“Maybe they just tightened the bolts a bit harder”.
That was all that my ‘insider’ at Indian Motorcycles Australia joked when I rang to quiz him about why the 2017 Roadmaster performed better than the 15’ and ’16 models.
With the exception of the upgraded dashboard and info-tainment system, the bike’s spec sheet reads pretty much the same as the previous releases, but somehow the suspension seems a bit plusher, the engine a bit sweeter and the handling a bit tighter. The overall feel of the bike just seemed … improved. On a bike that I already thought was superb.
Of course my Editor 'Brum' had some sage words on the subject: “They all do it Dave, every manufacturer, when they get three of four model years under their belt the bikes get sweeter. They iron the bugs out of the process.” Of course I could only agree and suggested it was something to do with ‘tighter bolts’.
The 2017 Roadmaster has also addressed aspects of the machine that we thought weren’t in keeping with the rest of the bike’s excellent engineering.
Upgraded to the max.
The first batch of Indian Baggers’ (both Chieftain and Roadmaster) paint was not up to the standard of their opposition. While that was part of the reason we hired Mark Walker to re-paint our Running Bull project bike it’s no longer an issue. Polaris spent $20million upgrading their paint facility in mid 2015. The 2017 finish is not quite flawless, but it presents very, very well and the pinstriping is excellent. The two-tone finish with gold highlight is now a good paint job.
The ’15 and ’16 Baggers dashboard and instrumentation was also not quite up with the overall styling of the machine either. It was ‘clever’ and legible, with its day/night colour and contrast change, but it was a bit ‘plain-Jane’. It didn’t really pop with the presentation of the rest of the bike. With the ’17 model Indian has gone ultra-high-tech and while its presentation and appearance has been a bit ‘polarising’ around the Heavy Duty editorial department, I thought it was absolutely fantastic.
Now the analogue instruments are separated by a 7” touchscreen that displays a range of data, diagnostics and info-tainment. Indian calls it ‘Ride Command’ and it worked very well for me.
It allows the rider to customise the display screen and then scroll through the various modes with either gestures from a (gloved) finger or using the trigger switch on the back of the left hand switch block. It also incorporates the GPS and guidance systems. A maps update for right hand dive is forthcoming and updating should be no problem via the USB connection in the very handy dash-top compartment with Smartphone Compatible Input (with complimentary data stick for the software upgrades). The compartment will accommodate ‘plus’ sized mobiles and the Bluetooth connection was the easiest of any I’ve used. It only took a matter of seconds to have it paired with the Ride Command and pumping out an mp3 playlist or streaming Pandora stations. Same with headsets and coms systems connection – very easy.
The third significant upgrade to the ’17 offering is the sound system. A new 200watt amp and speakers paired with Ride Command now make this one of the better stock sound systems available. It pumps, and it’s all easily operable from the touch screen display (or the left hand switch block) if a mobile disco is your preference.
Once the tunes are sorted it’s a case of scrolling through the display screens to find one with the data that suits. The screen header bar displays time, ambient temperature, source and signal strength. The main screen has options to display: GPS (and guidance); Vehicle Status (tyre pressure, voltage, engine hours, oil change); Vehicle Info (speed, fuel range, RPM, gear position); Dual Trip Meters (fuel range, miles, average fuel economy, instantaneous fuel economy time, average speed); Ride Data (heading, moving time, stop time, altitude, altitude change): Audio (song, artist, track or station) or you can set up custom split screens to display some of any.
The ‘old school’ dials that sit on either side of the Ride Command feature analogue Speedometer and Tacho, an array of warning lights and have inset LCD displays with fuel gauge, range, odometer and gear indicator. The whole set up is very clever and very intuitive.
Donk & Chassis
The 2017 Thunderstroke is the same 111cube we know (and love), but with another model year it too seems just that little bit sweeter. It runs the same 101 mm x 113 mm bore and stroke and 9.5:1 compression ratio fed by a 54 mm throttle body and closed loop fuel injection system. The directness of the gear primary drive and belt final drive make the bike feel tight and responsive. At very low speeds that directness can cause the bike to surge slightly as the EFI finds its idle speed. It can be disconcerting the first few times but then becomes quite natural.
The test bike was fitted with Genuine Indian Stage 1 pipes and it breathed a lot easier than the previous Roadmasters – even though it only had a few hundred kilometres on the clock it revved more than willingly when I gave it a squirt.
