Launch report: Harley-Davidson 2015 range
FEELING THE RUSH
For those who came in late, Project Rushmore is Harley-Davidson’s customer-driven refresher program for its touring range. It is supported by a massive research effort which included extensive consultation with H-D owners and plenty of in-the-field observation.
H-D already has around 65 per cent of the big-bike market in the US and Project Rushmore looks set to extend this domination. The benefit for Australian and New Zealand riders is we’re getting demonstrably better bikes and H-D is making inroads into new sections of the market, namely those riders who like cruiser and tourer styling but, for whatever reason, have never engaged with the H-D brand. Harley-Davidson is moving into a position where it can legitimately ask, “Why not?” Old answers including reliability, comfort, performance and value for money arguably don’t apply anymore – H-D has a new story to tell and it’s telling it loudly.
Changes in the 2015 range are minor compared with the revolution of 2012 but are nonetheless significant. The two biggest stories are the reintroduction of the Road Glide and the revelation of an electric sportsbike – a shocking departure from H-D tradition.
The Road Glide is instantly identifiable by its ‘shark nose’ fairing but the 2015 version is substantially changed from previous Road Glide fairings. Along with the linked brakes with ABS, the new fairing is the touring knock-out punch.
Project Rushmore revised the fairings on H-D’s Ultra and Street Glide models by introducing a vent at the bottom of the windscreen that dramatically reduces turbulence in the cockpit area behind the screen. All manufacturers are prone to talking up minor changes but hundreds of hours in the wind tunnel have produced a wind-flow arrangement that really works. The bikes fitted with these fairings are really much more relaxing to ride and this reduces fatigue, allowing for longer hours in the saddle.
With the Road Glide fairing, H-D has gone a number of steps further. The fairing is mounted to the frame, not the ’bars, and it has three vents rather than one.
With the forks not directly carrying the weight of the fairing, the Road Glide’s steering is more responsive and the whole bike is less prone to stability issues created by changing weather conditions. It does mean, though, to allow the ’bars to turn, the fairing is mounted well forward of the rider. Inside, the fairing is a touchscreen which is actually hard to reach due to the distance from the rider. All its functions, thought, can be controlled by two toggle switches on the ’bars which are, by contrast, very easy to reach. The shape of the fairing also means the touchscreen has to be mounted at a slight angle, with the bottom of the screen closer to the rider than the top. The result of this is the screen can pick up sunlight more easily and, in some conditions, becomes difficult to read.
All this is instantly forgotten as speeds rise and the brilliance of the fairing becomes more obvious. The three vents co-operate to control turbulence but they also allow fresh air in the cockpit, something which will be very much appreciated in hotter Australian conditions.
As speeds rise, the fairing makes the Road Glide increasingly stable and planted, allowing for high touring speeds in great comfort. In fact, the stability is so good it tempts you to explore all the performance available from the 103-cubic-inch (1690cc)engine. Suddenly, the six-speed gearbox makes sense.
As is its way, H-D doesn’t quote horsepower output for its engines but that doesn’t stop the first buyer of a new model taking it to a dyno and using the Internet to broadcast the results to the world. One of the reasons H-D probably doesn’t bother with power output figures is that hardly anybody leaves the engine standard – why claim a figure which can be increased substantially by H-D-approved modifications? Regardless, the stock 103ci engine produces around 58kW (78hp) at 4900rpm and 130Nm (95.6ft-lbs) of torque from about 3500rpm. This seems like enough on the Street Glide with its non-frame-mounted fairing but the Road Glide is so planted you occasionally feel like more engine performance could be useful. This is particularly obvious when you ride a bike with the CVO 110ci (1800cc) engine. You notice the difference.
The stock engine is a great refinement of the traditional H-D powerplant. It still has pushrods and a longer stroke than bore which helps produce the torque all Harley-Davidson engines are known for. The 1690cc engine is big enough to allow for a modest compression ratio of 9.6:1 and its electronic fuel injection and hydraulic lifters mean low maintenance. The six-speed gearbox combined with this provides lazy highway work and potentially a long engine life. You want more? A claimed 5.6 litres per 100km even makes it relatively economical.
With a ride-away price of $34,495, you’ll get a keeper.
H-D is making an electric bike? WTF? Before you stop reading, consider the position most manufacturers of bikes and cars are in at the moment. Arguably, governments should have acted faster on global warming and non-renewable energy sources. It’s okay for us – we’ve lived in the golden years of the internal combustion engine and we’ve enjoyed the noise and power without having to worry about the future. Responsible governments have to plan for the future and many are now requiring manufacturers to slowly increase the percentage of their models which run on energy not created by fossil fuels. It’s not required for bikes yet but it’s only a matter of time. H-D is simply getting in early.
Yes, electricity is mostly produced by coal-fired plants but most of us will live to see a time when you have a solar panel on the roof of your garage, you ride in at night on your electric motorcycle and plug it in to use the power you’ve saved from the sun during the day.
With its giant V-twins, H-D is particularly vulnerable to criticism based on oil power so it’s moved early to demonstrate its commitment to alternative fuels.
More impressive even than the power source of the Livewire is the engineering excellence of the complete package. Anyone who says H-D doesn’t understand sportsbike chassis geometry and suspension will be eating their words after the first ride. H-D is smarter than it may look.
MOVEMENT AT THE STATION
The Road Glide and the LiveWire project aren’t the only new things for 2015. There also are ‘low’ versions of some models available in the US to expand Harley-Davidson’s market to include women, Hispanics and Latinos generally who are shorter but comprise 20 per cent of the potential market in the US.
We won’t get the ‘low’ models in Australia but factory lowering kits will be available for the touring models which will set owners back about $2000 for altered seats, suspension and, importantly, a shorter sidestand.
Also new is a better braking system on the Softail range. It retains ABS but lever pressure has been reduced by a claimed 40 per cent. Other modifications include a four-piston front caliper with pistons coated to not shock the rider on the initial grasp. The higher mechanical ratio of the master cylinder means less pull but significantly greater retardation.
The Australian media had the rare pleasure on the launch of riding a CVO Softail Deluxe which initially seemed out of place with the touring fleet but was a clear favourite anytime we passed through a city. It’s riding position, 110ci engine and maneuverability displayed metropolitan not shared by its more cumbersome cousins. It was cooler, too, in the hot weather.
It wasn’t the only CVO on the launch fleet. CVO stands for ‘Custom Vehicle Operation’ and H-D has a special unit devoted to doing the things to your H-D you might do yourself if you had the time and the money. Money is important here as the CVO H-Ds are substantially more expensive than the stock models. The Road Glide Ultra (above) will set you back $48,995 in Australia but you’ll get a bike with substantially increased grunt, paintwork that stands out in the crowd and H-D’s best detail refinements. Who can put a price on style?
Having said that, it makes the Road Glide Special seem like exceptional value at $34,495 in Australia.