Lock, Load and Roll.... And Roll | Full Dress Tourer Comparison

2011 H-D Road Glide Ultra vs. 2012 Honda Gold Wing vs. 2011 Kawasaki Voyager vs. 2012 Victory Cross Country Tour

Helmet: Icon Airframe **Helmet: **Bell Revolver Helmet: Arai Corsair V Helmet: Vemar Jiano Evo TC
Jacket: Alpinestars Grease Monkey Jacket: TourMaster Raven Jacket: Tourmaster Centurion Jacket: AGV Sport Tempest
Gloves: Dainese Tracker Gloves: Icon Sub Stealth Gloves: Alpinestars SPS Leather Gloves: Dianese Blaster
Boots: Joe Rocket Boots: Timberland **Boots: **Alpinestars Soho Boots: Sidi Laguna Gore-Tex

Welcome to Long Distance Touring. It’s an odd niche made up of bikes whose manufacturers think are the best way to cover big miles in style. Obviously there are a bunch of factors to weigh when choosing the right rig, and a balance to achieve in weight vs. amenities vs. price; power vs. fuel economy and range; and comfort vs. handling. But for the most part, big miles equal big bikes with tons of space and amenities. While custom baggers are in the very popular sweet spot right now, heavy tourers are also getting their share of love, and new models are coming out yearly. With this test being about touring, we narrowed the bikes’ required amenities to: a top box, a radio, and a propensity for laying down miles.

New on the scene is Victory’s Cross Country Tour, a scaled-up version of their hit Cross Country model. While the Tour might seem to infringe on territory reserved for the Vision, its more traditional styling is made to appeal to those turned off by the space-agey Vision. It’s also now their de-facto flagship model, priced even higher than the Vision, but just as fully loaded. It features a more retro fork-mounted fairing, but since it’s a brand new bike, we couldn’t resist including it over the Vision (which won our big touring test two years ago).

While not brand new, Honda’s Gold Wing has been re-designed for 2012, with mostly cosmetic changes. It’s not even remotely a cruiser, but the Gold Wing is popular with lots of you who write in to the magazine, so here it is. We know we’re opening up a can of worms by including the ‘Wing and not a BMW of some sort, but hey, you have to draw a line somewhere. That said, the Gold Wing is viewed by many as the pinnacle of long distance touring machines, so it’s a good chance to see what it would do versus more traditionally-styled bikes.

Under the heading of refined traditionalism, you’ve got Harley-Davidson’s Road Glide Ultra. A direct descendant of 1980’s Tour Glide, the Road Glide Ultra finally brings the “Sharknose” back to its full-on touring roots by adding a box and actual suspension travel to the Road Glide Custom. The unit we tested is actually a 2011 model (which is when it was introduced), but it’s unchanged other than paint. As the spiritual granddaddy of the whole Touring Cruiser thing, it’s good to have it here.

The oldest unchanged model in our queue is Kawasaki’s two-year-old Vulcan 1700 Voyager ABS. Based on the do-it-all Vulcan 1700 platform, the Voyager is the pinnacle of Kawasaki’s touring know-how, and the only one in this test that comes in south of $20k. It’s also the only one based on a true cruiser platform, not a hybrid like the Victory and Harley.

Widgets Or Hit the Road, Jack

Traveling is what touring bikes are all about, so that’s what we did. We had intended to do a several-thousand-mile loop around California, but when the Victory didn’t show up on time, we took the available three on a shortened trip around half the state instead. A full thousand miles was logged on most of the bikes, and we managed a First Ride on the Tour (elsewhere in this issue) earlier, so we don’t feel completely ripped off.

We all know what the most important thing is on a touring bike, right? If you answered comfort, power, or mileage, you’re way off base. What I’m talking about is gadgets. These days, a bike lives and dies by its electronics. All of these contenders are equipped with a sound system, cruise control, and ABS, but beyond that levels of equipment varied greatly.

