The Wild One may have brought fame to Hollister, California, but it was the biker flick The Wild Angels that put Mecca on the map. You’ve heard of it, right? Dusty agricultural town in Southern California? Lots of taco stands and liquor stores; snarling feral dogs and freight trains that don’t slow down?
Didn’t think so. But it was the town that began Peter Fonda’s outlaw-biker-movie bender, his first turn in the saddle as a storybook Hells Angel member sniffing for boobs and booze-fueled brawls years before he and Hopper became Easy Rider. In The Wild Angels, Fonda and his gang of villainous bikers ride to Mecca, to recover a member’s stolen chopper. Chaos ensues.
When we rode our modern-day chopperesque cruisers into Mecca 40-some years later, the only chaos involved a beergarita spill at the cantina. But we did turn a lot of heads, mostly because the bikes we were riding create a stir without even trying. Choppers and their modern-day reiterations are primarily intended to make an impression, right? They’re about a feeling.
A stance. Style.
Only three large-displacement bikes in today’s market vie for top chopper: the Star Raider, Victory Jackpot and Harley-Davidson Breakout. All are long, lean, mean, as required. The Raider came along first, in 2008. Big engine from the Roadliner, very performance-inspired. The Victory next, in 2009, during the company’s fat-tire phase. And just last year, Harley broke out the Gasser drag era-inspired Breakout.
We could say the Star’s styling is a love/hate thing, but we have yet to find a single person who loves it. The bike is over-embellished to the point of looking garish. Way too many swoops and pointy bits, and bright red paint that draws the eye like hooker nails (there is an extra-cost S version with blue paint and additional chrome, and a black SCL version with a leather seat and braided cables and hoses).
Interestingly, the Raider feels like the bike that should win virtually every performance test in this comparison. But it didn’t. It also sounds the best; throaty and fast. Despite having only five gears, the Star’s transmission is preferable to the Harley and Victory six-speeds for its easy, definitive, quiet shifts. Gear spacing is excellent, so much so that my co-testers never mentioned the missing sixth on the Star. The Breakout’s and Jackpot’s shifts feel industrial: loud and coarse, with the Victory, especially, requiring excessive shift force in the bottom gears.
Our ride to Mecca involved some mountain crossings and winding roads. This is not, of course, the intended proving ground for choppers, and we weren’t expecting much. So, we were giddy about how much fun we had, especially during our turns on the Raider. By all counts, the Star is a terrific cruiser for backroad runs, and even with its lazy 39 degrees of total rake (33 degrees at the head plus a 6-degree yoke angle) and 18-inch, 210-series rear and 21-inch front, testers used words like “nimble,” “stable,” “well-behaved” to describe the Raider’s cornering manners. Best of all, there’s ample cornering clearance, allowing you to really lay it in, and plush-for-the-class suspension (5.1 inches up front, and 3.5 out back) to iron out irregularities.
As expected with that gargantuan 250mm rear tire, the Jackpot needs a little coaxing in and out of corners, though it did offer more lean angle than we expected. Suspension travel numbers are comparable to the Raider’s, but the ride isn’t as plush, especially in the rear. The single 300mm floating rotor with four-piston caliper does only an adequate job slowing that gorgeous, black 21-inch Stingray wheel, while the same-size rear rotor, which uses a two-piston caliper, is prone to lockup with the slightest overuse application. The Raider sports dual 298mm discs up front, and a single 310 on the rear that combine for controllable, balanced stopping power.
Thank you Yamaha, for not knowing how to dumb-down a motorcycle. Oh, but wait, I forgot this isn’t an aptitude test, it’s a beauty contest.
The Harley Breakout looks really good though it doesn’t handle quite as well as the others, making it the short straw for riding in the mountains and canyons where no one could see us. Transitioning through corners smoothly wasn’t easy, with the Harley’s steering, especially at slow speeds, feeling heavier than the others, so much so that one tester likened the front end to an anvil. Cornering clearance is also noticeably limited compared to the other machines, and suspension travel slightly shorter and less compliant. For 2014, the Breakout comes standard with ABS, which is cool, making it the only chopper here to use advanced safety equipment.
All the bikes pump out fun, off-the-line torque, with the Star’s 113 cubic-incher only slightly out-grunting the Victory’s impressive Freedom 106/6, which on the dyno delivers the best top-end punch. The Harley’s Twin Cam 103B feels neutered by comparison. One fine day, Harley will pack all models with something more potent, even if it’s just the new re-cammed, high-output 103, but until then, you have to admire that while the Breakout is the least mechanically gifted machine of the bunch, it was everyone’s favorite bike in this comparison, and therefore, technically, the winner.
That’s right. Sometimes—maybe every time when it comes to choppers—looks can be more important than performance. The Victory is a stunning motorcycle, but there’s something about the sleekness, the perfect jigsaw mating of elements (tank to seat, for example), that make it feel too polished in these edgier stylistic times. Plus, that gigantic tire, wrapped so stylishly in that shiny, skirt-like fender reminds us way too much of Kim Kardashian’s butt.
The Breakout has the badass chopper-slash-drag bike look nailed. The big Gasser wheels, the chopped rear and barely there front fenders, the drag bar, the staggered exhaust, and sculpted seat combine for a sexy, muscular profile. Gorgeous paint and near flawless fit and finish seal the deal.
The only thing that might trump appearance when it comes to choppers is feel. Like, how cool do I feel going down the road. Again, Harley has this dialed. The drag bar is a bit of a reach, but it brings you right into Peter Fonda posture. We were all most comfortable on the Victory with its wide swept-back bar, slightly more neutral footpeg placement and supportive seat, especially at freeway speeds. But again, we were riding to Mecca. On choppers. Feeling pampered isn’t part of that kind of cool.
But then, in this game, cool comes at a cost. The Harley, with standard ABS, is by far the most expensive of the bunch: $18,899 in this Amber Whiskey hue; nearly $3000 more than the Victory and $4000 more than the Star. Ouch. If you like the look, the Jackpot is certainly a great value. And the Raider? That’s one double-bagger of a motorcycle, but it is clearly the most fun to ride.
What would The Wild Angels do? They’d get loaded, of course, steal the Harley and burn the other two.
|Harley-Davidson Breakout||Victory Jackpot||Star Raider|
|DRY WEIGHT||680 lb.||661 lb.||719 lb.|
|WHEELBASE||67.7 in.||66.7 in.||70.7 in.|
|SEAT HEIGHT||26.1 in.||27.5 in.||26.6 in.|
|FUEL MILEAGE||38 mpg||38 mpg||32 mpg|
|0-60 MPH||4.7 sec.||3.7 sec.||3.7 sec.|
|1/4 MILE||13.49 sec. @ 96.64 mph||12.43 sec. @ 104.75 mph||12.49 sec. @ 103.95 mph|
|HORSEPOWER||67.6 hp @ 5,120 rpm||86.7 hp @ 4,980 rpm||84.0 hp @ 4,460 rpm|
|TORQUE||86.8 lb.-ft. @ 2,900 rpm||101.6 lb.-ft. @ 3,010 rpm||109.7 lb.-ft. @ 2,420 rpm|
|TOP SPEED||114 mph||122 mph||116 mph|
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