Ridng Shot: Jeff G. Holt
Sitting here at my trusty Mac I can't help but feel nostalgic while thinking about Harley-Davidson's Street Glide. The FLHX has been one of the MoCo's more popular Touring rigs since it's debut in the Summer of '05. You see, I had the honor of being the first person outside the inner circle of H-D to ever see or ride the custom Electra Glide.
It was springtime in Milwaukee and the Harley brass invited me to have a meet and greet with Willie G. and the engineering team behind what I was to find out a new model for 2006. Willie had his design hand hard at work on the new Street Glide. This essentially amounted to a more streamlined, modern-looking 'Glide, that reflected trends seen on the street. One of the most striking features of the bike was the lack of the traditional spotlights that normally sit under the Batwing fairing. In fact, the secret H-D code word for the FLHX project was 'No Spots." The cover feature with the new Touring bike and Willie G in the October 2005 Hot Bike magazine was even named No Spots. His vision was to produce a bike where "comfort and custom can cohabitate." He was influenced by the minimalist, low-slung bikes he was seeing popping up around the country.
It's hard to believe that four years have passed since the introduction of the FLHX. That original bike I rode was powered by the Twin Cam 88 with a five-speed tranny, came standard with a carburetor, a five-gallon fuel tank, and dual 16-inch wheels. Our '09 comes from the factory with the Twin Cam 96 motor, linked to a six-speed Cruisemax tranny, a six-gallon gas tank, sports a 17-inch front hoop, and fuel injection is the only way to get one.
From the looks department, the pre-'09s are pretty similar to the newest offering. However, unless you are a newcomer here or live under a mossy oak, you'd have already known how much time and effort H-D went through to redesign the '09 bagger chassis from the ground up. Among the revolutionary changes surrounding the gemstone of a motor is the two-piece frame and massive swingarm. Some immediate results obtained with the new frame are increased load carrying capacity, strength, and the most important from our perspective: ride stability. What this means to a rider is being able to safely carry more weight and under closed course, controlled, supervised conditions, means more speed. The swingarm was stiffened, lengthened, and widened-the latter attribute accommodating a newly developed 180mm Dunlop tire. Speaking of tires, both of them were developed with Dunlop engineers specifically for H-D Touring bikes.
As the Street Glide was originally inspired by what customizers were already doing to their FLs, this current steed follows another trend: wide rear tires. The change from the previous 140mm to the current 180 rear skin adds 1.6 inches of width to the rear tire. Plus it's a low profile variety with a 65 aspect ratio (meaning less sidewall between the rim and the ground). To accommodate that extra rubber, the rear fender was widened by 1/2-inch. To clean up the already sleek likes of the FLHX rear section, the hoop above the fender has been eliminated. This was made possible by strengthening the area behind the saddlebags, which now hold an official 5 pounds extra each.
Changes are often made solely for cosmetic reasons but it's obvious from riding the new Glide that the R&D; division at H-D was striving for a much better handling bike. Some previous models may have had a tendency to wobble, weave, or dance when encountering road irregularities or high-speed sweepers. This phenomena seems to be bike and pilot specific, meaning it wasn't an across the board malady. For some the condition became something to tolerate or try and fix with one of the many stabilizers on the market. Others never had a problem at all. Some think the situation might be from the rubber-mounted motor that can move within the frame. Others have put the blame on the suspension, the tires, the swingarm bushings, all or none of the above, or just a crazy rider. Of course, H-D owners love to change parts on their bikes that also affect handling, such as tires, wheels, suspension, lowered shock and forks, etc. Aside from the other chassis redesigns the motor also received an extra motor mount on the bottom front of the engine. This helped stave off excess motor vibes at idle.
We are extremely happy with the improved handling on the new Street Glide. No matter how hard the bike was pushed there was never any sort of handling irregularity. This bike handles way better than a 800-plus pound motorcycle should. It flat out carves a corner-just aim, point, and shoot it through the apex. One feature that some will either love or hate is how stiff the bike feels. It's analogous to a finely tuned sports car that reacts with precision to inputs yet isn't the most plush over bumpy roads. While new rear air-adjust shocks have a greater range of adjustment (from 0-50psi) they are on the stiff side; especially if you're on the lighter side of 175 pounds. It's not a rough ride it's just not as plush as the previous years. Keep in mind too that the Street Glide is an inch lower compared to the other Glides. Those shorter rear shocks have a full inch less travel than the standard FLH shocks. The non-adjustable front suspension ate up the bumps pretty well, with only the largest expansion joints causing any jolts to the spine. Another benefit of the chassis is a little extra lean angle (one degree) on each side-it's not that easy to drag the floorboards.