The Kawasaki brings up the rear on standard gizmos, with just a two-speaker radio residing in the fairing. iPod support, GPS, rear speakers, and heated seats like (some of) the other bikes have are extra (see sidebar). The Vulcan also had a slew of left-right switches to control not-so-many features, which can be confusing and uses up a lot of real estate on the dash. A wildly inaccurate (and changeable) mileage ‘Guesstimator’ is the centerpiece of the dash, along with super-sized tripmeters, and a huge audio display. If you have trouble reading your current bike’s dash, the Voyager might be your next bike.

The Victory Cross Country Tour, on the other hand, has a compact digital display that gives all sorts of information, and is controlled by a single button behind the left control cluster. The usual dual tripmeters and range calculator are joined by a clock, timer, average and instant mileage, average speed, air temp thermometer, and more. The low fuel warning was occasionally a little paranoid, going off once when there were still 2 gallons left. Uniquely, it comes with a standard iPod hook-up in the left fairing lower compartment, while also sporting heated seats and grips.

Honda’s Gold Wing has had a slew of widgetry for years, but some are getting dated. The audio system is nice, and has just been upgraded to surround sound, and even has an adjustable speed-volume adjustment (as does the Harley). iPod support is now available as an option, and is controllable on the voluminous thumb controls. The Nav system (which gets a higher-def screen for 2012) seems antiquated, and could be bested by most current smart phones. Honda’s Trip Planner was praised by some, but seemed to have trouble finding some sample destinations we fed in. The dash carries on this theme with a separate button for every function instead of a less real-estate hogging display. The heated grips and seat have an adjustable power setting, not just high/low like the other bikes with this feature. The most over-the-top piece of electronica on the Gold Wing were key-fob activated locks on the bags, and a trunk popper for the top box.

Harley has the warmest tones from the sound system, but is equaled in volume by the Wing and bested by the Victory. Auto-canceling turn signals are de rigeur in this class, and they all work to greater and lesser degrees. The Harley’s try to figure out what you’re doing, but sometimes they stay on too long. The others seem to be on a timer, so be sure to keep hitting it if you’re signaling for a future exit. Some testers reported that they had trouble finding the controls on the Harley, but once acquired, they’re easy to distinguish. The broad dash is sparse, with just a few old-school gauges, information about range and trip displayed on the tiny odometer window on the speedo, with audio functions and clock on the stereo/CD player.

Cruise control was a feature all the bikes shared, but some did it better than others. Harley’s ride-by-wire electronic throttle made for the most seamless cruise experience. The bike basically ignores throttle input from the rider below the level that it’s currently using, and feeds in some juice if you twist it, but otherwise is disconnected from the system while on cruise. The others use more traditional cable get-ups and Kawasaki even is a little hard to get to disengage without tapping the brake, while the others were accurate and fairly nondescript.

Comforts of Home

As much as we loathe it (compared to a two-laner) we go out of our way to hit some interstate on these big dogs. And when pounding the big miles, the importance of comfort comes to the fore.

We spent the least amount of time on the Cross Country Tour, but it was nevertheless impressive. The Victory fits a variety of riders, with mile-long floorboards offering a variety of foot positions. The lack of a heel shifter felt weird to a couple of dedicated touring riders, but was mostly not missed. Though our test bike had the foot controls set far forward on the boards, they’re adjustable fore and aft a couple of inches. With its compact and supportive seat, though, Victory could give lessons on how to provide comfort without using a lot of bulk.

The Victory’s adjustable wind management wings were awesome. While the other bikes’ adjustable fairing lowers simply opened and closed, the Cross Country’s actually pivoted to direct air either toward or away from you, or closed up for some of the best coverage in the test, good in the cold or the hot.

Testers were mixed on Harley’s Road Glide Ultra. It has wide, forward bars that are a stretch for most riders (but not a bad thing for everyone), very unlike the compact but roomy setup of the Electra Glide. The seat’s heat was appreciated, but shape-wise it’s behind the others. The verdict on the smallish floorboards (amplified by an intrusive heel shifter) was mixed as well, with some riders liking the supportive feel, and others feeling restricted with nowhere to move around, especially those with large feet. On the other hand, short riders didn’t like having to rest a thigh on a hot engine when stopped—in order to reach the ground. We’d have raved about the fairing lower wind management, as it actually does something (ahem, Voyager) but the Victory’s system blew it away, literally. A tall windshield was exactly in the taller riders’ line of vision, but otherwise managed wind flow well.

