He was dressed nicely, the young fella approaching us from across the gas station, wearing a pressed shirt and a generous smile. He was getting his first motorcycle and had been eyeballing Harley-Davidson’s Forty-Eight and Triumph’s new Bonneville for an entry-level way to zip around town, comfortably free of his chronic back pain. Hang on, what? Considering a Forty-Eight to avoid chronic back pain?
We were, umm, “surprised.” But also relieved to know that someone else thinks these bikes deserve a comparison. They’re all holding hands from one direction or another, after all. The Harley Forty-Eight and the Star Bolt share the air-cooled, V-twin layout, while the Harley’s MSRP nearly matches that of the Victory Octane. Triumph’s new Street Twin blatantly reaches back to a different era, just like the Forty-Eight. Star revamped the already popular Bolt to create this C-Spec at the same time Victory is reinventing itself as a performance brand.
So, here we are—cooling fins and bias-ply tires all mixed up with radiators and ABS in a way we’ve never seen—with companies going in different directions to appeal to the same smiling, dry-cleaned yuppie. And to him we say: You deserve to know which bike to put next to your Jeep Wrangler in the garage, dammit! We dedicate this ride to you, friendly Shell patron, and all others with it in mind to cruise in style for around $10K.
If style is what you’re after it’s easy to be drawn to the Star Bolt and, by association, this C-Spec. We’ve raved about the Bolt’s punchy engine, classic lines, and excellent value before, and in many ways the C-Spec is more of the same. It’s a $700 upcharge from the base Bolt to the café-racer C-Spec, for which you get piggyback shocks (same as the R-Spec), a different seat that is 2.9 inches taller, rear-set footpegs, clip-on handlebars, fork gaiters, and a snazzy seat cowl.
All of these parts add up to an upper body canted forward toward the dash, feet perched on slightly rear-set pegs, and a riding experience that is vastly different. On paper it sounds like the ergos are sportier, and we suppose they are. Yet when our city-centric test ride wandered into the twists and turns of unkempt suburbia, the C-Spec showed us its roots. This is a dressed-up cruiser, and it feels like it. The low, narrow bars make handling lethargic, sometimes just plain heavy, and even with the pegs set back they still drag too easily.
With the standard Bolt’s nicely proportioned riding position in mind, our testers were unanimous in their dislike for the C-Spec’s ergos. Even taller riders were stretched forward and found themselves sitting on the back of the tank, barely using what is actually a pretty comfortable seat. The footpeg position feels a little awkward while riding, but that’s okay because you’ll forget about that when they’re exactly in the way of your legs at a stop. Argh!
As important as we think it is to point this out, it is not (repeat, not) what this comparison is about. Friendly Shell yuppie doesn’t care if the pegs drag. This is his first full-size bike. He just wants to be pleased with his purchase. In that respect, the C-Spec cannot be faulted. The brakes are mellow but responsive and strong, and even though it’s not ultra agile the handling is predictable. Plus it’s finished nicely, with a cool, faux-suede seat, striped wheels, and metallic paint that comes alive in the sun.
The engine, as we already mentioned, is a treat. When we compared the standard Bolt to a crop of 650cc-to-900cc cruisers (“Re-Entry Points,” June 2015, MC) it crushed the lot and made us realize that this mill delivers more than 942cc worth of torque and sound. Even in this company with thoroughbred, liquid-cooled competition the C-Spec’s 60-degree vee is not outclassed at all. There’s plenty of thrust, all while churning out a bass-heavy, thunder-in-the-distance note.
Compared to the traditionally low-slung Harley and Victory, the C-Spec’s 30-inch seat seems tall. It wouldn’t be a problem but for the Bolt’s perceived heft. We suspect raising the seat nearly 3 inches makes the C-Spec feel heavier than it is—which, at 551 pounds, isn’t exactly welterweight. Our only other complaint was about the chrome-rimmed, circular dash (that matches the headlight and taillight so nicely), which we simultaneously love the look of and hate to look at.
But then, at $8,690 the C-Spec undercuts Triumph’s Street Twin by 10 bucks to be the most affordable of this group. And, frankly, even with simple instruments it never feels cheap. Being so impressed with the standard Bolt we were curious how the C-Spec would stack up, and we have reconfirmed that this is a great platform. Sure, we don’t like the C-Spec ergonomics, but the bike still radiates an enthusiasm that makes us enjoy the ride.
