Riding Three Cruisers In And Out Of Their Element

Life is slower in the Deep South.  Deep in Georgia’s antebellum country, service people are in no hurry, drivers take their time and syllables are long, drawn out, lazy exercises until town names are unrecognizable from their spelling.  Down here no one is in a rush.

Neither are these three bikes.  If a motorcycle matches it’s environment, then these three middleweight touring cruisers have found a home in the Deep South.  Harley-Davidson’s Nightster Special, Indian’s Scout Rogue and Honda’s Rebel 1100T all have relaxed riding positions, loping motors with torque low in the rpm range and long wheel bases.  All three are water-cooled overhead valve twins ranging from 975cc to 1100 cc with bikini fairings and saddlebags (except the Scout Rogue).  They are lighter, more maneuverable and less intimidating than a full size cruiser with a more sporty vibe but are still meant to meander.  So editor-in-chief Rob Brooks, guest tester Dave Wensveen and I spent three days riding and comparing the trio through Georgia’s historical farm country, through western North Carolina and east Tennessee, riding them as their manufacturers intended in a slow, casual, southern way.  Then we hot lapped them on the famed Tail Of The Dragon.  More on that later.

Three days, hundreds of miles of riding and a couple of million calories as we rode and ate our way through Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Indian’s Scout Rogue is the looker of the group, dripping in matte black steampunk styling with a sprinkle of chrome, a pinch of 1%er with 10” ape hanger bars and a solo seat.  Signature Indian flat slabbed tank and 1133 cc’s worth of v-twin cylinders put the gorgeous engine on full display making this is the bike to drink sweet tea and stare at.  (A note here: Road Dirt tech guru Phil Gauthier’s wife Lisa makes the best sweet tea in Georgia.  I think the third glass gave me diabetes.)

Harley-Davidson’s Nightster Special has two opposite looks.  Right side is the “A” side with its tall, exposed 975 cc v-twin, central air cleaner and no ugly hoses or wiring, but it somehow comes off looking shiny and plasticky, especially compared to the mechanical robustness of the Indian.  Move to the left side of the Harley’s engine and wires and hoses are vomited everywhere.  I suppose all those hoses and wires had to go somewhere.  And that is not even a real gas tank.  It’s faux.  Gas lives under the seat.

At least the Honda is honest, putting things where they belong and blacking them out to hide them in plain sight.  The 1084 cc parallel twin engine stolen from the Africa Twin is not attractive, but it wasn’t meant to be, but at least the Rebel has a real gas tank.  I have never been a fan of the steeply sloped chopper-looking tank of the Rebel line.  It makes the bike look like it is constantly going uphill.  Or like it has been pre-crashed.  Of the three, the Indian easily wins the beauty contest.  It was the bike Dave and I came to Georgia looking forward to riding the most.

Midday caffeine stop at Farmhouse Coffee in Cleveland, Georgia. Unexpectedly, the Honda Rebel 1100T drew the most comments from onlookers.

The Indian announces its cruiser intent with pleasant vibes from the 1133 cc v-twin making 100 hp and 72 ft lbs of torque which easily motivates its 525 lbs.  Clutch feel is smooth and hefty and gear changes with the far forward foot controls click easily.  Indian’s Scout Rogue is simplistic: it has no ride modes, no engine maps, no adjustable levers and a sweeping red needle is your speedometer.  It is simple, pure, elemental cruiser.

Unfortunately, so is the suspension.  Action from the Scout Rogue’s 41mm front is adequate through its 4.7 in of travel, but the ride from the rear is punishing, eventually making it the one bike neither Dave nor I wanted to ride.  With only 2 in of travel from the dual rear shocks every pavement imperfection is felt and sharp edged bumps are sent directly up your spine to your teeth.  Cornering clearance is limited to 29 degrees meaning the Indian grounds out with little effort.  The Indian is a straight line runway model, not a corner carver.

