American As Apple Pie

by Rennie Scaysbrook – Cycle News

Photography by Kit Palmer

Have big country? Must tour! The American V-twin dream is alive and kicking with these two homegrown heroes.

Harley v Indian - 1

It seems a prerequisite an American motorcycle need be a V-twin, almost as much as a big touring motorcycle need be American. Wherever you go in the world, if you want style, comfort and above all, road presence, there’s simply nothing to equal a big ol’ American twin. For generations Euro and Japanese manufacturers have tried and failed to replicate the charisma and big mile desire a Harley exudes. It must be intolerably frustrating for them, because in a few short years, Indian has come along and become the number one thorn in Milwaukee’s side. And Indian is American, just as much as Harley.

It’s like the 1920s all over again.

A thorn as large as the new Indian Roadmaster has to be a fairly painful one for H-D. This is Indian’s premium road glider (pardon the pun); 111c.i of Polaris funded American iron wrapped in outlandish bodywork that epitomizes big miles and bigger comfort. And it’s got Harley-Davidson’s Road Glide Ultra firmly in its sights. Although the top-of-the-line H-D in this category is the Electra Glide Ultra Limited, we thought we’d throw it against the Road Glide to see how it fared.

On paper, the Indian’s 111 c.i V-twin punches out more performance—a claimed 119 lb-ft of torque—at 3000 rpm, with the H-D’s 103 c.i twin laying down a claimed 105 lb-ft at 3750 rpm, but it also tips the scales at a claimed 930 pounds vs. 916 pounds, both with a tank of gas.

Climb on either of these American beasts and you’ll be met with very different riding positions. The Indian rider gets enveloped by bodywork, bars mounted almost flat to his chest, arms at 90° with a deep-dish seat that’s more roomy than the Harley. Milwaukee presents the rider with taller, almost semi-ape-hanger style bars, that alleviate some of the slump you naturally find yourself in when cruising big distances. The distance from the seat to the tank is shorter and the seat padding firmer with a more upright sitting position to the Indian. It’s also 1.2 inches taller at 27.5 inches.

Harley v Indian - 3

The Harley also has a far more intuitive switch panel than the Indian. Easy-action cruise control is on the left, as is the single multi-switch for the Boom! Box 6.5GT radio and infotainment system. Here you’ve got the usual things like GPS and stereo settings, all easy to access and easier to use, plus the sound that emits from the Boom! system is about as good as it gets for a bike.

Harley v Indian - 8
Harley Davidson GPS

The Indian does not have GPS. A machine that costs this much and is aimed square at riders who cover country-level distances must have GPS. If for anything, the bike would look utterly crappy with a Garmin system wedged somewhere readable.

Harley v Indian - 6 Harley v Indian - 5
Indian right cruise control vs. the Harley Davidson left set up

The Indian’s cruise control system is on the right, under the throttle, and if you’ve got smashed up hands like me, holding the throttle and reaching to activate cruise is annoying at best. The stereo controls on the left are unnecessarily huge and spaced out, but next to them lies an ace in the Indian’s arsenal, the switch for raising and lowering the screen. Like the Indian not having GPS, the fact you cannot raise or lower the screen on the Harley is a fail. Both Kit and myself found the H-D screen was just a touch too short (we’re both over 6’0”, so if you’re shorter you may not have this problem), meaning helmet buffeting was almost always on the cards above 60 mph. Another fail is the fact that the Harley doesn’t have heated grips or seat, both of which come standard on the Indian. Again, these are things that should be standard equipment on premium bikes such as these, and not having especially heated grips on the Harley feels like penny pinching.

Harley v Indian - 12

Away from the lights, the Harley has it over the Indian. The Milwaukee machine’s better throttle response, smoother engine character and far nicer gearshift action makes the initial blast up through the gears less labored than the Indian. But it’s not faster. The Indian will pull away harder and faster, just not as smoothly, and while drag 1Ž4-mile times are as good as pointless in a test like this, it’s the Harley that gets the nod at this point. Those extra Indian cubes are felt immediately, as are the vibrations under hard acceleration. It’d be interesting to see if the Screamin’ Eagle 110 c.i engine kit would ruin the H-D’s smoothness under power, but that’s an extra $2395 we don’t have. Despite the lack of capacity, the H-D is far from slow. It’s got more than enough grunt for two people and a ton of luggage, but there are some people where power is everything, so if you’re one of those, the Indian is the only choice. Unfortunately, a gearbox that is neither light nor smooth to shift hinders the Indian. It’s not as bad as some of the Victory gearboxes I’ve ridden in the past, but it’s not as good as the Harley, which, by comparison, shifts with (almost) Japanese smoothness. Another win for the Harley gearbox is the fact it has a heel shifter. The riding position of the Indian almost dictates the need for a heel shifter, yet for some reason the powers-that-be decided against it. Why is anyone’s guess.

