensive than H-D’s more touring-oriented (and arguably better-equipped) Electra Glide Classic.

Victory’s Cross Roads comes even more stripped, at a base price of $15,999 without crash bars or a windshield, but at least the faux leather bags are the cheaper option from Victory. Included in the base model is ABS (as on all Victory touring bikes for 2012), but not cruise control (standard on the Classic, or a $400 option on the base model).

Victory’s newest variant of their Cross series is the Cross Roads Classic LE. In addition to the basic touring kit listed above, it brings a number of Classic touches, some of which come right out of the Pure Polaris accessory catalog. The bolt-on bits include chrome fender accents, chrome protectors on the saddlebags, and a classic-styled light bar to flank the headlight with additional lights. All these add-ons would have taken the price of an upgraded base bike over a grand past the $17,999 Victory is asking for the Classic, but they didn’t stop there. Additional “specials” for this limited edition model also include laced wheels, white stitching on the seat and bags, and a numbered plate on the engine attesting to this bike’s limitedness.

Walking around the two bikes, there is no question who does ‘classic’ better. The (very) untrained eye would have trouble distinguishing the Harley Classic from its 1950s and 60s predecessors, while nobody would mistake the Victory Classic as being from that era. Luckily for the Victory, the initial impression based on looks carries over to the ride, and the ergonomics for that matter.

The Road King is obviously a throwback. The very conservative, 1950s-inspired upright seating position just doesn’t feel very cool or contemporary. Which is fine, as there are a million ways to change a Harley, from a multitude of bar shapes to different seats or even floorboards. Everything is within easy reach, and the rubber-mounted floorboards are a comfy touch (and little-changed since the 1960s). Whether you’re short or tall, the setup is satisfactory.

However, the more laid-back position of the Cross Roads got our attention as well. With its mile-long boards, seating options are virtually unlimited. You may not have instant access to the foot controls, but you can set your tootsies anywhere from the far rear (a more upright sit) to the outer edges, for a more kicked-back ride. The lack of a heel shifter is a mixed bag (it’s available as an accessory) as it makes the floorboards feel that much roomier (not locking your foot in like on the Road King), but one tester missed it. The bars are on the close side for taller riders, but not ridiculously so, and the narrow, shaped leather seat fit a variety of backsides in a supportive manner.

Both rider seats gave roughly the same comfort level on the long haul, despite their very different designs. The rear seats were a wash as well. Shorter, smaller passengers preferred the deep foam, supportive passenger floorboards and overall position on the King, while larger passengers preferred the wide seat and more spread-out rear stance of the Cross Roads.

Both windshields are giant aerodynamic disasters (perhaps contributing to lower-than-average gas mileages in this test), but do a good job of tuning out turbulence and creating a peaceful bubble to ride in. The H-D’s shield is on the tall side (bothering shorter testers), but also snaps off in seconds, leaving little visual evidence behind. Break out the tools and be prepared for ugly brackets left behind if you try that with the Cross Roads.

Luggage is no real contest. Both are of a similar design with a pair of plastic snaps on each bag securing traditional leather buckles, which allows overstuffing by simply loosening the straps. Where the Victory really wins is in capacity. The Cross Roads’ bags are huge, and the only way the H-D trumps the Vic is with materials, with genuine leather wrapping the Road King Classic’s bags.

Hold On

Out on the open road, either bike is well suited to a long day in the saddle, and none of us had any complaints about riding them any distance. Which is a good thing, as you’re likely to go three to four hours between gas stops on either bike. But you’d never know if you relied heavily on the Cross Roads Classic’s gauge or fuel light; it stays on full for over 50 miles, then plummets, sometimes signaling low fuel when there’s still over a gallon and a half in the tank.

Suspension is more compliant and better controlled on the Victory, as it soaks up bumps and responds to chop better than the Harley. While both rear suspensions are air adjustable, the ‘King (which works with less travel) is more finicky about setup to keep it in the sweet spot. The Harley is mostly well-controlled, but when set firmer for either more load or more aggressive riding, can suffer from too little rebound damping.

Cruise control is standard on both, but better executed and integrated on the Harley, with its ride-by-wire system. The controls are both instinctive and simple, with just two levers and three options for controlling your speed. Plus, with the electronic throttle, the bike doesn’t try to move your hand around for you. The Victory has a more conventional system that works well, but is controlled by a very aftermarket-looking control pod by the right handgrip, and has about four buttons too many.

In lower-speed, back-road scenarios, the balance tips in the Road King’s favor, especially on slower, technical roads, and also especially for more experienced riders. The Harley’s brakes, power and even handling (at low-medium speeds) are more responsive and immediate. Braking and power from the Cross Roads is far more laid back, leading one tester to think of its torque as “soft.” More empirical testing reveals the Victory to have more power and torque, it just takes longer to get it to the ground.