The Kawasaki’s ergonomics were widely praised for comfy neutrality. The sky-high windshield was in nobody’s line of sight, but most prefer them not quite so tall. The seat is a good shape, but made from very soft foam which will lock you in a single position and eventually take its toll. Shorter riders love how narrow this bike is across the middle, making a fairly easy reach to the ground. In this summertime test, heat management was key, and this bike, which we nicknamed “the heater,” failed miserably. The difference between open and closed fairing lowers was how hard the hot air from the radiator would blow on your legs.

When mounting the Gold Wing, everybody had to recalibrate to its sportier seating position, with mixed results. While ergonomics are basically unchanged from prior years, a re-shaped seat may have contributed to taller riders complaining less about the “slouch” it puts you in and shorter riders complaining more, but even the biggest Wing boosters among us thought the layout was less comfortable than the other bikes. Riders with bad knees will chafe at the limited number of foot positions available. The seat is very firm and supportive and good for lots of miles if you can get your back in proper position. Honda’s two-position adjustable windshield is nice and low in the bottom position, and Kawasaki-high when boosted up to the top notch. A windshield vent is nice for directing cool wind right at the rider, but it’s the only option to cool off.

Pack It Up

The Road Glide has the smallest luggage compartments, but they’re the most user friendly… meaning you can easily overstuff them. Joining the trio of bags in the back are a pair of spring-loaded dash compartments and button-snap secured pockets in the fairing lowers, neither of which are lockable.

In the middle we’ve got the Voyager, which, despite bigger storage numbers, has the least easily usable space. The latches on the box are somewhat cheap, and the latching mechanism on the lockable stuff is fiddly. If there’s anything near the internal latches, it can be hard to get the bags fully closed—and there’s bound to be something in the way if you’re fully loaded. Lockable compartments in the dash are a nice feature however, though you need the key to get into them.

The electronic Honda saddlebags are a good size, and fairly easy to get stuffed full. They’re one of the few functional components to get redesigned on the Gold Wing this year, and they now integrate into the tail of the bike more, while picking up a few inches of space. Like all the other bikes, the fairly compact Honda box can fit a full face helmet, but the opening is on the narrow side. The dash compartments reach a compromise, with one locking and one not, but both are easily accessible.

The Cross Country Tour conquers luggage with its huge containers. Among the easier to operate, if you’re overstuffing any of these bags, you’re probably way over the weight limit. While there are no compartments on the fairing itself, there are a pair of non-locking areas on the lowers; an odd choice for the one with the iPod in it. But then, this is a company that sees a fork lock as optional equipment.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Honda’s Gold Wing was the fastest by a mile in torque and horsepower, but it does so with a soulless electric whine. It likes higher RPM slightly more than low RPM, but also sucks down the fuel at the higher revs, occasionally matching the thrifty H-D’s fuel economy, and other times sinking below the thirsty Vulcan. A five-speed transmission is very smooth, but it’s also the only one in the test (the rest are 6 speeds). With that big honkin’ motor, thankfully it doesn’t really need to shift much. Your best indicator of speed is that you’re passing everyone, or that your riding buddies have disappeared in your mirrors. It’s smooth as silk on the open road, and is fast, but it has zero throb or engine character, and in that sense, is not even remotely like a cruiser.

Kawasaki’s 1700 engine has always struck us as an odd duck. It’s got torque down low, but it shudders like it doesn’t want to be there under about 2700 rpm, then it hits a sweet spot until 3500 or so, and then gets wheezy. It’s got the worst fuel economy in the group (and the smallest tank), so if you’re revving to smooth it out, you’re also stopping for gas more often, and if you lug it, things just feel wrong. The fact that the transmission is geared rather tall just makes it more of a head-scratcher. In this stout group of engines, all of them either doing something well, or having lots of character (or both), it just wasn’t that impressive.

