Harley-Davidson Touring Road Glide Special review

Like being stared at? Ride one of these

IF you like being stared at, get a Touring Road Glide Special. I've never ridden a bike that draws so much attention.

As if the bright orange paintwork wasn’t garish enough, the Special sits there with its wide-eyed LED headlights, an abundance of chrome, and that huge shark nose fairing. Saying it’s imposing is an understatement.

In fact, it all felt a bit wrong collecting the bike from a warehouse in Gloucester in the pouring rain. Where’s Route 66? Why aren’t I wearing leather chaps? And where’s my fat pillion? I guess the A419 to Swindon followed by a stint on the M4 will just have to make do.

The bike is started using a keyless system consisting of a small fob to deactivate the immobiliser and a chunky dial situated beneath the clocks. The dial serves as a sort of do-it-all ignition switch: a click to the right to turn the bike on and a turn to the left to engage the steering lock.

It’s all very neat - just make sure you remember to take the keys with you before setting off. The Special will start with the fob in proximity but will continue to run even if you leave the key behind at the garage forecourt.

Firing up the engine is a dramatic affair. The whole bike judders as the 1688cc motor cranks into life, accompanied by a muffled bassy exhaust note at idle. It’s far from obnoxious and not anywhere near as loud as the large chrome pipes would have you believe.

The fuelling of the engine is perfect and on the go the Special is only really let down by the transmission. Click up through the gears in any hast and it sounds like a metal bucket making its way down a laundry chute. A slow, firm gear change is the key but it makes the whole process more arduous than it ought to be. I just want to change gear.

Despite the mammoth weight figure - 385kg to be precise - the Special is surprisingly nimble above running speed. And with over 30-degrees of lean angle available on both sides of the bike you don’t have to worry about scraping the footboards around every corner either.  It responds rather nicely to being chucked around and with 102ft.lb of torque on offer, it’s easy to light up the rear tyre coming off roundabouts. It’s all a bit of a laugh. Well, in the dry at least, anyway.

With so much mass to balance at low speeds, it becomes relatively disconcerting when the road is even remotely wet. I found myself looking out for greasy leaves for fear that I might put my foot down on one and slip. Lose your balance at low speed and your £19,795 toy is more than likely going to hit the deck. And it’s not as though you can filter through traffic to keep up momentum either. The saddlebags are great for storing gear on long road trips - not quite so good at squeezing through a five-mile tailback on the M25.

At motorway speeds it’s worth playing around with the three manual vents in the front fairing to minimise any wind buffeting. Similar to tweaking the windows in the car to get rid of that ‘helicopter’ noise, there’s a sweet spot in there somewhere and when you find it, you’ll be able to cruise in comfort for hours - the seat on the Special is the most comfortable I’ve ever sat on.

Touting the ‘Touring’ name, the Special is loaded to the hilt with tourer-friendly qualities. There’s cruise control, a 22.7-litre fuel tank that will easily do over 200 miles, an ‘infotainment’ system with loud speakers and an inbuilt satnav. You also get ABS brakes and each of those handy saddlebags is large enough to hold a full rucksack.

All the comfort of a car is there to be had with the added benefit of an 83hp V-twin soundtrack. Never has a 100-mile ride in the rain been so easy.

It’s not perfect: I think any touring bike that costs almost £20,000 should come with heated grips as standard. And riding on air certainly wasn’t the first thing that came to mind after experiencing the ‘air ride’ rear suspension. But the Special makes up for it in intangible properties. It’s like a novelty that doesn’t seem to wear off. When else can you draw this much attention, in this much comfort, whilst listening to your favourite song at 60mph? It’s a statement on wheels.

Harley-Davidson can no longer be accused of resting on its laurels either. Launched by the firm last year, Project Rushmore is a customer-driven package of enhancements designed to give Harley’s luxury-tourers and performance baggers more power, better brakes, fresh styling and improved usability.

It’s a step in the right direction for the Milwaukee firm and one that will only ever improve the image of Harleys in markets outside of the US.

Model tested: Harley-Davidson Touring Road Glide Special

Price: £19,495 (£19,795 for additional colour option)

Power: Approx. 83hp @ 9,250rpm

Torque: 102lbft @ 3,500rpm

Fuel economy (claimed): 42mpg

Wet weight: 385kg

Tank capacity: 22.7 litres

Seat height: 696mm

Availability: Now

Colours: Blue, amber, gloss black, matte black