2017 Bagger Comparison Review: Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special vs. Indian Chieftain Dark Horse vs. Moto Guzzi MGX-21

Bagger comparo
From left to right are the Indian, the Harley-Davidson and the Moto Guzzi, each looking elegant yet menacing in various shades of black. These baggers are long on style and long between the axles, perfect for cruising down the boulevard or chasing the sunset. (Photos by Kevin Wing)

Harley-Davidson, Indian and Moto Guzzi are three of the most storied brands in motorcycling. Each has origins dating to the early part of the 20th century and a rich history filled with racing victories, engineering and styling innovations and iconic motorcycles. Harley and Indian built motorcycles in the 1930s that defined what a cruiser should be, with a big V-twin, a low seat, a wide handlebar and a laidback, feet-forward riding position. Despite being Italy’s oldest motorcycle company, Moto Guzzi is no stranger to American-style cruisers. It’s been making bikes such as the California, Ambassador, Eldorado and Nevada for the U.S. market since the 1970s, and Guzzi’s current lineup includes five cruiser models.

Read our Road Test Review of the 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Glide.

Bagger comparo
All three baggers have handlebar-mounted hard fairings with short windscreens, but only the Indian’s is electrically adjustable. With no fairing lowers, the rider enjoys wind protection only from the waist to the shoulders.

These three baggers are not run-of-the-mill cruisers. Each offers a different spin on the idea of a factory custom. This particular Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special is bedazzled with a Hard Candy Black Gold Flake paint job that adds a cool $3,000 to the sticker price. By way of contrast, the Indian Chieftain Dark Horse is a stripped-down version of the Chieftain that’s matte black from stem to stern and costs $2,000 less than the standard model. And for something completely different, there’s the Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress, a bagger seemingly designed for Batman with sharply pointed wing tips on its fairing, a big 21-inch front wheel and carbon fiber on the front wheel, front fender, gas tank and saddlebags.

Read our First Ride Review of the 2017 Indian Chieftain Elite and Limited.

Bagger comparo
Our test riders take a break to discuss the bikes’ handling characteristics…and more importantly, where to go for lunch!

How these bikes look while leaned over on their sidestands is important, but also a matter of personal preference. We’re more interested in how they perform out on the road, so we packed their saddlebags and headed into the hills for a couple days. We recorded our subjective impressions and applied our usual weights and measures to determine how they stack up as touring machines. You’ll find the nitty-gritty details about each bike in the sidebars, dyno graphs and spec charts. Read on to learn about the bikes’ relative strengths and weaknesses and to find out which one came out on top.

Read our First Ride Review of the 2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress.

Bagger comparo
Nothing beats a ride in the country during springtime! As seen on the Moto Guzzi in the foreground, all three bikes have audio systems built into their fairings. We found the small, sharp-edged buttons on the Moto Guzzi’s right and left switchpods difficult to use.

Functional differences between these three became readily apparent before we even left the parking lot. In terms of packing space, saddlebag capacity is similar for the Harley (65 liters) and Indian (69 liters), both of which have top-loading bags that can be opened and closed with one hand and left unlocked; the Indian has the added bonus of remotely activated locks. Although the Moto Guzzi’s saddlebags look big, they hold just 58 liters, their interiors are shallow, their side-opening lids are inconvenient and their locks require two hands to operate (and they can’t be left unlocked). Also, moving these big bikes around the garage or parking lot isn’t easy. Both the Harley and Indian weigh in at 823 pounds, fully gassed. Despite weighing 39 pounds less, the Moto Guzzi feels massive. It requires the most effort to lift off its sidestand and, due to a steering damper mounted below the triple clamp that reduces wheel flop, the handlebar feels very stiff when moving it back and forth. And at a parking lot pace, the Moto Guzzi feels the most top-heavy and ungainly.

Bagger comparo
To paraphrase John Muir, the road is calling and we must go! Lining up the bikes nose-to-tail clearly shows the relative sizes of their front wheels as well as the different shapes of their saddlebags.

