This darn coronavirus is just mucking everything up. Virtual unveilings and press releases just don’t have quite the same impact as dramatically pulling a sleek black sheet off a new model, bright lights and flashbulbs popping off the paint, at an international auto or motorcycle show. Honda had originally planned to unveil its CB-F Concept, a CB1000R-based homage to “Fast” Freddie Spencer’s ’80s superbike, at the 36th Osaka Motorcycle Show and 47th Tokyo Motorcycle Show, both of which have been canceled.
Don’t fret, Honda, we still think this is a gorgeous machine, and we hope it becomes more than just a concept bike. Continuing the CB’s 60th anniversary theme, the CB-F Concept hearkens back to the classic air-cooled inline four CB900F and CB750F (famously raced by Freddie Spencer), complete with a cool white, silver and blue livery that should look familiar to anyone who remembers Freddie’s Daytona race bike.
Of course, this isn’t an old-fashioned tubular steel-framed, carbureted, air-cooled machine; it’s based around the potent CB1000R, with its 998cc DOHC, 4-valve-per-cylinder inline-four, high-tensile steel mono-backbone frame, single-sided aluminum swingarm and inverted fork.
What do you think? Should Honda turn this CB-F Concept into a production bike? Let us know in the comments below.
It’s here, and for the most part it looks exactly how we hoped it would: like a classic BMW. The 2021 BMW R 18 “Big Boxer” cruiser has finally been unveiled in complete production form, with a look reminiscent of the R 5 model of the 1930s.
Powered by a massive 1,802cc OHV air/oil-cooled 4-valve opposed twin, the largest “boxer” engine BMW has ever produced for a motorcycle, that generates a claimed 91 horsepower at 4,750 rpm and 116 lb-ft of torque at 3,000, the new R 18 certainly seems to talk the talk, ready to go toe to toe with the established cruiser brands. It sports modern rider aids like partially integrated braking (the hand lever activates both front and rear brakes, the foot pedal only the rear) with ABS, a six-speed transmission with anti-hop (slipper) dry clutch, standard ASC (stability control) and MSR (engine drag torque control), and three ride modes: Rain, Roll (for regular riding) and Rock (for sportier riding). Hill Hold Control and Reverse Assist are optional.
The R 18’s classic lines come courtesy of a double loop tubular steel frame with easily removable rear subframe for easy customization, a double-sided swingarm with exposed driveshaft on the right side, a telescopic 49mm fork with 4.7 inches of travel and a hidden, preload-adjustable cantilever rear shock with 3.5 inches of travel for a hardtail look. Three brake discs, two up front and one in the rear, are 300mm in diameter and are squeezed by 4-piston calipers.
Spoked wheels are 19 inches up front, 16 at the rear, and appear to be tube-type, although that is not specified in the information we’ve received. Lighting is all-LED, and the R 18 can be fitted with an optional Adaptive Headlight (lean-angle sensitive cornering lights). Keyless Ride is standard.
The 2021 R 18 will be available worldwide in a special First Edition model, which includes the signature black paint with white pin striping, chrome details, “First Edition” badging and more. A base model will also be available in the U.S. and other select markets. Pricing starts at $17,495 for the base model and $19,870 for the First Edition.
This is, after all, a cruiser, and so BMW will also be offering two customization packages from Roland Sands Design, the “Machined” and the “Two-Tone Black.” BMW will also offer an extensive list of customization parts and accessories so buyers can make their R 18 uniquely their own.
This is not an April Fools joke…. American Honda has announced that the ADV150 “adventure scooter” will be coming to the U.S. market as early as June 2020, as a 2021 model year machine. The unique scooter has a rugged look, with Showa suspension, aggressive tires, an adjustable windscreen, under-seat storage and a Smart-Key system with built-in theft deterrents. U.S. retail pricing is $4,299.
To quote Chris Cox, American Honda’s Manager of Experiential Marketing/Public Relations, “What do you get when you combine an Africa Twin and a PCX150? We weren’t sure, but we knew it sounded like fun!”
We agree, Chris. We could use a little fun right now, and we can’t wait to get a ride on one.
The Japanese were selling a lot of “street-scramblers” in the late 1960s, but these were merely street bikes with upswept pipes. Yamaha, in particular, was advertising three twin-cylinder “scramblers” in 1968, the same year it brought out the DT-1 Enduro 250 single, soon followed by the AT-1 Enduro 125. That enduro nomenclature made a bike a little more serious about bad roads, but still, it was a compromise, doing neither street nor dirt extremely well.
Despite its imperfections, the 125 changed the world for a lot of Americans. With a gallon of gas in the small 1.8-gallon tank this little charmer weighed in at about 220 pounds, light enough that just about anybody could pick it up. When buyers scooped up all the AT units that first year Yamaha understood it was on to something profitable.
