Touring Motorcycle Comparison: Harley Electra Glide, Honda Interstate, Yamaha Venture to Alaska

Taking Alaska in Style with a trio of cruising-tourers motorcycles from Harley, Honda, and Yamaha. From the December 1999 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine.

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.

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 as the Honda's -- 32 quarts per bag. 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 about two inches into the mouth of the bag. 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.

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 had 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 tied with the Venture's for the roomiest -- but the FLHTCUI's were the 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 Pack 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 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 with 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.

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 didn't calm down until we had pumped the shock's air pressure up to almost 30 pounds. Even then, the Venture wasn't as sure-footed as the others, interacting rudely 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 of times also, 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, compromising their view of the road ahead. The Harley's large envelope of still air with minimal backflow 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 raindrops 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, also. 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 rider's upper body remained warm and dry. 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 in wind gusts. The one Venture we encountered on the Alaska Highway also had a cut-down windshield.

All Those Gadgets!

One of the nicer features enabled by the cruising tourers' big fairings was the stereo system each one sported. Music is a nice luxury on long rides, but we found the CBs included in these systems made communicating with other members of the group much easier. Information like, "Those clouds look ominous. Let's stop and put on our gear," could be relayed effortlessly and clearly without stopping. Also, two of the bikes also made maintaining speed on the interstate much easier by including cruise controls.

The Harley's 40-watts-per-channel stereo ranked the highest thanks to its sound quality and feature set. This system radio was the only one to include a weatherband, which helped when planning the day's ride. The readout was centrally located and included all relevant information -- such as time, CB channel and stereo mode. The primary controls were switches below the grips next to the cruise control and took some getting used to. The passenger also gets controls for audio mode, volume and CB transmit. The rider's headset connector plugs into a socket in the center of the tank strap; it was the easiest to connect and didn't damage the tank's finish. The Electra Glide's cruise control was basic but made long rides more relaxing.

The Yamaha had a shot at first place, but intermittent problems with the sound system on the second half of the trip pushed it into runner-up status. The control pod on the left handlebar was the easiest to read on the road and the simplest to operate. The push to talk (PTT) button naturally fell under the rider's finger, unlike the Harley's, which required the rider to reach over another button. While we liked how a dash panel covered the cassette slot, we worried that water would get into the system when the panel was left open or the auxiliary input was used in the rain. (This will not be a problem for those who buy the optional saddlebag-mounted CD player.) After a ride in one storm, the fairing speakers refused to work for more than a day.

Later in the trip, the whole system began to lock up, not accepting any inputs from the pod's buttons until after the ignition had been turned off. Despite our best efforts to prevent it, the connector for the headset would pop out of its clasp and drag its cable across the tank, leaving an arc of scratches in the finish. Passengers receive headset input, volume and PTT controls. The cruise control worked like a champ, offering the ability to accelerate and decelerate at the push of a button.

Without the other two for comparison, the Honda's stereo wouldn't have been so unpopular. The Interstate's stereo came across as the bargain-basement model of the group. The speakers weren't particularly powerful but they did produce good sound quality. The readout was centrally located between the instruments, although the layout was initially confusing. The control module on the left handlebar (dubbed the birdhouse by testers) featured a combined 12 switches and buttons. The text labeling the controls was too small to safely read at speed. A cassette deck wasn't included with the system, and Honda doesn't offer cassette and CD options.

The auxiliary input -- a thin cable with a miniplug connector -- is under the seat, and our test unit's input suffered from intermittent loss of one audio channel. The passenger was restricted to a headset connector and a PTT button. Finally, the Interstate lacked a cruise control, which was missed.

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 tire 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 be equipped 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 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.)

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 and not interfere with the other Hondas that currently reside in them -- and it 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.

**RIDING POSITIONS

Chalmers: **The Harley's comfortable seat, large, easy-to-load bags and powerful sound system -- together with the hard-core look, sound and feel of a traditional cruiser -- made it the most complete package for a long ride...and my favorite. I like the fact that all important controls could be reached without taking my hands off the bar. But I was not fond of its hinge effect in corners, and I would have liked more acceleration -- it was adequate but not awesome.

Each bike will do the job but to create a five-star touring cruiser you would need to combine features from all three.

Verlin Chalmers

Elvidge: I typically feel a sense of loss when I drop off a test bike I've just shared an adventure with, but I didn't find a tender place in my heart for any of the three touring cruisers we rode to Alaska. The striking visual style of the Venture moves me and the eager maneuverability made it my first choice for anything but high-speed droning. I found the setup comfortable (once the windshield was cut) and loved the stereo (when it worked). I was disappointed by the oversensitive suspension, however, and the front brakes were just pathetic. But the Venture comes very close to creating an entirely new class of motorcycle; one that successfully blends emotional and functional attributes into an affordable package worthy of going the distance.