At stoplights, the V-twins that power these baggers rumble authoritatively. Dropping them into first gear is accompanied by a loud clunk, and each pulls away from a stop swiftly thanks to loads of low-end torque. The 107ci Harley and 111ci Indian belt out more than 100 lb-ft of torque between 1,900 and 3,400 rpm, while the 84ci Moto Guzzi churns out about 80 lb-ft of torque from 2,300 to 5,500 rpm. The Harley and Indian prefer to be short-shifted while the Guzzi can be revved out more. Throttle-by-wire is the norm here, with good fuel metering and standard cruise control across the board. These bikes purr at highway speeds and feel tailor-made for wide-open spaces, but they have unique personalities. The Harley feels the most refined, the most responsive and does the best job of managing engine heat. The Indian is the torque king and has the most resonant rumble, but it also puts out a lot of heat and its exhaust can be loud. With its rev-me-up nature, multiple engine maps and muted sound, the Guzzi’s engine seems out of place on a bagger.

Baggers horsepower
The Jett Tuning dyno chart shows the horsepower differences, with the Moto Guzzi only coming out on top much higher in the rev range.

Nimble handling may not top the list of criteria for many bagger buyers, but all else being equal, most of us prefer a motorcycle that feels graceful on a twisty, scenic road. The gyroscopic effect of the Guzzi’s 21-inch and the Harley’s 19-inch front wheels contribute to their overall stability (the Indian rolls on a 16-incher), but also make them more resistant to initial turn-in. All three have fork-mounted fairings packed with headlights, instrument panels and audio systems with speakers, which adds weight to the steering equation. The Moto Guzzi’s handlebar is the widest, giving it plenty of steering leverage, but it’s also the farthest away from the rider, requiring stretched-out arms that put tension in the shoulders. Also, the combination of the MGX-21’s large front wheel and extended rake meant that we constantly had to muscle it through turns and never felt as comfortable or as confident as we did on the other two. Both the Harley and the Indian have handlebars that are closer to the rider for a more relaxed riding position, and both are less taxing when ridden on tight, technical roads. All three have strong triple-disc brakes with standard ABS.

Baggers torque
The Indian comes out on top in terms of torque, with a strong pull right off the line.

These bikes’ fairings provide protection for the hands and chest, but with their short windscreens and lack of fairing lowers, windblast hits the rider above the shoulders and below the waist. Although the Moto Guzzi’s windscreen is more of a styling element than a functional one, airflow around the fairing is smooth. The windscreens on the Harley and Indian (the Indian’s is also electrically adjustable) deflect more wind than the Guzzi’s, but noise and turbulence can be issues on both bikes depending on rider height and prevailing conditions. Taller accessory screens are available for all three bikes.

Street Glide side view
Helmet: Bell Qualifier
Jacket: Joe Rocket Ballistic Adventure
Pants: Aerostich Darien
Boots: TCX Air Tech
Chieftain side view
Helmet: Arai Quantum-X
Jacket: Fly Butane 4
Pants: Aerostich AD-1
Boots: Joe Rocket Meteor FX
MGX-21 side view
Helmet: Shoei GT-Air
Jacket: iXS Nemesis
Pants: Olympia X-Moto
Boots: Dainese Long Range
The profile photos above show the seating position of each bike, though bear in mind that all three riders are not the same size. The Harley (top) and Indian (center) have long floorboards that allow riders to adjust their foot position (though the Harley’s heel shifter limits space), and their dished seats are low and forward. The Indian’s handlebar is closest to the rider, followed by the Harley. The Moto Guzzi (bottom) has the most stretched out cockpit, with the farthest reach to the handlebar and a long, flat, tall seat. It’s the only bike here with footpegs, and its fairing is the farthest away from the rider and offers the least amount of wind protection.

With their handlebars and fairings positioned closer to the rider and their spacious floorboards, the Harley and Indian have relaxed riding positions, though our tall test riders wished the seats allowed them to sit farther back. The Moto Guzzi feels the most stretched out, with a flat, supportive seat that’s also wide, making it harder to get flat-footed at stops since it’s the tallest at 29.1 inches (compared to 27 inches on the Harley and 26 inches on the Indian). Also, the Guzzi’s footpegs are positioned just aft of the protruding cylinders, which limits legroom.