Harley v Indian - 2

When you get out of the power and into the twisties, the Harley again shows a clean pair of heels. Milwaukee’s finest turns with more fluidity than the heavier Indian and with the angle of the Harley’s bars, it is subsequently easier to change direction on. No one’s kidding themselves by thinking either of these things are much more than barges to turn sharply; both turn slow and steadily and will grind the floorboards real quick if you get too over exuberant.

But when it’s time to batten down the hatches and haul the brakes on, it’s the Indian that comes out on top. The Iowan Indian’s brake system is very good in its execution, with more bite and feel than the linked system of the Harley. Interestingly, the H-D’s larger four-piston rear brake doesn’t feel as powerful as the twin-piston rear on the Victory. Go figure.

One area that’s very hard to separate the two bikes is at night. The Harley’s Dual Daymaker Reflector LED headlamps could fry a deer at three miles and the Indian is almost as good, illuminating more of the road than my old Toyota Tacoma did with high output spotlights.

Harley v Indian - 4

The fit and finish on both these bikes is outstanding. The Harley is clean and a little subdued compared to the Indian, which takes the cake in the looks department thanks to the beautiful detailing on the seat and the chrome that lacquers everything from the switch panels to the exhausts and engine. And both have exceptional storage capacity. The Indian’s remote locking compartments have a combined total of 37.6 gallons, a touch more than the Harley’s key-entry 35.1 gallons, although it’s more spread out. For example, we were able to fit two full-face helmets in the topbox of the Harley but not the Indian, although I much preferred the style of the Indian’s aesthetics to the Harley. There’s more style to the Indian, more of what I would consider to be the classic American cruiser look. The paint, the chrome, the stitching on the seat and leather strap for the tank, it all reeks of heritage and pride. But it’s not enough for me to buy it.

Harley v Indian - 11 Harley v Indian - 10
Indian’s one-helmet capacity to the H-D’s two.

That’s because the ride is simply better on the Harley. The smoother engine and gearbox, better early- to mid-corner handling and more intuitive electronics package (not to mention the added GPS) make the Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra the winner. In the looks, style and detail departments, the Indian slaughters the Harley.

But, you don’t worry about the looks, style and details when you’re the one riding it.

By | 2015-11-12T15:28:17+00:00 November 13th, 2015|Categories: Uncategorized|15 Comments

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15 Comments

  1. CavScout62 December 31, 2015 at 6:46 am

    Indian has gotta do away with those hideous valanced fenders and they really need something along the “Dyna” line of bikes if the want to get serious about making some inroads into H-D territory.

  2. J D December 30, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    I’ve seen a couple of these comparisons between the Harley and the Indian. It’s always the 103 ci Harley against the 111 ci Indian, never with the 110 ci Harley. I wonder why? Maybe because the Harley would run rings around the Indian. I have yet to meet anyone who likes the looks of the Indian. It’s too dated. And I’ve heard numerous complaints about the Indian’s ride. It’s not as smooth or as quick handling as the Harley. I do, however, like the thought of the competition between the two, as it should result in better bikes from both companies. And, as the market seems to be proving, the Victory is nothing more than a boat anchor. That’s really a shame, since another strong competitor could improve things even more. Indian’s market strategy seems to be to open dealerships as close as possible to a Harley dealership, and then try to undersell it. Not a bad idea, but can it undersell Harley and make a reasonable profit? Time will tell. One thing no company has been able to do is compete with the distinctive Harley sound. That single pin crank give Harley the undisputed edge there. I guess it all boils down to individual taste. And I just can’t see myself on an Indian or a Victory. One is too dated and the other is too clunky.

    • Mike December 31, 2015 at 1:19 pm

      Comparisons are made between the 111 and the 103 because they are the base engines for each platform. The 110 HD engine may indeed run circles around the 111 but the buy in is about the 15-20K area. Screaming Eagle is simply OVERPRICED, as are most Harley’s. It could prove to be a good marketing ploy for Indian to price cut HD in most markets. There is a lot of bloat in the price of a new Harley.

