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American Baggers Comparison: Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special vs Indian Chieftain vs Victory Cross Country

Bill Stermer
February 3, 2014
Filed under Cruiser + Touring Motorcycle Reviews, Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Road Tests: Reviews on Harley Motorcycles, Road Tests, Victory Motorcycle Reviews

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Harley, Indian and Victory

The 2014 Indian Chieftain (left), Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special (center) and Victory Cross Country provide upper-body wind protection and luggage capacity for the long road. (Photos by Kevin Wing)

Functional, big-inch V-twin baggers are all the rage these days. In addition to lots of style, these bikes offer the comfort of some upper-body wind protection with the practicality and convenience of saddlebags. To enlarge upon the idea that these are not stripped but well-equipped models, keep in mind that, in addition to a fairing and bags, an engine that displaces more than 100 cubic inches powers each of these bikes. That is then teamed with a 6-speed transmission and belt final drive. Then consider that these bikes are also equipped with anti-lock brakes, cruise control and a standard sound system to add tunes and communications to your riding pleasure. And with their snarling style, these cruiser baggers do not convey the stodgy vibe of “old-guys-go-touring.”

To appreciate just exactly how un-stodgy these bikes could be, we gathered three of the top American-made brands including the Victory Cross Country, Harley-Davidson’s new Street Glide Special, and the renewed classic on the block, the latest and best iteration of the Indian, the top-line Chieftain model. Each of these bikes has its own distinct personality and performance characteristics, so after running around on them for a few weeks locally, we took them out for a multi-day ride to cover all aspects of what they can do.

Harley, Indian and Victory

Harley, Indian and Victory interpretations of America’s most popular touring motorcycle, the bagger.

The Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special’s cockpit feels compact, its controls are positioned closer to the rider and its handlebar is narrower than the others. The batwing fairing has that classic look that will never go out of style, and which provides great hand protection. It receives certain modern tweaks and upgrades, and one innovation from Harley’s Project Rushmore for 2014 is the Splitstream vent below the windscreen. The vent reduces buffeting and is designed to be open in most riding conditions; a One-Touch latch closes it keep the rain out. Also, its inner fairing is now gloss black, and the front fender has a new, lower profile.

For the traveler, the saddlebags retain their classic look, but their new latches include single-release levers that are easy to operate from either side of the bike and are a huge improvement in convenience. However, the Harley’s saddlebags do not hold quite as much luggage as the bags on the other bikes here.

Climb aboard the Victory Cross Country and there’s a lot of room to move around. With its long, wide handlebar and the feet spread out on long floorboards, it offers a spacious feel, much more so than the Harley. Its wide, low fairing with vestigial windscreen does not offer much wind protection. What the bike does offer, however, is that its saddlebags with their arched lids provide the most luggage capacity of those here, and the seat provides a real pocket that I found very comfortable.

Get the Victory up to speed and you’ll notice that its motor feels sprightly, but rougher under acceleration than the others, and that its brakes are powerful but lack sensitivity and feedback. Despite this, more aggressive riders will appreciate the Victory for its very impressive handling, sporty ride and power. Although it offers the most horsepower of the three, the Victory motor lacks the throaty sound of the Harley-Davidson and Indian. Still, the entire bike presents a badass vibe.

Let out the clutch on the Harley and the 103-inch engine provides plenty of torque right off the line. As with any Harley, it carries its weight low and its 27.4-inch seat height is low, yet the seats on the other two bikes are lower still.

American Baggers

Each of these bikes offers the basics of touring comfort and convenience, yet their snarling style avoids the stodgy “old-guys-go-touring” vibe.

The narrow handlebar means less steering leverage, so the bike required slightly more effort to steer. Though equipped with the new, beefier 49mm fork, the Harley still felt flexy in the turns. The rider can now adjust the preload on the rear suspension by turning a knob on the side of the bike. However, with only 2.13 inches of travel in the dual rear shocks, the rear suspension beats you up on a bumpy road regardless of the setting.

