2014 V-Twin Touring Motorcycle Comparison
RE-POSTED FROM: http://www.motorcycle-usa.com/10/17877/Motorcycle-Article/2014-V-Twin-Touring-Motorcycle-Comparison.aspx
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it’s chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to ‘Merican, he rides ‘em all.
Wednesday, February 5, 2014
They’re kings of the road, land yachts of the motorcycle realm. Big bikes built to haul the most cargo possible on two-wheels, doing so decked out in chrome guards, sparkling paint and buttons to push everywhere. They perch riders up high in the saddle so they can see the world, invite them to bring along a friend with well-padded pillions, run satellite radio and navigation systems and announce their approach with high intensity LEDs that light up the night. They are a conduit for manufacturers to throw every conceivable option and gadget on as they try and outdo competitors all fighting for a demographic with a tendency to spend big money. A hot-selling luxury-touring motorcycle can fetch a good chunk of change because they’re the price of two smaller bikes. But go to Sturgis or Daytona Beach and they’re the bikes you’re going to see more of than any other.
So we’ve rounded up three luxury touring cruisers from Kawasaki, Harley-Davidson and Victory to find out which one we’d choose when it’s time to hit the open road. Ever since Harley-Davidson announced its Project Rushmore touring updates and its liquid-cooled Twin Cam 103, we’ve been itching to test out the changes, so we landed a 2014 Ultra Limited. This is Harley’s top-shelf touring machine, and its price reflects that as the highest MSRP of the bikes in the test at $25,899. On the other end of the price spectrum, Kawasaki’s 2014 Vulcan Voyager 1700 ABS is the most affordable with a price tag of $19,399. Slotting in between those two is the final bike in our comparison, the 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour, at $22,499.
All three are powered by big V-Twin engines with similar displacements, the Harley and Kawasaki almost identical at 103 cubic inches while the Victory’s Freedom 106 is up a bit at 1731cc. The engines on both the Voyager and Cross Country Tour use single overhead cams while the Harley runs its traditional pushrod arrangement. The Ultra Limited circulates water to the engine’s cylinder heads only with its new twin-cooling system while the Voyager has standard liquid-cooling. The Victory differs a bit with its combination air/oilcooling system.
Body design on all three includes wind-blocking front fairings that double as housings for multi-function instrument consoles. Lower leg fairings, lockable hard saddlebags, and topcases adorn all three. Each has a venting system that allows riders to control the flow of air to some extent. Fuel capacity ranges from the Voyager’s 5.3-gallon tank to the Harley’s premium tourer gets a host of upgrades for 2014. Is it enough to muscle its way to the top? The answers lie within our 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited Comparison Video.
Harley’s 6-gallon fuel cell, with the Cross Country Tour measuring in at 5.8. All three offer ample storage, the Victory leading the way with a total capacity of 41.1 gallons while the Kawasaki features a 13.2-gallon topcase and two 10-gallon saddlebags. The topcases also do double duty in their role as passenger backrests.
We spent eight days running the bikes as hard as legally possible out of the MotoUSA offices in Irvine, California. Palomar Mountain became our second home during testing, as did the nearby Ortega Highway. We used jaunts to Julian, California to both put in freeway miles on I-5 and to sample handling on CA-78 (along with sampling some pie!). We blazed a trail up to Ventura for the David Mann Chopperfestand cruised home through Malibu.
Assisting us on this test was Cycle News contributor Jason Abbott who most recently rode the new Indian Chiefs in Sturgis on their behalf. As a mechanic he has a penchant for restoring old bikes and just scored a Honda CB550 he’s eager to work his magic on. He’s also hell in the dirt and has helped out and written numerous off-road tests, so we were happy to have him along. That said, ‘Climb On’ with Motorcycle USA for our 2014 V-Twin Tourer Test.
The 2014 Kawasaki Vulcan Voyager 1700 ABS enters our V-Twin Tourer fracas with the most attractive price point at $19,399. The Voyager in its current 1700cc V-Twin form debuted in 2009, but the model name has been around a long time as the Inline-Six, KZ1300 Voyager launched in 1983.