The Roadmaster shares the same geometry as the Chieftain. 25 degree rake, 150mm trail and a 1668mm wheelbase, but in yet another example of that ‘tighter bolts’ syndrome it seems more settled on the road, particularly in Freeway conditions (compared to the ‘Running Bull’). Perhaps it’s due to the fairing lowers, but it’s not affected by blustery conditions or side winds like the Bull and it always felt rock solid, even in the wash from the big rigs. It still chucks around, corners and manoeuvres like a bike that should be half of its 414 kg dry weight. And it still has arguably the best lean angles and cornering clearance in the class – even with its big footboards.
It’s running Telescopic Forks with 119 mm of travel up front and Single Shock with air adjustable pre-load at rear (114 mm) and they do seem a little more compliant than the previous model.
The ABS with Dual 300mm Floating Rotor and 4 Piston Calliper up front - and single 300mm 2 Piston at the rear pulled the big girl up really well. Genuine two finger fronts – on a 414kg bike!
The touring accoutrements are also first class. The central locking hard bags and top box have good capacity, the cruise control is easy to use and the rider and passenger comfort levels are about as good as they get. Temperatures were in the low 30’s in SEQ during the test and some heat was noticeable from the engine, particularly while getting out of town, but it wasn’t excessive or problematic – just … there. The saddle is plush, well padded and very comfortable while the power adjustable windscreen is still the best on a bagger.
Got it right
The lights are brilliant, the self-cancelling indicators, the security fob, heated seats, grips - and the rest of the large inventory of creature comforts all add to the appeal of this stunning, heritage styled machine.
With the 2017 Roadmaster Indian have now made the bike all in keeping with what you would expect from one of the most expensive mass-produced, premium motorcycles on the market. For just under $42,000 ride-away you’d expect it to be very good.
It is. With ‘tight bolts’ on.
Engine Type: Thunder Stroke® 111
Displacement: 111 cu in (1811 cc)
Bore x Stroke: 153 mm
Compression Ratio: 9.5:1
Electronic Fuel Injection System:
Closed loop fuel injection / 54 mm bore
Primary Drive: Gear Drive Wet Clutch
Clutch: Wet, Multi-Plate
Final Drive: Belt 2.2 : 1
Peak Torque: 119.2 ft-lbs (161.6 Nm)
Peak Torque: RPM 3000 rpm
Front Suspension:: Telescopic Fork (119 mm travel)
Front Fork Tube Diameter: 46 mm
Suspension: Rear-Single Shock w/Air adjust / 4.5 in (114 mm)
Brakes/Front: Dual / 300mm Floating Rotor / 4 Piston Caliper
Brakes/Rear: Single / 300mm Floating Rotor / 2 Piston Caliper
Wheels/Front: Cast 16 in x 3.5 in
Wheels/Rear: Cast 16 in x 5 in
Tires/Front: Dunlop® Elite 3 130/90B16 73H
Tires/Rear: Dunlop® Elite 3 Multi-Compound 180/60R16 80H
Exhaust: Split dual exhaust w/ cross-over
Wheelbase: 1668 mm
Seat Height: 673 mm
Ground Clearance: 5.5 in (140 mm)
Overall Height: 58.7 in (1491 mm)
Overall Length: 104.6 in (2656 mm)
Overall Width: 39.4 in (1000 mm)
Trail: 5.9 in (150.0 mm)
Fuel Capacity: 5.5 gallons (20.8 liters)
GVWR: 1385 lbs (630 kg)
Dry Weight: 414 kg
Standard Equipment ABS; Cast Aluminum Frame with Integrated Air-Box;
Cruise Control; Highway Bar; Keyless Start; Horizon Power Shield; Desert
Tan Genuine Leather Seats; Remote Locking Hard Saddle Bags; Remote
Locking Trunk; Tire Pressure Monitoring; 200 Watt Stero with AM/FM,
Bluetooth, USB, Smartphone Compatible Input, and Weatherband; Heated
Rider & Passenger Seats; Heated Grips; Adjustable Passenger Floorboards;
37.6 Gallons of Storage. Pathfinder LED Lights (headlight, fog lights,
turn signals, tail light trunk, tail light, trunk interior light, and
headdress fender light).
Gauges Fairing mounted instrument cluster featuring analog speedometer
and tachometer, with fuel gauge, range, odometer and current gear. 15
LED telltale indicators; cruise control enabled, cruise control
set,neutral, high beam, turn signal, ABS, check engine, low tire
pressure, battery, low fuel, security system, low engine oil pressure
and MPH or Km/H unit designation. Ride Command™ 7" Indian Motorcycle®
Touchscreen including realtime clock; ambient air temperature; heading;
audio information display; vehicle trouble code readout; Vehicle Status
(tire pressure, voltage, engine hours, oil change); Vehicle Info (speed,
fuel range, RPM, gear position); Dual Trip Meters (fuel range, miles,
average fuel economy, instantaneous fuel economy time, average speed);
Ride Data (heading, moving time, stop time, altitude, altitude change);
Bluetooth connectivity for phone and headset; Map/Navigation
After testing the ’17 Milwaukee 8 Road King Road I wanted to make a direct comparison between it and the latest incarnation of the 110B counterbalanced power plant in the Fat Boy S.
