2018 Indian Motorcycle Roadmaster Elite - How Does It Stack Up To The Competition?
Does It Stand Out Or Blend In To An Already Populated Market?by TJ Hinton, on
Indian Motorcycle is flourishing under the Polaris umbrella and making some serious inroads into the American-style cruiser and touring market; serious enough to begin to pose a threat to the long-uncontested American king; Harley-Davidson. Blasphemy you say? Maybe not so much considering Indian’s phoenix-like rise from its own ashes with an ever-expanding product lineup and unquestioned dominance on the flat track. Seriously folks, it’s shaping up to be a great year to be an Indian fan so far, but a lot of the current buzz is all about the Scout that is sort of in a class all by itself. Indian’s premier, top-of-the-line touring sled— the Roadmaster Elite— isn’t quite as niche, and it jumps right into the deep end against some fairly established competition. Yeah, I’m talking about industry heavies such as H-D, BMW, Yamaha, and Kawasaki. There are more to be sure, but the aforementioned are going to be the main players in our competition today as I stack my picks against Indian’s flagship comfort-mobile. Harley’s CVO Limited joins the Kawi Vulcan 1700 Voyager, Beemer’s K 1600 GTL and the all-new Star Venture in the struggle to garner that top-shelf clientele; the same bracket Indian targeted with the “Elite.” And with that, the ring girls are done prancing in a circle, the stools have been pulled out of the corners and the ref is in place. Ding Ding
Continue reading for more on the Roadmaster Elite and its competition.
2018 Indian Motorcycle Roadmaster Elite - How Does It Stack Up To The Competition?
Right off the bat I have to point out that the Elite looks a whole lot like any of a number of Harley’s touring models in the last 20 years or so. Honestly, the Motor Company defined the American touring sector as the only active U.S. manufacturer for large periods of time, so all “American-style” cruisers have a tendency to favor the king in one way or another. The Elite certainly falls closest to that style, but the uniquely-curved front fairing quickly sets it apart from Harley’s batwing, and the chrome trim on said fairing pushes it even further away for a look all its own.
An almost car hood-like entry on the Venture gives it a unique look, and its beefy lower fairings match the leg protection offered by both Harley and Indian; an area BMW minimizes due to the sport-tour configuration, and one that Kawi neglects entirely. As for the BMW, yeah, it does have a different overall shape, but if a buyer is motivated primarily by features, Beemer offers a package that covers many of the same bases in its GTL. The Voyager seems to have all the basic features in the right places, but the overall panache just seems a little sophomoric compared to the sophisticated and mature Roadmaster Elite, and while the Venture is a little better in that department, it can’t touch the sex-on-wheels of the Indian and Harley products.
As for the paint, well, H-D is still king in my opinion, but Indian recognized early on that it had to step up its paint game to compete, and I have to admit whoever does the paint for Indian has his or her shit together. The factory goes for broke with hand-laid graphics, 23-karat gold trim — fabulous as far as it goes — but you’d better like the two-tone Cobalt Candy over Black Crystal scheme, ’cause that’s all that Indian has available this year. Harley’s CVO Limited comes in four, two-tone schemes while the Star Venture can be had in red or black, and the rest just come in black, so Indian’s paint is top-notch, if a bit limited in variety. I’m not sure slapping some 23k gold accents on it brings it any closer to the King of Paint.
As for the rest of the bike, the hard bags, large pillion seats and tour-packs with backrests are constants across the board for similar looks and features. Sound systems also make an appearance on all five, but the relatively budget-priced Voyager comes with a simple radio receiver/intercom setup that can’t touch the Indian’s Ride-Command feature, and Beemer’s audio and navigation suite is optional equipment that doesn’t even make it onto the base model. Yamaha makes a solid effort with a sound system plus GPS and SiriusXM receiver, but Harley is alone in its ability to compete on equal footing with Indian’s infotainment rig that brings an industry-leading, seven-inch, touchscreen display to the table with all pertinent metrics displayed with a pinch-to-zoom feature that makes navigation a breeze, even with gloves. A receiver grabs AM/FM and NOAA Weather Radio signals with a Bluetooth and USB input for your virtual jukebox to round out your entertainment options.
In the end, I think the Roadmaster and Limited are the best looking rides, and I realize that aesthetics are subjective but I could really do without the chrome on the Indian’s fairing. Yeah, it’s a small detail, but as Frasier Crane put it, “What’s the one thing better than an exquisite meal? An exquisite meal with one tiny flaw we can pick at all night.” So yeah, exquisite look with, in my opinion, one tiny flaw.
