A review of Harley's latest bike, one that expects its riders to be tough
Road Test: 2013 Harley-Davidson Street Glide
Buying a Harley-Davidson isn't just about buying a motorcycle; it's about buying into a lifestyle. Walking into the Harley-Davidson dealership in Mussafah, the huge showroom is not only chockablock with gleaming, chromed bikes stood side-by-side; there's an entire section dedicated to anything else you'd want while in the saddle: jackets, T-shirts, bandannas, helmets, belts, boots, lighters, wallets; and all garishly covered in the H-D logo in black and orange. Yes, when you ride a Harley, image is everything.
But if you ride a bike, style should just be a part of the equation (oh, I'll readily admit that buying the jackets and helmets is part of the fun of owning a motorcycle, at least for me). You want something that is fun, something that makes your blood rush.
Just looking at this all-black Street Glide on the dealership floor does get the blood rushing. Admittedly, it looks almost staid beside the other candy coloured, multi-hued options on the floor; I'm a little jealous, but one thing's for certain: it does look mean. It seems longer and lower than the higher-optioned Electra Glides, especially with that bat-like fairing and low windshield at the front. Underneath the tank and fairing, the engine and front suspension gleam in shiny chrome ubiquitous to the brand. It certainly has presence on the road.
No matter what kind of bike you're used to riding, hearing that 103-cubic-inch (1,690cc), twin-cam V-twin fire up for the first time can't help but raise an admiring smile on your face. The potato-potato-potato idle sound and the deep, staccato "brat" from the pipes as you twist the throttle can't be mistaken for anything other than a Harley; it's the sound of stump-pulling power, and it raises the hairs on your arms.
And I believe it could pull stumps; the engine boasts 132Nm of torque and, really, Harley could have taken out the three lowest gears on the six-speed gearbox, because it doesn't need them. I had it in top gear doing about 40kph around town, with just over 1,300rpm on the tach before the engine started to voice its displeasure. Try that with a four-cylinder Japanese superbike.
Actually riding it, though, is not for everyone. The riding position is hands-and-feet forward; think of a long-jumper freeze-framed and you'll get the idea. You may look cool, but a long ride wears on the back. And for those not used to the position, it can be unnerving as you try to get used to where you put your feet and balancing the bike at stops and starts.
For its size and weight, though, the Street Glide is surprisingly agile in turns. Roundabouts are a hoot, but the fun gets cut short as the low footboards start scraping the asphalt earlier than expected. It's too bad, as getting a bike as big as this into a deep lean is exhilarating. But then again, the Street Glide was never designed to be a sport bike.
Just make sure to slow it down when you come to a speed bump; the rear suspension can only graciously be described as "firm" and the bike will send a rider out of the saddle - literally - unless you bring the gearbox down to first. And when it's finally time to come to a stop at an intersection, even the thickest of leather boots won't stop your right leg from cooking with the intense heat of those Screaming Eagle exhaust pipes - it's unbearable if the stop is long enough.
As with almost any Harley, get out on the highway and this is where the bike should come into its own. While it doesn't have zippy acceleration, the massive engine only needs low revs - maybe 3,000rpm - and as such feels effortless to keep it at speed. Plus, the heavy bike stays planted and feels solid on the road, even in high winds. It's a delight to just glide along with that thump-thump roar below you, and with most of your body protected against the wind you can relax and enjoy the ride - almost.
But again, it's not perfect: the stubby windshield may help the aesthetics but it certainly doesn't do much for higher wind protection. My helmet started buzzing at around 80kph, so much so that distant objects - road signs, other cars - became vague vibrations. As well, at higher speeds I found my right foot start to creep down the footboard from the wind, forcing me to concentrate on keeping it on board the bike; the left footboard has the double gearshift that a heel can rest against, and I'd like to see some sort of heel rest on the right side so you don't have to worry about your boot suddenly dragging on the road.
And that hard suspension, again: while annoying at slower speeds, it's more than just mildly disconcerting to pass over a small bump or expansion seam on the highway and suddenly get a sharp jolt from the rear end, making a rider light in the saddle. These are all the kind of things you don't want to worry about when you're riding on two wheels at 130kph or more, no matter how much leather you're wearing.
At Dh105,000, I'm not sure the bike's technology matches its price, especially compared with other touring bikes on the market. Oh, yes, the Street Glide comes with a two-speaker radio, electronic cruise control, a multi-function digital readout and ABS, and those panniers, though not exactly expansive, do come in handy at times.
But ultimately, with that old-tech suspension and a cool but unrefined engine, you'll be paying for style over comfort. For some people, though, that's more than worth it. Just maybe not me.
Base price Dh105,000
Engine 103-cubic-inch V-twin
Fuel economy combined 5.6L / 100km
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