Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special – Road Test

When gazing upon the Road Glide Special, it’s obvious chrome is not the colour of the season. What does the Special offer, besides looking dark and ominous? Mukhtar Mukuddem rides one to find out.

The Harley-Davidson Road Glide at the Café Racer in Strand
Chrome is dead or dying. Harley is crossing over to the dark side.

After collecting the Special on a Monday morning, I headed to the city for a meeting. The bike was finished in a colour combo Harley-Davidson calls Silver Flux/Black Fuse, proving there’s someone at HD HQ who has a grand old time naming paint mixes. It’s a charcoal metallic grey (we think) and the perfect background to a bold HD logo in Orgasmic Orange – just kidding; we made that up. Together with miles of matte-black metal and a bat-wing fairing with a short, tinted screen, it turns heads wherever it goes.

114 cubic inches means two pistons displacing just under 1.9 litres in total and a deluge of torque.

Ride and handling

Riding in traffic, I felt like I was Moses parting the Red Sea. Other road users give way to the menacing headlights, something Harley have spent plenty of time on to get the design just right. The shark-like appearance also helps, as does the distinctive Harley sound released by the ‘Screaming Eagle’ exhausts. The Milwaukee-Eight 114 cubic inch (1,868 cc in English) motor is responsive. This is a fast Harley, with strong acceleration through the gears and none of the lag associated with big V-twins. If you’ve dialled it up too far, the meaty brakes will stop you just as quickly.

The bike weighs 375 kg – without fuel and rider – so its a rolling beast of close to 500 kg with me in the saddle. Still, it feels surprisingly easy to maneuver. The engine sits low in the frame, so the seat height is perfect for riders with shorter legs. Once on the move, the weight disappears and its all smiles. One bugbear on the test model was the rather harsh feedback over bumpy roads – the suspension feels a bit too hard for this type of cruiser, something to consider if you are sensitive to hard rides – the proper tourers provide a plusher ride.

With aggressive riding on twistier roads, the hero bobs on the foot-pegs have a tendency to touch the ground – frightening the first time, but fun when you get the hang of it.

Equipment, design and comfort

The Road Glide comes with all the extras you need for a street cruiser. The full-colour infotainment system is accessible through a small joystick by your left thumb and is easy to operate. It’s a touch-screen too and it responds to gloved fingers. The system has sat-nav, Bluetooth for streaming music through on-board speakers, a radio, trip computer and so on. The screen is positioned just right, so there’s no glare (although the chrome surrounding the screen can be distracting in direct sunlight).

The instruments and infotainment screen of the Road Glide Special
The sat-nav is easy to use, with or without gloves

Staring at the screen can be hazardous to your health, so keep your eyes on the road your eyes and take in the scenery. The bike has cruise control and the seat is ultra comfortable for long rides, but your inner thighs might get a bit too much exercise on a longer stretch: the riding style has a tendency to push your legs wide apart, a bit like those questionable exercise machines in your local gym.

Equipment and style

If your last experience with Harley panniers was five years ago, you’ll notice the quality of these luggage boxes have improved vastly. They are easy to access, with a decent closing and locking mechanism. The all black frame and handlebars give the bike a more aggressive look. Some will love it, some will hate it. The orange-colour detail on the tank is another divisive addition – I personally liked the way it stands out, clearly marking the brand you have chosen to ride. Less chrome on a Harley-Davidson? Go figure!

What Harley-Davidson do get right every time is the way they make you feel part of a bigger family of Harley owners, regardless of which model you choose or how you’ve customised it.

The Glide’s visage is an acquired taste. Tester 2 (Visagie) fitted his Givi deflector to the low screen.

Verdict and rating

The Road Glide Special is beautiful to look at and comprehensively equipped, with everything from a user-friendly infotainment system to a refined and powerful V-twin engine. Unfortunately, the chassis has begun to show its age and if you have ridden any of the brilliant new Softails, you’ll know what we’re on about. Until Harley releases its new generation of big Tourers, you’ll be more comfortable on an Indian Chieftain or Roadmaster.
Rating: 7/10

The bat-wing fairing provides effective wind protection and the panniers have a quality feel to them.

Specifications

Engine 1,868 cc (114ci), ‘Milwaukee-Eight’, V-twin, 8-valve, liquid-cooled
Gearbox 6-speed manual, belt drive
Power 67 kW (90 hp) – estimated
Torque 163 Nm @ 3,000 rpm
Weight 375 kg (dry)
Seat height 695 mm
Length 2,430 mm
Fuel tank 22.7 litres
Price R375 000

The Road Glide presents plenty of riding pleasure, but it isn’t as refined as the new Softails or Indians.
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