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Heavy Metal

BMW K1200R, Harley-Davidson FLSTCI Heritage Softail, Triumph Rocket III - Three massive motorbikes that can go toe-to-toe with a tank




The Orpington Chapter head out on their run

WHAT did you ride in the war, daddy?

If you'd given me the option in 1939 of which side I'd have fought on during the war, it would have had to be Germany. It's a terrible admission, I know, and one that my family would be mortified by (we come from a long line of jingoistic, flag-waving duffers who furthered Britain's empire-building interests around the world) but Germany had the best uniforms, the best guns and the best tanks by far. The sense of juggernaut unstoppability as their stormtroopers swept across Europe must have been tremendous. You can stick your Dunkirk spirit up your arse, what you really needed back then was a Schmeisser MP40 in your hands and a Panzer III if you really wanted to impress.

Britain, of course, wasn't prepared for war and so our tanks were rubbish. We were a gullible lot back then, and when the spineless Neville Chamberlain held his piece of paper aloft in 1938 after being bamboozled by a crafty Adolf, we did nothing to gear-up for a scrap and were caught completely napping by the hordes of fancy Panzers that rolled up to the Channel. The Americans were so busy trying to hide under the table and not get involved that they didn't have anything useful at the time, so Germany and their fleet-footed tanks were sitting pretty.

Fast forward 67 years and we're rolling south-west to Dorset on three of the biggest lumps of metal produced by the British, German and American motorcycle industries today. These are bikes designed to get you noticed and they all make sure you arrive in style and comfort. Weight isn't an issue here, but performance and presence are and each bike is taking a very different route. Triumph's outrageous Rocket III makes up for the deficiencies of its wartime cousins by being the biggest, brashest machine on the market today. What it lacks in finesse is more than offset by the sheer imposing size of the thing. BMW have gone back to their blitzkrieg roots with the K1200R, a bizarre mix of cruiser, streetbike and sportsbike. Like their tanks of yesteryear, the K1200 is festooned with complicated gadgetry that means it's way ahead of its time. And finally there's America's Harley Softail, all-new for this year but the same as always. Laidback style and serious cruising comfort for the kind of rider who likes to turn up late and then take all the credit. Start your engines and let battle commence!

TRIUMPH ROCKET III

When I was 16 I used to work the summer holidays as a gardener at a language school. It was the best job I've ever had, as the school was staffed by au pairs from all over Europe who used to wave at me as I blazed past on my gang-mower. I learned how to swear in eight different languages and popped my cherry to an 18-year-old Norwegian girl whose name I cannot remember. The head gardener, a biker called Clifford who liked Motorhead and wore a proper mullet, had a jet-black Yamaha XS1100 with open pipes. We had a fight once and he kicked the shit out of me in seven seconds flat, but sometimes he'd take me to the pub on the back of the Yamaha and the sheer speed, weight and noise of that thing blew my tiny teenage mind. It was the first two-up wheelie I'd experienced on the road and it went like a Lancaster bomber down the straights. I was in utter awe of that XS1100, and every time I ride the Triumph Rocket III it reminds me of that monstrous Yamaha.

I know of nobody who hasn't grinned from ear to ear after riding one of these things. This Rocket came with open pipes which sounded absolutely demented, like a TVR Tuscan with a blown exhaust. A quick rev of the throttle produced a bristling barrage of noise, but it's a pleasing noise, not a nasty one. Nosing your way through the high street it's impossible to resist tweaking the throttle, and every set of traffic lights is an excuse to lay down some rubber. It's the sort of bike that people wave and smile at as you go past, and it makes you far more popular and interesting than you actually are. The pretty girl at my local Ask pizza joint asked if she could be taken for a ride on the back, and you're simply not going to get that kind of attention on your average rice burner.

