Launch: 2015 Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

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The original Harley-Davidson Road Glide was introduced in 1980. It was called the FLT Tour Glide, it had a Shovelhead engine, and it was the first Harley to use rubber engine mounting to quell what would otherwise be bowel-twisting vibration. It was also the first Harley big twin to use a five-speed transmission.

The 2015 Road Glide is a descendent of that FLT, though there have been a couple of gaps in its production since then, the latest coming in 2014, which led to many saying it was gone forever to the land of the Softail Springer, the XR1200 and, well, any Buell.

Those who reported its unceremonious termination had no way of knowing, however, that Harley was actually working on an all-new Road Glide, reworked from the ground up as part of Project Rushmore (see end of article for details).

I got to ride the new bike at its recent launch in Sonoma Valley, California.

WHAT’S NEW

The Roadglide returns with new styling and Rushmorian upgrades.
The Roadglide returns with new styling and Rushmorian upgrades.

Although its silhouette is familiar, the Road Glide is a completely new bike.

Customer feedback revealed that helmet buffeting due to wind turbulence off the screen was excessive on the previous model, so the fairing has been streamlined, brought 5.5 cm closer to the rider to improve airflow, and three vents have been added, all of which contribute to a 40 percent reduction in buffeting according to Harley.

LED lights are new
LED lights are new

It also has a new headlight, and in typical Harley fashion, it has a long, long name: The Dual Daymaker Reflector LED Headlamp. The main thing to retain from that never-ending moniker is that the dual headlights are LEDs, and they are very bright.

Inside the fairing there’s the latest Boom Box 4.3 infotainment system, introduced with the last wave of Rushmore bikes last year. There’s also a Boom Box 6.5 infotainment system with a 6.5-inch touch-screen and navigation system, which comes standard in the Road Glide Special.

Gauges have been redesigned for better legibility and new hand controls are more ergonomic. There are two storage compartments within the fairing, one of which contains a USB cable and padding to connect and store your media device. Curiously, the compartment doors don’t stay open, but this may have been done intentionally to deter use while riding.

Cockpit gets entertainment system with a touch-screen.
Cockpit gets entertainment system with a touch-screen.

Moving rearward, there are new hard saddlebags that feature one-hand operation. Just flick the inboard-mounted lever and lift the cover open. They’re the easiest-to-use saddlebags I’ve ever seen on a bike.

Throw a leg over the new Road Glide and you discover an entirely different, more accommodating riding position. The handlebar has been moved rearward a significant 14 cm, placing the grips at a very comfortable reach. Reach to the ground might be a slight stretch for shorter riders, but at six feet tall I can plant both feet squarely on the ground with a slight bend at the knees.

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The new riding position suited Costa well.

Other improvements include a beefier front end that uses 49 mm forks clamped in sturdier tripleclamps. The front wheel has also grown to 19 inches in diameter, which not only improves handling and stability, but also looks good.

My chosen ride for the day was the Road Glide Special, which aside from the aforementioned premium sound system also includes a security system, a knob preload adjuster for the rear suspension (air adjustable on the standard model), linked brakes with standard ABS, and different paint schemes and trim, all for $2,800 more than the standard model’s $25,579.

THE RIDE

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Light steering and diesel-like torque make the Road Glide urban friendly.

Leaving our hotel, the Road Glide was relatively manageable around town with lighter steering effort than you’d expect on such a big bike (it weighs 385 kg/849 lb wet). Its air-cooled Twin-Cam 103 engine has diesel-like torque at low speeds (105 lb-ft at 3,250 rpm), which hustles the Road Glide along effortlessly in lower gears.

However, it’s on the open road where the Road Glide really shines, and its newfound stability gives it a solid, planted feel. Steering is direct, and the bike doesn’t waver or weave about through sweepers. The fairing does add some weight up high, and it feels more top heavy than the Ultra Classic, but this is mostly noticeable when transitioning through a series of bends. There’s ample cornering clearance, even at a spirited touring-bike pace, and the Road Glide handles respectably considering its adult-sized dimensions.

RoadGlide15_Costa_black_rsr
2015 Road Glide is more stable than previous incarnations.

One of the first things I did before taking off on the test loop was to connect my iPhone so I could listen to some tunes on the road. Navigating the sound system’s menus is relatively easy, and it can be done either through the touch-screen, which is a bit of a stretch to reach despite the fairing’s newfound, closer positioning, or via the handlebar buttons, the latter of which is what I resorted to more often than not.

RoadGlide15_Costa_screen
The music eventually became a distraction.

