GLID­ING ON

Har­ley-David­son Road Glide Spe­cial

NZ Autocar - - Contents -

With thirty mod­els avail­able Har­ley-David­son once more has some­thing for ev­ery­one. We swing a leg over the Road Glide Spe­cial tourer, pack­ing the 1690cc ‘103’ High Out­put en­gine.

The econ­omy may not be in the rudest of health across the ditch, but for Har­ley-David­son it’s surely the Lucky Coun­try. In the first half of 2015 the iconic Amer­i­can brand sold more road bikes than any other com­pany (4566 ver­sus next best Honda on 3980). That’s partly a re­flec­tion of how well the new en­try-level Street 500 is do­ing (over 1200 sold in Oz) but it’s an im­pres­sive re­sult for H-D given that’s its smallest ma­chine.

The stats aren’t quite so grand in New Zealand where Har­ley has sold 629 mo­tor­cy­cles YTD Novem­ber, though that’s neck and neck with Yamaha num­bers. If the op­u­lence and sheer size of the Har­ley show­room in Auck­land are any in­di­ca­tion of how the brand is far­ing lo­cally, then H-D is clearly ex­pect­ing big things in the fu­ture. There’s the en­tire range, along with stacks of life­style gear and ac­ces­sories, like muf­flers. Har­leys are some­what sub­dued straight out of the box. Sure, the potatopotato sound for which they’re fa­mous is ev­i­dent on the $38,750 Road Glide Spe­cial (RGS) we’ve been rid­ing. How­ever, there’s more wind noise than ex­haust dra­mat­ics on this ma­chine. The main noise should be com­ing from be­hind, and that may ex­plain why most peo­ple opt to make an ex­haust change be­fore rid­ing away on their new ’cy­cle. The sheer im­pact of the ex­haust roar is one of the plea­sures of rid­ing a thump­ing V-Twin. Not the only one though, as we dis­cov­ered af­ter a few days of rid­ing Big Red.

It has been al­most two years since we’ve fea­tured prod­uct from Mil­wau­kee in the mag­a­zine, and dur­ing that time Road Glides were off the menu. Since Project Rush­more, con­sist­ing of up­dates to tour­ing ma­chin­ery, they’re back. Im­me­di­ately ap­par­ent from the out­set is im­proved shift­ing. In the past, Har­ley’s haven’t been noted for ease of cog swap­ping. That’s changed. Chug­ging to work in the morn­ing on the RGS the gear­box glides beau­ti­fully, short­shift­ing from cog to cog. More revs and the up­shifts re­main smooth if you ap­ply a lit­tle upward foot pres­sure be­fore chang­ing gear. This was just one of myr­iad im­prove­ments H-D

made to their ma­chines af­ter ask­ing own­ers what they liked about their bikes and how they could be even bet­ter. Another ex­am­ple? LED head­lights pro­vide up to 45 per cent bet­ter pen­e­tra­tion and vastly more spread.

The Road Glide Spe­cial has a 6.5 inch in­fo­tain­ment touch screen di­rectly ahead, dis­play­ing sat nav, and per­mit­ting easy Blue­tooth phone/iPod hook-up. Or you can jack your iPod to the USB in­put, vol­ume and next track changed by a wee joy­stick on the left switch block. On the open road, we didn’t bother with au­dio be­cause wind noise drowns out the mu­sic, though it works fine at town speeds. Shorter folk fare bet­ter as they ride along in qui­eter air be­hind the screen. A handy 685mm seat height means body shape shouldn’t prove an is­sue rid­ing this ma­chine. Strength may, how­ever.

This is a well kit­ted out tour­ing rig, though is not re­ally ideal for two as the pil­lion seat is rather ves­ti­gial, the solid bags not that wide, but they are nicely con­structed. If tour­ing two up, go for the Road Glide Ul­tra with the throne. De­spite that, there’s a 12v out­let, cruise con­trol, and the shark-nose fixed fair­ing has a postage slot that can be opened for ex­tra air to the face, closed when the weather turns sour. Handy though this new frame-mount fair­ing may be, it means there’s a fair amount of weight set rather high. Add to that an im­pres­sively wide steer­ing arc and it’s all a bit too easy to be­come over­bal­anced while park­ing or ma­noeu­vring the bike, though dam­age is likely to be lim­ited by the crash bars. At rest it can seem top heavy and if you al­low it to tip slightly it feels like it will go the whole hog.

