First Ride: 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Sport Glide

This review was first published at autoTRADER.ca

TENERIFE, SPAIN—There are many reasons to ride motorbikes: to be immersed in the elements, instead of merely observing it; for the exhilaration of it; and because motorcycles are just, plain, cool.

For a large part of the general public, and a significant subsection of the motorcycling community, Harley-Davidson’s range of retro-styled, V-Twin cruisers are as strong a reflection of that “cool factor” as exists. But it’s fair to say that Harley-Davidson’s offerings haven’t always been known for their ability to generate exhilaration – at least not in the sense many corner-carvers imagine it.

After consultation with fans and potential fans alike, the new Softail range was designed to improve that. The new bikes are lighter, stiffer, and have more ground clearance than ever before. When we first rode the 2018 Softail lineup in September last year, we came away impressed by the group’s improved chassis and road manners.

The new Sport Glide is the ninth member of this range. At $22,299 for base black (and $500 more for Silver or Cherry Red), it sits almost smack-bang in the middle of the Softail pricing range, right next to the Softail Deluxe.

And it comes with its own unique trick: a front fairing and pannier bags that can be clipped on and off, sans tools, within seconds. It’s the perfect solution for the Softail rider who enjoys the stripped-down aesthetic of a naked cruiser but who also wants access to the convenience of wind protection and bags for longer trips. This isn’t new, though. Harley sold a similar option to Editor Mark for his Low Rider in 2008, when he bought the factory bags and windshield.

The bags are hard-shelled and large, swallowing three of my colleagues’ small backpacks and my camera with ease. The 1.5-inch high windscreen does little to protect from the wind, though, and the 5.5-inch upgrade wasn’t available to test. Most impressively, the bags and front fairing made absolutely no impact on the bike’s handling. I feel like most riders will use the bags on occasion, but I predict the fairing and screen will sit idle on many a garage shelf.

We’re not quite sure how the Sport Glide made its way off road into these hills, but it still looks good for the adventure.

Like the Deluxe, Low Rider, Slim, and Street Bob variants, the Sport Glide is available only with the 107 Milwaukee Eight engine. The 45-degree V-Twin is good for 93 hp and 110 lb-ft of torque; the larger 114 engine with 100 hp/119 lb-ft is not available here. Those numbers might seem small when you note that displacement is a whopping 1,745 cc, and it’s fair to say there are smaller engines with more power elsewhere in the motorcycling world.

There’s plenty here for the Harley-Davidson traditionalist though. The exhaust note is iconic, and while dual counter-balancers allow for a buzz-free idle, rigid mounts let the engine vibration pass through to the rider (and the passenger, if they’re into that sort of thing) at speed.

Ah – here’s the culprit. Jacob leans the Sport Glide waaay over. Must have run wide for the previous photo.

I personally feel the more potent engine is a necessity – the 107 runs out of revs too quickly and lacks gumption when passing at highway speeds. More than once I dropped a gear to overtake, only to discover I was already out of rpm.

I also found that the Softail’s newfound athleticism is betrayed by a lack of braking power. Only the Fat Bob gets proper, twin-disc brakes, and I found myself deep in the ABS trying to get the single-discs on the Sport Glide to arrest its momentum.

If you are a more casual, cruising rider – and if you’ve read this far you probably are – then my quibbles won’t bother you, and the bones of this rig will impress. Fans of foot-forward controls will appreciate the subtle ergonomics of the Sport Glide. Its 30-degree rake, 680 mm seat height, and 1,625 mm wheelbase combine for a more compact riding position than you might expect, with the slightly swept-back bars falling easily to hand even for my 5’6″ frame. Taller riders will be even more comfortable.

The Sport Glide does a reasonable job of hiding its 317 kg wet weight too, and changes direction with more willingness than you would expect. It tracks cleanly, with just a slight hint of front-end heftiness.

The Sport Glide from above. Photo courtesy Google Earth.

Don’t be confused by the name, either. Despite having the word “sport” right there in it, this is not the most capable or most sporting of the Softails. That honour goes to my personal favourite in the family: the Fat Bob.

In the Sport Glide, Harley-Davidson enthusiasts will find a bike that gives them the balance of aesthetics and practicality that they’re looking for, with a capable and comfortable chassis to support it.

For those drawn to a Softail and the Harley-Davidson aesthetic, especially those who are looking to Harley-Davidson for the first time because they heard the new range is more fun to ride and more agile than ever before, give this one a look. And then buy the Fat Bob.

Stripped off and ready for some more riding, though the bags and windshield can clip back on in just a few moments.

2 thoughts on “First Ride: 2018 Harley-Davidson Softail Sport Glide”

  1. On the braking side, it seems to me that if the ABS is being activated, the limiting factor is not the lack of two front discs, as it suggests that you are locking up (or close to it) the front wheel.

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