In any case, trying to decide between the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Jane’s Addiction ultimately became distracting, so I eventually turned off the sound system and turned my attention what you’re supposed to do on a motorcycle: Ride.

Following a lunch break at a stop along the Pacific Coast Highway, the roads back to our hotel were sinuous and undulating, and refreshingly free of traffic. The Road Glide was in its element here, gliding (no pun intended) over the pavement at a lively pace. Helmet buffeting has, indeed, been reduced to a negligible level, especially when the trap doors in the trio of fairing vents are open.

Suspension compliance is firm-ish but not harsh, and it is partially responsible for the Road Glide’s planted, stable ride. You must remove the left saddlebag to access the preload knob, making adjustments to the rear suspension a minor inconvenience, more so if bag is loaded.

The seat is firm and provided all-day comfort, but one area of discomfort was revealed when the ambient temperature hit 86 degrees Fahrenheit and I hit traffic in Sonoma. Heat coming off the engine began to toast my inner legs, though once on the move the absence of fairing lowers cooled me off quickly enough.

The four-piston Brembo calipers are carried over from the previous model, though the discs have grown in diameter to 300 mm from 292 mm. The semi-linked system on my test bike did a fine job of hauling the Road Glide down from speed, with moderate, yet easily modulated lever effort.

CONCLUSION

RoadGlide15_motor
The Roadglide gets the 103 twin cam motor in high output format.

The Road Glide ($25,579) is not in the same league as the Honda Gold Wing or BMW K1600GTL. It’s more in line with baggers like the Kawasaki Varquero ($19,200), Victory Cross Country ($20,100), even the latest addition, the Indian Chieftain ($25,600), and is meant for riders leaning more towards the cruiser side of the touring equation.

It has, nonetheless, grown a loyal following over the years, and some of those riders probably lamented its apparent demise last year. It has made a return after its recent, brief intermission, and with the changes brought on by Harley’s Project Rushmore, it seems like for the fans of the bike it was worth the wait.


PROJECT RUSHMORE?

by Editor ‘Arris

What's it all about then?
What’s it all about then?

You may be wondering just what the hell is Project Rushmore? Well, you’re not alone. Since it’s something I felt like I should actually know more about, I took a few minutes to do some research.

It appears that the first Rushmore project was to find a mountain and carve some faces of prominent American presidents into it. This started in 1927 and was finished in 1941, though ultimately not completed due to lack of funding – the president’s were supposed to shown down to their waists!

The other Rushmore project was a little bigger
The other Rushmore project was a little bigger

However, Project Rushmore in the context of this article is Harley’s rather grand title for revamping its touring line up. But what exactly do these bikes get to qualify them as Rushmorian?

Well, each bike gets the high output Twin Cam 103 motor, along with available linked ABS brakes, and LED/Halogen headlights. There’s also a new infotainment system with voice recognition and touch-screen for music, GPS and phone connectivity via Bluetooth, as well as support for intercom and CB. Comfort wise there’s also a new screen and wider, deeper seat for comfort. And finally Harley claims to have improved styling elements including easy open luggage, sleeker fenders, lighter wheels and better switchgear.

There. You learnt something new today.


Specifications

Taken from the Canada Moto Guide Buyer's Guide.
Manufacturer site
Brand
Harley Davidson
Categories
Three Wheeler - Two rear
New/Returning
Returning for 2016
Msrp
$ 31,619
Enginesize
1,690 cc
Engine Type
45 degree V-twin, pushrods with 2 valves/cyl, air-cooled, 4-stroke
Transmission
6-speed, belt
Clutch
Wet multi-plate
Fueling
Fuel Injection
Max Power
89 HP (66 kW) @ 4000 rpm
Max Torque
104.7 ft-lbs (142 Nm) @ 3250 rpm
Seat Height, std
699 mm (27.5 in.)
Seat Height, options
Wheelbase
1675 mm (65.9 in.)
Fuel Capacity
22.7 L (6 USG)
Dry Weight
474 kg (1045 lbs.)
Curb Weight
491 kg (1082 lbs.)
Brakes, front
Twin 300 mm discs with 6-piston calipers
Brakes, rear
Single 292 mm disc with 1-piston caliper
Antilock Brakes (ABS)
Not Available
Suspension, front
49 mm Standard forks, non-adjustable with 117 mm of travel
Suspension, rear
Dual shocks, non-adjustable with 76 mm of travel
Tires, front
130/60-B19
Tires, rear
205/65-R15
Paint/Colours
Velocity Red Sunglo, Black Quartz, Vivid Black

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