Another Project Rushmore innovation on the Street Glide Special is the Reflex Linked anti-lock brakes, which work well. This system is unique in that it functions electronically so that it is not linked at speeds below 20-25 mph, which allows the rider to drag the rear brake in certain situations, such as low-speed maneuvers or in hairpin turns to stabilize the bike. At higher speeds (or when being braked down through this speed range from a higher speed) the brakes are linked, with braking force distributed appropriately by a proportioning valve.

Approach the Indian and you’re left with no doubt as to what it is. In addition to the usual emblem on the tank, those signature fenders and the illuminated Indian head out front, the bike comes with another emblem on the motor and yet others on the air cleaner and derby cover for good measure.

Take a seat on the new Indian and its dashboard is clean. It offers a vintage look with just a speedometer and tach, but there’s a full-function LCD display in the center, and keyless starting. The rider carries an electronic fob that allows the motor to be started or the bags to be unlocked when the fob is within a few feet of it. Forget your fob, and you can enter a personal access code to go motoring. The Indian’s seat offers good cushioning, but each of us wished that it had been positioned just a little farther rearward so we could stretch our legs more. The mirror stalks are so short that the carbon-fiber knuckle protectors on our gloves came into contact with the mirrors while we were riding.

Harley-Victory-Indian

While the Harley (left) and Victory (right) fairings offer good hand and upper body protection, their shorty windscreens offer little more. But the Indian Chieftain (center), with its electrically adjustable screen, blocks a lot of wind.

The Indian’s suspension is very compliant, including the air-adjustable rear shock, but it could use some better calibration. It’s the only bike here on which the fairing incorporates an electrically adjustable windscreen and, thanks to it, the Indian offers the best wind protection overall, though there is some distortion around the edges of the shield. With that said, however, it would be a simple matter for riders to add a taller accessory windscreen and lower wind deflectors to the other two bikes to improve their protection.

The new 111-inch Indian motor has a great sound and feel, but the power does not come on in a rush. It is said that dyno figures don’t lie, but on occasion they don’t tell the full story, either. In our riding test, the Victory felt strongest and the Harley definitely got off the line quicker than the Indian, which felt lazy by comparison. But when we checked the figures from our dyno-cologist, things didn’t seem to make sense. On paper, the Victory produced the most horsepower by a good margin, which was confirmed by our seat-of-the-pants impressions. However, the figures also showed that the Indian made considerably more torque than the Harley up until 4,500 rpm, yet in actuality the Harley launched from a stop much quicker. Granted, at 808 pounds wet, the Street Glide Special is much lighter than the 847-pound Chieftain, but otherwise we believe that the differences between dyno numbers and actual performance can be explained by the fact that dyno tests are conducted with a rolling start, and because of differences in the two bikes’ servo-operated throttles.

Overall, after the previous revivals, we were impressed that this latest Indian effort is this good, and that the price is this competitive. The bike can compete on its own merits, rather than having to rely on the coolness factor of its magic name.

These are all touring bikes, yet their bags are easily removable for cleaning or should you wish to change their look. Though we rode them aggressively, we found that each bike has acceptable cornering clearance so they did not inordinately limit our fun in the curves. Should you desire more in terms of luggage capacity and wind protection, Harley and Victory each offer more fully dressed models with a trunk and lowers, but Indian, as yet, does not.

To summarize this trio of American big-inch V-twins with their practicality and custom touches, here’s your basic guide: If you want a spacious cockpit that allows you to stretch out, a taut suspension, great frame and good power, and the bike that feels most competent on a winding road, take the Victory. Or if you’d prefer the most classic look that will become a conversation starter at every biker hangout, and want to ride the comfortable one with a more compliant suspension and cushy seat, you’ll choose the Indian. Finally, for that other classic look and an engine that delivers immediate low-end power (no matter what the dyno says), the Harley Street Glide Special will be happy to spend time on your choice of roads.

