Road Trip Trinity

Full Test!

Humping down the 101 South on a warm summer evening should be the epitome of easy cruising. And for the first hour or so of our return from our hardbagger tour out of L.A., things are just ducky. I'm lounged out on the Victory Vision (the Street version in Premium trim, thankyouverymuch), expansion joints blissfully minimized under the sheer weight of the thing, the whole roadway bashed by the gaze of its squinty-bright halogen headlight, beam sweeping the tarmac like a klieg.

But Mother Nature has different ideas, and the ash starts falling thickly from on high, flakes of epidermis ripped from a massive carcass. Here in the pitch blackness just north of Santa Barbara, it feels like the apocalypse is coming.

Thank god for the Victory's halogens, which dispense illumination with utter aplomb and punch a wide hole through the darkness. Following the light, the lads tuck in behind the Vision's locomotive-wide fairing, Neric on the Harley just because he wants maximum seat time on the King, and Kay on the Nomad because he's completely enamored of the Audio Package option on our test model.

We didn't have a perimeter reconnaissance of the Goleta fire in mind when we set out earlier that morning on our 250-mile day, but that's the way it goes in the land of milk and honey (and mud and fire retardant, too, nowadays).

Luckily we're strafing through the burning hills on some of the biggest touring machines on the planet, so there's plenty of protection from the elements. And because they're hard baggers, we've got gear stashed along to spare.

That's right, baggers. Again.

Yeah, we know-last issue it was soft bags. But for this comparison we aim for the hard stuff-bikes that come stock with shields and hard, integrated luggage. There's no escaping the fact that these things are hot sellers these days (even more so before the gas situation went supernova). The MIC cites exploding sales of this cruiser class over the last few years, and even one Gene Thomason over at Gene's Speed Shop in Torrance, Califoria, we spoke with just before the tour assured us, "You kidding? FLHs are the only things I work on these days."

Whatcha Got?
We handpicked three middleweight cruisers with hard bags, two of them with fork-mounted windshields (the Vision rolls with a frame-mounted full fairing). The participants include an old standby, a recent update and a brand-new model. Meet the Harley-Davidson FLHR Road King, the Kawasaki Vulcan Nomad 1600 and the Victory Vision Street. (Don't cry for the Royal Star Tour Deluxe-we feature a sidebar on it as well as on Triumph's newest monster, the hardbag-equipped Rocket III Touring. All sides of the displacement spectrum are covered.)

We did a similar setup in August 2005, but back then it was the Nomad, Road King and Tour Deluxe. We followed that road test up with a brief update of the Road King versus the Tour Deluxe last year, but this time out we thought we'd throw some new players in the mix and head out for a big, sweeping loop through some of our favorite California scenery.

To reiterate, the rogues handling these machines were yours truly, staffer Evan Kay and guest tester Joe Neric of sister magazine Motorcyclist design fame. Our route was dictated by two somewhat complementary desires. First, we wanted to witness the power of Santa Barbara's recent wind-driven fires (call us callous), and second, we wanted to sample some of California's finest back roads on touring rigs.

When this group of bikes last butted bags in a full comparison, the Tour Deluxe won the crown. The testers swooned over its snappy engine, capacious bags, long-range comfort and epic wind protection (almost overly epic). But they also dinged it for its long handlebars (unfriendly for tight turns), poor ground clearance and subpar gas mileage (33.5 mpg). The Road King got a thumbs-up for its quick-detach windscreen (a feature also found on the Star), gas mileage (37.7 mpg) and smooth fuel injection. While the Harley was chastised for its riding position back then, things seem to have improved for 2008.

If the Road King has evolved for 2008, that's also the case for the '09 version, which we briefly sampled (though not for this comparison). In 2005 the H-D was powered by the 1450cc Twin Cam 88 engine with a five-speed transmission. Now it's got the more powerful 1584cc Twin Cam 96 with the Cruise Drive six-speed tranny (which remains for 2009). Other additions include Brembo brakes (on all '08 H-D touring models), a slightly tweaked seating position and optional ABS. The '09 Road King brings an entirely new frame to the mix with a longer, stiffer swingarm that's said to combat the unsettling speed wobble that afflicts many FLHs that venture north of 75 mph.

While the rest of these bikes fit quite comfortably into the standard classic-cruiser template, the Victory Vision simply stops the show wherever you go. We must have been chased down for photos of the thing at least a dozen times in our two weeks with it. The seamlessly fluid arc of the tank and the scalloped frame of the engine nested beneath are truly eye-catching. That mill isn't just show, either; there's more than ample go available from the 1731cc mill, as evidenced by the way it kept running away from the Road King.

Still, from the first twist of the throttle it's obvious the H-D has torque to spare. Our dyno runs registered 75.8 lb-ft of the stuff at 3250 rpm, which spins up quickly and gets you off the line hastily. The Nomad is just as impressive, though it prefers to get the job done with much less fanfare. The 76.2 lb-ft of torque hits at a more user-friendly 2500 rpm and with a smoother, steadier output. Though the Road King averaged slightly better gas mileage (37.5 mpg versus the Nomad's 35 mpg) and has a larger tank (6.0 gallons versus 5.3 gallons), the H-D's six-speed transmission also spaces the gears well, with the overdrive sixth gear feeling like a nice push even at superlegal highway cruising speeds.

