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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.