Melwin Joy
AUTHOR

Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy
Harley-Davidson Sport Glide (2018)

The 2018 Harley-Davidson Sport Glide is truly an evolution. The quality of finish and overall engineering is a jump beyond years gone by, and while there’s no denying the new Harley isn’t cheap, on closer inspection it’s clear that a lot of time and effort has been put into the details.

While heavy, it’s a bike that handles surprisingly well; gone is the ‘hinge in the middle’ cornering, and the big V-twin motor can drive this Softail out of bends and past dawdling motorists with ease. Yet it’s lost none of its character.

The Milwaukee manufacturer says it’s a bike capable of cruising, commuting and touring. It might not be the perfect winter London hack, but with its removable luggage and front fairing, low seat height and surprising performance, it’s one of the most versatile Harley-Davidsons I’ve ridden.

Power and torque

H-D always prefers to focus on torque figures – the Sport Glide makes a very healthy 107 lb-ft (145 Nm) at just 3250 rpm. To put that into perspective, KTM’s fire-breathing Super Duke R makes 106 lb-ft (144 Nm) at 7750 rpm.

It’s the same torque as Harley’s Street Bob, though power is down a touch – the Bob makes 86 bhp (64 kW) at 3000 rpm, while the new Street Glide, with its two-into-one exhaust, delivers a slightly lower 83 bhp (62 kW) at a fractionally later 3250 rpm.

Granted, KTM’s Super Duke R makes 170 bhp at 8865 rpm, but to obsess about peak power figures is to miss the point of a Harley; these machines are about chilling out, and that flood of torque – which stays strong all the way to the 5650 rpm rev limiter – means you can happily leave the bike is top gear on the motorway, and third or fourth on the twisties, while still being able to blast past dozy Sunday drivers.

Engine

The 1745cc Milwaukee-Eight 107 engine is arguably a thing of real beauty. Uncluttered by cables and water pipes thanks to oil cooling only around the four valves in each cylinder head; it’s probably the most authentic progression of a historic motor on the road today.

And that’s not a veiled criticism – while inevitably fuel-injection has taken the place of carbs, Harley has designed a motor that’s not dressed up to replicate the engines of the past; it’s a power train that completes what feels to be one of the most honest bikes I’ve ridden in a while. It’s a Harley through and through, but it’s one that delivers modern economy; H-D claims 53mpg, which given the 18.9 litre tank, could mean a range of up to 355 km.

And it’s smooth. As the engine is solidly mounted in the frame – no rubber connectors here – two balancer shafts have been used to refine things, but don’t imagine that the characterful Harley chug has gone – by reducing the idle speed, the engineers ensured this motor feels pleasing lumpy at the lights and alive at speed, but cruises smoothly at 110 kmh and beyond.

Despite Euro 4 limitations, the new two-into-one exhaust, with its deep-chrome trim, sounds just like you’d expect a Harley to; a deep throb at standstill, with a pleasing rumble at speed, without upsetting villagers and you pass through.

Changing gear is refined too – the Sport Glide’s ’box is still relatively heavy, but it’s never vague, and has lost that metallic clang as each cog is engaged.

The first service is due after 1000miles, then it’s every 5000miles or 12months, whichever comes first. The warranty is 24months with unlimited mileage.

Handling

Harley’s ‘Softail’ chassis has been redesigned for the new range, and the Glide includes 43mm upside-down cartridge forks and a single shock that’s adjustable for preload via a remote, hydraulically-operated adjuster, tucked below the right-hand side cover.

The new machine is still no lightweight – the MiG-welded mild steel frame and swing-arm, combined with the luggage and associated racks make for 317kg bike. Ultimately, the heavy motor needs a heavy frame to carry it. On the road, most of those kilos really do disappear, but being such a low bike, it’s also surprisingly manageable to shuffle around.

Harley’s claims of this being a commuter will depend on where you work – it’s physically little bigger than any other average motorcycle, but of course it’s not as nimble as a typical street machine. It won’t upset a CB500 in town, but the luggage means you can throw your day’s gear in and ride through the week on something that’s incredibly rewarding at the weekend. Of course, those machined, cast aluminium wheels and acres of chrome won’t stay beautiful if you’re riding all year round, so consider the commuting potential a bonus, rather than a raison d’être.

