Cruising along continental motorways on Harley-Davidson’s new Road Glide, it feels like a new word is needed to take over from the term ‘massive’. The Glide’s like a long container ship sitting low in the water, chugging between countries as its rider’s shoulders throw arms out to the wide, broad handlebars and hips direct legs to the footboards.
The Road Glide is essentially a new variant of Harley’s hugely popular Street Glide ‘bagger’, which is the US firm’s No1 best seller in the States. The newcomer shares most of the powertrain and chassis of that bike with the key difference being the use of a twin beam, frame-mounted fairing in place of the Street’s bar-mounted ‘Batwing’.
Rider comfort is reasonable, though feet wearing touring boots don’t naturally fall at an angle that suits the location of the footboards, so aches pop up before the fuel warning light comes on. My most comfortable position was with feet on the rearmost section of the boards, which meant the left boot clashed with the heel-operated upshifter and the right boot rested on the exhaust, with the potential to take the shine off its chrome.
The heel/toe gearshift, there to stop boot uppers becoming sullied by contact with the lever, is effective enough for this style of bike, but is long-travel and engages gears with a solid and reassuring thump before the engine hesitates at the start of its next cog, the staccato burble quickly making way for the roar of the V-twin as it settles back into its natural rhythm. Seeing as overtakes so frequently demand a downshift, it’s welcome that the experience is so engaging.
As long-distance roadshows go, the Glide is a joy. Big, open roads and large, wide grins. It’s a different story, however, when the roads start to tangle. Such a beast is never going to be a cinch in town or on country roads, but the Road Glide is up to the challenge. There’s steering lock aplenty but the riding position forces arms and knees together to reduce the effect, and this is not the bike where you want to be stabbing a foot at the floor hoping it holds.
Sat at traffic lights, the idling Glide shudders under the motor’s thumping vibrations and it’s best to let go of the bars to let it get on with it. When the lights go green, the Glide is quick enough off the mark though, with its bulk squatting and turning petrol into forward motion at a satisfying rate.
The standard sat-nav is at its best in town, where it’s easier to hear the voice instructions, but it’s not the most intuitive system. It would benefit from some more details on the screen, like the distance to turn, and the direction you’ll be taking, rather than an orange line that the rider has to interpret.
Out in the country, the Glide is not so much a handful as an armful. It’s fine on long, sweeping turns and is surprisingly good as long as the steering only involves nudging it off course and back onto it. But the suspension is crude over bigger bumps and it takes work to heave it into tighter turns. Combine the two and matters soon become troublesome.
Cruiser? It’s more like a spaceship travelling between planets. The mighty 1690cc engine wants to be at 3500rpm, surging hard rather than chugging and shrugging at the high-vibe idle speed. The rev-happy and tall-geared Glide charges along, not demanding sixth gear until past the UK speed limit.
As a way of covering big distances in a short time, the Road Glide Special lives up to the last word in its name. Keep it in its stride and it rewards with a 200-mile range from its 22-litre tank, which can stretch as far as 220 miles if you miss a fuel stop or are prepared to gamble on pushing the behemoth along the dual carriageway for a few miles.
The new breed of Harley-Davidsons are pretty bullet-proof, and the latest crop of Project Rushmore bikes, or which this is one, even more so.
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The distinctive yet short screen offers effective shelter, the wing-like fairing shrugs off rain and Harley’s new ‘infotainment’ system, part of a host of updates applied to the touring range through 2014’s ‘Project Rushmore’ programme, offers enough scroll menus and options to distract even the most single-minded rider from the mission of making it to journey’s end.
A 6.5in screen covers sat-nav and controls for a powerful audio system that can make music audible at 100mph on an autobahn, with switches for volume and directions under both thumbs.