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Cruising Coast to Coast | Heavyweight Baggers Comparo Part Six
Phillip Island to Perth Cruiser Comparo
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Harley Road King, Indian Springfield, Triumph Thunderbird LT and Moto Guzzi California Touring across Australia

Darren leads the way on the Moto Guzzi California Touring in this shot alongside Christone on the Indian Springfield while Trev is further behind on the Triumph Thunderbird LT and Gav brings up the rear on the Harley-Davidson Road King - Image by Andrew Gosling
Darren leads the way on the Moto Guzzi California Touring in this shot alongside Christone on the Indian Springfield while Trev is further behind on the Triumph Thunderbird LT and Gav brings up the rear on the Harley-Davidson Road King – Image by Andrew Gosling

We hope you enjoyed our ride across Australia via our five-part story thus far.  Day one saw us journey from Phillip Island to Kingston, then day two saw us stop off in Adelaide for some dyno testing before making camp for the night in Kimba. Day three saw us head across the Nullarbor to Cocklebiddy in an 1100km day, while day four took in a detour to Kalgoorlie before continuing on to our final destination of Perth, in what was a 1250km day in the saddle. 

Day five saw us clean the bikes up for a photo shoot and cruise along Perth’s beaches, while we wrote up some initial conclusions on the machines in regards to seat heights, comfort, luggage, fuel ranges, dealership support/servicing and pricing before introducing you to our gaggle of four testers.  

Now it is time to start getting into the nitty gritty of things and start making some conclusions. First up we hear from Gav and Darren on their thoughts on the four bikes, then in part seven it will be Christine and Trev’s turn to air their final thoughts on this cruiser quartet. 

The four bikes at our final destination on the west coast, Sorrento Beach
The four bikes at our final destination on the west coast, Sorrento Beach

Gav’s thoughts on the four cruisers

What an adventure, riding four new cruisers from one side of Australia to the other.  I have driven and ridden the expanse of Australia from East to West, and West to East, numerous times, including once on my old 1990 Harley Davidson Dyna FXR – but this was something else.

The week started with the experience of the Island Classic, which was my first time to the event and I was not let down.  The different array of bikes was mind blowing, and the time and effort to keep some of the classics running is purely a labour of love.

After weeks of excitement the bikes were finally gathered on Sunday afternoon, given a quick wash (which was going to become common place over the next five days), and we wheeled onto the Phillip Island track for a few quick pictures under the all too famous sign on the main straight. 

It was great to see all of the bikes together and begin to appreciate the differences between the models.  It was straight to business after that, working until late into the night, getting photos and packing for an early start on the Monday. (Click this link to read the story from the beginning).

This depicts our departure point at Phillip Island - Image by Andrew Gosling
This depicts our departure point at Phillip Island – Image by Andrew Gosling

I started out  on the Harley-Davidson Road King.  The 2017 model is not too dissimilar to my experiences on other Road King models, the instrument layout is consistent with modern Soft Tails and Fat Boys, so there was no surprises there. 

The only additional feature I had not been exposed to was the cruise control, which was very simple and user friendly. Similar in design and logic to most vehicle cruise controls, the toggle was located on the left switch block and easily operated by thumb.  The Road King suspension I found to be better than my previous experiences with earlier generations of the model, however it wasn’t as good as the other bikes in the group. 

The real big change was the new Milwaukee-Eight engine.  This is the first HD I had ridden with the new engine, which it is quite smooth, particularly at idle, and produces linear power throughout the rev range.

Harley Davidson Milwaukee-Eight
Harley Davidson Milwaukee-Eight

Once we started to swap bikes we all noticed that there were some small changes that needed adpating to, particularly coming off the HD onto the Triumph, as the first left hand turn saw the horn sounded.  On the HD the indicators are located on the left and right hand switch blocks and are operated by thumbs – on the Triumph, Moto Guzzi and the Indian, this is where the horn is.

The Triumph was a good ride and while it missed out on some of the other top end items like cruise control, you certainly couldn’t complain about the value for money.  The engine was good, suspension, in my mind, was certainly one of the better set ups, and the bike handled a couple of large pot holes I fell into with ease. While I found the seat to be the most comfortable of the four bikes. 

Triumph Thunderbird LT
Triumph Thunderbird LT

The Thunderbird LT engine power and torque was on par with the other bikes, and the gearbox smooth with easy gear changes. One of the frustrating aspects that I found, and I think I speak for the group, was that three keys that were required for the bike.  There was an ignition key, fuel cap key and a head stem (steering) lock key. I would have thought in this day and age one key would be enough to do all.

Of all the bikes, I found the screen on the Triumph offered the best protection from the elements.  As we all found out, this is a completely personal thing with many factors coming into the equation, so I am sure there will be others who may not share my view.