The modern version comes with an attractive list of rider aids and electronics including Kawasaki’s K-ACT II integrated braking system with ABS, Kawasaki’s Air Management System, cruise control, and a 52-degree V-Twin with a long 104mm stroke. It’s hot rod inspired, frame-mounted front fairing gives it a signature look while a single-pin crankshaft and a bass-filled rumble spilling from its exhaust give it a bit of hot rod character to match.
Hopping onto the Voyager, its tank feels wide but is actually the smallest of the bunch at 5.3 gallons. Of the three bikes, the Voyager was the first bike in need of a pit stop because of that fuel cell which is relatively small for a touring machine. The urgency by which the motorcycle needs gas is only exacerbated by an obnoxious green light in the range readout that begins flashing “Fuel, Fuel, Fuel” when the bike approaches approximately 30 miles-till-empty.
The rider’s triangle is fairly compact compared to the Harley and Victory and riders sit higher in its saddle. The Voyager’s floorboards are the smallest of the bunch, fixing riders into one position because there’s less room to shift their weight around when riding. The seat is well-padded at first, but the fixed riding position and a lack of lumbar support eventually wears on you during long hauls. At 28.7-inches, the seat height feels comparatively tall, with test rider Jason Abbott saying it gave him the sense of riding on top of the bike instead of in. The stock gear shifter is up high, and it’s a long stretch of the toes to shift gears at times.
At the heart of Kawasaki’s big touring machine is a 1700cc liquid-cooled V-Twin. The undersquare powerplant utilizes an eight-valve system and a single overhead cam to provide its revvy nature. The bulk of its torque comes on below 3000 rpm and initial acceleration is pleasingly aggressive. At idle, it’s got the proper proportion of single-pin crankshaft vibrations, enough to let you know you’re definitely on a V-Twin. Get it into the meat of its powerband and the deep-seated rumble fills your chest cavity. But most gears top out around 4300 rpm as its powerband isn’t overly wide so you can’t squeeze as much out of it as you can the mills of the Harley and Victory. Power has a tendency to fall off on the top end as useful output drops and engine noise increases.
“I have mixed feelings on the motor. Down low and into the mid it has the power, torque and exhaust note you want but once you get into the top it falls off. I know these bikes aren’t made for top end but the bike feels a little on the de-tuned side up top,” agreed test rider Jason Abbott.
Handling on the 2014 Voyager 1700 ABS is a mixed bag as well. In sweepers and tight turns, the motorcycle stays planted but turns-in a bit heavy. Steering requires a little push at the bar, the Voyager’s bulky front tire with the tallest sidewall in the test is a bit more to handle than the others. At 30-degrees, it’s also got the laziest rake. For a bike with a curb weight just under 900 pounds though, it’s manageable at low speeds. However, the parallel grooves of LA’s 405 freeway exposed a vagueness to the front end at speed. The way the Voyager rides reminds us of the Ultra Classic before Harley updated the chassis in 2009 in the sense that it translates everything the front tire rolls over to the rider through the bars. The sensation of a front end that’s floating around prevents riders from putting full confidence in it on uneven surfaces. We believe stiffening up the fork might give the front end better overall control.
Contrarily, the Voyager’s braking system instills plenty of confidence. Braking power is smooth and even thanks to Kawasaki’s K-ACT II integrated braking system. Grab a handful of the front brake and the four-piston calipers put a strong bite on dual 300mm discs. Squeeze it hard and the integrated system activates the right front caliper on the rear brake as well. The Voyager has pressure sensors at each master cylinder detecting braking force while the ECU is busy measuring speed. The ECU calculates the optimal braking force needed and pumps brake fluid to the front right caliper and rear caliper accordingly. This helps when only a handful of front brake is needed because riders automatically get an assist from the right front caliper on the rear brake as well. The ABS and K-ACT II is dialed so it’s not overly intrusive. The K-ACT doesn’t engage at speeds below 12 mph while the ABS shuts off at speeds below 4 mph. There’s a noticeable pulse in the ball of your foot when the ABS activates but it isn’t overbearing. However, we did notice quite a bit of fork dive on the front end under moderate to heavy braking.