The potential lean angle isn’t Harley’s best, which means it’s a way off typical street and sport-touring bikes, but despite the 27.9° clearance on the right, and 28.7° on the left, nobody had any serious issues during the launch on the twisty mountain roads.

A well ridden sports bike will of course leave it behind, but a well-ridden Sport Glide could embarrass a surprising number of average sports riders…

The 18inch front and 16inch cast aluminium wheels, shod in Michelin Scorcher 31 tyres, are a first for Harley factory-fit in that they’re directional, the spokes of the ‘Mantis’ wheels designed to give ‘a sense of motion even when the Sport Glide is parked.’ We didn’t come across any damp roads, but in the dry, the rubber certainly didn’t give any cause for concern.

A single four-piston caliper bites a 300mm floating disc up front, with a two-pot sliding calliper gripping a 292mm rear disc. ABS is standard thanks to Euro 4, and while the front brake lever feels rather spongy at a standstill, in practice I found the setup to deliver plenty of power without overwhelming the forks or creating too much snatch or dive.

Comfort

The 680mm-high seat is wide and very comfortable; I sometimes find bikes with forward controls such as this can put too much weight on my bum, but the Street Glide seems to have good ergonomics, putting you in pleasant riding position.

At motorway speeds, there’s not a huge amount of wind protection from the fairing when you have it fitted, but despite your sail-like body position, it’s certainly not uncomfortable. Sunny weather and stunning scenery helped, but I really enjoyed cruising at 70mph on the ’Glide.

Equipment

Both the head and taillights of the Sport Glide are LEDs, with only the front indicators being traditional bulbs. The dash is a single analogue speedo, with an LCD insert that can show a choice of revs, odometer, fuel level, clock, trip and range to empty, with the gear position showing in the right of the display at all times.

There’s also a USB charging outlet on the bottom left of the headstock that delivers a useful 2.4A. The charging system can put out up to 546W at 2000rpm, so there should be enough power for your electrical accessories, and keyless ignition is standard, as is the cruise control, which is easy to use – if a touch fiddly – from the small multifunction button on the left switchgear.

The mirrors sit just above the grips, and give a good view without sticking out beyond the ends of the bars. And thanks to the reduced vibration, there’s generally very little shake to them.

Price

The vivid Sport Glide is expected to cost Rs 15 to Rs 16 lakhs, including its luggage. Motorcycles are becoming increasingly expensive, not helped by the weaker pound, and while Harley has machines in its range from just under Rs 5 lakhs, the Sport Glide is something that little bit more special.

Details like the precision welding where the fat handlebars reduce for the switchgear are excellent, and combined with the deep gloss paintwork, extensive use of steel (hence the weight) and well-finished engine, this is a motorcycle that feels worth a good chunk of its price tag. Whether you can personally justify the price is a different matter, but know that it’d be a machine to be proud of.

Our take

The Sport Glide is effectively a Harley-Davidson Low Rider with extra touring potential. The Low Rider’s a little lighter, but the Street Glides panniers are exceptionally well designed and leave very little trace once removed. The screen might not be the most protective, at least as standard, but it certainly creates a second persona to the bike.

The rider’s eye view is fantastic, from the highly polished bar clamps to the subtle yet elegant dash; Harley’s engineers have taken stock of the clutter of mismatched bolts that seemed to spoil the top of the forks on the bikes from a few years back, and created something that’s hugely rewarding to ride.

There’s something wonderful about cruising through stunning scenery on a Harley Davidson, and this mini-tourer takes much of what makes machines like the Road King popular, while condensing it down into something more manageable – the result is a bike that’s all Harley, but so much more refined.

Sure, it’s not for everyone, but I can’t stress enough how I wish more people would try a Harley before deciding they’re not for them. Dealers are incredibly accommodating – why not take a trip to your nearest shop and give a Sport Glide a try? It certainly gave me one of the most enjoyable rides I’ve had in a long time…

Melwin Joy
AUTHOR

Melwin Joy

All stories by: Melwin Joy