I still can't get over the capacity of the engine - 2.3 litres. That's ridiculous, completely over the top and means that each piston in the triple engine is nearly the same size as that of a Merlin engine from a Spitfire. It endows the Rocket with the ability to pull away from a standstill in top gear, cruise at 90mph at just 3,000rpm, and accelerate like a Japanese Bullet train in any gear you choose. Under full thrust, you seriously have to hang on as the Rocket takes off for the horizon, the rider setting his jaw and clinging on for grim death. Nobody has ever pretended that this bike was made for going round corners and it's all about straight-line speed, although claims at the time of its launch that the Rocket could accelerate as quickly as a sportsbike were a little far-fetched.

It makes you a kid again and reminds you why you got into motorbikes in the first place. Admittedly, 12 grand is a great deal of money to pay to make you feel like a child, but when you laugh as much as this perhaps it's worth it. And when you tire of riding like a buffoon, the Triumph gladly accommodates more relaxed riding. Settle back into the thickly-padded seat, ease your vice-like grip on the thick handlebar grips and enjoy the ride. The immense torque that propels the Rocket to daft speeds in no time also gifts the bike with an incredibly easy-going nature at lower velocities. If you've ever driven through America for any period of time, you'll know that easy cruising feeling well. Big engines and open roads don't always feel best flat-out, sometimes it just makes sense to take it slow and take in the scenery.

One thing the Rocket III doesn't have on its side is looks. Like the ugly, awkward British tanks of WW2 vintage, so the Rocket looks like a lash-up. The exhausts hang unevenly, the front end looks unfinished, and the whole bike just looks a little messy. It's a shame, because the huge engine (it looks like a marine diesel) is a work of art and deserves better.

BMW K1200R

What the devil is up at BMW these days? It's like the managing director in Germany gathered his troops outside the Reichstag and instructed them to make the barmiest army of different motorcycles ever witnessed on the planet. Buoyed by their extraordinary success with the GS models, BMW have gone bike-build crazy and the K1200R is their latest freaky-looking model designed to capture the imaginations of younger riders.

Urry hates it, the photographer who rode it down to Dorset spluttered how vile it was, but they're both visual cripples and completely wrong. The K1200R is a madhouse of a thing to ride, revvy and noisy and the most un-BMW thing the Munich-based factory have produced in a very long time. For those reasons alone it should be applauded. As a motorcycle there are a few issues and there isn't a straight line on the bike, (it's all weird lines here and offset scoops there) but this is completely new territory for the Germans. The trouble is, who's going to buy this bike? It should be 42-year-olds who are now bored of their GSX-R1000 and fancy something completely different, but they're not going to buy a Beemer. And the old-school BMW brigade are unlikely to touch this wild new upstart with a Bangalore torpedo.

There's a frightful clatter of whistling and whirring when you get on the Beemer for the first time and turn it on, and if you squeeze the brake lever at a standstill, a whole choir of screeching hamsters pipes up. It's the servo-assisted brakes having a think as the pumps whirr into action. It just all seems so unnecessary, for years now motorcycle brakes have worked very efficiently with a squeeze of a lever and modern brake systems are the best yet. It gives the brakes a dead and lifeless feel at the bars, and certainly detracts from the riding experience out on the road. Doesn't make the bike un-rideable or anything, but it doesn't add to the experience.

The next display of electronics is the active suspension control. This is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. There's a button on the left handlebar which you press to cycle through Comfort, Normal and Sports modes, which stiffens or loosens the suspension settings accordingly. On motorways you soften it off and bimble along in cosseted comfort; when you get to the attack road of your choice you crank it back up and go for it. It's an example of car technology effectively making it across to bike technology, and in this instance it works very well.

What doesn't work so well is that accursed Telelever front end. It's rubbish on this bike, but BMW have now invested so much money and time in the system (not to mention modular design) that they couldn't turn back. At low speeds it feels like the headstock is too tight and the K1200R weaves around the front end like a confused old woman. Once cracking along at a decent rate the oscillating feeling goes away, but it's an inescapable fact that the bike would feel better with a traditional front end as fitted to their new Megamoto model. What you end up with is a dead-feeling brake system allied to a dead-feeling front suspension system, leaving the whole front end awash with rigor mortis.