While the Voyager’s front end may have its shortcomings, dual rear shocks provide a firm foundation for the rear. The rear suspension is firm with only 3.1-inches of travel but ride quality is comfortable. The system has four settings for rebound damping and spring preload is air adjustable. Banging through gears, the six-speed transmission is rougher and louder than the Harley and about on par with the Victory. The transmission did slip out of gear a couple of times when we thought we had a solid shift. The play at the shift lever because of its height didn’t help the situation.
The Voyager received the Kawasaki Air Management System (KAMS) in 2012. The Voyager’s big powerplant has a reputation for running hot, so improving rider and passenger comfort was high on the priority list. The system sources an auxiliary fan and ducts to route heat from the radiator, rear cylinder and exhaust pipe down and away from the rider. Big airboxes are located on both sides of the engine while the lower leg fairings have vents riders can crack that helps put cool air on the cylinder heads, too. Temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s during our testing meant engine heat wasn’t a factor as we can’t recall one instance where the radiator fan on the liquid-cooled engine came on during our test.
In the looks department, the styling established by the front fairing carries over to the dash with its “American Graffitti” vibe. A multi-function LCD is squeezed in between an analog speedo and tach, the layout attractive, functional and less complicated than its competitors. Numbers in the gauges are big and easy to read while the gear indicator running up the left side of the digital display is a helpful feature. The display lights up great at night as a clear light illuminates the gauges. The Voyager is equipped with AM/FM/WB audio system and has an iPod connector in the left glove box and XM radio compatibility. Audio controls reside on the left handlebar but they’re stacked four deep, turn signals at the top followed by volume, tuner, and SQ all on one housing. That’s a lot of range for one thumb with so many decisions controlled by a rider’s left hand. The LCD in the center of the instrument console is controlled by switches on right handlebar and includes a gear indicator, clock, odometer, dual trip meters, remaining range and average fuel consumption. Cruise control is also housed on the right handlebar, the system capable of being activated in third gear and above at speeds between 30 and 85 mph.
“Bar controls worked well, felt solid and looked good but didn’t seem to have as many control options. Not having heated grips or seat was big negative when the temps were low, seems like you would want those things on a long haul bike,” said Abbott about the Voyager’s instrumentation.
The Voyager does have Navigation Audio Prompt Capability, which plays voice prompts from a Garmin zumo 660/665 GPS device through the Voyager’s audio system or accessory Kawasaki headsets, but both the Garmin and headsets have to be purchased separately. Kawasaki’s tourer does have two-speakers nestled into the front fairing, but get its big V-Twin barking at speed and it’s hard for the system to compete with the exhaust note. Compared to the four-speaker arrangement on the other two bikes, its audio system comes up short. The tourer’s storage capacity is comparable thanks to top-opening hard saddlebags with 10 gallons of storage each and a 13.2 gallon lockable topcase, but latches and hinges on the topcase are flimsy in comparison and its saddlebags aren’t as wide as its competitors.
The Voyager 1700 ABS has the tallest windscreen of the bunch and it provides a solid buffer against wind. As Abbott mentioned, it doesn’t come with the luxury of heated grips, standard fare on the other two V-Twin tourers. For passengers, the Voyager comes with flip-down floorboards and its seat has armrests that wrap around nicely like the Harley’s, but the padding doesn’t come down as far so there’s no lumbar support. The Victory goes even further when it comes to spoiling passengers, with adjustable floorboards and their own controls for the heated seat.
The Kawasaki 1700 Voyager 1700 ABS has plenty of admirable features including strong brakes, unique muscle car appeal and a punchy engine. As Abbott states, “Overall the Kawasaki has a really classy look, it has a good combo of style, chrome and paint.” But the way the front end transfers grooves in the road to the rider, it’s shorter powerband, louder-shifting transmission and fit and finish that isn’t on par with the other two relegates it to third place in our 2014 V-Twin Tourer comparison.
The 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour is a visual conundrum. At a glance it comes off as the biggest bike in our V-Twin tourer test with its wide fairing and large lower leg fairings. Maybe it’s because the Victory is the longest of the bunch at 108.1 inches, 5.7-inches longer than the Harley and 7.3-inches more than the Voyager. But get the big tourer in motion and its intimidating presence becomes a moot point.
