Black Bag

Four Traditional Travelers: Harley-Davidson Dyna Convertible And Road King Classic Vs. Yamaha Road Star Silverado And Royal Star Tour Classic

They evoke a time when America was at the top of its form, before interstate highways and jets made it a smaller country. Riding a motorcycle across the continent half a century ago was still a grand adventure. You couldn't depend on the unfailing familiarity of chain restaurants or hotels back then, and you could only rely on your motorcycle if you knew how to remedy its foibles.

If you were going to trust your fate to a motorcycle in the desolate open spaces out west in midcentury America, you'd want a big, powerful, comfortable machine. You would need leather or canvas saddlebags to haul necessities and some belongings, though folks seemed to have fewer necessities in those days. A windshield would be ideal to help you cover the miles.

Although time has shortened distances and lessened the adventure of travel across America by motorcycle, it hasn't lessened the appeal of that postwar transcontinental cruiser. Almost every motorcycle manufacturer makes at least one traditionally styled cruiser model with leather saddlebags and a windshield, or offers those pieces as accessories.

We decided to round up some of these traditional traveling cruisers to see how they played out in some of the remaining wide-open spaces of turn of the millennium America. Harley-Davidson, in this category as well as in most other cruiser categories, is the leader with three models. We were able to get the 2000 model year Road King Classic and a '99 Dyna Convertible. (An Evolution engined Heritage Softail Classic wasn't available, perhaps because of model year changes.) Yamaha drew from both its lines, serving up a Royal Star in the form of the Tour Classic and also the new Road Star Silverado. We'd hoped to get one of the new Moto Guzzis, but the company wasn't able to supply one by our deadline.

Had we been willing to include accessorized bikes in this comparison we could have included several additional motorcycles. We have previously sampled a Honda Valkyrie (Summer '96) and a Suzuki Intruder 1500 LC (February '99) fitted with those manufacturers' accessory windshields and leather bags. We took this opportunity to bring along an accessorized BMW 1200C (see sidebar on page 32) although it wasn't an official contender.

In the overall scheme of things, these four bikes fit somewhere between straight, unadorned cruisers and hard-bag bikes--such as the Kawasaki Nomad, standard Harley-Davidson Road King or Yamaha Royal Star Tour Deluxe. Wind protection is about the same, compared with the latter, but you surrender a bit of the hard bags' security and weather protection in exchange for the black-baggers' style. These bikes suggest slightly less hard-core traveling and more urban patrol than the bikes with hard bags, but they should still deliver comfort for two and highway performance, in addition to agreeable in-town manners.

On The Loose
So we hit the road with the four bikes and an accessorized BMW, following routes far from the interstates. Power is actually more important on the secondary roads than on the superhighways because there is more slow traffic, and passing opportunities are frequently limited. For sheer grab a handful and go power, the Harleys are the rulers of the road among this crowd. And the Road King is, well...king, even though it uses the same engine as the Convertible. We knew the Road King Classic (with its fuel injection and higher-volume mufflers) made more power, but we expected its 60-pound weight disadvantage (compared with the Convertible) to offset that issue. So we were surprised when the King eased away from the FXDS when we compared passing power, either through the gears or in top gear only. The Harleys quickly left the Yamahas behind, while the Silverado moved ahead of the Tour Classic. The Road King's advantage seemed to increase with altitude, due no doubt to the fuel injection's ability to adjust to the thinner air.

A few riders complained about the Yamahas' low-rpm ceilings, particularly on the Silverado, which hits its rev-limiter at just 4200 rpm. The usual complaint about the Royal Star engine--that it feels overgeared in fifth--was also aired. Otherwise, the power characteristics of all four bikes are very user-friendly. There is good power down low, and all are in the meat of their powerbands on the highway. EFI gives the Road King Classic the simplest starting procedure, since there is no choke required and it idles and responds to throttle immediately. However, none of the four is particularly cold blooded.

On the highway, the Convertible, at 38.8 mpg, topped the others in average fuel mileage. We were surprised that the four-cylinder Tour Classic, at 37.5 mpg, beat the Silverado (36.0) and Road King (34.4). At this rate of consumption, the Convertible and Silverado would have the best range, at 190 miles. But even the worst of the bunch, the Road King, would still top 170 miles. In the city however, the Silverado and Road King were slightly better than the Tour Classic, but the Convertible was the only bike to average more than 30 mpg in traffic.

