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Touring bikes like the Street Glide, Road King, Ultra Glide have been the backbone of Harley’s range for years now. And when you're that successful, you don't change things just for the sake of change.
In recent years though, we've seen something of a shake-up in the touring market. BMW has made increasingly more affordable and capable bikes (albeit in the sport-tourer category). Victory and the re-created Indian and even Honda with the F6B are starting to tackle Harley head on. If you're Harley, this is a dilemma.
But, as they say, fortune favors the brave, and Harley has taken bold steps with the new 2014 FLHX Street Glide.
Some changes were forced upon Harley, such as an industry-wide move to ABS, and emissions laws all but requiring fuel injection. Some changes surfaced due to ‘Project Rushmore’ where-by Harley listened to what riders wanted in a machine and put those requests into production.
In all, the 2014 Project Rushmore Harleys represent perhaps the biggest changes for Harley in a very long time. Has it worked? I took the 2014 FLHX Street Glide for a first-ride to find out.
The 2014 Street Glide Test
This is a touring bike and it's autumn, so what better way to test the Street Glide than a tour of New York state and the glorious roads of the Catskills?
The road trip also gives me chance to try what touring bikes are best at - prolonged highway stretches, carrying luggage and having some fun when you get there. In all, my route will take me through 2100 kms in three days and allow me to meet up with my buddy @teramuto - who really knows his Harleys.
You can find some of the choice parts of the route at the end of the post.
My ride starts with a long-drawn-out highway stretch. While the Catskills are a great place to ride, I'm going to have to get there first – Queen Elizabeth Highway (QEW) it is then.
If you've never ridden the QEW, count yourself lucky. It's one of the busiest, bumpiest and most tedious sections of highway in the world. Happily, the Street Glide seat is huge and more like a favorite armchair than your average motorcycle saddle. Time to sit back, relax and let the bike eat up the miles.
As soon as I hit highways speeds, one thing is apparent: the breeze is buffeting me and it's noisy as a result. Opening the ‘new for 2014’ venting does improve matters, but still more breeze than I’d like. The optional taller screen would fix this and it’s something I would personally change.
Another change I’d make is the suspension. Ontario is NOT known for smooth roads and I'm feeling the bumps. Little things like tar snakes are OK, but anything bigger makes this hog feel like a hard tail.
Suspension is also the first thing @teramuto notices, too. Apparently, the air ride suspension is set way too firm at the back and so we bleed it out a bit. It's completely unscientific but makes the ride much better.
At the other end, the front feels a little too soft for my taste and there’s dive under braking - the 49 mm forks are supposed to offer a stiffer ride. It's been a while since I last rode a Harley and the suspension has always felt soft to me, but this is softer than I remember. It doesn't feel like its hampering performance though, and it's unreasonable to expect the same performance from this 820lb tourer as from my 420lb Street Triple.
Overall, getting the suspension right is a setup issue, not a problem with the bike. With more time and the right tools, I'm sure I could dial it in just right.
The Riding Position
The first two days of my ride see me covering about 500 – 600 kms a day and I’m totally comfortable on the Street Glide. However, my last day was a real tourer-tester: 1100 kms and 14-hours in the saddle.
The first two-thirds were fine, but by the time I arrived home after a prolonged highway stretch, my shoulders were stiff and my butt was killing me. It's both the advantage and curse of the cruiser riding position. The seating is initially comfortable but once the discomfort sets in, there’s little you can do to alleviate it.
On a sport-tourer or adventure bike, your feet are tucked up in rear-sets so you can move your weight from the butt to your legs, and all positions in between. With the cruiser’s running boards, that's just not possible, and placing my feet on the engine bars concentrated the weight in my rear.
In the end, I resorted to simulating rear sets by putting my feet back onto the passenger pegs, as well as stopping more. In all fairness to Harley Davidson, every bike has some level of discomfort and it was only towards the end of a very long day that I felt the pain. Most riders I know wouldn't even attempt a feat of 600km in one day never mind an iron butt, no matter what they ride.