Because despite its size, the Victory Cross Country Tour corners best of the three. Its two-piece, sand-cast hollow aluminum frame has a spine that serves as backbone and keeps it from flexing while a 43mm inverted fork and an adjustable rear shock help make it the most stable and sure-footed at lean. This translates to more confidence when carrying speed into turns. It’s got the lightest action at the bars, too, their natural placement quick to respond to rider input. Turn-in on the Harley is comparatively close while steering on the Voyager feels the heaviest and least responsive. Test rider Jason Abbott said on the highway the Cross Country Tour is a smooth, predictable ride and in the canyons the bike responded well to rider’s feedback. The Victory has generous 5.8 inches of ground clearance, too.
Riding position on the Cross Country Tour is open, upright and relaxed. Big floorboards are positioned far forward and provide plenty of room to stretch a rider’s legs and shift pressure points on long hauls. The seat is well-padded, nicely contoured and all-day comfortable. Its bars taper back and place grips within easy reach, arms just below chest high. A 26.3-inch laden seat height means getting two feet down flat at stops is no problem. Abbott said the Victory’s rider’s triangle was the most spacious of the three and would suit tall riders best.
With a healthy 43mm inverted fork and single mono-tube gas shock on the rear, ride quality was firm within the confines of the rear’s 4.7-inches of travel and rebound damping was dialed so the motorcycle maintains composure over most road conditions. Preload adjustments can be made to the rear via a standard hand-held air pump that connects to a valve residing in the left saddlebag. Unlike the Voyager, the front end of the Cross Country Tour remains predictable and concrete whether you’re pushing it fast on the highway or banking it over on mountain passes.
While the Kawasaki and Harley both feature linked braking systems, the Victory Cross Country Tour sports a traditional arrangement. It does have ABS, but it’s a non-linked system. At the core of the Victory tourer’s brakes are three 300mm discs, two front and one back. Four-piston calipers provide strong, even braking power on the front, but test rider Jason Abbott noted a soft feel at the lever. The rear arrangement with its 2-piston caliper is a bit more sensitive and we got it to lock occasionally with a hard stomp on the brake pedal before its ABS kicked in. The Victory’s ABS has sensors in each wheel monitoring wheel speed and sensing slippage or wheel lock and when it does activate, the system pulses hardest of the three in the ball of a rider’s foot.
Off the line, give the Victory’s throttle a healthy twist and the Freedom 106 V-Twin has deceptive power on the low end. It doesn’t feel as punchy as Harley’s High Output Twin Cam 103, but it launches with the same authority. This is facilitated by the lightest clutch action of the bunch. The 1731cc Victory does match up to the Harley in the midrange and allows for some over rev up top, something that helps separate it from the Kawasaki. Let the rpm drop though, and it chugs a bit more getting up to speed and doesn’t pick back up as quickly as the torque-happy Harley. But the Freedom 106 has no problem producing an arm-stretching punch thanks to ample torque from its single overhead camshafts with self-adjusting cam chains and four valves per-cylinder engine. The Victory’s counter-balanced V-Twin does put more buzz in the tank and bars than the Ultra Limited and Abbott claims the engine is the noisiest of the bunch, too. But for him, the engine is still one of the motorcycle’s best attributes though.
“The main thing that stood out about the Victory was the motor. It definitely felt the most lively of the bunch but it also seemed to be the noisiest. The bottom and mid has an aggressive torque feel to it and engine has a good over rev. It was a fun motor to ride because power was always on tap,” claimed Abbott.
As for rider creature comforts, the Cross Country Tour spoils with heated grips and seats, a rockin’ 4-speaker stereo system, cruise control, adjustable passenger floorboards, an adjustable system of vents to tailor air flow to riders, and the most storage space of any stock bike out there. The width of the front fairing, its aerodynamic design, and a tall windscreen provide a solid buffer from the elements. The Victory Comfort Control System consists of upper and lower wind controls. The lower controls are integrated cleanly into the leg fairings and have a handle to open and close them that’s usable even when in motion. The air/oil-cooled Victory engine does have a tendency to run hot, the mill the only one without some form of liquid cooling. Luckily the lower vents can help push some of that hot air away from riders. The upper air controls are mounted at the base of the front fairing. Depending on the angle, they can channel air directly into the chest of riders or divert it almost completely around them. The system is effective and blends indiscreetly into the design of the motorcycle.
