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First Ride: 2010 Harley-Davidson Range

For the launch of its new 2010 models Harley-Davidson decided to give the assembled journalists the ‘full Harley experience.’ So they took them to Sturgis…

“I wouldn’t usually do this, but as we are at Sturgis…” proclaims the lady as she lifts up her top to reveal her ample, and saggy, charms to a packed main street. “You could charge a dollar for that view,” offers a voice of encouragement. “Na, that would be tacky,” counters the woman, with complete sincerity. Watching the scene unfold I can’t help but be confused; if she was genuinely concerned about appearing tacky, and not used to exposing herself, why had she gone to the lengths of painting pink flowers over her nipples before leaving the house that morning?

If you’ve not heard of the Sturgis Rally then you probably aren’t into Harleys. It started 69 years ago as a race meet organised by the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club in the small town of Sturgis in America’s South Dakota and rapidly snowballed into what it is now, the world’s largest bike meet and a pilgrimage for anyone who owns, wants to own, or just loves Harley-Davidsons. How big is it? Last year over 400,000 people swarmed into the town for the week long rally, dwarfing Sturgis’ population of 6,500 residents but not hitting the record 633,000 who attended the 60th celebrations in 2000.

So, for the launch of its new 2010 models, Harley decided to give us a taste of Sturgis by launching the bikes in the local area and organising a route that involved the twisting roads of the Black Hills before culminating in us being dumped right in the centre of all the action – Sturgis’ Main Street.

The logic behind this decision was not only the fact that Sturgis is basically a Harley dominated event, but also that the most important new bike in Harley’s 2010 range, the Dyna Wide Glide, had received some significant changes that, Harley hoped, would be highlighted by the mountain roads.

With a new department inside the Milwaukee R&D house designated to chassis development, Harley has made big steps in improving their bike’s handling in recent years, and the new Wide Glide is testament to this. Compared to the old model the chassis is stiffer with better bracing and while the front end is still raked out to the same degree, the forks have new damping. Both of these moves are designed to reduce the chassis-flex and lose the vague front end feel associated with the old Glide. And the changes work.

Sturgis in Numbers

  • The record attendance in 2000 was 633,000 
  • Tad Wolf - Tattoo artist who has worked the last 13 consecutive Rallies: “During the Sturgis Rally we run 12 full time tattoo artists and are open pretty much 24-hours a day, I reckon that we probably do around 7,000 tattoos in the week or so when the rally is on. The artwork varies from guys adding to existing tattoos, putting a 2009 on the end of other tattoos indicating previous year’s rallies, to full sleeves and loads of Harley logos. Sometimes we get guys coming in that are so drunk we have to refuse them, I don’t mind if they have had a beer, but when they are out of their heads that’s a different matter. They won’t sit still and that pisses me off!”
  • Last year 543.3 tons of rubbish was created in the week 
  • Last year 188 parking tickets were issued, five people were arrested for drug-related felonies, 84 for drug misdemeanours and 319 for traffic violations. 437 were jailed and 370 required hospital treatment. And there were 3 rally-related deaths recorded!

Although, fairly obviously, you aren’t going to rip around a track on the Wide Glide, it now handles securely and without wobble up to the limits imposed on it by its lack of ground clearance, which is a significant step forward. On the twisting roads around the Black Hills the bike’s skinny 21-inch front wheel felt much more connected with the road’s surface, giving me the confidence to take one hand off the flat bars and give a cool Harley ‘low V sign’ wave mid-corner to the hoards of other riders heading to Sturgis. Not that any returned the gesture, possibly they weren’t riding bikes with the new chassis.

Other than the frame the only other significant change to the Wide Glide, (named as such because of the widely spaced forks which accentuate the skinny look of the front wheel) is the use of the six-speed 96 cubic inch (that’s 1584cc to you and me) motor. This engine, which is now used in most of Harley’s range, is a vast improvement on the old five-speed motor as it has all the sound and character you would expect (including the huge clunk when first gear is selected) but a stack more practicality with the sixth gear acting as an overdrive and allowing you to keep the revs down and ‘duff’ along. And we did a lot of ‘duffing,’ especially approaching Sturgis.

As soon as you get within a few miles of the event the surrounding hills become covered in abandoned trailers as their owners are off riding their Harleys, pretending they rode all the way to Sturgis, rather than just the last five miles. Then, as you approach the centre of Sturgis, its true size is revealed. Most of the action is based around Main Street, which is about a mile-long and is turned into a gigantic bike park. Every available inch of both sides of the road as well as the central area is filled with chrome while riders cruise up and down the drag pretty much constantly with open pipes and ever-increasingly odd headgear. In Dakota you don’t have to wear a crash helmet, and nearly everyone at Sturgis favours the protective qualities of a Harley bandana.

Watching this rolling cavalcade are riders from every walk of life. Hells Angels hang around on their designated street corner while accountants, lawyers, farmers, kids and even Willie G. Davidson just mingle in with the crowds, checking out the bars, souvenir shops and eateries and inspecting the eclectic selection of parked bikes. Away from Main Street the various back streets are filled with more vendors, bars and bikes while every available car park is transformed into a display of some kind ranging from the stunning bikes in the AMD Official World Custom Bike Building Championship, to a couple of girls from a saucy calendar.

It’s a constant 24-hour hustle and bustle of activity, although it is all basically the same. It is some kind of ultimate Harley-Davidson happiness, 600,000 non-conformist badasses showing their colours and conforming to epic propotions. Outside the town the Buffalo Chip Campsite hosts everything from the nightly rock concert, which was headlined this year by Aerosmith, to a decent firearms display.

Having just dipped my toe rather than plunged headlong in the chaotic waters of Sturgis I can’t help but be impressed by the scale of the event. Sturgis makes the TT look like a family picnic it could only ever happen in America.

Other 2010 models

Alongside the Dyna Wide Glide, Harley also launched the Fat Boy Special (read more here), which is essentially a Fat Boy with a moody black paint scheme, blacked out chrome and altered suspension and the Electra Glide Ultra Limited. This is the top of the range tourer and comes with a host of accessories including a stereo, heated grips, cruise control, ABS and the bigger capacity Twin Cam 103 (1690cc) engine. The Special costs £14,730 while the Limited is £20,180.

2010 Harley-Davidson Dyna Wide Glide Specifications

Price: £10,950 (£11,440 flame paint scheme)
Engine: Air-cooled, twin cam, 1584cc V-twin
Power: 94ft.lb @ 3,500rpm
Weight: 295kg
Front suspension: 49mm forks, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: twin shocks, adjustable spring pre-load
Front brake: 300mm single disc, four piston caliper
Rear brake: 292m disc, two-piston caliper
Fuel: 17.3 litres
Seat height: 680mm
Colours: Red, black, black with flames