No, that’s not a typo. Harley gets a 10 out of 10 for this Forty-Eight’s styling. Just take a minute to bask in it. Sure, the “Hard Candy Custom” metalflake paint job is stellar, and the machine-gun louvers in the chrome exhaust covers are pure brilliance. But beyond that, just look how it carries itself. It oozes backstreet brawn and classic Americana, with a kickstand presence that most bikes can only dream of. A pure, Hollywood quality.
And so it goes when you start it. With the same WWII fighter-plane rhythm of any full-size Harley, the Forty-Eight’s starter motor takes a one-two beat to strain against 1,202cc of compression before taking an audible gulp of air and firing to life. It’s quintessential, as though made to hook millennial customers with memories of a cool neighbor with a Harley that started every Saturday morning, making that very same noise and pointed toward who knows where. Knowing Harley, the engineers probably did it on purpose, and we can only stand back and start a slow clap.
With the sun gleaming on the tank and the Sportster mill pulsing beneath, you’re ready to clank it into gear and set off. Depending on how committed you are this might be where the dream crumbles. It really takes some getting used to, riding this Harley. Forward-set pegs and a low handlebar, combined with a one-position-fits-all seat, equals a riding stance that is pretty stretched. This means practically all of your weight rests on the bottom of your spine, which is only protected from the road by 1.6 inches of rear suspension. The ride can be rough.
Still, the Forty-Eight chugs along happily at any speed between 10 and 80 mph, vibrating mechanically but not annoyingly. The five-speed gearbox is clunky yet totally predictable, and a 150-section rear tire helps it to handle better than you might expect, dragging peg feelers anytime you even think about turning. When it comes time to slow down, the Harley calls into action the worst brakes of this group but only by a small margin (plus, the Forty-Eight has an ABS option where Star and Victory do not).
Aside from the good handling, none of this was a surprise. The Forty-Eight fits into the Harley mold in exactly the way The Motor Company wants it to, with all of the emotion of the halo bikes for less loot. A base price of $11,199 seems pretty competitive with this lot (especially the Octane at $10,499) until we realized that the Hard Candy Color and ABS this testbike has push the price to more like $12,500. Again, how committed you are to The MoCo matters. It’s expensive and also delivers a prestige no other bike can.
No part on the Forty-Eight sums the bike up better than the mirrors, coolly slung under the narrow handlebar. It keeps the Forty-Eight’s profile low, like a terrier with its ears pinned instead of perked up and curious. It adds to this Harley’s projection of burgeoning badass, halfway to full custom. However, the mirrors are indisputably worse than traditional ones when it comes to showing what’s behind. They are form over function. And that’s the Forty-Eight. Yes, there are some exposed wires, hot or pointy bits that rub your legs at stoplights, and the ride is unrelentingly harsh. But you’ll forgive it when you put it on the sidestand and let it pose, classic and proud.
As EIC Cook mentioned in his column (Cook’s Corner,), there was an awful lot of hype surrounding this new Victory model. When we first saw it, we were disappointed because it looked like a clear knockoff of Indian’s Scout. And when Victory’s press material surfaced, with claims of setting new trends and reinventing the muscle bike, we thought Victory was blowing smoke a mile high. Then we rode it, and it really does have a different feel than any other cruiser.
Not the riding position, though, that’s more of what we (and you) are used to. Like the Harley, the Vic’s pegs are set forward and fairly wide, but where the Forty-Eight makes you reach for the fork caps the Octane uses a pullback handlebar to create a much more relaxed riding position. There’s still a lot of weight on your backside, but 3 inches of rear travel is calibrated well and soaks up bumps nicely. With nearly double the suspension stroke of the Harley and a seat 1.4 inches lower, the Octane is proof that low-slung doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.
The Octane’s 25.9-inch saddle goes beyond accommodating, but, more than that, the whole bike seems impossibly squat. It shares the C-Spec’s weight of 551 pounds but feels a hundred pounds lighter, from coming off the kickstand to manners on a curvy road. It’s extremely well balanced, and even though it’s low the pegs don’t touch down immediately when you leave a gas station or turn into a parking spot. This is one of the points, in fact, that Victory stressed in its introduction of the bike: 32 degrees of lean angle! Marc Marquez will not be impressed, but for a cruiser it’s downright agile.
If you’re like us, thus far you’re pretty impressed with this new Victory. And all before you spin the engine up. Between 5,000 and 6,000 revs the Triumph and Harley are pretty flat, while the Star Bolt is actually losing power. By the time the Victory hits 5,000 rpm it is already making more power than any of the other three and is just getting started, eventually cranking out 90 hp at the wheel.