      I prefer Harley visually, and for that sound you describe but I’d like to be able to keep a stable of bikes that include the Indian and Victory. Each has it’s moments.

  3. Greg WIcklund December 30, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    After testing both bikes several times I found them both enjoyable and comparable. The HD shifted smoother and the GPS is a great feature.Love the Chieftain’s appearance and the extra cubes pull that weight stronger, especially from 60 mph on up. To me both handled equally. The looks and power plus better warranty sold me on the Indian. 13,000 miles later I’ve enjoyed every mile..Had many thumbs-up on the road , but not many from HD faithful. Also a nice rebate at time of purchase as a veteran.

    • Mike December 31, 2015 at 1:23 pm

      Funny how HD guys feel like HD is the ONLY bike. I own one and have that same pride, but don’t feel threatened by other big cruisers. I’m happy to share the experience with anyone that wants to get up on 2 wheels, whatever the brand.

  4. Greg WIcklund December 30, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    Haven ridden both cruisers on several test rides simultaneously they both tested similar.HD shifted smoother and the GPS is a advantage.Chieftain’s looks and pull above 60 mph is noticeable. Polaris has a longer warranty than HD and offers a generous rebate for veterans.I have over 13,000 miles on my Indian with no complaints. Have had many thumbs-up while riding, but not by HD faithfully.

  5. Tim Poortenga December 30, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Should have compared with CVO Road Glide 2015 , would have been more competitive in motors and features

    • Mike December 31, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      And the buyer would only have to pony up an additional 15 grand for the HD….

  6. Dave December 30, 2015 at 9:39 am

    We own both; a 2015 Chieftain & a 2015 Street Glide Special and have several thousand miles on each. The Indian definitely gets the nod. Its power is much better; revs quicker, accelerates harder, feels more eager) and its suspension absolutely blows the Harley’s away (cartridge forks vs. old plunger style. Fox N2 charged adjustable rears vs spring & cheap shock) I even installed Progressive Suspension fork springs & $900 Competition Suspension Bagger rear shocks on the Harley and the Indian still rides far better. Both bikes need aftermarket saddles, both need different bars & grips, and both need highway pegs to make them true tourers but the Harley feels like a much less modern bike. I like Harleys, have owned them for the past 25 years, rode 80,000+ miles on our last Ultra; but Harley needs to upgrade their suspension and engine to get competitive with Indian. BTW, the differences in power & suspension are not minor; the Indian rides way better.

  7. Bruce Onajet December 30, 2015 at 8:33 am

    Great article and finally one with some value. Most of the articles I read are no more then a sales pitch for both brands!! I would say that the Indian will never make it in the real world if they don’t give up the old looks because younger kids will never buy them and the dealer network is too small today.

  8. Jon S December 30, 2015 at 8:26 am

    Harley must of improved their ride since 2012
    I rode a Chieftain and bought one.As both me and my wife thought it was a much better ride than our street glide.Not bashing Harleys as we own 3 but was very impressed with the Indian

  9. Dave R December 30, 2015 at 8:15 am

    I’ve owned both, a 2010 Road Glide, and a 2015 Chief Classic. The Indian is my choose after a year, both are now gone with a new Chieftain in the garage. Indians modern and more ample rear suspension beats Harleys hands down on real roads especially 2 up. To get a Harley around fast your going to be using that shifter, the Indians power is much more flexible and right there on demand without having to change gears. With Harleys tenure it will be more familiar both in expected steering input, reaction, and controls, but give the Indian some real time in the saddle, and you’ll be riding that Harley less and less.

  10. J D December 30, 2015 at 8:09 am

    You’ve got to be kidding saying that the Indian is better in the looks, style and details. It’s archaic compared to the sleekness of the Harley. The fake flathead look on the Indian engine is repulsive.

  11. Kerry McCammon December 30, 2015 at 7:56 am

    Seems like a pretty reasonable comparison of theses two heavy weights. To me the Indian just look gaudy but as they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    It would also be helpful to include three added elements to bike comparisons.
    1. Resale values
    2. Service intervals
    3. Dealer network

    Ride safe!

    • Mike December 31, 2015 at 1:42 pm

      Dealer network will be hands down HD. And resale will probably be HD as well, with a long and dedicated following. Service intervals and charges levied by the dealers would be interesting to find out though. Most riders don’t do their own wrenching and service costs can be VERY high for HD.

      One of the best things about HD is the deep aftermarket for all things HD. You can build a bike from scratch if you like and still call it (insert make/model/year).

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