2006 Top Five Road Test Motorcycle Reviews

Road Tested, Editor Approved

If you've been reading HOT BIKE for any length of time, you're probably familiar with the road tests we perform on a regular basis. For this month's article we decided to go through all the bikes we tested in '06 and come up with our top five picks. While all the bikes we brought you were worthy of consideration, we found the following ones to be outstanding. In no particular order, here they are.

Big Dog MastiffIn the June '06 issue we tested the Big Dog Mastiff. While the Mastiff has been around since 2001, 2006 proved to be the year that redefined the motorcycle from its previous incarnations. In an effort to stay on the cutting edge of motorcycle styling, the new Mastiff has been geared more toward the long and low Pro Street style of bikes (as has the Pitbull), while the remainder of the models are more in line with chopper styling. The Mastiff's frame has been totally redesigned from previous models. The in-house-manufactured frame boasts a 6-inch backbone stretch and stock-length downtubes. Also manufactured in-house is the A-frame swingarm, which was designed to cradle the Avon 250/40-18 rear tire. Leveling out the front of the bike is a 41mm frontend comprised of 2-inch-over tubes and a set of 3-degree raked triple-trees, which hang from a 39-degree raked neck. Providing a good contact patch with the asphalt is an MH120/70/21 Avon tire, designed to work well with the 250 out back. Providing cushioning at the rear of the bike is a pair of manually adjustable shocks.

Powering the Mastiff is an S&S; 117-inch, overhead-valve, air-cooled, 45-degree V-Twin engine. Big Dog has worked closely with S&S; over the years. This relationship has culminated in an engine that includes a proprietary cam design, Super G carburetor, electronic compression releases, and specially designed fins on the heads and cylinders that not only aid in cooling but also result in less high-frequency noise emanating from the engine. All of the S&S; powerplants for '06 are assembled at Big Dog's Wichita, KS, plant. Located just behind the engine is what Big Dog calls its balanced drive system (BDS), which consists of a wet-chain primary and clutch setup that relocates the starter from its traditional position and places it down and farther back. In addition to the primary, another major component of the BDS is a Baker six-speed right-side-drive transmission. The result of all of these components working in conjunction with one another is a narrower, more centered and balanced drivetrain.

As for the sheetmetal, the Mastiff has a few new and cool features-for example, the oil tank is actually an enclosure for the bike's battery and electronics. So where's the oil stored, you ask? It resides in a 3-quart curved reservoir sitting just in front of the rear tire. Big Dog equips the Mastiff with numerous features such as a rear-mounted kickstand for better cornering clearance, billet hand controls with internal brake master cylinder, one-touch switching wired through Big Dog's ground-trigger switching system, integrated speedo/tach, floating rotors, Performance Machine brake calipers, and a disabling starter button that prevents unwanted starter engagement. Big Dog also offers a line of accessories designed to let customers tailor the look and functionality of their bikes. The Mastiff's frame and just-over-stock-length frontend make for a very stout combination. This setup allows for a very stable and predictable ride, with no surprises coming from the rear tire. While the bike is set up with what is still considered a fat rear tire, you'll quickly notice the bike is very easy to pitch from side to side. The combination of the 250 and the 120 tires makes for good handling characteristics.

The S&S; 117-inch powerplant delivered more than enough power in a variety of riding conditions. The motor comes on strong from around 2,400 rpm and doesn't let up 'til you reach the redline.

If you're looking for a custom bike straight from the factory, one you don't need to do much to in order to make it look as if it were built specifically for you, then you need to take a serious look at Big Dog's Mastiff. This bike is definitely a bargain at its asking price.

Covington SpeedsterBack in the April '06 issue we tested the Speedster from Covington Cycle City, one in a series of five different bikes in Covington's bobber line. For those of you not familiar with Jerry's work, Jerry, wife Kathleen, and son David have been building custom motorcycles for a long time.

While Jerry realizes he could build bikes for less money, his customers demand high quality, and he provides it through the use of as many American-made parts as possible. The Speedster is no exception.

The Speedster begins with a proprietary American-made frame design and is built with 2 inches of stretch in the 1-1/4-inch downtubes. The 1-1/2-inch backbone is tied to the 34-degree neck with minimal plating, but the entire arrangement is beefed up with an additional 1-1/4-inch piece of tubing connecting the downtubes to the backbone.

