Harley-Davidson FLH Tourers

Harley_Road_King_Classic__013By Kevin Ash


Pictures: Double Red




You’d never guess that the Harley touring range was any different this year from last, to look at the bikes. There are two main models, the Road King and the Electra Glide, each with sub-models differing in spec: the base Electra Glide features only an upper fairing and no luggage, while the Electra Glide Ultra Classic is fitted with everything you can think of and plenty you wouldn’t. But that’s how they were last year, and paint schemes aside, the changes appear unremarkable.

 Harley_Road_King_Classic_006Click on image for gallery
All pics are Road King Classic except last (red bike) which is Road King
In fact the entire chassis, which is shared by all the tourers, is completely new. All but the Road King Classic are now fitted with 17 inch front wheels in place of the previous 16 inchers, the rear tyres are wider, the frame is new and substantially stiffer, as is the swingarm, the engine mountings have changed, the suspension is revised, and so on. Harley-Davidson though is blessed, or cursed, with probably the most conservative, traditionally-minded customers of any motorcycle manufacturer, and while they want their bikes to improve, they don’t want them to look any different.

 Harley_Electra Glide Ultra_004Click on image for gallery
All pics are Electra Glide Ultra Classic except last (red bike) which is Street Glide
So they don’t. And in the case of the Road King especially, nothing wrong with that either. The Road King was introduced in 1994 as a touring bike with classic 1950s styling: it was knockout then and it’s just as good to look at today.

The modern version is also a much better bike to ride. The engine is Harley’s Twin Cam 96, a 1584cc, air-cooled, V-twin unit with fly-by-wire throttle control, fuel injection and an active intake and exhaust noise control system that quietens the bike when it thinks it’s in an urban situation… or more to the point, being run through a noise emissions test. It’s a fabulous motor too, not just good for the sort of high street cruising that most riders expect of Harleys but excellent in its role here as a proper touring bike power unit. British riders as a rule don’t even think of Harleys as serious distance machines, and while there are aspects of touring which a BMW or Japanese bike might do far better than a Harley, Road Kings and Electra Glides have their own set of attributes which make them surprisingly effective, dark horse alternatives to the obvious contenders.

The engine is one of them, as lazy and torquey as you could ever want, chugging along at 70mph in the overdrive sixth gear with just 2500rpm showing (on the Glides anyway, the Road King has no rev counter, although it’s not missed). It sounds meaty and muscular too, and thuds through the bike in a thoroughly satisfying way, while topping out at a mere 5,500rpm which you never bother to visit. It’s not a fast machine but it’s communicative and easy, bringing immense character to mile eating. The new engine mounts have reduced the shaking at idle which was a trait of Harley tourers, apparently because regular customers asked for this, although I always rather liked it and miss the way different components on the bike would blur at the traffic lights. But this does also mean fewer vibes get through to the rider at higher revs, and you do still feel the pulses of torque when the throttle’s opened.

The big difference though comes with the way the bikes handle, specifically at high speeds. Take a bend at more than 80mph on an old model and you’d lose all sense of contact between front tyre and Tarmac, while the bike would squirm and wriggle gently. It was unsettling until you were used to it and no doubt put off riders trying out Glides or Road Kings for the first time. This has changed dramatically, and while you’d never call the bikes precise or tactile in fast cornering, stability is far better and much more reassuring than before, and the bikes also feel better balanced and less intimidating at low speeds. Owners of older models will be taken aback at how much better the new ones feel.

The suspension is improved too, although on the Electra Glide especially it still jars through potholes and doesn’t cope well with harsh surfaces. Modern Harley tourers are fitted with Brembo brakes, which are a major advance over the previous stoppers, although riders used to sportier bikes will still find them lacking power and feel. But in the context of these machines they’re fine, and as standard are backed up by a rather obtrusive ABS system which at least means you won’t lock up a wheel if you do just grab a fistful.