If you're talking torque, though, the previous conversation is rendered obsolete once you glance at the Victory's numbers-a healthy 94.9 stump-pulling lb-ft at 2750rpm. Talk about go! And the Vision delivers it with civilized aplomb-nary a lurch from the light as you're pulling away in first gear.

The Road King's reconfigured riding position brings it nearly up to par with the Nomad in comfort, and the H-D's rider and passenger floorboards are height-adjustable. While the Harley's supportive seat is much improved over the previous version, the Nomad still offers more room to squirm around on and thus was more coveted by our testers over longer distances. But the Vision trumps them both with its roomy cockpit, allowing you plenty of space to move around in (though a couple of testers complained about the way-narrow seat).

Get Yer Gear
The secret to getting out of town cleanly is to arrange for the group to meet at a restaurant just outside the city limits. The Denny's on I-5 just north of L.A. has become our de facto staging point, and it was the perfect place to plan a route of departure. Between mouthfuls we compared notes on packing the baggers.

Though they look pretty healthy, the Road King's bags have a narrow opening that requires some items to be squeezed in. While this isn't really an issue if you're riding solo, going two-up might make space a little tight when you throw passenger cargo into the mix. The tops of the bags close firmly and can be left locked or unlocked-which is nice when you're spending the day in the saddle and may want to grab a water bottle.

The Nomad's and Vision's bags are far more stylized, but of the two, only the Kawasaki's back up the bling with usable capacity. And both bikes' bags are side-loading, so you might consider accessory bag liners to take full advantage of the space (more so with the Kawasaki). As a safety feature the Nomad's bags will not open-or close-without the key. The Kawasaki is the only bike that sports functional helmet locks too, tucked discreetly under each bag's tip-over bar.

The Vision, however, really betrays its promise of a cavernous cargo hold: Open up the sculpted side-opening bags, and bam-a tiny indent of a glove compartment.

Like the Wind
No matter how hard we plan, escaping any big city requires that some time be spent on an interstate highway at the beginning and end of a trip. While hours on the superslab can be irritating if you're heading out on vacation, it's a good place to field-test the bikes at high speeds. As we progressed through our bike swaps every 100 miles or so, we compared notes and quickly arrived at some conclusions.

The windshields on all three bikes vary quite a bit in height. The Harley's windshield is the highest of the bunch. Our tallest rider (average Joe 5-foot-9 Neric) could just about see over the Lexan, but the others in the group had to strain for a clear view. Of course, Harley offers numerous other sizes through its accessory catalog.

Next in line, the Nomad's windshield may be adjustable over a 2-inch range, and the version we got was just about at eye level for 5-feet-7-inch Cherney. It seems Kawasaki has lowered its shield height-the last one we rode in 2005 was far taller. Finally, the Vision has the lowest windshield of the trio, and nobody had any complaints about its height. And because we had the Premium trim version of the Vision Street, it was electronically height-adjustable with just the touch of button.

In motion, the three windscreens offer varying levels of protection. Since the Road King lowers are optional accessories, it offers the least wind protection, which made for a chilly ride over the several passes we climbed en route to Santa Barbara. Once we dropped into the warmth of Santa Ynez Valley, however, we reveled in the extra breeze. The Nomad offers ample wind protection with just enough high-frequency buffeting to warrant comment when battling fierce headwinds. Since the lowers can be removed with an Allen key, we'd probably do just that for more cooling airflow on midsummer tours. In the morning chill and the brisk ride home at the end of a trip, though, the Vision is the bike to sequester yourself on. The massive fairing and adjustable windshield combined with the adjustable lowers create a pocket of air to fully shield the rider from icy blasts. The flip side is that in hot weather the Victory can get pretty toasty, particularly around the feet.

Although these bikes are meant for racking up miles, the windshields on two are easily removable (as are the Rocket III's and Royal Star's-see sidebars pages 42 and 46). The Harley's can be stripped off in less than 10 seconds-just tilt the shield and lift it free. The Kawasaki requires a little effort to remove the eight Allen bolts to free it of its windshield and lowers, but the process takes less than 10 minutes.

Stripped of windshields, the Road King and Nomad look like entirely different motorcycles. The hardware remaining is barely noticeable.

While the Vision's shield is integrated, its cool, colorful dash with the speedometer provides a striking accent to the handlebar, easily making the Victory a visual standout right off the bat. Of course there's no stripping down the Vision-once you're on it, you'd better like bodywork and plenty of it.

