So, what is it?
The Harley Davidson Road Glide Special is a 3XL cruise tourer. It’s not a pack mule, like the Ultra (which has that lovely big top box) and the screen is subtle enough to put it in the cruiser class. Did I mention that it’s big? At almost 2.5 m, you do not want to turn around in a tight spot. And at a 385 kg wet, it’s a tad on the heavy side. Below walking speed it requires muscle and careful control, but once it’s on the move, all of that becomes a technical fact on a piece of paper. And as we all know, we ride bikes on the road and not on paper, thankfully. With a rear tyre size at 180/65/16 and a slim 130/60/19 in front, the bike handles easily. Final drive is via a belt and runs up to 6th gear in no time. Harley-Davidson has given this bike a lot of tech – it gets linked ABS braking coupled to excellent Brembo four-piston dual-sided brakes and callipers. New for the range are LED headlights, brighter indicators and the now standard Harley-Davidson security system.
Harley have made their larney CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) paint options available for this bike – the model we tested was finished in Superior Blue, with Amber Whiskey, Black Denim and Vivid Black as other paint colour options to choose from.
The fairing has been narrowed, showing off more of the wheel, and gives the bike a more aggressive look. Final finish on the dials are chrome – high quality kit you would expect on a bike like this. The fairing and screen offer significant wind buffeting protection, while still giving a feeling of freedom. The screen looks tiny, but is highly effective in eliminating wind buffeting around the rider’s head. Adjustable vents in the fairing can allow or prevent air from coming through.
The bike comes with a myriad of standard features – a factory fitted twin-speaker surround sound system featuring FM/AM radio with RDS, and a MP3 player connection, make longer trips a pleasure. The controls have been redesigned after Project Rushmore customer inputs and are all within thumb’s reach. Clearly, Americans have big hands, because I struggled with the controls at times. Best to have the settings right before you go.
The side panniers are excellent and have decent locking and closing mechanisms. They can comfortably accommodate a laptop, along with a few bottles of water and even the evenings top-up groceries. The clasps have been made more durable too, with a fair amount of thinking having gone into the new design.
A GPS is now built in as standard and provides a clear and easy to read screen even on the brightest of days.
Special mention must be made of the wheels: Harley named them the Enforcer cast aluminium wheels – all new and designed to offset the new brake discs (ventilated) and show off the Brembo kit.
The Road Glide delivers its power smoothly and without any effort. The air-and-oil-cooled 1690cc (103 cubic inches) provides power at low revs, eliminating the need to shift down frequently. The six-speed gearbox provides positive shifts, neutral is easy to find and changing up is effortless. One thing to note – when shifting down as one approaches a stop, some caution must be exercised, as rapid downshifts can unsettle the bike, with the potential to lock up the wheels. The brakes, both front and rear, are more than up to the task of stopping the big bike safely and quickly.
Ride and handling
The overall ride and comfort of this bike is excellent and is the ideal weekend bike for a long ride. It proved able on the twisty bits, with decent handling for such a big bike. Harley-Davidson claims a lean angle of 32⁰ on the right and 31⁰ on the left, and I can attest to this. The bike feels settled when cornering, as I found out on Chapman’s Peak. Low-speed riding is also good, with gearing set for a comfortable cruising experience.
Likes and dislikes
I liked the way people looked at the bike and how often the bike would draw a crowd – the onlookers would range from the age of 5 to 80, and everyone wanted to sit on this bike. I disliked the turning angle, making it quite harrowing to back out of tight corners. The low seat also makes this more difficult, but this can be remedied by fitting an aftermarket seat.
Verdict and rating
A very competent long road machine, designed for long distances. As a cruiser in a niche market this bike scores a solid 8/10.
Triumph Rocket III Touring, BMW K1600 GTL, Honda Goldwing, Kawasaki Vulcan 1700, Indian Chieftain, Victory Cross Country.
- Engine – 1690 cc, air-and-oil-cooled twin-cylinder
- Gearbox – 6-speed, sequential manual
- Power – don’t be ridiculous – Harley doesn’t provide this figure
- Torque – 138 Nm @ 3 500 rpm
- Weight – 385 kg with all fluids
- Seat Height/Ground clearance – 696 mm
- Fuel Capacity – 22.7 l
- Fuel consumption – claimed – 5.6 l/100km
- Tank range – 300 km
- Warranty and Servicing – 2-year warranty with 6000 km service intervals
- Price – R309 900
Review by Mukhtar Mukuddem and photos by Sedick Jappie