With a thorough chassis revision program for 2009, Harley-Davidson’s Touring models have become wholly new motorcycles. The Electra Glide Classic is a case in point. Steve Bond reports from Sonoma, California.
Touring is a huge part of motorcycling these days, whether it’s day trips or riding from one side of this great land of ours to the other. Some manufacturers slap a cheesy set of bags and a windshield on a cruiser and call it a touring bike. Harley-Davidson is not among those manufacturers.
Harley has always been big on touring motorcycles—they’ve led the industry in that category for the last 14 years but are not content to rest on their considerable laurels. For 2009, Harley-Davidson completely revised their sea-to-shining-sea models and I had the pick of the litter to ride around wine country in sunny Sonoma, California during the recent new model introduction.
My choice was obvious: the Electra Glide Classic has been Harley’s flagship for decades, I had a lot of seat time on previous models so it would give me a good base for comparison.
At first glance, the ‘09 touring models appear similar to the ‘08s, but they’re actually completely new motorcycles, the 28-spoke, 17-inch cast aluminum front wheel being the only obvious visual clue that things are different. The engineers were given carte blanche with the caveat that the 96 cubic inch motor and 22.7 litre fuel tank (introduced just last year) were not to be touched. Other than that, have at it boys.
Where the previous frame was a collection of hand-welded steel tubes, Harley’s ‘09 touring models—Road Kings, Street Glides, Road Glides and Electra Glides—get the all-new frame, which is robotically-welded from various forged, stamped and investment cast pieces.
The rear subframe is now bolted on instead of welded, which not only makes replacement easier in case of a rear end collision, it opens up the possibility of new products, i.e. the Tri-Glide trike (see sidebar).
The swingarm is longer, stiffer and wider to accommodate the larger 180-section 16-inch rear tire and five-inch-wide rear wheel. The proprietary dual-compound Dunlop rear tire has a harder centre compound to handle the bike’s extra load capacity, while the softer side compound is more compatible with the new chassis’ sporting capabilities. Harley and Dunlop claim an added bonus of 20 per cent more tire life.
New motor mounts not only isolate engine vibration better, they allow the engineers to reduce side shake, which is one more factor in tuning the chassis for improved handling. Wheelbase is half an inch longer, coming strictly from the new swingarm. To go with the more rigid frame, the suspension was revised with stiffer spring rates front and rear and damping was adjusted accordingly.
Standard on all Touring models this year is EITMS (Engine Idle Temperature Management System) a nice feature where if the engine reaches a certain temperature and the vehicle is stopped and idling (as in stop-and-go traffic in mid-July) the rider has the option to engage the system that shuts off the fuel to the rear cylinder. To activate the system, also known as “parade mode,” simply push the throttle all the way forward for five seconds.
With only the front cylinder firing, the rear is basically just blowing air, thereby cooling the cylinder, reducing emanating heat and preventing possible engine damage.
To route even more heat away from the rider and passenger’s delicate nether regions, the rear exhaust header now curves forward before joining the collector which now contains the catalytic converter. Moving the cat from the mufflers to the collector means the two-into-one-into-two exhaust system produces fewer emissions (incoming gasses are closer to the exhaust port and therefore hotter) and mufflers can be changed (as they undoubtedly will be) without affecting emission levels.
Luggage space wasn’t exactly lacking before but capacity of the TourPak and saddlebags on Electra Glide models is up by five pounds each and the passenger accommodations have been reshaped for milady’s comfort. A new LED rear fender tip light adds to safety while shorter radio antennas will now clear a seven-foot garage door opening.
IT’S 9:00 A.M., SUNNY AND 25C. CLIMBING ABOARD THE ELECTRA Glide, the first thing I do is find a classic rock station on the 40-watt Harmon Kardon stereo and the cockpit is filled with Springsteen’s Thunder Road. “Hey, I know it’s late, we can make it if we run. Oh Thunder Road, sit tight, take hold.” Perfect. Let’s go. Once into the rolling hills surrounding Sonoma, I immediately note how taut and responsive the chassis feels.
The 96 cubic inch motor and six-speed transmission once again prove why it’s the workhorse in Harley’s lineup. It’s strong, free-revving and has a torque curve as flat as a Saskatchewan pancake. Sixty miles per hour in sixth (it was a US model but that’s 100 kmh) equates to a very relaxed 2,500 rpm and a California freeway-legal 75 mph (125k mh) checks in at only 3,000 rpm.
This motor and transmission combination has very long legs which is perfect for serious highway work. I’d estimate over 400 kilometres to a full tank and that 5.0 to 5.2L/100 km should be attainable at our legal cruising speeds.
The first set of twisties shows that Harley’s engineers have done their homework. Initial turn-in is quite easy with surprisingly neutral steering. Any luxo-barge can handle smooth, broad sweepers but the proof of the pudding is when the pavement deteriorates or during quick left-right-left transitions. Under those conditions the old model would feel vague and have fits of wallowing and chassis windup but the 2009 just carves its way through.