The Long View
It may be a wizened old clich, but comfort is still absolutely key for long-distance touring. Given our rather passionate relationship with the Nomad over the years (we've ridden numerous versions across the continent, several times), we were surprised when it landed in second place in the lounge department. Kawasaki's redesigned seat is still comfortable, but the rear portion's curve can push up against longer-legged riders. The Nomad's handlebar also sports a nice bend with well-positioned grips-but without the annoying knee-trapping. Our small-sized test passenger found the Kawasaki's pillion extremely roomy, citing perhaps a bit too much room front to back. Fortunately those sizable grab rails offer security, though they can look a bit awkward out there on their own, cluttering up the clean lines of the rest of the Vulcan. There's no such complaint with the Vision-its pilot accommodations as well as the pillion department are plenty spacious, though some testers opined that the rider section was narrow and tended to lock your butt in place. Still, there was plenty of room to move your legs.

Seats aren't the bike components that make or break the ride, though. The instrument clusters are also vital to our riding experiences. The Kawasaki ran a close second in the information delivery department with a wide range of modes available on the LCD dash readout. And our Nomad sported the Premium Audio System, which comes with AM/FM/WB radio with controller and antenna, and includes a Rider Entertainment Headset with options to add CB radio, XM radio, communication headsets and passenger headsets.

The Road King has updated its dash too, though it's still difficult to read at speed. It now offers an LCD odometer with a clock as well as a mileage countdown function. Ours came equipped with an optional cruise control that was universally appreciated (though it had small controls that were sometimes hard to actuate). The speedometers of the Harley and Kawasaki were in perfect sync with each other, with the odometers matching exactly at almost every gas stop. No one can compete with the Vision's sleek array, though, a full-boat display of colors and shapes, with standard AM/FM/MP3 capability and options for satellite radio and a CD player. Cruise control is found on the right side of the handlebar. The Vision's mirrors, however, come up lacking, being set too close to the body of the bike.

We Got the Power
While the components of the baggers that make them touring mounts are important, we know you're also concerned about the usual performance-related stuff. This class of bikes currently offers three twins, a triple and a V-4 for engine configurations-as assembled here. The Vision brings the most ponies, with 1731cc and, as tested on our DynoJet dynamometer, 76.9 hp. The Road King follows behind in displacement with the Twin Cam 1584cc mill, with the Nomad's 1552cc nipping at its heels. Bookending our base test bikes are Triumph's Rocket III Touring, the biggest bagger in the land, and Star's Tour Deluxe bringing up the rear with 1294cc. The performance, however, doesn't stick to this order.

While bumping the Nomad's displacement a few years back, Kawasaki made sure the engine kept that trademark smoothness. The improved powerplant is torquier in the bottom end and midrange, but oddly, it doesn't feel as immediately responsive to throttle inputs as the others. But that info is deceiving-we were quite surprised when the Nomad handily walked away with the top-gear roll-on races from 60 mph, even with the heaviest rider aboard. This held true from 60 to 80 mph, until the Victory kicked in its sixth gear and started reeling in the Nomad. Initially the clutch engagement was smooth and the transmission snicked seamlessly, but over the miles (particularly in traffic) the clutch began to develop some of the grabbiness that has plagued other 1600 Vulcans we've tested. But overall the Nomad's 1600 engine with its oversquare bore and stroke is surprisingly punchy and pleasantly accessible.

Given how much we've liked the Twin Cam engines since Harley introduced them, we don't understand the Road King's lackluster performance. Have the other bikes gotten that much better? Regardless, when it came to passing slow-moving traffic on two-lane highways, we always felt like we had to time roll-ons to allow the bike to build up speed. The sixth gear didn't really kick in until well past 65 mph. On the plus side, the fuel injection is glitch-free, allowing the rider to modulate the throttle without fear of hiccups in a variety of conditions. The transmission shifts solidly. As expected, the throttle and clutch controls on the Road King are the stiffest of the bunch, but it's no big deal. Long-distance riders will appreciate that cruise control can be ordered as a factory accessory, and our test bike had it. The FLHR, as is typical of other Twin Cam engines we've tested, delivered the best average gas mileage here at 37.7 mpg.

Handle This
Despite the fact that these are big, heavy bikes, you can hustle them around corners pretty well. The Road King, which has the most immediate steering response (and the shortest wheelbase), never feels completely settled in turns. Ramp up the speed and things can get really unnerving. In high-speed sweepers the Harley's flex-iness can upset the chassis-and that can lead to some oscillations. The suspenders do their best to cope with this flex, and for the most part they do. Only sharp-edged bumps tend to upset things. On the plus side, the Harley has more cornering clearance than any of us expected.

While not as immediately responsive as the Road King, the Nomad isn't afraid to go around some corners and feels quite stable when tracking through. The Nomad was the most popular bike whenever the roads got twisty. Although it steers slower than either of the other bikes, the wide bar gives pilots plenty of leverage to muscle the bike in when necessary. And if you have to change lines midcorner it's no problem. The suspension feels a bit off, though, with a firm fork and soft rear. It might be a good idea to bump up the air pressure in the shocks a couple of pounds to improve things the next time we head out. Even though it ranks in the middle in terms of ground clearance, the Nomad's stiff chassis and predictable steering make this the bike to beat in the mountains.

