The 2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special is a big-distance highway tourer with outstanding high-speed stability, low-speed manoeuvrability and aerodynamics.
With its brutish bull nose and slammed rear end, it’s a confronting thing to behold. It’s affectionately referred to as T Rex because its model code name is FLTRX.
But that big frame-mounted fairing has its uses.
It means that high-speed highway weaving caused by turbulence from trucks and vans does not happen because the fairing is divorced form the forks.
It also means there is less weight on the forks, so low-speed steering is light and relatively nimble for such a big beast.
In fact, I had no trouble threading my way through an Easter traffic jam.
The wind-tunnel-tested fairing also has three vents which direct smooth, cooling air toward the rider, while also preventing turbulence caused by a big fairing pushing the air aside at speed.
So you sit in a fresh bubble of smooth air so you can hear the superb audio system at highway speeds.
The vents can be closed when it rains, but if you leave them open, the rain doesn’t prick your face like needles. In fact, it feels soft and on a hot day, it’s quite refreshing.
That fairing may appear ugly to some, but it’s a superb piece of engineering.
However, the slammed rear end does limit the functionality of the bike, especially two-up.
For a start, the seat slopes away to follow the lines of the bike, so we have aesthetics above pillion comfort.
It also has a lowered rear end with shorter suspension travel than the Road King, so it doesn’t handle the bumps on Aussie roads.
The first time I rode it was in the US where the roads are much smoother and it felt just fine.
I took the left pannier off the test bike and played with the hand-adjustable premium coil-over shock from the CVO models, but I just couldn’t get a comfortable ride for our conditions.
So really the Road Glide only “glides” on smooth roads.
It’s powered by the same high output 103B Twin Cam as in most of their big twin range now.
The engine is smoother, more refined, revs longer, doesn’t detonate when laboured and will pull from anywhere on the dial.
It’s a delight and an under-stressed workhorse that delivers.
For 2016, they have reduced the width of the primary housing and derby cover so it feels a little slimmer between your legs.
The only other change for 2016 is the paint colour options including Hard Candy Custom paint like the beautiful blue of our test bike and custom colours.
Our test bike had the higher touring screen fitted. I’m just over 6’ (185cm), so I could still see over the top.
But because of the aerodynamics, it’s like sitting behind the screen of a Road King, Gold Wing or other big-screen tourer.
And because the screen is such a long way in front, it doesn’t feel claustrophobic.
The Road Glide missed the 2013 Rushmore Project updates, but was brought back the following year with all those updates, including the high-output engine, better ergos, stronger brakes, improved controls and twin Daymaker LED headlights with a much greater spread and penetration of light.
The improved ergos largely consist of the handlebars being moved 22cm closer and with a more comfortable bend so there is no reach, plenty of control and no wrist aches on long days in the saddle.
The improved controls are the contoured buttons, two toggles and the cruise control now on the left, rather than the right switch block.
It’s one of the best cruise controls to use with no lag and the ability to make minor adjustments so you don’t accidentally cop a speeding fine, even in states with low speed tolerances.
Australia only gets the Road Glide Special which adds 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.
The screen sits on top of the instruments, rather than below like on the Street Glide which makes it more visible, however, it also cops more glare in that position.
It’s also too far away for touch screen controls, although all controls can be done with the two toggles on the switchblocks.
I’d prefer the instruments on the top so you don’t have to look too far away from the road to check your speed.
2016 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special tech specs
- Price: $34,750 ride away
- 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