|The New 2014 Indian Chieftain and no that is not my helmet but that most definitely is my shirt.|
This year my wife and I rode our Harley Davidson Heritage Softail to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. It just so happens, she was just as excited as I was to demo some new bikes. Although, as a backseat driver .
A little background, my wife and I have traveled a decent amount on motorcycles. We have traveled with and without windshields and soft bags, but never with a fairing or hard bags. Maybe we are getting older, or at least wiser, but the full dresser touring bikes, the ones with a fairing and hard bags, are starting to look more and more attractive, particularly to my passenger. With that said, we decided for time's sake to stick with the American manufacturers, Indian, Victory and Harley Davidson.
From Indian, we decided to test the $22,999 Chieftain. From Victory, we tested the $22,499 Victory Cross Country Tour. Lastly, from Harley Davidson, we rode the $37,599 CVO Ultra Classic. Each of these bikes represents the flagship touring models from these manufactures. Two side notes. Firstly, this excludes the frame mounted fairing bikes i.e.: the Victory Vision and Harley Davidson Road Glide. Secondly, I would typically consider a bike like the new Indian Chieftain to be a "bagger" more so than a true touring bike. The Chieftain lacks a tour trunk and any passenger backrest, but it is the most "touring" model Indian has at this time.
I first tested the Indian on a fairly windy evening. The next morning was slightly less breezy and I was able to demo the Victory. A few hours later, I test rode the CVO Harley.
This review is just meant to be both mine and my wife's honest thoughts and impressions after riding each model. This review is not a comparison of specs and performance numbers of each bike. For more specific specs, I recommend checking out each manufactures websites, here, here and here. I will compare each model based on Fit and Finish, Engine, Riding and Handling and Passenger Comfort. So let's get started.
Fit and Finish:
The Indian Chieftain had great fit and finish. The engine is the centerpiece of any cruiser based motorcycle. Polaris took this to heart when designing the Chieftain. A quick glace at the 111c.i. Thunder Stroke engine and you can see the designers efforts to reflect the past history and tradition of Indian. Unlike previous incarnations, it does so without copying any cues from Harley Davidson. The Thunder Stroke engine incorporates great touches such as finned heads and downward facing exhaust pipes. The paint is top notch and cables are hidden nicely. The fairing, as on any motorcycle, can be a love or hate thing. In this case, Indian took cues from streamlined trains of years past and the fairing correctly matches the flow and feel of the bike.
The Victory Cross Country too has nice fit and finish. Although, not on par with the Indian and Harley. The lines of the Victory are more contemporary and not a redo of past machines. Love it or hate it, the styling is different from the other classically styled bikes. The paint and overall look does not quite match the same quality as the Indian and Harley Davidson, but instead implies a more functional look and is distinctive. If the Harley and Indian use contrast of deep paint, illustrious chrome, push rods and classic flowing lines to invoke are feeling of nostalgia, then Victory uses sharper angles combined with long swooping lines to instill a more modern and functional feel. The 106c.i. freedom engine compliments this theme, lacking push rods and flashy heads, but instead has a more basic utilitarian appearance.
The Harley Davidson has probably the best paint in the business and chrome galore to compliment. Fit and finish is fantastic, and the Twin Cam 110c.i. looks like a jewel in the center of it all. Harley Davidson has been at this a long, long time, and it shows. There is not a part on the bike that looks like it hasn't been contemplated, designed, and redesigned to make it just the way they wanted it. Then again the CVO Harley costs $37,599 starting, so it should be well thought through.
Winner: Harley Davidson. The other bikes just can't match the fit and finish.
The Indian Chieftain use the new Thunder Stroke engine. The Thunder Stroke is one cubic inch larger then Harley Davidson's largest non racing engine, 111c.i. vs 110c.i.. Coincidence? I'll let you decide.
I heard about how smooth and engine is over and over and over at the Indian unveiling party, and at the Indian tent off of Lazelle St., but I have to disagree. At idle and under throttle, you can see vibrations transmitted to the bars and even rear fender. While riding the bike, especially under throttle, I could feel the pulsation of the engine. But, that is not necessarily a bad thing. This is a v-twin engine, not a six cylinder car. Some vibration adds to the character of the motorcycle, as long as it does not take away from the ride quality, which it did not. In this case, I liked the feel of the engine. From the "seat of the pants test" the Thunder Stroke felt the most power and quickest of the bunch.
Heat was a problem though. Heat management is also something else that frequently came up as great about the new Indians at the Indian tent. At idle and slow speeds, it was fine. At highway and interstate speeds, the bottom of my thighs were cooking. I can only guess the wind crossing the engine was being directed to the inner and bottom part of my thighs. It was hot enough to be uncomfortable after a short, but fast jaunt on the interstate.