In addition to leading the ranks in handling, the 2014 Victory Cross Country Tour impresses with the most amount of storage area in its class at 41.1 total gallons. We’ve lived out of its saddlebags on week-long rides to both Laconia and Sturgis. Its topcase is huge and latches idiot-proof. The saddlebags have 21.3 gallons of cargo space in their own right. The chrome bars surrounding the bags are more than ornamental, a fact we discovered after a low-speed spill a couple years back in the thick Buffalo Chip mud aboard the Cross Country Tour resulted in only minor scratches to the lid. The cubby holes in the leg fairings even provide a gallons-worth of storage space each.
The Victory Cross Country Tour is the only tourer that came with both heated grips and seats as standard fare. The grips have ‘Hi’ and ‘Lo’ modes controlled by a switch mounted below the speedo and tach. Heated seats extend to both rider and passenger with passengers even getting their own set of controls. The seat doesn’t wrap around passengers as much as the Voyager or Ultra Limited but it provides more padding than the Kawasaki. The pillion package does include adjustable floorboards with 10-degrees of angle adjustment ranging through two inches of height and three different positions.
The Victory’s cockpit sports an attractive layout, a digital display featuring a gear indicator, clock, outside temperature gauge, and odometer squeezed between the big analog dials of the speedo and tach. A secondary digital display window below that allows riders to shuffle through media choices like local radio stations, XM satellite (not included), or music on your iPod. Blue backlights give it a great look at night and clearly illuminate the gauges. Cruise control is standard fare, its switches located in the right control housing activate easily with the thumb. The two minor marks against the Cross Country Tour are its flimsy housing controls that stick out below the bars and barely clear the tank. The other is the rattle coming from the front fairing when riders hit a bump created by the seating of the inner console against the composite fairing.
The edgy styling of the 2014 Victory Cross Country also has a polarizing effect – people either love it or hate it. It deviates from the norm established by the Harley’s traditional cruiser disposition, and where the Voyager sports a vintage hot rod look, the Cross Country Tour seems more space-age. A matter of personal preference, I like the definitive lines and angular cut of the bodywork and recessed tank, while Abbott doesn’t care for the overall look of the bike, finding it too big and bulky for his taste. This love-it or hate-it disparity is a common theme when talking about the Cross Country Tour.
One thing we do know is that with its combination of power and handling, long list of rider amenities, and class-leading storage, Victory’s Cross Country Tour is a bike we wouldn’t hesitate riding coast-to-coast on. And while it is a solid touring platform, the Project Rushmore treatment Harley put on the Ultra Limited addresses any shortcomings the motorcycle might have had. The final package is more refined and its suite of helpful high tech goodies relegates the Victory to a respectable second violin in this V-Twin Tourer test.
Messing with the recipe for success is a high-risk endeavor. There’s a reason people eat comfort foods. And there are reasons people ride Harley-Davidsons. The company’s recipe for making V-Twin based motorcycles is steeped in familiarity. Even people who don’t ride can identify one by its exhaust note. But sometimes adding new flavors to proven recipes can heighten the overall experience.
Harley-Davidson has been working on its formula for a top-shelf touring motorcycle for nigh 50 years, the platform powered by air-cooled V-Twins ever since they threw electric start on the 1965 Duo Glide and started calling it the Electra Glide. The Batwing fairing protecting riders out front has been around almost as long, introduced by The Motor Company in 1969. The tourer has been the chicken fried steak and country gravy for Harley-Davidson with modest revisions until 2009, when it did away with the welded single-piece frame for a cast single-spar, rigid-backbone frame. Harley took it even further this year with its Project Rushmore, a fervent revamping of its popular touring package that shook up the status quo.
By now, the fact that Harley liquid-cooled the cylinder heads on a handful of tourers as part of its Project Rushmore is well-documented. It also redesigned the iconic Batwing fairing, installed a linked braking system, went with high-end, voice-activated infotainment system and overall honed the bike in to be as rider-friendly as possible. How did those changes transfer to real world practicality though?
