Harley Road King – Indian Springfield – Triumph Thunderbird LT – Moto Guzzi California Touring across Australia

Coast to Coast Heavyweight Baggers Cruiser Comparo by Trevor Hedge

Today marks the beginning of a 4000 kilometre coast to coast adventure being undertaken on a quartet of top end cruisers.  

Is Harley-Davidson’s much improved Road King still king of the road?  Join us as we aim to find the answer to that question as we cross Australia on the new Milwaukee Eight powered Road King in company with an Indian Springfield, Triumph Thunderbird LT and the recently refreshed 2017 Moto Guzzi California Touring.

Image by Andrew Gosling
Image by Andrew Gosling

The Indian boasts the biggest engine of the four, the Thunderstroke 111 donk displacing 1811cc from its pair of 101mm slugs set at a unique 49-degree vee angle. It is also the only engine in this comparison to rely solely on air-cooling. 

Indian Springfield
Indian Springfield – Image by Andrew Gosling

Next in the capacity stakes is the new Milwaukee Eight edition of the traditional 45-degree Harley engine which now measures 1745cc in its new 107 cube guise. Still predominantly air-cooled, this latest version does have some oil routed in passages between the exhaust valves to help better manage temperatures. A tiny oil cooler at the bottom of the front frame-rails helps control that temperature but essentially the Harley is still, primarily, air-cooled. 

Harley-Davidson Road King
Harley-Davidson Road King – Image by Andrew Gosling

Triumph’s twin is of the parallel variety, thus shows off only one barrel when looked upon from the side. This provides quite a chiselled outlook with that big finned bore and overhead cam covers making for a striking profile. With a crank offset of 270-degrees the 1699cc four-valve per cylinder mill offers yet another variation of the twin-cylinder beat. While the Triumph gives away some capacity to the Americans it does boast the biggest pistons, 107mm slugs sliding vertically through a relatively short 94.3mm stroke. The Triumph is also the only engine in this line-up to be fully liquid-cooled, with a large capacity radiator.

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

Moto Guzzi’s 90-degree transverse vee displaces 1380cc but with 104mm pistons the charismatic Italian also features larger slugs than the American duo. The Guzzi has both air and oil cooling, with a large fan-assisted oil cooler.  With the Guzzi giving away more than 300cc to the rest of the field, will Guzzi’s highest specification cruiser have the muscle to play this game with the big boys?

Moto Guzzi California Touring - Image by Andrew Gosling
Moto Guzzi California Touring – Image by Andrew Gosling

 We aim to find that over the course of the next few days as we wind our way across Australia from Phillip Island to Perth.

The four riders undertaking this journey include myself, Trevor Hedge, editor of this publication and veteran of more than a dozen coast to coast trips, including a 16,000km in 15 day sojourn on a VFR1200F a few years ago, and a Phillip to Perth in 41-hours run the gauntlet style sprint back in 2006. Other mounts ridden across Australia include a DR650 and a ZX-9R.  The other riders we will introduce more as the trek progresses,

Before leaving Phillip Island on the Monday morning after the Island Classic, we put the baggers on the scales with a full tank of fuel. The Moto Guzzi California Touring registered 350kg, making it the lightest of the quartet. The Road King weighed in at 378kg, the Indian Springfield at 393kg and Triumph’s Thunderbird LT took heavyweight honours at 395kg. Thanks to Phillip Island Circuit for the use of their weighbridge. 

Weights as measured on Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit’s weighbridge with full tanks of fuel
  • Moto Guzzi California Touring – 350kg
  • Harley Davidson Road King – 378kg
  • Indian Springfield – 393
  • Triumph Thunderbird LT – 395kg

This morning’s first leg of the sojourn started with a trip from Phillip Island towards Sorrento to catch the Sorrento-Queenscliff Ferry before continuing on The Great Ocean Road. The ferry service allowed us to dodge Melbourne traffic and tolls while crossing Port Phillip Bay in style and a chance for a bite for breakfast. For $35 for a motorcycle and rider it is pretty reasonable value and a nice start to the day.