Which is about what it weighs, scal­ing up at 386kg ready to rum­ble. That’s only the sev­enth heav­i­est bike we’ve ever mea­sured, to put things in con­text. It’s al­most iden­ti­cal in weight to its pri­mary Ja­panese ad­ver­sary that looks vaguely sim­i­lar, with a big wide, cut­down screen, Honda’s F6B. Nei­ther has a re­verse gear so you need to be mind­ful of where you’re park­ing them; flat is best, and it’s prefer­able to be point­ing where you want to go be­fore climb­ing off rather than af­ter­wards. The side­stand is a bit of a stretch come time to move off. U-turns were ini­tially daunt­ing but once un­der­way and you’re more used to the bike, feet-up about-face ma­noeu­vres are pos­si­ble.

Han­dling is oth­er­wise foible-free, though on tighter sec­tions of road the hang­ers sup­port­ing the run­ning boards will touch down, es­pe­cially on bumpy cor­ners. How­ever, on faster, more open curves you can get along apace and at­tain de­cent lean an­gles (32 de­grees) with­out hang­ing up. For such a size­able ma­chine it turns im­pres­sively, con­fi­dently, the width of the bars adding the right amount of lever­age. With so much wind pro­tec­tion there’s no great need to hang on ei­ther com­pared with an un­faired cruiser, and the rid­ing po­si­tion is nat­u­ral, mak­ing for re­laxed hours-on-end travel. The ride is ev­ery bit as ac­com­mo­dat­ing as the han­dling is too. Only harsh squared off bumps make their pres­ence felt at the rear of the bike, other road ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties soaked up by the air-ride sus­pen­sion.

Com­pared with the F6B this isn’t quite as quick, but then that’s com­par­ing a big­ger six with a slightly smaller ca­pac­ity V-twin. It vibes and rocks around at idle but is smooth as at 100km/h, and this of­fers easy-go­ing torque at low en­gine speeds while the peak of 138Nm ar­rives at 3500rpm. From there it re­ally picks up the pace, sign­ing off around the 5500rpm mark. Hit­ting open road speeds in a bit over 5sec, over­takes on the RGS are done and dusted in un­der 3.5sec. Of­ten a sin­gle down­shift suf­fices though best ac­cel­er­a­tion re­quires se­lec­tion of fourth gear. There’s power aplenty.

In the in­stru­ments, there’s no info on fuel use, only range, but the big, beefy 1690cc rig is fairly eco­nom­i­cal. Fig­ure on 350km from the al­most 23L tank, given 100km/h brings up just 2500rpm in sixth gear. It’s rated at 5.6L/100km over­all.

Linked brakes are out­stand­ing. You only need to take a brief gan­der at the front end of this ma­chine to get that im­pres­sion, the big twin discs act­ing on plenty of de­cent rub­ber. But it’s the rear­ward weight bias that makes all the dif­fer­ence; you can eas­ily sense the added con­tri­bu­tion to slow­ing that the 180 sec­tion 16-inch rear tyre makes when bear­ing down on the beefy foot lever. Cruis­ers you might well con­sider safer than other bikes be­cause they’re not cor­ner­ing as quickly as sports ma­chines and also they stop quicker when both front and rear brakes are ap­plied si­mul­ta­ne­ously. The two cruis­ers fea­tured in this is­sue are the best stop­pers we’ve ever tested, coin­ci­den­tally.

If there’s any­thing we’d like to see changed, it would be to add a dig­i­tal speed read­out. And per­haps in­stall a con­ven­tional in­di­ca­tor set-up. Ac­ti­vat­ing or can­celling the right turn sig­nal with the throt­tle hand isn’t al­ways easy.

Don’t like the Sons of An­ar­chy look? Don’t need that shark’s nose fair­ing, sounds or sat nav? Go for the more el­e­gant but oth­er­wise sim­i­lar Road King in­stead for it still gets use­ful air pro­tec­tion from the con­ven­tional wind­shield. Saves over $4k in the process too.

on faster, more open curves you can get along apace and at­tain de­cent lean an­gles

Yep, them be cu­bic inches. Linked brakes are by Brembo and work well. No jem­my­ing the steer­ing lock here. Road Glide name ap­pro­pri­ate.

BE­LOW - Smart key in pocket makes start up easy; twist sil­ver knob clock­wise, hit starter. BE­LOW RIGHT - Lug­gage looks good, has nice qual­ity locks but not huge space. Pan­niers are re­mov­able.

ABOVE - Didn’t need to use this much as the ra­dio is all but in­audi­ble at open road speeds, and we knew where we were go­ing. T’were me, I’d forego the top heavy fair­ing and buy the oth­er­wise sim­i­lar but less ex­pen­sivve Road King. Spend the sav­ings on louder pipes.

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