Harley riders I talked to along the way were very excited by the one-hand pannier opening. Having struggled with @teramuto ‘s Road King in the past, I can attest to the benefit of the single latch - it feels very secure even at highway speeds. I also like getting into the hard bags without removing gloves, same for the gas tank, the air vent and so on. Smart design. This is all feedback collected via Project Rushmore and it's clear Harley paid attention.
I have to say, the 2014 Street Glide really does feel like it was designed for a motorcyclist.
The security system is also similarly slick. The 2014 models have a proximity fob that activates and deactivates the alarm. Step away from the bike and the lights flash to let you know it's primed. Get close and you can start her up without removing the keys from your pocket: simple and unobtrusive, designed for just getting on and going. I couldn't tell you how loud the alarm is, but if it's anything like the horn, no-one will have a problem hearing you.
Something rarely mentioned in motorcycle reviews is the headlight. On most bikes, it’s rubbish. I wouldn’t have noticed the Street Glide headlight myself if it wasn’t for a very long last day of riding. The 2014 Street Glide had a truly superb dual halogen unit that illuminated everything wonderfully. It made riding at night less worrisome than on other machines.
I am told the 2014 Street Glide has about 5hp up on last year with 6 ft-lbs of extra torque. The 103cu inch high output motor is no slouch. It pulls hard in just about any gear - even 6th - making highways a breeze. Even in the turns, you can drive out of most bends in top gear without complaint. It makes progress easy and almost relaxed.
For tighter corners, or for those riders willing to push the Street Glide harder, it handles remarkably well for such a big bike. Steering feels unusually light and it doesn't take much effort to change direction. Combine this with solid bite from the Brembo callipers and you have a motorcycle that shows confidence. Which is good, because where I'm going, the bike needs to turn!
On The Road To the Catskills
The weather is near perfect as I ride down through New York. The dash shows air temperature at 24 °C (75.2 °F)and the fall colors are spectacular.
Wind buffeting has all but disappeared on the backcountry roads and the Street Glide is proving to be a more than capable machine in the curves. Handling is ample and I'm almost putting the running boards down as I corner. There's more than enough power to have fun and despite the suspension feeling a little soft, the bike felt composed no matter how hard I pushed it.
For people coming from older Harleys, the first thing you'll notice is how effortless corning is. The 6-speed gearbox is much smoother than previous models. Fuelling is also spot on, providing a very linear throttle response. It almost feels too smooth to be a Harley.
Talking of fuel, the 2014 Street Glide returned some good consumption figures: official numbers are 42 mpg (5.6l/100km) and I found that spot on for highway riding. In the turns, where riding got a little more ‘spirited’, fuel economy went down to about 39 mpg (6.03l/100km). For such a large displacement engine, that's still pretty efficient.
I already mentioned the decent brakes, but it’s worth saying again. There's plenty of stopping power and I had to grind the pedals harder than I normally would to make the ABS kick-in, which it did with minimum fuss. The only criticism of the brakes is that the rear may have too much bite at lower speeds. The transition zone - from dragging to biting - felt very short. Like most things, the braking started to feel natural after a day's riding and could mean my unfamiliar riding position rather than a shortcoming.
Now, it wouldn't be a road trip without at least one wrong-turn over an unpaved stretch and New York was no exception. As daylight was failing, I lead @teramuto up the otherwise fantastic Hwy 7 only to discovery a four-mile stretch covered in loose gravel. To its credit, the Street Glide did OK. It's not a dirt bike, but it's very easy to ride slowly despite the mass. As long as you're smooth with the controls, it'll handle most things you throw at it.
Some Harley riders are concerned that the new design smoothed the character out of the 2014 Street Glide, not so. There's still plenty of vibration at idle and the motor throbs as it delivers power. @Teramuto did suggest it didn't sound "Harley" enough, though he is a card-carrying member of the loud pipes brigade.
Personally, I liked the exhaust note which certainly had the "right" character to my ears though it was quieter than other HDs on the road.
