Put simply, the Harley-Davidson Road Glide has the best aerodynamics of any touring bike I have ever ridden.
The big tourer missed out on the Rushmore Project launch last year because Harley says they had so much on their plate with eight new models. However, I believe it’s because the Road Glide presented too many aero and cosmetic problems with its massive fairing.
The Road Glide has always been a delight to ride because its chassis-mounted fairing reduces the unsprung weight on the front forks which gives it a deliberate and light feeling in the steering. Decoupling the fairing and forks also means it is not affected by crosswinds and doesn’t have high-speed weave which is common among bikes with fork-mounted fairings.
But the “shark nose” fairing did create a lot of buffeting and, in some people’s view, it was butt-ugly.
Now, after many sessions in university wind tunnels and on the designers’ drawing board both of those problems have been solved.
It’s still got a big nose, but with a bit of nip and tuck, they’ve made it less confronting. More important than the cosmetic surgery, it now has the best aerodynamics of any tourer, thanks to not just one vent, like the Ultra and Street Glide, but three.
It has the same vent at the bottom of the windscreen as the Ultra and Street Glide which largely negates annoying and fatiguing turbulence caused by negative air pressure behind the screen. But the Road Glide also has two vents beside the twin LED headlights that direct a clean stream of fresh air into the cockpit. (All of the vents can be closed for riding in the rain or in the cold.)
The Ultra’s vented windscreen also negates buffeting, but it leaves a bit of a stale-air vacuum for the rider, while the Street Glide’s vented fairing leaves a lot of wind noise and buffeting at the very top of the helmet for tall riders.
However, even tall riders will find the Road Glide’s triple-vent system creates a cooler, cleaner, quieter and less fatiguing environment, conducive to long days in the saddle.
On top of great aero, the Road Glide gets all the other goodies of the Rushmore Project bikes, including the highly refined high-output 103 Twin Cam engine, better ergos, stronger brakes, improved controls and twin Daymaker LED headlights with a much greater spread and penetration of light.
Harley Australia is only bringing in the Road Glide Special which comes with the Boom! Box 6.5 with superb quality sound, GPS and touch screen. It is the best sound system I have experienced on any bike. Not just loud, but clear.
Your music is also audible because of the lack of buffeting and reduced mechanical noise from the refined engine. If you don’t like listening to music, you can sit back in your quiet bubble and tune into the dulcet tones of the golden-baritone exhaust.
The new Road Glide comes with a high-performance hand-adjustable shock for a more comfortable ride on poor roads. We tested it on some broken pavement in earthquake-struck Napa Valley, in California, on the world press launch and it behaved superbly. There is a bit of a jolt over some of the harsher bumps and it doesn’t feel as plush as the Ultra, but it’s still very competent. And like the rest of the Touring crew, it’s no slouch in the tight twisties as we found on the famous Big Sur coastal road (like 10 Great Ocean Roads, but with a smoother surface).
To make it more comfortable, the handlebars have been moved closer to the rider. Not just a smidgeon, either. How about 22cm! The previous Road Glide had an uncomfortable reach to the bars, but this is no stretch at all. Plus, the curve of the bars means a far more comfortable wrist angle for extra-long days in the saddle. Road Glide by name, road glider by nature!
A hallmark of the Road Glide experience is the open feeling of the cockpit. Some faired bikes feel claustrophobic, but not the Road Glide as the sporty windscreen seems miles away.
However, it is strange that Harley has turned the Street Glide dashboard upside down with the Boom! Box touch screen mounted at the top and the instruments underneath. That means the touch screen is too far away for even tall riders to reach without leaning forward, although you can still perform every function with the two convenient toggle switches on the bars. It also means the speedo is too far down to catch a glimpse of your speed without having to take your eyes off the road. I’d rather see my speed in that high position than what radio station and track I’m listening to on my iPhone or where I am on the GPS map.
Not that you can see what’s on the screen anyway, because the high-mounted touch screen is titled up so it catches a lot of daytime glare (see the photo). It needs to be tilted forward or have a shroud over it to keep the glare off the screen.
The popular Rushmore Project bikes have lifted Touring sales in Australia from 8% of all Harley sales to an initial spike of 16% before settling back to a steady 12%. Harley Australia marketing director Adam Wright predicts the Road Glide will rival Street Glide sales and lift Touring sales percentages to more than 20%.
He suggests there may be some cannibalisation of Softail Heritage sales, but Road Glide will also win over metric cruiser riders and people trading in their old Harley tourers.
He expects Road Glide will also hone in on the growing custom bagger scene and attract a younger demographic in the 35-45-year age bracket.
2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special tech specs
- Price: $34,495
- Engine: air-cooled OHV pushrod 103 V-twin
- Bore x stroke: 98.4mm x 111.1mm
- Ratio: 9.7:1
- Transmission: 6-speed
- Suspension: 49mm fork, air-adjustable rear shock
- Brakes: dual 300mm floating discs, four-piston fixed callipers; 300mm disc, four-piston fixed calliper
- Tyres: Dunlop D408F 130/60B-19 bias ply; D407T 180/65B-16 bias ply
- Wheelbase: 1625mm
- Rake & trail: 26º & 223mm
- Seat: 695mm
- Fuel: 22.7L
- Economy: 5.6L/100km
- Weight: 385kg