The Indian Scout Rogue in stock livery, Rob’s favorite of the trio. Those cruiser guys…

The Harley is the corner carver of the trio.  The 975 cc Revolution Max motor with its twin counterbalancers make 90 hp but torque is so abundant down low there is little need to rev the dual overhead cam motor to its 8,500 rpm redline to hustle its claimed 462 lb. dry weight.  Clutch action is light and the transmission shifts with nearly zero effort.  Ride modes of Rain, Road and Sport (something the old Sportsters never had) give the engine multiple personalities, but we spent most of our time in Sport mode with it’s immediate throttle response and full power delivery.

Best suspension award belongs to Harley’s Nightster Special and it’s 41 mm Showa dual bending valve fork.  Although with 4.1 in of front fork travel and only 3 in of rear shock travel they are dampened well enough to make every ride smooth.  It is the best suspended and most competent corner carver of the three.

The Harley-Davidson Nightster Special at Rob’s place before we set out. H-D had kitted it out for us with accessory hard bags and a detachable back rest.

Honda’s Rebel 1100T is, ironically, more of a cruiser than the Harley.  The batwing fairing makes a statement and the 1084cc parallel twin yanked from their Africa Twin even has a bit of a loping idle with a few vibes throughout the handlebars.  A Dual Clutch Transmission adds 22 lbs to the Honda raising it’s dry weight to 487 lbs.  No clutch lever or gear lever here, just two small paddles on the left handlebar marked “+” and ““.  If you choose Manual mode on the DCT then tap the buttons up/down for gear changes, or select Automatic and let the bike shift for you, with a Sport, Road, Rain and customizable User mode available as well. Slow speed maneuvers and tight u-turns were easily modulated with a touch of the ride-by-wire throttle.

No one at any time had an issue with parking lot maneuvers.  After hundreds of miles of riding the three of us could not find a downside to Honda’s DCT, except the extra 22 lbs it adds to the Rebel.  However, I welcome the added weight for the joy of the DCT.  If I want to shave 22 lbs off the bike, I will quit eating my way through Georgia.  And North Carolina.  And Tennessee.

Photo op stop on the way to the North Georgia mountains. The Honda had difficult bags. Hard to latch and lock.

Which is what all three of us did as we took this group of bikes and aimed them north to the most unnatural place in the United States to test cruisers- Hwy. 129,  the Tail Of The Dragon.  But to get there, we had to pound out some miles, giving us hours to test each bike’s riding position.

For me, the Indian had the worst setup of the three with feet forward, a thin seat and those 10 inch ape hangers.  My tall frame had an easy time reaching the tall bars but it opened up my chest like a parachute and after half an hour of freeway miles with hands positioned above my heart, my mitts were begging for a rest, which is not possible because unlike the Harley and the Honda, the elemental Indian has no cruise control.  After only 30 minutes of freeway work on the Scout Rogue, I wanted off the bike.

The H-D Nightster Special had the most neutral rider triangle with mid-position foot controls that put your feet directly beneath your knees and a flat reach to the handlebars with risers moving the grips 2 in higher and an inch closer to the rider compared to the standard Nightster.  If you rode a UJM bike of the 70’s or early 80’s, then you know this seating position.  The seat is a bit narrow, but mostly comfortable and wind protection from the headlight fairing is minimal so freeway flier speeds mean you are hanging on against the wind.  With upgraded wind protection you could do some serious miles on this bike.

The Honda Rebel has a wider seat, but its dimensions cramped my 6’ 2” frame.  With its fairly high footpegs my knees were well above the tank cutouts and weight was placed mainly on my tailbone.  All of us appreciated the extra protection of the larger fairing however, which made eating highway miles more comfortable.  Of the three bikes here, high speed interstate travel was easiest on the Honda.

Rolling north into the Southern Appalachians. Rob snapping from the Rebel, Dave enjoying the Nightster, and me up ahead suffering on the Scout.

Blood Mountain is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail and its twisty ascent en route to Tail Of The Dragon gave us our first opportunity to test each bike’s handling and brakes.