The Victory Freedom engine was the smallest of the bunch, but was not lacking for power. The delivery seemed very linear and pulled strong and smooth. It felt "torquey" and kept pulling hard until the rev limiter kicked in. Heat from the engine was less than the Harley at idle, but warmer than the Indian. It was also warmer than the Harley, but cooler than the Indian at speeds.
The Harley Davidson is a rubber mounted engine, and as such, vibration is noticeable at idle. The vibration adds lots of character and makes the bike feel alive. However, the vibrations quickly dissipate as the rpm's rise. As much vibration is felt at idle, the Harley is also the smoothest at 75 and above. Power from the Harley, like the Indian and Victory, is strong, leaving me with a grin on my face.
On not such a good note, under heavy throttle and acceleration, the Harley's engine rattled like a tin can being thrown down a stairway. I have ridden Harley's before and have never noticed this noise. I alerted the Harley Davidson team at the demo tent. They expressed some concern, so I can not imagine this being normal noise.
Winner: Victory. The bike wasn't the best at anything, but didn't have any major drawback either. The excessive heat on the Indian and loud noises on the Harley were too much to put them first.
Ride and Handling:
The Indian handled great, period. It was well balanced, and felt light for such a heavy bike. Some of this could because of the lack of trunk, but I believe even with a trunk, it would be easy manageable. The bike rode nicely over bumps, cornered with ease, and cut the wind on the highway better than either of the other bikes. Another feature that separated the Indian from the Victory and Harley was the electronically adjustable windscreen. With the windscreen fully down, as I prefer, at six foot tall I could see over the screen, but the majority of air was still directed off of my chest. With the screen all of the way up, the air was directed completely above both my and my wife's head.
My first complaint about the Chieftain, and I am being picky, was the front brakes. They were grabbing and caused the front of the bike to drive whenever I applied them. Again, I am being picky, and this would probably improve with use. My other complaint about the Indian was the almost cramped position. I am six foot tall and the high placement of the floor boards put my thighs past parallel with the ground. Maybe I am just used to a more open riding position, but I think on long trips this could become a problem.
The Cross Country Tour was top heavy. This made it somewhat difficulty to move around at parking lot speeds. So top heavy, that I almost immediately dropped it as soon as we started moving when I turned to the left. It's not bad handling. You just have to be aware that the center of gravity is high and make appropriate adjustments. Once speeds start to pick up, however, the bike corners well and goes down highway perfectly. I noticed slightly more wind feel being transferred through the fairing than the Indian but no different than the Ultra Classic. The seating position was more comfortable than the Chieftain and Ultra.
The Harley Davidson CVO Ultra Classic is a beast of motorcycle at walking speeds. Your legs are spread wide, the passengers feet placement is directly in line with where you need to place your legs to touch the ground, and it is heavy. It is by far the hardest bike to push around. However, once you lift your feet, the weight disappears. The Harley feels like you are sitting on the bike versus in the bike. That is up to you if that is good or bad. The sitting position is between the Chieftain and Cross Country, feeling more cramped than the Victory and slightly less cramped than the Indian. The windscreen on the Ultra is shorter than a standard Electra Glide providing adequate protection for me, but little for my passenger.
Winner: Indian. The Indian cut through the wind, handled great at slow speeds, and had the ultra cool adjustable windscreen.
Compared to the other two motorcycles, Indian failed in this category. The Chieftain wears no trunk or passenger backrest. My wife reported feeling unsafe during hard acceleration and unable to relax while traveling on the interstate.
The Victory on the other hand elicited a, "I could ride on this all day long," from my wife. She reported minimal wind and a comfortable and spacious seat.
She reported feeling very comfortable on the Harley Davidson as well, but felt more wind in her face due to the shorter windscreen, and had less room to move around.
Winner: The Cross Country Tour slightly edged out the CVO Harley Davidson due to its better wind protection and passenger comfort.
Final Thoughts: It you are in the market for a new touring motorcycle, I hope this comparison helps. Each of my demo rides was fairly short, but included slow speeds, high speed, hard acceleration, hard braking, and sharp corners. In the end, all of the competitors had benefits and drawbacks. However, in the end I do not think you could go wrong with any of the models. I would recommend renting each bike for at least a few hours and trying them for yourself.
Final Final Thoughts: Ok, calm down. I know, I know, I haven't told you which motorcycle is the best. So which one is the best? Warning, cop out ahead. It's up to you. If you want a great all around bike and you don't plan on touring two up, then the Indian Chieftain has your name on it. If exclusivity and fit and finish is your thing and money is no object, then the CVO Ultra Classic is your ride. For those looking for rider and passenger comfort, function and affordability then look no farther than the Victory Cross Country Tour.