The engine is properly free-revving with a raspy metallic note to it. I'd love to hear it with an open race pipe, it would doubtless make a proper racket. For what is nearly a 1.2 litre engine it's surprisingly lifeless at lower revs, and the K1200 only properly wakes up when you really give it some. In first gear it'll do a clumsy BMW take on a power-wheelie, and there's no getting around the fact that this bike is properly fast. Stick the suspension in Sports mode, pin the throttle through the rather clunky gearbox, and the next thing you know you're hidden behind the funny little nose fairing and 150mph is showing on the clocks. The bike is extremely comfortable, too, and with the three of us dashing Southwards to the tank museum the BMW was a hard act to follow as we pushed through the New Forest. The K1200R is pushing a healthy balance between streetbike, performance bike and posing bike - but it may well be too radical for the market it's aimed at.

HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL

If you're not old enough to understand Harleys then it's really no big deal. One day you'll get to ride one (it's inevitable) and after you stop laughing nervously and guffawing at how slow it is, hoho, you'll go home and on reflection realise you loved the experience. Given the right place and the right time, a Harley is a bloody brilliant thing to ride - it's just that ticking those boxes on the soggy and overcrowded British roads can sometimes be a little tricky.

This is a Heritage Softail, but to be honest it could be any one of the big-motor Harley range. People just refer to it as a Harley, could be a Fat Boy, could be a Electra Glide, but basically they're all just Harleys. Like all things American the Softail is built for comfort and getting back onto it after the other bikes was like flopping back into your favourite sofa. Footboards, as opposed to footpegs, spoil your feet something rotten - you wouldn't believe how snug they feel. Push your arse back into the seat, grab the widely-spaced handlebars, pick a road and get ready to rumble. Quietly, mind. There's none of the frenetic roaring or revving of the Triumph, this is an altogether more civilised experience. In the sunshine in summer it all makes sense, but in the wind and rain we currently have, it's purgatory.

There's very little technology on display in a Harley, which is all part of its old-school charm. They'd still be using carburettors if the noise and emissions nazis allowed them to, the disc brakes almost look out of place (and may as well be drums for all their effectiveness) and the crude suspension does as little work as it can when it comes to dispensing with bumps. Being American some of the engineering is shocking; it always amazes me how they can make such a song and dance about deep blue paint and inch-thick chrome, then attach cheap mild-steel footpegs and ancillaries that rust the first time they're exposed to any weather. All American vehicles are like this - I was once flying a Cessna 172 aircraft in California and after take-off, the throttle fell off in my hand - but they can't cover the basics before slapping on thick layers of paint because they're impatient. All Americans are impatient, you see, they need to have everything NOW, even if it means cutting every corner imaginable. And so it is with Harleys.

While the Harley is extremely pleasant to ride, it's also a bit so-what in this company. The Triumph out-poses it on a scale of 2:1 while the BMW is infinitely more interesting to look at and to ride, so what one is left with is a mobile sofa that plugs into the retro-conscience of well-heeled riders and takes them and their wives fluffing through the country. Taken in isolation the Harley-Davidson is a wonderful thing, but it's when you start comparing it to other manufacturers it all starts to fall apart a bit. £14,000 for a bike with zero technology and limited use/appeal suddenly looks rather ill. But - and this is the really brilliant marketing bit - the Harley doesn't care. It knows it's been caught out, it knows it's appalling value for money, but despite all this it's still incredibly cool. James Dean was a shit actor, his squeaky nasal voice and petty posturing amateurish at best. But he remains an icon of American culture, and so it is with the Softail. Shallow, not very well made but undeniably cool and guaranteeing the rider a smug inner glow.