Jamie Elvidge
Let your message go the distance with email to Elvidge at Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.

Brasfield: I'm throwing caution to the wind and selecting the Ultra Classic Electra Glide as my pick of the litter. Why? Because the FLHTCUI offers the most complete touring package of this cruiser-styled trio. Not only are the bags the most capacious, they're also the most over-packer friendly. The seat offers all-day comfort for one (two can get a little cramped, however) and all the electric doo-dads work well, though not always intuitively.

The other two participants each had a tragic flaw -- or two. While these flaws aren't likely to cause the bikes to leave their owners stranded on the side of the road in East Nowhere, it's important to remember that full-dress tourers are the luxury liners of the motorcycle world.

Just because the automotive styling was exchanged for the more classic cruiser lines, it doesn't mean people riding cruising tourers want any fewer features. When viewed from that perspective, the Harley Ultra Classic Electra Glide offers the most complete package.

Evans Brasfield
Brasfield has thrown caution to the wind and retired to the carefree life of a freelancer, which you can learn more about at his website.

PASSENGER ACCOMMODATIONS: The View from Back Here

Unable to bear separation from her husband for three weeks, Karin Rainey (wife of Associate Editor Brasfield) took five vacation days to fly to Alaska. We took advantage of her presence to elicit her impressions of cruising-tourer passenger accommodations. Although she was initially skeptical of the large backrests, their support on the long days quickly won her over. The following list is her choice of mounts in order of preference.

Honda Valkyrie Interstate: In marked contrast to the riders, Rainey found the Interstate's firm padding and spacious seat to be the most pleasing to her patootie. The peg placement folded her legs the least and allowed the most fidgeting room. While its armrests were smaller than those found on the other two bikes, she felt the backrest was the most comfortable.

Yamaha Royal Star Venture: The seat itself made her quite comfy but being long of leg, she couldn't stay as comfortable as long with the Venture's floorboards. (However, the petite passenger of a Venture-riding couple we met said she thought the Yamaha was more comfortable for people with short legs.) The armrests and grab rails increased Rainey's feeling of security during the Venture's unpredictable gyrations on the frost-heaved roads. The Yamaha was the only bike that produced noticeable buffeting in the passenger compartment, but our windshield surgery was doubtlessly a contributing factor.

Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide: The passenger seat was the shallowest of the trio and legroom was in short supply, making Rainey feel folded up and pressed against her old man in the limited space. The proximity to the rider did not interfere with her arm room and the dual grab rails gave her something to hang on to during extended rides on gravel roads.

HARLEY-DAVIDSON ULTRA CLASSIC ELECTRA GLIDE: A True Classic

"I had a Harley in '42 down in Sydney, Australia. They made beautiful machines then, but look at 'em now!"
Coldfoot, Alaska

High Points: Best upper-body weather protection of the bunch, roomiest luggage, easiest bags to pack, fuel-injected Twin Cam engine.
Low Points: Down on power, fairing lowers channel water across the rider's feet, cramped passenger accommodations
First Changes: Install the shorter accessory windshield, power up to 95 cubic inches.

Of the three bikes we rode on our Alaskan adventure, only one was in production as a 1999 model. Billed as Harley-Davidson's ultimate touring machine, the Ultra Classic Electra Glide FLHTCUI (say that three times quickly) has been around relatively unchanged for years. In 1999, the Electra Glide was one of the lucky Harleys to receive the new Twin Cam engine. Although the '00 model we rode for 9800 miles was predominantly unchanged from the previous year, the upgrades all H-Ds get in the coming year definitely improve the company's flagship dresser.

The FLHTCUI's chassis consists of a mild steel, square-section backbone frame with twin downtubes. An air-adjustable, Hydra Glide-style fork and mild steel, rectangular-section swingarm hang from either end of that frame. A pair of optional, laced 16-inch wheels (adding $320 to the base price) and MT90B16 Dunlop D402 tires keep the hard parts off the ground. This year all wheel bearings are sealed to keep the water on the outside during rain and powerwashes, and lengthen the bearing service interval to 100,000 miles. But dual-action, four-piston calipers gripping newly designed discs are the big news in the rolling gear. The patented, uniform-expansion rotors use their unique shape to prevent warping during heavy use.

Both front and rear discs have the same 11.5-inch diameter, while the two front discs are slightly thinner (0.20 inches instead of the 0.23 inches of the rear). The rear disc needs to be stouter to handle the extra load carried by the back brake with the heavy rear-weight bias of the bike when fully loaded. The four-piston calipers and discs will ship with all Y2K Harleys, bringing the company's braking technology out of the Dark Ages. The new higher-capacity, longer-life battery is particularly welcome on the electronics-laden Ultra Classic.

