Brash but Brilliant: Honda F6B vs Harley Road Glide Special vs Victory Cross Country

Published: 19 December 2014

Honda’s new F6B has a crack at Harley’s mad-looking Road Glide Special and Victory’s hugely capable Cross Country

There’s no doubt the Honda is different. Parked next to the two conventionally-styled baggers the new flat-six powered F6B (which stands, conveniently, for Flat 6 Bagger) looks almost out of place. Baggers are traditionally chopped down V-twin tourers with twin bags with a smaller screen, less bodywork and fewer bells and whistles. This makes them cheaper and lighter, with Harley’s Road Glide leading the market.

That said, the F6B does adhere to the theme, just in its own way. The new F6B is simply a stripped-down Goldwing, with less bodywork, a cut-down screen and chimes in five grand cheaper and 36kg lighter than its sibling. 

I actually like the ‘friendly Panda’ expression from the front. Trouble is, the base Goldwing, dating back to 2001, now feels a little dated. The switchgear feels late ’90s, there’s no cruise control, no built-in sat-nav, no heated grips and the display is bland. Don’t forget: the Honda is the most expensive here, £4000 more than the Victory.

On spec alone the Harley actually has the Honda beat, and I never thought I’d say that. In recent years Harley have really pulled their socks up. One of the first results of that is the new Road Glide Special which comes with a built-in 6.5in, touchscreen sat-nav which also controls the audio system. What’s more, the modern display works in harmony with the traditional clocks and styling.

There are improvements elsewhere, too. For example, the top-loading panniers are easy to operate and very user friendly. The spec on the Victory is also impressive, especially when you consider the very reasonable price.

But although the F6B’s spec can’t match that of the Harley, the styling is not to everyone’s taste and the controls more Amstrad than iPad. Fire-up the flat-six and those niggles are quickly forgotten. The Honda engine is something else: super-smooth, glorious- sounding and packing so much torque you feel it could pull down buildings.  

Just as impressive are the Honda’s handling and brakes. Making a sportsbike handle is easy, but getting 365kg to stop and steer is one of the greatest magic tricks since David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear. I was jumping on the Honda’s linked, ABS brakes later and later (even in the wet) and they were shockingly good.

Such a big bike shouldn’t handle this well. Despite the Honda’s physical size all of its weight is low down so you almost get a pendulum effect as you throw it between turns. 

If this test had taken place five years ago, the Honda and Victory would have destroyed the Harley. But as mentioned previously, Harley have upped their game. For example, the brakes inspire confidence, while the ABS is sensitive and reacts quickly.

What’s more, the updated six-speed, 1690cc Milwaukee V-twin now has some go about it and will actually rev with actual urgency. The improved suspension keeps everything under control, too. You no longer get pitched out of the seat on every bump and the forks don’t dive like a scared toddler at Halloween. Ground clearance isn’t a total nightmare, either, although the footboards do soon start to drag.

The Victory, meanwhile, is the sportiest here. Its big V-twin doesn’t mind revving and has some character, despite the weedy sound from the standard exhausts. It feels sporty and is also the lightest of the bunch, which means it’s not the long, wallowing barge it might appear. Ground clearance is OK and the strange wheel sizes appear to work. Oddly the Victory works surprisingly well on fast open roads, but isn’t so great at long-distance touring.

On paper, the Victory should be a great tourer. It has a very comfortable riding position, plush seat and the footboards seem to be in the correct position, there’s cruise control and an easy-to-use music system. But the screen is awful and causes masses of turbulence to the extent that none of our testers wanted to ride it at speed. At 70mph it’s bearable, but noticeable. Above that it gets worse. Above 90mph it’s so bad it’s hard to see.

The F6B, of course, doesn’t really have a screen, but it’s still preferable to the Victory at motorway speeds. Your head takes some of the windblast, but it’s still fine for 80mph touring. The rest of your body is wrapped up in the Honda’s huge bodywork which is so good it even keeps you dry while passing through showers. The riding position is more conventional with footpegs not boards, and they’re under the rider not somewhere near the front wheel spindle. The F6B just eats motorways miles as the big six cylinder motor purrs along underneath you. The fuel light will come on at around 220 miles but you won’t even realise you’ve been riding that long.

