2018 Harley Road Glide Ultra vs. Indian Roadmaster vs. Yamaha Star Venture TC | Comparo Review

Luxury tourers
When it comes to luxury touring, bigger really is better. Each of these titans of touring weighs in excess of 900 pounds and has a load capacity greater than 400 pounds, all the better for carrying massive, torquey V-twins, cavernous luggage, a rider and passenger, and all of the niceties that keep them comfortable on the road for days on end. (Photos by Kevin Wing)

In our last luxury touring comparison (Rider, August 2015 and on ridermagazine.com),
we put the 40th anniversary Honda Gold Wing up against the Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited and Indian Roadmaster. Even though the Honda’s turbine-like flat six and sportbike-caliber chassis offered a very different riding experience than the American V-twins, we found them to be very close in terms of wind protection, comfort, luggage capacity and standard features—the things that put “luxury” in luxury touring.

Read our review of the 2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour DCT here.

Harley Road Glide Ultra
Harley-Davidson’s Touring models have been on a steady diet of improvement for the past several years. But for a luxury tourer with “Ultra” in its name, the Road Glide Ultra lacks some features and needs more rear suspension travel.

Here we are nearly three years later and the landscape has changed. For 2017, Harley-Davidson’s Touring lineup got the new 107ci Milwaukee-Eight engine and Showa suspension, and Indian’s Chieftain and Roadmaster touring models were upgraded with the Ride Command infotainment system. For 2018, Honda launched the sixth generation of its flagship tourer, reducing weight (and luggage capacity) and shifting its focus more toward sport touring. The Gold Wing is now more in line with its six-cylinder competitor, BMW’s K 1600 GTL, which is why we opted to leave it out of this comparison. Taking its place is the new-for-2018 Yamaha Star Venture, a boldly styled behemoth powered by a 113ci air-cooled V-twin and equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Indian Roadmaster
Unchanged except for its easy-to-use Ride Command infotainment system, the Indian Roadmaster is nonetheless a stylish, well-equipped long-hauler with the best suspension compliance in this group. But as the miles added up, some shortcomings emerged.

Even though the Venture was powered by a liquid-cooled V-4 in its past life, when Yamaha decided to re-launch its full dresser, research among touring riders and passengers indicated a strong preference for air-cooled V-twins, a predilection that’s reflected in domestic touring bike sales. What some view as an antiquated design others view as timeless, and when it comes to sound and feel, there’s nothing quite like a rumbling V-twin.

The V-twins in this comparison may be derived from or modeled after decades-old architecture, but they balance classic looks with modern technology. All three have electronic fuel injection, throttle-by-wire, cruise control, balancers that eliminate some but not all primary vibration, self-adjusting hydraulic valve lifters and maintenance-free belt drive. The Harley and Yamaha also have hydraulic assist-and-slipper clutches, and the Yamaha has two throttle response modes, traction control and the Sure-Park system (electric forward/reverse).

Yamaha Star Venture
Yamaha’s Star Venture attempts to bridge the divide between traditional V-twins and modern tourers.

These are big V-twins—ranging from 107ci for the Harley to 111ci for the Indian and 113ci for the Yamaha—that generate loads of low-end torque, encouraging you to shift early and ride that wide wave of grunt. There’s no replacement for displacement, and the number of cubic inches tells us the rank order of these bikes in terms of torque: the Harley belts out 100.7 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm, the Indian makes 104.2 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm and the Venture cranks out 110.9 lb-ft at 4,300 rpm. All that twist propels these hulking, 900-plus-pounders forward with ease, even when fully loaded.

Fueling and throttle response are precise across the board (we prefer the Yamaha’s more direct Sport mode over the lazier Touring mode), and there’s plenty of visceral pulsing between the knees to keep things entertaining. Exhaust notes are robust and satisfying, but the Indian’s is often too loud. Changing gears is easy, but, surprisingly, the Harley’s hydraulic clutch requires the strongest pull and feels grabby compared to the other two. Overdrive sixth gears allow these bikes to lope along smoothly on the open road, with a pleasant low-rpm thrum.