Harley’s Twin Cam 103 engine is in some ways the opposite of the Vulcan motor. It literally bounces the bike up and down at a stop, but settles almost instantly once rolling, with instant and fun low-end torque that smoothes out as power tapers in the midrange. This is easily our favorite motor H-D produces, including the higher-end 110-inch Twin Cam. We did have one problem, however; our sportbike-enthusiast rookie had no idea what RPM to run on the freeway, and held the Road Glide at near 5k rpm for a 20-mile stretch, causing the oiling system to puke essential fluids out the breather. Once our rookie was educated on proper shifting points, the problem never repeated itself.

While lacking the bottom-end punch of the Harley, the Victory Freedom 106 in the Cross Country is deceptively fast. It has super mellow power delivery that keeps you out of trouble with the bike, but may get you into trouble with the law. It almost feels slow when you consider how gently the power arrives, but it out-pulls anything shy of the Gold Wing when it comes on in the midrange. It’s a perfect powerplant for a touring bike, though the drivetrain makes more noise than the exhaust pipes.

Both H-D and Victory engines were well-mated to their 6-speed transmissions, with power coming on in just the right place for the ratios, though one tester felt the Victory’s 6th gear overdrive was tall. The American bikes both had clunky shift engagements, but while the Ultra’s was positive, the ‘Country seemed a little sloppier (though we didn’t have shifting issues like we’ve had on past Victorys). These two set-ups were the most efficient of the group, and though the H-D was our mileage champ this time, the Victory has prevailed in prior tests.

The ‘Wing has the snick-snick shifting of a sportbike (albeit with a longer throw), while the Voyager was a light touch and positive engagement, spoiled only by the odd ratios we mentioned earlier. The automatic neutral finder on the Kawasaki is nice at a stop, but seems to make it harder to find neutral any other time. The Honda is a gear shy of the rest of these bikes, but with a big 6-cylinder that likes to rev, it’s never a problem.

Handle This

Nothing in cruisers handles like the Victory Cross bikes. The Tour (and its siblings) have a magical balance of quick, low-effort steering, positive feedback, and rock-solid stability (even in high winds). The engine’s mellow power helps out, making even very technical roads easy for even inexperienced riders. It might have something to do with having the only inverted fork in the test.

There is one nit to pick, though. The distance between where you sit and the steering head on the Victory makes for awkwardness during low-speed maneuvers, since you have to reach for a pullback bar that’s suddenly off to the side. Obviously that bugged those of us with short arms the most. The other three bikes weren’t so much better or worse, but rather appealed to different types of riders.

The Gold Wing feels very low, tips in easily, and encourages liberal application of the throttle—and high entry speeds. It feels like it wants to eagerly fall into turns. You either have to hold it up or apply the throttle more. Even the more sporty riders were put off by how different it was from the other bikes. Though quicker and sportier, it was more work to ride (see also: Not a Cruiser). It feels very light, unless you’re at low speeds, when you feel every pound of its 922 lb. mass. It handles quickly, but until you get the hang of it, not all that predictably. It’s easy to over-steer into a corner, and a prime example of its ‘otherness’ is the fact that your boot tips are the first thing to touch down on the ‘Wing, unlike footboards on the other bikes.

Harley’s Ultra is predictable, neutral-handling, and solid; like a slower-steering version of the Cross Country Tour. Slow, twisting roads are its forte, as it could just lug its way through at low RPM without a bunch of shifting. Big torque response from the motor made our more advanced riders smile, and our less advanced rider learn to take it easy on the go-stick when leaned over. It feels like the big bike that it is, but holds a line exceptionally well.

Guys who like to manhandle their bikes were keen on the Vulcan. The Voyager tips in readily at first, then gets progressively harder; on a twisty road it’s a lot of work. This is actually a good thing, as otherwise it would quickly run out of ground clearance (it has the least here). It was less predictable in the lines it would end up with, and scraping made it worse.

Kawasaki’s offering started out with the worst suspension in the test, but with some tweaking, we were able to get the rebound damping right in the formerly bouncy rear end. The Harley is also nothing to write home about, controlled and firm but easily overwhelmed by big hits, and not very plush… though far better than the one-inch lower Custom model.

The Cross Country and the ‘Wing were the kings of suspension. Both do a fabulous job of damping the boingers, even with different amounts of preload and passenger weight. The bikes manage to deliver a plush ride and responsive handling in a variety of conditions. If we had to pick, the Victory is slightly plusher, with the ‘Wing being a bit more responsive.

