photography by Scott Hirko
It all started in 1971, when Harley-Davidson introduced the Super Glide, a new model with a big 1,200cc V-twin shovelhead motor and a large fiberglass “boat tail” cowling below the dual seat. It was a styling exercise by a young Willie G. Davidson, grandson of one of the company’s founders, and his creation was the first factory custom. Well, the boat tail didn’t go over so well and was changed to a more conventional design the following year, but the Super Glide remains in the lineup to this day and Willie G. is now H-D’s chief stylist.
Today, everyone wants to be different…just like everybody else. Cruisers remain popular, and of even greater interest are custom bikes, cruisers with attitude. But who has the time or expertise to build such an exotic, or is willing to have his or her bike out of operation for months as they work on it? Even if a custom shop builds it for you it will likely void the warranty, and who wants to deal with the possibility that the full-on custom may not ride or handle or stop as well—or may not be as comfortable—as the stock bike was in the first place?
Hey, here’s an idea! How about if the major manufacturers build specific models that look like exotic customs, but cost like premium stock bikes and are covered by the full faith and warranty of the manufacturer? They would be available from and serviced by the dealer, and would meet all the usual braking, emissions and safety requirements. Finally, you may be able to test ride it before buying, or at least read a road test of it like this one!
For this article we rounded up four factory V-twin “customs” from the major manufacturers and ran them head to head, paint job to chrome doodad, fat back tire to fatter back tire. We were interested in style, comfort, power and handling. See the sidebars for specifics on them; here we’ll tell you how they worked.
Obviously, style is a matter of taste, but as Harley-Davidson once said in an ad, “Fashion is Function.” Anyone shopping for bikes like these wants to garner attention, and while riding them we noticed that not only were other riders impressed by the bikes, but people in cars were also checking us out, often giving us a thumbs-up gesture.
If you’re looking for attention, the bikes here that garnered it the most were the Honda (with its long, narrow tank and airy frame tubes up around the steering neck) and the Victory (with its knock-your-socks-off Orange Crush with Graphics paint scheme). Its frame, swingarm and foot control brackets are also painted orange, which adds to its dramatic appeal.
The Harley, too, caused a stir with its long fuel tank, the lean fork accentuated by the 21-inch front wheel and that fat 240-series rear tire protruding from beneath that wide, flamed fender. The Star Raider S was noticeable for its heft and size, but its dark red paint and more subtle graphics did not attract as much notice. Its chrome accents looked overdone to some, and its neck area is cluttered with wires and brackets rather than clean like the Honda’s. If you’re hoping the Raider’s other color choice will grab more attention…well, it’s black.
On the Road
By virtue of its being the lightest, least expensive and smallest-displacement bike here (1,312cc/80 cubic inches), the $12,999 Honda Fury could be considered in a class of its own. It weighs 663 pounds, and its seat height of 26.7 inches is within the range of the other bikes in our test. Though narrow, the seat is very well padded and comfortable. The curious part of this equation is the garden-tractor-style handlebar that places the rider’s hands far apart, and dictates a reach to the grips that puts the rider into a bent-over, far-forward riding position.
With its new fuel injection (all other VTX1300 models are carbureted) the Honda engine is very smooth and has a nice bark to it, especially when revved hard. Its five-speed transmission shifts easily and with little effort. Its squat rear end, long tank and reach to the pegs not only give it the look but also the feel of a long, low custom. Its suspension reacts well to pavement ripples and small bumps, and borders on the plush. But as with all these factory customs, bigger bumps hit the Honda hard. Overall the bike feels very refined.
We were surprised to find that the Victory Vegas Jackpot ($21,839 in the Orange Crush Graphics) with its blocky looking 106-cubic-inch (1,731cc) cylinders weighed just 20 pounds more than the Honda. Seat height is 25.7 inches and the seat has a nice, well padded pocket. Its handlebar bend leans one properly into the wind…but not too much. Sixth gear feels like an overdrive, and the bike positively yawns along at 70 mph. The tank is broad, a feeling accentuated by the bright graphics.
The Harley Rocker C’s ($19,844 in Flame Blue Pearl) seating position is all wrong for my 6-foot height. The seat is relatively flat and not well padded. It places my feet way forward while the grips bring my hands close to my chest. I want to stretch my legs, but if I do so my rump is soon off the rear of the seat. To hold against the windblast I had to primarily use my hands…which soon grew tired of this game. Deploying the hidden pillion seat with its slight step gave me a gauge against which I could prop myself, and that was more comfortable. Riders shorter of inseam had less of a problem with this bike, but also complained of the flat, firm seat.