The question really with these bikes is, do they stand up as viable touring bikes in Europe, as considered alternatives to the mainstream choices? The answer is absolutely yes. They’re not by any means perfect: on all models, turbulence from the top of the screen is an issue, creating noise and tugging and bumping at your head relentlessly. The Glides have various screen height options which are worth trying as there is a narrow smooth zone which for the right height rider is acceptable, while the Road King’s bar-mounted screen is detachable, and the bike is fine with it removed. Fuel range is reasonable until you start to ride fast: the five gallon tank (of all models) should in theory be good for 250 miles at the 52mpg I was getting from gentle riding on the Road King, although oddly the dash’s range readout was showing just 50 miles left with the low fuel warning light lit after covering 150 miles on my California trip. And from experience I know high motorway speeds can bring consumption down to 40mpg and less. The finish quality is very variable: while the paint is outstanding, corrosion resistance of some components is poor (rust stains were marking a couple of points on our new bikes already) and ditto detailing, with ugly cable runs, clumsy brackets and so on. Yet the bikes still look spectacular.

If you’re not interested in rapid motorway runs, what a Road King or Glide offers (and I’d have the Road King, the Glides’ styling is just too kitsch) is good comfort, a thoroughly endearing engine and a unique sound and feel that add a lot to owning and riding these bikes. You do need to treat and ride them differently, but if it you can dial into the Harley way, there is nothing more relaxing or rewarding.



* The Harley Touring range:

FLHR Road King (panniers, 17 inch wheels): £13,555

FLHRC Road King Classic (leather-covered panniers, 16 inch wheels, whitewalls): £14,115

FLHT Electra Glide Standard (bar-mounted fairing, tall screen, panniers): £12,480

FLHX Street Glide (bar-mounted fairing, cut down screen, panniers): £14,925

FLHTCU Ultra Classic Electra Glide (bar-mounted fairing, leg shields, panniers, top box): £16,980

Note this is the UK model range, so all bikes come with ABS as standard and the Road Glide is currently not available.

jeff boville
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Joined: 07/02/2009

Liked the review Kev, I used to be a 'conventional' Brit biker, 916 and R1150GS in the garage, until the wife and I decided on a 2 week tour of California. If you're to do it, do it properly, so we hired an Electra Glide. What a revelation, I must admit I was not looking forward to riding something pre first world war, but it just felt right. 400 mile trips with only fuel and coffee stops and no finger numbing from something that could turn milk to cheese at tickover, how does it do that? And you will know that the roads around Yosemite and the Pacific Coast Highway are like our biking roads over here except with a poorer road surface. Anyway we were so impressed that when we came back we bought one, a 110 cu inch Glide as the 1450 cc one we had in the states seemed a bit gutless. As you say, we looked at BMW's and Goldwings, and they would do a fine job, but they lacked soul and I think that is what makes the Harley top dog. I find riding the Harley more rewarding than my other 2 bikes as the Duke will do anything I ask of it, the Beemer is a fine handling machine and gives good feedback, but the Harley needs to have everything just right, as a rider you have to plan so far ahead, will it get by the next overtake?, will it get round the corner as the lean angle is so poor? It is like riding the Duke at 150 mph everywhere. Sure you can wind off the throttle and tour at 50-60, but biking is fun, and loaded with luggage and the wife on the back life is great.

shuggiemac
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Joined: 23/11/2008

Hi Kevin - just read the Cross Bones review on the Telegraph web site. It seems like the comfort of the touring bikes in this article here are a long way from the 'bones'. Maybe that is why they named it as such, nothing to do with skulls or nautical theme but just because that is how your skeleton is going to feel after riding it. My mate with the new night train or whatever it is called also suffers terrobly in the comfort stakes.