Whoa There

All the entrants had dual discs up front and ABS, so none could really be said to be lacking in the stopping department. Where they differed was in feel, feedback and engagement.

The Gold Wing’s linked system really excelled up front, feeding in a little rear, but not so much that you’d notice. When you engaged the rear, however, it kicked in a little too much front power and felt abrupt. Harley’s Brembo setup had a nice bite, good feel and great stopping power, if just a little shy of the Wing. Again, it was a case where some riders didn’t like the way the H-D initialized braking, while others loved it.

The Voyager was middle of the road, with decent engagement and feel. The same riders who liked its handling also liked its more forgiving (and less precise) feel, allowing you to mash on the brakes a bit more.

The Cross Country was just not up to snuff on the binders. It’s got an impressive-looking system with steel braided lines, full-floating rotors, and a partially linked rear, but stopping fast requires all four fingers and some muscle.

Would you look at that?

Harley has done a good job over the last couple of decades keeping the industry on its toes, with fresh styling that still references their incredibly long history. But the Road Glide is a 90s reboot of an 80s design, with a Tour Pak slapped on the back, and all the old school on this bike just looks old. That said, H-D’s paint and other finishes are top notch, and the bike feels like a solid hunk of machine.

On the other hand, Kawasaki’s Voyager is unified in appearance, and appropriately modern in its retroness. Perhaps borrowing a bit too much from years gone by (e.g., balloon tires), but at least it strikes a good profile. That said, the closer you get, the chintzier it looks. There are metal and plastic covers that perform no function, and everything feels thin. If Kawasaki goes back and makes the Voyager an up-scaled version of the nicely blacked-out Vaquero, that would be a step in the right direction.

With the exception of bikes at the extremes (like the Fury), it seems that all of Honda’s practical-use vehicles end up looking similar. The latest incremental re-do of the Gold Wing integrated the saddlebags with the rear fender, for a very Accordesque rear view. While familiarity can be a good thing, other than the new display, that dash looks very 1990s. It’s not ideal if your stock in trade is as a high-tech touring machine.

Somehow Victory has managed to out-custom the customs, and out-tour the all-business tourer. Still splitting the difference between uber-tourer and cruising tourer, only in a more traditional way, the Cross Country Tour might be the best-designed Victory yet. It takes the shapes of an old-school “batwing” style touring bike, and combines it with a cast aluminum frame, long travel, and a low seat height. Sure, the white paint makes it look like a cop bike, and the box mount is ugly, but in overall design, it takes the prize.

That’s a Wrap

In many ways, this comparison is a full-on tie. These four bikes, all built for roughly the same purpose, are very different in price, equipment, looks, and more. If you don’t think that’s a good thing, look at 1000cc sportbikes, where most models are basically similar in all the important areas, and you’ll see choice is wonderful. Any of the complaints in this article are simply to compare the bikes to each other. They’re all good in different ways, but since we hate ties…

In this Open-Class style shootout, typically the one with less stuff is going to suffer, even if it brings it for way less. That’s exactly the case with Kawasaki’s Vulcan 1700 Voyager ABS. On the one hand, the Voyager is less polished than the others. On the other hand, compared to bikes in its own tax bracket, it basically owns the class. You can’t get this much capability at this price unless you’re buying used, and if you drop the ABS (we wouldn’t), it’s even cheaper. There are a slew of upgrades available from Kawasaki, but unfortunately they’re priced fairly high. We all agreed that the Kawasaki is a hell of a bargain, and for a couple of our testers it was vying for the win.

Traditionalists truly can’t go wrong with the H-D Road Glide Ultra. The 103 is Harley’s best touring motor yet, the solid chassis is light years from the wobbly bikes of the 90s, and the luggage has always been top- notch. While not a bargain to begin with, there are literally whole forests cut down to support the catalog that supports this bike, so upgrades are cheap and plentiful. It’s easily one of Harley’s best touring machines, even considering the flagship Ultra Limited.