The Roadmaster Elite’s suspension is sadly typical for American bikes as well as large tourers in general. An air-adjustable monoshock buoys the rear with the typical stepless preload adjustment and cushy ride, but the 46 mm front forks come sans adjustment. The Vulcan and Venture both run similar setups, and the Limited is only a little bit better with the Dual Bending Valve front forks that deliver a non-adjustable, if plusher-than-vanilla ride. BMW spanks them all with its Dynamic Electronically Controlled Suspension feature that comes standard and delivers the best ride of the lot, by far. For whatever reason, American manufacturers and builders of American-style tourbikes around the world have been slow to adopt adjustable/electronic suspension, and Indian is no exception so it has some room for improvement there.
As far as the anchors go, the Roadmaster Elite goes big with dual, 300 mm discs up front with another in back and ABS support for the four-pot front binders and twin-pot rear. All that sounds pretty standard, but while it does improve safety, the system seems to fall short. Harley, Yamaha and Kawasaki all offer some sort of combined-braking feature that balances the braking pressures from front to back for safer, more stable operation, but I see no such feature attached to the Elite; another area where Indian has some room for improvement.
Given that these bikes are all intended to be ridden for long distances, I consider the suspension to be a big contributor to a bike’s long-term comfort. To be fair, big tour bikes usually have a fairly plush ride simply by virtue of their mass, but there’s plush, and there’s plush. Indian makes up for the loss of one type of comfort with the addition of another; heated seats and grips keep rider and passenger warm, at least at the points of contact, but so do all the other makers in this bit. All except for the Vulcan, so Indian doesn’t pull ahead with the heated bits, but does manage to hang with the big dogs at the top.
Indian has a real gem on its hands with its Thunder Stroke 111 power plant that, as the devilishly-ingenious name suggests, displaces a whopping 111 cubic-inches (1,811 cc). This is the first engine produced by the newly-revamped brand and is thoroughly modern (for a pushrod engine), but the design is very nostalgic with the parallel pushrod tubes and cooling-finned rocker boxes that make a direct connection to the old flathead/sidevalve mills from back in the day.
As cool as it looks, it’s the performance that really makes this lump so attractive. V-twins, by their nature, are always torquey, and the Thunder Stroke is no exception with a crushing 119 pound-feet of grunt at a low 3,000 rpm. Yeah, at almost a half-ton wet (953 pounds to be exact), it’s got its work cut out for it, but if you grab a fistful of throttle you’re going to feel it, and that’s a fact.
Harley ekes out a win here with its new, 114-inch Milwaukee-Eight lump that cranks out a staggering 124 pounds o’ grunt at 3,250 rpm, and Beemer takes it even further (gotta love those Bavarians, they’re so meticulous) with 129 pound-feet from its six-banger mill. Yamaha falls in the middle with 126 pound-feet at 2,750 rpm from its 1,854 cc (113 cubic-inch) plant and the 1,700 cc Vulcan comes in last with 107.6 pounds o’ twist. Even though Indian falls near the bottom of this column, I would submit that anything over 100 pounds of torque is good enough for this genre. It’s a tour bike, not a race bike, and if you’re that concerned with speed, perhaps you’re looking at the wrong kind of bike. Just sayin’...
One glaring oversight with the Roadmaster is the total lack of engine fandanglery; specifically the features we are becoming used to seeing around like traction control, variable power-delivery modes and such like. Yamaha gets it, and runs a ride-by-wire throttle that enables both types of systems. Beemer does too, and once again goes to the top shelf with all of the above plus a clutchless-shift feature and electric reverse. Kawi keeps it vanilla, and so does Harley (no surprise there, am I right?), so Indian isn’t alone in the low-tech corner, but once again it shows where the factory could pick up its game a bit. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that if Indian were to develop or buy a traction control system, and adopt some adjustable front suspension, it could really put the hurt on longtime rival H-D.
Indian must have union labor or something, ’cause its prices are as overly-proud as Harley’s. The Roadmaster Elite rolls for $36,999, a price that beats only the $40,999 CVO Limited. Beemer shows everyone up with the absolute most bells and whistles on its K 1600 GTL while only scratching the surface of the 30 K mark at $30,395. The Star Venture can be had for $24,999-to-$26,999 depending on color choice, and Kawasaki brings up the rear with the lowest price at $17,499, but is also the most basic, so you gets what you pays for (sic).