No one among our seven riders had any complaints or special compliments about the shifting of any of these bikes, except to debate the merits of heel-toe vs. toe-only shifting. All the clutches were smooth and predictable.

If It Feels Good
All four of these bikes provide enough comfort for casual touring. (By that we mean a few hundred miles a day with frequent stops.) The comfort differences surface when you are trying to make some time. Saddles become an important issue, and the Yamahas score best here with some riders picking the Royal Star Tour Classic and others naming the Road Star Silverado saddle as the best place to plant themselves. The Road King saddle was significantly better than the Convertible's seat for everybody, but it wasn't ranked with the Yamahas'. If you plan to lay down some serious miles on the Convertible, a comfortable aftermarket saddle would be money well spent.

Reaction to riding positions varies with the rider but most were happy on the Stars, especially the Tour Classic. A minority of our riders picked the Silverado as tops, however. Some riders were uncomfortable with the leaned forward riding position created by the low bar on the Road King; others liked it. Most riders felt cramped or awkward with the pulled-back handlebar of the Convertible. Most also disliked the steep angle the Convertible handlebar grips are set at. Its saddle, which seems to set you farther forward than most of the rest, also contributes to the crowded handlebar arrangement. The Convertible's pegs are the most rearset of the four. But it is also the only one that offers an alternate choice in the form of highway pegs, which let your legs stretch out. Still, it was the least comfortable of the four bikes overall.

Plastic Fantastic
The clear windshields used on all these bikes are minor marvels. They provide great wind protection, and the quiet and comfort that comes with it, with virtually no ill effect on handling. But some of them perform better than others. All four are American-made and share a similar style--chrome accents are a prominent part of the look.

The Royal Star Tour Classic has the lowest windshield, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It deflects wind from your torso and leaves the top of your head in the windstream. But it does not create any significant buffeting. All but the shortest riders can see the road clearly by looking over it. Its optics are good too. The low height is a major advantage, especially at night in the rain with oncoming headlights on a dark road. This is the only windshield that most of our testers would accept as is, without cutting it down or exchanging it for a shorter shield.

We certainly preferred the Tour Classic shield to the taller version on the Silverado. Although it shares a similar style, the Silverado shield created the worst buffeting of the four tested. The wind protection is about average. Although its optics present just minor distortion, few riders could see over it comfortably. Fortunately, the Yamaha shield-mounting system permits you to lift the shield off its chrome bracketry after loosening just four bolts.

The shield on the Convertible was even taller--too tall for all of us. No one could see over it. However, it offered the best wind protection and did not create any buffeting. It presents little optical distortion, but it still creates problems at night. One of the features touted for the Convertible is its detachable windshield. But since the bike doesn't come with a tool kit, you have to provide your own allen key. And even then the shield isn't any easier to detach than the Yamahas' and definitely not as easy as the Road King design.

The Road King windshield has the easiest removal system on the planet. Just push a couple of clips out of engagement and lift it off--no tools required. Its height is lower than the Silverado's shield but taller than the Tour Classic's, and there's enough distortion to annoy most riders at least slightly. It provides good wind protection and does not create significant buffeting.

Smooth Moves
Although none of these black-baggers has a counterbalancer, vibration was not an issue for any of our riders. It was only mentioned in conjunction with the Tour Classic, but even that seemed smoother than previous Royal Stars we have tested. The rubber mounted engines on the Harleys make them the smoothest of our foursome.

Unpleasant forces, if any, generally came from the suspension. The Silverado had the most comfortable ride, whether the bumps were big or small, sharp or rounded. The two Classics--Road King and Tour--were about even, with the Royal Star's suspension slightly tauter but better damped than the H-D's. Because its rear suspension bottoms out more frequently than the others and because its ride was the harshest on sharp-edged bumps, the Convertible was our last choice on a rough road.

What Goes Around
Many of the back roads we traveled meandered through mountains. On the winding roads, the Yamahas were limited by cornering clearance while the Harleys came up slightly short in the suspension department.

Both of the Yamahas steer slowly and both drag their floorboards loudly at relatively modest lean angles. Both have some lean angle left when the dragging begins, but few riders are likely to press beyond that point. With its compliant, well-controlled suspenders, the Silverado was the best in bumpy corners.

Comparatively nimble handling and good cornering clearances make the Harleys more fun if you like to go around corners briskly. They turn with less pressure at the handlebar, and the Road King is particularly responsive. Although it has the most cornering clearance, the Convertible feels a bit vague in corners. It also gets knocked off-line by bumps more than the other bikes, though the Road King isn't stellar in this regard either. In fast, sweeping corners the Road King weaves slightly, making some riders uneasy.