Indian Springfield
Indian Springfield

The Indian was the bike I was looking forward to riding the most, as I have not had the opportunity to ride one of the new Indians until now… 

The bike felt like a long custom cruiser, the handlebars felt low and swept back, which I guess is in keeping with the old traditional Indian style.  When you rode the bike it felt more like you were directing the bike, rather than steering.  

This set up was very easy to get used to and comfortable.  I don’t know why but the Indian had, what I will call, oversize switch blocks, which meant some of the functions required you to use your other hand to manipulate the switch. 

Of note was the cruise control, which was again not dissimilar to modern vehicles, with cruise/set and accelerate/reset functions on the one toggle switch. However, the position of the switch required you to use your left hand to control it, or you basically had to slide your right hand all the way up the throttle grip holding on with two fingers to adjust the speed. 

Indian Springfield seat was the only perch to give any of our group cause for complaint
The Indian Springfield seat was a cause for complaint, with the gripe focussing on issues caused by the stitching

Unfortunately I found the Indian seat to be the most uncomfortable of the four bikes. The rear stitching of the seat pushed into my lower back about an inch below my belt line and despite trying different positions after an hour or so it just became plain uncomfortable. I would be interested in another attempt if the seat didn’t have stitching, and I know there are plethora of options that replace the standard perch.

The handling and power of the Indian were great, gear selection was a little more critical for accessing the power when you needed it, but for a big bike it cornered well and easily absorbed the bumps the secondary roads we rode.

Moto Guzzi California Touring SE (with screen removed)
Moto Guzzi California Touring SE – sans screen

Jumping on to the Moto Guzzi was like jumping onto a sports bike compared to the other bikes.  You felt like you were sitting up higher and more forward, and the bike seemed nimble through corners. However, given the wheelbase was the same as the Triumph and Indian this may just be more about the riding position and the being the lightest of all four, which would also assist the “sporty” feeling. 

The Guzzi had three ride settings, Tourismo (Touring), Veloce (Sport) and Pioggia (Rain), with the difference between Tourismo and Veloce very noticeable.  The throttle responses were chalk and cheese – which would suggest the fuel consumption between the two settings would be chalk and cheese as well. 

The only minor complaint I had was the heat coming from the exhaust. Due to the position of the engine, air passed over the cooling fins on the cylinder heards and exits directly towards the insides if your thighs. There is heat shielding around the pipes, but in hotter weather the heat dissipation is not as effective, and your legs tend to get hot. 

Moto Guzzi California Touring - Image by Andrew Gosling
Trev on the Moto Guzzi California Touring – Image by Andrew Gosling

One last point that I found with all of the bikes that had heel selectors, was the room for your feet on the running boards.  I only have size 10 boots, not gargantuan flippers, but still found the heel selectors limited my movement, so when you are looking for a change in feet position this was restrictive. 

I would imagine someone with a size 12 or larger would find this quite annoying. One item that would be an absolute must for long distance trips for me are a set of forward foot rests. The Triumph had an optional set fitted and they worked well when looking for a position change on longer sections.

So, after 4000km, what would I have in my shed?  I was asked for my opinion based against two criteria:  If money is no object; and if it was my money.

If money was no object I would find the Indian in my shed with a smooth (probably gel) seat.  There are many reasons, but basically it looks good and performs well, and as noted above, there are some good and bad points, but nothing that would be a show stopper for me owning one.

Triumph Thunderbird LT and Indian Springfield at Streaky Bay
Triumph Thunderbird LT and Indian Springfield at Streaky Bay

If it was my money, that would be a very easy choice with the Triumph.  The cost of the Triumph is by far the biggest advantage – around $23k on the road at the moment as it is on special, and it has everything the others do – minus the Cruise Control.  Spend another $50 and you have a throttle lock which does the job.  I would be hard to justify another $10-12k to move to either the Harley or Indian.  $10-12K is a good slug towards another bike in the shed…

Triumph Thunderbird LT pictured at Hannans North Tourist Mine
Triumph Thunderbird LT pictured at Hannans North Tourist Mine

A big thank you from me to Trev and the respective manufactures for getting this to all come together.  I have known Trev for 20 years now, in different professional environments, and have long suspected this motorcycle journalist caper was riding bikes, getting fed and watered, and doing it all again.  I have now seen that maybe I had it wrong, it was certainly eye opening to see the amount of time Trev put into the site to keeps us all informed.  The four of us rode all day and every time we stopped Trev was on the job and at night, when we would hit the hay, he was working well into the night to upload the latest from our adventures. My helmet is packed ready to go for the next one, just tell me when…

Gav’s list of positives and negatives across the four cruisers

Harley-Davidson Road King

+ Familiar instrumentation
+ Comfortable seat
+ Good cruise control
+ New Milwaukee-Eight engine
– Suspension (Not as good as other bikes tested)
– Windscreen height

Triumph Thunderbird LT

+ Most comfortable seat (Aftermarket seat)
+ Price
+ Windscreen
+ Suspension
– Three separate keys
– No cruise control