Star’s Raider ($14,590 in Candy Red) has a very spread-out seating position that places the hands forward and wide apart, and the feet likewise. Its seat is wide, flat and firm. That big engine feels easy going and understressed, just loping along. Its suspension has a bit more compliance and deals with the bumps more readily than the Harley’s or Victory’s.
Power and Handling
Power and handling are interrelated and interdependent—unless the bike handles well and has adequate brakes to control it, power can be scary. Let’s cut to the chase here: While three of these bikes displace 96 cubic inches or more, two of them make significantly bigger power numbers than the third. If it’s a big rompin’, stompin’ motor that defines a custom for you, your choice will be between the Victory Vegas Jackpot and the Star Raider S. Their horsepower figures were essentially identical at 86 and change, and at 110.3 lb-ft the Raider makes about 9 percent more torque than the Victory’s 100.2 lb-ft. But when you factor in that the Raider also weighs about an equal percentage more, the difference becomes a moot point.
With its 108-inch, four-valve-per-cylinder motor the Raider is an impressive piece, and as the heaviest at 738 pounds it has a real physical presence. Its clutch hooks up aggressively with a short friction zone, but that’s OK as its massive torque just flings you away. Seated behind that wide tank and big handlebar you let it rumble low in the rev range, then get on the gas hard and feel that big engine shudder and throb as the tank quivers side-to-side and the exhaust rumbles. It all reinforces the perception that this is one big, badass bike.
By utilizing a 210-series rear tire on its Raider, Yamaha/Star has not pursued the fat-tire nonsense to the point of some other manufacturers, so even with its 70.9-inch wheelbase the Raider requires less effort to steer than the Harley or Victory. Add in those powerful dual front disc brakes and decent cornering clearance and the Raider is a hoot to ride in the twisties.
The other power bike here, the 683-pound Victory Vegas Jackpot, weighs 55 pounds less than the Raider and feels it. By contrast the Victory is light and sprightly…till the curves come up. With its wide, relatively flat profile 250/40-18 Dunlop Elite rear tire the Jackpot rider has to get his or her shoulder into the turn first, then pull the bike into it with that wide handlebar; it’s work to get this big guy over. Still, with judicious use of body positioning the Jackpot can be hustled through the turns quite well. Though the Victory’s rear tire is not that much wider than the Harley’s, a quick inspection verifies that its profile is flatter, which explains why the Victory requires more effort to lean and turn. Factor in the Victory’s single front 300mm floating disc with four-piston caliper and powerful grip, and the single rear 300mm floating disc with two-piston caliper, and the bike is well controlled.
The Honda should steer slowly with its 71.2-inch wheelbase and rake/trail figures of 38 degrees/4.4 inches, but its 200-series rear tire (the narrowest in our test) requires less effort to turn. With 56 horsepower and 71.2 lb-ft of torque it is noticeably down from the Victory and Star, but it’s similar to the Harley. Its single front 336mm disc with its two-piston caliper doesn’t have great power, and its single rear 296mm disc with single-piston caliper is adequate.
Thanks to all that unsprung weight in the back of the Rocker C, every major bump is magnified and kicks you in the tail. It initiates turns well with its lean 90/90-19 front tire, but soon its wide 240/40-18 Dunlop D407 rear tire comes into full contact with the pavement and now it needs coaxing to lean farther. That, combined with its 69.2-inch wheelbase, means that once you set a lean you’ll need more force on the handlebar to complete the turn. In the tight stuff I found myself braking heavily on the Rocker C and Vegas Jackpot, then forcing it over to get the bike through a turn that would have been noticeably easier to negotiate on the Raider or Fury. Finally, its single four-piston front disc brake and two-piston rear do not deliver as much stopping power as the Star’s.
Now that we’ve spent some weeks and hundreds of miles on each of these bikes, some clear pictures have emerged. As for which of these might find itself parked under your rump, your starting point is what looks best to you and we’ll leave that decision up to you. But as far as what works best, that depends upon how you define that job. Just stylin’? The Honda Fury packs a lot of style and garners a good deal of attention for the least amount of money, it’s relatively refined and comfortable, but is down on power and its 3.4-gallon fuel tank offers limited range. If you don’t mind a radiator tucked between the downtubes, or plastic fenders and lots of other plastic covers on the engine, get the Honda.
