The 2017 Road Glide Special might just be the easiest-to-live-with touring motorcycle Harley Davidson has ever made
Even with the screaming eagle exhausts—that add decibels, power and torque—the Harley Davidson Road Glide Special that I’m piloting up the highway, at a reasonably reckless velocity, feels uncharacteristically refined – hell, I can still hear John Fogerty belting out ‘Born on the Bayou’, on H-D’s BOOM! stereo that this bike comes fitted with. The trademark Harley growl is there — audible even through my full-face helmet—but it’s not pounding my chest.
That feeling is amplified, when I pull over, by the toned down vibes, which are watered down enough not to be unpleasant. Then there’s the business of steering a motorcycle with a fixed front fairing—I’ve never been on a Harley with that set-up before. What that does, effectively, is make the steering feel exponentially lighter, and that, when you’re trying to take slow-speed U-turns on a big touring motorcycle, is quite liberating. Riding a big American tourer ought not to require burliness on the part of the rider, and the Road Glide Special makes that case rather effectively.
In 2017, with the incorporation of the brand’s first all-new engine—christened the Milwaukee- Eight, because of the four valves per cylinder in the big twin—the quartet of the Road King, Street Glide, Road Glide and CVO Unlimited have gotten a seminal upgrade. The CVO is the only one to get the bigger displacement 114 variant of the new motor.
The combination of a new engine on a hitherto unavailable model is why all the auto hacks on this HOG ride from Delhi to the quaint township of Deogarh, in Rajasthan, are falling over themselves to get astride the Road Glide Special. Cunningly, H-D India has installed Screaming Eagle exhausts on this particular bike, which make it feel even more nimble and quicker than the stock bike. There’s the stock bike. There’s a host of upgrades—engine, suspension, electronics—on the spec sheet, but it’s how they manifest themselves that impresses. The four-valves per cylinder—a standard on many modern motorcycles, but a first for H-D—lower emissions and reduce the roar of the engine; the single cam (down from a couple in the 103 engines) brings down mechanical noise; the front-end-incorporated counterbalancer reduces vibrations; the all-new adjustable suspension (adjustable at the rear on the Road Glide Special) just feels much more empathetic to the travails of long-distance touring; a more sophisticated oil cooler keeps the engine temperature in check much better (although the reason you feel less heat on your posterior is on account of a fan that directs hot air below the seat down to the exhausts). On the highway, the slipper clutch comes into play at high speeds and keeps wheel-spin in control. All in all, the Road Glide just inspires much more confidence, handling with an ease that belies its prodigious dimensions.
The 6.5-inch infotainment system comes loaded with navigation, voice-activated commands, USB and Bluetooth connectivity. The front windscreen can be electronically raised and lowered: at the highest setting, it blocks wind blast to the shoulders and head for any rider shorter than six feet. Three vents in the fairing keep head bu‑eting down, while you melt into the most comfortable saddle (apart from the CVO) on a Harley Davidson. The lockable saddlebags and cubbyholes in the front fairing provide enough boot space to pack for a few days on the road. Crucially, for night riding in India, the LED reflector headlamps beat the twin halogens of the other cruisers in the line-up hands down.
A weekend with the Road Glide nearly toppled the Road King as my all-time favourite Harley; the 2017 variant of the latter gets all the functional upgrades, but not the infotainment and the luggage space of the Road Glide. But that’s an emotional conclusion; the Road Glide is definitely the star of H-D’s 2017 touring line-up. It’s easier to ride, handles better and has all the accoutrements to make long-distance touring a breeze.