Move along to 1974, minor improvements were made, and model codes were changed. The bike was redesignated the DT125 — the DT now denoting all of the enduros, from 125 to 400. The 125 chassis was quite conventional, with a cradle-style tubular-steel frame, dual shocks at the rear and a pair of 18-inch wheels.
For 1977 a new version of the DT125 appeared known as the DT125 MX, instantly recognizable as it came with a single shock rear end, just like the Yamaha’s YZ Monocross racers. As they liked to say those many years ago, “That looks really cool!” Image has always been important in the motorcycle world, and this had great image. Like the racers it used a cantilever-style swingarm, with a long DeCarbon hydraulic shock running all the way to the steering head, under the gas tank. The lengthy damper proved to be excellent for shock absorption, allowing the rear wheel to follow the bumps and dips rather than bounce over them. A dose of nitrogen gas made sure the shock would not bottom out.
Wheels were a 21-incher on the front with a 2.75 Yokohama trials tire, and an 18-incher at the back, with a 3.50 tire. The Takasago wheels each had a rim lock, a hint as to the expectation of a goodly amount of abuse. The five-inch drum brakes on both wheels were adequate in the dirt but rather weak when used on the pavement. The tubular frame cradled the engine/transmission, with a large backbone concealing the shock absorber. The subframe elevated the saddle to some 32 inches above the ground, the suspension allowing for 10 inches of ground clearance. The center-axle 31mm fork had 30 degrees of rake, five inches of trail, providing some seven inches of travel. Almost 53 inches ran between the axles.
The engine was semi-new, still with an oversquare 56 x 50mm bore and stroke totaling 123cc, but now with radial fins on the cylinder head for better cooling. A 24mm Mikuni slide carburetor using reed-valve technology fed gas and air into the crankcase, while Yamaha’s Autolube sent oil to where it should go. An aluminum sleeve fit into the cylinder, utilizing a five-port induction system, with a compression ratio of 7.2 to 1. Power was on the discreet side, with some 10 horses at 7,000 rpm, but that might have enhanced sales, as it was not enough to get into serious trouble.
The Autolube oil container, holding a little more than a quart, was discreetly concealed behind the left-side panel, and once the panel was removed the reservoir could be swung out and refilled. A little light went on in the instrument cluster when the oil got low. The oil-injection system did vary the amount going into the engine depending on throttle load, which served to reduce oil usage as well as prevent fouling the plug.
To get rid of that troublesome need to occasionally set timing, as well as check points, the DT125 was blessed with a magnetically triggered capacitor-discharge ignition system, better known by its abbreviation, CDI. This benefited the engine by offering a quicker spark, reducing the possibility that any of that oil and gas mixture in the combustion chamber would foul the plug. The magneto also served to keep the small six-volt battery charged.
The exhaust system was well designed. Enduro bikes tend to fall over on occasion, and the idea is that the rider disentangles him- or herself, gets up, lifts the bike, pulls in the clutch, gives a kick and away they go. Presuming no damage to the header pipe or muffler. The DT125 header went up and back under the right side of the tank, and then crossed over to the muffler and spark arrestor on the left side, tucked away behind frame members. Very protected, very efficient.
Getting power to the rear wheel was done via helical gears running the ponies back to a five-plate wet clutch and a very good six-speed transmission, where the top two gears were actually overdrive. A minimalist chain guard covered the chain, with sprockets having 15 and 49 teeth allowing for a solo rider to exceed the 55 mph national speed limit. The relatively comfy saddle was capable of seating two friendly riders. High fenders kept mud-collection problems away, and turn signals kept the feds happy, along with a speedo and tach, indicator lights and a horn.
And to ride? Fun! Within reason. Turn the petcock, pull the choke knob if cold, turn the key and kick to start. The little engine did best, of course, when a rider weighed less than 200 pounds, but it was happy scrabbling in the dirt. With a few minor changes this model lasted through 1981, after which two-stroke street bikes became illegal in the U.S.
We needed some good news, and KTM North America has delivered, announcing the early availability of the brand new 890 Duke R, unveiled in Milan last November and originally intended to launch in late 2020 as a MY2021 machine. Instead, KTM will be bringing in a “very limited number” of 890 Duke R models this spring as 2020 models.
Basically a more powerful and aggressive version of the impressive-in-its-own-right 790 Duke, the 2020 890 Duke R features a new 890cc parallel twin with an increased bore and stroke, higher compression ratio and redline, larger valves, a new piston design with new connecting rods and a new crankshaft, new individual mapping adjustment on each cylinder, a knock sensor and new engine cases. The new mill churns out more horsepower and torque, and KTM also says it provides better rideability due to increased rotating mass.