Harley Road Glide Ultra
2018 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra

Mystery Rider’s Gear
Helmet: Schuberth C4
Jacket: Joe Rocket Ballistic Adventure
Pants: Fly Terra Trek
Boots: Fly Milepost II

Only the Indian has a handlebar-mounted fairing, and the weight of the fairing, electric windscreen, infotainment system and front speakers has an adverse effect on handling. Steering through tight corners can be a chore and strong crosswinds require a firm grip to keep the bars steady, adding to rider fatigue on long rides. Frame-mounted fairings on the Harley and Yamaha give them lighter steering and more stability. None of us warmed up to the Harley’s mini-apehanger handlebar, which is narrower, higher and has a more awkward grip angle than the tiller-style handlebars on the Indian and Yamaha. But, being the lightest and shortest of the bunch, the Harley was the easiest to ride fast in the curves.

Admittedly, on back roads we ride these bikes at an above-average pace, but they’re eminently capable when pushed hard. Built to deal with heavy loads, their chassis are strong and their triple-disc, ABS-equipped brakes are powerful (the Harley’s and Yamaha’s brakes are also linked). Floorboards are the first thing to scrape pavement; the Yamaha’s touch down early whereas the Harley and Indian have more generous cornering clearance.

Indian Roadmaster
2018 Indian Roadmaster

Mark’s Gear
Helmet: Scorpion EXO-GT3000
Jacket: Olympia Richmond
Pants: Olympia X-Moto
Boots: Dainese Long Range

Massive forks and heavy-duty shocks handle the critical job of keeping the bikes suspended and in control, and for the most part they’re comparable, with the only suspension adjustment on all three being rear preload. The Indian has a slight edge over the Yamaha in terms of suspension compliance and ride quality. The Harley’s fork performs well, but its dual rear shocks have only 3 inches of travel (the others have single shocks with 4.3-4.5 inches of travel), which can result in a jarring ride on anything other than smooth pavement.

As full dressers, these bikes have big fairings, big king-and-queen seats, big trunks and big saddlebags. The Harley’s sharknose fairing is the only one here without an electrically adjustable windscreen, but its triple “splitstream” vents create smooth airflow and the windscreen height is just right. As the only one with partial liquid cooling, engine heat was never a bother on the Harley and the vents on its fairing lowers make it easy to manage airflow around the rider’s legs. Its seat is plush, but the rider’s portion slopes upward at the back, which can cause the rider to slide forward with awkwardly rotated hips.

Yamaha Star Venture
2018 Yamaha Star Venture TC

Greg’s Gear
Helmet: HJC FG-17
Jacket: Fly Butane 4
Pants: Fly Terra Trek
Boots: Fly Milepost II

Even though the Harley’s 133 liters of luggage capacity is less than that of the Indian (142 liters) and Yamaha (144 liters), the difference wasn’t readily apparent—there seemed to be plenty of packing space on all three bikes. But we didn’t like having to manually secure three separate locks for the Harley’s trunk and saddlebags; the Indian and Yamaha offer the convenience of central luggage locks—actuated by pressing a button on the bike or remotely using the key fob.

The Indian’s fairing and electric windscreen create a bubble of peace and quiet, in part because the handlebar-mounted fairing places the screen close to the rider. We’ve complained about engine heat on Thunder Stroke 111-powered Indians before, and the situation hasn’t changed. Adjustable vents in the fairing lowers help somewhat, but on hot days there’s no escaping the radiant heat. Although it looks inviting and has stylish stitching and chrome conchos, the Indian’s thinly padded seat is the least comfortable.

Luxury tourers
Torque is the name of the game for these three luxo-tourers.

How about the new-kid-on-the-block Yamaha? Its wide fairing, which cascades down both sides of the bike, is huge, and its electric windscreen is similarly broad. Together they punch a huge hole in the air, but even with the screen’s adjustability we sometimes struggled with helmet buffeting. Swiveling side air deflectors, which can be angled closed to block wind or open to bring fresh air into the cockpit, are very effective. The Yamaha’s air-cooled V-twin also gets hot, but its adjustable lower vents provide some relief. With flat, firm padding and an adjustable rear bolster that provides good lumbar support, the Yamaha’s seat was our hands-down favorite.

Reflecting contemporary tastes and desires, all three of these bikes have infotainment systems with color touchscreens that provide control over various audio, navigation and informational functions, including Bluetooth connectivity and USB ports that enable charging and audio control. And, as equipped for this comparo, all three have front and rear speakers. The Indian’s and Yamaha’s systems are the newest, and they have the largest screens, sharpest graphics and most intuitive interfaces. The Harley and Yamaha also have ports for wired headsets (which can be used for voice recognition commands), CB radio and SiriusXM satellite radio. Each system has its plusses and minuses, but overall they are useful and enhance the riding experience. 

Luxury tourers
While the Harley makes the least amount of torque of the three, it wins the peak horsepower award.