The Honda is an odd duck, slightly out of its element, and very expensive in anything other than stripped form. It starts in the same neighborhood as the H-D and Victory, but if you add Navigation and XM add $2700. ABS? Another $1200. Airbag? $1400. Fully equipped, it’s a whopping $28,499. We may have jokingly called it an Accord, but the Accord starts cheaper, and only a fully loaded model with a leather interior and V-6 engine tops the loaded GW’s price.

That said, if you like a seamless powerband, all the bells and whistles (or an airbag), it’s your beast. Once upon a time the amenities it offered were cutting edge, but now it’s surpassed in some areas and matched in others. We know that Honda has to appease the legions of Wingers out there, but this update should have gone a few steps farther.

With the limited action it saw, nobody really wanted to give the Victory Cross Country top prize in this test. But even in the 400 miles we did on the photo shoot day, the bike knocked our socks off. Feeling like a cruiser, while out- touring the Gold Wing is a trick that will get you a win around here. And a few of us have ridden the Cross Country considerably longer distances, and can vouch for its credentials. This one brings nothing but upgrades over the more casual (original) Cross Country, so it’s a bona fide trooper.

Accessory Upgrades

**Kawasaki: **
Audio adaptor $60
iPod adaptor $108
Rear speakers $350
XM $480
Garmin Adaptor $50
Garmin 600-Series Mount $278
Garmin Nuvi 650 (from Amazon) $310-750
Heated seat $577 front, $246 Rear

Harley:
Road Tech Zumo 665 with XM $800
Zumo Mount $40
XM only $500
iPod Adaptor $400
Rubber Heated grips $170

Victory:
XM $500
Garmin $1038

Gear Exam

**Vemar Jiano EVO TC helmet **

The EVO TC differs from the original in its Kevlar/carbon fiber/fiberglass shell construction. It may have sleek style and good looks going for it, but my bigger concern was pressure points, which usually (and inconveniently) reveal themselves after you’re well down the road. I’m happy to say that even through longer days in the saddle, at no time did I experience that telltale pressing sensation (even with sunglasses), thanks to the EVO’s balanced internal liner. In fact, there was more space than expected, probably due to a roomier mid-oval shell shape that’s snug ear to ear ( I’m more of a round oval).

Although the large top vent and chin bar vent are easily manipulated with gloved hands, I felt only passing breezes (but we were behind big windshields). The rotating visor felt solid both open and closed, and shuts with a sure snap and little fuss. I also found the sleek 75-percent tint interior shield handy with the chinbar in the up position; it’s lowered via a lever on the left side. A few days with the ECE 22.05-rated EVO left me pleasantly surprised, but we’ll be able to give you more info in an upcoming modular helmet comparison.

**Sidi Laguna Gore Tex boots **

Having worn them a few weeks prior in the soggy hinterlands of Oregon (where they kept the rain at bay, as advertised), it was a relief to find the SIDI Laguna boots didn’t overheat my dogs in the Easy-Bake climes of California’s Central Coast, either. (Well, not too much; they are Gore-Tex after all.)

The well-crafted Lagunas sport a blend of Cordura and leather for flexibility, with hide where you want protection most - down low. An arch support and ankle reinforcements shield delicate bits, while a nylon-reinforced shin plate repelled its share of road garbage as I weaved through construction zones.

I’m keen on the Lagunas’ clean styling, and 2/3 length zippers down the side make them easy to slip on. But the best part was the all day-comfort -- even on 400-mile days. I just wish the non-slip touring sole was a bit more deeply lugged for traction. 900 lb. bikes on gravel pullouts need really sure footing...

Riding Positions

Ricky Talbot
:: 5 ft. 7 in., 165 lbs., 31-in. inseam

For me this comparison breaks down into two categories: traditional (H-D and Kawasaki) and techie (Honda and Victory).

In the traditional camp, I prefer the Road Glide. I really like the Voyager, as it fits my frame best and handles well, but everything feels a little cheap and the engine is weird. The Harley poses other problems—it’s hard to maneuver at low speeds and I have trouble reaching the foot and radio controls comfortably. But I love the way the motor sounds and feels.

In the techie camp, the Victory is my favorite. The Honda has the look and feel of a very big sportbike. The controls are easy to use, despite how much stuff they control. The Victory also looks futuristic, and the pull-back bar reminds me of a watercraft Polaris used to make. But the sound and feel is closer to that of the classic bikes, and I liked riding it the most. The Gold Wing was the easiest to ride, but it feels like cheating; just a little too easy.