Large Touring bikes like this can be awfully intimidating, especially if you're not a tall, hefty type. However, this Glide feels as nimble as a bike half its weight. I'm average size and just a hair over 150 pounds, yet find maneuvering this bike at any speed is effortless. The front end doesn't flop, and the center of gravity is low enough to feel stable even when backing the bike up.
Also belying its heft is the bike's ability to get up and move. This is likely attributed to the shorter overall gearing made possible by adding two teeth to the rear pulley (from 66 to 68). This gear change also allows sixth gear to work better in the 65-75 mph range-no more lugging the motor or having to downshift to make a pass. Shifting is smooth through all six gears with barely any noise coming from the straight-cut fifth gear. There have been some complaints on previous models with fifth gear whine, but it's just not an issue here. The only glitch that only occurred a few times was an off idle hesitation when the bike was hot and sitting at a light. This may have just been lazy throttling because it seemed to happen more frequently during the first few days of testing. The EFI, in addition to being smooth, was good for squeezing 250 miles out of the six-gallon tank.
Another goal of the redesign was addressing heat felt by the rider. Due to the way the exhaust headers exit the motor, particularly the rear, engine heat was directed right at the rider's right thigh. The old system had the rear exhaust split, that sent some gasses to the left side muffler and some to the right. To take care of this H-D made the new 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system with a hidden crossover underneath the transmission and frame. The "Y" junction is gone, and there's no pipe exiting down the left side of the bike. The catalytic converter has been relocated forward in the one-piece header pipe. These changes not only take care of any unwanted heat, but it also cleans up the lines of the bike. An additional heat management system, the Engine Idle Temperature Management System (EITMS) is a Rider-Activated Rear Cylinder Cut-Out that electronically deactivates ignition to the rear cylinder when the bike is stopped, idling, and the motor reaches a temperature threshold. The motor will then pump fresh air through the rear cylinder, aiding in cooling the engine.
In addition to the triple disc Brembo brakes that work extremely well our test bike is equipped with H-D's ABS system. The ABS is designed to prevent wheel lock-up in emergency or wet-weather conditions. Other than a small wire going to one of the front calipers, the system is transparent. It doesn't cause any ill effects during normal riding, only activating if the bike speed changes from the wheel speed. On the feel side, the ABS-equipped lever pull is more solid than a non-ABS FLHX. It has a little harder pull, with a slight loss in the modulation 'feel' of the lever pull. It's not bad, just different. Once we had a few miles on the bike, the brake lever felt perfect.
On the cockpit side of things, all of the familiar faces are there: easy to read speed and tach gauges, oil pressure, voltmeter, ambient air temp, and fuel level. The handebars are comfortable to reach and control the bike with. Controls for the audio system and optional cruise control are easy to use on the fly without moving your hands from the grips. H-D's throttle by wire is as good or better than any cable actuated system and there's no cables or wires to look at or maintain. The mp3 device capable AM/FM/WB radio works well enough to hear at most speeds. Some extra power would be a nice uggrade, particularly when wearing a full-face helmet. The CD player performed flawlessly without ever skipping during daily city riding. The stylish looking shorty windscreen looks great but isn't the best screen if you're looking to get out of the windstream. We felt no buffeting from the short shield, but it does allow a lot of wind to reach the head and upper body. That's easy enough to remedy if one wanted to, as H-D offers numerous sizes of accessory windscreens.
These new Street Glides reach a great balance between form and function. The bike is nimble enough for everyday commuting yet doesn't shy away from hitting the Ironbutt circuit. We love the hard saddlebags that seem to swallow anything we can throw at them while keeping our computers and cameras dry and safe during the worst rainstorm. We're hanging on to this bike for a while in order to customize it even further. Keep on the lookout for upcoming articles and more road reports with the 'Glide. As Willie G told me as we ended our meeting "Harleys make you smile," and we couldn't agree more.
2009 FLHX Street Glide
Rubber-mounted air-cooled Twin Cam 96 motor
Electronic sequential port fuel injection
Cruisedrive six-speed Transmission
Electronic throttle control
New Features for '09
All-new frame and swingarm
Four-point engine isolation system
180mm multi-tread rear tire
17-inch front wheel
Wide, contoured rear fender
Increased passenger legroom
Increased trail and lean angle
More carrying capacity
Redesigned isolated drive system
Shorter final gearing for better acceleration
|Price as tested||$20,514|
For full specs and options visit your local Harley-Davidson dealer or log onto www.harley-davidson.com.