If we were awarding medals, bronze would go to the Indian. With endless chrome and graceful lines, the Roadmaster is a beautiful motorcycle, and it has the best suspension compliance and an impressive array of standard features. But from a performance and functionality standpoint, it feels less refined and cohesive than the Harley or Yamaha. Its engine throws off too much heat, its exhaust is too loud, its handling is too cumbersome, its seat is too uncomfortable and it has the smallest gas tank.

Silver goes to the Harley-Davidson Road Glide Ultra, which handles well, has the advantage of partial liquid cooling and offers more range than the Indian. But it also has a funky handlebar and an irksome clutch, it needs more rear suspension travel and it lacks some features that are standard on the others.

Gold goes to the motorcycle that none of us saw coming—the Yamaha Star Venture—which made a big splash with its global debut at the Americade touring rally last year. Yamaha went out on a limb by blending modern styling with a traditional air-cooled V-twin, but the end result works exceptionally well. For what is mostly a clean-sheet design, the Venture came out of the gate with a smooth, torque-rich V-twin, a solid, capable chassis, attention to detail when it comes to rider and passenger comfort, plenty of luggage capacity, the largest in-class fuel tank and a full suite of electronics and infotainment, all for a reasonable price. Welcome to a new era in luxury touring.

Luxury tourers

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25 COMMENTS

  1. It’s good to see Tuttle on another Yamaha Venture 30+ years after the first time I saw him on one doing the Superman thing across Texas on an 85 model.

    • That’s all well and good but in order for this bike to have that engine it would weigh more, be more top heavy and need to have a Stratotanker type fuel tank. My 05 RSV was a joy but having to stop for gas every 100 miles was a joke for a touring bike.

      • why would a v-4 bike weigh more? As it is, the yamaha weighs the most. 963lbs. Holy shite. So what they have load capacities over 400lbs. So does my R1200RT, which is 520lbs. And it weighs only 570lbs wet.

  2. Interesting article ! But you’ll be slammed by Indian owners tho lol. I agree on your suggestions for improving the Harley, I wonder it the touring line will get a monoshock frame next ?

  3. Nice review, for once an honest less bias in the favor of the Harley simply for its name. Quiet often the American V-Twin (HD) gets the nod of approval based on its heritage despite its lack of innpvation over the years. i for one look forward to seeing the Yamaha in person and would jump at the opportunity to take it for a ride.

  4. Nice review! – How about commenting on another important reason for owning one of these – 2 up touring – which one does the best job for your pillions’ comfort/foot position, any adjustability / heated seat and/or backrest – any adjustability, pillion grips/or lack of and position (reach) and if heated; best for pillion wind management/ head buffeting/ foul weather protection; most 2 up friendly luggage design; best/ most user friendly comms system for dual use – and finally max load carrying capacity of each rig – thanks again for the excellent articles as always!

    • The Yamaha has heated passenger seat, backrest, and heated passenger grips. My wife says that riding the Venture is the most comfortable and safest that she’s ever felt.

  5. I guess none of the testers were over 6 foot tall. The Indian RM is the first bike I have ever owned in 30 years that did not need a new seat or floorboard adjustments to be comfortable. The heat is a non issue as it can be taken away without much effort. The comment about handling is really puzzling leading me to believe the testers were short and used to riding sport bikes. I can’t speak for the Yamaha but I am very familiar with the cramped HD.

  6. I think you got your ratings wrong I can accept the Yamaha taking the Gold but I won’t agree with the Harley coming in before the Indian. You stated one of the most important failures for comfort belonged to the Harley with the Shock system they use and bottoming out on bumps and imperfections in the road. This is exactly the reason I left Harley for the Indian.

    • Raeford, after my 2015 Chieftain was totaled by a dump truck’s distracted driver, we replaced it with a 2015 Street Glide Special and have regretted it from day one. The Indian’s supple suspension is grossly under-reported in magazine reviews. We’ve added Ohlins rear shocks w/13″ of travel and a front fork cartridge kit and it’s still not even close to the Indian’s ride. In order to get the Harley to have great throttle response & run as strong, we’ve installed a CycleRama 575 cam, Screaming Eagle controller, K&N free-flow intake, S&S headers, & FullSac muffs. So… after spending an additional $6,000, our Harley runs slightly stronger but still doesn’t ride as softly as the Indian. Indian makes one helluva good motorcycle; right off the showroom floor.