I was pleased to see new copy from you on the Telegraph site and I come by here every day to see if there is anything new happening - I guess other things have been your priority.

kevash
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Joined: 05/10/2008

Hi, sorry I've not been on here for a while, one of my oldest and closest friends died in a light aircraft crash a few weeks ago so I've been minimising my work for a while. I've just added some stuff about a speed camera scandal and I'll be posting more on here again very soon - I'll have to do it from my holiday as I'm on that for a couple of weeks now! The XJ6 Yamaha will be on here soon and the GT versions of Aprilia's Shiver and Mana, and I hope a lot more as well!
Thanks for dropping by regularly, I'll endeavour to make it more interesting again now!
Kevin

Twinrider
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Joined: 07/02/2010

As an '09 Road King owner I found this review to be spot on, right down to the obtrusive ABS. Happily, Harley-Davidson fixed this problem last summer via a software recalibration available at all its dealerships. The ABS is much better behaved once it's done.

kevash
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Joined: 05/10/2008

I didn't know that about the ABS, thanks for the update - a shame Harley-Davidson didn't let me know though! Funny but it fits in with discussions I'm having right now in the technical section of the forums and shows what a difference even a subtle recalibration can make after the technicians have had a bit more time to work on it, even on a bike they know well.

Did you have experience of older Harley tourers btw? The 09 ones are a whole lot better I reckon.

Whippet
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Joined: 05/06/2010

I test rode an 07 and 10 Road King on Friday. Unexpectantly I loved it and am now saving to buy one, it's a shame that they've gone up £2.5k in price in the year since this was written.

kevash
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Joined: 05/10/2008

Scary how quickly prices have risen, but you should be able to get better deals on Harleys these days, which will be some compensation. How did the two compare for you? For me the biggest improvement is in the 10 bike's handling at speed, it's a lot more stable.

Whippet
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Joined: 05/06/2010

Spot on Kevin. I took both bikes through some dual carriageway 90mph sweepers and the newer model seemed a lot more planted, the older bike was vague at this speed and almost felt like the bars might want to start slapping a bit. I know Harleys aren't suppose to be ridden like that but it's nice to have the option. Big surprise was how well the bike soaked up the bumps on a little country B road.

I hope you're right about getting a deal, my minds pretty much made up and I should have the cash by winter. Both dealers I have spoken to indicated they were happy to negotiate even though I haven't even asked yet.

chipper
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Joined: 05/08/2009

Whippet many dealers will negotiate especially at the moment. Harley can give you a better part -ex as they are making more on the bike a possible 20% so can afford to play ball. If you are prepared to travel see whats on their showrooms as they need to offload stock at the end of financial quarters.

Looking about and test riding can be fun. I think Guildford Harley in surrey had some non abs street glides going cheap ( for that bike) about £13500. There are deals out there if you are prepared to look. Chipper

Whippet
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Joined: 05/06/2010

Well, life's to short to wait so I ordered my Road King this week. Knocked about £1,800 off, I paid £17,000 for pearl paint, stage one kit, sissy pad and removable rack. To say I can't wait is a big understatement, I haven't been this excited about a bike in many years. I've even been making the wife watch Sons of Anarchy so she knows what to expect...

Captain Scarlet
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Joined: 01/12/2009

Bang on Whippet. I rode a brand new RK Classic last year, up through Georgia, into the north Carolina Smoky Mountains, along the famous Deal's Gap (Google/YouTube 'The Dragon') with it's 318 tight turns in just 11 miles (didn't grind the running boards once, two-up with luggage) on then headed west through Tennessee just to see that Chattanooga choo-choo. Probably my most memorable and enjoyable ride ever. The 67% stiffer chassis they introduced makes a huge difference over the older models. The Brembo ABS works well, the cruise control is a joy to use, and those skinny panniers are like small tardis inside. Apart from having to buy shares in solvol and watching exhaust clamp bolts for corrosion (rest of bike is superbly built), there's very little to worry about and very much to adore. Congratulations and enjoy! :-D

Whippet
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Joined: 05/06/2010

Picked up my new RK yesterday and put 160 miles on it. I'd recommend anyone to try a Harley, they are great fun. The world seems a better place from the saddle of one.