This is what I was expecting. I’m behind the bars of a massive, shiny cruiser, with the sun beating down on me, hardcore tunes banging out of a set of speakers, and the familiar beat of a 45° V-twin banging out of a set of chromed pipes down below. I’ve been in Croatia for three days now, and have been up to all sorts of antics, but now we’re having a Harley-Davidson Ronseal moment.
Regular readers might remember the first few days of this trip was about thrashing new 2018 Sportsters (the Iron 1200 and Forty-Eight Special) round the twisties, and then some dirt-track racing on Street Rod 750s, instructed by Ruben Xaus. They were fine days indeed – but arguably stretching what most folk think of when it comes to Harleys.
Today, though, I’m getting a taste of the other side of the Milwaukee coin – taking in a chunk of Croatia’s fine roads and scenery on a Big Twin touring Harley. A Road Glide, to be precise, a half-faired touring beastie, which uses the firm’s Milwaukee Eight 107 engine – the latest top-end V-twin from the firm. The 107 is the capacity in cubic inches (1,745cc in real money), Eight is the number of valves, and it’s er, made in Milwaukee. Get past those stats and you find a 45° V-twin layout, with a single camshaft, pushrods, hydraulic valve lifters, oil, water and air cooling, 10:1 compression ratio and 111 ft-lbs of torque.
What about the power Dad? Well son, Harley doesn’t sully itself with such fripperies as a claimed power figure, saying torque is more important. Hmmm. Hunting about the nether regions of das internett, we find a figure of about 95bhp at the tyre, which is probably a decent enough figure for a full-bore touring bus. She weighs 388kg ready to ride apparently, but tbf, once you get over 300kg, another 88 doesn’t make a lot of difference to a big beastie like this…
That’s the scores on the doors then. But to be honest, the most important thing about this behemoth isn’t the weight or the power. It’s not even the built-in info-tainment with satnav, DAB radio, Bluetooth audio and all that good stuff. No, the stunning thing about it is the paint, and the bodywork. I’ve been blessed with the option of this silver metalflake finish (Hard Candy Shattered Flake, no less), and in the brilliant sunshine of Split, it glistens like the Milky Way on a dark night after far too much acid. Fabulous. It cranks the ‘shark nose’ fairing up another level of audacity, and sets off the lunatic double-square LED headlamps a treat. It looks like a Harley from a parallel dimension, where Liberace won the firm in a bet in Las Vegas in the 1970s, and gave it to John Waters, who then put Divine in charge of tourer development. Amazing.
I’ve fallen in love with it, and can’t wait to get moving. First things first though – I have to sort out all the toys. Pair my iPhone over the Bluetooth connection, work out how to cycle through all the display options, find the cruise control, open all the fairing vents (it’s been nearly 30 degrees the past couple of days) – all the vital stuff. Open the low-slung bagger-type panniers, throw in my daysack, and we’re off.
The other day we rode south from Split, so today, this being a coastal kinda place, we’re heading north. I’m chasing the legend that is Mr Alex Hearn, who’s helping Harley-D out on this launch, and I can almost hear him chuckling under his lid as we pull out of the city. These might be tourers, but he’s going to show me just what they can do on a twisty back road, I can feel it in my water.
Not yet though. All is going well, as we trundle along, crap rawk music blaring from the other Euro-journos’ bikes (my fellow Brits went home last night – I’m here an extra day with assorted Greeks and Germans, because, reasons). Of course, the carefully-curated arthouse indie/hip-hop/hardcore/EDM tunes to which I’m bopping are unparalleled in their coolness and intellectual provenance.
The Road Glide is a great place to be right now. The riding position is very pleasing, and not at all like some silly extreme customs I’ve been on in the past. None of that ‘legs straight out in front, arms up in the air hanging onto daft apehanger bars’ – here we have a comfy armchair riding position, spacious footboards, heel-and-toe gearchange, and decent protection from the baking hot wind blast. I’m not really convinced by the curious little demi-screen on this fairing though. It’s neither fish nor fowl, and what we really want is an adjustable screen that comes up enough to lift all the wind off when needed, then pivots down when you want to catch the flies in your teeth.
The engine is very pleasant too, within the boundaries Harley sets itself, of course. In the same way as BMW with its Boxer lump, Harley has stuck doggedly to the knitting, holding onto a 45-degree sort-of-air-cooled V-twin like Donald Trump hanging onto his hairline. And while they’ve improved, fettled and optimised everything as much as they can, they’re still stuck with what is a sub-optimal foundation, in engineering terms.
Put simply, a (mostly) air-cooled long-stroke 45° OHV V-twin with separate transmission is always going to be big, heavy, vibey and underpowered, in comparison with, say, a water-cooled 90° V-twin, or an inline-four, or triple or even a parallel twin. Even when it’s got balance shafts, fuel injection, knock sensors, water-cooled rear cylinder heads, four-valve combustion chambers, and all that. Meeting the likes of Euro 4 emissions regs is even more of a headache of course. In the words of the old Irish joke, if you were wanting to make a light, compact Euro 4-compliant engine with decent power and torque, you really wouldn’t start from here.