This article American Baggers was published in the February 2014 issue of Rider magazine. It included individual reviews on each of the three motorcycles. To read them, follow the links below:

Comments

14 Responses to “American Baggers Comparison: Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special vs Indian Chieftain vs Victory Cross Country”

  1. Daryl Hermann on February 3rd, 2014 12:21 pm

    To the guys reviewing these three bikes, I really think you considerable downgraded the Harley Davidson Street Glide Special throughout your review and mostly in your closing statements. The project Rushmore was a huge improvement and consisted of major innovations and design. Look at the controls of the SGS compared to the bulky controls of the Polaris bikes. It’s as if the guys at Polaris added some square bulky accessories onto the handlebars, where the SGS and all Harley controls flow nice and uniform. Another thing you failed to mention is the infotainment. You were on the SGS not the SG right? Come on umm navigation come to mind. Hello!!!

    I could go on and on about this review but I’ll leave it at that for now. All I’m saying is I like your magazine, but if people are going to use this article to help purchase a bike, you need to give a more full review. Maybe take some of the key points that you did in your more hands on reviews of these bikes in previous articles that were published. All three of these bikes have hearts over 100 cubic inches and will take you where you want to go. However its the comfort and enjoyment you get out of the bike during the trip that maters the most.

    [Reply]

    alan brisebois Reply:

    obviously you are deffinitly HD biased,have you ridden the vic? as for the box controls you mentioned,well they are exactly where they should be accessable ,as for the display,really?poking and proding info center with your hand off the bar does not seem safe to me.and as for bottom end torque ,all about cams,yes a little quicker off the line but totally flatten out at speed …nothing left to pass cars as for the vic,hang on,handleling, the vic will out perform all in this class.i will not comment on the Indian as i have not had enough seat time like the HD and the cc .all i will say is HD is really slipping away, over priced and out dated engeneering.just do the math of operating costs over a year and you will surely see the light………….don’t drink the cool aid and look at the reality

    [Reply]

    Keith Reply:

    I would hope the controls and infotainment would be better on a bike that costs $3500 more has had over 100 years to figure it out. Maybe they should have put that info in there also? Bulky controls also may work better with certain gloves so to some people it is function over just looks. Some people don’t even like to listen to music when riding. Personal preference plays a huge role in a review on these bikes. If I was reviewing these bikes it would be more about the meat and potatoes of the bike vs the fluff but that is just me.

    Buy the magazine for a full review, they are more descriptive than a short blurb like this. Magazines can’t make any money to do a review at all if nobody buys their magazines.

    [Reply]

    David Barr Reply:

    Daryl Hermann,
    If you want a Harley Kiss-Ass story, just go by a Harley magazine. I think this story was quite fair in evaluating all of the bikes. There are more bikes in the country than Harley. Everyone deserves to form their own opinion on what is a better bike, just like with cars and other items.

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  2. William on February 3rd, 2014 6:42 pm

    Great review!

    I’ve always ridden Harley’s and was faithful to the brand I grew up with so when it was time for me trade in my 2007 SG I immediately went to my local HD dealer and test road the new Rushmore SG and thought I fell in love (I didn’t care for the touch screen nav). On a whim I also test road an Indian Chieftain and a Victory Cross Country. I was impressed by all three bikes for many of the reasons which were touched upon in the above review. To my surprise though I really loved and enjoyed the Victory. For the first time in more than 30+ years of riding I actually found a bike that fit my 76″ frame! Nothing I read online regarding the Victory on the HD sight I frequent was true.

    I’ve already put 2800 miles on my 2014 XC and couldn’t be happier. I can see good things in Victory’s future as long as they continue to produce bikes performing this well. The Victory is a motorcycle riders dream as it was designed to ride hard and long and I can’t wait to start racking up some serious miles on this incredible machine.