Indian Springfield

+ Great looks
+ Comfortable riding position
+ Cruise control functions
– The most uncomfortable seat in the world
– Size of the handlebar switch blocks

Moto Guzzi California Touring

+ Quiet and smooth
+ Fairly responsive for a big bike
+ Easy to read speedo
+ Comfortable pillion seat
– Cruise control rider controls
– Plain looking, doesn’t draw the eye
– Heat from the engine/exhaust
– If you have a swag on the back it is difficult to access the panniers


Darren’s thoughts on the four cruisers

As a bit of background, these are my overall thoughts from a casual joy rider, not a walking, riding bike encyclopedia like Trev, and to be honest, I liked all of the bikes. 

Harley-Davidson Road King pictured at Hannans North Tourist Mine
Harley-Davidson Road King pictured at Hannans North Tourist Mine

The Harley and the Triumph appealed to me as the best looking, with the Triumph more so, due to its blue-white colouring and whitewall tyres. Plus it has the ability to be transformed into a good looking cruiser with the removal of the screen, bags and pillion setup, with relative ease. 

With only a single cylinder visible from each side of the machine the Thunderbird marks quite a visual departure from the de-riguer big v-twin that is the norm for the class. This immediately makes the Triumph stand out as a little bit different, and it works. Seen here with the bags removed.
With only a single cylinder visible from each side of the machine the Thunderbird marks quite a visual departure from the de-riguer big v-twin that is the norm for the class. This immediately makes the Triumph stand out as a little bit different, and it works. Seen here with the bags removed it cuts a handsome figure

The Harley had it over all the bikes with the switch gear ergonomics, but the feedback through the bars on rough roads at times got uncomfortable, especially 80km south of Salt Creek in SA. I would not wish that experience aboard the Harley through there on anyone. The other reported no problems from their steeds on that stretch.

The Indian was a good looking bike with a bad seat. While the cheap looking finish on the cylinder head rocker covers really let down a great effort on what would otherwise be the best looking engine. The Triumph I personally found to be the most comfortable to ride, closely followed by the Moto Guzzi and Harley, while these last two probably rate as more comfortable on long trips as they are fitted with cruise control, which lets you rest the right hand. 

Indian Thunderstroke 111, 1811cc - narrow 49-degree vee
Indian Thunderstroke 111, 1811cc – narrow 49-degree vee

Seriously though, if the Indian had a better seat I think all the bikes would be rated as comfortable, from there  it would be up to individual shapes, sizes and postures to make personal determinations.

Harley-Davidson Road King, Indian Springfield, Triumph Thunderbird LT and Moto Guzzi California Touring - Coorong
Harley-Davidson Road King, Indian Springfield, Triumph Thunderbird LT and Moto Guzzi California Touring – Coorong

Best ride? This hurts to say, but the Guzzi was not the worst at anything and not really the best at anything either, but overall it was the bike that did everything well.  It has a major fault though, and it’s not engineering. I just didn’t like the way it looked and wouldn’t buy one based solely on this… I know I’m shallow.

If money was no object and I had to choose a bike I would take any of them but the Guzzi, purely because of my distaste for its look, not because of how it performed.

Moto Guzzi California Touring

If the wife restricted me to one it would be a tough decision and I’m not sure I could make it without going through the actual purchase process on the day.

However reality must set in, money is hard to come by and as such the Triumph being more than $10k cheaper than the Indian and the Harley, spells it out for me. My wife is very comfortable two-up with a sissy bar, and I can still convert it to a more stripped down cruiser when desired.

Triumph Thunderbird LT - Image by Andrew Gosling
Triumph Thunderbird LT – Image by Andrew Gosling

Darren’s list of positives and negatives across the four cruisers

Harley-Davidson Road King

+ Instrument ergonomics are excellent
+ Comfortable seat
+ Good cruise control
– Front suspension struggles on bumps
– Light steering makes it harder for slow manoeuvring

Triumph Thunderbird LT

+ Very Comfortable ride
+ Handsome, quick and simple conversion from bagger to more stripped down cruiser
+ Good purchase price
+ Pillion sissy bar as standard
– No cruise control
– Three separate keys for steering, ignition and fuel

Indian Springfield

+ Good street appeal
+ Easy on and off the power around tight roads
– Uncomfortable seat
– A lot of chrome reflection in the eyes if the suns overhead

Moto Guzzi California Touring

+ Only one to have adjustable levers
+ Easy to control low speed manoeuvring
+ Comfortable
+ Pillion sissy bar as standard
– Least visually appealing
– Relatively poor fuel economy
– Can’t open the panniers with a swag on the back


In the final Part Seven of the series we will have Christine’s thoughts on the four big baggers then the final conclusions from Editor Trev!
Phillip Island to Perth Cruiser Comparo
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