Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Demo Fleet Day - Five New Harleys in Four Hours

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to go to my local Harley-Davidson dealer and participate in their demo days. Especially with my one year anniversary with my Sportster coming up, this was the perfect opportunity to sample some of the newest offerings from H-D, get some ideas for my own bike, and maybe find something else that fit me better.

I rode five different motorcycles, good representatives of most of Harley's general classes. Two in particular I was really excited to ride, but I'll get to those in a moment.

First up was the Street Rod. This bike has gotten really good reviews (this one from Ride Apart is one example) and I was excited to try it out. A high-revving street fighter, from Harley? Maybe this would replace the Sportster!

Picture from Harley-Davidson
High revving and fun it was. Sounding like nothing else in the Harley line-up, it felt perfectly flickable, begging for a test ride with more curves than our dealer approved route. Engine screaming up to 9,000 RPM, it had no trouble keeping up with the bigger bikes. It's the only Harley I rode that felt like with a few modifications, would have been at home at a track day.

Unfortunately, at 6'1", I felt really uncomfortable with the riding position. I don't know how Chris Cope did it in his two-day review, my hips were screaming for mercy after five minutes, and the cramps I got from fifteen minutes on the bike had me walking stiffly the rest of the day. So much for the Street Rod, it's never going to be the bike for me.

After that I moved up to my first big twin. The Road King is the least expensive of Harley's touring lineup, and thus the least costly bike equipped with the new Milwaukee Eight engine that was the other thing I desperately wanted to try.

Picture from Harley-Davidson
Now this was a ride! My first encounter with floorboards (my Sportster just has pegs), a comfortable, wide seat, and high bars. Of course those high handlebars turned me into something of a human drag chute at speed, but what arm position! I'm definitely going to be looking for some different handlebars for my Sporty.

Next came an Ultra Limited, the most expensive two-wheeled machines Harley makes. What a machine! With the big bat-wing fairing in front of me, I barely felt the wind, so much so that 60mph barely registered, nor did the fact that I was still in 2nd gear at the time. If I had the money to do so, this would absolutely be my choice for tearing down the highway for miles and miles at a time. The Milwaukee Eight engine is at its best here, giving a little bit of Harley rumble and shake when stopped, but buttery smooth once you're up to speed.
Picture from Harley-Davidson

Rounding out the Milwaukee Eight tour, I jumped on a Road Glide Special. Falling somewhere in between the Road King and Ultra Limited in terms of pricing, the Road Glide is also unique for its fixed fairing. Where most other Harleys have their fairings mounted to the handlebars, causing them to move with the front wheel, the Road Glide mounts its big fairing to the chassis. After getting used to having my windscreen pointed in the same direction as my front tire, my first couple turns on the Road Glide were a mite disconcerting. Certainly nothing I couldn't get used to though.
Picture from Harley-Davidson
The aggressive, forward leaning look is definitely a love it or hate it kind of proposition. It also made reaching the radio/navigation touch screen somewhat difficult, as it was positioned much farther up the dash than on the Ultra Limited. I think if I had my druthers, I'd probably just put a big windscreen on a Road King and do without the Road Glide's toys, but who really knows?

Finally, I jumped on something from the Dyna line, a Fat Bob. I was particularly interested in this because the Dyna series is the common step up from the Sportster 1200 that I own now, as they mark the least expensive chassis to carry one of the Big Twin engines. However, where the Touring lineup now mounts the Milwaukee Eight, the Dynas are currently still running the older Twin Cam, with its "paltry" 103ci displacement. For those keeping score at home, that's still about 25% more displacement than my Sportster has.

Picture from Harley-Davidson
Unfortunately, this one left me a bit disappointed. The big twin shook even more than the smaller V-Twin on my Sportster, but the power feel wasn't much different. Oh, I'm sure after a full Stage One upgrade (new exhaust, new air intake, and an ECU remap) I'd feel a difference, but stock and still having to add all the go fast parts that my Sporty already has? It basically felt the same. A fun, powerful ride, but not what I was looking for. Now if Harley ever fits the Milwaukee Eight into the Dyna chassis, I'll be waiting for my local Harley dealer to open for business in the morning so I can throw money at them. I'm serious. That stripped down, lightweight chassis, plus that big, smooth engine is a combination I would buy tomorrow if the opportunity was there. Here's hoping that's one of the fifty models Harley has promised to introduce in the next five years.

Overall, what did I learn? That the Street Rod is I bike that I want to love, but am too big for, that the Ultra Limited is what I want when my kids are grown up and I'm leading a little fleet of family around, and that a new bike with a Twin Cam engine is not for me. I also figured out that I want to add a bat-wing fairing to my Sportster, plus my helmet buffeting is caused by my windscreen being at exactly the wrong height. And maybe get some new handlebars that raise my arms up an inch or two.

Mostly it turns out that somehow, despite being a total newbie when it came to motorcycles, I made a pretty good choice the first time around. My Sportster may not be excellent at any particular thing, but it's pretty decent at quite a few things. But that's something I'll be talking about more next month, after I've officially been riding for a year!
Still my favorite. Mainly because she's mine.

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