On Blood Mountain’s beautifully banked ascent, the Indian was out of its element.  Throttle happy corner entrances sound and feel amazing until the corner arrives, then you realize that the front brake feels like a brick with a stiff pull and little feel.  But brake hard you must because a 29 degree lean angle means any amount of lean scrapes pegs with pretty bits soon to follow.  Right here I apologize to Indian for what little material remains of the peg feelers on the Scout Rogue.  I am not exaggerating when I say I ground them down on every corner.  Every.  Single.  Corner.  The Scout Rogue is a pretty runway model, but it is not an athlete.

Three cruisers prepare to tackle the Dragon. I hope Road Dirt has a budget for peg feelers.

Most Athletic Award goes to the Harley.  It turns in easily, stays planted where it belongs and has way more cornering clearance than the Indian.  A spirited pace puts the Harley in its happy place and grounding down only happens when you light the wick.  Within ten corners of first getting on the Nightster Special I felt confident enough to push, leaving the other bikes behind.

Despite the rakish front end, the Rebel is solid and only lacks a touch of turn-in ease when compared to the Nightster.  A tap on the wide bars tips the bike in easily where it stays planted and it has the best front brakes of the three with the most bite and most feel.  Dave and I, being the sport riders of the group, wanted to be on the Nightster or Rebel when things got twisty.  Both of us avoided the Indian.

So guess who ended up on the Indian when we arrived at the Tail Of The Dragon?  Yours truly.  Deciding to make the best of it, I pushed the Scout Rogue to do things it’s designers never intended on all 318 curves in 11 miles of the legendary road.  I basked in the awesome engine sound and vibes during the few straights then squeezed the brick-ish front brake for all its worth on corner entry and left sparks from the peg feelers in my wake.  Eventually I just lifted my inside leg in corners to allow the footpegs to fold up and get a few more degrees of lean until at one point I passed a sport biker in full leathers, earning me a strange look and an awkward wave.  After a return trip back through the Dragon, the peg feelers were worn to nubs.  And I have no idea where those scrapes on the exhaust came from.

The Nighster Special’s display is the class of the field.  It is bright, non-glare, simple and gives just the right amount of information.  Honda’s display is overwhelming and the numbers look like an 80’s digital alarm clock.  Indian gives you an old school sweeping red speedo dial with a small digital display at the bottom.

Dave raved about the Nightster’s performance on the the Tail Of The Dragon and even compared it to our Honda VFRs, high praise coming form someone who up until this test, had never ridden a cruiser.  Never.  Just sport bikes and sport tourers.  That a lifetime sport bike rider felt that comfortable and fast on the Harley reveals what this bike can do.  Calling this bike a cruiser is wrong.  Harley’s Nightster Special is a sport naked.

Rob was on the Rebel and enjoyed it’s neutral handling.  The Honda has adequate cornering clearance achieved partially by shortening the footpeg width to less than the width of your foot and elevating the brackets.  The outsole of your foot is the first thing to touch down when cornering.  Do they make cruiser boots with toe sliders?

After three days of all types of testing, from freeway flying to city traffic to hot laps on Tail Of The Dragon, some opinions were unanimous.  Others were complete opposites.  Here is what we decided.

On the Tail of the Dragon, Dave had the H-D Nightster, and loved it. Photo by Killboy.com

Indian’s Scout Rogue’s poor cornering clearance and lack of rear suspension travel put it last here for two of us.  The more we switched among the bikes, the more Dave and I rolled our eyes when we had to get on the Indian. And yet Rob loved it, picking the Indian as his runaway fave. The old cruiser in him, I suppose.

I think of Indian Scout Rogue is like the smoking hot cheerleader of the group.  It’s beautiful and you fall in love with it immediately, but spend any length of time with it and you realize it has one purpose: look good in a straight line.  Long term commitment means ignoring it’s shallow personality.  If looking the part is your purpose, the Indian is a stunner.  However, all that beauty disappears the first time you grab the front brake and try to pitch it into a corner.  Rob picked the Indian as his favorite of the three based on emotional connection alone, being used to shaky, low, loping cruisers.  Yet Dave and I easily put it last in this group.