Curvy road
We answered the road’s call and enjoyed two days of back road exploration, with the hills pleasantly green thanks to steady winter rains. Each of these baggers strikes its own balance between style and functionality.

With generous suspension travel front and rear and well-controlled damping, the Indian offers the best ride quality, hands down. Between the Harley and Guzzi, it’s a split decision. The Harley has the superior fork, a beefy Showa unit that offers excellent compliance, but its 2.1 inches of rear suspension travel—less than half that of the others—means that choppy pavement can be jarring. The Guzzi, on the other hand, has a fork that isn’t quite up to the task of dealing with its large front wheel and heavy fairing, while its rear shocks soak up bumps fairly well.

The outcome of the comparison test surprised us. Given our past experiences with Moto Guzzis, we expected to like the MGX-21 more than we do. But its bold styling comes at the expense of handling and comfort, and except for cruising on straight highways, none of us warmed up to it. If you want a bagger with swagger that’s also enjoyable to ride, the choice comes down to the Harley or the Indian. The Indian has the best chassis and suspension among V-twin touring cruisers, but its big, air-cooled engine, as torque-rich and satisfying as it may be, puts out too much heat. With its new Milwaukee-Eight engine and Showa suspension, as well as its timeless style and full complement of touring amenities, the Harley-Davidson proved to be best all-around bagger in this group.

 

In-Depth: 2017 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special

Street Glide Special
2017 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special.

Like other Touring models in Harley-Davidson’s lineup, the best-selling Street Glide and Street Glide Special have been on a steady path of evolution over the past few years. Project Rushmore brought improvements in power, handling, safety, wind protection, comfort, convenience, infotainment and styling. For 2017, the big leap forward is the new Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine, which runs cooler thanks to precision oil-cooled cylinder heads, pumps out more torque and is smoother, quieter and more fuel-efficient. The air/oil-cooled, 45-degree V-twin displaces 1,746cc (107ci), has belt final drive and, on Jett Tuning’s dyno, made 77 horsepower at 4,900 rpm and 106 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm at the rear wheel. It’s mated to a new assist-and-slipper wet clutch and a 6-speed transmission. Also new for 2017 is Showa suspension, with a non-adjustable Dual Bending Valve fork and a pair of emulsion rear shocks with a remote preload adjuster.

Street Glide dash
The Street Glide Special is the only bike in this comparison with a touchscreen infotainment/navigation system, though one is available on the standard Indian Chieftain. To the right of the screen is a media compartment with USB port. The white-faced analog gauges are classy and easy to read, and the inset LCD displays trip functions.

The standard Street Glide has a base price of $20,999, and the Street Glide Special tested here, which adds the Boom! Box 6.5GT touchscreen audio/navigation system, Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS and Smart Security System, has a base price of $23,699. If you want something other than Vivid Black, basic colors add $500, custom colors add $1,200 and Hard Candy Custom colors, like the Black Gold Flake on our test bike, add $3,000.

Street Glide cornering
New for 2017 is Showa suspension, with a non-adjustable Dual Bending Valve fork and a pair of emulsion rear shocks with a remote preload adjuster.

2017 Harley-Davidson Street Glide Special Specs

Base Price: $23,699
Price as Tested: $26,699 (Hard Candy Custom Color)
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Website: harley-davidson.com

Engine

Type: Air/oil-cooled, transverse 45-degree V-twin
Displacement: 1,746cc (107ci)
Bore x Stroke: 100.0 x 111.1mm
Compression Ratio: 10.0:1
Valve Train: OHV, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: NA (self-adjusting)
Fuel Delivery: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection
Lubrication System: Dry sump, 5.2-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: Belt