Sheetmetal on the Speedster is slashed to just the basics, consisting of only a small flat rear fender supported by a set of flat steel chrome struts, a side-fill chrome wraparound oil tank, and a 2-1/2-gallon Sportster-style gas tank.

Motivation for the bike is provided by none other than the Harley-Davidson Motor Company. Covington buys natural-finished 80-inch Evo engines from the P&A; catalog and bolts them in place in the frame just in front of a five-speed transmission from Baker Drivetrain. Dressing up the drivetrain are a few nice touches such as a round chrome air cleaner, a set of drag pipes, an oil-filled oil-pressure gauge, and a Harley starter. Completing the all-American affair is a 3-inch BDL open beltdrive dressed up with one of Covington's finned, three-hole billet covers.

Our test bike wore an optional two-tone paint job complete with gold-leaf graphics (the up-charge for this is $850). All the frames come standard with a powdercoat finish. The bikes are available directly from Covington's Cycle City or through one of the company's six dealers (as of press time). All the bikes come with a one-year warranty.

Riding the Speedster is a blast-the seemingly small 80-inch motor gives the little bike all the power it needs, and rolling on the throttle brings the motor's rpm up quickly, although there is always the option of hopping it up! Sitting on the bike, you get a good feel, as the locations of the seat, bars, and foot controls give you a slight forward-leaning position. Once you get the bike up to cruising speed, you observe nothing unusual in regard to handling. If you have never ridden a bike with a Springer frontend, you will notice it does not feel as smooth as a telescoping frontend.

If you are in the market for a bike that won't cost you an arm and a leg and will help you rediscover how much fun riding can be, the Speedster may be just what you're looking for.

Buell Ulysses XB12XThis one was a bit different. In an article titled "Adventure Touring" in the October '06 issue, we tested the Ulysses XB12X from Buell. Take one part sport bike and one part dirt bike, mix well, and check out the results. In Buell's case, the Ulysses is designed to be 90-percent street bike and 10-percent dirt bike. It's not a dirt bike in the true sense of the word, but more of a bike designed to get off the asphalt and out on unpaved roads and packed surfaces. The bike is based around the heart and soul of Harley's philosophy: a really strong, torquey V-Twin designed to afford the rider the ability to roll on the throttle and accelerate with ease at almost any rpm range.

The Ulysses chassis construction consists of a lightweight, stiff frame that carries 4.4 gallons of fuel inside its members. This, along with a stiff aluminum swingarm that doubles as the bike's oil reservoir, helps keep weight low. Locating the exhaust under the bike as opposed to higher up on the side of the bike, the Ulysses is able to take full advantage of better balance and a lower center of gravity. Buell's ZTL (short for zero torsional load) braking system utilizes a 375mm stainless-steel front rotor mounted directly to the wheel's perimeter. When the six-piston caliper applies pressure, braking forces are transmitted directly to the outer portion of the wheel without transferring this energy through the wheel's hub or spokes. The rear brake utilizes a single-piston floating caliper and a more familiar 240mm stainless-steel one-piece rotor. Keeping the 54-inch-wheelbase bike off the ground is the job of Showa components in the front and rear. Allowing for 6.51 inches of suspension travel, the front employs a 43mm inverted frontend with adjustments for compression damping, rebound damping, and spring preload. Out back, the Ulysses employs the services of a coilover monoshock designed to give the bike 6.38 inches of travel. Buell worked closely with Dunlop to develop a pair of tires specifically for the Ulysses. The skins are designed with an aggressive open tread pattern to give the bike excellent traction on both paved and off-road environments. Tire sizes are 180/55R-17 out back and 120/70R-17 between the forks.

The Ulysses is powered by Buell's 1,203cc Thunderstorm V-Twin engine. The Thunderstorm engine is more than up to the task when it comes to quickly accelerating the motorcycle, without the need to constantly bang up and down through the gears. The engine's redline is set at 7,000 rpm, and the torque is strong through most of that range but really kicks in around 4,000 rpm.Cooling is provided by a combination of both air and oil, with assistance coming from a fan-cooled oil cooler mounted to the left downtube via a combination of a 49mm downdraft DDFI II fuel injection and Buell's zero-resistance airbox. For the exhaust system, the gasses are routed based on the position of an ECM-controlled valve designed to optimize torque and horsepower based on different riding conditions.