Brakes are by Brembo, with larger discs and Bosch ABS that includes a Supermoto setting, suspension is fully-adjustable WP Apex front and rear, and electronic rider aids include new-generation traction control and ride modes with optional Track mode and Quickshifter+, all aided by a new 6D lean angle sensor.
Befitting its “super scalpel” mission, the 890 Duke R has a lower, flatter handlebar and footpegs that are higher and more rear-set for a sportier riding position and greater lean angle. It makes no pretensions at being anything other than a twisty-munching or track-attacking machine, with a solo seat and no pillion footpegs. It’s you and Mr. Duke, that’s it.
Pricing has yet to be announced, but barring any supply chain disruptions we should see the bike in dealerships sometime this spring.
Since the launch of the BMW F 800 model family with the F 800 S and F 800 ST in 2006, these middleweight, parallel twin-powered motorcycles have been offered in a wide variety of models as lower-priced alternatives to BMW’s larger bikes. As with the R 1200 boxer twins, the most popular parallel twins have been the F 800 GS and GSA adventure bikes, with the more street-oriented F 650 GS/F 700 GS close behind. No surprise, really, since adventure and ADV-styled bikes have done well for some time now.
Conversely the F 800 ST and later GT sport-touring versions were short-lived, leaving the F 800 R streetfighter introduced in 2009 as the sole non-GS model in the lineup as of 2019. No doubt the bike’s entry-level price and the showmanship of four-time world-champion freestyle rider Christian Pfeiffer — who helped develop the naked bike he spun, slid and nose wheelied to victory — extended the F 800 R’s longevity.
We applauded BMW’s move toward a simpler, less expensive entry-level twin with the F 800s, which had telescopic forks in place of pricier Telelever or Duolever front ends and belt or chain final drive versus a shaft. But their BMW-designed, Austrian Rotax-built engine, even with its innovative counterbalancer, never really earned our admiration. It was buzzy and raspy sounding and just didn’t deliver the satisfying, torquey throb we expect from a twin.
The F 800s performed well, but it wasn’t until BMW redesigned the engine for the 2019 F 850 GS and F 750 GS (and engine production moved to Loncin in China) that the 853cc engine they share finally came to life. The larger displacement helped, but it was mostly the switch from a balanced 360-degree firing interval with 0-degree crankpin offset to an imbalanced 270/450-degree interval and 90-degree offset that woke the powerplant up, giving it an almost boxer-like twin-cylinder growl and feel. Swapping the central connecting rod-style balancer for dual balancer shafts also tamed the vibes.
Fast-forward one year and the new parallel twin has been enlarged once again and slapped into a pair of dynamic new middleweights, the F 900 R and F 900 XR, roadster and sport-adventure bikes again priced as alternatives to BMW’s larger machines. Updates to the shared DOHC, 4-valve per cylinder engine for more performance and torque from F 850 status include a bump to 895cc, a new cylinder head, forged pistons instead of cast and a higher 13.1:1 compression ratio.
On the Jett Tuning dyno our F 900 R test bike churned out 88.2 horsepower at 8,400 rpm and 58.1 lb-ft of torque at 6,400 rpm, an improvement of about 3 horsepower and 3 lb-ft of torque over our 2019 F 850 GS test bike. Compared curve to curve, more torque is available across more of the F 900’s powerband, too, especially between 4,000-7,000 rpm (redline is at 9,300). All of this grunt reaches the rear wheel via chain final drive through a slick-shifting 6-speed gearbox with a cable-actuated slipper clutch that has a light pull and broad engagement band (an up/down quickshifter is available as an option).
In addition to their engines, both bikes share an aluminum bridge-type frame, aluminum double-sided cast swingarm and bolt-on steel subframe (presumably to provide enough strength for the optional soft side cases and a luggage rack/top trunk). There’s a 43mm USD fork with no adjustments up front, and a single shock with rebound damping and spring preload adjustment in back — I do wish the remote knob for the latter was easier to access.
Cast wheels are shod with high-performance sport- or sport-touring tires in the same sizes, and both shed velocity with triple disc brakes that include radial-mount opposed 4-piston calipers up front and ABS. LED headlights and taillights are standard, and front and center is a large, bright 6.5-inch TFT display with a wealth of ride and vehicle information accessible via the Multi-Controller wheel and menu button on the left bar.
In typical BMW fashion, though the whole idea of the F 900s is a ton of fun at a lower cost, you can boost their prices considerably with a slew of nifty accessories like multiple seat options, Keyless Ride, heated grips, cruise control, a centerstand and more, as well as advanced optional electronic enhancements. These include Dynamic Electronic Suspension Adjustment (D-ESA) with Dynamic and softer Road modes and electronic preload; Ride Modes Pro, which adds Dynamic and Dynamic Pro modes to the standard Rain and Road engine modes, and enables cornering ABS, MSR and Dynamic Brake Control (DBC), which detects emergency braking and reduces torque output to counter unintentional opening of the throttle. The Ride Modes Pro plug-in dongle also upgrades the standard traction control to Dynamic, and of course all of this stuff is infinitely adjustable six ways from Sunday.