“In the end, no one bike has everything. Yeah, Beemer comes close, but it looks like a crotch rocket with bags, and has none of the charm associated with American machines. Zero. Indian falls short in some of the top-shelf gadgetry, but it’s pure sex on wheels by comparison to the GTL. For me, it’s a close race between H-D and Indian, but that’s to be expected, ’cause who else could possibly build a true American-style ride, right? The factory needs to look at the suspension and engine electronics, and someone needs to find more paint, but beyond that there’s nothing wrong with the bike. As steeped in Harley experience as I am, if I had the cash, I’d seriously consider jumping the fence for the Elite. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
My wife and fellow motorcycle writer, Allyn Hinton, says, "The Roadmaster Elite is a beautiful bike, there’s no doubt about it. I’m not sure how I feel about the gold in the paint job. That seems like an overly posh gesture when other aspects of the bike aren’t quite there, but as my husband said...one tiny flaw at which I can pick to my heart’s content. As a top-of-the-line tourer, it is a capable ride."
|Engine Type:||Thunder Stroke® 111|
|Displacement:||111 cu in (1811 cc)|
|Bore x Stroke:||3.976 in x 4.449 in (101 mm x 113 mm)|
|Electronic Fuel Injection System:||Closed loop fuel injection / 54 mm bore|
|Primary Drive:||Gear Drive Wet Clutch|
|Drive/Driven Clutch:||Wet, Multi-Plate|
|Final Drive:||2.2 : 1|
|Peak Torque:||119 ft-lbs (161.6 N m)|
|Peak Torque RPM:||3000 rpm|
|Gear Ratio (Overall):|
|1st:||9.403 : 1|
|2nd:||6.411 : 1|
|3rd:||4.763 : 1|
|4th:||3.796 : 1|
|5th:||3.243 : 1|
|6th:||2.789 : 1|
|Suspension: Front - Type/Travel:||Telescopic Fork / 4.7 in (119 mm) - Cartridge Type|
|Front Fork Tube Diameter:||46 mm|
|Suspension: Rear - Type/Travel:||Single Shock w/Air adjust / 4.5 in (114 mm)|
|Brakes/Front:||Dual / 300mm Floating Rotor / 4 Piston Caliper|
|Brakes/Rear:||Single / 300mm Floating Rotor / 2 Piston Caliper|
|Wheels/Front:\Cast 16 in x 3.5 in|
|Wheels/Rear:||Cast 16 in x 5 in|
|Tires/Front:||Dunlop® Elite 3 130/90B16 73H|
|Tires/Rear:||Dunlop® Elite 3 Multi-Compound 180/60R16 80H|
|Exhaust:||Split Dual Exhaust w/ Cross-over|
|Wheelbase:||65.7 in (1668 mm)|
|Seat Height:||26.5 in (673.1 mm)|
|Ground Clearance:||5.5 in (140 mm)|
|Overall Height:||58.7 in (1491 mm)|
|Overall Length:||105.4 in (2676 mm)|
|Overall Width:||39.4 in (1000 mm)|
|Trail:||5.9 in (150.0 mm)|
|Fuel Capacity:||5.5 gal (20.8 l)|
|GVWR:||1385 lbs (628 kg)|
|Weight (Empty Tank / Full of Fuel):||921 lbs / 953 lbs (418 kg /433 kg)|
|Standard Equipment:||ABS; Cast Aluminum Frame with Integrated Air-Box; Cruise Control; Highway Bar; Keyless Ignition; Horizon Power Shield; Genuine Leather Seats; Remote Locking Hard Saddle Bags; Remote Locking Trunk; Tire Pressure Monitoring; 300 Watt Stereo with AM/FM, Bluetooth, USB, Smartphone Compatible Input, and Weatherband; Heated Rider & Passenger Seats; Heated Grips; Adjustable Passenger Floorboards; 36.2 Gallons of Storage.|
|Lights:||Pathfinder LED Lights (headlight, driving lights, turn signals, tail light trunk, tail light, trunk interior light, and headdress fender light.)|
|Gauges:||Fairing mounted instrument cluster featuring analog speedometer and tachometer, with fuel gauge, range, odometer and current gear. 15 LED telltale indicators; cruise control enabled, cruise control set,neutral, high beam, turn signal, ABS, check engine, low tire pressure, battery, low fuel, security system, low engine oil pressure and MHP or km/h unit designation|
|Ride Command®:||7" Indian Touchscreen including realtime clock; ambient air temperature; heading; audio information display; vehicle trouble code readout; Vehicle Status (tire pressure, voltage, engine hours, oil change); Vehicle Info (speed, fuel range, RPM, gear position); Dual Trip Meters (fuel range, miles, average fuel economy, instantaneous fuel economy time, average speed); Ride Data (heading, moving time, stop time, altitude, altitude change); Bluetooth connectivity for phone and headset; Map/Navigation|
|Color / Graphics:||Cobalt Candy over Black Crystal w/23K Gold Trim|
Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Read our full review on the Harley-Davidson CVO Limited.
Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Voyager
Read our full review on the Kawaski Vulcan 1700 Voyager.
BMW K 1600 GTL
Read our full review on the BMW K 1600 GTL.
Yamaha Star Venture
Read our full review on the Yamaha Star Venture.