MISSION DE-BRIEF

The roads around Bovington in Dorset are a mix of fast flowing A-roads, tiny high-banked B-roads and the M27 and A303 for getting there. For getting there in a hurry and gathering intel, the BMW is hard to beat. The K1200R offers a pleasing mix of quirky style and crazy engine, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea but then not appealling to everybody is always a good thing with motorcycling. Toying needlessly with the electronic suspension control and cycling through the display options (most useful gadget in modern motorcycling: the available fuel range left) helps wile away motorway miles. I really like the way this bike looks, it's proper Tron from some angles, and its nice to have to rev the hell out of a BMW.

The Harley is just that - a Harley. On the tiny B-roads it was great for duffing about on, you notice things you'd never do on the other two as you've got the time to swivel your head and take in the sights. You stand out a mile on this bike and people will either love you or shoot you down for being a posing bastard. It's like a rose-tinted view of the world but it only works when the weather is sunny. Which is what so limits the use of the Softail in this country.

The Rocket III is the ultimate expression of heavy metal. It's loud, brash and completely in your face and if you crashed into a car on this thing, the car would come off worse. Like Mr T in a T-55 it's impossible to ignore, great fun to ride and if you can swing a test-ride, will restore your faith in the darker side of motorcycling. You could take on a whole squadron of BMWs head-on with this thing, knock them all into the bushes and come out unscathed. It's taken 67 years, but finally we make the best tanks...

SPECS

BMW K1200R

SPECS - BMW
TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £9395
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1157cc
POWER - 139bhp
TORQUE - N/A
WEIGHT - 250kg
SEAT HEIGHT - N/A
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L
TOP SPEED - 163mph
0-60 - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

Harley-Davidson FLSTCI

TYPE - CRUISER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2005
PRICE NEW - £13,695
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1449cc
POWER - 71bhp
TORQUE - N/A
WEIGHT - 340kg
SEAT HEIGHT - N/A
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L
TOP SPEED - 112mph
0-60 - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

Triumph Rocket III

TYPE - CRUISER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £11,999
ENGINE CAPACITY - 2300cc
POWER - 125bhp
TORQUE - N/A
WEIGHT - N/A
SEAT HEIGHT - N/A
FUEL CAPACITY - 18L
TOP SPEED - 134mph
0-60 - n/a
TANK RANGE - N/A

If you'd given me the option in 1939 of which side I'd have fought on during the war, it would have had to be Germany. It's a terrible admission, I know, and one that my family would be mortified by (we come from a long line of jingoistic, flag-waving duffers who furthered Britain's empire-building interests around the world) but Germany had the best uniforms, the best guns and the best tanks by far. The sense of juggernaut unstoppability as their stormtroopers swept across Europe must have been tremendous. You can stick your Dunkirk spirit up your arse, what you really needed back then was a Schmeisser MP40 in your hands and a Panzer III if you really wanted to impress.

Britain, of course, wasn't prepared for war and so our tanks were rubbish. We were a gullible lot back then, and when the spineless Neville Chamberlain held his piece of paper aloft in 1938 after being bamboozled by a crafty Adolf, we did nothing to gear-up for a scrap and were caught completely napping by the hordes of fancy Panzers that rolled up to the Channel. The Americans were so busy trying to hide under the table and not get involved that they didn't have anything useful at the time, so Germany and their fleet-footed tanks were sitting pretty.

Fast forward 67 years and we're rolling south-west to Dorset on three of the biggest lumps of metal produced by the British, German and American motorcycle industries today. These are bikes designed to get you noticed and they all make sure you arrive in style and comfort. Weight isn't an issue here, but performance and presence are and each bike is taking a very different route. Triumph's outrageous Rocket III makes up for the deficiencies of its wartime cousins by being the biggest, brashest machine on the market today. What it lacks in finesse is more than offset by the sheer imposing size of the thing.

BMW have gone back to their blitzkrieg roots with the K1200R, a bizarre mix of cruiser, streetbike and sportsbike. Like their tanks of yesteryear, the K1200 is festooned with complicated gadgetry that means it's way ahead of its time. And finally there's America's Harley Softail, all-new for this year but the same as always. Laidback style and serious cruising comfort for the kind of rider who likes to turn up late and then take all the credit. Start your engines and let battle commence!