Fortunately both bikes work just fine without spending a moment playing with settings or one might never leave the garage. The F 900 R is the sportier of the two, with a light wet weight of 471 pounds, shorter suspension travel and steering geometry that make it quite a ripper in the corners. It also has a lower seat, higher footpegs and flatter bar for sport riding and to help it accommodate shorter riders, yet the seating position is still quite comfortable, and while the suspension is set firm for sport riding it still soaks up the bumps quite well. Overall it should appeal to a broad range of riders looking for great handling and some techy stuff at a lower price.
To justify its higher cost, the F 900 XR adds a substantial fairing and small adjustable windscreen that together provides a fair amount of wind protection (I do recommend the optional taller windscreen) and contributes to its higher wet weight of 486 pounds. It also has a taller handlebar, significantly more suspension travel, lower pegs and slightly higher seat in keeping with its adventure-influenced design, yet I could still support it adequately at stops with my 29-inch inseam. Add a pair of side cases and it would make a very nice light tourer with a good balance of handling and power.
Although the light, plastic-welded fuel tanks on the R and XR have capacities of just 3.4 and 4.1 gallons respectively, I never saw fuel economy below 37 mpg from the required 91 octane, and that was after nearly 250 miles with a heavy throttle hand — they are capable of much better. Although the BMW R 1200 boxer engine makes more power and torque, in many ways the F 900 parallel twin’s character is equally satisfying, especially its growl and ripping-velvet feel that comes with a smooth rushing surge of torque in the midrange. Paired with either the R roadster or XR sport-adventure platforms, the combination creates a very fun and functional middleweight for whatever sort of ride you care to enjoy.
“Though she be but little, she be fierce!” — William Shakespeare
Consider for a moment that the best-selling Yamaha motorcycles for the past several years — across all categories — are the 321cc YZF-R3 sport bike and the 689cc MT-07 “hyper naked” sport standard, and you can understand why Yamaha is launching the newest (and smallest) member of the MT family with hopes for an army of future Yama-loyalists pinned to the MT-03’s pointy nose. The 2020 MT-03, essentially a YZF-R3 given the streetfighter treatment — no fairings, a flat handlebar and slightly revised front suspension — is an unapologetic gateway drug to the larger MT-07, MT-09 and beyond, a bike that will draw young, female and/or first-time buyers into dealerships, attracted to its aggressive styling, accessible size and $4,599 price tag.
Unlike some other naked sport bikes, there’s nothing dumbed-down about the MT-03. Its 321cc offset parallel-twin, DOHC engine with 180-degree crank and single counterbalance shaft, 6-speed gearbox, steel frame and swingarm, cast aluminum wheels, LCD display and single-disc front and rear brakes are all identical to the R3 (read the review here). Even its throttle mapping and gear ratios, with 5th and 6th both functioning as overdrives for comfortable freeway cruising, are unchanged. Apart from the flatter handlebar vs. the R3’s clip-ons and the lack of fairings, the biggest change to the MT-03 is its revised front suspension. Inside the 37mm inverted KYB fork is a slightly longer, softer spring with 6mm more preload and reduced compression damping (rebound is unchanged) that better suits the MT’s more upright riding position. The rear KYB shock is identical to the R3’s, with 7-step preload adjustment. Seat height remains a low 30.7 inches and wet weight is a claimed 373 pounds (our R3 tester weighed in at 379 pounds). Unlike the R3, all 2020 MT-03s have ABS as standard, making it $700 less expensive than the ABS-equipped YZF-R3.
Our first ride on the littlest MT took place at the press launch in Austin, Texas, which — despite the cancellation of the SXSW tech conference scheduled to take place concurrent to our event — was still choked with local commuter traffic as we made our way out of the city in search of curvy delights in the nearby Hill Country. The MT-03 lacks a slip and/or assist clutch, but lever pull is still fairly easy (though neither the clutch nor brake levers are adjustable) and the low first gear makes starting out a cinch. Around town the parallel twin, which generated 35 peak horsepower at 10,600 rpm and 19 lb-ft of torque at 9,200 when we last tested it in 2017, is pretty tame and drama-free, but those Jett Tuning dyno figures hint at the rest of the story: when the roads open up, spinning the little MT’s mill past 6,000 rpm rewards the rider with a noticeable boost. This equates to a need to maintain higher rpm through twisty, technical terrain, otherwise even a generous handful of throttle is only just enough to pull you out of the corner.