There's no question the Vision is a long, heavy bike, and it was the one everyone tried to avoid riding in town or on tight technical sections of road. Even with a cast aluminum frame this bike weighs nearly 100 pounds more than the Harley, and the weight makes itself felt except when you're rolling in a straight line. No surprise, then, that our testers just wanted the Vision for long stretches of freeway when they could lean back and crank the tunes.

One area in which most baggers need improvement is in braking. Luckily all the bikes here proved up to the task, though some were better equipped than others and all required a fairly high level of effort. The Kawasaki's four-piston calipers and dual discs did the job well, though the Harley's upgraded dual Brembo units with ABS simply could not be beat in straight-line stopping situations. And the Victory offers a more traditional split braking system, which comes on strong (with some effort required), although we would have preferred to see an ABS option too. Luckily the Victory steps up with a comfortable amount of cornering clearance.

In the End
Every now and then on our tours, one clear winner moves ahead of the pack and garners a consensus amongst the testers. In this trio that's exactly what happened-the Nomad won unanimously, and by a fair margin. True, the winner of this comparison is determined pretty much by what your definition of a touring cruiser is. If you're more concerned with how the bike performs out on the road (and luxuries like cruise control and an easily removable windshield don't matter), the Nomad is the bike for you. It's the most well-rounded of the three. If you value things like cruise control, ABS (optional) and a big-brand heritage, then the Harley's your bike. And if you want to travel in high style and posh comfort on a truly modern motorcycle, look no further than the Vision.

The Triumph R3 Touring
The ultimate American motorcycle?Regardless of their home address, four of the five motorcycles tested here are "American" motorcycles in every way, shape and form. So for me the question is which one best represents that ideal?

In many respects, the touring version of the R3 might just be it. For starters there's the styling. What's more American-looking than a big-some might say huge-traditionally designed motorcycle, especially one with an oversize, longitudinally mounted inline engine and a monstrous chunk of chrome-plated header hanging right out there in the open? Granted, the look of the R3 from the tank-top speedometer to the floorboards, saddlebags and windshield might be construed as being somewhat "Harley-esque," but in Triumph's defense it's hardly alone in that.

Second, there's the performance. Although it's been slightly detuned (accounting for a loss of about 35 horsepower), the R3 is still hellaciously strong for any bike, let alone one configured as touring model, and especially so for one that weighs in at 789 pounds dry. Making 152 lb-ft of torque at just 2000 rpm, the Tour pulls from the bottom with the kind of authority generally reserved for heavy earth-moving equipment. But trust me on this one-I've operated a fair number of D8 Cats in my life, and I can't think of a single one that'll rock your world the way an R3 will.

Audacious power means nothing if the bike can't stop or go around corners, and while the Rocket demands a fairly high level of rider input in both instances, it does manage to get both jobs done without a whole lot of drama.

Converting go to whoa takes a good tug on the brakes, but if you factor in the weight of the bike plus a rider, you're trying to retard nearly 1000 pounds of mass. Add the burden of a passenger and luggage and those three disc brakes have their work cut out for them. Yet despite the somewhat high lever effort, the brakes have a nice linear feel to them and stop the bike surprisingly well.

When it comes to handling, the R3 definitely doesn't sweat it too much; while it's no corner-carver in any sense of the word, it can certainly hold its own on most roads. The front fork is nonadjustable but manages to provide a supple though not overly soft ride, and it gives enough feedback through the wide, swept-back bars to keep you informed as to what the front wheel is doing. The preload-adjustable twin rear shocks work just as well; both the spring and damping rates are right on the money. When pushed hard the R3 can be made to wallow, but by then you're probably going a lot faster than you should. Be advised this isn't a bike for the weak-kneed. On tight roads and around town this bike will give you a workout, but given its weight and size that's to be expected.

Historically, riding in the U.S. has always been about crossing vast stretches of open ground, and that's where the R3 really shines, covering the miles with consummate ease. All you have to do is relax in that Barcalounger of a saddle, point the thing in the direction you want to go and twist the grip. At highway speeds it's as solid and stable as a Baldwin locomotive and feels just about as powerful. And in case you were wondering, there's zero torque reaction from the shaft final drive to upset the handling.

No commentary on a touring model would be complete without some blather about the accoutrements that make it such. In the main the bags and windshield are top-shelf. The quick-detach screen comes off in a split second and goes back on even quicker, provides plenty of protection and causes zero buffeting. The top-loading bags are nicely made and hold a fair amount of swag, which I think pretty much covers Saddlebags 101.

Other amenities include a digital clock, tripmeters and a "miles remaining until empty" fuel gauge, which pops up by toggling the info button on the right switch pod and comes on automatically when the low-fuel light illuminates. Since I've pushed other Triumphs that have run out of gas and have no desire to repeat the experience with a bike this size, it's a feature that's much appreciated.

As a side note, there's a growing supply of aftermarket accessories available for the R3, so if a centerstand or chrome drive-shaft cover is what your Rocket needs, help is just a mouse click away.

