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American beast on Indian roads

November 30, 2016 09:05 IST

The Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special gives the word humongous a whole new meaning, says Kshitij Sharma, who took it for a ride through the scenic Aravalis in Rajasthan

Photographs: Kshitij Sharma

Harley-Davidson launched its new range of touring bikes with an all-new Milwaukee-Eight engine. The words 'all-new' are used rather loosely but this time, as we found out, they weren't.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

Ten Harley-Davidson motorcycles rumbling though the barren countryside, of one of the most majestic states in the country, is a sight to behold!

And if you're a part of that group it makes the experience even more special, even if it means 'sacrificing' your weekend for a ride to Deogarh, a small town nestled in the Kali Ghati of the Aravali range in Rajasthan.

Among the rumbling mass of metal was a rather peculiar sight in the form of the Road Glide Special.

The first time I saw the Road Glide I wasn't exactly sure about its looks, but it is the newest of the touring machines from Harley-Davidson. And ride it I had to, to figure out what this American beast is all about.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

I've sure ridden a lot of big, touring motorcycles, many from Harley-Davidson itself. But my initial moments with the Road Glide had me nervous. Why you ask?

Simply put, the Road Glide gives the word humongous a whole new meaning.

We're all too used to seeing the so-called 'Batwing' fairing on Harley's touring machines, but this one gets what the bike maker calls a 'Shark nose' fairing.

It is different and distinctive, and interestingly is mounted on to the frame and not the front end as is the case with its siblings. It looks rather contrived too, as it extends way beyond the front forks of an already large motorcycle.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

The twin headlamps gaze down at the highway confidently and the flyscreen looks out of reach from the rider's perch but the rest of the bike is quintessential Harley-Davidson.

The tank is broad followed by a low seat, fore-set pegs and footboards the size of serving trays sit on either side of the engine. The pillion seat is small to say the least and sits flanked by hard panniers.

The tail lamps are integrated into the indicators like most touring class of bikes the manufacturer makes. It isn't beautiful but still looks great in that unconventional, oddball sort of way and like nothing else on the road. So don't be surprised if people take U-turns just to come back and see what they just passed.

I swung a leg over and thumbed the starter, which woke up the huge V-twin with a typical Harley rumble that vibrates through the entire motorcycle before settling down quickly. And in typical Harley fashion again, first gear is slotted into place with what can only be described as jackhammer.

Rig the throttle after you roll off the line and your neck muscles struggle to hold your head in place, something you wouldn't expect from a 400kg-motorcycle. As the revs climb the rumble disappears and is replaced by a hearty growl emitting from the optional Screamin' Eagle exhaust system.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

Say hello to the new Milwaukee-Eight 107, the new generation Harley-Davidson engine for its tourers. It's almost spooky how this engine is the least Harley-like yet.

It retains the same 45-degree V-twin configuration with a heavily finned design but is an all-new engine from the ground up, and comes after 17 years the Twin Cam 88 debuted.

The M8 as it's fondly called now, features a 4-valve configuration for each cylinder (hence the 'Eight' in the name for the total number of valves).

The arrangement also makes the engine more tuning-friendly and more efficient without compromising on power or reliability. And no prizes for guessing that 107 in the name is the engine displacement in cubic inches, equivalent to 1745cc.

For the record, the Twin Cam 103 displaced 1690cc or 103 cubic inches. Also goes without saying the new engine makes 10 per cent more torque, offering 150Nm now, up from 135Nm for the 103.

The new engine comes with a more modern combustion chamber which translates to faster and more efficient combustion which further translates to better heat management. A counterbalance has also been added which is set to 75 per cent and contributes to an almost vibration free experience.

Combine all that with rubber mountings, a ride by wire throttle and bigger 55mm throttle bodies and the results are phenomenal. Yes, it still vibrates at the bottom like most Harley purists like their bikes to be but as you go through the revs it doesn't feel stressed or uncomfortable, do whatever you like.

Strong low down torque has always been a Harley hallmark and the Road Glide makes no bones about its ability to offer twisting force off the line. 

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

It is quick to gain speeds and eggs you to go faster. At something like 140kmph you might run out of heart to push it further but the Road Glide never seems to run out of grunt. Also, the engine is more than willing to pull all the way to 160kmph without breaking a sweat.

Of course, it is not a tarmac scorcher but a highway cruiser, a role the Road Glide takes very seriously. So the trick is to find a speed you're comfortable with and when you do flick the single touch cruise control toggle on the left handlebar, the Glide simply 'glides' along at the speed specified.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

Cruising speeds can be changed easily by accelerating or decelerating to the desired speed and flicking the switch to set the speed. And when you've settled down comfortably, you can enjoy the infotainment system with a 6.5-inch colour touchscreen that can also be used without taking your hands off the grips.

The system features satellite navigation along with USB connectivity and a Bluetooth function that allows you to stream music from your device.

The 'Shark nose' fairing ensures minimal to no wind buffeting that allows you to listen to your music despite wind noise and the exhaust growling behind you.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

The front forks are now 49mm Showa units with Showa Dual Bending Valve structure. This essentially means the motorcycle can tackle low speed movement like in case of our legendary speed breakers or high speed movement like the ones we find on the NH8 in the form of pimples on the road.

The suspension not only allows the forks to move up but also downwards giving more control which is never a bad thing.

At the rear, Harley has gotten rid of the air suspension and replaced it with an emulsion type dual shock set up. The rear suspension can be adjusted for preload without any tools. What you get is a 23 turn knob to stiffen or soften the setup by up to 30 per cent.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

Thanks to these two crucial changes, the ride is very comfortable and borderline sublime. The new suspension also ensures the motorcycle can hold its own in the corners as well.

You do have to get used to the size but once you're past that the Road Glide can really put a smile on your face. It will not kiss apexes and kick exits in the rear but will definitely follow the curves without an inkling of hesitation.

The brakes too, like the motorcycle, are humongous. The front gets a twin 320mm 4-piston setup while the rear gets a singular disc of the same spec.

The brakes are powerful enough to bring the Road Glide to a complete stop with minimal effort and respond quite well to inputs especially in hairy situations, which is certainly welcome for a motorcycle this large and heavy.

Harley-Davidson Road Glide Special

We all know what Harley-Davidson stands for. As a brand, it is probably the biggest name when it comes to cruisers and touring motorcycles, and after my time on the Road Glide Special's saddle I'm convinced yet again that there is something special about its motorcycles.

HOGs (Harley Owners' Groups) keep screaming about biking brotherhood, camaraderie and more, but to me, a motorcycle like the Road Glide on an open highway with a week's essentials in the panniers is one of my favourite getaways.

Plus, riding through the crowded parts of your destination city with Master of Puppets reverberating against the walls of a narrow lane accompanied by the rumble of the Screamin' Eagle is, above all else, fun.

Pricing for this American beast starts from Rs 32.81 lakh going up to Rs 36.48 lakh ex-showroom Delhi, depending on your choice of colour and standard options.

So, like I said before, the Road Glide's distinctive looks may not suit everyone's choices, but it does stand out in terms of street credo and road presence. Of course, it has what it takes to make a great touring machine, and is a motorcycle that, in true Harley fashion, makes you want to hit the road.

Kshitij Sharma