It is very easy to be swept up in enthusiasm for the M8. If you haven’t been fortunate enough to try one yet, take my word for it, it really is ‘that’ good. Conversely, after 3 weeks living with the Fatty I was feeling plenty of love for the big Twin Cam again too.
The older motor actually stood up pretty well in comparison and it all came flooding back as to why I declared the 2016.5 Softail Sim S “The best stock Harley motor I’ve tested”. While now that ‘best’ accolade no longer applies - it does belong to the 8-valve, and there’s no arguing that the Milwaukee 8 is smoother, torque-ier and it taps out further - but all that said - the 110 is also very smooth, responsive, strong - and remains the best engine Harley have fitted in a Softail so far.
The Screamin’ Eagle 110B runs a 101.6 x 111.1 bore and stroke displacing 1801cc with a 9.2:1 compression ratio. With the SE Sports Air Filter and CVO Shotgun over-under exhausts it seemed to breathe quite well (for a stocker). Harley claims maximum torque of 146nm @ 4000rpm – which really does put it in the same kind-of ballpark as the 150nm @ 3250rpm produced by the Milwaukee 8.
The fact that it’s slung in the fabulous-looking, blacked out chassis and running gear was also a big plus. Even just walking up it, to get on board, this bike has some angles that made me stop and drink in its stylish lines. The matte and black chrome finish, denim black frame, swingarm, the black solid wheels, all the extra blacked-out bits and the added Screamin’ Eagle fruit - the whole presentation remains superb to look at.
Riding it is just as pleasant.
On the road the bike is again an interesting mix. Motor, gearbox and chassis all make for a very enjoyable cruiser. Around town it’s a feel good package of the first order. It’s easy to settle in to the comfortable saddle, put feet up on the half moon footboards and rest on the very comfortable pulled back handlebars.
The fat 17 inch wheels and tried and trusted Softail geometry make for a stable, predictable ride. Same with the 41.3mm telescopic front forks and coil over rear suspender. There are 86mm of travel available from the rear and 130mm from the front also making it a very firm ride.
The new hydraulic, nine plate wet clutch was also interesting. Coupled with the Six Speed cruise drive gearbox it made for reliable, easy shifting and finding neutral was very easy – even at the traffic lights or pushing it around in the shed. That was fortunate, because after holding it in for longer periods I found it became a bit heavy. Not excessive, but certainly it needed more effort than the 8-valve’s lightweight lever.
The S has the same chassis set up as the Fat Boy Lo. The advantage is that it suits short inseams and has a saddle height of only 670mm. The down side of the slammed setup is that the bike only has 25.6 and 25.2 degree lean angles.
It’s very easy to touch the footboards on the deck and accordingly you have to be a bit circumspect about corner entry speeds. The up side is that with the 110 cube using the big torque hammer to pull its 333kg mass out of tighter corners is very rewarding.
The ABS 4-piston front (and 2-piston rear) brakes are genuine two-finger units and continue the recent trend of Softails with very good stoppers.
All the usual Harley retro tech and niceties are similar across the 110cube and 107cube models. The security system, self-cancelling indicators, brilliant lighting, trip computer, excellent paint, fit and finish are all as you would expect. The S also comes standard with Cruise Control.
It turned out that it was very good to throw a leg back over the older engine. I enjoyed the ‘S’ for what it is. It’s still a premium cruiser-style.
Type: Screamin’ Eagle® Air-Cooled,
Twin Cam 110B™
Capacity: 1801 cc (110 cu. in.)
Bore: 101.6 mm
Stroke: 111.1 mm
Valves: Pushrod-operated, overhead valves
with hydraulic, self-adjusting lifters;
two valves per cylinder
Carburetion: Electronic Sequential Port
Air cleaner: Ventilator intake with
washable exposed element with rain sock
Exhaust: CVO Shotgun
Type: 6-Speed Cruise Drive®
Clutch: Hydraulically actuated, 9-plate wet,
with high-performance spring
Primary drive: Chain, 34/46 ratio
Rear drive: Belt, 32/66 ratio
WHEELS & TYRES
F rim: 17 in. x 3.5 in.
