Changes in the Stable

Whether or not Harley intended it, they’ve created a very compelling argument for leaving a bike stock and just riding it as-is.

This is my third Touring-frame Harley, and my sixth touring bike (3 BMWs).  I’ve had a bunch of seat time on other touring bikes as well.  I’ve got zero brand loyalty, and am on record on several forums (and in real life) stating that I don’t give a damn what brand bike I ride.  With that said…….Whooo boy, is this a good bike.

I’ve been riding a BMW K1600 GTL; their flagship touring machine.  It’s powered by an absolute jewel of an engine…..an inline-6 making 160 horsepower and 130 lbs-ft of torque.  That beast of a motor in an aerodynamic, 700-pound bike makes for ridiculous fun on a winding road.  But alas, nothing is perfect.  As entertaining as the K16 can be on an interesting road, the package is skewed too far towards the “sport” side of the sport/touring equation.  The lack of a flywheel means that it’s a chore to ride when two-up and loaded in traffic.  And even though it’s a whopping 200 pounds lighter than a Touring Harley, its center of gravity is much higher, making it cumbersome at walking speeds.  This may not be an issue for those who live in remote areas, but for those of us in populated metroplexes, it’s reality.  The K16 is not a bad bike by any stretch – far from it.  If I was planning a trip to the Rockies by myself, it would be on the short list of bikes I’d want to take.  But the ownership experience that BMW offers is lacking.

What does that mean?  Well, let’s talk about German Engineering.  Leave it to the Germans to take something simple like changing the oil and make it complicated.  On any vehicle on the planet, you remove the drain plug, let the oil run out, then replace it, change the filter, and re-fill the oil.  Not on a K16.  You remove the drain plug.  Then you take a long extension, go through the drain and remove a second plug – blind, mind you – and drain the rest of the oil.  People will excuse the sump-within-a-sump as the reason Der Matership is able to package that beast of a motor within a sleek touring bike (and they’re right), but it makes life difficult for the owner.  Similar issues abound on the bike.

At any rate, about 18 months ago, I had the pleasure of doing a fly-and-ride with my riding buddy in the aptly-named Texas Hill Country (aptly named because there are a couple of hills there).  We rented a pair of brand new Rushmore Harleys; a Street Glide Special for Dave, and an Electra Glide Limited for me.  The Limited represented (at the time) the pinnacle of Harley’s Touring line….A partially water-cooled engine packed in a revamped frame and fairings.  I put around 600 miles on that bike in a couple of days, and I was truly impressed with it.  So much so that I made the bold statement above; that Harley had made a compelling argument for leaving the bike stock.  It was really that good.

What Harley didn’t do at the time was re-introduce the Road Glide.  The fugly, fixed-fairing, shark-nosed bike that polarizes Harley owners as badly as the Sportster and V-Rod do.  The Roadie and I had a complicated history.  It was a bike I wanted to love.  With the weight of the fairing on the frame of the bike rather than on the forks like the Electra Glide, it handled like a much lighter machine.  It was also immune to the handling vagaries that high winds imparted on the sail-like Batwing fairing of the Electra Glide.  I rented one of these while on vacation in Arizona, and was blown away with how capable it was.  It was a blast flogging it through the Rocky Mountains, and rock-steady on the monotony that is I-10.  Unfortunately, it was murder on my passenger.  Between the design of the fairing and the distance from the rider, the airflow around it converged right behind my back and in my wife’s face.  After a day’s ride she was red-faced from windburn and exhausted from the wind buffeting.

Being the callous bastard that I am, I didn’t care…..I loved the bike and rode one every chance I got.  Dave eventually replaced his Electra Glide with one, and I loved riding that one too.  Every time the ugliness of New Bike Fever struck, I brought up the Roadie.  When I was bike shopping after my wreck, it was the first bike I thought of.  It was the source of serious strife in my marriage.  I genuinely believe that an affair would have gotten a better reception than a Road Glide in the driveway.

So with the onset of another bout of NBF, I started surveying my options.  Being a fan of Adventure bikes, I looked at the BMW GS Adventure.  A truly amazing machine, but expensive, massive, heavy, and needlessly complex.  I looked at the KTM 1290 Super Adventure.  Not really off-road ready, and somewhat sloppily executed, but an absolute beast of a bike.  And then I reflected that I already had (arguably) the best adventure bike available in the KLR…..And it was paid for.  Which led me back to the Roadie.

Harley had re-designed the fairing and worked the rest of its Rushmore magic on the Fugly.  With promises of better airflow management, I started my research in earnest.  Reviews were positive…..Glowing, even.  Chatter on the forums was positive.  All that remained was convincing my wife that she’d be comfortable.  After a couple of carefully orchestrated conversations and visits to a dealership, I secured a test ride.  Conditions couldn’t have been much worse.  There was a 20mph wind blowing with gusts up to 40mph….Definitely not optimal riding weather.  Shockingly, with the stock windshield, there were no complaints from the back seat.

A quick note to those who don’t ride…..It’s just an accepted fact that when purchasing a motorcycle you’ll need to replace the seat and the windshield.  Ergonomic goals are set at a compromise – no bike is designed to fit everyone from 5’2” to 6’8”.

So with a positive outcome from the test ride, titles exchanged hands and a new Roadie came home with me.  Well, it came home after a 130 mile ride through the countryside (such as it is in the DC Metro area).

Harley has done its homework and made a damn good bike.  No, the windshield isn’t ideal, but it’s awfully good.  No, the seat isn’t perfect (foam could be firmer and I should be about an inch higher), but it’s arguably the best stock seat I’ve sat on.  No, the bars aren’t exactly where I’d put them (especially if I was sitting an inch higher as I’d prefer), but they’re pretty close.  The stock exhaust sounds good without being too quiet or too loud.  The fueling is far closer to “right” than any other stock Harley I’ve owned or ridden.  The suspension – long an issue with Harley – is really, really good.  The brakes do as well as they can do with 900 pounds of bike to stop.

But most importantly, at no point during the ride was I thinking, “I have to fix this”.  Sure, I’d like a different windshield.  Sure, a pair of Ohlins shocks would be beneficial.  Yeah, I’d like to bling it out a bit.  But if I were pressed to ride across the country tomorrow, I could hop on and do it as the bike sits now.  That’s quite a statement, as I’ve never owned a bike that would live up to that.

I look forward to creating some new memories with this bike.  Stay tuned…….

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