We gave the 2008 Victory Vision the nod in our battle of American V-Twin luxury-touring giants based on its better handling at speed, a more soulful engine, and better aerodynamics that provide more rider protection and also improve efficiency.
Which leads us to our walk around of the two bikes. With its stunning copper pearl and vivid black paint and special 105th anniversary trim, the Ultra Classic Electra Glide is a showcase of more than a century of motorcycle development. The copper pearl-flaked paint glistens in the sun, the chrome air cleaner and timer cover inserts are high polish and have 105th anniversary badging, the tank cloisonne has a special copper H-D Bar & Shield logo and the bike comes with a serialized plaque stamped with the motorcycle's production number. Chrome is much more prevalent than on the heavily-faired Vision and is complemented by the high-quality black leather seat. Harley strives to make its riders feel special. Riding the Ultra Classic achieves this goal.
The Midnight Cherry paint on the Vision also has that deep luster to it that pops when it catches the sun just right. The bike is seamless, with no unsightly fasteners, hinges or latches visible. The smooth, sculpted design is both bold and elegant. And while crash protection on the Ultra Classic would require some aftermarket crash bars, the Victory engineers have neatly integrated the Vision's anti-tipover struts into the design of the bike. The design is not only ingenious, but works as prescribed after one inadvertent test during the photo shoot. But even with its avante-garde aesthetic quality, the fit and finish of Victory's first venture into the luxury-touring segment isn't quite the same quality of the polished Ultra Classic. Point, Harley-Davidson.
Looking at the cockpit design, the Vision's LCD dash-center display has trip-computer functions, a big digital gear indicator and the dials are clustered tight, making a quick speed check easy. The instrumentation is very hi-tech looking, usable and legible. At night, the Vision puts on a show, with violet-inidgo backlighting on the instruments and light up Victory badges on its sides. It also has all the techie i-goodies we already mentioned to go along with a booming four-speaker stereo system. The Vision Tour model we had included heated grips, which made riding after the sun went down more bearable. But our favorite button to push was its electronically-adjustable windscreen. I understand that the fork-mounted 'Bat-Wing' fairing is immediately identified with the Milwaukee manufacturer. But it doesn't offer near the protection from wind buffeting as the Vision's windscreen, earning another point for Victory.
The gauges in the cockpit of the Harley-Davidson are more spread out than those on the Vision and require riders to take their eyes off the road for a second. The electronic tach and speedo function just fine, but the dial gauges feel a little antiquated in contrast to the slick Harmon Kardon system that sits in the middle of the cockpit. The 80-watt HK Advanced Audio System with handle-mounted volume controls sounds fantastic and was fairly easy to operate, even with gloved fingers. Instead of XM satellite, Harley opted for something a little more useful in emergencies, a CB radio. And while the chrome control housing of the Vision hangs down garishly from the handlebars, the black control housings of the Ultra Classic are integrated better into the design of the handlebars, but surprisingly were harder to use when it came time to put it in cruise control (which both bikes had).
While the Vision doesn't match the Ultra Classic's low-speed maneuverability, it felt much more stable at speed through the curvy stuff.
One last beef to air concerns the Ultra Classic's kick stand. For something that is responsible for a $20K+ investment, it's very sketchy considering it's supporting over 800 lbs. We were constantly double and triple checking ourselves to make sure the bike was stabilized. And unless you're on a flat surface, it doesn't swing out easily either.
Which brings us to the X-factor, the intangibles of assessment. Things like modern-styling on an American V-Twin luxury-touring bike. Love it or hate, the Vision demands attention. And it got it, wherever we went. From the business man sending pictures of the bike on his camera phone to husbands poking wives in cars as we passed by, the Vision is a real head-turner. This was even in L.A., where Bugattis are commuter cars. The Ultra Classic just didn't garner the same reaction. People love the Harley's classic styling, but it's nothing that they haven't seen before.
So who do we declare the winner of Motorcycle USA's first comparo of 2008? The tried and true 2008 Ultra Classic Electra Glide finished as the easiest bike to maneuver at low speed and scored high for having the better brakes. It did score high for fit and finish, but continues to vibrate hard at idle. And while its good going slow, the Ultra Classic didn't compare to the Vision's handling at speed. The way it transmitted imperfections in the road to the driver wasn't enjoyable, and the clunky tranny can become tiresome. And then there's that kickstand.
The Vision required a lot more effort to handle at low speed but kicked ass when we were rolling. The brakes still need further development, especially when you're cranking out the horsepower and torque numbers of the Vision. In the engine department, the Vision wins, hands down, especially considering its getting the same gas mileage as the Ultra Classic while providing so much extra power. The bike's aerodynamics and level of protection it offers riders equals the smooth gliding Honda ST1300 that I recently rode during our Sport-Touring Shootout. We did dig the hi-tech goodies on the Vision, and would recommend spending the extra dough for the GPS-equipped version.
The final piece of the puzzle is the sticker price. The MSRP on the 105th Anniversary Edition of the Ultra Classic is $23,270. The Victory Vision Premium package, the one with the heated grips and all the extra comfort bells and whistles, stickers for $21,499. On the model we had, factor in an extra $599 for the "Stage I" exhaust.
Both bikes excelled in areas while lacking in others. But some areas are given more weight. Horsepower and torque rank high. So does handling at speed, since these bikes are built for long hours on open roads. They're not built to be stop-and-go commuters. We also like having the maximum amount of shelter that can be offered against the unforgiving elements. In the end, there can be only one. And in this comparo, to Victory go the spoils.