The upshot of course is that the MT-03 is extremely forgiving, ideal for first-time riders. It also reduces the risk of overcooking it into a turn, where I found the 289mm/2-piston front disc and 220mm/1-piston rear disc brakes to be a bit on the vague side, requiring a solid pull on the lever and offering little feedback. This may have been by design, again aimed at a newer rider’s potential tendency to panic and squeeze/stomp a bit too hard; Yamaha says the MT-03’s brakes were tuned to feel “controllable,” but as an experienced rider I wished for a more aggressive bite. A pair of aftermarket sintered pads would likely solve the problem.
Other than the brakes, I found little else to complain about as we transitioned from city to twisties and back to the city, now in the throes of the evening rush hour. Despite a low seat that folded my 34-inch-inseam legs into a sporty bend, I never felt cramped, although there were some grumbles from other, taller testers (I am 5 feet, 9 inches). The flat handlebar, which is some 1 ½ inches higher and ¾-inch farther back than the R3’s clip-ons, created a comfortable riding position, though the deeply-dished seat kept me feeling somewhat locked in place. And the slightly softer fork suited my size and riding style quite well, compliant enough to not jar my fillings loose over bumps but stiff enough to hold up to aggressive cornering.
Of course, for an entry-price-point machine like the MT-03, specs and performance are often not the primary focus for potential buyers — it’s important the bike looks the part, and the MT-03 delivers. Unlike its R3 cousin, the MT gets full LED lighting, including newly sleek turn signals and a futuristic-looking headlight with slanted position markers. When lit, the effect is something like an angry robotic Cyclops. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, but I actually think it’s pretty cool. Whether in sinister Midnight Black or eye-catching Ice Fluo, the 2020 MT-03 is a shining example of how far today’s “entry level” bikes have come, proving once again that even little bikes can be big fun.
2020 Yamaha MT-03
Base Price: $4,599 Website:yamahamotorsports.com Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl. Displacement: 321cc Bore x Stroke: 68.0mm x 44.1mm Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch Final Drive: O-ring chain Wheelbase: 54.3 in. Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/3.74 in. Seat Height: 30.7 in. Claimed Wet Weight: 373 lbs. Fuel Capacity: 3.7 gals., last 0.8 gal. warning light on MPG: 86 AKI min, NA
V-twin baggers are as American as baseball and apple pie. Big, stylish and built for our wide-open highways, they embody the self-expression and freedom that make motorcycles objects of obsession rather than just vehicles. America’s two major bagger manufacturers — Harley-Davidson and Indian — are well-known brands from coast to coast, even among folks who’ve never ridden one, and their histories and rivalries stretch back more than a century. Being so steeped in tradition, Harley and Indian take great pains to satisfy their base, building motorcycles that conform to the expectations of loyal cruiser riders.
Modern baggers must strike a delicate balance. On the outside they need to look a certain way — a big V-twin front and center, a long, low profile and muscular styling with bodywork covered in rich paint. But on the inside they need to meet increasingly stringent emissions, sound and safety standards, provide modern levels of comfort and reliability and deliver an engaging riding experience in terms of performance, technology and features.
These two 2020 baggers, Harley-Davidson’s Road Glide Special and Indian’s Challenger Limited, strike that balance remarkably well. Being the latest incarnation of a model family that’s been in Harley’s lineup for 40 years — starting with the 1980 FLT, then known as the Tour Glide — the Road Glide is the seasoned veteran in this comparison, and its signature feature is a frame-mounted sharknose fairing with dual headlights. Powering the Road Glide Special is the air-cooled, 114ci (1,868cc) version of Harley’s Milwaukee-Eight 45-degree V-twin with pushrod-actuated overhead valves. The Challenger is Indian’s newest model platform and the first to be powered by the PowerPlus 108 (1,768cc), a liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin with valves actuated by single overhead cams. Like the Road Glide, the Challenger has a frame-mounted fairing, a first for Indian.
As head-to-head competitors, the Road Glide Special and Challenger Limited are similar in many ways. Their fixed fairings have bright LED headlights and large vents that bring fresh air into the cockpit, and both have long floorboards and protective highway bars. Their rumbling V-twins have hydraulic valve adjusters, throttle-by-wire and rear-cylinder deactivation, and both send power to their rear wheels through 6-speed transmissions with assist clutches and belt final drive. Both have cruise control, electronic rider aids (cornering ABS, cornering traction control and drag torque slip control — standard on the Indian, optional on the Harley), keyless ignition and touchscreen infotainment systems with audio, navigation, Bluetooth and USB ports. They have low seat heights, 6-gallon fuel tanks, cast wheels with tire pressure monitoring, top-loading lockable saddlebags and a pair of non-locking fairing pockets. Even their as-tested prices are separated by just $45 and their curb weights differ by a single pound—the Road Glide Special costs $28,794 and weighs 847 pounds; the Challenger Limited costs $28,749 and weighs 848 pounds.
