Heavy Water - Tourers Test

Three middle-aged men in various states of mid-life crisis explore the Lake District on three very silly motorcycles...

We’d chosen the Lake District to test the three biggest and highest-spec touring bikes in creation: the Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide (more a small paragraph than a model name), the Honda Goldwing and Victory Vision. This trip was supposed to be ‘executive’ fun but predictably drenchingly wet weather dampened the enthusiasm somewhat. I did expect the Lakes to be all around us. But not literally.

All are, funnily enough, Made In America. The Harley, of course; the Goldwing is a model made by Honda America in Ohio since 1980. The Victory Vision is made by Polaris Industries, in Minnesota, who have been building bikes for 10 years, stemming from a portfolio of ATVs and snowmobiles.

Other things in common: DFS-style upholstery; banging stereo systems; ridiculous weight; enormous 1500+cc engines (two V-twins and a fl at six); gobsmacking road presence.

The destination was for fun and scenery, the journey there and back a real test of these bikes’ capabilities. James Whitham and his good wife Andrea were coming up from Chesterfield where they collected the Vision, Tony Middlehurst (ex-editor of SuperBike) and Krys and Olivia and I from London. The route is pretty straightforward, up the M6 and turn left at Junction 36. We were halfway there by the time Tony had figured out how to work the Wing’s optional built-in Garmin SatNav.

The Lakes themselves are a playground of twisty roads, steep hills on a constantly changing backdrop of full-on weather. I’d picked a couple of routes to follow. Starting at our stylish hotel, the Waterhead, at Ambleside overlooking Lake Windermere we’d have a go at the Hardknott Pass, then go up to Keswick on A591 and loop around south, west and back to Ambleside via Keswick taking in the Honister Pass - a stunning valley walled with screes and headed by a slate mine. The twisty narrow road follows a gushing narrow river, probably a stream in summer. Or most likely not.

They are the three biggest bikes in Christendom – in size, capacity and personality. They all carry their weight low and once off the mark, even at walking pace are very manageable, especially the Harley which seemed to have the best balance of the three.

They’re also built for two, although we had the Vision Street with us rather than the more comparable Touring which features a topbox and pillion backrest.

For a run down of each of the individual bikes click on the following Victory Vision, Honda Goldwing and Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide. Alternatively continue to the next page for the conclusion

Touring Conclusion

Conclusion

Let’s start with this: they all do the job and are amazing touring bikes. You can’t go wrong with any of them. But there are serious considerations.

Interestingly the same comment was made by nearly all of us – riders and pillions – that of the three, the Harley was the only one that felt like a ‘motorbike’ to ride. From the rider perspective this was down to its connection with its front tyre and the pillion’s connection with the rider. It’s compact and doesn’t feel massive; it rides and steers like a normal bike where the other bikes don’t trouble you too much with anything going on outside the cockpit. It’s relatively manoeuvrable. But only in relation to the Wing and Vision.

In terms of its face fitting on this particular trip, the Harley won again. In such beautiful (if wet) natural surroundings, the bike actually felt like part of it rather than an intrusive shard of metallic technology and abstract design clashing with the rolling hills and natural hues. It’s pof-pof-pof contrasts sharply with the whirrs, whines and thrums of the Wing and its womanly, natural curves a subtle counterpoint to the Vision-from-outer space. Style is subjective, but the Vision pushes that point, trips it up, stamps it into the ground and puts a little bogey on what’s left. A Vision it most certainly is not. Even James Brown, surely the only natural Vision buyer, wouldn’t have chosen one because the panniers aren’t big enough to hold his spare hair and teeth.

You have to consider whether you like to impress in an understated way (Harley) put up with questions and poking fingers every time you stop (GoldWing) or be responsible for triggering epileptic fits among pedestrians every time you stop at traffic lights (Vision). This depends on your personality. In terms of practicality, the Harley out-luggaged the lot. Even with the Touring topbox added to the Vision, it would have come third.

For reliability, well this is more about perception and confidence than anyone’s actual record. I know which one I’d put money on to get there every time, even with all those cylinders. Do I need to say it? The bottom line is, all six of us really enjoyed a couple of days away with our respective rides, each of which performed faultlessly – except Andrea who threw a rod when James told her to pipe down at dinner. The lesson learned was, given enough motorcycle and a top-box full of humour, even the tail end of a hurricane isn’t enough to spoil the experience.

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