Electrical

Ignition: Electronic
Charging Output: 625 watts max.
Battery: 12V 28AH

Chassis

Frame: Tubular-steel double cradle w/ two-piece backbone, steel swingarm
Wheelbase: 64.0 in.
Rake/Trail: 26 degrees/6.8 in.
Seat Height: 27.0 in.
Suspension, Front: 49mm stanchions, no adj., 4.6-in. travel
Rear: Dual shocks, adj. preload w/ remote knob, 2.1-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 300mm floating discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers, fully linked & ABS
Rear: Single 300mm fixed disc w/ opposed 4-piston caliper, fully linked & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 19 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.00 x 16 in.
Tires, Front: 130/60-B19
Rear: 180/65-B16
Wet Weight: 823 lbs.
Load Capacity: 537 lbs.
GVWR: 1,360 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 6.0 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 33.7/37.0/39.7
Estimated Range: 222 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 2,300

 

In-Depth: 2017 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse

Indian Chieftain Dark Horse
2017 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse.

When the Chieftain debuted for 2014, it was the first hard fairing-equipped motorcycle to carry an Indian badge. With its Art Deco styling, integrated driving lights and electrically adjustable windscreen, the Chieftain’s handlebar-mounted fairing won’t be confused with that of any other bagger. Backed by Polaris Industries, the reinvigorated Indian expanded its touring lineup, introducing the full-dresser Roadmaster for 2015 and the Chieftain Dark Horse for 2016. All are powered by the air-cooled, 49-degree Thunder Stroke 111 V-twin, which displaces 1,811cc (111ci), has belt final drive and made 75 horsepower at 4,100 rpm and 109 lb-ft torque at 2,400 rpm at the rear wheel. The wet clutch is cable-actuated and the transmission has six gears.

Indian Chieftain dash
The Dark Horse’s central LCD display is info-rich (it includes tire pressure and much more) but can be difficult to read in bright sunlight. The touchscreen Ride Command infotainment/navigation system is only available on the standard Chieftain and Roadmaster models. Button on the right turns on the driving lights; button on the tank is for keyless ignition.

The Chieftain Dark Horse, which is only available in matte Thunder Black Smoke, has a base price of $21,999, and standard equipment includes ABS, tire-pressure monitoring, remote saddlebag locks, keyless ignition and an AM/FM/Bluetooth/USB audio system. Stepping up to the standard Chieftain ($23,999-$25,199, depending on color) adds a passenger seat and pegs, a taller windscreen, highway bars and the 7-inch, touchscreen Ride Command infotainment/navigation system.

Indian Chieftain cornering
Despite its hefty weight, the Chieftain Dark Horse was a pleasant ride on the twisty mountain roads.

2017 Indian Chieftain Dark Horse Specs

Base Price: $21,999
Warranty: 1 yr., unltd. miles
Website: indianmotorcycle.com

Engine

Type: Air-cooled, transverse 49-degree V-twin
Displacement: 1,811cc (111ci)
Bore x Stroke: 101.0 x 113.0mm
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Valve Train: OHV, 2 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: NA (self-adjusting)
Fuel Delivery: Electronic fuel injection
Lubrication System: Semi-wet sump, 5.5-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt

Electrical

Ignition: Electronic
Charging Output: 812 watts max.
Battery: 12V 18AH

Chassis

Frame: Modular aluminum backbone w/ cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 65.7 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/5.9 in.
Seat Height: 26.0 in.
Suspension, Front: 46mm stanchions, no adj., 4.7-in. travel
Rear: Single shock, air-adj. preload, 4.5-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 300mm discs w/ 4-piston opposed calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 300mm disc w/ 2-piston pin-slide caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 16 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.00 x 16 in.
Tires, Front: 130/90-H16
Rear: 180/60-H16
Wet Weight: 823 lbs.
Load Capacity: 562 lbs.
GVWR: 1,385 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 31.6/35.7/42.9
Estimated Range: 196 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 2,300

 

In-Depth: 2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress

MGX-21 Flying Fortress
2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress.