As far as warts go, the Touring hasn't got many; it is a heavy bike, but then again it's a manly man's bike, isn't it? It also doesn't help that the exhaust manifold running high, wide and handsome down the right side of the bike throws off a fair amount of heat, almost all of which manages to blow right up your skirt. Riding through town on a hot day is a lot like saddling up a potbelly stove. This is one bike you want to keep on the move, particularly on sultry summer days.

So is the R3 Touring the quintessential "American" motorcycle? Although it's brash, bold and in your face, which are attributes I normally associate with the American motorcycling psyche, unfortunately it falls just a wee bit short. If power were the only criteria it'd be the hands-down winner-it's got half again as much torque as its nearest competitor (the Vision) and is 15 pounds lighter. But unfortunately it's just a little too bulky, takes a little too much effort to ride, especially at low speeds, and with a price tag of 17 big ones is just a little too expensive. However, the real deal-breaker is the exhaust heat, which just saps the life out of me on warm days.-Mark Zimmerman

Star Royal Star Tour Deluxe
Just as we remembered it

In our standard American rush of attraction towards that which is improved, new, bigger or blingy-er, it's easy to forget existing products that will do exactly the same job, and sometimes better. That's the case with the Star Royal Star Tour Deluxe (previously reviewed Aug. '05 and Feb. '08). Its 1294cc engine is the smallest of these hard baggers by 248cc, but the V-4's extra two cylinders and higher redline compensate for some of that difference. It's also smoother-revving than the other engines, and the five-speed transmission is slick with a short throw at the lever-not the typical long-throw "clank!" of most V-twins. And it's a good thing the engine is as small as it is, because that carbureted mill sucks down the go-juice like there's no tomorrow and will have you fumbling for the petcock before you know it.

The Star's suspension shines at absorbing all bumps and holes and is most comparable to the Vision's suspension here. However, that barn-door-sized windscreen will get the bike wobbling at high speed, as well as in sweepers, if one adds some steering input. With its soft but comfortable seat and removable windscreen lowers, it's a nice bike to run through a few tanks of fuel, but you'll be squirming around if you ride farther than that. On warm days those lowers will have your feet set to "toast." The triple-disc brakes do an average job of slowing things down, about comparable with the Kawasaki, but the 855-pound Tour Deluxe will get to zero mph quicker than the heavier Triumph or Victory.

Speaking of that big windscreen, it has a quick-release mounting system, as does the backrest, to convert the Star from a tourer to a more boulevard-oriented ride. If you're under six feet, you'll find the Tour Deluxe's screen too tall for you. On the other hand you'll like the saddlebags-no matter what height you are. While not the largest units of the five choices here, they hold quite a bit. They can also be latched closed without having to lock them, making for some convenience on a short trip. The only fly in the paint is that the latches are somewhat intrusive, reducing the maximum width of items that will fit inside the bags.

The styling is what I'd call "classic cruiser": lots of chrome, a low, wide saddle and big, swoopy fenders. The overall effect is quite nice, and the parts are well integrated into the whole bike, unlike, say, the pie-pan air-cleaner covers on the Nomad. Though viewing the Tour Deluxe from the side doesn't reveal the V-4 architecture, the shroud on the front emphasizes that the Royal Star is liquid-cooled. The riding position is upright and relaxed and will work for riders of all heights. Unfortunately the floorboards are not adjustable, and they're on the low side to give the rider more legroom. The result is that the floorboards will contact the asphalt at shallower lean angles than any of our other participants.

I'm not a big fan of the LCD bar-graph speedometer (like a digital version of the analog ones in a '60s sedan), and you have to remove your left hand from the bars to toggle through the display. On the plus side, the low-fuel count-up feature lets you increase your stress level as the miles remaining to empty decrease while you search for a gas station. One significant feature on this Star is a standard electronic cruise control. The Grand Chalupa and I both feel that any motorcycle labeled a "touring bike" should come with cruise control.

So is it a star, royal, and deluxe? It definitely belongs in this group, and I certainly wouldn't rank it as my last choice. Other than the mileage issue, which really only comes into play crossing the vast western states, anything else is easily fixable, namely the too-tall windscreen and too-soft seat and suspension. Considering that the Tour Deluxe is the next to least expensive makes it all the more worth your serious consideration. Then add in the standard, five-year transferrable Unlimited Mileage Warranty and Roadside Assistance Membership, and you'll give the Star a third and fourth look before deciding on the right bike for you. -Evan Kay