The Electra Glide family gets its motivation from the new Twin Cam 88 engine. The Ultra Classic, however, uses the electronic sequential-port fuel-injection system (EFI) in place of the standard carburetor of most of the other touring models. Aside from making cold starts a one-step affair, the EFI helps the 1450cc (88-inch) engine compensate for changing conditions (such as altitude), smooths out the engine and increases power slightly. The standard five-speed transmission and belt final drive complete the power-delivery package.

The visual style of the FLHTCUI is all Harley. From the "Bat Wing" fork-mounted fairing to the enormous trunk, the Electra Glide carries the roughhewn lines that are unmistakably Milwaukee-bred. Although many of the usual fit and finish complaints about some of the detail work apply, these quibbles fade into the background when the bike is wearing 3000 miles of road grime, the tank is full and there's still some daylight left.

SPECIFICATIONS
Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide

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
Wet weight: 848 lb 56% rear wheel
GVWR: 1259 lb
Wheelbase: 63.5 in.
Overall length: 98.3 in.
Rake/trail: 26 degrees / 6.2 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 16.0 x 3.0 in. both
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

Seat height: 27.3 in. 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

HONDA VALKYRIE INTERSTATE: Traveling Full Circle

"Look at that! It's got six cylinders! Boy oh boy, that'll go about a million miles an hour! Look at all the places to store stuff..."
Bellingham, Washington

High Points: Valkyrie power and acceleration, Rock-solid handling.
Low Points No cruise control, Difficult to pack bags, Uncomfortable seat, Buffeting from windshield.
First Changes: Remove the saddlebags' rear lanyard for easier packing, mount an aftermarket seat.

Suppose you're the manufacturer of the world's most popular full-dress touring rig and you also sell a hot-rod-style cruiser based on the same platform. What do you do when some of the hot-rod owners say they'd like to tour on these more powerful machines? After all, that is the origin of the bike they're riding. What do you do if these same people respond to your light-tourer variation of the hot rod with requests for an even more touring-oriented, hopped-up cruiser? Can you meet the demand without stealing the wind from the sails (pun intended) of your established, king-of-its-class tourer? If you're American Honda, you try to meet all of these goals by introducing the Valkyrie Interstate -- a bike that through its very name links the cruising Valkyrie with the touring Gold Wing.

In 1980, the Gold Wing Interstate was Honda's first full-dress tourer. Twenty years later, when introducing the new Valkyrie Interstate, Honda didn't want to simply add another bike to its line; instead it wanted to combine the best traits of cruisers and tourers. In other words, it sought to mesh the style and performance of the Valkyrie with the comfort and carrying capacity of the Gold Wing.

The Interstate builds on the Valkyrie's retro styling. The shape of the fairing and the trunk are reminiscent of musclecar styling from the '60s and '70s. Even the chrome-ringed taillights have an automotive feel. The saddlebags are slightly reworked versions of the Valkyrie Tourer's bags. Although the styling may be a nod to the past, the rest of the Interstate is up to current specifications. The dual headlights feature computer-designed multireflector lenses behind a clear cover. The removable air dams below the fairing direct turbulent airflow away from the rider. The CAD-CAM designed radiator side covers route hot air away from the cockpit, and adjustable vents in the lowers allow a modicum of cooling for the rider's legs.

To adapt to the Interstate's touring role, the standard Valkyrie's 1520cc flat-six engine was retuned for the additional loads it would carry. Ignition timing and the settings on all six 28mm CV carburetors were altered to enhance midrange performance. Although the five-speed tranny and shaft drive didn't need to be beefed up, the new Gold-Wing-derived 546-watt alternator should deliver enough power to operate the standard electronics and any accessories owners may add. The solid, rear motor mount was replaced with a vibration-absorbing rubber item for comfort. To make long stints in the saddle possible, the gas tank was enlarged to hold an impressive 6.9 gallons. The frame was also buffed up to handle the touring duty. Gussets maintain the steel frame's rigidity under heavy loads and revised suspension settings handle the additional weight. The Valkyrie's already strong, triple-disc brakes weren't changed for the Interstate.

Since the Interstate doesn't look too different from the Valkyrie it claims as its closest kin, a quick trip with a full complement of luggage down a winding road can almost fool you into thinking this is the same Valkyrie you know and love. But when you pause to consider the load you're carrying, you realize this is a true heavy hauler.

SPECIFICATIONS
Honda Valkyrie Interstate

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
Wet weight: 851 lb 57% rear wheel
GVWR: 1252 lb
Wheelbase: 66.5 in.
Overall length: 104.7 in.
Rake/trail: 32 degrees / 6.0 in.
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
Seat height: 28.7 in.
Inseam equivalent: 33.2 in.