Moto Guzzi named its big bagger after the Boeing B-17 that dropped more bombs than any other U.S. aircraft during World War II. An odd choice perhaps, but then again, the Italian manufacturer likes to do things its own way. Unlike the more traditional Harley-Davidson and Indian, with their V-twin cylinders arranged fore and aft around a transverse crankshaft, Moto Guzzi’s 90-degree V-twin has cylinder heads thrust out into the air on each side and a longitudinal crankshaft, which causes the MGX-21 to rock to the right side when the throttle is blipped at idle. With the smallest displacement in this comparison at 1,380cc (84ci) and a sportier state of tune, on the dyno the Guzzi posted the highest peak horsepower (87 at 6,400 rpm) but the lowest peak torque (82 lb-ft at 3,900 rpm). Power is sent to the rear wheel through a hydraulically actuated dry, single-plate clutch, a 6-speed transmission and a cardan shaft final drive.

MGX-21 dash
With the small speedo and tach needles hidden behind inset digital displays, they can be hard to see at a glance. The left LCD shows audio functions; the right LCD shows speed, fuel level, gear position and various trip functions. Behind the small door below the gauges is a USB port.

The MGX-21 is a radically styled iteration of Moto Guzzi’s California 1400 cruiser line, which also includes the Custom, Touring, Audace and Eldorado models. Base price for the MGX-21 is $21,990, and standard equipment includes Brembo brakes with ABS, three engine maps (fast, touring and rain), three-level traction control and an AM/FM/Bluetooth/USB audio system.

MGX-21 cornering
Yes, Virginia, that’s real carbon fiber.

2017 Moto Guzzi MGX-21 Flying Fortress Specs

Base Price: $21,990
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Website: motoguzzi-us.com

Engine

Type: Air/oil-cooled, longitudinal 90-degree V-twin
Displacement: 1,380cc (84ci)
Bore x Stroke: 104.0 x 81.2mm
Compression Ratio: 10.5:1
Valve Train: SOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: 900 miles, then every 6,000 miles
Fuel Delivery: Multipoint sequential EFI w/ 52mm throttle body
Lubrication System: Wet sump, 4.3-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated dry clutch
Final Drive: Shaft, 3.6:1

Electrical

Ignition: Digital electronic
Charging Output: 550 watts max.
Battery: 12V 18AH

Chassis

Frame: Tubular-steel double cradle frame w/ cast aluminum swingarm
Wheelbase: 66.9 in.
Rake/Trail: 32 degrees/7.4 in.
Seat Height: 29.1 in.
Suspension, Front: 45mm stanchions, no adj., 4.2-in. travel
Rear: Dual shocks, adj. spring preload (remote), 4.6-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 320mm discs w/ 4-piston opposed radial calipers & ABS
Rear: Single 282mm disc w/ 2-piston pin-slide caliper & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.50 x 21 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.50 x 16 in.
Tires, Front: 120/70-R21
Rear: 180/60-R16
Wet Weight: 784 lbs.
Load Capacity: 431 lbs.
GVWR: 1,215 lbs.

Performance

Fuel Capacity: 5.4 gals., last 1.3 gals. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 32.5/36.2/41.0
Estimated Range: 196 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 3,100

10 COMMENTS

  1. An interesting comparison to throw in, since these have more in common with each other by being “luxury baggers” than they do in being “classic V-twin” powered bikes, would be to throw the Honda F6B and the BMW K1600B models into the mix.

  2. The F6B is old school but runs stronger on the road. Needs a reverse gear. The bMW K1600B will be a road test i look forward too. Based on its base chassis, it should come out on top.

    • I can’t comment much on past models, as it’s been a while, but the test ride I took on a SGS with the M8 was horribly rough and underpowered feeling under 3000 RPM… Like my old BMW R75/6 when carbs are grossly out of synch.

  3. I’ve driven both 2017 bikes and I dissagree. The Indian is the best.
    I currently own a 2014 Street Glide Special and a 2014 indian Chieftain. Again the Indian wins.
    It suck when Harley is one of your biggest advertisers.

  4. I’ve driven both 2017 bikes and I dissagree. The Indian is the best.
    I currently own a 2014 Street Glide Special and a 2014 indian Chieftain. Again the Indian wins.
    It suck when Harley is one of your biggest advertisers.

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