Comfort and style has never been this accessible, right from the single-seat duo of the Triumph Bonneville Bobber and Indian Scout Sixty to the antithesis of café racers, the Harley-Davidson Roadster. But which is the coolest of the lot?
In the famous words of Carl Sandburg, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” Sure, I’m quoting Sandburg without context, but it’s not just to romanticise my ride with the three most gorgeous retro bikes in the country. No, I’m simply pointing out the fact that, despite the mercury shooting up to 43-degrees Celsius, these metal steeds managed to lure me out in the heat without a care in the world. I felt like a child – out, enjoying a ride on a bike (or three), making the most of my freedom. The only difference being, however, that the Triumph Bonneville Bobber, Harley-Davidson Roadster and Indian Scout Sixty are just a tad bit more than your ordinary set of two-wheelers. When it comes to making a statement, all three manage to do so effortlessly – so I couldn’t resist lining them up against each other to find out which is the coolest of them all…
The ultimate poser
Let’s kick-start this with the showstopper, the Triumph Bonneville Bobber, which harks back to the image of Steve McQueen (The Great Escape) and James Dean (Rebel Without A Cause) – and it just doesn’t get cooler than that. The 50s’ was all about class and style, and the Bobber certainly helps you achieve instant cult status as you immediately find yourself becoming the target of prying eyes. The first question that was invariably asked was where’s the pillion seat? I had to disappoint many by explaining that this is a single-seat bike, which doesn’t like entertaining any pile-ons – I mean pillions! With that bit of information slowly sinking in, the next question was how much is the Bobber for? Rs. 9.09 lakh! What? For a bike with just one seat? I just nodded silently, and quickly fired up the 1,200cc motor before I could be bombarded with another barrage of questions. No offence, but time is precious and I didn’t have any more to waste on a Q&A session. Getting back to the Bobber, the exhaust played a beautiful deep note with full attitude, politely letting our inquisitive friends know that it’s time for us to say goodbye. I gently twisted the throttle, and the Bobber responded instantly – but in good manner, and without making me feel unsettled. The 1,200cc is the same one you’ll find on the Bonneville T120, but in the Bobber’s case Triumph decided to give it more torque. Like the T120, it also comes with a ride-by-wire system and two riding modes – Rain and Road. As the sun was beating down on us and the temperatures were soaring, we stuck to Road mode.
Even though the Bobber is part of the Bonneville family, it has a brand new frame, chassis, suspension set-up and thick meaty tyres. When it comes to the retro design, Triumph got it spot on, but its unique feature is its adjustable single seat, which can be moved ‘up and forward’ or ‘down and back.’ This made it very practical, as even a 5-foot-9-inch rider, like yours truly, could sit back and ride into the sunset with ease. The riding position is quite upright, making it easy to negotiate city traffic. It also handles like a breeze, but be aware of the fact that it’s not a light bike! As its centre of gravity is low, one has to ride carefully over speed breakers – and the foot pegs scrape if you lean too much into corners.
Honestly, it is very difficult to find flaws with the Bobber – but we did have two complaints. The rear mono shock tucked underneath the seat is very stiff and your body ends up taking a pounding even when it goes through potholes in the road. My advice is to stick to smooth tarmac. The other issue I had with it was in regard to the stylish mirrors. No matter what we tried, the mirrors refused to provide a clear view of the traffic behind us. Apart from these small niggles though, the Bobber’s engine performance is flawless, build quality is the best in the segment, and, since I don’t care much for pillion riders, I simply love this single-seater concept. It is genuinely a piece of retro art.
Cloak of darkness
Believe it or not, Harley-Davidson has produced some Sportster bikes that were actually ideal for racing – like the American stunt performer Evel Knievel’s trusty XR-750 and XR1200. Yes, there is a world beyond the iconic ‘potato, potato, potato’ sound for the boys from Milwaukee. But, even though the XR1200 was the fastest Sportster around its time, it sadly failed to create even a ripple. Perhaps it came before its time. The good news is that Harley-Davidson has decided to rejuvenate the Sportster line-up with this evil looking Roadster. It comes across as a hooligan who’s all set to pulverise any puny café racers. The all-black five-spoke cast wheels make the Roadster look very aggressive and its riding stance only complements this DNA with low handlebars and mid-controls. The seating position does take some getting used to, as I initially felt I was being forced to stretch forward because of the low handlebars. The other problem that I faced with the mid-controls is that the foot pegs are placed where you would put your feet down – so, as a painful reminder, your shins tend to hit the pegs. The saddle is a bit of an oddball. Even though it manages to provide decent lower back support, I felt like I was sitting on a flat bench. And don’t even get me started on the slippery slope that is the seat for the pillion. Let’s just say that there’s a very good chance that the pillion would fly off the bike if you accelerate hard. But once I finally decided to take this road bully for a spin, to my surprise, I found that it was a lot nimbler than the entire Harley-Davidson Sportster line-up put together. That said, compared to Triumph’s 1,200cc motor, the Harley’s 1.2-litre Evolution engine did feel lazy. Unfortunately, you do have to work the gears – and when you want to keep pace with the Bobber you do have to downshift fairly liberally.