Despite its cut-down looks the Hog’s bodywork actually works, too – in fact it’s the best of the bunch. Yes, you get more wind on your lower legs than with the Honda but the frame-mounted bodywork works well, allowing visor-up touring at 70mph. You can also adjust the air flow through the bodywork to cool you down on summer days.

Being winter, though, I tried the opposite, pushed on and set the cruise control to 90mph. The big Harley didn’t complain at all and was still reasonably comfortable. Peg back the speed a little and  you’ll have enough fuel for 200 miles or slightly more.

If I were to be picky the Harley’s footboards are slightly too far forward with the result that I always ended up leaving my heel resting on the gearchange and the sat-nav is not very intuitive. The Harley also feels heavy at slow speeds, this might be because it carries a lot of its weight higher up.

Instead, although the heaviest of the bunch, the F6B carries its weight really low and hides it well. That said, it could do with reverse gear. The Honda has the highest seat and its more conventional pegs get in the way when you try to paddle it backwards.


Verdict:
There isn’t a lot wrong with the Victory. It’s the cheapest, has easy-to-use controls, high spec, is the sportiest of the bunch and the most aggressive, but I couldn’t live with that screen. The buffeting would drive me crazy.

The Honda is the luxury option with an amazing engine. The brakes are outstanding, considering the bulk, and the handling isn’t bad either. In fact it would be the clear winner if the Harley wasn’t so good.

Finally you can have a Harley that not only looks good, but stops goes and handles and has a high spec, too. It might not be as smooth as the Honda, nor as aggressive as the Victory but it’s the one I’d choose for a long ride and it has bags of style too.

 


Harley Road Glide Special, £19,495

  • Power  86bhp 
  • Torque 102ftlb
  • Engine Air-cooled 1690cc, V-twin. Six gears 
  • Dry weight 385kg
  • Fuel capacity 22.7 litres
  • Seat height 695mm
  • Suspension 41.3mm conventional forks, single rear shock
  • Front brakes 2 x 300mm discs with four-piston calipers. ABS
  • Rear brake 300mm single disc with two-piston caliper.  ABS

Insurance Guide*   

Premium

Excess

25 years old from Hull

 £335.95

 £400

35 years old from London

 £335.95

 £350

45 years old from Edinburgh

 £335.95

 £350

* Quotes taken from MCNcompare.com. . Comprehensive quote based on no claims or convictions. Guide price only and individual circumstances will affect final quote.


Honda GL1800 F6B, £20,339

  • Power 127bhp Torque 123ftlb
  • Engine Liquid-cooled 1822cc, six cylinder, 12v. Six gears 
  • Dry weight 365kg
  • Fuel capacity 25 litres
  • Seat height 725mm
  • Suspension 44mm forks, single rear shock with electronic pre load
  • Front brakes 2 x 296mm discs with three-piston  calipers. Linked ABS
  • Rear brake 326mm single disc with three-piston caliper. linked ABS

Insurance Guide*   

Premium

Excess

25 years old from Hull

 £768.66

 £350

35 years old from London

 £675.25

 £350

45 years old from Edinburgh

 £241.24

 £350

* Quotes taken from MCNcompare.com. Comprehensive quote based on no claims or convictions. Guide price only and individual circumstances will affect final quote.


Victory Cross Country, £15,949

  • Power 97bhp Torque 112ftlb
  • Engine Air-cooled 1731cc, V-twin. Six gears  
  • Dry weight 347kg
  • Fuel capacity 22 litres
  • Seat height 667mm
  • Suspension 43mm conventional forks, single rear shock
  • Front brakes 2 x 300mm discs with 4-piston  calipers.  ABS
  • Rear brake 300mm single disc with two-piston caliper.  ABS

Insurance Guide*   

Premium

Excess

25 years old from Hull

 £335.95

 £400

35 years old from London

 £365.53

 £100

45 years old from Edinburgh

 £185.15

 £350

* Quotes taken from MCNcompare.com. Comprehensive quote based on no claims or convictions. Guide price only and individual circumstances will affect final quote.

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