Heading off the Sorrento-Queenscliff ferry ahead of joining the start of The Great Ocean Road
Heading off the Sorrento-Queenscliff ferry ahead of joining the start of The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road got quite treacherous after Apollo Bay with rain and howling wind making it a tricky mix. A few slips and slides were had, with one of our contingent deciding they did not like the standard Dunlop D404T rubber on the Harley, thus I transferred her to the machine with the most extensive electronics suite in the group. The Moto Guzzi boasts different throttle maps and an excellent traction control system, thus Christine spent the rest of the day on the Guzzi, rain mode selected to make the throttle response as smooth as possible, with traction control backing up the ABS systems.  

Early indications are, however, that the Guzzi might fare worst in high temperature climates in regards to comfort, with the riders lower leg copping the brunt of the airflow off the cooling fins on the cylinder head. That’s better than having your crotch cooked, like some machines, but those in the more northern climes might find the Guzzi a tad uncomfortable on the inside of their lower leg.

The Guzzi does seem to have the smoothest shifting gearbox and a light clutch. First impressions also suggest that the Guzzi panniers might be the best of the lot. The instrumention is smartly implemented and early indications suggest this could be the most suitable bike for those caught short in the leg department. All of these mounts have very low seat heights, but the Guzzi seems easiest to get off the stand. Despite those cylinder heads high and proud away from the centreline the Guzzi’s massive chiselled crankcases dominate the look of the engine and perhaps helps to keep the majority of the weight as low and central as possible.

Overlooking the Bay of Islands on The Great Ocean Road
Overlooking the Bay of Islands on The Great Ocean Road

I transferred to the Harley and while I did not have any unexpected ‘moments’, I did provoke a few deliverate slides, out of interest, and it did wick up a little too easily for comfort.

One thing the Harley is winning clearly, as I had expected, is the fuel economy wars. We will wait until later in the trek for the numbers to really balance out to paint a truly reliable picture but over the 740km in mixed conditions, and woeful traffic along The Great Ocean Road, the Harley returned the best economy. A full breakdown on the fuel usage on the trek across Australia will follow at the end of the trip as all is being closely chronicled during the journey.

The previous generation of Harley’s trademark twin fulfilled its intended role brilliantly, and this latest version is better again. Smooth and full of character it really is a gem of an engine that is perfectly suited to this role. Harley’s Road King has always been about the best motorcycle in their massive range, in fact, the entire Harley touring line-up are all genuinely excellent motorcycles.

They generally handle and ride so much better than their Softail and Dyna brethren, amazing as that sounds, as they are physically larger motorcycles, but the Harley tourers are by far the best motorcycles in Harley’s expansive line-up. No doubt about it, and the Road King is the best combination of style and comfort in the range. 

Was a very wet run in to Port Campbell and the latter three-quarters of The Great Ocean Road
Was a very wet run in to Port Campbell and the latter three-quarters of The Great Ocean Road

Indian’s Springfield has a strong hit of torque off the bottom that is really quite enjoyable, it might be a little too much for those with less experience but I revel in this character trait. It is also an extremely handsome machine with plenty of amenity and comfort. The convenience of the remote central locking is winning many friends and the fact that it also looks brilliant with its standard screen removed, is another feather in its cap.

Triumph’s Thunderbird LT is, like the Guzzi, almost ten grand cheaper than the Harley or Indian. It’s actually on special at the moment from $22,500 ride away, and at that price certainly provides some great bang for the buck. In the sun this blue and white example really looked quite striking and, like the other machines in this group, strikes a nice profile with the screen removed for city work. 

All machines are proving very comfortable, which bodes well for the still 3000+ kilometres we have ahead of us over the next few days.

Our digs for the night, the beach at Kingston SE, on the shores of Lacepede Bay, South Australia
Our digs for the night, the beach at Kingston SE, on the shores of Lacepede Bay, South Australia

Tomorrow (Tuesday), morning we will continue up the South Australian coast, via the Coorong National Park before heading into Adelaide for a visit with Kym McConnell of Competition Conversions, where we plan to run these four big jiggers up on the dyno.  

Then we will continue to Go West! Check back tomorrow for our findings on day two of this adventure. Feel free to comment here below with particular questions about the bikes on the test, the trip, or to add your own take on the motorcycles undertaking this journey.

Heavyweight Baggers Comparo – Part One – Part TwoPart ThreePart Four