Despite so many similarities, these bikes are anything but clones. Specs and features are one thing, style and personality are quite another. With nearly every component bathed in black, a tinted shorty windscreen, minimal badging and foregoing traditional metal flake and gloss in favor of matte Barracuda Silver Denim paint, the Road Glide Special is dark and brooding. (The FLTRXS is available in five other colors, all with gloss finishes.) The Challenger Limited, on the other hand, grabs your attention with Ruby Metallic paint, plenty of chrome and multiple Indian logos visible from every angle. (It’s also available in two other gloss colors, while the Challenger Dark Horse comes in three matte colors.)
More differences between the Harley and Indian emerged after logging hundreds of miles in their saddles. Cruisers are tuned for low-end torque, helping heavy bikes — especially those loaded two-up with full saddlebags — pull away quickly from stops and make brisk passes. These baggers deliver ample torque, sending more than 100 lb-ft to the rear wheel, but they go about it in different ways. The Road Glide has great engine feel, with crisp throttle response, right-now thrust and a deeply satisfying V-twin pulse. The impressive refinement that went into the Milwaukee-Eight V-twin — more power and torque, less heat, less vibration at idle and smoother operation — is why we selected the entire M8-equipped Touring family as our 2017 Motorcycle of the Year. On Jett Tuning’s dyno, the Harley generated smooth power curves with nary a dip or blip, torque rising to 104.5 lb-ft at 2,900 rpm and dropping off thereafter while horsepower increases linearly to 78.5 at 4,800 rpm. Due to its low rev ceiling (5,100 rpm) and narrow torque spread, short shifting the Harley helps it stay in its meaty midrange.
With its liquid cooling, oversquare bore/stroke and SOHC valve layout, Indian’s PowerPlus generates more output with less displacement and revs higher than the M8. Starting at 2,400 rpm, the Indian’s advantage over the Harley increases steadily, the gap widening to 28 lb-ft of torque and 27 horsepower by the time the Harley’s rev limiter kicks in. The Indian keeps going, hitting a peak of 108 horsepower at 5,600 rpm before finally signing off at 6,300 rpm. With a broader spread of torque — more than 100 lb-ft are on tap from 2,400-5,600 rpm, reaching 113.3 lb-ft at 3,300 rpm — and much higher peak power than the Harley, the Indian likes to be revved. The Challenger has three ride modes that adjust throttle response, with Standard mode being fairly soft (Rain mode is even softer) and Sport mode delivering the goods immediately without abruptness.
These heavy machines can be a handful when pushing them around the garage or negotiating parking lots, but they feel well balanced and easy to maneuver at speed. With much of their weight carried low they roll in and out of curves gracefully, and their generous torque propels them out of corners with authority. About 31 degrees of cornering clearance on either side means they can be heeled way over before anything starts to scrape, especially with some extra preload dialed into the rear suspension. Despite having “race-spec” radial-mount Brembo calipers up front, the Indian’s front brake lever feels vague and requires a firm pull to generate full stopping power. In contrast, the Harley’s front brakes have the perfect amount of initial bite and better response at the lever.
If you’re ready to lay down some serious miles, these baggers have nearly everything you need (except heated grips — a curious omission for premium models costing nearly $29,000). But they’re not created equal when it comes to touring comfort. With a lower laden seat height (25.9 inches vs. 26.5 inches on the Indian), you sit deeper in the Harley’s cockpit, with hips rolled back in the dished seat. Because the seat is U-shaped front to back and has a slick finish, it’s difficult to sit farther back; hit one bump and you slide back down.
And bumps can be a problem on the Harley. Most of the time the Road Glide Special provides a comfortable, compliant ride, but its rear shock, which is firmly damped and allows only 2.1 inches of travel, responds harshly to pavement ripples, cracks and seams. Big bumps and potholes send shock waves right up the spine and can bounce a rider out of the seat. Also, the Harley’s fairing sits much farther forward (it’s a long reach to the infotainment screen), its windscreen offers no adjustment and the two large vents flanking the headlights cannot be closed so a high volume of air always flows into the cockpit. This comparison took place in December, and testers always felt colder and more buffeted by the wind on the Harley than on the Indian.
The Challenger Limited provides a more comfortable and enjoyable riding experience. Its seat is flatter and has more grip and support, its long tank is narrower between the knees and its fairing provides more wind protection. The Indian’s fairing is closer to the rider and its windscreen is electrically adjustable over a 3-inch range — raising the screen all the way up and closing the fairing vents creates a calm, quiet space for the rider. With 5.1 inches of suspension travel in the front and 4.5 inches in the rear — 0.5 inch and 2.4 inches more than the Harley, respectively — and more compliant damping, the Indian is much better at insulating the rider and passenger from rough roads. Even at a sporting pace with riders well over 200 pounds in the saddle, the Indian never bottomed out nor reacted harshly.