Other areas of the bike are decked out with new features, including a small and easily removable windshield that's designed to take the wind pressure off the rider's chest while still leaving the head and shoulders in the air. Taking storage and passenger needs to new heights, Buell engineers developed what they call a Triple Tail. The adjustable unit is designed to give the rider two options when carrying cargo. In the first position it is folded forward, occupying the space designed for a passenger. Once loaded, the weight of the stowed gear adds to the mass-centralization principle. Although the load is set high on the bike, it is much closer to the bike's center than it is when it's in the second position over the rear fender carrying gear. The third position is upright and acts as a passenger backrest.

Helping keep rocks, dirt, wind, and debris off both the bike and the rider, Buell utilizes a twin-fender setup in the front as well as the back. Up above on the wide handlebars is a pair of deflectors designed to keep both wind and debris off the rider's hands.

The XB12X is a tall bike; even with the optional lowered seat, it's all most riders can do to get one foot flat on the ground while on the bike. This takes some getting used to, especially on loose or uneven ground. Once you've gotten comfortable with this, everything else is a breeze.

The Showa suspension soaked up bumps with ease both on and off the road, and that, coupled with the Uniplanar Powertrain vibration-isolation system, made for an exceptionally smooth ride.

Considering that '06 was the first model year for the Ulysses, we think the company nailed it on the head. By jumping into a market it had never been in before, Buell took a bold step and succeeded. This bike works, and works well in a broad range of riding situations. There is no reason we can think of that would keep you from riding the Ulysses coast to coast on just about any road in between.

American IronHorse LegendIn the August '06 issue we tested the Legend. As of 2006, American IronHorse Motorcycles finds itself among some pretty elite motorcycle companies. Back in 2005 when the company announced its '06 model lineup, the Fort Worth, TX, manufacturer of high-performance, luxury custom choppers and cruisers began a celebration of its 10th year in business. Anyone who has followed the American V-Twin market lately can attest to what an accomplishment that is these days.

The Texas Chopper and LSC each have 8 inches of stretch in the dual downtubes; the Legend has only 6 additional inches. The backbone shares the same dimensions, with 4 inches added when compared to stock measurements. This allows all the choppers to utilize IronHorse's patented Super Stretch Chopper Tank, which became an instant classic when it debuted on the Texas Chopper back in 2002. Another major factor differentiating the Legend from the rest of the chopper family is this year's introduction of a new set of handlebars designed exclusively for this model. The bars and their integral risers are designed to pull back to the rider 2 inches farther than the bars on other models. This, coupled with the shorter frame, doesn't just make for better ergonomics-the bars add to the bike's overall ridability and control. As with the entire lineup of AIH bikes, the Legend begins with a frame manufactured exclusively for AIH by Daytec. One of the industry's premier manufacturers of frames (both suspended and rigid), Daytec will be providing all the frames used by AIH in 2006. Manufactured from DOM tubing and other high-quality components, the powdercoated frame unites an A-frame and a Softail-style swingarm tethered to the frame via a pair of Progressive manually adjustable shock absorbers. Out front, the neck is raked to 38 degrees and comes with a set of AIH's own 4-degree raked and polished triple-trees, complete with internal fork stops. Leveling out the front of the bike is a set of 10-inch-over fork tubes with polished lower legs.

Powering the Legend is a 111ci polished Super Sidewinder Plus engine. This proprietary powerplant is standard on all '06 models and can be upgraded to either a polished 117-inch or a polished 124-inch motor, both from S&S; (upcharges are $1,000 and $2,000, respectively). S&S;'s 111-incher boasts bore and stroke numbers of 4-1/8-inch bore and 4-1/8-inch stroke for smooth operation, while its compression ratio is set to 9.5:1. IronHorse only offers the motor in a carbureted version, with no EFI option available as of this writing. Completing the EPA-approved package is an AIH ignition, and a good-looking and -sounding two-into-one exhaust system, complete with heat shields. Other features found on the Legend are a hydraulically operated clutch designed to give the rider reduced effort at the lever, four-piston brake calipers, floating brake rotors, and a hidden-strut rear fender. The turn signals have also been upgraded from traditional bulb-style to vibration-resistant, long-life LED-style.

When it comes to the ride, we always have different-sized riders on our test bikes, and quite often there is a large disparity in the way a particular bike fits various sizes of riders. While this is true with the Legend, most of us felt comfortable on the bike. The new handlebars go a long way in adding to the bike's comfort; instead of having to lean forward to reach the bars, they come back nicely, allowing for a natural seating position that takes a lot of strain off the rider's lower back.