MSRP $17,595; $16,999; as tested $18,980 $12,999; as tested $13,709 $16,899; as tested $17,299 $18,999 $14,499 ($14,999 for S model)
STANDARD COLORS Black Black, dark blue, black/ silver Black, black/white, black/red, two-tone blue Black, gray, midnight cherry galaxy Blue/Raven
STANDARD 24 months, 24 months, 24 months, 12 months, 60 months,
WARRANTY unlimited miles unlimited miles unlimited miles unlimited miles unlimited miles
TYPE air-cooled, 45-deg. v-twin air/liquid-cooled, 50-deg. v-twin liquid-cooled inline triple air/oil-cooled, 50-deg. liquid-cooled, 70-deg. v-4
VALVE TRAIN OHV, 4 valves, pushrods SOHC, 4 valves DOHC, 4 valves SOHC, 8 valves v-twin DOHC, 4 valves
DISPLACEMENT, 1584cc, 95.25 x 1552cc,102.0 x 2294cc, 101.9 x 1731cc, 101.0 x 1294cc,79.0 x
BORE X STROKE 111.25mm 95.0mm 94.3mm 108mm 66.0mm
COMPRESSION 9.2:1 9.0:1 8.7:1 9.4:1 10.0:1
FUEL SYSTEM efi, 44mm throttle bodies efi, 36mm throttle bodies efi efi, 45mm throttle bodies Four 32mm CV carbs
TRANSMISSION wet clutch, 6 speeds wet clutch, 5 speeds wet clutch, 5 speeds wet clutch, 6 speeds wet clutch, 5 speeds
FINAL DRIVE Belt shaft shaft Belt shaft
WET WEIGHT 777 lb.; 812 lb. 828 lb. 822 lb. 848 lb. 855 lb.
SEAT HEIGHT 29.9 in. 28.4 in. 28.9 in. 26.5in. 29.1 in.
WHEELBASE 63.5 in. 66.5 in. 67.2in. 65.7in. 67.5 in.
RAKE/TRAIL 26 deg./6.2 in.; 26 deg./6.9 in. 32 deg./7.2 in. 32 deg./7.3in. 29.0 deg./5.4 in. 28.8 deg./5.16 in.
FRONT TIRE MT90B16 dunlop 402f 150/{{{80}}}-16 Bridgestone exedra 150/80-R16 Bridgestone exedra 130/70-R18 dunlop elite 3 105/80-16 Bridgestone exedra
REAR TIRE MT90B16 dunlop 402 170/70B-16 Bridgestone exedra 180/70-R16 Bridgestone exedra 180/60-R16 dunlop elite 3 150/{{{90}}}-15 Bridgestone exedra
FRONT BRAKE Two 4-piston calipers, 11.5-in. discs Two single-action, 4-piston calipers, 11.8-in. discs Two 4-piston calipers, 12.6-in. discs Two 3-piston calipers, 11.8-in. discs Two single-action, 2-piston calipers, 11.7-in. discs
REAR BRAKE 4-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc single-action, 2-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc single 2-piston caliper, 12.4-in. disc 2-piston caliper, 11.8-in. disc dual-action, 4-piston caliper, 11.7-in. discs
FRONT SUSPENSION 43mm fork, 4.6 in. travel 2 dampers, 3 in. travel, 43mm forks, 5.9 in. travel 43mm Kayaba fork, 4.7 in. travel 46mm inverted fork, 5.1 in. travel 41mm forks, 5.5 in. travel, air-adjustable preload
REAR SUSPENSION air-adjustable preload 2 dampers, 3.9 in. travel, air-adjustable preload 2 dampers, 4.1 in. travel, spring-adjustable preload 1 damper, 4.7 in. travel, air-adjustable preload 1 damper, 4.1 in. travel, air-adjustable preload
FUEL CAPACITY 6.0 gal. 5.3 gal. 4.9 gal. 6.0 gal. 5.3 gal.
INSTRUMENTS electronic speedometer with odometer, clock; dual tripmeters; low fuel indicator light and mileage countdown; warning lights for high beam, turn signals; neutral, oil pressure, engine diagnostics and gear light speedometer, lCd odometer, tripmeter, fuel gauge, clock; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, efi, neutral, low fuel lCd speedometer, odometer, dual tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, overdrive, cruise control lCd speedometer, odometer, dual tripmeter, gear indicator, air temperature, clock, average speed, average fuel consumption and range; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, low fuel, oil pressure, check engine, cruise control lCd speedometer, odometer, dual tripmeter, fuel gauge; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, overdrive, cruise control
TORQUE (MEAS.) 75.8 lb-ft @ 3250 rpm 76.2 lb-ft @ 2500 rpm 122.5 lb-ft @ 2,250 rpm 94.9 lb-ft @ 2750rpm 89.0 lb-ft @ 4750 rpm
HORSEPOWER (MEAS.) {{{62}}}.2 bhp @ {{{5000}}} rpm 53.3 bhp @ 4500 rpm 80.5 bhp @ 4,250 rpm 76.9 bhp @ 5000 rpm 98.0 bhp @ {{{6000}}} rpm
FUEL MILEAGE 31.6-46.3 mpg, 37.7 avg. 26.7-41.1 mpg, 35.7 avg. 33-36 mpg, 34 avg 29.9-38 mpg, 32.9 avg. 29.9-40.0 mpg, 33.5 avg.
AVERAGE RANGE 226.2 miles 189.2 miles 166 miles 197.4 miles 177.5 miles