The Road Glide Special was clearly Indian’s benchmark for the Challenger Limited. At the press launch last October, Indian provided a side-by-side comparison of their performance and features as well as a Road Glide Special for us to ride. With Indian’s sales being about one-tenth of Harley’s, one way to improve its market share is to offer more bang for the buck on competing models. Indian has done so in terms of performance with an all-new, liquid-cooled engine that makes more power and torque and offers the flexibility of throttle-response modes. It has done so in terms of convenience with a more modern and user-friendly infotainment system with higher audio output (100W vs. 50W on the Harley) as well as extra features like central saddlebag locks and a keyless locking fuel cap. And it has done so in terms of comfort with a more supportive seat, better wind protection and superior ride quality, all in a package that costs and weighs nearly the same.
Healthy competition is good for the industry and good for riders because it provides us with better motorcycles. Since the launch of Project Rushmore for 2014, Harley-Davidson has continuously raised the bar with improvements to its engines, chassis, comfort, convenience and other features. The 2014 model year also happens to be when Indian launched its all-new Thunder Stroke V-twin and Chief lineup, reigniting an old rivalry and spurring a feverish pace of innovation from both companies. The 2020 Road Glide Special is better than ever, but the Challenger Limited surpasses it.
Keep scrolling for more detailed photos after the spec charts….
2020 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special Specs
Base Price: $27,299 Price as Tested: $28,794 (RDRS, color) Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles Website: harley-davidson.com
Type: Air-cooled, transverse 45-degree V-twin Displacement: 1,868cc (114ci) Bore x Stroke: 102.0 x 114.0mm Compression Ratio: 10.5:1 Valve Train: OHV, 4 valves per cyl. Valve Insp. Interval: NA (self-adjusting) Fuel Delivery: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection Lubrication System: Dry sump, 5.2-qt. cap. Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet assist-and-slipper clutch Final Drive: Belt
After announcing two new Scouts in its 2020 lineup back in September, Indian Motorcycle has dropped yet another new model, the 2020 Scout Bobber Sixty. Powered by the same 78 horsepower, 999cc, liquid cooled twin as that used in the Scout Sixty, but with the Scout Bobber’s stripped-down, blacked-out stying, the new Scout Bobber Sixty is a claimed 24 pounds lighter than the regular Scout Bobber and is priced starting at just $8,999.
The Scout Bobber Sixty maintains the stripped-down styling of the Scout Bobber, including chopped fenders and a confident riding position, while adding several cues that give the model a look of its own.
It features a blacked-out engine, a modern tank badge, perch mount mirrors, a stripped down headlight, an all-black seat and all new five-spoke all black wheels. Riders looking to customize their Scout Bobber Sixty can do so by selecting from more than 140 authentic Indian Motorcycle accessories.
KTM has garnered a reputation (deservedly) for building high-performance, hard-edged machines that cater to what we might call the “one percent” of adventure riders. Let’s just say, you don’t hear jokes about KTMs and Starbucks parking lots. Its highly anticipated, new-for-2019 790 Adventure exemplifies that philosophy (read our comprehensive on- and off-road review here): an eminently capable lightweight ADV tourer that was designed for excursions into some pretty gnarly territory, especially in the off-road oriented R variation.
But what if you aren’t necessarily a “one percenter?” You like the idea of an adventure bike that isn’t gargantuan (a seat height of less than 35 inches would be great, thanks), but is comfortable, with adequate power for touring and high-speed passing and ample luggage capacity. Yet it can still tackle whatever “shortcut” your GPS throws at you — or worse — without breaking a sweat.
That pretty much describes me, so when our KTM 790 Adventure test bike showed up I snagged the keys and have clung to them stubbornly ever since, logging more than 3,000 miles commuting, canyon carving and road tripping, including a weekend ride up the coast for Babes Ride Out and this weeklong road trip to New Mexico to visit my mom and stepdad. They live on 80 acres of desert about 10 miles southeast of Deming, and getting there involves considerable highway slabbing along with a home stretch of a few miles of sandy dirt road, plus a quarter-mile of washed-out dirt driveway. In between are numerous opportunities to scrub the edges of the tires on pavement as well as non-paved detours to mines and other points of interest. Adventure bike territory.
Escaping Southern California took the better part of a day, heavy Orange County traffic giving way to sweeping low mountain vistas and finally, in Borrego Springs, at the bottom of a long, winding descent, the low, sprawling Colorado Desert, part of the 100,000-square-mile Sonoran Desert that covers much of southwestern Arizona and spreads southward into Baja California Sur and Sonora, Mexico. It is home to several unique species, including the iconic symbol of the American Southwest, the saguaro (“sah-WAH-roh”) cactus.