But, while the aggressive stance may not be ideal for our slow start-stop traffic, the Roadster makes up for this with its ride quality and impressive ground clearance. The 43mm inverted forks now provide a lot more travel than the Forty-Eight, therefore cushioning the bumps in the road rather than crashing into them. That said, even though the rear shocks are adjustable, they were still on the stiffer side.
The Roadster is the most powerful Sportster in the Harley line-up, as the 1,202cc motor pumps out an impressive 96Nm of torque – though we do wish it were liquid-cooled rather than air-cooled as the heat from the motor can be quite unpleasant. What surprised me was that the Roadster is actually a pretty decent handler once you get used to the weight. It actually lets you lean into curves without worrying about scraping the foot pegs. But, to be sure, you do need to indulge in a fair amount of muscle work to control this stout steed.
The Indian Scout has been one of our favourite retro bikes. Be it power, comfort, riding position or looks, this “little” Indian scores big in all these categories. It’s so gorgeous that even a die-hard four-wheel fan like Dhruv was tempted to take it for a short ride during our anniversary shoot late last year. Ever since Indian made its return to the world stage, their build quality has been immaculate – and this includes the Scout.
The Indian you see here is the Scout Sixty, which is powered by a 983cc engine – not the 1,131cc unit. Therefore, there’s a massive detune in power from 100bhp to 78bhp. At least on paper, then, this may sound like a damp squib – but the Scout Sixty is quite the opposite. Not only is it quick off the mark, but power delivery is linear as well. And while it does sprint like a hare, when you try and out-drag the Bobber, you find that the Union Jack manages to outshine its Stars and Stripes counterpart. Apart from the new engine, the Scout Sixty is also mated to a new 5-speed transmission. What is impressive about the 983cc though, is its pulling power at low rpm.
Being a single-seater, like the Bobber, the Scout also offers a very comfortable riding stance. In reality, it’s even better than the Triumph, as it has a more traditional cruiser-like riding position with both your arms and legs stretched forward. Therefore, it feels like you’re lounging on an easy chair. For riders of over 6-feet tall, the stance can be a bit cramped though. While the saddle is very comfortable and supportive, it can’t be adjusted like the Bobber. But unlike the Triumph, a pillion seat can be attached to the Scout as an optional feature.
Meanwhile, the Scout continues to impress with its handling capabilities. And don’t be fooled by the cruiser style, it can take on corners like nobody’s business. In fact, it gives you a lot of confidence to lean into bends. The only drawback is that it is a fairly low bike, so it scrapes its foot pegs quite easily. And even though the suspension set-up is stiff, the ride isn’t too compromised like the Bobber.
The Harley-Davidson Roadster has a lot of things going for it, like its unique looks, dual front disc brakes and even its handling. And when it comes to power, it doesn’t shy away from a challenge, but the Bobber and Scout are faster and more refined. And if we talk about comfort, the Harley’s saddle isn’t the first one you’d make a beeline for. It’s great to see H-D bringing back some spunk in the Sportster portfolio, but at Rs. 9.85 lakh, there are other options that are better built – unless, of course, you’re a die-hard Harley fan, in which case the Roadster will please you to no end.
The Indian Scout is all class and quality. The 983cc might be the smallest powerplant here, but its output even surpasses the 1,200cc Bobber. And when it comes to refinement, the Scout is second to none. Sure, one can feel some vibrations when the rev needle goes past 1,500rpm, but it’s nowhere near as disconcerting as the Roadster – which could even shake your belief in Harley-Davidson. But, as a niche motorcycle brand, the Scout Sixty is the most expensive of this trio at Rs. 12.75 lakh.
Which brings me to the star of the show – when it comes to making a statement, not much can match the Triumph Bobber. The 76bhp 1,200cc motor is extremely refined and responsive – it simply feels state-of-the-art. The single-seat is adjustable, so your riding stance is never compromised. The only downside is the stiff rear suspension – not to mention the fact, of course, that you’ll have to leave your best buddy and/or your better half at home if you pick the Bobber. But it’s so gorgeous that you could forgive it virtually anything. And it’s even relatively affordable at Rs. 9.09 lakh, so it’s proving very difficult for me to hold back the urge of heading straight for the nearest Triumph showroom with chequebook in hand. Who needs those pesky pillions anyway?
- Triumph Bonneville Bobber
- Harley-Davidson Roadster
- Indian Scout-Sixty
Power: 76bhp @ 6,100rpm
Torque: 106Nm @ 4,000rpm
Price: Rs. 9.09 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
Torque: 96Nm @ 4,000rpm
Price: Rs. 9.85 lakh (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
Power: 78bhp @ 7,300rpm
Torque: 88Nm @ 5,800rpm
Price: Rs. `12.75 lakh (Ex-showroom, Mumbai)