Line up the three bikes, crack their throttles and the Ultra Limited pulls hard, the type of torque that tests the mettle of your shoulder sockets. Harley treats riders to an abundance of immediately accessible torque. The power continues to flow through the midrange and above, and it’s in this area the Harley separates itself from the Voyager with its shorter powerband. The Victory, with its bit of over rev, keeps pace up top. But the evenness of the Harley powerband can’t be beat as the High Output Twin Cam 103 is the most responsive engine in our V-Twin tourer test.
Throttle response is snappy and the HO Twin Cam 103 powerband has no flat spots. Riders don’t have to shift it as much as the Kawasaki whose powerband is shorter and the H-D V-Twin has so much torque down low it picks back up better than the Victory. It is noticeably more powerful than the standard Twin Cam 103 we recently tested on the 2014 Harley Heritage Softail Classic. Its lightweight pistons and a new camshaft have been designed to deliver that low-end punch. A higher-flow airbox and a higher compression ratio, bumped up to 10.1:1 from 9.6:1, are part of the High Output package claimed to give the Ultra Limited’s engine a 10.7% increase over the stock TC103.
“The power didn’t disappoint, great bottom-end and mid-range pull and plenty more up top if you should need it. You can’t beat the sound of a Harley either,” said test rider Jason Abbott.
As for the new liquid-cooling system, unseasonably cool temperatures in the week we were testing in SoCal meant heat wasn’t an issue. We did get caught in stop-and-go freeway traffic, but what warmth there was coming off the cylinder heads was welcome because of the chill in the air. Harley has targeted the correct area with its system though, as only the heat-producing cylinder heads get the liquid-cooled treatment while the lower crankcase continues to utilize traditional air and oil cooling.
I do know that I pushed it and the Ultra Limited responded. I rode it hard through LA traffic, keeping rpm and speed up for hours fighting to be on time to a press event in Long Beach, shooting gaps between cars and splitting lanes when I had to get out of Temecula. The Ultra Limited impressed with its freeway prowess, both in the urgency it gets up to the speed of traffic to the roll-on sitting at the ready in the lower revs. The throttle is crisp and responsive, twist and it’s there. Once the arteries of LA traffic quickly clogged, the Ultra Limited has the maneuverability to adjust for the split second decisions riders have to make to keep in motion under these circumstances.
When all avenues of forward motion were obstructed, we put our confidence in the Ultra Limited’s Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS. Brakes on prior Harley tourers have left us wanting, from a lack of power to the front to its hard-pulsing ABS. Now the Ultra Limited is equipped with new floating Brembo brake calipers and dual 300mm discs, the units providing a stronger initial grab and more outright stopping power than before. Even though it has a linked braking system, front and back still work independently up to 25 mph. Under normal braking conditions, it leaves the job of bringing the big bike to a halt to riders. It only intervenes when it’s mashed on hard, and even then the average Joe isn’t going to notice it working but will benefit from shorter stopping distances. The ABS still pulses at the lever, but even it feels a bit more refined as the pulse isn’t near as disconcerting.
Whether we were on the highway or twisty backroads, the Ultra Limited is comfortable and composed. Stability on the front has been improved thanks to a stouter 49mm fork with stiffer triple clamps that replace the old 43mm one. The redesigned, more aerodynamic Batwing front fairing helps, too, the new design sheltering a rider’s hands better in addition to reducing turbulence. The addition of the “slipstream” vent allowed Harley to trim down its windscreen 3.25-inches without subjecting riders to excessive buffeting. The windscreen sits just below our field of vision and while the Voyager’s windscreen is the tallest and most effective, its top lip sits in that nebulous spot where riders are peeking either over or under. The Harley’s windscreen effectively channels wind to the crest of a rider’s helm while the pocket of air in front of them remains fairly still. The fairing lowers have been redesigned, too. They can be opened to further curtail engine heat, and like the Victory, there are two small wind deflectors at the base of the front fairing that channel air to the rider’s chest when open. As mentioned, it was cold during our test, so we spent more time ducking behind the fairings than opening up their vents.
With the shortest wheelbase of the bunch at 64 inches and a front end with the tightest rake of 26-degrees at the steering head, the Ultra Limited steers fluidly as it holds to the edges of its traction. Thanks to a deep-seated center of gravity, it transitions with the similar smoothness it exhibits in turns. On the open road, a well-cushioned seat, natural riding position, and reduced buffeting equate to easy miles in the saddle. Fellow tester Jason Abbott said the rider’s triangle provided a “more connected feel to the bike” and its manageability at slow speeds couldn’t be beat in this test. It doesn’t quite match the maneuvering of the road-hugging Victory at speed, the Cross Country Tour and its two-piece, sand-cast hollow aluminum frame the most stable of the bunch at lean, but the Harley isn’t far behind.