Gone is the “old ball-joint-in-the-middle” feeling along with the vague hunting from the front end. I feel way more connected to the front tire than ever before on a touring Harley. The suspension has definitely been tightened up and feels firm but not harsh—damping is very controlled over smooth roads and my route even covered some fairly remote secondary roads with torn-up pavement similar to Canadensis pavementis horribilis. Even over the bumps, the Electra Glide never loses its somewhat massive composure.
I wouldn’t say the Electra Glide is surgically-precise when arcing through corners but it holds its line very well under conditions where you’d have trouble keeping the previous model in the same area code.
The combination of larger wheels, more rigid chassis and improved suspension control has an unexpected and most-welcome benefit in the form of increased ground clearance. Over a full day of what I’d call fairly aggressive riding for a full-dress touring bike, I scraped the floorboards only once or twice, and that was when there was an unexpected bump in mid-corner. Previous model’s footboards would’ve been worn to nubbins in no time.
Another characteristic of the new chassis is that it actually responds quite well to something totally foreign to a full-dress touring bike: trailbraking into corners. The twin Brembos up front are well-matched to the weight and capabilities of the Electra Glide with good feel and feedback.
Occasionally, when trailbraking into bumpy corners, the ABS sensed that the front wheel was on the verge of losing traction and kicked in, giving me that “crushed eggshell” feel at the lever and reducing braking power. It was a bit disconcerting at first but good to know the system works—just trust it and be prepared for when that happens.
The riding position is typically excellent; bars are well-placed, the seat is cushy but firm and the floorboards are far enough back that I can shift my weight around to stay comfy. My route takes me toward the coastal mountain range and once closer to the Pacific and into the higher elevations, the temperature cools, the fog rolls in and I’m looking for the heated grips. Sadly, none are to be found on my California model but I’m thankful for the Electra Glide’s excellent wind and weather protection.
The controls are well-marked, logically placed and I still think Harley-Davidson’s turn signals and switchgear set the standard for the industry. Gauges are legible, analogue units that provide information logically and professionally—thankfully, no Boy Wonder Video Game LCD bullcrap here.
Mountain roads are not the ideal habitat for an 800-pound touring motorcycle; I don’t care how you slice it, they’re not sportbikes. But, for the long-distance rider who’d like to enjoy a bit of sporting once he gets to the Rockies, Harley Davidson’s 2009 Touring models are a huge step forward. At just under 21 grand for the basic model and with my press unit checking in at $21,929, the Electra Glide Classic is also a bargain in the full-dress category.
There are no track days in the Electra Glide’s future but at least now you can ride the twisties without being embarrassed.
The $29,999 Tri-Glide isn’t Harley’s first trike—the Servi-Car was available from the late 1930s until 1973, but most of those were for police and commercial use. The Tri-Glide is, however, the first trike produced by a major manufacturer for sale to Joe Q. Public.
Harley thinks the Tri-Glide will extend the motorcycling experience to those who are aging or have physical conditions to prevent them from balancing and riding a regular motorcycle.
It’s an all 2009 Touring platform from the back wheels forward with several changes designed to specifically deal with the unique steering and cornering forces generated by a trike. The forks are slightly longer, the rake is kicked out to 32 degrees from 29 and a steering damper is installed to smooth out negative inputs from road irregularities and cornering forces.
Belt drive delivers power to the new rear axle/differential assembly while the rear suspension features dual air-adjustable shocks. Instead of the 96 cubic inch workhorse, the trike gets the 103 cubic inch (1688cc) Twin Cam engine and six-speed Cruise Drive transmission. An optional electric reverse is available for $1,195.
Wheels are matching seven-spoke cast aluminum units that really add to the factory-built look. The front wheel wears an MT90B16 motorcycle tire, while both rear wheels have automotive P205/65R15 buns. Dual discs up front are lifted directly from the Touring models while a single disc adorns each rear wheel.
Fit and finish is top drawer and the aft section is perfectly colour-matched to the tank and front fender. Each rear fender and the rear bodywork is easily removed for repair or replacement. The Tri Glide is available with all the Ultra Classic options including cruise control, Harman-Kardon stereo, GPS etc.
Together the trunk and topbox combine for 186 litres of storage space with an 80-pound (36.5-kg) total capacity.
Away from a stop in a straight line, the Tri Glide is just like a motorcycle. Clutch, throttle and ease away—even shifting is the same. When you get to a turn though, things get different because you have to steer instead of leaning it. To go right, push really hard on the left handlebar while pulling the right one toward you. Once in the turn, keep applying pressure or the bars will straighten out.
Steering effort is reasonable at parking lot speeds and around town but when the speed goes up, so does steering effort.
Everything else worked flawlessly and it seemed to accelerate as rapidly as any of the other Touring models. I’m sure the Tri Glide will find its niche but every time I opened the trunk, I expected to see ice cream inside.
– Steve Bond