New Harley-Davidson engines don’t come around very often so the American legend’s headline news for 2017 – that its touring family all receive significantly updated motors featuring not just four-valves-per-cylinder for the first time, oil and/or liquid-cooling, but also balancer shafts and slipper clutches is big news indeed.
By the same token, however, these being Harleys, you’d also be forgiven for barely noticing the difference. At least at first.
Harley calls its new motor (in fact there’s two, but I’ll come back to that) the ‘Milwaukee Eight’ as a reference to both Harley’s home town and its key new feature, the V-twin’s four valves per cylinder.
As such it’s the latest in a long line of 45-degree Harley big twins, succeeding the ‘Twin Cam’, as first introduced in 1999, which in turn followed on from 1985’s ‘Evolution, the 1966 ‘Shovelhead’, 1948 ‘Panhead’ and so on.
As mentioned it comes in two different forms: The less-faired ‘bagger’ family – the Street Glide, Road King and so on – get the ‘Milwaukee-Eight 107’ which has merely oil cooled heads along with a subtly hidden oil cooler in its belly in keeping with their more naked look. While Harley’s ‘full dressers’, comprising Ultra limited, Road Glide and Tri Glide trike, receive the ‘Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight 107’ which instead features liquid-cooled heads with different cooling channels and a couple of radiators hidden in its leg guards.
And yes, it is big news – but only once you get going. From the saddle of the Road King I tested first around spectacular Puget Sound near Seattle in north-western USA, everything at first is identical to the outgoing, Twin Cam powered 2016 version, from its classic ‘bagger’ gait, updated (in 2014) switchgear, clocks and so on.
Instead, the improvements are only clear once started up. The new engine idles lower, its potato-potato exhaust note is more distinctive than ever. Its gearchange is smoother, its delivery slightly more refined and yet with added urgency, too. It’s not a radical hop up – we’re talking a 10% boost in power and torque or thereabouts, but it’s welcome and, yes, you do notice it.
You also notice the slightly improved rider ergonomics the new engine, with its slimmer primary case and air filter cover, give and the, although I didn’t try it, you also welcome the far easier suspension adjustment, where one linked knob now adjust the preload on both rear shocks.
Overall, though, it has to be said that the Harley experience is barely changed. For conservative, loyal Harley fans, that’s no doubt a good thing: their favourites have just got slightly better. For the rest of us, however, or those also now considering the likes of Indian, the question remains as to whether all the 2017 changes will be enough.
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