Baggers-the bastard children of a cruiser and a full-dress tourer-are big business. Distinguished by saddlebags and full fairings, and built for stylish over-the-road travel, they're the most popular subset of the massive cruiser market. Harley-Davidson doesn't disclose sales by model, but even a cursory curbside survey says baggers are Milwaukee's best-selling bikes. It seems every second Harley you see is a Street Glide. Victory isn't as tight-lipped-the all-new Cross Country bagger is already by far its best-selling touring model. The Minnesota-based company reports that buyers range from 26 to 72 years in age, hinting at baggers' broad appeal.
For the type of riding most Americans do-long hours of interstate interspersed with the occasional slow-rolling backroad-nothing beats an easy-riding bagger. The riding position, with a big, supportive saddle and pullback bar, is all-day comfortable. Torque-rich V-twins deliver lazy, loping power that encourages relaxed riding, and those eponymous bags carry enough for day trips or even week-long solo tours.
The Harley hides a lot of information behind its Batwing fairing. Retro-looking, white-fac
Harley-Davidson's trend-setting Street Glide is the bike that launched the bagger revolution, while Victory's Cross Country is the newest entrant in the category. The Street Glide looks instantly familiar, with the same basic lines that have marked Harley's FL touring line since 1969. Beneath that iconic Batwing fairing is a chassis that was totally redesigned in 2009, with a series of updates that dramatically improved handling and ride quality. The Cross Country is new from the ground up with an innovative cast-aluminum backbone frame and other high-tech features concealed under streamlined, retro-style bodywork.
The Street Glide is essentially the old (and now discontinued) FLH standard shaved and smoothed out for a semi-custom look. The rear fender has been extended with "ground effects" containing trick, tri-line running lights, and the brake light is incorporated into the turn signals. There's no windshield on the Street Glide, just a chopped and tinted "wind deflector." The sloping passenger pad looks clean, but might as well come with an "If you can read this, the bitch fell off" T-shirt.
Victory's Cross Country is more stylized, reaching back to the Art Deco age for its elongated aesthetic cues. The chrome detailing is dramatic, especially out back where a super-bright LED taillight plunges toward the pavement like a dagger, and similarly sculpted turn signals stab out sideways. Tank recesses and sharp fairing creases make the Cross Country look like it's going 60 mph standing still. It's a love-it-or-hate-it look, though, with more than one onlooker suggesting it bordered on garish.
The Harley's saddlebags are skinnier and shallower than the Victory's, as this six-pack sh
Both fairings contain extensive "infotainment" systems, another must-have feature for a bagger. Harley's top-of-the-line Harman Kardon audio system offers AM/FM/CD/weather band, plus an audio input jack for MP3 players. It delivers superior sound quality and the self-adjusting volume function is better calibrated, though the tiny, multi-function toggle controls are difficult to master. Victory's house-brand audio system offers the same functions minus CD, and raises the MP3 ante with an accessory cable that lets you safely hide your iPod in the right saddlebag. Sound quality suffered in the extreme upper registers, but the Victory's underbar controls are much easier to manipulate. Garmin's Zumo 660 GPS is a $790 option on the Harley; $850 on the Victory.
Cruise control is standard on the Victory and a $295 option on the Harley. Here again Victory's independent button controls are easier to operate than the Harley's multi-function toggle, though we should note that the Victory's cruise control ceased to function after a night spent in the rain, though it worked fine once it dried out. Both bikes offer trip computers, though Victory's is more comprehensive with a trip timer and instant fuel-mileage calculator in addition to the usual tripmeter array. The Cross Country gets a nod for the bar-mounted trigger control; you have to reach up to the dash to scroll through the functions on the Street Glide. Victory's low-fuel indicator is maddening, though. When the fuel level reaches reserve, the fuel gauge immediately plunges to a panic-inducing "E" and the mileage countdown is replaced with an ominous "LoFuel" reading, leaving you no way of knowing your remaining range.
With a class-leading 21-gallon capacity for each saddlebag, the Victory can carry more cargo, even without the optional top racks fitted to our testbike. With a class-leading 580-pound total load capacity, the Victory can carry more human cargo, too-an important consideration if you and your riding partner are sized like the average Midwesterner. Both bikes offer armchair ergonomics with your feet outstretched on long, broad floorboards and an easy reach to comfortable pullback bars. Smaller riders will prefer the Street Glide. The rangier Victory demands a longer reach to higher, wider bars. Even without a real windscreen, the Harley's Batwing fairing blocks plenty of air, though buffeting is a bother at highway speeds. Our Victory was fitted with an optional, $350 tall touring windscreen that blocked plenty of air and eliminated buffeting, but made a direct comparison impossible.
Off The Record
Age: 50 Height: 5'7"
Weight: 200 lbs. Inseam: 31 in.
It's surprising that two motorcycles that look so similar can be so different. The Victory's aluminum chassis is more modern, but the engine and transmission feel almost antique. The Harley looks antique, but quicker handling and torquier acceleration make it more fun to ride-even if its radio and cruise control are as complicated as a Smartphone. The Victory is no doubt a superior two-up, long haul-tourer, offering better passenger accommodations and more storage space-important considerations in this class. But for a solo rider, it's a tougher call. I'd call this a tie between apples and oranges.