R rim: 17 in. x 6 in.
F tyre: D408F
R tyre: D407
F brake: 300 mm x 5 mm
R brake: 292 mm x 5.8 mm
Model: Mild steel tubular frame; rectangular
section backbone; stamped, cast,
and forged junctions; forged fender
supports; MIG welded
Front: 41.3 mm telescopic, “beer can” covers
Rear: Hidden, horizontal-mounted, coil-over
2016 marks the 15th year that I’ve been contributing to Motorcycle Magazines. I started in Kiwi Rider back in 2001 and continued with Heavy Duty – Australia’s #1 V-twin Motorcycle Magazine - when we moved back home in 2011.
Whilst it may have been a bad year geopolitically and we mourned the loss of many luminary musicians and artists – it’s been something of a marquee year in the sector of the bike industry I cover.
Harley have made the most significant advance in the time I’ve been testing their bikes, Indian motorcycles continued to make a very good product better and Victory released what many believe to be their best machine yet.
So with thanks to my Publishers, Brum and Viv, Harley-Davidson Australia and Indian-Victory for access to their press fleets, and to my customers in the bike industry, here’s a look back at ‘16 from my side of the camera.
Street Bob SE.
'15 ended and 2016 began with a beautiful Street Bob Special edition in my garage. It was the first Dyna I’d tested for quite a while and it served as a timely reminder as to why the platform is one of my favourites. The bike was surprisingly comfortable and very, very cool. A classy, easy going machine.
The guys at Indian Brisbane made their demo Roadmaster available for covering some rides and events - and I abused the privilege. I couldn’t keep off the thing. It’s from the very top shelf of Cruiser-tourers and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they have done with the infotainment system on the ’17 model. The dash and stereo were the only things that I thought weren’t in keeping with the highest standard of the rest of the ‘16 model.
Shaun’s Wide Glide
This old beauty was a feature and interview for Heavy Duty.
Softail Slim S.
This was the first of the 110B engines I tested and at the time I called it the best stock Harley engine I’d ridden. And at the time it was. (The claim did come back to haunt me later though). But I really connected with this bike. The fat front end makes it the ‘Fat Bob’ of Softails – IE the best handling. Coupled with its real world 150-section rear it makes it a tidy unit on the road – till the footboards start scraping at least. And while the saddle is only as comfortable as it looks I really enjoyed its faux military one-up presentation.
CVO Pro Street Breakout.
Or the ‘best engine’ claim bites me for the first time. I’d ridden a few CVO bikes on short runs previously, but this was the first Custom Vehicle Operations bike that I had for a longer term test and I found it was very easy to like all the extra luxuries that the upmarket offering brings. I found myself looking deep into the lustre of the paint on more than one occasion. Fitted with the Screamin’ Eagle heavy breather to the same 110B counterbalanced engine as the Slim - it had noticeably longer legs. The USD forks and premium suspenders compensate somewhat for the 240 section rear. The wide arse still needed a lot more effort to get around corners that the Slim. But a thing of beauty nonetheless.
Harley Dyna Low Rider S
Or the ‘Best engine’ claim bites me for the second time. The rubber-mounted version of the 110 motor pulled harder and with more immediacy than the counterbalanced units. Slung in the Dyna frame, fitted with upgraded suspension and finished in deep black and gold - I admit I was quite besotted by the Low Rider. It isn’t my bike of the year, but it was close to my favourite motorcycle of 2016. An absolute peach.
Indian Scout Sixty.
The ‘entry level’ Indian runs out 78 ponies and a heap of big grins. The engine is responsive, lively and very smooth. It’s also slung in one of the best fun urban riding packages I’ve been on since I sold my Buell. It has an engine, clutch, gearbox, exhaust note and throttle response that beckoned “abuse me”. The brakes and chassis accommodate the abuse handily. It’s one of those bikes you get on and just instinctively want to wring the throttle.
Morgan & Wacker Low Rider S 117cube.
The peak output from the 117 Cube upgrade is 122 rear wheel horsepower at 5750 rpm and it develops 127ft lbs of torque between three and four thousand RPM. Paul Lewis at M&W threw me the security fob and said, “Enjoy this, Dave” so I spent a couple of glorious hours hammering it on the various Brisbane Freeway on-ramps, around the airport drive, cross-town tunnels and a loop along Sandgate Road back to the shop – and returned absolutely beaming. The 117 kit is how to make a great bike superb.
The Springfield was pretty much a lust affair for me from the moment I first hopped on it. Over the course of the test I put in some day rides and country runs that were simply outstanding.