Triumph Rocket III

TRIUMPH ROCKET III

When I was 16 I used to work the summer holidays as a gardener at a language school. It was the best job I've ever had, as the school was staffed by au pairs from all over Europe who used to wave at me as I blazed past on my gang-mower. I learned how to swear in eight different languages and popped my cherry to an 18-year-old Norwegian girl whose name I cannot remember.

The head gardener, a biker called Clifford who liked Motorhead and wore a proper mullet, had a jet-black Yamaha XS1100 with open pipes. We had a fight once and he kicked the shit out of me in seven seconds flat, but sometimes he'd take me to the pub on the back of the Yamaha and the sheer speed, weight and noise of that thing blew my tiny teenage mind. It was the first two-up wheelie I'd experienced on the road and it went like a Lancaster bomber down the straights. I was in utter awe of that XS1100, and every time I ride the Triumph Rocket III it reminds me of that monstrous Yamaha.

I know of nobody who hasn't grinned from ear to ear after riding one of these things. This Rocket came with open pipes which sounded absolutely demented, like a TVR Tuscan with a blown exhaust. A quick rev of the throttle produced a bristling barrage of noise, but it's a pleasing noise, not a nasty one. Nosing your way through the high street it's impossible to resist tweaking the throttle, and every set of traffic lights is an excuse to lay down some rubber. It's the sort of bike that people wave and smile at as you go past, and it makes you far more popular and interesting than you actually are. The pretty girl at my local Ask pizza joint asked if she could be taken for a ride on the back, and you're simply not going to get that kind of attention on your average rice burner.

I still can't get over the capacity of the engine - 2.3 litres. That's ridiculous, completely over the top and means that each piston in the triple engine is nearly the same size as that of a Merlin engine from a Spitfire. It endows the Rocket with the ability to pull away from a standstill in top gear, cruise at 90mph at just 3,000rpm, and accelerate like a Japanese Bullet train in any gear you choose.

Under full thrust, you seriously have to hang on as the Rocket takes off for the horizon, the rider setting his jaw and clinging on for grim death. Nobody has ever pretended that this bike was made for going round corners and it's all about straight-line speed, although claims at the time of its launch that the Rocket could accelerate as quickly as a sportsbike were a little far-fetched.

It makes you a kid again and reminds you why you got into motorbikes in the first place. Admittedly, 12 grand is a great deal of money to pay to make you feel like a child, but when you laugh as much as this perhaps it's worth it. And when you tire of riding like a buffoon, the Triumph gladly accommodates more relaxed riding. Settle back into the thickly-padded seat, ease your vice-like grip on the thick handlebar grips and enjoy the ride.

The immense torque that propels the Rocket to daft speeds in no time also gifts the bike with an incredibly easy-going nature at lower velocities. If you've ever driven through America for any period of time, you'll know that easy cruising feeling well. Big engines and open roads don't always feel best flat-out, sometimes it just makes sense to take it slow and take in the scenery.

One thing the Rocket III doesn't have on its side is looks. Like the ugly, awkward British tanks of WW2 vintage, so the Rocket looks like a lash-up. The exhausts hang unevenly, the front end looks unfinished, and the whole bike just looks a little messy. It's a shame, because the huge engine (it looks like a marine diesel) is a work of art and deserves better.

Triumph Rocket III Specifications

TYPE - CRUISER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £11,999
ENGINE CAPACITY - 2300cc
POWER - 125bhp 
FUEL CAPACITY - 18L   
TOP SPEED - 134mph   

BMW K1200R

BMW K1200R

What the devil is up at BMW these days? It's like the managing director in Germany gathered his troops outside the Reichstag and instructed them to make the barmiest army of different motorcycles ever witnessed on the planet. Buoyed by their extraordinary success with the GS models, BMW have gone bike-build crazy and the K1200R is their latest freaky-looking model designed to capture the imaginations of younger riders.