Braking is evened out to some extent by the ABS on both. Hard chargers feel free to clamp down on the wooden-feeling lever of the Victory to get it to slow at a rate they find acceptable, while noobs can be comforted that the more abrupt action on the Road King will not in fact result in any unwanted skidding.

Transmission action is predictably disappointing. Harley transmissions not tuned by Eric Buell have a legendary “clunk” to them, but at least they’re predictable in their agricultural feel. The Victory tranny had the clunk down, but not the predictable part, with lever pressure needed to change gears varying from light to “stomp on it, and wiggle a little.” Neutral is easier to find on the Cross Roads however.

Once tight turns open to more sweeping corners, the Victory pulls to the fore. It rides like a slot car at any speed; in fact, in overall steering and tracking, this touring rig could take on just about any cruiser, bar none. If you ignore the power delivery, riding position and engine sound, you could easily imagine this is an oversized sportbike. That’s not to say that the Road King isn’t good on a fast curvy road, it’s just not as good as the Cross Roads.

**Buttoning It Up **

Picking a winner is a matter of priorities. If you value the classic side of things over outright performance, the Road King Classic is a fine machine that will serve you well. It nails the look, much like it did at its introduction in the 90s, but carries all of H-D’s latest touring improvements of the last decade.

However, if you're splitting hairs over price and ride quality, and you fancy the look of Victory's classically modern mashup, the Cross Roads Classic LE comes out on top in overall functionality and value. CR

Star Stratoliner S

Though we couldn’t secure a Stratoliner for this comparison (Yamaha/Star simply had none in the country), it’d be a perfect fit. Unlike most tourers based on cruisers, this one’s got the power and size to pull off the transition.

At $17,390, it clocks in just below these two, but is missing some important amenities (or even the option for), like ABS, a 6-speed transmission and cruise control. That said, we can forgive the many shortcomings thanks to a sublime 113ci powerplant that simply rips out torque. More responsive than the Harley, more powerful than the Victory, and just two tons of fun, the Stratoliner is still easy to ride and control. Despite its heavyweight powerplant, it actually weighs less than these two American heavyweights, thanks to an aluminum frame.

Ironically, overall touriness is hampered by the large engine, and, coupled with a smaller tank, its range falls far short of these two long-milers.

Riding Positions

Billy Bartels
6 ft., 195 lbs., 33-in. inseam

Between these two, I'd say neither. Both are overpriced nostalgia wagons to me; give me the base model any day, for any price. Between the Road King and the Cross Roads, I'll take the sweet-handling Cross Roads any day. The fact that it comes stripped to the bone and lets you pick and choose your add-ons is sexy to a tinkerer like me, and the opposite of the Classic - which spoons on the schmaltz and hands you a fat bill for the pleasure.

But the Cross Roads Classic is one of the few times that "other" American brand gets it even less right than its foreign competition. With that two-tone paint and stitching, Victory hits the right notes... like a 7 year old at their first violin recital. All the cosmetic touches seem to lack the overall "designed" look that Victory's motorcycles have taken on in recent times. A perfect example is the round passing lamps flanking the trapezoidal central headlight. It hurts my head to look at it. And most of the rest of the touches seem just as disjointed.

It's much the same story with the Road King Classic. For years now, I've wondered why anybody would pay more for less. At least Victory has the sense to charge less for their non-locking, smaller saddlebags. Not so with Harley.

But if I were forced to pick, I'd take the Road King, simply for the better execution of its classic look.

Ricky Talbot
5 ft. 7 in., 162 lbs., 31-in. inseam

f the two bikes, I guess I'd pick the Harley. But I like both motorcycles for different reasons.

i really did enjoy the 106 cubic inch motor on the Cross Roads Classic; there's plenty of power throughout, though I didn't really notice the 109 foot-pounds of torque that Victory brags about. I also found the transmission to be clunky. Style-wise, I see what they're trying to do, but this bike has a very modern shape and although I liike the classic stitching and spoke wheels, it just didn't seem to work aesthetically. I liked the long floor-boards, though. The bike feels long, but because it's low it's easy to maneuver at both low and high speeds. ABS brakes are a nice though, though they felt very squishy - like I had to really white-knuckle the front. It just didn't feel as responsive as the Harley, which is important if you have a passenger and are trying to ride smoothly.

Basically, I really dig the Road King. When I first got on it, it felt top heavy but after I got on the freeway and goosed the 103 cubic inch engine, it was all good. That engine is responsive, very torque off the start and has plenty of power to push you through winding roads. i did have a hard time finding neutral, through.

The Road King's maneuverable in traffic as well. The brakes worked great and the ABS made me feel confident. I know it's classic Harley, but I don't like to have to look down at the tank to read the gauges. The controls in general are easier to operate on the Harley, but the windshield was way too big. Oh yea, and the seat was extremely comfortable.

So overall, the Harley just looks and feels more like a classic cruiser, with lots of torque and power, but comfortable at the same time. it all comes down to whether you want "to go for a cruise around the lake" or "muscle down the road".