  7. I own a 2016 Roadmaster. I owned a Goldwing GL1800 previously and a Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 LT also. I have ridden a 2016 Harley Ultra Classic, but not the improved 2017 or 18 Milwaukie 8. I also have not ridden the Yamaha. With that said, the author lost all credibility with me when he criticized the Indian’s handling – “the handlebar mounted fairing … has an adverse effect on handling”, and “Steering through tight corners can be a chore and strong crosswinds require a firm grip to keep the bars steady, adding to rider fatigue on long rides.” Those statements are pure poppy cock. I am a smaller, older rider (66 years old, 5’6″ and 170 pounds), and I have no problem whatsoever with the handling of my Roadmaster, through curves and with strong cross winds. I liked how my Vulcan 1700 handled as compared to my older Vulcan 1500, but I much prefer the handling of the Roadmaster. I have heard Harley Road Glide owners claim their fixed fairings are better in cross winds than handlebar mounted fairings, but I have been in plenty of strong crosswinds with the Roadmaster and haven’t noticed any problem at all that could be attributed to the fairing. In fact, if pressed I would have to say that my Goldwing (with its fixed fairing) was affected by crosswinds more than my Roadmaster is. I have not ridden the Milwaukie 8 or the Yamaha, and they may ride as easy as a crotch rocket for all I know, but these critical statements about the Indian handling are total garbage.

    • Dave, I agree. I liked the handling of our GL1800 much less than our Indian Chieftain; and our current Street Glide handles similarly to the Indian (both are excellent). The Gold Wing felt too bulky whereas the two V-twins were a dream. That said; the Indian’s suspension was so superior to the Harley’s that even after adding Ohlins rear shocks & front fork cartridge kit to the Harley, the Indian was still markedly better & much more enjoyable. The difference is huge especially here in the midwest where potholes & frost heaves prevail.

    • I’m a Harley lover through and through. However, even I will agree that the Roadmaster got a bum rap here. I thought it was surprisingly nimble for a 950 pound motorcycle. There were other things that didnt impress me but handling wasnt one of them.

  8. Interesting article that brings up some of the strengths and weaknesses of each of the bikes. I have no experience on the Venture (and have yet to even see one). I do have a ’16RM and test rode the Harleys. The selling points for me on the RM vs HD was largely in features. Electric windshield, central locking system, nicely done push button start (no knob to turn), and the heated seat. I find all these features very nice. One issue I had with the HDs was the cramped position of the floorboards, particularly with the heel-toe shifter. I found it very cramped with size 13 boots. One of my favorite features of the RM wasn’t touched upon. The quick release trunk (std). Flip two levers and unplug one plug and you’ve got a bagger. For daily use I ride with the trunk off-noticeably lighter and I find it far easier to toss a leg over. If the wife comes along it’s on in about 2 minutes (would be nice if it were a bit lighter, I admit).

    Heat on a RM can be an issue. I test rode a brand new one in stop and go traffic and it was unpleasant. But I bought mine with ~5k on it and don’t notice it being objectionable even on hot days. Sure there is heat but not bad. I’m not sure if that’s due to it being a different bike, or if the just run cooler (radiate less) with some miles. I’ve never noticed the weight on the forks, but haven’t spent enough time on the other rides to offer an honest comparison.

    I do find the Venture appealing-all the features of the RM (except QD trunk afaik) plus park assist/electric reverse. I can appreciate where that can be handy.

  9. I’m likin the Yamaha more with each review. but i do not need any of these bikes. I have a tour deluxe with that beautiful V4 which suits us for most of the riding we do, I already have the 113 motor in my 06 Roadliner and it handles most everyday duties and local rides and if we DO want to go long I have a 98 GL1500 SE with a DFT IRS Trike with EZ Steer which is pretty darn comfy. I’ll just stick to these three and be happy for now altho I WILL give the Yamaha a test ride just because…

  10. Polaris had the perfect touring bike with the Victory Vision.
    I have 88,000 miles covering 49 states on my 2011.
    No other touring bike handles the miles better, but I haven’t ridden the new Goldwing yet. (It’s reduced luggage capacity would definitely be a huge negative for me).
    Until Polaris makes an Indian similar to the Vision, I’ll simply keep mine.

  11. I have the Indian RM ‘15. I coach MSF BRC. I have taken the BRC and ERC both on my RM. I have never had “adverse effects” handling my bike. I prefer the non-vibration, non-bottoming out of my Roadmaster. have Demo’d all before my purchase. As for the Heat; take off your insulated pants. All bikes are hot with ATGATT. SEE and dog gone it just have FUN🏍📵

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