Urry hates it, the photographer who rode it down to Dorset spluttered how vile it was, but they're both visual cripples and completely wrong. The K1200R is a madhouse of a thing to ride, revvy and noisy and the most un-BMW thing the Munich-based factory have produced in a very long time. For those reasons alone it should be applauded.

As a motorcycle there are a few issues and there isn't a straight line on the bike, (it's all weird lines here and offset scoops there) but this is completely new territory for the Germans. The trouble is, who's going to buy this bike? It should be 42-year-olds who are now bored of their GSX-R1000 and fancy something completely different, but they're not going to buy a Beemer. And the old-school BMW brigade are unlikely to touch this wild new upstart with a Bangalore torpedo.

There's a frightful clatter of whistling and whirring when you get on the Beemer for the first time and turn it on, and if you squeeze the brake lever at a standstill, a whole choir of screeching hamsters pipes up. It's the servo-assisted brakes having a think as the pumps whirr into action. It just all seems so unnecessary, for years now motorcycle brakes have worked very efficiently with a squeeze of a lever and modern brake systems are the best yet. It gives the brakes a dead and lifeless feel at the bars, and certainly detracts from the riding experience out on the road. Doesn't make the bike un-rideable or anything, but it doesn't add to the experience.

The next display of electronics is the active suspension control. This is brilliant, absolutely brilliant. There's a button on the left handlebar which you press to cycle through Comfort, Normal and Sports modes, which stiffens or loosens the suspension settings accordingly. On motorways you soften it off and bimble along in cosseted comfort; when you get to the attack road of your choice you crank it back up and go for it. It's an example of car technology effectively making it across to bike technology, and in this instance it works very well.

What doesn't work so well is that accursed Telelever front end. It's rubbish on this bike, but BMW have now invested so much money and time in the system (not to mention modular design) that they couldn't turn back. At low speeds it feels like the headstock is too tight and the K1200R weaves around the front end like a confused old woman. Once cracking along at a decent rate the oscillating feeling goes away, but it's an inescapable fact that the bike would feel better with a traditional front end as fitted to their new Megamoto model. What you end up with is a dead-feeling brake system allied to a dead-feeling front suspension system, leaving the whole front end awash with rigor mortis.

The engine is properly free-revving with a raspy metallic note to it. I'd love to hear it with an open race pipe, it would doubtless make a proper racket. For what is nearly a 1.2 litre engine it's surprisingly lifeless at lower revs, and the K1200 only properly wakes up when you really give it some. In first gear it'll do a clumsy BMW take on a power-wheelie, and there's no getting around the fact that this bike is properly fast.

Stick the suspension in Sports mode, pin the throttle through the rather clunky gearbox, and the next thing you know you're hidden behind the funny little nose fairing and 150mph is showing on the clocks. The bike is extremely comfortable, too, and with the three of us dashing Southwards to the tank museum the BMW was a hard act to follow as we pushed through the New Forest. The K1200R is pushing a healthy balance between streetbike, performance bike and posing bike - but it may well be too radical for the market it's aimed at.

BMW K1200R Specifications

TYPE - STREETBIKE
PRODUCTION DATE - 2007
PRICE NEW - £9395
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1157cc
POWER - 139bhp
WEIGHT - 250kg
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L   
TOP SPEED - 163mph

Harley-Davidson Softail

HARLEY-DAVIDSON SOFTAIL

If you're not old enough to understand Harleys then it's really no big deal. One day you'll get to ride one (it's inevitable) and after you stop laughing nervously and guffawing at how slow it is, hoho, you'll go home and on reflection realise you loved the experience. Given the right place and the right time, a Harley is a bloody brilliant thing to ride - it's just that ticking those boxes on the soggy and overcrowded British roads can sometimes be a little tricky.

This is a Heritage Softail, but to be honest it could be any one of the big-motor Harley range. People just refer to it as a Harley, could be a Fat Boy, could be a Electra Glide, but basically they're all just Harleys. Like all things American the Softail is built for comfort and getting back onto it after the other bikes was like flopping back into your favourite sofa. Footboards, as opposed to footpegs, spoil your feet something rotten - you wouldn't believe how snug they feel.