Riding Positions
Joe Neric
5' 9", 230 lb, 30" inseam, age 33

All three of these bikes are a handful in the city, that's for sure. Navigating through Los Angeles traffic is like trying to thread rope through a needle. Out on the open highway, though, I was quite surprised at how much fun I was having, mainly because I'm more of a sportbike guy. I felt the Road King had the most comfortable suspension, making long-distance jaunts a dream. I think the Harley could benefit from an adjustable windscreen, and the brakes were simply horrendous. The Vulcan's suspension felt a wee bit sportier, thus making it the easiest to navigate at slow speeds and in city traffic but somewhat jarring on the big bumps. The Kawasaki's brakes were superb compared with the other two, and the saddlebags held an impressive amount of gear. As for the Vision, city riding is stressful, but out where the cars are minimal this bike feels to me like the best of the three. At highway speeds the Victory's suspension soaked up all the nasty bits yet was still responsive when you needed it to be. But I felt that the Victory was especially susceptible to bad road conditions at low speed, and I was surprised to discover the total lack of storage. By looking at it, it would seem like you could find a small body in those swoopy saddlebags, but that wasn't the case at all. More like an extra limb. I'm just saying. Even though I do tend to favor sportbikes, I gotta admit-these are much better at piling on the miles.
Kawasaki Vulcan 5 stars
H-D Road King 4 stars
Victory Vision 3 stars

Mark Zimmerman
5' 10", 220 lb, 32" inseam, age 53

So is the R3 the quintessential "American" Motorcycle? Let's consider the bikes in ascending order. The Vision's styling is interesting in an academic way, but it's not something I could live with on a day-to-day basis, so I'd reject it out of hand no matter how terrific a bike it is.

The Road King has an undeniable pedigree and it can certainly lay claim to being America's motorcycle, but it's 18 large out the door and someone is going to have to justify that price to me, based on something other than jingoism.

Finally, there's the Nomad. It has killer styling, solid performance, and at slightly over $13,000 is priced very competitively. The fact that it's made in Nippon is beside the point-in my opinion this bike's virtues make it as American as apple pie.
Kawasaki Vulcan 4 stars
H-D Road King 3 stars
Victory Vision 2 stars

Evan Kay
5' 4", 162 lb, 29" inseam, age 44

There isn't one stinker in this bunch. Not to say that they're all perfect:The Rocket III Touring is a big motorcycle, but once rolling I thought it handled pretty well. Wind protection is good, and the riding position is comfortable. The downside is that ginormous three-cylinder engine. Sure, it's strong enough to pull tree stumps out of the ground. But 2.3 liters? My favorite truck only had a two-liter engine. Combined with the smallest gas tank in the group, "touring" on the Rocket really means "long cruises from gas station to gas station."

The Nomad doesn't do anything wrong. Low-end torque is abundant, it looks good, and the seat is even comfortable. But the suspension is spongy and underdamped, and the windscreen is just too high for me, resulting in helmet buffeting over 50 mph. Finally, the engine has this low-frequency harmonic at low rpms that sounds like someone is drumming on my skull.

Royal Star Tour Deluxe is a mouthful of a name, but it's really a fine motorcycle. The seat is pretty comfortable, there are windscreen lowers, and the suspension smoothes out all of the bumps. The five-speed tranny is a keeper, too. It's all great-except for the thirsty engine that sucks the smallish 5.3-gallon tank dry in about 168 miles. Also, I can't see over the windscreen, and at 90 mph the whole rig starts oscillating, putting the kibosh on rapid road coverage.

The Vision Street is a bike you either love or hate on the looks alone. Personally, I hate the front and love the rear. It handles well once moving, but you absolutely do not want to drop this bike (though it does offer that nifty anti-tipover feature, which I thankfully never got to try). I like the seat, and the long floorboards let me move my feet around. The problems are significant, though-the bike gets poor mileage, has a short range, and its saddlebags have the capacity of a child's lunchbox.

The Harley does nothing wrong. Well, almost nothing-bending it through sweeping turns will get the bike weaving like there's a hinge in the middle of the frame (though the '09's new frame fixes this issue); the windscreen is the wrong size and shape for me; and my lower legs get nearly blown off of the floorboards on the highway. Otherwise it's all good-adjustable-height floorboards, supportive seat, approximately 100 pounds lighter than the competition, and a tank that will easily get you over 200 miles between stops.

So who wins? On the basis of value, I say the Nomad. It works great and it's the least expensive by $1500. Even at $4-plus per gallon, that price difference will pay for a few upgrades and a lot of gas.
Kawasaki Vulcan 4 stars
H-D Road King 3 and 1/2 stars
Victory Vision 3 stars

Andy Cherney
5' 7", 155 lb, 30" inseam, age 45

Last time we rode these things back to back (Aug. '05), I couldn't stop raving about the Star-its smoothness, style and bang for the buck, and its cruise control. How cool that it came standard, I thought. I felt it was the top dog then, but funny how context changes everything. This time around it just seems like the others have more to offer than the Star, which has stood nearly still for the last four years. Don't get me wrong: Love that transferable five-year warranty, but that only goes so far. And if I get one more letter from someone in North Dakota who swears he gets 75 mpg on it, then I'm just gonna up and quit. I'm switching allegiances to the Nomad-just to piss that guy off.