The Street Glide also looks like a Harley. The design tweaks are subtle and work well. For example, the in-fill panel between fender and the hard bags really tidy up the rear end. The more time you spend with the Glide, the more of these details you’ll notice.
The 2014 Glide garnered a lot of interest from passers-by and looked striking in the Orange, or as it's technically known. Most stops were accompanied by at least one curious rider coming over and taking long, admiring looks.
The build quality felt superb, too. Now, this is not something you'd have expected to hear in the past but if the Street Glide is any indication, build quality is on the rise.
All the controls felt very positive with good feedback. Buttons click nicely, switches slide easily and everything feels solid and built to last.
Unlike some other bikes (Gold Wing, I'm looking at you) HD have chosen to mount just about every single control on the bars. While this may sound crowded, everything is within easy reach and rarely requires you to take your eyes off the road.
Compared with last year’s model, six gauges have now become four: battery voltage, speedo, tacho and fuel. Temperature and oil pressure are still there, now accessed via a thumb-mounted control on the right bar and shown on the entertainment screen just below the dials; everything is bigger and easier to read. Or at least it should be: the dials are white and the pointer is also white with an orange tip. It's a small thing, but it often takes more than a glance to see what speed you're doing.
The cruise control is one of the best I've seen on a motorcycle. I normally don't go in for CC, but the left thumb joystick makes it simple to both activate-deactivate, and to alter speed. I found myself using it quite a bit on the highway. A simple roll forward on the throttle, or drag on the brake, was enough to cancel the cruise control with little jerking forward.
Next to the cruise control are the audio controls. Actually, they're on both bars in more or less the same place. Audio controls are designed to allow for control of just about everything in the entertainment system, or the Boombox 4.3 http://boombox.harley-davidson.com/. The 4.3 refers to the screen size, although there is a 6.5 touch screen option including GPS, delivering a huge step up from last years model.
Radio is standard. New for this year is the USB port compartment. Plug your iPod/Android/other media player in for instant access to your music library through the 50-watt amp and speakers.
The left thumb controls the volume and track/channel tuning on the radio. The right thumb controls the menus. After a little playing with it, the controls are second nature, and although close together, there's enough movement and feedback to let you know you selected something. My only concern is that the joysticks might be a little flimsy to stand up to heavy abuse, but only time will tell.
While the entertainment system is of excellent quality, I didn’t use it. I ride in a full-face helmet and wear earplugs. As such, you can barely hear the wing-mount speakers unless you have the volume very high. I’d prefer to pair my Bluetooth headset to the Harley but sadly, not possible and (to me) remains a missed opportunity. You can attach a headset (and incorporate bike-to-bike communication), but I dare say that's another trip to the local dealership for the official Harley accessory. For those of you who ride in beanies or open face helmets and actively want to share your taste in music with others, it's an excellent system.
The Wrap Up
The Catskills and New York State is a great place to tour and the 2014 Street Glide is a great bike to tour it on.
Starting at CDN $23,289 / US $20,399 it's certainly not cheap, especially when you've spec'ed it your way, but once you get past the sticker shock, this is a good motorcycle. The Street Glide certainly surprised me. It's more nimble than I thought and was more than up to the riding asked of it.
Harley should take great pride in being able to revamp this year’s model, with just about every change being a positive one. And that they've been able to do that whilst retaining the Harley character? I think the Milwaukee faithful will be very pleased.
In terms of alternatives:
The Harley Davidson Road King is cheaper (starting at about CDN $21k) but lacks the bells and whistles.
The Honda F6B is the closest Japanese bike. Price is comparable and though it has more power, it's not as much fun to ride.
The Ducati Diavel is the outlier’s choice. Cheaper and significantly more performance oriented than the Street Glide, it offers less luggage space but is considered a power cruiser.
If you can, get out and ride the Catskills. New York motorcycle routes are available below or find rides nearby using the EatSleepRIDE Motorcycle App. Enjoy the ride.