All four bikes resist gusty crosswinds well and hold steady tracks through ruts and grooves. Despite their windshields, they show no sign of aerodynamic wiggle at high speeds, and they are stable during panic-force braking.

Slow Down
We were interested to see how the new four-piston-caliper brakes on the Road King would perform. They didn't make a good first impression when we picked up the almost-new machine. They squeaked loudly and weren't as powerful as we had anticipated. But after our first romp through the mountains, which included an extended downhill run with plenty of hard braking into corners, the noise ceased and performance improved significantly. In other words, they need some hard use to break-in properly. The new Harley brakes delivered power, fade-resistance and control comparable to the very good brakes on the Yamahas and even better feel.

The only place where the Yamahas could consistently outbrake the Road King was on a bumpy surface where their suspension gave an advantage. The Convertible, though competent, requires a stronger pull to get equal braking power and therefore lacks the feel and control of the others.

None of the four bikes gave us a whit of mechanical trouble or required any adjustments. We didn't even need to add oil. As far as detail features go, we like the clock included in the Silverado's LCD odometer and the second tripmeter. The tach of the Convertible was appreciated, as was its location, with the speedometer in front of the handlebar where it was easy to observe without looking away from the road. We wish the Yamahas' speedometers were farther forward on their tanks for this reason. We also like the fuel gauges present on all but the Tour Classic. The spotlights of the two Classics increase conspicuity and help to light up corners at night. During long stints on open roads, the friction throttle locks of the Harleys were appreciated.

The tubeless tires that come with the cast wheels on the Convertible and Tour Classic make us feel more secure than the tube-type tires on the other two. None of the mirrors impressed us. The long sidestand of the Convertible--which requires you to lean the bike awkwardly to the right to extend it--begs for trouble. Some owners will certainly tip their bikes over while deploying this aggravation. We also find it aggravating that Harley Davidson sells bikes for a premium price without a tool kit, especially when as with these two--there is a place to put it.

Eye of the Beholder
The Yamahas won the beauty contest, though each of the four garnered at least one tester's heart. Although we don't usually get too excited about black bikes, the Silverado's black-with-white-pinstripes treatment had a nostalgic flavor that suits this style of motorcycle perfectly and also works well with the wide whitewalls. We wish the left side of the engine was a bit more finished though.

Finish and detailing is the Tour Classic's forte. It has more polish and billet than the others and looks the richest, due in part to its red-over-red paint scheme. It has the prettiest saddlebags and windshield of the four as well.

The subdued jade color of the Road King Classic gives it a more stately appearance that is diluted by some of the rougher pieces--like fasteners. However, Harley stylists have a gift for badges and logos, such as those on the saddle, which serve to subtly distinguish the Road Kings.

Although it has fewer of those touches, the deep purple paint of the Convertible turned some heads its way. Its styling is the least remarkable of the four black-baggers, and it garnered the fewest compliments. Some even took an active dislike to its appearance.

Heading Home
After we'd put 1000 miles on each of the bikes and headed for home, we had formed some pretty clear conclusions about the bikes. First of all, the names "Classic," "Road" and "Star" are vastly overworked in this group. (Marketing types take note: "Road Classic" is still available.) Secondly, those using the Road name were the most pleasing to ride.

Weighing the preferences of seven riders and our passenger, the Harley Road King Classic emerged as the solid favorite. It was the pick of four riders, and most of the rest of the riders and the passenger ranked it second in this foursome. The new engine and brakes play a role in this, but so do the enduring style and pleasing function of the Road King. With the best power, ergonomics that suited most riders well, greatly improved braking performance, the biggest and most convenient leather bags, and useful features such as spotlights, fuel injection and that quick-detach windshield, it's an easy bike to like and helps justify its somewhat-stiff price, which will be at least $1500 more than any of the others. (Dealer extortion fees extra.)

On the other hand, the least expensive motorcycle in the group, Yamaha's Road Star Silverado, was a close second place. Two riders ranked it above all others. You get great comfort, sharp handling, strong braking, good power, nice luggage and a distinctive appearance with a first-class finish for $4000 or so less than the H-D Road King.

Yamaha's Royal Star Tour Classic is the prettiest bike here and, significantly, was actually ridden the most because staffers kept taking it for weekend trips with passengers, who were happier on it than any of the others. If you ride alone, its power and ground-clearance limitations might put you off, but if you usually ride with a passenger, its second-row seating comfort will be a strong attraction. One tester picked it as her favorite. It is pretty, if slightly expensive, has good brakes and an enviable five-year warranty.