But Harley has to, for better or worse, and in the end, this Milwaukee Eight engine makes a pretty good fist of things. A hundred bhp is fine for a relaxed tourer, even one that weighs almost half a tonne with a chunky Scotsman on board. The fuelling and throttle response is immaculate throughout, and since there’s not millions and millions of grunts coming out through the drive belt, you can get on the gas really early from a bend without too much in the way of worries. There’s no traction control on these big fellas, but you don’t need it, honestly.
I’m about to test all this out though. We’ve turned off the highway, and Hearny has cranked the ride up a little already. The other riders are gradually shrinking in the OBJECTS IN MIRRORS ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR glass as my Road Glide gathers up her skirts and we charge into the hills. I’m giggling away as I try to stay with him – but he’s done a million miles on big Harleys, and has been riding up and down this road all week. A few really narrow hairpins catch me out, and no matter how hard I get the hammer down, he’s out of sight within a couple of miles, the loon.
The Road Glide is doing well, considering how far out of its design brief we’re straying. There’s a lot more ground clearance than you’d think, tyres are fine on this hot dry asphalt, the brakes are a league away from the last big touring H-D I rode (more than a decade ago), and the suspension works pretty well too. The weight is the biggest problem for sportiness of course, but tbh, it’s more than up to having a bit of a laugh on a twisty stretch of mountain road.
I finally catch up with a grinning Hearny at the photo stop, and congratulate him on his improbable mega-touring pace. It’s some time before the sensible gents of the mittel-European press hove into view, grumbling mildly about the pace. They’re assured that it was just a quick blast to get us back on schedule time-wise and it’ll all be much calmer from now on…
We race up and down an idyllic mountain pass for some photos and video, and then my flight-time alarm goes off. Pics are done, and I say cheerio to the gang then head back to Split for my mid-afternoon BA flight home. I’ve only done half the route, but have definitely got a taste for the Road Glide. Now, I get the chance for a solo run back to base.
The road is quiet, I’ve got an idea of how the corners run, the scenery is incredible, the sun’s blazing down – this really is what riding bikes should be all about. I get the Glide up to ramming speed on a couple of long, long straights – she takes a while to get up there of course, but is commendably stable, and the wind blast is still well-contained at 110mph-plus. Fast sweeping bends are the most satisfying, once you get the Glide lined up, she powers through majestically, like a Blue Riband ocean liner on a record run through the Grand Banks.
The only problem comes if you need to stop in a hurry: that mass which doesn’t matter much most of the time suddenly makes its presence felt, like a really stinky fart in a hot Tube carriage. I get caught once, when a big tanker truck pulls out into the carriageway a few hundred yards ahead. I haul on the anchors, but there’s a nervous half-second when I consider where it would be better to pull out into the blind side of the road, or just go straight into the back of the truck at 20mph…
Luckily, it was all good, and I was able to slow down in ample time. A sombre warning though that you can’t take the piss as much as you would on another bike. But that’s fine – because there’s lots of stuff you can do on this bike which wouldn’t really work on anything else. Riding about with a paint job which wouldn’t be out of place on a fairground waltzer ride for starters, while listening to your terrible iPhone playlist, and having kids, grannies, and the general public smiling and nodding at the very sight of you and your massive shiny motorbike. And doing it in comfort, at a decent lick, too!
Back at the hotel, and I’m genuinely sad to be handing the keys back. I browse through some facts on the bike at the airport departure lounge, and am impressed by some of the details. Firstly, while it’s an expensive bike at £22k basic, that doesn’t seem as bad as it used to. I remember when big touring Harleys were much pricier than ‘normal’ bikes – in 2010, an Electra Glide Ultra Classic was £20,500, and a Blade was £10,725. Now, a base Fireblade is £15,769, and an SP is £19,770. So while it’s still a pricey proposition, the rest of the market is catching up, and stuff like the Road Glide is becoming better in terms of relative value. And if you consider the residual values – a Harley holds onto its price better for longer, generally – things balance out even more.
As I’ve said before – I’d have a lot of bikes in my proverbial ‘Dream Garage’ before a Harley. But it’s fair to say that the first H-D to make it in there could well be a Road Glide. I’ve had a real ball on this one today – and that’s maybe not quite what I expected when I woke up this morning…
Engine: 8v OHV, liquid/air-cooled 45° V-twin, 1,745cc
Bore x stroke: 100 x 111mm
Compression ratio: 10.2:1
Max power 95bhp-ish
Max Torque (claimed) 110ft lb at 3,250rpm
Transmission: six speed, belt drive
Frame: steel tube
Front suspension: RWU 49mm forks
Rear suspension: preload adjustable twin shocks
Brakes: twin discs, four-piston calipers (front), single disc, four-piston caliper (rear), ABS/linked brakes
Wheels/tyres: Aluminium/Michelin, 130/60 19 front, 180/65 16 rear
Rake/trail: na°/na mm
Kerb weight (claimed): 388kg
Fuel capacity: 22.7 litres
Price: £21,995 [black] (£23,135 for the metalflake paint as tested)