Harley-Davidson’s first all-new big V-Twin in 17 years, the Milwaukee Eight, is an absolute cracker that, together with the upgraded suspension in the Touring range will shatter perceptions and criticisms.
If the Rushmore Project updates on the Touring line-up were like man landing on the moon, this is like man landing on Mars – a giant leap for Harley-kind.
There is so much power and torque in all revs and such a connected and direct feeling to the throttle that it now even needs traction control. Yes, traction control!
There is no more shuddering in idle, no more vibrating mirrors, no ignition thump, no more rattling engine, no clunking gears and even neutral is easy to find.
Yet the engine’s mechanical noise is so low, they have been able to increase the exhaust note, so it rumbles with a Harley rumble lower than we’ve ever heard before.
So it’s still a Harley, but not as we know it.
Forget what you know or think you know about Harley. This is going to change all your perceptions.
The heart of the Harley renaissance is the Milwaukee Eight engine which Aussies will no doubt shorten to “Meight”.
And what a mate it will be to riders with its more refined and sophisticated feel, married to a sweeter transmission, with a smoother ride and sharper handling characteristics thanks to upgraded suspension.
At the world media launch in Washington state on the Pacific North-West of the USA, Harley execs referred to comprehensive customer and potential customer market research that explored what people wanted and expected from a Harley.
Thirty-four-year Harley-Davidson veteran and boss of this project, Alex “Boz” Bozmoski, says the Milwaukee Eight models were “driven exclusively by the customer and potential customer”.
“A lot of people who wanted to come to the brand wanted the idle shake reduced,” he says.
But it wasn’t as easy as just balancing the rubber-mounted engine.
“Conquest customers loved 100% balance, but core customers didn’t like it because it didn’t feel like a Harley,” he says.
They tried several different degrees of balance and eventually reached an agreeable compromise.
“We ended up at 75% balance where core customers said it feels refined but still feels like a motorcycle and conquest customers were saying ‘I get it. I like this feel’,” Boz says.
“It’s the happy place between our core customers and people who wanted to come to our brand.”
When we fired up the bikes outside our hotel in Tacom, Washington, we were amazed that the initial ignition thump had all-but disappeared. It had been refined in the previous model, but now it is almost gone.
And then the bike settles into a pleasant 850-rev bass hum, rather than a lumpy, uneven rumble.
It still sounds like a Harley, yet it also sounds more refined.
Then we flicked up the kickstands and noticed the mirrors weren’t blurry.
So we fed it some revs and the whole machine didn’t shake and shudder.
Yes, it still felt like a Harley.
Yet all those quirks were gone. All those reasons for which some people ridicule the iconic brand.
And then we clicked it into first gear and guess what?
No major “Ka-thunk!” It just went into gear with a definite, but more subdued “clunk”.
We rode out of the carpark and around a few corners and stopped at a red light and guess what?
It went into neutral with ease. First time. Easy.
It’s still a Harley, but not as we know it.
Then we hit the concrete freeway out of town in pouring rain and guess what?
It spun up the back wheel in a straight line.
The back wheel got into the longitudinal grooves and just spun for about 100m. It was the first time I’ve ever thought a Harley really needed traction control. Seriously, it does need traction control. Now!
As the day went on and we travelled along the winding shores of Puget Sound out to Olympic National Park, the bike kept startling me with its refinement, composure and elegance.
They’ve updated the suspension with better and easily hand-adjustable shocks and linear front springs with double-bending valves to control oil flow on the impression and rebound strokes.
Simply put, it now keeps its wheels on the ground with some manners.
On the comfort level, the rear doesn’t slam through the divots and the front doesn’t jackhammer through the grips.
Mind you, this is America and finding a bumpy road or pothole can be difficult. We went searching and found a couple of minor road blemishes, so we don’t really know how it will cope with Aussie roads.
The Rushmore Touring models have always been a sharp-steering tool, but now they are even more precise right from initial steering input its more confidence from improved front-end grip.
Rain squalls dogged us most of the day until we headed up Hurricane Ridge when it became mist and solid light rain.
It didn’t upset the Harleys at all.
With front wheel grip increased, confidence grew and we actually came back down the slippery mountain even faster than we went up.
Yes, this Milwaukee Touring range is going to challenge perceptions and smash criticisms.
Along the way, they’ve also addressed a few other issues such as panniers falling off with a simple solution – a screw-in locking system that assures you it is anchored properly.
These are just initial perceptions on a project which has taken several years. We hit the road again tomorrow back to Tacoma. A longer review will follow soon.
As these engine and accompanying refinements filter down into other Harleys, we can expect to see more customer-oriented bikes.
But, please, let them have traction control!