Having the ability to drop the transmission into an overdrive (.86:1-ratio) Sixth gear was welcome as we ran the bike down the freeway in the 75-80-mph range. When you consider that the Legend has a base MSRP of $30,195 and is backed by a 98-dealer network that will take care of the bike under warranty for 24 months and unlimited miles from the date of purchase, we feel that the Legend is a very good value.

Harley-Davidson Fxdi35 Dyna Super GlideAlso found in the August '06 issue was the new 35th anniversary FXDI Dyna, which got its start from Willie G. Davidson, the grandson of William A. Davidson, one of the company's founders. Now the senior vice president and chief styling officer, Willie continued to push the styling envelope as he designed and built what is known as the first factory custom, the FX 1200 Super Glide. Realizing how significant that first Super Glide was to the Motor Company, Harley decided that in 2006 it would pay homage to the original motorcycle by producing a limited-edition (3,500 bikes) 35th Anniversary model. The bike is outfitted with all of the latest technology Harley has to offer but has styling cues that hark back to the model produced in 1971.

All the Dyna frames have been completely redesigned to provide a significantly stiffer platform on which to build a motorcycle. The bike's tubular frame and rectangular backbone combine to give the FXDI35 a neck rake set to 29 degrees. In a departure from previous models, the fork tubes have been upped in size and now boast a diameter of 49mm.

This increase in size is designed to give the rider an uncompromising, stout feel with improved handling, as well as a very beefy look. Last year's narrow-glide trees have been replaced by a set of mid-glide trees that allow room for the front 19x2.5-inch laced wheel, 300mm (11.8-inch) floating rotor (front only), and four-piston caliper. Also designed with additional stiffness in mind are new 1-inch axles both front and rear. The swingarm has been reengineered for better control as it accepts a wider, 160/70B17 rear tire that replaces last year's 150/80B16 tire.

The engine and transmission have been redesigned for 2006. The new transmission is a first for Harley, a six-speed straight from the factory that has been dubbed the "six-speed Cruise Drive transmission" and is standard issue on all Dyna models. The new gearbox includes helical gears for quieter operation and easier and smoother shifting due to newly designed dog rings. The primary drive ratio (raised to 1.353:1) takes advantage of the new transmission, and new inner and outer housings were designed to accommodate the internal components, including a new automatic primary chain tensioner. The newly designed clutch ball-and-ramp assembly resulted in a 35-percent reduction at the clutch lever, we're told.

For the engine, Harley stuck with its rugged vibration-isolated, Twin-Cam 88 engine to power the Dyna line. The company did, however, make some major improvements designed to give customers better reliability while requiring less maintenance, as its engineers hurdled a few EPA and CARB roadblocks (future standards) along the way. Without a doubt the most significant technological advancement to the fuel-injected engine (carburetion is no longer available on any of the Dynas) is the addition of real-time feedback, allowing the engine's fuel map to be altered on the fly. This is accomplished with the addition of oxygen sensors threaded into the exhaust pipes close to the heads. By sensing the concentration of oxygen in the exhaust gasses, the system is able to make adjustments to the bike's fuel map, ensuring the motor is operating at its optimum capabilities. A new cam plate has found its way into the cam chest. Improvements in the cam chest include a new roller chain, new bearings, and an automatic hydraulic chain tensioner designed to require far less maintenance than previous incarnations.

Over the years Harley has strived to improve the oiling systems of its engines, and this year is no exception. An upgraded oil pump has yielded 10-percent more flow and a 23-percent increase in scavenging capabilities of the pump. Other oiling-system improvements include an integral oil filter and oil-cooler adapters.

Sitting in the saddle, you can appreciate how ergonomically well laid-out this bike is. As you transition from the straight and narrow to conditions requiring you to throw the bike from side to side, this bike is rock-solid. Toss it into a curve, and it stays right where you put it. The meaty 160/17-inch rear tire does a great job of gripping the asphalt.

The bike is well-balanced and easy to lean to both the right and left sides. According to the factory, you won't touch down 'til the bike is angled 32 degrees to the right or 34 degrees to the left. The Dyna has plenty of ground clearance before you start making sparks. Riding hard is what this bike is all about. From its improved rubber-mounted driveline to all of its chassis improvements and new six-speed transmission, we had a hard time finding anything that we didn't like about the bike-except for the fact that we had to give it back once we were done testing it.