It also worked brilliantly as a city and boulevard cruiser. Relaxed, comfortable, unique, and I just felt good about myself every time I rode it.
The handling is only one aspect where this model sees improvements. It was the most comfortable, felt the most refined and had the sweetest gearbox of any of the numerous 111 cube Thunderstrokes I’ve tested so far.
It’s feature laden, with cruise, central locking, self-cancelling indicators, security fob, multi function trip computer and a host of other high tech hidden beneath its heritage styling.
The real joy of this machine is the power plant. It’s a beauty. It really does require a deal of self-control because giving the liquid cooled 1200cc, 60 degree V-Twin a handful is pure delight. It has 4-valve heads with twin overhead camshafts and is “geared for acceleration.” And accelerate it sure does. At 240kg dry and 103hp it isn’t modern sportbike kind-of fast, but it does have more than ample hurry-up. The way the bike is geared also makes for quite remarkable top gear acceleration and roll on.
With the stage one exhaust system fitted it makes for a very nice note while doing so too.
What made pinning it even more enjoyable is one of the sweetest gearboxes I’ve used. Sure shifting, confidence inspiring, hot knife through butter, both up and down shifting. Rowing it through the cogs is most satisfying. Not hard to see why it’s been labelled best Vic yet.
Morgan & Wacker Stage 4 Roadster
Morgan & Wacker Dealer Principal Paul Lewis gave me another call, as he does when his team have built something a bit special.
“We fitted an ‘out of the box’ stage four Screamin’ Eagle upgrade kit, ran our own choice of Heavy Breather manifold, a Two Brothers racing pipe and the result really is sensational. At full noise it sounds a bit like a well-worked V-rod and it goes like … well, you’ll soon find out.”
I did. It does.
Harley Ultra Classic Low.
Black is black. I enjoyed the looks and luxury, but unfortunately I just didn’t fit well enough on the low version of the Ultra to give at more than a ‘short’ run. Lovely thing though - if you are who the bike has been customised for.
2017 Harley Road King.
Or the ‘Best engine yet’ claim bites me for the third time - because this is really the one. The Milwaulee 8 is Harley’s game changer. Even at idle it remains relatively smooth and that smoothness runs right through the rideable rev range.
On the freeway the engine is as close to vibration free as any large capacity twin. If there is a bike that makes the Super Slab enjoyable – this is it.
In cruising mode the tractability of the engine and overall easy going nature of the bike adds even more to the ‘Look at me! – I’m bright orange with lustrous chrome and awesome ‘stylez’’ appeal.
With the 2017 Road King Harley has taken their machine another giant stride forward,
It’s modern, efficient, polished and they have done it without compromising the Heritage style of the motorcycle at all.
2 Indian Dark Horses.
I started the fortnight on a demo Dark Horse that had a few extras fitted. Ape hangers and a set of pretty loud Freedom exhausts, a sports filter and apart from that was stock.
I finished it on another shop demo, with stock handlebars, but this one had been fitted with the stage 2 cams.The difference was very noticeable and very, very enjoyable.
The cams take what is already a very accomplished cruiser to the next level.
Open road riding and touring are significantly enhanced with improved power and torque from the upgrade.
Fat Boy S
This one is in the garage as the year winds down. The 110B engine is still superb, the bike is a beautifully rounded package and it looks fabulous. Its Achilles is its 25 degree lean angles however. It’s a great cruiser, but it drags the boards often. I’d personally fit some forward controls and then it would be a hard machine to fault. The gearbox is one of the best, the brakes are top notch and it’s very comfortable, stable and reliably mannered – and then there’s always your inner Terminator pounding Guns n Roses 'You Could Be Mine' every time you throw a leg over.
So ... Bike of the Year?
Naturally only chosen from those I tested. As I do every year with this ‘award’, the criterion is simple. Line them all up and if I could keep just one – which one would it be?
The Morgan & Wacker custom builds were outstanding. Even the stock Low Rider S spoke loudly to me - as did the Indian Springfield - a truly magnificent machine, it almost yelled, but the M8 Road King sang a song that stuck in my head long after I returned the bike.
The new engine, the upgraded suspension, the way the bike goes and the inner smile it gave me would make it this year’s keeper. If you haven't already tried a M8 - do so.
The video reports and articles for the bikes are linked up from the menus on the LH side of this page.
I covered quite a few motorcycle events over the course of the year and photographed dozens of bikes for sale too. Here is a slide show of the test bikes and a few favourite other snaps.
Roll on ‘17! See you on the road.