But I liked both the techie bikes better, with the looks, feel and solid handling of the Victory giving it the overall edge.

Damon Rutledge
:: 6 ft. 2 in., 230 lbs., 34-in. inseam

My whole riding career has been on a GSX-R 750, which I used to think was a big bike. Riding long stretches of freeway with these bikes isn’t much different, but cornering is what sets them apart. Honda’s Gold Wing feels like a sportbike in a cross-country body. Harley Davidson goes through back roads like it owns the road. It instills so much confidence in you that it’s hard to remember that this is a 900 lb. beast. It seemed like the Vulcan was making an effort to get to where the Harley was, but in general competence (handling, etc), I didn’t feel there was any one area where I could say, “this is the greatest bike out there,” I just felt like it was the bike for me: a newbie to touring who wanted to take it easy and just enjoy the ride. I also found the Kawasaki more aesthetically pleasing than the Harley or the Gold Wing.

I am taking the Victory out of the equation because I didn’t have enough road time on it, and the Harley comes in at the bottom because of the oil-puking experience. I would rate the ‘Wing as purely hedonistic, because that bike does everything well. However, for the feel of the open road, rumble and power, I would pick the Kawasaki. It still has the feel of what I envision a tourer to be and seems beginner-friendly with the proper shortcomings to instill safe, slow rides until you move up to the more advanced Harley.

I wish I’d gotten more time on the Victory. I think it provided everything the Harley and Kawasaki missed; it felt more spacious, had tons of power and handled like a dream.

Billy Bartels
:: 6 ft., 198 lbs., 33-in inseam

The Vulcan 1700 Voyager is a solid bike at its price point, but it doesn’t do much for me. It’s relatively comfortable, but I’m not a fan of its powertrain, handling, cheap-feeling luggage, or its electronics package. But if you’re looking for a new bike south of $20k, it’s what you’ve got. The Gold Wing is also a heck of a bike. It’s smooth, powerful, and loaded with features. Sure, all those buttons are a bear to navigate, but even the ergonomics (that have bothered me in the past) seemed improved. But I take the title of this magazine seriously, and it’s just not a bike I want to do anything like cruise on. That leaves the Road Glide Ultra. Good brakes, solid handling, nice bottom end punch, easy-to-use electronics—what’s not to like? It’s a hell of a bike.

But then I think that for just about the same price there’s the Victory. Even better handling, better amenities, and a comfier ride (their ventilation control makes fairing lowers desirable for the first time ever!). More than anything it’s just more fun to ride. I think I have to pick it. When the Victory Vision came out a few years back, I thought, “finally, the bike for those who have trouble picking between a Glide and Wing.” But the Cross Country Tour does an even better job, and without the spaceship design.

Andy Cherney
:: 5 ft. 7 in., 162 lbs., 30-in. inseam

When I saw the entrants for this annual touring throwdown, I was pretty stoked. We had a little bit of everything.

If we’re talking ‘luxury touring motorcycles’ the Wing is the king. But at the end of the day, it’s a pretty soulless machine. If you’re looking for any hint of character or smidgen of soul, keep looking. Is it a cruiser? Hell no.

The question then morphs to what is the best touring cruiser, and that answer’s simple—the Victory Cross Country Tour. It’s pure cruiser boilerplate and laden with goodies to boot. You could argue that the others fit that definition too, but I just dig the way the Victory handles, the riding position, the cut of its jib—even though the braking has the feel of an anvil. The Harley came close, as I feel the Twin Cam 103 can do no wrong. Normally H-D carries a big styling edge over the competition, but it turns out the Road Glide Custom’s cool urban vibe just doesn’t translate well when you stick a big honking trunk on it.

While the Kawi is really nicely styled, super-comfy and is overall a very competent machine, it just leaves a few too many amenities and unticked boxes behind. But I will say it again and again, this bike is the biggest bang for the buck going. But that's not what this test is about; it's about overall goodness. And for me, it's the Victory—on price, performance, styling and that ever-elusive cool factor. CR