The Harley-Davidson Rocker C is competent and certainly scores high in the custom arena, but we urge you to take a test ride to be sure its seating position is right for you. My concern is that despite its 96-inch motor the bike is down on power (it makes around 70 percent of the torque and horsepower of the Star Raider) to the other big-inch bikes here. In a sense, Harley-Davidson sets up its bikes as starter kits which the owner is expected to lavish with performance parts and chrome.
Light and powerful, and with its great brakes and power the Victory Vegas Jackpot is another bike that’s fun to ride—but hampered by its rear tire width and profile. Styling is nontraditional, but it certainly demands attention, and comfort is very acceptable.
Star’s Raider is the brawler of the group, big and heavy and rough around some edges, and with a spread-out seating position. Its motor is its message, and we appreciate that not only is it powerful but with its 210-series rear tire and quality brakes it’s the most fun to ride in a performance sense. Our only wish is that Yamaha would give it more impressive paint options. Beyond that it’s the most well-rounded bike here.
If you want to be different—just like everybody else—here are four ways to make it work. What you do with them afterward to make them truly different is up to you.
2009 Harley-Davidson Rocker C
The Rocker has taken Harley factory customs to a new level. Based upon the Softail frame it features slammed chopper styling as its twin shock absorbers are hidden horizontally beneath the engine for a classic hardtail look. Its air-cooled, 96-cubic-inch (1,584cc), 45-degree Twin Cam 96B engine is rigidly mounted, but is counterbalanced so it is acceptably smooth. With a bore and stroke of 95.25 x 111.25mm it’s of the long-stroke persuasion, which indicates that like a typical cruiser it’s going to be more of a torque engine than a high-revving horsepower engine. It’s fed by electronic sequential port fuel injection, and has two valves per cylinder. All Harley Big Twins utilize the Cruise Drive six-speed transmission, which has a moderate clutch pull and shifts very easily.
Power reaches its meaty 240-series rear tire that pokes out from behind its broad seat via belt final drive. That broad tire, combined with a wheelbase of 69.2 inches and rake/trail figures of 36 degrees/6.2 inches, tells you that the 710-pound Harley is going to be dead-solid on the freeway but will require some force to lean and maneuver on tight roads.
The main difference between the Rocker C we test here and the standard $17,399 Rocker is that the C-model (which costs a whopping $2,100 more, or $2,500 in colors) has a fold-out passenger seat concealed beneath its rider seat. It can be deployed in seconds, and stows just as quickly. It’s small, firm and not very comfortable, but could be the start of a beautiful friendship. The C-model also features additional chrome on the engine, fork, headlight and bar risers.
2009 Harley-Davidson Rocker C Specs
Base Price: $19,499
Engine Type: Air-cooled, transverse 45-degree OHV V-twin, 2 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 95.25 x 111.25mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 69.2 in.
Rake/Trail: 36.0 degrees/6.2 in.
Seat Height: 27.4 in.
Wet Weight: 710 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 5.0 gals.
MPG: 91 octane recommended (low/avg/high) 38.4/42.2/47.2
2010 Honda Fury
Back in 2003, Honda introduced a new cruiser called the VTX1300, a liquid-cooled, 1,312cc, 52-degree V-twin that joined its big brother, the VTX1800, in the lineup. The lighter, more nimble 1300 came to outsell the heavy 1800 by a significant margin, and for 2009 the 1800 has been dropped from the lineup. This explains why Honda chose to base its premiere factory custom on the 1300. Also, on a bike in which styling is paramount and openness a plus, the 1300 requires a smaller radiator, airbox and less exhaust system volume.
Bore and stroke are 89.5 x 104.3mm, and it’s a SOHC design with three valves per cylinder, the intakes of which feed a single 38mm PGM throttle body fuel injector. The fork is set at a 38-degree rake and attached to an entirely new tube-steel frame that gives the bike a 71.2-inch wheelbase, the longest stock Honda motorcycle ever and the longest bike in our test. Combine that 38-degree rake with 4.4 inches of trail and you have a bike that requires a bit of body English to get through slow turns, but its 200-series rear tire is not overly wide.
At 663 pounds wet the Honda is the lightest bike in our group, and part of that lightness comes from the fact that many of its parts (including fenders and most engine covers) are made of plastic. It’s the only bike here with a fully liquid-cooled engine, and while all the rest utilize belt final drive the five-speed Honda has a driveshaft.
