HAR­LEY-DAVID­SON ROAD KING

WORLD FIRST TEST ‘ Those shiny al­loy cases hold a num­ber of hugely sig­nif­i­cant changes’ Con­tin­ued over

Motorcycle News (UK) - - New Bikes -

‘The new mo­tor idles lower giv­ing out a more dis­tinct, clas­sic Har­ley po­tato-po­tato note’

Har­ley have al­ways been among the most con­ser­va­tive of man­u­fac­tur­ers and one glance at the US mar­queõs up­dates for 2017 show that lit­tleõs changed Ð in many cases quite lit­er­ally.

So, while H-D are mak­ing a song and dance about Ônewõ en­gines that Ôtake the Har­ley-david­son V-twin to a place itõs never beenõ, many of us may strug­gle to spot any­thing new. Har­ley fans, how­ever, like it like that. When a brandõs hugely suc­cess­ful recipe is founded on tra­di­tional, old-school ex­pe­ri­ence and clas­sic style, rad­i­cal new de­signs sim­ply donõt hap­pen. You donõt throw the baby out with the bath water. In­stead, when faced with ev­er­tight­en­ing emis­sions laws, Euro4, plus in­creas­ing competition from new US ri­val In­dian, what you do is evolve Ð and the ar­rival of the 2017 Har­ley tour­ers with their new Ômil­wau­kee-eightõ en­gines, is the se­cond sig­nif­i­cant ex­am­ple in re­cent years of Har­ley do­ing ex­actly that.

The FL fam­ily of tour­ers, in­clud­ing ev­ery­thing from the Street Glide and Road King to the full-dress Ul­tra Glide, are Har­leyõs core range of big twins and, par­tic­u­larly in the cru­cial US mar­ket, by far its big­gest sell­ers.

As such, theyõve be­come the mod­els which re­ceive any sig­nif­i­cant tech­ni­cal up­dates first, be­fore be­ing rolled out to other bikes such as the Dyna Low Rider or Sof­tail fam­ily.

So, back in 2014, it was these bikes which were the fo­cus of Har­leyõs Project Rush­more pro­gramme which saw the big­gest tech­ni­cal up­dates in a gen­er­a­tion in­clud­ing all-new brakes and wheels, new clocks (in­clud­ing fancy, LCD Ôin­fo­tain­mentõ sys­tems on the dressers), switchgear, body­work and more.

Cru­cially, on the top-of-the-range Ul­tra Glides, it also saw the in­tro­duc­tion of par­tially liq­uid-cooled cylin­der heads (although youõd strug­gle to spot them) which was a mas­sively sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment for a firm so rooted in air-cooled V-twins.

Now, with the new 2017 Ômil­wau­kee-Eightõ en­gines, Har­ley have gone one step fur­ther still.

Although at a glance these new units, re­designed air fil­ter hous­ing and Ô107Õ logo aside, look lit­tle dif­fer­ent to the pre­ced­ing Ôtwin Cam 103Õ, in still be­ing the tra­di­tional air-cooled, 45-de­gree, V-twin (and Har­leyõs de­sign­ers have worked very hard to al­ter its look as lit­tle as pos­si­ble) those shiny al­loy cases hold a num­ber of hugely sig­nif­i­cant changes.

To boost both per­for­mance and ef­fi­ciency, the new Mil­wau­kee-eight is not just larger-ca­pac­ity (1745cc from 1690cc) it has four-valve heads for the first time each with twin plugs. These hot­ter run­ning heads in turn de­mand a more ef­fi­cient cool­ing sys­tem, so, again for the first time, a sub­tle oil cooler is used on the more naked bag­gers such as the Road King tested here, while the faired full-dressers, such as the Glide over the page, use the Twin Cooled ver­sion of the Mil­wau­kee-eight with liq­uid-cooled heads (with dif­fer­ent cool­ing chan­nels than the oil cooled ver­sions) fed by twin ra­di­a­tors hid­den be­hind those bikesõ leg guards, a sys­tem first in­tro­duced on the 2014, Twin Cam Ul­traglide. The re­sult, with both sys­tems, is a claimed 11% more torque, an un­spec­i­fied boost in power through­out the range and im­proved fuel econ­omy with­out, they say, an ex­tra weight. The Twin-cooled ver­sion, mean­while, runs a lit­tle cooler than the oiler to aid rider com­fort.

So far good Ð but it does­nõt end there. In ad­di­tion, Har­leyõs first coun­ter­bal­anc­ing sys­tem (ie a bal­ancer shaft) is claimed to bring smoother run­ning than ever, thereõs a new slip­per clutch while new sus­pen­sion front and rear is in­tended to bring a plusher, more con­trolled ride.

The killer ques­tion, though, es­pe­cially on Har­leys where big changes are viewed with sus­pi­cion, is Ôhow much dif­fer­ence does it all ac­tu­ally make?õ The an­swer is Ônot much but also quite a bitõ.

Iõll ex­plain. Take the Road King

tested here, Har­ley’s class-defin­ing bag­ger. At first, when you climb on board, ev­ery­thing is iden­ti­cal to the out­go­ing Twin Cam ver­sion of the Road King, from the clocks and switchgear to all the body­work and er­gonomics. Fire the new mo­tor, though, and the im­prove­ments start to be­come ap­par­ent: the new mo­tor idles lower (now at just 850rpm) giv­ing out a more dis­tinct, clas­sic Har­ley po­tato-po­tato ex­haust note.

The re­vised gear­box means first en­gages with less of the hor­rid ‘clonk’ of be­fore and with smoother shifts up through the six-speed gear­box. The bike pulls away dis­tinctly more ea­gerly than be­fore, too, thanks to the ex­tra power and torque.

Again, it’s not rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent – it’s an evo­lu­tion. But Har­ley claim 0-60mph ac­cel­er­a­tion can now be achieved in two or three bike lengths less than be­fore and top gear 60-80mph roll-ons in one to two less, as well, and I’m more than in­clined to be­lieve them.

While even in the Road King’s nat­u­ral stomp­ing ground: lazy 55-60mph A-road cruis­ing, in our case along the US free­ways across the Ta­coma Nar­rows bridge (the one that re­placed the in­fa­mous ver­sion which col­lapsed in 1940) and around the spec­tac­u­lar Puget Sound, the dif­fer­ence is clear: the new mo­tor turns over cleaner, smoother; it tramps on faster. It’s not a revver by any means. You never re­ally need more than 2500rpm. And though it’ll gal­lop off above three, it’s all over be­fore 5000rpm.

This is a slightly smoother, a touch more po­tent and a def­i­nitely more re­fined Har­ley pow­er­plant than be­fore. But in truth it’s not that much dif­fer­ent from the old, ei­ther, so Har­ley fans need to fear not: it’s like the old, only a

lit­tle bit bet­ter. And the same is true of the tweaked sus­pen­sion: not rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent, but def­i­nitely more re­fined, as­suredly plush, seem­ingly in con­trol (as far as we could tell along the un­tax­ing Amer­i­can by­ways) and pleas­ingly more eas­ily ad­justable than ever.

Har­ley have made big changes but are they enough to fight off the op­po­si­tion?

PHIL WEST MCN CON­TRIB­U­TOR

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