Push your arse back into the seat, grab the widely-spaced handlebars, pick a road and get ready to rumble. Quietly, mind. There's none of the frenetic roaring or revving of the Triumph, this is an altogether more civilised experience. In the sunshine in summer it all makes sense, but in the wind and rain we currently have, it's purgatory.

There's very little technology on display in a Harley, which is all part of its old-school charm. They'd still be using carburettors if the noise and emissions nazis allowed them to, the disc brakes almost look out of place (and may as well be drums for all their effectiveness) and the crude suspension does as little work as it can when it comes to dispensing with bumps. Being American some of the engineering is shocking; it always amazes me how they can make such a song and dance about deep blue paint and inch-thick chrome, then attach cheap mild-steel footpegs and ancillaries that rust the first time they're exposed to any weather.

All American vehicles are like this - I was once flying a Cessna 172 aircraft in California and after take-off, the throttle fell off in my hand - but they can't cover the basics before slapping on thick layers of paint because they're impatient. All Americans are impatient, you see, they need to have everything NOW, even if it means cutting every corner imaginable. And so it is with Harleys.

While the Harley is extremely pleasant to ride, it's also a bit so-what in this company. The Triumph out-poses it on a scale of 2:1 while the BMW is infinitely more interesting to look at and to ride, so what one is left with is a mobile sofa that plugs into the retro-conscience of well-heeled riders and takes them and their wives fluffing through the country. Taken in isolation the Harley-Davidson is a wonderful thing, but it's when you start comparing it to other manufacturers it all starts to fall apart a bit. £14,000 for a bike with zero technology and limited use/appeal suddenly looks rather ill.

But - and this is the really brilliant marketing bit - the Harley doesn't care. It knows it's been caught out, it knows it's appalling value for money, but despite all this it's still incredibly cool. James Dean was a shit actor, his squeaky nasal voice and petty posturing amateurish at best. But he remains an icon of American culture, and so it is with the Softail. Shallow, not very well made but undeniably cool and guaranteeing the rider a smug inner glow.

Harley-Davidson Softail Specifications

TYPE - CRUISER
PRODUCTION DATE - 2005
PRICE NEW - £13,695
ENGINE CAPACITY - 1449cc
POWER - 71bhp  
WEIGHT - 340kg
FUEL CAPACITY - 19L   
TOP SPEED - 112mph

Conclusion

MISSION DE-BRIEF

The roads around Bovington in Dorset are a mix of fast flowing A-roads, tiny high-banked B-roads and the M27 and A303 for getting there. For getting there in a hurry and gathering intel, the BMW is hard to beat. The K1200R offers a pleasing mix of quirky style and crazy engine, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea but then not appealling to everybody is always a good thing with motorcycling.

Toying needlessly with the electronic suspension control and cycling through the display options (most useful gadget in modern motorcycling: the available fuel range left) helps wile away motorway miles. I really like the way this bike looks, it's proper Tron from some angles, and its nice to have to rev the hell out of a BMW.

The Harley is just that - a Harley. On the tiny B-roads it was great for duffing about on, you notice things you'd never do on the other two as you've got the time to swivel your head and take in the sights. You stand out a mile on this bike and people will either love you or shoot you down for being a posing bastard. It's like a rose-tinted view of the world but it only works when the weather is sunny. Which is what so limits the use of the Softail in this country.

The Rocket III is the ultimate expression of heavy metal. It's loud, brash and completely in your face and if you crashed into a car on this thing, the car would come off worse. Like Mr T in a T-55 it's impossible to ignore, great fun to ride and if you can swing a test-ride, will restore your faith in the darker side of motorcycling.  You could take on a whole squadron of BMWs head-on with this thing, knock them all into the bushes and come out unscathed.  It's taken 67 years, but finally we make the best tanks...