ELECTRICAL & INSTRUMENTATION
Charging output: 546 watts
Battery: 12v, 12AH
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

YAMAHA ROYAL STAR VENTURE: Return Venture

"That's the most beautiful bike I've seen in years. If the riding season were longer here, I'd have to buy one."
Whitehorse, Yukon territory

High Points: Great wind protection, impressive styling, comfortable riding position, clear instrumentation.
Low Points: Excessively tall windshield, finicky handling when loaded, poor braking power.
First Change: Cut windshield.

When Yamaha decided to reenter the touring market, the rules of the long-distance game had changed since the last time the company had produced a full-dress touring model. While the primary focus of touring riders is a motorcycle's long-range function, the current market has added a slipperier quality to the list of requirements. The style and character of the machine has been elevated in importance. Simply producing the best functioning tourer wouldn't be enough.

Not surprisingly, Yamaha turned to the Royal Star for the basis of its new touring venture. First, the engine has a touring pedigree, having sprung from the V-4 Venture series tourers. Second, the Star line of motorcycles -- which counts the Royal Star as its flagship -- has the necessary cachet of character to attract buyers. Doubters of this attribute need only take a gander at Yamaha's 1999 cruiser sales figures, which are projected to increase 69 percent compared with 1998.

The Royal Star engine, with its link to the touring past, provided the ideal place to begin building a classy tourer. A counterrotating balancer, which was omitted from other Royal Stars, was brought back for the tourer to quell fatiguing vibration. New cam timing coupled with larger 32mm Mikuni carburetors equipped with a throttle-positioning sensor and a new large-volume intake system combine to produce a claimed 30 percent increase in horsepower.

Locating much of the big airbox behind the Venture's lowers allowed for the desired larger airbox and a freer-breathing intake tract, thereby restoring much of the power lost in the conversion from the original Venture to the other Royal Star models. An additional benefit of the new airbox is that it leaves enough space above the engine to mount a six-gallon tank. A thicker radiator core provides better cooling for the more powerful motor. Revised transmission ratios keep the engine turning in what Yamaha terms "the best touring rpm for optimal pulse."

Completely redesigning the chassis helped Yamaha achieve some of the engine's increase in performance. The two frame rails that limited carburetor size in the Royal Star were exchanged for the Venture's single backbone. The engine's counterbalancer makes it smooth enough to be solidly mounted to the frame for further rigidity. And the action ends of the chassis both received stouter air-adjustable suspension. All of these modifications point to the Venture's job description of long-hauler.

The Venture displays the thorough attention to detail for which the Star line has become known. The stylish fairing is not only aerodynamic, it also sets the tone that flows from the front of the bike all the way back to the bags. Yamaha built the Venture with long, low classic cruiser lines and an eye on what the company calls elemental design, allowing for easy customization.

Whatever the manufacturer calls the Royal Star Venture's style, most observers call it beautiful.

SPECIFICATIONS:
Yamaha Royal Star Venture

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

CHASSIS
Wet weight: 882 lb 58% rear wheel
GVWR: 1301 lb
Wheelbase: 67.1 in.
Overall length: 104.5 in.
Rake/trail: 29 degrees / 6.1 in.
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
Seat height: 29.5 in.
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

Additional motorcycle road tests and comparisons are available at the Road Tests section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Photography by Dean Groover.
The Glide's saddlebags feel like they hold more than 26 quarts, thanks to their unobstructed lids. To simplify cleaning and wheel access, the bags are secured by two quarter-turn fasteners.
_The Harley-s massive 64-quart trunk literally dwarfed the competition. However, the warning labels rate the saddlebags at 15 pounds and the trunk at 25 pounds. _
_The Interstate's otherwise excellent 32-quart saddlebags were compromised by the lanyards that hold the top when the bags are open. Both the bags and the trunk are only rated at a (lawyer-mandated, no doubt) 20-pound limit. _
_When unlocked, the Valkyrie's 45-quart trunk can be opened by a hidden latch. _
_Although the Venture's bags hold 32 quarts, the high-domed tops make bag liners a necessity for loose items.All three containers have 20-pound weight ratings. _
_The Star's 52-quart trunk contains a perplexing warning label that warns riding over 80 mph with the bags installed. _
The Harley's shield offered the best weather protection, but the optional tint drew complaints.
The swoopy Interstate's windshield generated the most turbulence.
The Venture's fairing was the prettiest of the three bikes. Look closely at the windshield for visible signs of the surgery.
Being unable to see over the Yamaha's windshield was a real hazard, so it was decapitated.
Harley's audio rated tops.
Yamaha's was close.
The Interstate had the barest dash and the least-enticing audio.
Yamaha's audio-system info LCD on the left bar.
You'll need to be a speed-reader to take in all those Honda switch labels.