Although one rider picked it as her second choice, most ranked the Harley Dyna Convertible as a solid last place. Relatively cramped, uncomfortable for passengers and not outstanding in any major area, it doesn't even live up to its name very well, because the windshield isn't particularly easy to remove. The Convertible only fetches its relatively high price because of perceived H-D cachet and a good engine. We expect better brakes on the 2000 model, however.

All of these modern black-baggers are a far cry from the bikes that they summon to the mind's eye. Any one of these machines is much more powerful, comfortable, reliable and convenient than a similar looking bike that someone might have set out to ride through the United States half a century ago. But if you point one in the right direction, you'll discover some grand adventures still remain along America's highways.

Looking at the Leather Bags
Love them for their looks. None of these four bikes' leather bags offers all the practical advantages of a hard bag. They can't fend off heavy rain or dust, so you need to put clothes, etc., in plastic bags if rain is in the forecast. Only a few can be locked, so you don't want to leave anything valuable inside. They also require special care products to keep them in prime condition. But they redeem themselves with their classic American style.

Two different styles of saddlebags adorn these four motorcycles. The Tour Classic and Convertible use bags with flap-type closures. The Road King and Silverado have box-style tops.

On the Tour Classic, a simple flap folds over the top of the bag and secures with a pair of buckle straps. The studded flap on each bag lifts to reveal the opening of the bag. Even after you open the two vertical zippers in the face of the bag beneath the flap, the opening of the bag is smaller than the space inside. This means that even though the interior of the tapered bag may be big enough to hold an object, you might not be able to squeeze it through the opening. The leather, stitching and hardware are all good-looking stuff.

The Convertible bags add a couple of features to the same flap-covered style of bag. Lifting the flap reveals Cordura material used for the bulk of the bag's construction, and a zippered opening running lengthwise across the top of the bag. Loops on the bag's outer surface and the underside of the flap allow you to lock the flap down. This feature provides only minimal security because the bags may be detached without tools by simply releasing a large thumbscrew and carrying them away using the handles on top. The previous two Convertibles we have ridden have lost their left saddlebags while moving. But this one didn't self-convert, either because we paid more attention to the potential problem or because we didn't ride it through New York City, where the other two bailed out. This detachable feature permits you to take the bags off quickly when you desire sleeker lines or want to drag your gear into a motel without emptying your luggage. Due largely to their Cordura content, these bags were judged the least stylish of this foursome. They don't carry as much as their exterior size suggests, either.

The Silverado uses simple box-style bags. The top of each bag hinges at its inside edge, and three overlapping edges enclose the top of the slightly tapered bag on three sides. Each bag's studded top closes with two standard buckle straps. Although not as tall as the Convertible or Tour Classic bags, the Silverado bags are deeper and easier to pack. The quality is excellent.

The Road King Classic sets the standard for leather bags, however. Its box-style bags are bigger than the others. Each one mounts with two quick-release fasteners accessed from the inside. Although the fasteners may be obstructed when the bag is full, you can remove an empty bag in a few seconds. Although the tops appear to be secured by standard metal buckles, quick-release plastic buckles hidden behind the straps allow them to be opened or secured much quicker than with the conventional buckles. Just squeeze to release, or plug it in to fasten the strap again. The King Classic bags have no studs, just a cast badge for decoration. The quality and detail impressed us.

How much bag capacity you need depends on your plans for the bike. If it's just going to be used for commuting and occasional solo weekend outings, any of the four bags will suffice. If you plan two-up trips for more than a single night, the capacity of the Road King becomes pretty attractive.

**Harley-Davidson: Dyna Convertible & Road King Classic **
While both of the Harleys we brought along for this ride share the same basic 1450cc Twin Cam 88 engine, they differ in most other respects. The Convertible uses the internal-style Dyna frame, while the Road King uses the wider touring family frame. Both bikes' engines are rubber-mounted to quell vibration, and both use twin-shock rear suspension--though the Road King's shocks are air adjustable. The Road King has fatter-looking covered fork tubes, which blend into the streamlined headlight nacelle. The uncovered Convertible fork legs are topped with the speedometer and tach, the only instruments in this group that don't perch on the tank. The Road King holds five gallons of fuel, but the smaller looking Convertible tank holds just a tenth of a gallon less at 4.9. Both rider and passenger get floorboards with the Road King, which means a heel toe shifting arrangement. The Convertible provides footpegs, however, it has a third set of pegs up front to allow the rider to stretch his legs.