Sixteen hundred cc of pure fun, bitchin' bags, smooth power all through the band and a completely well-sorted bike in every regard (let's just overlook the suspension, shall we?) is what you get with this Kawasaki. There's not much not to love here, especially in a 13-large, plug-and-play touring cruiser. No, there's neither cruise control nor an option for it (which is perhaps the biggest negative), but this is the bike I wanted to ride most, city or highway.

I wanted to love the Rocket-I really did. Mostly because I still do love the Rocket-but the original, unneutered one, the one that makes you go "whoo-hoo" like some dumb WaMu commercial when you twist the throttle because it's a real, palpable rush. Alas, I do realize that most of the populace doesn't ride quite so irresponsibly, and Triumph undoubtedly made the Touring more refined and usable for good reason. It's like nonalcoholic beer, though, if you ask me. Some of the taste, none of the fun.

As for the Vision-what can you say? The thing works, absolutely, but it's simply not my style-not as a touring rig and certainly not for $19,999. I appreciate that Victory took a viciously cool-looking shot across the bow of BMW and Honda with this thing, and so it may be trying to play in a different league, but it just doesn't do it for me.

Ah, Harley-I hardly knew ye. The Road King felt positively lilliputian in this crew with the most compact wheelbase by far, which also meant it was the most agreeable up front with steering inputs. Alas, the chassis is feeling tired and the suspension flaccid. Happy to say, though, that the new '09 King I rode around the block recently felt much more connected, but also a tad heavier. Looks like time for a new comparison, eh?
Kawasaki Vulcan4 stars
H-D Road King 3 and 1/2 stars
Victory Vision3 stars

What's in Your Bag?
You need real room to cruise

Despite their bulbous, beefy-looking cargo holds, payload capacity on each of these bikes varies widely.

The Nomad, for instance, with its organically styled, integrated clamshell-opening units, will stash your personal crap with ease. Because said bags are side-loading, however, they can spill their contents out onto the road if you're not careful. Bag liners are a good idea here. We can attest to the watertightness of the Nomad luggage in anything short of a full-blown typhoon.

The Harley's squarish units offer a more functional approach-and a good waterproof seal-thanks to their top-loading, boxtop-like cover. You'll be able to stuff about 1155 cubic inches of stuff into each bag, for a total of 2310ci of storage. That's about 10 gallons, which should be more than enough for a long weekend (though the opening is a bit on the narrow side).

They must have taken judicious notes over in Merry Olde England, because the Rocket III's bags look suspiciously similar to the Harley's-though they get points for being slightly wider. Another subtle difference is the opening mechanism-a push of a button and you're in. But that latching mechanism inside takes up a few inches of valuable space, so the best way to maximize the room is to pack carefully. Closing the lid rewards you with a firm click, but it's a good idea anyway to make sure the latch is engaged. The bags fit 9.5 gallons each.

The Vision's bags, alas, while easily the most stylish of the bunch, offer the least real-world storage capacity. We have no doubt, however, that they're probably the most waterproof of the lot, thanks to heavy-duty gaskets found at the seams. It's odd, though; Victory claims 1714ci of capacity for the left saddlebag and 1656 for the right, but all that space is configured in smallish, strangely unusable spaces. That's an alleged total of 3370ci-over 14 gallons.

We're not sure if Victory measures the gaskets lining each bag, which take away a good gallon or two right off the bat-plus the left-side bag houses the built-in air-preload-adjustment tool-but both of the other bikes offer better real-world packing capacities.

The Royal Star Tour Deluxe's bags offer the best of both worlds-they're stylish and removeable and offer a whopping 4296ci-over 18 gallons-of total packing potential. It's the most carrying capacity in the group, and these units are attractively styled to match the bike, too. I think we can call the winner here, and by a landslide. Don't forget the kitchen sink . . . -AC

Harley-Davidson Road King
Kawasaki Vulcan
Victory Vision
Jacket: Tour master Intake
Helmet: HJC CS-R1
boots: TCX Airtech XCR
Pants: Alpinestars Ergo
Jacket: Shift 967
helmet: nolan n102
Boots: Icon Super Duty 2
Harley-Davidson Road King
The Harley's and Kawasaki's gauges are standard-issue cruiser:
Kawasaki Vulcan
tanktop-mounted with analog dials.
Victory Vision
The Vision steps it up with multifaceted readouts in a dashlike design.
The Road King uses its archetypal 45-degree Vee to good effect, but it may be time for some more ponies (the engine stays the same for '09).
The Nomad's 1552cc mill bridges the gap between elemental and refined.
The Victory's got the ponies, though there is plenty of engine noise to contend with.
Though the Road King has a flat saddle, testers didn't rate it the most comfy.
The Nomad got higher marks for more support,
but the Vision-even though it locks you in-seemed to appeal to all.
Harley-Davidson Road King
The King brings a pretty tall screen to the mix,
Victory Vision
while the Victory Offers the Lowest unit(though it's adjustable).
Kawasaki Vulcan
The Nomad splits the difference.
Harley-Davidson Road King
Kawasaki Vulcan
Victory Vision