Ted on the Rogue, wishing he’d swapped with Rob before setting out. No more peg feelers. Photo by Killboy.com

The Harley-Davidson Nightster Special was the runner up for Dave and me.  It is the best corner carver, has the best motor and is the most comfortable of the three.  At one point I ran the Harley so deep into corners leaving Tail Of The Dragon that I actually giggled in my helmet.  For longer distances it’s lack of wind protection could be remedied in the aftermarket, but the lack of personality from the motor can not.  It is too smooth, almost soulless, bordering on appliance-like.  Think of your mom’s Singer sewing machine if was a 975 cc v-twin that revved to 8,500 rpm.  The dual counterbalances almost do too good of a job.  What Harley has done is make a motor that is,…well,…Honda-like.

Harley-Davidson’s Nightster Special is like the girl your mom wants you to bring home: functional, useful, good in almost every way but almost too perfect.  It lacks that emotional connection, that certain spark (pun intended) to cement a long term relationship.  Maybe a louder exhaust would help, or a bit more feel from the motor.

“I expected the Harley to be rough around the edges.  It was just the opposite,”  Dave said.  However, I would still ride the Nightster Special all day if it weren’t for one small problem.

Rob rolling the Dragon Tail on the Honda Rebel. He employed and enjoyed the manual paddle shifter in the twistys. Photo by Killboy.com

It’s called the Honda Rebel 1100T.  It handles well, has a reasonably comfortable seating position (if you are under 6’) and a healthy motor with a bit of a lope that feels,…well,…Harley-like.  It has a flat black styling that works and a dual-clutch transmission that made Dave and I not want to get off the bike.  I thought that sport oriented riders like us would lament the DCT, but the transmission is that good and that addictive.  Honda’s Rebel was the bike he and I thumb-wrestled over to ride.

Honda’s Rebel 1100T is like the cute girl next door; the more you spend time together, the better it gets, the more attractive it becomes, the more you find yourself connected to it, the more it grows on you.  It is the girl you never noticed for years, who was under your nose, right there all along, and after spending time with her you can’t bear to do without her.  The Rebel can be the slow cruiser of the south when required, it performs in the curves when the pace picks up, makes all the right vibes doing it and the first time you are stuck in traffic, you will fall in love with the DCT.

A day excursion to Athens, Georgia, home of UGA’s Sanford Stadium, 1000 Faces Coffee, and Cycle World of Athens.

Dave and I were in agreement that in the slower, more relaxed pace of the Deep South, the Honda Rebel 1100T was the bike to be on, while Rob preferred the Indian Scout Rogue in nearly every scenario.  Even if we were forced to ride the 2,500 miles home from Tail Of The Dragon to our Washington State, we would both pick the Rebel 1100T, fill the saddlebags full of Road Dirt tech guru Phil Gauthier’s fattening southern cooking and point it northwest.  It is the clear winner with two out of three of us.


Some featured gear:
Rev’It! Restless Jacket
Rev’It! Davis TF Jeans
Cardo Systems Comms
Knockaround Sunglasses

*For our ride review with lots of great footage and more details, click here without ever leaving this page-

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  1. Phil Mccracken

    Please look up what “antebellum” means before using it again.

    • Rob Brooks

      “Antebellum” means “before the war,” but it wasn’t widely associated with the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) until after that conflict was over. The word comes from the Latin phrase “ante bellum” (literally, “before the war”), and its earliest known print appearance in English dates back to the 1840s. (Merriam-Webster)

  2. Matt

    This is an amazing article, I wish some of the bigger publications would provide as much useful detail! I really feel like I’ve ridden all three machines and am better informed for a test drive or purchase.


    • Rob Brooks

      Thank you so much, Matt! Our approach is to tell great stories, offer useful, real world information, to create engaging, personable prose. We appreciate your feedback and comments! It confirms we’re fulfilling our mission.

    • Ted M Edwards

      Great feedback Matt, and thank you. I get some amazing opportunities in this job and I do my best to take readers like you along for the journey.


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