The Road King Classic gets Harley's effective electronic fuel injection, instead of the single 40mm carb used on the Convertible and most other Harleys. (The EFI will be available on standard Road Kings for 2000.) This makes the engine more adaptable to changing conditions, simplifies starting and increases power even beyond the strong output of carbureted 1450cc because it flows more mixture. Both bikes send the power through five-speed transmissions and belt final drives.

Because it is a year-2000 model, the Road King has Harley's new four-piston disc brakes, three of them. The Convertible also has dual front and single rear disc brakes, but they are the old single-piston style. Cast-alloy wheels bring tubeless tires, a 19-incher up front and 16-incher in back, to the Convertible. The Classic version of the Road King has wire-spoke wheels mounting 16-inch-wide whitewall tires. The wheels, saddlebags and (in '99) fuel injection separate the Classic from the standard Road King.

Both Harleys include fuel gauges mounted in the tops of their tanks. The Classic's takes the form of a dummy left fuel cap. The Road King includes spotlights alongside the headlight and fender-tip marker lights front and rear.

2000 Harley-Davidson Road King Classic
Designation: FLHRCI
Suggested base price: $16,490 ($16,755 in CA)
Standard colors: Black
Extra cost colors: Blue, green, red, add $250; blue/silver, green/silver, red/silver, add $615
Standard warranty: 12 mos., unlimited miles
Recommended service interval: {{{5000}}} miles
Engine & Drivetrain
Type: Air-cooled, 45-degree tandem V-twin
Valve arrangement: OHV, 1 intake valve, 1 exhaust valve per cylinder
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1450cc, 95 x 102mm
Compression ratio: 8.8:1
Carburetion: Dual-throat EFI
Lubrication: Dry sump, 4.0 qt
Minimum fuel grade: 92 octane
Transmission: Wet, multiplate clutch, 5 speeds
Final drive: Belt, 70/32
Wheelbase: 63.5 in.
Overall length: 95.6 in.
Rake: 26 degrees
Trail: 6.2 in.
Wheels: Wire-spoke, 16.0 x 3.0-in. front and rear
Front tire: MT90B16 Dunlop D402 tube-type
Rear tire: MT90B16 Dunlop D402 tube-type
Front brake: 2, double-action, four-piston calipers, 11.5-in. discs
Rear brake: Double-action, four-piston caliper, 11.5-in. disc
Front suspension: 39mm stanchions, 4.6 in. travel
Rear suspension: 2 dampers, 3.0 in. travel, adjustable for air pressure
Fuel capacity: 5.0 gal (0.5 gal reserve)
Wet weight: 751 lb
GVWR: 1179 lb
Handlebar width: 34.0 in., 1.0 in. diameter
Seat height: 27.3 in.
Inseam equivalent: 33.6 in.
Electrical & Instrumentation
Charging output: 507 watts
Battery: 12v, 30AH
Forward lighting: 7.0-in. 55/60-watt headlight, dual spotlights, position lights, fender marker light
Taillight: Single bulb, fender marker light
Instruments: Speedometer, LCD odometer/tripmeter; warning lights for high beam, turn signals, neutral, oil pressure, engine monitor
Fuel mileage: 30 to 41 mpg, 34.4 mpg avg.
Average range: 172 miles
RPM at 60 mph, top-gear: 2560
{{{200}}} yard, top-gear acceleration from 50 mph, terminal speed: 74.6 mph
Quarter-mile acceleration: 13.74 sec., 93.8 mph
H-D Dyna Convertible
* Great power
* Includes a tachometer
* Good cornering clearance
* Strong resale value
* Saddlebags easily removed
* Uncomfortable for passenger
* Tall windshield obscures view of road
* Uncomfortable handlebar bend
* No tool kit
* Must lean bike to the right to deploy sidestand
First Changes
* Cut down windshield and sidestand
* Add tool kit
H-D Road King Classic
* Powerful, smooth, responsive engine
* Best of leather luggage
* New brakes are a significant improvement
* Quick-detach windshield
* Finish and detailing don't justify price
* No tool kit
First Change
* Add tool kit
Royal Star Tour Classic
Dyna Convertible
Road Star Silverado
Road King Classic
H-D Dyna Convertible
H-D Road King Classic
Yamaha Road Star Silverado
Yamaha Royal Star Tour Classic