Of the three bikes in the test, the Harley had the smoothest shifting clutch. H-D swapped the cable-actuated clutch from before for a new hydraulic arrangement. Even though it has stronger clutch springs now, pull at the lever is firm with little discernible change in effort. Pull on the Victory is lighter, but it’s clutch engagement overall is noisier and rougher around the edges. The Harley’s helical-cut gears and a heel-toe shifter gear combine for the smoothest shifting, quietest transmission of the three. Abbott commented on how “solid” the transmission felt. The one complaint we had is a shift lever that’s in fairly tight to the bike requiring foot placement to be a conscious effort.
It will also take a concentrated effort to learn the ins-and-outs of the Harley’s entertainment, communication and navigation systems. While the basic instrument layout is the same for all three motorcycles, the inner fairings consisting of two large analog dials for speedometer and tachometer readings between two smaller gauges, the Ultra Limited sees the addition of a 6.5-inch touchscreen mounted below the primary dials. While the screen can be navigated by touch, an optional factory headset is available for $189.95 that allows riders to pair to their smartphone using Bluetooth in order to control the radio, receive phone calls or access the GPS via voice commands. System commands come through loud and clear in the headset and the bike’s four-speaker stereo system, the 5.25-inch speakers pumping out clean, clear sound when not being overridden by navigation prompts. A small cubbyhole called the bike’s ‘Jukebox’ has a USB connection to make hooking up your phone a snap. And while dialing in the bike’s electronic nuances will require a little reading of the instruction manual, a lot of the functions are intuitive and can be learned simply by pushing buttons. The control housings feature new joystick-style knobs that are easy to twiddle with the thumbs and make toggling through menus simpler than ever before.
“The instrument panel looked the best and was the most informative. Bar controls felt like quality pieces, they both functioned well and look good. Maps were helpful while traveling. Bluetooth was a big plus for radio and phone use. Fairing had plenty of storage compartments and featured both a USB and standard outlet. The heated grips did a great job of keeping my hands warm on the cold days we rode. I was surprised to see the Harley didn’t come with a heated seat as well,” concurred fellow tester Abbott.
While the look of the upgraded instrument panel is what you’d expect from a top-notch tourer, the list of rider conveniences Harley installed on the Ultra Limited didn’t stop there. The bike’s Daymaker LED headlight and LED fog lamps project wide and far. The Tour-Pak topcase and saddlebags have both been tweaked, and even though the sleeker design looks smaller, they’ve actually increased in capacity (the bags hold 4.7 cubic feet each). What’s even better is the convenient one-touch lever the bags come with now. The latch on the Tour-Pak has been refined, too, as it’s not as flimsy as it once was and the lock is now located in the center of the latch to keep riders from scratching up the paint on the topcase. To enhance the passenger’s experience, the seat is now an inch wider and an inch deeper, and has more lumbar support. Saddlebag guards have been moved too, allowing for a bit more leg room. These bikes are made to ride two-up, so addressing the needs of the passenger as well is paramount to its success on the sales floor. Its long-distance credentials are boosted by a Tour-Pak luggage rack and bag liners that come standard.
And it is the sum of these parts that separates the Ultra Limited from its competitors. In a niche where engine output and storage capacity are close across the board, it’s the little things that make a difference, like the new lever releases on Ultra saddlebags to a leather swatch stitched between the passenger seat and backrest that minimizes the rush of air up a passenger’s back. We applaud The Motor Company for listening to riders input and addressing just about every conceivable grievance they might have had with their tourer. It does come in as the most expensive of the bunch at $25,899, but the paint and polish on the Harley can’t be beat. At this price point, the Ultra Limited is all-inclusive, a wonderful combination of power, handling, braking and comfort. Throw in the fact that it comes standard with more rider amenities in a motorcycle with unmatched fit and finish and you’ve got a tasty recipe for the most refined touring machine in this test of V-Twin tourers.
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