I’d timed my trip well; a week later, heavy rain poured for days, part of the massive winter storm that would wreak havoc on Thanksgiving holiday travel for much of the U.S. But on this ride, the skies were sunny and dry, and with lightly insulated gloves I only needed my heated liners in the early morning (our test bike was not equipped with the optional heated grips). The 790 has a comprehensive electronics package that includes three ride modes, Street, Rain and Offroad, that alter throttle response and IMU-based MTC (traction control), plus separately switchable Bosch 9.1 MP cornering ABS.
With its firm, flat, adjustable two-piece seat in the lower (32.7-inch) position, the 790 Adventure put me, at 5 feet, 9 inches, into a comfortably compact riding position while nearly allowing me to get both feet flat on the ground. Footpegs, which have rubber inserts to muffle any vibration, are high enough to allow ample off-road ground clearance and the handlebar, which is adjustable in six positions over a 1.2-inch range, is not as wide as some other larger ADV bikes. I put the windscreen into the higher of its two positions and found it deflected air around my helmet with very little buffeting.
Therefore I was comfortable and smiling the next day as I rolled into the town of Ajo (“AH-ho”), Arizona, some 38 miles from the U.S./Mexico border. This old mining town is experiencing a revival of sorts, with its gleaming whitewashed Spanish-style buildings lining the central plaza, a beautiful old school that’s been renovated into apartments for artists-in-residence and a hotel and conference center, as well as new coffee shops, cafés and artisans’ markets. It’s the kind of place that gives you hope for the future, with residents representing what they call the Three Nations: Caucasian American, Mexican-American and native Tohono O’odham.
Part of the appeal of an adventure tourer is the ability to explore at will, so when a local told me about a gravel road that looped around the old pit mine I was keen to check it out. The 790 Adventure’s 21-inch spoked front wheel, shod with tubeless Avon Trailrider 90/10 tires, rolled easily over the low rocky shelves and washouts, its 7.9 inches of suspension travel front and rear (non-adjustable except for rear preload) taking everything in stride, if a bit stiffly at the lower speeds at which I was traveling. It’s not just on dirt and gravel that a bike like the 790 Adventure shines, however. Keen to avoid the traffic in Tucson, later that day I found myself on narrow, bumpy, twisty Arivaca Sasabe Road, connecting State Route 286 with Interstate 19 through a lonely landscape where the only other vehicles I saw were U.S. Customs & Border Patrol units.
Another highlight was Apache Trail, a.k.a. Arizona State Route 88, a perfect ribbon of sinuous asphalt rippling into the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. I’d intended to go all the way to Roosevelt, with the asphalt giving way to dirt less than halfway up, but the road was inexplicably closed at Tortilla Flat. Too bad. I just had to turn around and retrace my corner-carving steps — carefully, as this was clearly a popular road for local riders as well as sports car-driving racer wannabes and pickups trundling along with boats in tow, headed to and from Canyon Lake.
Not all roads on this trip were so fun, however, with several hours-long 75-to-80-mph slogs on Interstates 8 and 10. The 790 Adventure’s 799cc liquid-cooled LC8c parallel twin has dual counterbalancers for smoothness, with a 75-degree crankpin offset and 435-degree firing order for V-twin-like character, and with 88.4 peak horsepower and 59.4 lb-ft of torque on tap (per the Jett Tuning dyno), it’s got enough spunk to hang at those speeds with room to spare, though sometimes at the expense of fuel economy. In a stiff headwind and at freeway speeds my mileage dipped as low as 34 mpg, but favorable conditions brought a high of 63 on this trip, averaging somewhere in the 50s, which meant my 5.3-gallon tank was good for close to 300 miles between fill-ups. The one caveat is that the 790 requires premium, which can be tough to find in the loneliest desert areas.
Apart from that minor detail, though, the KTM 790 Adventure is the rare lightweight adventure tourer that, depending on whether you choose the R version and how you equip it, works for the “100 percent”: it’s supremely capable off-road yet a pleasure to ride on long highways, and it’s downright fun in the twisties. Perfecting it for me would mean adding the optional centerstand, heated grips and cruise control, and maybe even some hard luggage, but even without all that I enjoyed all 1,787 (give or take) miles of my trip—and will continue to enjoy more until it’s time to give it back. With the 790 Adventure, the only question becomes: where do you want to go?
2019 KTM 790 Adventure Specs
Base Price: $12,699 Price as Tested: $13,059 (Quickshifter+) Warranty: 2 yrs., 24,000 miles Website: ktm.com
Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse parallel twin Displacement: 799cc Bore x Stroke: 88.0 x 65.7mm Compression Ratio: 12.7:1 Valve Train: DOHC, 4 valves per cyl. Valve Insp. Interval: 18,600 miles Fuel Delivery: EFI w/ 42mm throttle bodies x 2 Lubrication System: Semi-dry sump, 3.1-qt. cap. Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated assist-and-slipper clutch Final Drive: X-ring chain