    [Reply]

  3. Greg on February 3rd, 2014 10:19 pm

    Sounds like they did a great job of comparing the bike’s to me. While I love the classic looks of the Harley, the victory out performed it evertime. I know some people are die hard Harley fans, but I ride what works for me, Victory. It always amazes me that people trying to down grade the bike always refer to it as Polaris instead of victory. I choose what I ride but how it feels and holds up, not the name on the tank.

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  4. Tony on February 4th, 2014 10:14 am

    The saddlebags you show in the Indian photo is the same photo as the Victory saddlebag. What does the Indian saddlebag closeup actually look like?

    Great comparison! I prefer comparison test about individual reviews.

    [Reply]

    Rider Magazine Reply:

    Sorry Tony! The Indian article has been updated with the correct photo.

    [Reply]

  5. john on February 4th, 2014 1:11 pm

    I love riding a big bike. It was a gorgeous day in south Florida yesterday for riding. But my goodness, the price of these bikes are outrageous! If you add two more wheels you could call them Buicks cuz they cost the same. Yeah, I know it’s the evolution of an ever better product but more and more these bikes are only for doctors lawyers bankers and CEOs. In the mean time I’ll stick with my old metric cruiser. Maybe in 15 years I can afford one of these for$7500! That said, now you can hate on me!

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  6. Mike on February 19th, 2014 7:14 pm

    ditch all the v-twinkies and go buy a Honda Valkyrie. Problem solved.

    [Reply]

  7. G_Dean on February 19th, 2014 7:54 pm

    Why do these comparisons always feel compelled to use an upgraded $$$ HD model to the stock Victory or Indian? At least use value for dollars in the comparison.

    [Reply]

  8. Jim on February 20th, 2014 5:05 am

    I love the look of the new 111 engine. I know it’s classic Indian, but I’m not in love so much with the front fender of the Indian. My current bike is a Valkyrie, which I love and won’t part with. It’s my second Valkyrie and I love the 6 cylinder silky smooth power and sound. However, I’m wanting a new bike and the Victory has been on my short list. There’s a new Valkyrie coming out, but I’ll have to experience it in person as Honda has changed it from the classic retro styling of the past. Just not sure I’d be happy riding on only 2 cylinders. Where is the 4 cylinder Indian??? Would love Indian to resurrect this beauty.

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  9. Marc LaDue on February 23rd, 2014 5:02 pm

    I rode the Indian this summer in Sturgis, in fact, I was on the third wave of early risers the day of it’s public demo-rides. We took the bikes on the same service road to Whitewood that I’ve taken all sorts of machines on, including but not limited to Harleys, Excelsior-Henderson’s, Victory’s, Big Dog’s, and Triumph’s. Of all the bikes, the Indian struck me as having the most grunt. So much so, that when I got back on my machine I stalled it almost right away. And that’s after having owned it for the past ten years and 80,000 plus miles. I also made a point to cross the rough railroad tracks in Whitewood as quickly as prudently possible, and the suspension soaked it up better than anything I’ve had the pleasure to ride, with the possible exception of my KTM 950 Adventure S.
    My next street-bike is going to be an Indian, it’s just a matter of getting an existing loan obligation satisfied. I hope by then they’ll be offering some more color choices in both metal and leather. Although it handled like garbage, the Silver Cloud Gilroy Indian was certainly easy on the eyes. I also wish someone in Polaris’s engineering department would work on a solution to kicking out that Chieftain front-end another 5 degrees. It looks like it ran in to a wall.
    I guess that’s enough for now,

    LaDue

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  10. Dave on February 28th, 2014 1:54 pm

    I think the new SG is the best looking bike of the bunch. I rode an Electra Glide, a Gold Wing, and then the Vic CCT. I bought the Vic CCT. Hands down handled so much better than the HD and was more comfortable than the GW. I am 6 ft tall. The HD’s seem cramped in the cockpit. The Goldwing needs the F6B seat for us bigger folks. The Vic I can stretch out on. Plus with cams, air filter, some slip-ons, PCV, and a tune I am running 121HP/119TQ to the rear tire. All that for a $2500 upgrade. Not many can keep up!

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