On the road, the engine is terrific. It’s as thrilling to use as the dyno chart makes it seem, with plenty of torque and a top-end rush unlike any American-made cruiser to date. If anything, the exhaust system is too comprehensive because the Octane doesn’t sound like much at all. As if to complement the blue-ribbon engine, the Vic’s fueling and drivetrain is solid and smooth and uses the only six-speed gearbox in this test.
To get picky, we’d like to see an ABS option, and, as much fun as we had with no traction control to save the contact patch from those 90 ponies, TC would be a nice option (maybe switchable, like the hooligan in all of us?). The dash is also pretty spare, with only enough data to make it legal. We’ll admit it contributes to the bare-bones, badass disposition the Octane is trying so hard to exude. Aww, man, who are we kidding? One more trip to redline and we forgot all about that! For us, it has the opposite problem to the Harley, in that when it’s parked it leaves us a little cold. There’s nothing wrong, per se, but all of that matte paint blends in with itself and doesn’t distract enough from the frame that reminds us of the Indian Scout. It’s a handsome bike, and yet it’s a little too Ness-tastic for us to get all the way behind Victory for being “reinvented.”
But, credit where credit is due: It’s no V-MAX, but we admit that the Octane sits at an unprecedented cruiser intersection of low MSRP ($10,499, incidentally) and high horsepower. This is just as Victory has been saying all along, and that definitely represents a step toward true performance. And, lastly, it does that while avoiding the footsteps of a certain British marque, which has come at the market from a different standpoint altogether.
In many ways Triumph’s new Bonneville Street Twin is the easiest of this group to like, but it’s also the most difficult to talk about. How can we convince you, the consumer, that this bike is actually new (when compared to the Bonnie it replaces) while also going further back in time toward the original? We must just be drinking the Kool-Aid, right? Well, yes. (Here’s where we try to convince you that it’s delicious.)
The Street Twin fits in to Triumph’s new-for-2016, multi-level Bonneville lineup smack at the bottom, and yet it’s just as new as its bigger-bore siblings. The 900cc powerplant is not a punched-out, revamped version of the outgoing 865cc mill but a new engine altogether—liquid-cooled, no less! The same effort goes for the styling, chassis, and electronics, all of which are new. Triumph wanted the Street Twin to be updated and refreshed but also smaller, visually cleaner, and more accessible than ever.
Aesthetically, you can make your own judgments, but we think the team at Triumph nailed it—this is simplicity personified. It’s stripped down as though a twentysomething has already owned it for a year, with modest black fenders and a tidy seat. The radiator hides in plain sight, between the downtubes of the frame, and the perfectly sculpted pipes sweep backward so elegantly it’s easy to miss that they stop under the engine in the chunky catalyzer needed for modern emissions standards. This Trumpet is so clean, classic, and easy to look at that we’re not even sure of our favorite part.
Swing a leg over and be amazed at how low the seat is (29.5 inches) and how thin the Street Twin is at the waist. Then fire up the engine and be astonished at how deliciously loud it is, thumping nonchalantly at idle only to snarl away from stoplights enough to leave the Forty-Eight rider embarrassed and in the dust. A heavy crank mass and good fueling make the Street Twin quite friendly despite a clutch that is so light to pull we struggled to get any discernable feedback (we suspect the slip/grip mechanism is partly to blame). Also, we admit that the low seat seems to be due in part to the padding being a tad thin.
We can hardly call out the clutch or the seat as complaints, really; it’s more of a word of warning—like the softly sprung suspension—for those interested, than a criticism. As for amenities, the Street Twin has the other three completely clobbered. There is standard ABS, as well as switchable traction control and a fuel gauge, in addition to the usual spread of clock, tripmeters, and warning lights (there’s even a USB charging port under the seat). It’s all communicated and controlled through a single, round gauge atop the headlight and a simple button just inboard of the left grip.
Just like all of the bikes in this test, amenities and comfort are parameters that contribute to enjoying the bike but aren’t truly the purpose of the machine. How you feel in the saddle is where the Street Twin comes through most of all, even considering all of its engineering accolades. This bike is fun to ride. It’s comfortable, handles wonderfully, sounds terrific, and otherwise delivers most of the joys of motorcycling that we have come to desire, all for a base price of $8,700.
A quartet of additional color options, including red and silver, bump the price to $8,950, which is nearly a full thousand dollars higher than the former base Bonnie’s price of $8,099. Then again, what you get is the best motorcycle of this group and of almost any group. We recommended it to our new friend at the gas station purely for comfort, but it provides everything the other three bikes here do (aside from the Vic’s power and the Harley’s metalflake), for a decent price and in classic style.