2010 Honda Fury Specs
Base Price: $12,999
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 52-degree V-twin, SOHC, 3 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 89.5 x 104.3mm
Transmission: 5-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Shaft
Wheelbase: 71.2 in.
Rake/Trail: 38.0 degrees/4.4 in.
Seat Height: 26.7 in.
Wet Weight: 663 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 3.4 gals.
MPG: 87 octane min. (low/avg/high) 41.3/42.4/43.4
2009 Star Raider S
In 2006 Yamaha/Star introduced a new model called the Roadliner, a big cruiser that came with an impressive air-cooled, OHV, 1,854cc (113-cubic-inch), 48-degree V-twin engine with belt final drive. For 2008, it utilized this same big-inch motor to power its new Raider model, which features an aluminum frame with a lot of air above the front cylinder, a hidden single shock mounted horizontally under the engine and a flangeless fuel tank that looks custom and stretched. Its 34-degree fork rake plus six-degree triple clamps results in a total rake of 40 degrees and 4 inches of trail, which give the Star a planted feel. Seat height is 27.4 inches and the pegs are far forward, but not to the point that they rotate the hips and give the impression you’re sitting on your spine.
There’s just 3.3 gallons of fuel in the flangeless tank, but the sub-tank under the seat holds another 0.8 for 4.1 gallons of total capacity. Initial turn-in is easy, but then as it leans the bike requires mounting effort to steer, a function of its rake/trail figures, 70.8-inch wheelbase and that wide 210-series, low-profile Metzeler Marathon rear tire.
The Raider is available in two trim levels, the standard model ($13,790 in Raven or $13,990 in Liquid Silver with Flames) and the S model we test here ($14,490 in Raven or $14,590 in Candy Red w/Flames) with more chrome in the triple clamps, fork sliders, air box cover, headlight housing, risers and more.
2009 Star Raider S Specs
Base Price: $14,490
Engine Type: Air-cooled, transverse 48-degree OHV V-twin, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 100.0 x 118.0mm
hydraulically actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 70.8 in.
Rake/Trail: 40 degrees/4.0 in.
Seat Height: 27.4 in.
Wet Weight: 738 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.1 gals.
MPG: 91 octane recommended (low/avg/high) 37.9/39.7/42.4
2009 Victory Vegas Jackpot
Victory is a division of Polaris, the snowmobile and ATV manufacturer, which began making motorcycles in 1999. Victory just celebrated its 10th anniversary, and in its short history has sold approximately 50,000 bikes. Its motorcycle lineup is powered by two versions of an air/oil-cooled, 50-degree SOHC V-twin engine with four valves per cylinder and a counterbalancer for smoothness. The base-model carries a 100-cubic-inch (1,634cc) V-twin motor, but the Vegas Jackpot is a premium model powered by the 106-cubic-inch (1,731cc) with a bore and stroke of 101 x 108mm. It transfers power to the rear wheel via belt final drive, clutch pull is moderate and its six-speed transmission shifts easily.
When I was in high school many years ago, I was told that if I wanted to draw positive attention to myself I should learn to play the guitar. Today, my advice to my kids would be, “Get yourself a Victory Vegas Jackpot in the Orange Crush with Graphics paint scheme…if you can afford it.” In black the basic Jackpot retails for $18,499, but ours is a Premium edition that includes billet wheels, a hydraulic clutch, an HID headlight and polishing that raises it to $20,339 in black or $21,839 in this orange treatment. What sets the glitzy Jackpot apart is that its paint is vibrant and garners attention, and its frame is color-matched to the bodywork—one mark of a custom machine.
With rake/trail figures of 32.9 degrees and 4.9 inches the Vegas Jackpot does not sound extreme. However, add in that 66.3-inch wheelbase and that wide 250-series rear tire and the bike becomes a chore to steer.
2009 Victory Vegas Jackpot Specs
Base Price: $18,499
Engine Type: Air-cooled, transverse 50-degree V-twin, SOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Bore x Stroke: 101.0 x 108.0mm
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 66.3 in.
Rake/Trail: 32.9 degrees/4.9 in.
Seat Height: 25.7 in.
Wet Weight: 683 lbs.
Fuel Capacity: 4.5 gals.
MPG: 91 octane recommended (low/avg/high) 40.5/41.3/42.3